It seems to me that this, the last of the PSOne Final Fantasy games, gets a great deal more stick and criticism than the previous two games, and in my opinion, I don't believe it deserves it. Granted, Final Fantasy VII and VIII are fantastic, innovative games, and FF IX doesn't quite match up to them in some respects, but as an RPG it's still extremely good.
The story follows the journey of Zidane, a young man who operates within a group of thieves named Tantalus. They hatch a plot to kidnap the heir to the throne of Alexandria, Princess Garnet. But soon, Zidane and his companions learn the truth about Garnet's evil mother, Queen Brahne, and her evil plans to take over the world. The plotline holds a deep story that will appeal to a wide audience. I find it holds truer to the "Fantasy" part of the title than some of the others in that it consists of quirky, imaginative characters and dungeons and dragons and the like. Not that the previous games don't contain these things, but they exist in an environment that is not too dissimilar to ours (aside from the monsters etc.) The plot will keep you guessing until the very end and will have you hooked for ages. Although not the best RPG story ever, it still does the Final Fantasy franchise justice.
The gameplay is very simple and yet very effective. The way the character's abilities are linked to equipment means it will keep you on your toes, as you have to monitor your character's progress carefully. It means that sometimes in order to learn a skill or ability (which can take a while), you may be stuck with a mediocre piece of weaponry or armour for a long time. The use of this system means that it is easy to learn. One flaw in the gameplay, though, is that characters can only learn a certain amount of abilities, and they are stuck with the same jobs for the whole game, allowing for very little customisation. Compared with the systems in FFVII, VIII and X, there is far less room for personalisation of characters. It means that to have, say, a healer in your party, you have to use a character who you don't really like. Take Quina for example. This is possibly THE most disliked character in the FF series, and yet it's abilities and Blue Magic skills are second to none. But who in God's name wants to use Quina?! Beside these facts, I still like this system, simply because it is nice and simple. The battle system, with the mainstay ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge, is just like the rest of the FF series, and still provides a challenging game. Although for some reason the gauges charge far slower than those in FFVII and VIII, and means training of characters can take a long time. Also, the Limit Break system of FFVII and VIII has been replaced by the Trance system, which pales in comparison, for multiple reasons. The Limit Break gauge, once filled, could be saved for later battles, but Trance is used immediately, whether you want it to or not. The Trance gauge also takes a VERY long time to charge. I would say that if you just played through the game, each character would only hit Trance maybe 5 or 6 times, whereas Limit Breaks are used 100-150 times. Also, the main character Zidane's final Trance skill, is absolutely pathetic. Cloud's Omnislash and Squall's Lionheart attacks from VII and VIII hit multiple times (14-16) for 7000-9999 damage, but Zidane's Grand Lethal hits only once for 9999 damage, which will not help you at all, especially considering the exceedingly long time you will have invested tring to get his gauge to fill in the first place. So, in all, the battle system is alright, but is without much originality. The overall feel of the gameplay is good enough, but only just, and is poor compared to the Materia and Junction systems of the previous two FF games.
The graphics are about as good as the PSOne can muster, and are still reasonable by today's standards. The FMVs can still really pack a punch, and they are all over the place, so you won't be dissapointed. The proportional people in FFVIII weren't that popular in Japan, so Square decided to revert to the old style "big head" style, and personally, it is a step forward. It is, after all, a fantasy game. The skill graphics and summons are intense and beautiful, although you can often split the pixels with a large axe. Still, they seem charming nowadays.
The music is the same old FF style, and it will have you humming away to yourself long after you've finished. Yet again, Nobuo Uematsu of Square doesn't fail to deliver a terrific musical score. The quality could be improved, but does use what the PSOne has at it's disposal to excellent use. Beautiful.
I have now played through this game four times, and am now trying to find more excuses to play it through again. This is an excellent investment for those with little money, as it will keep you coming back for more. Perhaps those who aren't too keen on this, or have perhaps been weined on FFVII, or most likely FFX, will not feel this game's appeal as much. There are many sidequests to be done, which often yield great rewards, so this will keep you playing. The story is so compelling that you will want to play through it again and again.
I think that most will agree with my overall rating. I think that the fact that this was the first RPG I played makes me rate it a little higher than most others, but this is still one of my favourite games. For RPG fans, I recommend you play through this at least once.
Your best bet to find a copy is most likely eBay, as I see this game only once in a blue moon.
Copyright © 2005 Mike Montgomery