Whilst I’ve always been a fan of RPGs and the Final Fantasy series in particular, it actually took me a few years after release to complete Final Fantasy IX. I’d played through previous entries in the series fairly close to release but for some reason I never stuck it out the ninth entry in the popular franchise. It’s regrettable – Final Fantasy IX is one of the finest entries in the series and it’s great, albeit surprising, to see it get an official release on Steam.
Final Fantasy IX released back in 2000 exclusively on the original Playstation so seeing it hit the Steam store came as a bit of a surprise. Whilst Square Enix have made efforts to bring previous Final Fantasy titles to the Steam store, the console exclusivity of the game had me doubting we’d see it on the platform. Here it is though in an all-new revamped state and in fairness to Square Enix it’s a port that lives up to the series’ name.
The game casts you in the role of Zidane Tribal, a thief who works with a group known as the Tantalus Theatre Troupe. They’re tasked with kidnapping Princess Garnet of the great city of Alexandria, but things take an unexpected turn when Garnet actually wants to leave the city and is willing to be kidnapped. Of course escaping the city isn’t an easy task, but with the help of a black mage named Vivi and Garnet’s sworn protector Steiner they manage to slip away – not without being involved in a giant airship crash though. Thus the adventure begins, sending Zidane and his friends on a journey throughout the world of Gaia as they look to unravel its mysteries and protect it from the lurking evil threats.
It feels redundant going into great depth about Final Fantasy IX – it is a sixteen year old game, after all. Let’s just say that the story is still great, combat is still tense and enjoyable, the game world is still incredible, the music is still tremendous and the game’s ‘Tetra Master’ card mini-game is still good fun (even if it isn’t as good as Final Fantasy VIII’s ‘Triple Triad’). On it’s previous merits alone I’d recommend Final Fantasy IX to RPG fanatics and newbies alike.
However, with the polarising quality of ports released on Steam over the last few years I went into Final Fantasy IX with a little caution. Would it be the a great quality port that lives up to the game’s legacy, or would it instead hit the lows recently seen in the likes of Tales of Symphonia and Batman: Arkham Knight? Thankfully it’s the former with the Steam release making some visual improvements as well as adding a few new features.
The game has had a lot of its character models upscaled – it’s an astounding improvement and the likes of Zidane, Garnet and Vivi have never looked so good. Final Fantasy IX was the most attractive of the Playstation releases and it really tells in this revamped re-release. It’s especially noticeable in the games battles where you can really appreciate the character models in all of their new HD glory.
The same can be said for the game’s CGI cutscenes which have also been upscaled and look better than ever in HD. Whilst the cutscenes look fantastic there are moments where they transition straight into gameplay, leading to some odd, distorted looking scenes. It’s not too distracting but it’s noticeable, though it could be owed to the fact that the game’s environments still have a low-resolution look.
The game’s backgrounds haven’t seen any real improvements, instead maintaining their original form. Given the low resolution of the Playstation and the new improved quality of the character models, there’s a clear disparity between the environments and characters in-game. It may look odd, but you’ll get used to it fairly quickly when playing the game though – when I saw initial screenshots for the game I thought it would really bother me, but it didn’t take too long to forget about it.
The game’s menus and UI have seen a re-vamp graphically, offering a more attractive way to navigate through the game’s battles and customisation options. They look pretty slick, though I’m sure there are some hardcore Final Fantasy IX fans who would’ve preferred the original menus – I was just glad to have something clean and functional. I actually preferred the new character naming menus too, with them offering a sweet illustration of the relevant character and a small bio rather than the familiar name input screen.
One thing I was pleasantly surprised by with the port was the lack of bugs and glitches. Throughout my playthrough of the game I didn’t suffer a single crash or witness any noticeable bugs. I’d read online that some gamers had issues with controller input, but I had no problems at all playing through the entire game with an Xbox 360 controller.
The game comes with a new auto-save feature that, despite its convenience, I was a little torn on. Each time you visit a new area in the game the auto-save will kick in, giving you a checkpoint of sorts to fall back on if you suffer an unexpected death. It’s useful, sure, but it took away some of the consequences of failure in the game. I used to like the solace of a save point, knowing that everything I’ve done wouldn’t be lost and sometimes being clued in that there was a nasty encounter approaching. Perhaps it’s me being too nostalgic and not getting with the times though as I’m sure some gamers will prefer the convenience of the function. There’s over a hundred save slots on offer too, as well as cloud saving functionality.
Being a Steam release, the game comes with plenty of achievements for gamers to work for. There’s also the inclusion of in-game boosts that allow players to essentially cheat, offering the abilities to max all of character’s levels and stats, offer unlimited gil as well as auto-battle the various encounters in the game. They’re handy if you just want to blast through the game, but I would recommend new players stay away from them and instead enjoy the game as it’s meant to be played.
Square Enix and the porting team at Silicon Studio have done a fantastic job with the Steam release of Final Fantasy IX, offering an edition of the game that both looks and plays great. Sure, the environments in the game don’t match the quality of the revamped character models, but it doesn’t take anything away from the game nor will it ruin your time with it.
Square Enix have made a lot of efforts lately to bring their classic catalogue to PC gamers, but Final Fantasy IX wasn’t a release I expected to appear. It’s great that I’ll no longer have to dig out the Playstation whenever I want to play the classic, much-loved RPG. Instead, I can just boot up Steam and load up a revamped edition of the game that lives up to the series’ legacy and brings it to the modern generation of gamers – what a time to be alive.
– The same great Final Fantasy IX we know and love
– Great visual improvements on character models
– Upscaled HD CGI cutscenes
– Environments are still low-res
Developer: Square Enix (www.square-enix.com) Silicon Studio (www.siliconstudio.co.jp)
Publisher: Square Enix (www.square-enix.com)
Release Date: 14/04/2016 (PC) 10/02/2016 (iOS, Android) 07/07/2000 (PC)
Format(s): PC (Reviewed), Playstation, iOS, Android