Why Final Fantasy IX is the best (and probably always will be)
There are plenty of comments and jokes out there about Final Fantasy and everything that's come along over the years. "How could it be the final fantasy 9 times?" Yeah yeah yeah. The joke's done.
With 14 individually titled games in the franchise not including the random sequel (Oh X-2...) and unique standalones (I'm looking at you crystal chronicles), Final Fantasy has long since survived what was thought to be it's first and only installment.
(For those of you reading this far who didn't know this already. Final Fantasy's creator, Hironobu Sakaguchi, and the company, Square, were facing bankruptcy at the time when Final Fantasy was created. He assumed this game would be his last before the end. Subsequently, it served to save the company and launch every follow-up title since)
Many years and 3 gaming consoles later, FF9 was introduced to the public. The last to be released for the PS1 before the days of reading every line, FF9 is, in my experience, one of the most underrated and under appreciated games in the collection let alone gaming as a whole.
FF9 boasts a collection of characters with immense depth and richness rarely seen anywhere. Starkly contrasting against one another, every one of them is pushed in the same direction together. Through the games story-telling and circumstance, we learn in depth about each of these people and the struggles they all endure on their path. From Zidane's life growing as an orphan and the last of his kind on the streets of a bustling metropolis to Garnet's sheltered life under the ruling thumb of her brutal mother the queen of Alexandria to Quina's hunger for... literally all the food. Every character delivers on every level. They show you the depths of their souls in every choice they make, in every challenge they face. With everything pushing them down and threatening to break them, they pull together and triumph in the face of adversity with a strength and courage that will bring a tear to any hard-hearted person's eyes.
The world in FF9 is no less alive and real. The cities rumble with the lives of everyday people trying to carve out a life for themselves. The world is speckled with travelers and villages and camps in every direction. You watch places grow and change. You ache when you watch the city streets burned to ashes, the people you once walked among taken with them. You curse the enemies in the game for brutally slaughtering innocents you're helpless to protect. Every inch of the world, every nook and cranny begs to be explored, to be experienced. You can't help it. There are secrets and treasures hidden everywhere. Some simple and some game-changing. You want to see it all. You have to see it all.
Then there's the villain. Oh Kuja you cruel bastard. Kuja gets some unfair heat for being "feminine". Not sure why that matters. Who cares? When I think of a villain, I want someone who you can't help but hate and respect in equal measure. Kuja pulls this off like a freaking dream. Barely registering at the beginning of the game and only briefly appearing as a mysterious figure at first, Kuja quickly takes the reins on the world and really shows you what it looks like to get things done. In one quick gesture of power, we watch Kuja wipe out an entire military and quickly shift the mood of the game. You find yourself chasing him, hunting him with everything you have while you watch him turn the tables again and again and keep laughably shrugging off any opposition in his way while the world burns at his feet.
All these elements are only accented by the quality of the story. Unique and clever. Original and inspiring. Beautiful and tragic. You can't help but feel every level of emotion while you play through this adventure. In my experience, Final Fantasy games often carry a huge burden along with them. You find yourself constantly beaten down and downtrodden with unhappy feelings. 9 expertly deals out the full spectrum of emotions with ease. Zidane's impossibly positive attitude and outlook on life and the overall jovial feel of the world keep things upbeat, happy and moving along wonderfully. You laugh and smile and chuckle while the game shows you new things and new places. And it's this sense of upbeat energy that so perfectly prepares you for the tragedy. You can't help but empathize when you watch this happy world get turned on its head as it's torn apart by greed and war and destruction.
But in a very unique way, the game refuses to just be as straight forward as it could be. It doesn't shy away from the fantasy side as we're introduced to another world mirroring the one the characters live in. It's the knowledge of this world and everything that comes along with it that finally starts lining up the infinite pieces that came before it in a way that blows the mind and truly entertains.
So why is FF9 the best? Because it's the best of everything. The characters, the story, the world. Every piece is crafted to perfection. Every element is perfectly placed and used to evoke the exact feelings you're meant to be having in that moment. Because on top of all the elements, the gameplay and mechanics are flawless and leave you forgetting that any part of what you're doing is anything less than immense fun. You're always left wanting more. You're always left needing to know what's next and what's over here and what happens if you do this or that. It's the best because it takes everything any other Final Fantasy game has done and simply does it better.
And on top of everything there's the very real fact that the original creator (you remember him) has even said that FFIX is the “closest to (his) ideal view of what Final Fantasy should be". After all the different (and amazing. I definitely do not mean to say the rest aren't all amazing in their own right) iterations in the Final Fantasy franchise, 9 is simply the best embodiment of what it truly means to experience the Final Fantasy.