Since I started playing Final Fantasy IX on the PC recently, I might as well give some of my early impressions about it. I played a bit of it on my brother’s PlayStation years ago, but didn’t get all that far. So far on this time around, I’ve made it to Cleyra and to the second battle with General Beatrix, which I lost.
I’ve played at least part of the first seven FF games, and I’m sure I’ll get to VIII eventually, but I’ve this one sounded more appealing to me. It’s an intentional throwback in some ways, with more of a fantasy theme than the previous two, which took place in more modern worlds. Here, we’re back to a setting full of swords and sorcery, where magic seems to be a common study. Steam power is still pretty new, and airships and air trolleys are in use. There are a lot of references back to the earlier games, too; I understand there’s even a character named Garland, although I haven’t encountered him yet. The characters all have their own skills, at least so far, some of them only accessible by equipping certain items. Another interesting thing about the game world is that people with animal features, and sometimes straight-up anthropomorphic animals, are pretty common.
That’s not unheard of in earlier games in the series, but it’s never been as prominent. The main protagonist, Zidane Tribal, has a tail like a monkey, and the Burmecians have rat-like features. For the most part, nobody seems to care much, although the villain Kuja’s reference to the Burmecians as “rats” that he wants to exterminate hints at some degree of prejudice.
The plot so far seems a bit hurried, and I don’t think that’s just because of the active time (but still essentially turn-based) battle system, although that is a bit of a change from Dragon Quest, which I’ve been playing more of recently. Also in contrast are the inflated numbers with hit points (you start out with a lot more, but you also lose them more easily) and faster leveling (although your stats don’t increase as significantly each time). Anyway, the game kind of rushes you from one place to another, although I guess that’s pretty normal for the early part of an FF title. I haven’t really explored the overworld much, but that means I haven’t been able to recruit Quina in the swamp as of yet. The story starts in the Kingdom of Alexandria (hey, there’s one of those in DQ8, too), where Tantalus, a band of thieves disguised as an acting troupe, is plotting to kidnap Princess Garnet. Coincidentally, the Princess actually WANTS to be captured. Unaware of this is her guardian, Adelbert Steiner, Captain of the Knights of Pluto. Also mixed up in the action is Vivi Ornitier, a young black mage who sneaked into the castle to watch the play. When Tantalus’ ship crashes in an evil forest, Zidane, Garnet (who decides to go by the alias Dagger), Steiner, and Vivi end up traveling together. When the four of them get to the neighboring country of Lindblum, they find out that the kidnapping was arranged by the nation’s regent, Cid Fabool IX, the mastermind behind the airships and an old friend of the Alexandrian royal family. He’s also currently in the form of a beetle-like creature called an oglop, into which his wife changed him after finding out that he’d had an affair.
The party then splits, with Garnet returning to Alexandria with Steiner in tow to try to talk Queen Brahne out of her warlike ambitions; and Zidane and Vivi traveling with the thief’s old friend Freya Crescent to Burmecia, where they find out about Brahne’s alliance with Kuja.
The characters I’ve played so far are pretty interesting. Zidane himself is a flirtatious sort, who shares a name with the footballer who headbutted a guy in the 2006 World Cup, although there’s no association that I know of. In fact, in the French translation, they purposely spelled his name differently to avoid confusion. Garnet, a formal girl who wants a more normal life, can use white magic and summon Eidolons, although I haven’t been able to do the latter yet. Vivi, upon encountering other black mages who appear to be automatons with no free will, wonders about his own origins.
Steiner is amusing in the contrast between how seriously he takes himself and his rather comical mannerisms, as a frantic knight in rusty, ill-fitting armor that clanks as he walks (even if you buy him new armor, I guess because of gameplay and story segregation).
He’s no slouch as a fighter, though, and he can channel magic through his sword when he and Vivi are both in the active party. And while Freya dresses like a red mage, she’s actually a dragoon/dragon knight (despite not having the surname Highwind), with the signature Jump command. I understand there are three other main playable characters, including Quina, and a few other temporary ones. I probably won’t be able to play again for a while, but I’ve enjoyed it, aside from a few frustrating battles.