Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!
As I mentioned before, this month I’ve been indulging in some Final Fantasy nostalgia, which has led me in part to finally playing through FFIX on my iPad. I bought this version a couple of years ago and haven’t gotten around to it yet, but the time seemed right.
The first and only other time I’ve played Final Fantasy IX was back in 2000 on the original PlayStation. I had just moved to Michigan that year, and living as a bachelor, I had plenty of time on my hands. Chrono Cross and FFIX really helped to fill the time in those waning days of the console’s popularity, and I remember having just a terrific time with this installment. I don’t quite know why I never replayed it afterward, except that probably I jumped into the PS2, got disillusioned with consoles, and stuck to computers solely for gaming then on out.
Anyway, the tablet version. All of Square’s Final Fantasy mobile adaptations have their ups and downs, and this is no exception. I love the virtual controller and everything is fairly responsive, but there’s no cursor memory (at least not that works for me) and the backgrounds are incredibly ugly. They had a problem resizing those backgrounds to higher resolution screens, so they stretched and filtered them into a kind of muddy mess. It’s a shame, because otherwise FFIX is a vibrant and attractive game.
So Final Fantasy IX was an odd entry when it first came out. It was intended to be a return to form after the last few sci-fi games and a love letter to the franchise. It didn’t get a lot of respect due to its more cartoonish look, but I think it’s developed a much deeper reputation since. It was a game with a much more upbeat hero than Squall and Cloud, and it had more humor to boot.
The tablet version is pretty much the FFIX as I remember it, graphics aside. It’s been 18 years or so since I last played, so my specific memories are pretty fuzzy, and I got a few good laughs out of how primitive the 3-D overland maps are. Yet it did spark bits of nostalgia here and there, especially with the terrific music and certain set pieces. On the other hand, it’s a product of an earlier gaming generation with plenty of the clunky JRPG staples, such as long battles, wildly varying difficulty, a lack of a useful map (although there is an overlay on the overworld), and the inability to save anywhere you like.
One thing I really did enjoy — as I did back in 2000 — was the use of “Active Time Events.” Essentially, these were little story snippets that you could activate during various times in the game, giving you the choice to check in with other characters and other situations. It allowed for the party to split up more and gave the player the feeling of directing the narrative in a very, very limited sense. I also appreciated the ability for characters to learn skills from gear and trade that gear around as a type of progression.
I don’t know if I quite liked it as much as I did the first time around. It felt a little clunky and trite at times, with the characters being a bit shallow and simplistic (and Zidane’s 90s-style haircut is painful). But it still looks and plays just fine, and if you’re craving a Final Fantasy fix, I suppose you could do a whole heck of a lot worse.