Republished on Tuesday 19th September 2017: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the game's remastered release on PlayStation 4. The original text follows.
As far as Final Fantasy games go, Final Fantasy IX is one of the most cohesive, charming entries in Square Enix's beloved series. It marked the franchise's last showing on the PSone, and although Final Fantasy VII is always brought to the forefront of conversation whenever Japanese RPGs are mentioned, it's definitely possible to argue that IX has aged far better than its PSone brothers, and in some cases, it's even stood the test of time more capably than Final Fantasy X on the PlayStation 2.
Its everlasting youth is down to a number of factors. Although it's full of jaggy, blocky character models by today's standards, it still remains one of the best looking games on Sony's first console, mostly due to an absolutely brilliant art direction that's like a mix of Victorian flair and extravagant Japanese styling. It's charming, elegant, incredibly detailed, and simply a pleasure to behold, even 14 years after its original release.
On the gameplay side of things, the title's quite traditional, featuring the series' trademark active time battle system and several different ways to power up your party – and what a party it is. The game's cast is stellar, from chipper protagonist Zidane to the weird and wonderful Quina, and each member of the group comes with their own abilities. Timid and loveable black mage Vivi makes use of the franchise's magic spell staples, while grumpy knight Steiner's all about martial prowess. There are even combination techniques to consider, where two characters team up to unleash devastating attacks that come with boosted effects.
When you're not slashing and smacking the snot out of brilliantly designed monsters, you'll be exploring the classic's large and varied world. The map itself undoubtedly seems a bit barren by today's standards, but the game's many towns and dungeons are beautifully crafted. The bigger locations, like the grand city of Lindblum, are intricate and practically beg to be explored. The environments are also full of intrigue, thanks to colourful NPCs that spout often comedic lines of dialogue.
Indeed, the title's writing still more than holds its own, and even though there's no voice acting to speak of, glorious CG cutscenes are excellently choreographed events that you'll look forward to seeing once you decide to move ahead with the plot. Speaking of which, Final Fantasy IX's story is full of gripping twists and turns, hilariously stylish bad guys, and, of course, catastrophic God-like powers. At times, it's so well paced that it's difficult to tear yourself away, especially as your ragtag group is thrown from one perilous situation to the next. The narrative does tend to slip into more predictable territory as it nears its finale, but by then, you'll already be captivated by the fantastic cast, and the 30 plus hour journey will have been more than memorable.
And who could possibly forget Tetra Master – the title's ridiculously addictive card game? Simple but staggeringly effective, Tetra Master sees you take on dozens of NPCs throughout the release, beating them at their favourite hobby in order to snag their best monster cards, adding them to your ever-growing collection. Tired of grinding for ability points and experience? Catch the next airship back to Lindblum and destroy some street urchin with your horribly overpowered deck. Tetra Master provides a whole different perspective to your adventure, and it remains one of the series' best optional time sinks.
But perhaps Final Fantasy IX's greatest achievement is its sublime soundtrack. Composed and arranged by industry icon Nobuo Uematsu, the title's music sews the game together perfectly, with superb scores adding extra emotional depth to every scene. However, it's the action orientated tunes that steal the show, providing a real sense of urgency to battles and other tense scenarios. In short, game soundtracks just don't come much better than this.
Despite being over a decade old, Final Fantasy IX has retained its original brilliance shockingly well, and bears all of the hallmarks of a true PSone classic. It's from a time when Squaresoft was at its creative peak, with the game's incredible art direction and astounding musical score being enough to put many modern releases to shame. Graceful, superbly crafted, and utterly engrossing, Final Fantasy IX remains an absolute masterpiece.