We all remember that sound that now drips with sheer joy and a hint of nostalgia - the original PlayStation start-up theme. I had the joy of hearing that once more as I returned to the magical Kingdom of Alexandria. I sat there clenching my controller with a smile extended from one side of my face to the other. Moments later, I gazed upon that the opening screen to one of my favorite games of all time. Although most people consider Final Fantasy VII to be the strongest entry in the franchise, the same can't be said for me.
This is my love letter to one of the greatest RPGs of all time, Final Fantasy IX.
Looking back at my 11-year-old self, I see a young, tomboyish girl that spent countless hours immersed in video games. She pushed friends, family and neighbors to take her on at any multiplayer game. She ran through jungles as Crash Bandicoot and raided tombs with Lara Croft, while even finding time to kick some virtual ass in Tekken.
Little did I know at the time - I was about to enter a realm of fantasy and wonder like no other.
The Final Fantasy team has a remarkable talent for creating rich and interesting worlds; worlds that you just want to explore for hours upon hours. Final Fantasy IX is no exception. It brought the series back from its trend of dark, futuristic sci-fi atmosphere to a bright, beautiful land in a medieval setting.
Stunning architectures surround you in each city as airships took to the skies to faraway destinations - Final Fantasy IX felt excitingly alive to me in a way no other game had. Introducing the game in a dark room with nothing but candlelight grabbed my attention due to the mysterious nature of what the game had to offer. You take on the role of a cheeky, yet charming thief named Zidane. With a wandering eye for the ladies, he now is tasked with his most daring heist yet - to kidnap the princess of Alexandria, Garnet. Did I mention he has a tail? That was a peculiar thing that definitely stood out to me at first.
Unlike other strong, burly, and often mute main characters in RPGs, Zidane is cheerful, chatty and quite optimistic; he is a joy not only to play, but also an intriguing character learn more about. After a few introductory tutorials that teach the game's turn-based combat system, I was introduced to one of the most lovable main characters - a character that has stuck with me to this very day, Vivi.
Vivi Ornitier still remains as one of th most iconic characters in the Final Fantasy franchise. With his golden glowing eyes to his huge droopy hat to the unexplainable black aura covering his skin (something I spent hours googling), he is just a captivating case to study at first sight. Vivi carries an innocent vibe with endearing, childlike attributes.
In the first few hours, Vivi is easily led in a rather clumsy fashion similar to most kids. As the story started to expand, I learned things about him that just melted my dear heart. Watching a young character deal with awfully grim, complicated conflicts had me hanging on the story’s every word.
This remains as an ongoing theme. As I traveled around the world of Final Fantasy IX, I met new characters that joined me on my quest and witnessed their development as characters in every new trial that faced them.
Antagonists also receive an equal part in the characterization process in this game. Surpassing bosses to find out various NPCs' plights along with why the queen just a downright bitch - there's always a reason to the madness. There’s a cause behind why Kuja acts the way he does and even though I still wanted to kick him into next week, the game still provided me a rich background pertaining to the villains' motivations that almost made me second guess that ass-whipping I dished out.
The soundtrack is no slouch either! Nobuo Uematsu's work on Final Fantasy IX was absolutely breathtaking. Each music track appropriately fits hand-in-hand with the various environments the world had to offer. Playful themes quickly uplifted my spirits when entering light-hearted areas and story events while running around always felt fresh and fun due to the various tunes that played.
No Final Fantasy IX retrospective can end without mentioning the Moogles. Sure, you've probably seen them before but this time, we watch them interact with one another - sending each other mognets and love letters of their own. These little subplots are lovely additions to an already lovable game.
Something did change the day I was handed this game. It altered the way I perceived games and introduced me to the role-playing genre. Since then, I have never looked back. I am proud to say that Final Fantasy IX was my first RPG and I hope this letter encourages a few of you to pick up Final Fantasy IX as well.