Final Fantasy IX Review: A grand adventure at home on the Switch

Claiming Final Fantasy IX is your favourite of the PSOne era FF titles is a bit like saying Ringo is your favourite Beatle — most people think you’re a wanker and that there are far better musicians in the group.

But what Ringo fans know is that he’s often unfairly overlooked. Sure, he’s responsible for some of the band’s wilder flights of fancy, but his ability as a drummer is undeniable. That’s Final Fantasy IX to a tee. It’s the little game that has lived its whole life in the shadow of the Lennon/McCartney duo that are Final Fantasy VII and VIII, but still works hard to make you love it. As the industry at the time looked to the PlayStation 2 and the next generation, Final Fantasy IX eschewed the grimmer tone and more realistic aesthetic set by its older siblings in favour of a return to the goofy, colourful flavour of the Super Nintendo era.

Final Fantasy IX follows a motley band of adventures from different walks of life. You have Zidane, the roguish bandit with a monkey’s tail, part of a mission to kidnap the Alexandrian princess Garnet. Zidane meets Garnet as she makes her own conveniently timed bid for freedom and, recognising their shared lust for trouble, the two quickly form a bond. They are pursued by the head of the Alexandrian guard, Steiner, and adopt a host of other friends to their little family of ne’erdowells like Vivi the timid black mage and the stoic Freya. Together, they hatch a plot to take down Garnet’s warmongering mother Queen Brahne before realising that there is a far greater evil at work.

FFIX has spent the last twenty years since its release hopping from system to system, building an audience who’ve come to appreciate it over time. This latest iteration for the Nintendo Switch is the latest in that long line, but also continues Square Enix’s hit-and-miss ability to update these older titles. While the game gets a minor facelift and runs well on the Switch, there are elements of the PSOne era that remain. Character models are as crisp and clear as they’ve ever been with nice animations and clear text on-screen for dialgoue, but backgrounds and environments have not recieved the same level of love. Time hasn’t been kind to the way these older FF games approached level design and traversal. Many of the backgrounds are rather muddy and it isn’t always clear where you can go or what you can interact with. This creates a weird clash — you know where your character IS, you just can’t figure out how to leave the room. It’s a minor complaint in the scheme of things but one I wish Square had addressed.

It’s also a bit rich that Square Enix is still trying to charge $30 AUD for it. I’m not saying the game isn’t worth your time and money because it is, but it’s also twenty years old. Tell ’em they’re dreamin’.

In every other respect, it is the game I remember. The Job system of the SNES era returns in full measure, allowing you a degree of control over how your squad’s moves and specials are used and powered up. The story is genuinely moving and one of the most accessible in FF history, the last stop before the high-concept anime hijinks of FFX. Its sense of humour is broad but also quite subversive. It also features a set of emulator-style controls on the pause screen that let you run the game in fast forward if you find the dialogue is unfolding too slowly for you.

In short, this Switch port recaptures everything I like about Final Fantasy IX with only a few complaints, reminding me why it’s always been my favourite.

FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Higlights: One of the best titles of the PSOne era; Lovely story; Great characters; A wonderful SNES throwback
Lowlights: Muddy backgrounds haven’t stood the test of time; Little that sets it apart from any other port beyond its being on the Switch
Developer: Squaresoft
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Available: Now

Review conducted on Nintendo switch with a retail code provided by the publisher.

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David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously worked as a freelance games journalist and critic, appearing on PC World Australia. He tweets at @RhunWords and plays the odd game at twitch.tv/RhunWords when the internet works.