There are many entries in the Final Fantasy series that fans claim are their favorites and one that appears quite often happens to be Final Fantasy IX so it only makes sense that over the last few years Square Enix has done a bit of digging to bring the game to more audiences. After first releasing on smartphones and later on PC, it took a bit longer before the game arrived on the PlayStation 4 now almost two years later the game has been ported once more to the Switch and Xbox One. So now that we finally have Final Fantasy IX on an Xbox console, is this port worth your money?
Those who have played the original will find that Square Enix has left Final Fantasy IX and its story completely untouched as players follow the journey of Zidane, a heroic thief, Vivi, a mysterious mage, Garnet, a princess of the kingdom, and the rest of their motley crew venture into danger and mystery only to be pulled into a greater plot that ends up threatening the entire world. Final Fantasy IX may be a bit slow off the start but once various plot points start to be revealed and the cast of charming characters grows on you, especially Vivi, it will be hard to put the game down.
In fact, thanks to the way that the story allows for players to see things from other characters’ points of view and the more traditional style of storytelling Final Fantasy IX’s can feel rather refreshing and even a bit lighthearted in some cases, especially with how crazy Square Enix has taken the series in some more recent entries.
Much of Final Fantasy IX‘s gameplay also remains the same to its classic form with players being able to travel through towns and dungeons while dealing with random encounter battles, if they choose of course but more on that later. The battle system uses the Active Time Battle (ATB) that was the norm at the time and sees each member of your party filling up a gauge and then taking their action once it is filled.
This slight alternative to simple turn based combat makes for a more fluid feeling combat and keeps players on their toes when it comes to managing their party, targeting weaknesses, healing ailments, and exploiting weaknesses though you shouldn’t be too worried about keeping up with it during standard play. It is interesting to note that unlike the Limit Break system that fans were used to at the time Final Fantasy IX uses a Trance mechanic that provides a significant boost to a character’s stats and unlocks additional skills while in that mode.
Outside of combat players can also make fun use of the game’s card game, Tetra Master, that makes for a fun little diversion that allows you to challenge most of the NPCs in the game to a card battle that, while not the best in series history, is still a fun little diversion from traveling through dungeons and solving puzzles.
Now the bigger changes to the way Final Fantasy IX plays come in the form of optional features that can be accessed either through the pause menu or delving further in if you want to really cheat a bit. These features are the ability to speed up the game to a nearly unmanageable degree, turn off or reduce random battles, allow players to deal 9999 damage on every hit, and more. These include things like being able to learn certain things earlier than intended but in the end choosing to use most of these features simply hurt the longevity and difficulty of the game as a whole though, at least for longtime fans, at least these give them the option to skip some of the grind or the dialogue of the story if you happen to be playing through a second time.
It is unfortunate to note that despite this being the fourth time that this game has been ported to a new console that it still suffers from a few glitches in the form of crashes. Multiple times throughout the game, even playing without the aforementioned cheats, Final Fantasy IX crashed to the home screen. While not a huge issue due to the auto-save implemented in the port, it is an annoyance that still remains years later.
Visuals & Audio
With Final Fantasy IX arriving on the Xbox One it is worth noting that graphically the game has seen something of an upgrade but be prepared for a mixed bag in that regard. The character models have been touched-up to look as high-res and nicely detailed but unfortunately they clash incredibly hard against the pre-rendered backgrounds that have not been touched at all. Many of these backgrounds are still presented in their original low-res PlayStation era glory so players should be ready for some rather odd looking scenes from time to time. Thankfully it seems that the various cutscenes have also been touched up a bit and they look rather clear.
While not a big problem and something that younger fans may appreciate, it is also extremely evident that Square Enix did not bother changing the UI at all from what was presented in the original smartphone release years ago. What used to be a more stylized and better looking interface in the menu and combat screens is now replaced with bland chunky blocks that really drag down the appearance of the game and is something that could have used some reworking for console release.
The soundtrack for the game features all of the great themes and tracks that fans have grown to love over the years and this release doesn’t damage them in any way, allowing for both returning players and newcomers to appreciate them once again.
Final Fantasy IX remains an amazing entry in the series as its storyline, once it gets going, is as engrossing as ever and its gameplay mechanics remain solid to this day but Square Enix’s treatment is a bit of a rough one here. Those who are looking for a great JRPG will find it here but will have to deal with the incredibly inconsistent graphics, crashes, and a user interface taken from a smartphone that come with this port. Some cheats for those who want to use them are a nice touch and if you haven’t played Final Fantasy IX before or haven’t picked up any of the various ports of the game since it was released on smartphone, then Final Fantasy IX is certainly worth a shot even with the port’s flaws.