After the no show of Final Fantasy IX all yesterday, it would be quite an understatement to say that I was eager to get my hands on Final Fantasy IX today. I won't bore you with my story of how I purchased the game, as it's not exactly exciting. It was just the usual, "Hey, do you have FF9 yet? You do? Okay". Drive over... pick up game... try to flip through the instruction manual while avoiding a head on collision. We all go through it. We're SquareSoft fans.
When I got home, I eagerly popped the disk in to get things started. Suddenly a nice little intro FMV loaded. Basically, it consisted of a map of some sort, and a scanning of various names on the map. Some of them were familiar, others were not (did I spot a "Tifa" in there somewhere?). It was a nice little FMV, but nothing to get in a twist over. That wonderful screen popped up. That screen that I've been waiting for for the last year. That screen that I'll become oh-so-familiar with by the end of December. It was the New Game/Continue screen, of course. The cursor was automatically set on Continue (thank you Square!), but I moved it up to New Game and began my journey.
Upon the start of my New Game adventure, I was treated to an uncharacteristically short Final Fantasy opening sequence. Beautifully done, the FMV rivals that of anything I've ever seen. The waves that toss Garnet's ship are just as impressive as those you'll find in A Perfect Storm. Thus, the opening sequence introduces us to the world of Alexandria, your new home for the next hour (at least). I'll stop revealing any plot points now, so you can feel free to go on worry-free.
Probably the first thing you'll notice when you press the power button, the graphics in Square's latest installment at just what you've come to expect from Square. The backgrounds are gorgeous, the FMVs are stunning and plentiful, and the characters are vivid. Even though the characters are super-deformed, you'll find that all their actual movements are more lifelike than those you've seen in Final Fantasy VIII. When Vivi approaches the ticket booth, he doesn't just blindly continue, but rather reaches into his right pocket and removes what is clearly a ticket stub.
The towns aren't just dormant villages where you'll find the same townsfolk in the same area, but rather very lifelike environments bustling with activity. The children play tag and jump rope (you can join in if you want). Birds fly overhead, and sometimes land nearby. Townspeople move throughout the beautiful scenery and go about their business. Yet another nice feature of Final Fantasy IX is the mixture of species throughout the town. In other words, you'll come across much more than just humans. Hippo like creatures are scattered throughout the town as well as rat-children. Of course, you can't forget about the return of Moogles, which were almost a reason in themselves to purchase Final Fantasy IX.
Yet another one of the first things that you'll notice from Final Fantasy IX is the departure from the series music-wise The tunes you'll hear will be more like that in the older series, only with a new twist. You NES and SNES fans will notice faint reference to those"little beeps" that we loved so long ago. Basically, the tunes that you hear sound like those you'd hear at town festival 500 years ago. The departure is very nice, in my opinion. While no track has particularly stuck out (although I am partial to the opening track), we're just getting started. In converse, I am a little letdown by the battle theme though, but it could grow on me in time.
Perhaps the biggest feature that Final Fantasy IX improves on would be gameplay. I'm already blown away by the advances made in this category, yet I'm only an hour in. Fans of the earlier Final Fantasies will be pleased to know that Final Fantasy IX now has 4 characters in battle at once. While this makes battles go a bit slower, it also puts a whole new twist on things. Understand, when I say that battles go a bit slower, I mean ATB wise. It takes longer for your character to reach his turn. Battles still maintain their intensity that the series is famous for, like
Remember how Final Fantasy VIII had those peculiar fast- loading-scenes? Let me give an example. Remember in Final Fantasy VIII when you went to Tears Point? Remember how you walked down the path it suddenly switched screens without ever taking a second to load? (I know, I know, those fast-loading-backgrounds were scattered all throughout FF8, I just have a bad memory) Well, those are all over Final Fantasy IX. I can name almost 15 instances of those fast-loading-scenes in the first hour of Final Fantasy IX. These make for much more dramatic camera angles as well as increased emotion during certain scenes. Trust me, you'll know what I'm talking about during the first 10 minutes of Final Fantasy IX.
Something that has always bothered me was load times. I believe that the series moved to an all time slow (sorry, I couldn't resist) with Final Fantasy VIII. Luckily, Final Fantasy IX makes up for it's predecessors faults. The load times between screens are improved by at least half. The only time that this isn't the case is when it's preparing to load those fast-loading-scenes that I mentioned above. Either way, the load times are much better than Final Fantasy VIII.
Lastly, the characters also move a lot faster. Vivi zips through Alexandria. This goes hand-in-hand with the new "search and find" system that Final Fantasy IX incorporates. When a character comes within a step or two of a secret (gil, cards, weapons, etc.), you'll see a little exclamation mark appear above their head. Press X and you'll receive that item. You can find these little secrets just about everywhere, as they seem to be planted all over the place. Final Fantasy IX shines in the gameplay department.
Well. What can I say? It's finally here, and I'm finally playing it. According to my first impressions, this could be one of the best ever. Who's to say? All we can do is wait it out and see how the masses respond. I'll talk to you in about 50 hours of gameplay... Until then, enjoy!