Why Square Enix Should Look To Final Fantasy IX

Regardless of your opinion on the current Final Fantasy games, (or Square Enix in general) everyone can agree that the newer games are becoming less and less like the classic RPGs so many people cherish.  This is understandable because times have changed and more importantly some of the original creators are no longer involved with the series, so it makes sense they won’t feel the same.

Final Fantasy IX Bahamut

A problem arises though when long term fans of the series no longer enjoy the direction the developers are taking Final Fantasy, the games themselves are no longer earning the critical praise they once were and the attempts to “attract new fans” to the series is not proving successful. It seems Square Enix wants to return Final Fantasy to it’s former glory, but are not sure of the right way to do so.

Final Fantasy IX Looks

Recent attempts from the developers at Square Enix seem to have been based around trying to emulate what made Final Fantasy VII so popular. Unfortunately the idea that Square Enix seems to have about why everyone loves Final Fantasy VII in the first place is far from the actual reason from the fans themselves.

So is there a better option? Well as much as Final Fantasy VII is my favourite RPG of all time, I think Square Enix should instead look to Final Fantasy IX and its design as a way to create a Final Fantasy that everyone can enjoy.

Final Fantasy IX AirshipsI have been recently replaying through Final Fantasy IX and the first thing I noticed is how well it bridges the gap between the older 2D games of FF1-6 and (at the time of its release) the modern 3D games of FF7-8. Final Fantasy IX had the soul and character of the SNES games, but utilises the graphics, mechanics and gameplay systems expected of the modern hardware it was designed for. Hironobu Sakaguchi has stated that Final Fantasy IX is the “closest to (his) ideal view of what Final Fantasy should be” and having played all of the single-player titles in the main series it is easy to see why.

Final Fantasy IX Alexandria Party

The other thing I noticed was how many features Final Fantasy IX incorporated that I think are missing from the newest iterations in the series. Final Fantasy IX returned the series to a more medieval fantasy setting after the futuristic worlds of the games that preceded it and it was a breath of fresh air. Imagination ran wild as instead of using trains or cars to travel world, you could ride on the back of the giant insect-like Gargants through tunnels and instead of having all the characters being humans, you had a variety of different races such as anthropomorphic rats from Burmecia or faceless Black Mages. Final Fantasy IX’s world was full of interesting locations that were new, inventive and a joy to discover. Not only was it artistically beautiful, but there were so many secrets to uncover, which encouraged exploration and curiosity.
Final Fantasy IX Character Concepts
The other area Final Fantasy IX excelled in was its characters, and more importantly their growth and development. Playing the game again, the attention to detail with each character is exceptional. When you entered a new place the party would split up and you could find them off doing their own thing. Vivi would be wandering around like a lost child, while Steiner would be in the weapon shop checking out the latest armour. Without spoon-feeding the player, you could understand what made these characters tick and it made them all the more relatable.
Final Fantasy IX Vivi Life
Of course the story itself also did a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life. For all the action packed moments such as the mid-air chase through South Gate or the epic battle of the Eidolons between Bahamut and Alexander, Final Fantasy IX had just as many quiet heartfelt ones such as Vivi talking through his fear of death with one of the Black Mages or when Zidane tells Garnet the reason why he decided to go with her at Madain Sari. Not only were the main characters developed well, but many of the non-playable characters had their own story arcs and even the main antagonist Kuja is introduced early and stays all the way to the end, dealing with his own mortality. The strength of Final Fantasy IX narrative lies in the fact that its characters deal with real human emotions; fear of death, loneliness, identity, self worth and belonging. While more recent games have featured stories with needlessly complicated plots, the relative simplicity of Final Fantasy IX made it all the more human.
Final Fantasy IX Life Goes On
This straight forward approach to design also worked in the gameplay systems. While newer customisation and battle systems seem to strive to be a complex as possible, Final Fantasy IX made them simple and effective. Equipping weapons, armour and accessories let you learn new abilities and every character had a unique skillset that made experimenting with different party combinations and strategies fun and engaging. Instead of having all your characters as blank states that could be switched around interchangeably, you had to change your strategy on the fly depending on which characters were currently accessible, forcing the player to learn how to best utilise each character effectively. Final Fantasy IX is one of the only RPGs where I regularly changed my party and used different combinations depending on what part of the story I was up to.
Final Fantasy IX Battle
Many see Final Fantasy IX as a reflection on what the series used to be, but it should be also seen as the perfect blueprint to move the series forward while staying true to its spirit.


Filed under Editorial, Final Fantasy Series

21 responses to “Why Square Enix Should Look To Final Fantasy IX

  1. I totally agree with you. FFIX was an underrated gem. It was graphically better than FFVII and FFVIII (of course) and managed to make you feel like you were playing a Sakaguchi-FF, not a Nomura one.

    It’s interesting to notice that Sakaguchi initially didn’t want it to be a “numbered” FF, but it was meant to be a “FF Tribute”, a classic tale set in a FF world with quotes, topics and references to the best things the series featured until that moment. And it shows from the beginning to the very end.

    I think this is what they did and are doing with 4 Heroes of Light and Bravely Default.
    I’m sharing this on some FB groups as you deserve some more views…

    • Yeah that’s right, Sakaguchi wasn’t sure how it would be received after FF6,7 and 8 had featured more modern to futuristic settings so was going to have it be a Final Fantasy Gaiden title. Thankfully he made the decision to keep it as a mainline entry. It would be interesting to see what direction Final Fantasy would be taking today if Sakaguchi was still in charge, he seemed to have the ability to get the best out of all the developers. Thanks for sharing the article and thanks for your great comment!

      • Yeah i agree and not too mention ff9 pulled off an almost perfect FF balance. Almost could go as far assaying the epitome of FF games.
        btw i love both you guys for keeping it civil. hahaha have a great day anyone who is reading this

  2. Good post. I haven’t played many of the older “FF” games, and I hope to someday. But, from what I can tell, I think the games became not so good after “FFX”. I loved “FFX” and “FFVII”, of course, but “FFXII” and “XIII” just don’t do it for me. I enjoyed “FFXIII” more than other people, but it is nothing compared to the older “FF” games. The stories are just too complex, and I didn’t really care what happened. The characters weren’t interesting, either. And it’s true, the battle systems are far too complicated. And not any fun. Lately, they seem to like making games where you don’t control the characters in battle, and this is boring. I not only want to be able to control the main character, but all of them, just the way it used to be in “X” and “VII”.

    They really need to change how they have been making the games lately. They need to give the player control over the battles again and makes things simpler, and they really need to focus on characters and stories again. I loved the characters and the stories of “FFVII” and “FFX”. It was interesting and relatable, without being so complex you can’t grasp it. The villains aren’t that good anymore, either. I don’t even remember the main villain of “FFXII”, and you certainly couldn’t relate to the villain of “FFXIII”. And Caius’s motivation in “FFXIII-2” made no sense at all.

    • Great comment. I understand what they were trying to do with Final Fantasy XIII, but I just didn’t like many of the characters enough and because I could only control one in battle I didn’t make a connection with them. Final Fantasy IX really reminded me how using all the characters in battle helps to build a stronger connection with them and feels like they are a team. It would also be great to see Square Enix have a mainline Final Fantasy under the art direction of Hideo Minaba again. Thanks!

  3. Hello, someone just linked me here after I stated that IX was underrated and one of my favorites. Glad to hear I’m in good company (I mean Sakaguchi, but I’m sure you’re cool, too).
    Anyway, I have a question (assuming you might still read this):
    “Unfortunately the idea that Square Enix seems to have about why everyone loves Final Fantasy VII in the first place is far from the actual reason from the fans themselves.”
    What do you suppose Square thinks fans loved about VII, and how does that differ from what YOU suppose fans love(d) about it?
    I ask because – while I do love FFVII – I think a large part of what initially drew me to it was the dark, steampunk, badass feel – and the sudden sharp increase in AV quality; I do believe this was effectively reproduced in, say, XIII, but XIII is definitely an inferior game.
    My feeling is that the franhise went asrtay in ditching the ATB system. I think contemporary gamers will embrace the relatively slow speed of its battles when they come to realize that this was essenial to what made the memorable entries in the franchise so much fun.
    Anyway, thanks for the article and the chance to sound off on the matter.

    • Thanks for visiting the site and adding some thoughtful comments!
      I think you almost answered your own question. You said you were initially drawn to FFVII because of it’s dark themes, steampunk setting and increased audio/ visual appeal and I don’t think you were the only person to think that. But you admit FFXIII is an inferior game despite having these features… So then why is FFVII so loved?
      Once you get past those initial features you find a game with more character, charm and heart then most others. From a narrative point of view it had compelling and relatable characters, a story with twists and as many action pieces as quiet and heartfelt ones (including a lot of humor), fantastic atmosphere and presence and memorable villains and side characters. From a game mechanics point of view it had strategic turn-based battles where you could control all of your characters, a fully explorable world map, one of the best customisation systems in materia, secret playable characters and different gameplay experiences such as the bike chase or snowboarding to mini-games at the Gold Saucer. Final Fantasy XIII lacked most of these and is worse game because of it. Square Enix looked to copy the outer shell of FFVII but couldn’t replicate it’s heart.
      The graphics these days are no where near what can be achieved in modern games, but people still buy re-releases and go back and play FFVII today because of these reasons, not because of its graphics or that its “badass”. I think Square Enix missed that part…
      Hope that answers your question! Once again thanks for the great and insightful comment.

      • I’d like to offer up some corrections here. Final Fantasy VII isn’t “Steampunk” it’s Cyberpunk.

        Steampunk revolves around the era of innovation and steam technology, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era or American “Wild West”, in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. Steampunk perhaps most recognizably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era’s perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art.
        (Final Fantasy IX… especially Lindblum, anyone??)

        Cyberpunk is a postmodern science fiction genre noted for its focus on “high tech and low life.” It features advanced science, such as information technology and cybernetics, coupled with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.
        Cyberpunk plots often center on a conflict among hackers (Jessie), artificial intelligences (WEAPON, Guard Scorpions, Cyborgs), and megacorporations (SHIN-Ra), and tend to be set in a near-future Earth, rather than the far-future settings. The settings are usually post-industrial dystopias but tend to be marked by extraordinary cultural ferment and the use of technology in ways never anticipated by its creators “the street finds its own uses for things” (Barret’s gun arm for example).

        I’d like to believe that the reason people went after VII was indeed the graphics melded with the cyberpunk atmosphere which was gaining popularity at the time (Ghost in the Shell saw to that in Japan).

        It was Square’s major foray into new capabilities. Midi formats were replaced with PSF files resulting in higher quality audio and wider ranges of sound, 3D polygonal rendering allowed for newer presentation capabilities (taller buildings, camera panning, etc.) which improved upon the previously present Mode 7 methods, and a lot of the world’s core history and mythology was just a mirrored version of Final Fantasy VI with different architecture and theming due to time constraints.

        Final Fantasy VII was an experimental project. It wasn’t expected to sell as well as the others due to the new direction, and in fact it was a widely debated concept to begin with among the development staff. (Having originally planned it for launch in 2D sprite format, then changed it to 3D for the Sony Playstation.)

        Interestingly, Final Fantasy X is also a hot topic of debate among the fans. And wouldn’t you know it… that also was due to a new era and “benchmark” being tested. High res CG, a transition away from polygons, implementation of voice acting, departure from the ATB system, removal of the world map system, and so much more.

        Now here we sit, in the era of Final Fantasy XIII;where their focus is again the same attempt as VII and X, albeit much more drawn out.

        Surprising how history often repeats itself, isn’t it?

        • You are definitely right about the Steampunk and Cyberpunks settings, so thanks for clearing that up!
          They are the reasons why people flocked to Final Fantasy VII in the first place, but it is still loved today because of the emotional story, interesting characters, fantastic world and interesting locations and stimulating gameplay. These are the reason why FFVII is still loved over 15 years later and why FFXIII won’t be.
          Not sure if FFVII wasn’t expected to sell, Sony put a massive advertising campaign behind it (at least in North America) and used it as the epitome of why the PlayStation was better than The Nintendo 64.
          Same thing happened with FFX, people initially wanted to play it because of all the new features, but again it became a classic because of all the elements the past entries had that everybody loved.

    • Thiago

      Well, FFXIII is futuristic but it is definitely not cyberpunk, steampunk, dark or badass. It’s a very colorful J-pop experience, that’s why it sucks. And the music just doesn’t draw you to the game. God, I can still hear that fierce guitar from FF7’s boss battles, and the very dark sound of Shinra building, and there were the creepy silent moments with sephiroth. Really, THAT’S an emotional game.

      • Completely agree with this. The music really added to the atmosphere of FFVII. Some of the moments with Sephiroth were creepy just because of the music. Even the idea to keep “Aeris Theme” going through the boss fight with JENOVA was a stroke of genius. Thanks for the comment!

  4. I think IX is a good game to look at but if they want to bring a spark back to old fans and intrigue new ones, I think VI would be a good template to have a look at. That game was done so well and wasn’t too complicated like VII and VIII.

    • Yep I agree with you there. When I first thought about it I saw FFVI and FFIX as quite similar (they were both directed by Hiroyuki Ito after all). They both focus on a large cast of main characters and you shift between them throughout the story, seeing multiple scenarios. I used FFIX as the focus for this article because after the more modern and then futuristic settings of FFVII and VIII, Square returned the series to its roots without losing all the progressions it had made in presentation, gameplay mechanics and storytelling. I think this parallels where Square Enix finds itself at the moment and could be a blueprint towards the future. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Erika

    Unfortunately for FF9, I think that the major reason it didn’t get the attention it deserved was because of the hype of the PS2–which released the same year in the USA. So, it was sadly overlooked. I was 13 when I bought it that year because I saw my friend playing it (I wasn’t really into video games at the time. I didn’t know until then that games could have actual, compelling story lines). IX is, to this day, my favorite final fantasy. The new Final Fantasy games feel so…empty. I thought I was going to enjoy 12, and it’s obvious that the detail work in the world, the history, etc is great, but I feel like the characters aren’t there. I just feel so distant from them, as there is very little storyline at all. I stopped playing it near the end when there was still little story depth to push me forward. It was a major turn off for me. Haven’t played any of the newer releases since. I did, however, go back and play things like 7, 8, 10, Tactics, and Kingdom Hearts (which is cute and enjoyable, but should be otherwise known as “the story that never ends”). I haven’t played any of the earlier ones yet, but I really wish some of the older styles would return. For me, it’s all about the story.

    • Yeah I agree with you, Final Fantasy IX definitely had character in spades. The art style, the gameplay, the narrative, it just has something that seems to be lacking now in modern games. It would be great to have a new game in the same style as FFVII, VIII, IX, X, or tactics. Thanks for the comment.

  6. ahmadmanga

    I found this site late, But I read some of articles and liked it.

    decided I’ll give my opinion on this, I never played FFIX (but VII,VIII) and I’m sure it’ll be good if FF returned to the “Old Fantasy Setting” once more with a more Turn-Based system (Unlike FFXII which has “Old Fantasy Setting” but more Action-Based Battles).

    it’ll be great if they done that next, To compare it with FFVersu- I mean FFXV which is Action-RPG unlike all those before it.

    • Thanks for the comment, while I would love a return to a Turn-based battle system, that is not the only thing missing from recent games. Being able to control all your party members in battle, better character development, a more interesting and explore-able world and more varied game play elements. I still enjoyed FFXII even with the more “Action-based Battles” because you still had full control over your party. Thanks!

  7. Shere_Kahn

    I couldn’t agree more with you. Final fantasy IX is, along with VI, my favorite of the series not because of the technology used to implement it but because of the game’s internal architecture that you already described as the hearth/core of the game, and that all the current final fantasy games lacks.
    Final Fantasy VII and X are hitos that will always be favored and remembered as the first final fantasy experience on the first videogame console of many gamers, but VI and XI will always be the pinnacles of sakaguchi’s vision of FF.

    • You are spot on. The technology used is always amazing when you first experience it, but it is the mechanics, gameplay, characters and story that keeps you involved. It is the reason I can still go back to FFVII, VIII and IX or Chrono Trigger even today and still have so much fun!
      Thanks for the comment.

  8. Samuel

    I personally don’t like the medieval theme with “knights and kings” of the FF9, but I love the game. I hated FFX, and with each new I hated FF even more, the 13 was a total failure. As a writer easy to see what makes FF7 great.
    (1) Likable characters (FF13 has no likable characters)
    (2) Story you can relate to. Like environmentalism in FF7. FF13 has no story I could relate to…
    (3) Good execution of (1) and (2)… with proper writing, music, control.

    That’s it. If you have a story you as a person can’t relate to, like in FF13, then you simply don’t care for it, and you play with a distance between yourself and the characters and you don’t give a shit if one of them dies.

    90s games were written like screenplays. Now they’re written by people who don’t know what they’re doing.

    Tell me, what the hell was 13? It’s a long corridor of fighting enemies. That’s the whole game. I was like “the fuck”. FF was never about fighting and here I am, spending a weekend fighting through some corridors with a story and characters I don’t give two shits about.

    • Great comment Samuel!
      You make a great point about having a story and characters that are relatable to the player. Both FFVII and FFIX have very relatable characters that deal with scarily human emotions (loneliness, being an outcast, failure, loss, self-identity and discovery). They are told in a fantasy world but you can feel for the characters and relate to what is happening to them in the story. This is what makes them memorable to me.
      The other point you make about the newer games (other RPG series included) is they just focus on battles and pretty graphics…. Just the basics of the genre, but not what makes it special. I am replaying FFVII again for the hundredth time and I am realising how much time is spent on other things than just fighting. Each new place you explore has different challenges, scenarios or mini-games to partake in.
      The Wall Market cross-dressing scene, stealth mini-game sneaking into Shinra HQ, the motorcycle escape, getting story details by listening to the “flashback” in Kalm, the tower defence game at Fort Condor, trying to get in line unnoticed in the Junon parade…. that’s only the first part of that game, but it creates memorable experiences and variety in the game.
      Newer games have none of this and they are a poorer experience because of it.
      Thanks so much for the comment!

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