Category Archives: Editorial

Why I’m Excited for Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

Final Fantasy XII was one of the best RPGs on the PlayStation 2. Released back in 2006, it revolutionised both the Final Fantasy series and RPGs at the time. It modernised the turn-based combat system the series had been using into a more real-time hybrid, while still managing to keep the strategic gameplay and allow players the time to choose actions if they wished. It also featured stellar voice acting for it’s generation and was backed up by the wonderful world of Ivalice, which had appeared in many other Yasumi Matsuno games.

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Now Square Enix has announced a remastered version for PlayStation 4 under the title of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. So why am I really excited to revisit Princess Ashe and her crew on their quest to gain freedom for Dalmasca?

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Well the biggest new feature here for English speaking fans is this remaster is based on the updated Internal Zodiac Job System version of Final Fantasy XII that was never released outside of Japan. More than just a simple update, it made huge changes to the fundamental gameplay of the original by including specific jobs you could assign to each character to further define their personality and role in the story. There are also many tweaks made to balance the game and the combat systems. Ultimately it will play like a familiar, yet vastly different game to the original.

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Other less dramatic changes involve updated visuals and character models, the ability to speed up the gameplay, the inclusion of both the English and Japanese voice tracks and the always welcome re-orchestrated soundtrack by the legendary composer Hitoshi Sakimoto.

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So if you want to experience an RPG that’s gameplay systems were ahead of it’s time, both updated for returning fans and new players alike, then you should be excited to play Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age.

 

 

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Final Fantasy VII Remake

The reunion at hand may bring joy, it may bring fear, but let us embrace whatever it brings. For they are coming back…

Almost 20 years ago, Final Fantasy VII was unleashed on the original PlayStation and burned itself into the hearts and minds of many people. It is still a highly regarded RPG and looked back upon fondly by the millions that played it. Whether it was the 3D graphics, the impressive (at the time) FMV sequences, the sensational soundtrack, the atmospheric and intriguing world, the lovable and iconic characters, the strategic turn-based battle system, the emotional and quirky narrative or just a combination of all of those things and more, few games have the immense reputation as Final Fantasy VII. Now it is going to be remade anew!   

PS4-FF7-Debut-PSX15-Init 

Final Fantasy VII is my favourite game of all time and for years I often wondered what a remake would be like, honestly it brought equal parts excitement and fear. Final Fantasy VII is very much a product of its time, for both good and bad, but it’s what makes it what it is. By updating the game to modern standards it would no doubt look amazing… but, would voice acting destroy the beauty of the soundtrack? Would the battle gameplay be changed and the material system diluted? Would the narrative lose some of it’s more unique and bizarre moments? And would the lack of original creators like Hironobu Sakaguchi, Nobuo Uematsu and Masato Kato that no longer work at Square be sorely missed? These… these were the questions that I could never answer.

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Despite these reservations, I cannot deny my excitement for this remake. To revisit this world again and see it in a completely new light. The moody and sombre Midgar, the mysterious and eerie City of the Ancients, the wild and wacky Gold Saucer, the intimidating Junon, there are so many fantastic locations in Final Fantasy VII to explore. The details were exceptional on the pre-rendered backgrounds and they were really highlighted by the cinematic camera angles. The remake has a great opportunity to really breathe new life into this world and amaze the player with its scope and diversity.

FFVII-battle

I also can’t wait to see how they adapt the story, both the truly emotional and heartfelt moments, but of course the funny and weird ones just as much. Final Fantasy VII deals with some harsh and realistic themes. Aeris’ death scene, Dyne’s mass murder at the Battle Square and emotional exchange with Barret before his suicide, Zacks original brutal and stoic death, Shinra dropping the Sector 7 plate and killing thousands, juxtaposed over the heroes blowing up the Mako reactors and killing innocent civilians themselves and of course Sephiroth losing his mind and setting Nibelheim ablaze and walking through the flames.

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In contrast it also has plenty of funny moments that really give it an identity all of its own. I hope we get to see scenes like Cloud dressing up as a girl to infiltrate Don Corneo’s Mansion, Tifa slapping Scarlet on top of the Junon Cannon, Red XIII disguised as a sailor walking on two legs (and Barret dressed as a marshmallow), Aeris and Cloud participating in the Play on their Gold Saucer date (or Tifa, Yuffie or… Barret), Cloud trying to get into the Shinra Parade unnoticed and especially Cid telling everyone to sit down and drink their God damn Tea!

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Sure, changes will be made. The battle system will be changed to something more modern and adopt a turn-based, real time hybrid, some story segments will be altered, voice acting will be present and some of the mini-games may be cut. But based on the latest trailer Square Enix and Tetsuya Nomura look to be staying as faithful as possible and aiming to recapture the vibe and soul of the original game. We will always still have the original Final Fantasy VII that we can go back and play anytime, but I am happy to embrace this reimagining of Cloud’s journey and be excited to discover everything all over again…
Besides, there ain’t  no getting off this train we’re on, so… Let mosey!

ff7_remake

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Why I’m Excited for Star Ocean 5 and the Series’ Evolution

Square Enix and tri-Ace have just announced that a new Star Ocean game is in development. It was thought “The Last Hope” was going to be the final instalment in the series, but now we are set to head out into the great star ocean once more… But first let’s look back how the series has evolved.

Star Ocean 5 Background

The Star Ocean series began on the Super Nintendo and featured real-time battles with an interesting space travelling story. It allowed different characters to be recruited on different play-throughs and debuted the “private actions” system which revealed additional backstory for characters the player chose to engage with. The first game wasn’t released outside of Japan until it’s remake on the PlayStation Portable some 10 years later.

Star Ocean SNES

Next came “The Second Story” released on the original PlayStation, again using the action-based battle system the series is known for allowing full control over the playable characters in combat. Taking place 20 years after the first Star Ocean, this game allowed the player to choose between two different main characters that affected the way the story played out. The series was making a name for itself moving into the PlayStation 2 era.

Star Ocean 2 Battle

Set hundreds of years after the second game, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time moved the series into 3D and also featured fully voiced dialogue. The use of 3D graphics elevated the battle system to new heights and is seen now as the main drawcard of the series. Like the other titles it also has a vast item creation system and a compelling soundtrack.

Star Ocean 3 Characters

Most recently the fourth Star Ocean game was released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and was actually a prequel to the entire series as humanity faced the aftermath of World War III. It added new facets to the battle system, like Blindside attacks and a four-character party and allowed the player control over their own spaceship.

Star Ocean 4 Edge

So why am I excited for a revival of Star Ocean? Well the developers have stated that they are trying to capture the spirit of Star Ocean 3, from the logo design, to the art style. Hopefully this means more that just superficially and actually means they aim to harken back to the PlayStation 2 era of design for RPGs. More than a few RPG series fell in quality during the last generation and some have been completely missing in action. So if Star Ocean 5 can come back strong it might lead the way for other games to do the same.

Star Ocean 5 Logo

Either way, I’m excited to take another Sci-Fi quest, travelling to unexplored planets and battling enemies in a fantastic new Action-RPG adventure!

 

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The History of Dragon Quest

Before there was Final Fantasy… There was Dragon Quest. Taking inspiration from western developed RPGs such as Wizardry and Ultima, designer Yuji Horii’s original Dragon Quest game established many foundations of the console RPG genre. Collaborating with manga artist Akira Toriyama and composer Koichi Sugiyama, Dragon Quest has stayed fiercely loyal to it’s traditions resulting in 10 mainline games and a plethora of spin-off titles. Dragon Quest is so popular in Japan that most titles are released on a weekend or public holiday so not to effect school children and people going to work!

Dragon Quest Artwork

Published by Enix the first four Dragon Quest games were released on the original Nintendo Entertainment System and localised in North American under the name Dragon Warrior due to copyright. The Dragon Warrior name was kept all the way up to Dragon Quest VII outside of Japan. The NES instalments featured a fully explorable overworld, dungeons, a simple yet satisfying narrative and a turn-based battle system. Different to Square’s Final Fantasy series, Dragon Quest utilises a first-person view for combat which allowed focus on the detailed enemy designs. Dragon Quest I-IV were initially developed in collaboration with Chunsoft. Yuji Horii’s own studio Armor Project co-develops all the mainline instalments.

Dragon Quest Battle

Moving onto the Super Nintendo, Enix released Dragon Quest V and VI in Japan only. Both titles wouldn’t make their appearance in English speaking countries until years later in remakes for the Nintendo DS. Again Chunsoft developed Dragon Quest V, but from Dragon Quest VI onwards, which was made by Heartbeat the series had a rotation of developers. Heatbeat would also go on to co-develop Dragon Quest VII on the original PlayStation with ArtePiazza (who themselves would develop many remakes of earlier titles in the series). The massive Dragon Quest VII was released in North America and the next few games would follow suit.

Dragon Quest World

In 2003, Enix merged with former rival Square and Square Enix partnered with Dark Cloud developer Level-5 to release one of the most critically acclaimed and successful instalment in the series. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King released on the monumental PlayStation 2 and propelled Dragon Quest into a beautiful 3D cel-shaded world. The exploration was vast, the voice acting engaging and everything else great from the series was carried over and improved to make it one of the PS2’s best RPGs. Dragon Quest VIII also overhauled the dialogue in the English releases which has been carried over into the remakes of earlier games and new releases over the past few years.

Dragon Quest VIII Characters

Having found success with Level-5, Square Enix worked with them again to develop Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies for the impressive Nintendo DS. Originally planned to be an action-RPG, loyal fans disliked this direction so much that the idea was scrapped and a turn-based battle system was restored. Implementing an interesting take on multiplayer in what is predominantly a single player experience, Dragon Quest IX took the series to new heights and arguably it’s most popular era in English countries.

Dragon Quest IX Combat

Unfortunately in the years since, remakes of DQ IV, V and VI were released on the Nintendo DS by Nintendo themselves to a less popular response in North America and the Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) Dragon Quest X, as well as spin offs such as Dragon Quest Monsters have stayed in Japan only. With such a rich history of quality RPGs it would be a shame to not have any more Dragon Quest games translated into English. There is still hope as the action/ adventure spin off Dragon Quest Heroes is in development for 2015 on The PlayStation 3 and 4 and the next mainline instalment Dragon Quest XI has been confirmed to be returning to a traditional RPG on consoles. So if you are a fan of the series or love a great classic turn-based RPG, the history of Dragon Quest is worth a look into.

Dragon Quest Heroes

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Character Study: Yuna’s Pilgrimage

The main character of Final Fantasy X is Tidus, but the main heroine of the story is Yuna. Daughter of High Summoner Braksa, Yuna resolves to take the unenviable journey to receive the Final Aeon and defeat Sin, bringing peace to all of Spira. Yuna is one of the most interesting and determined characters ever to grace an RPG. While some female characters are often criticized for being mere “damsels in distress”, this article will delve into Yuna’s story and discuss why she is such an amazingly strong character.
 Final Fantasy X Yuna Sending Kilika
Final Fantasy X features an emotional and gripping narrative and a very interesting concept for it’s story; death. The people of Spira are constantly under attack from the seemly invincible monster Sin, who causes death and destruction all over the world and the only way to bring peace (albeit briefly) is for a summoner and their guardian to sacrifice their lives in the hope to defeat Sin by using Aeons which are souls of the dead. Even if they are victorious, Sin is soon reborn and cycle begins anew. A pretty depressing prospect indeed.
 Auron: “Spira is full of death… only Sin is reborn, and then only to bring more death. It is a cycle of death, spiraling endlessly.”
 Final Fantasy X Yuna Sin
Despite this, Yuna chooses to follow in the footsteps of her late father and volunteer herself to journey across the world gaining enough strength and knowledge to battle Sin. During the first half of the game Tidus (and by extension, the player) is unaware that Yuna must die in order to defeat Sin. When you first encounter Yuna she seems like a reserved, yet optimistic woman, but there is an air of sadness about her. At first it seems that she is just cautious of the pressure put on her by the expectation of everyone in the world relying on her to defeat Sin, but soon you realise there is a much more tragic reason. When Tidus learns the truth, his emotions get the better of him and I’m sure the player is no different. Looking back now, all of a sudden Yuna’s odd actions seem to make sense and it is all summed up beautifully by this heartbreaking line spoken by Tidus.
Tidus: “Sometimes Yuna would just stare off into the distance. I finally understood why. She was saying goodbye to all the places she’d never see again.”
Final Fantasy X Yuna Besaid
While the realisation that your death is not only inevitable, but that the gruelling journey you are taking is actually bringing you closer and closer to it would be enough to make even the most courageous person falter, Yuna’s resolve is strong and her determination, stronger still. Yuna fully accepts her fate and takes very seriously her responsibility to bring peace to the people of Spira. While she may seem frail, soft spoken or unassuming physically, her will is insurmountable. She is meet with many other challenges during her journey, but she never once relents, even knowing what the end will bring. Tidus often questions her motives and sacrifice, even going as far as suggesting she just quit the pilgrimage and live a normal life, but she responds that even is she were free to do whatever she wanted to, even with Tidus by her side, she would never be able to forget her promise to everyone.
Yuna: “I fight for Spira. The people long for the Calm. I can give it to them. It’s all I can give. Defeating Sin, ending pain… this I can do.”
 Final Fantasy X Yuna Calm
You learn over the course of the game that many summoners have failed in their Pilgrimage, whether they lose their resolve and give up, or die before they even get to the final battle. Summoners surround themselves with guardians for protection on their Pilgrimage and Yuna is no different. They say you can tell the character of the person by how others talk about them, and everyone shows Yuna a lot of respect and admiration. Even her enemies acknowledge her resilience and while many of the hierarchy of Yevon try to use her for their own means, not one of them succeeds and Yuna herself is often the one to foil their plans. Lulu, Wakka and Kimahri are like family to Yuna and guard her with their lives, Rikku is her family and tries everything in her power to keep her safe and even Auron sees the strength in her and allows her to make her own decisions. Yuna is of course just as thankful and willing to do anything for her friends.
Yuna: “Maester Seymour. I trust my guardians with my life. But they are also my friends. I will not stand by and watch them be hurt. I will fight you, too!”
 Final Fantasy X HD Group
That brings us to the last person Yuna grows close to over her journey, Tidus. Being an outsider Tidus has a completely different perspective of the world of Spira and has no attachment towards traditions and Yuna’s faith in Yevon’s teachings. It is an interesting dynamic how Yuna tries to explain it to Tidus and how she tells him her sacrifice is worth it to see the people of Spira happy. Some of biggest character development in Yuna’s arc comes when she discovers Yevon’s deceit and how she responds to it. Tidus notes how Yuna is visibly shaken as her faith is torn from her. Although once again Yuna is not one to back down and staying true to herself she continues on with her journey as the people of Spira’s happiness is her only concern. Yuna once told Tidus how she taught herself to be strong and practiced smiling to everyone, even when she was in turmoil inside. Yuna has incredible inner strength, but she also understands that she needs the strength of her friends to overcome her mightiest challenges.
Yuna: “I’ve… learned how to smile… Even when I’m feeling sad.”
Final Fantasy X Yuna Sad
Yuna is the shining light of hope to the people of Spira and she is an amazing and well developed character amongst a cast of great characters in Final Fantasy X.

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Blind Nostalgia or Just a Superior Game?

I first played Final Fantasy X over a decade ago. It was the reason I got a PlayStation 2 and it was the only game I owned until I completed everything there was to do (yeah even dodging 200 lightning bolts!) It was recently re-released as Final Fantasy X HD along with its intriguing sequel, updated graphics, beautifully remastered soundtrack and extra content from the Japanese versions. It is a bittersweet moment for me though as I keep asking myself why is this 10 year old ago game so much better than any other RPG I have played on my PlayStation 3 this generation?

Final Fantasy X HD Luca

Final Fantasy X is not my favourite RPG, or even my favourite Final Fantasy, but it is a fantastic game and transitioned the soul of the series wonderfully well from the PlayStation era to more powerful PlayStation 2 hardware. When people talk about modern RPGs, I have seen the argument that the often criticised Final Fantasy XIII is the exact same linear design first featured in Final Fantasy X. Initially I got the same impression, but the deeper you delve into each game, it becomes more and more apparent of how much superior FFX is and it really highlights the flaws in FFXIII and other modern RPGs in general.

Final Fantasy X HD Tidus

RPGs that tell engaging stories always have to have a component of linearity, but the ones that are elevated above the normal are the ones that still provide the illusion of freedom. The older Final Fantasy titles did this amazingly well that we didn’t even notice it was a feature until it was gone. Sure, you had to go from one place to the other as the story dictated, but the choice was always yours. You could explore other areas off the beaten track to find secret items, you could backtrack to previously visited areas to see how things had progressed, you could partake in mini-games at your leisure, you could fight endless battles to build your characters up to insanely powerful levels or when you were ready you could just get on with the story. The illusion of freedom was always there, Final Fantasy X had that… Final Fantasy XIII did not.

Final Fantasy X HD Group

Final Fantasy X HD has had a facelift and I really appreciate the effort that has gone into the visuals. The backgrounds are magnificent, sharp and intricately detailed and the main character models have also been noticeably upgraded. There are plenty of elements left over from a game originally released in 2001, but for me this world is beautiful and endlessly enticing. FFX’s Spira is one of the most living and breathing worlds in any RPG and I found myself talking to all the NPCs around and often stopping to take in the extraordinary scenery. Again I have found it hard to be absorbed in the worlds of modern RPGs, but Final Fantasy X does it effortlessly. This is a fantasy I was more than happy to return to.

Final Fantasy X HD Besaid

I hadn’t played FFX for over 10 years so I couldn’t remember every single detail of the story, but I was surprised how quickly I was drawn into the story. Having visited Japan recently, the themes and locations really hit me as having a more Asian feel than most games in the Final Fantasy series, such as the island-like setting, the temples and architecture, Yuna’s kimono and respectful/ reserved personality, Auron’s design etc. While lots of modern Japanese companies are striving to “Westernise” their games to better appeal to English speaking cultures, it is ironic to see how Japanese FFX feels and then how popular it is with said fans. The story is a big feature of Final Fantasy X and it is fantastically realised and implemented. Again to compare it to FFXIII, the backstory of Spira and its fate is easily and logically explained through gameplay itself, instead of having to read through a datalog to try and follow what is going on.

Final Fantasy X HD Yuna and Tidus

Just like the world, the characters are also full of life and depth. During its original development Squaresoft put a big emphasis on character emotion and this groundwork still shines through today. The interactions between the main characters are thoughtful and touching and I really enjoy the honest moments between Tidus and Yuna. Some of their conversations have an air of innocence and childlike perception and I can’t help but think this was the influence of Hironobu Sakaguchi as many of his games share this trait. Modern Square Enix RPGs including FFXIII definitely don’t have these moments and a lot of the staff are the same between these two games except Sakaguchi, it couldn’t just be a coincidence could it? FFX was also one of the first RPGs to feature extensive voice acting and while it is not perfect there are some truly memorable performances that helped elevate the experience. Viewing Auron’s emotional and thrilling speech before the battle with Yunalesca still sent shivers down my spine even today and the noticeable difference between Tidus’s whining voice during the first half of the story, compared to his deeper more mature voice during his narration is a great example of subtle character development that is not just thrown in your face.

Final Fantasy X HD Auron

The last thing I want to touch on is the battle system. I still think this is one of the best battle system in any RPG. The ability to switch out party members so that everyone can participate is genius and adds a lot to battle strategy as different characters are needed to deal with different enemies and it helps build attachment to whole party. Being able to control everyone in battle is a big feature for me and games like FFXIII that limit you to one only is a big disappointment. Seeing as you spend so much time in RPGs during combat, having a flexible, strategic battle system is a must. Square Enix tried to speed up the battle system in FFXIII but lost a lot of the strategy as I did find myself just hitting auto battle repeatedly, just waiting until I staggered the foe, switched combat roles and repeat. If they wanted to speed up the battles they only need to look at Final Fantasy X’s sequel that hit a great balance between speed and strategy/ control.

Final Fantasy X HD Battle

I am fully immersed and loving every minute of Final Fantasy X HD. I just wish they would still make these kind of RPGs with big budgets on home consoles today. It is just not nostalgia for me, they are just simply better designed games…

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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.

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