As I look back on my time playing games, there are a few titles that I’d call gateway games. These are the video games that lead to my overall enjoyment of games. Mega Man III on the NES comes to mind as one of the earliest games I remember playing and thinking “this is fun”. Super Mario 64 showed me how a video game can take me on a grand adventure. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was a departure for the series but one that I really enjoyed, and one that kind of got me into RPGs.
But if I had to pick one game, one specific video game I played that afterward I thought, “Wow, I love video games” it would have to be Final Fantasy IX.
FF9 was the first true RPG I ever played and understood what I was playing. The aforementioned Zelda II is stretching it to call it an RPG, but it did show me that you could level up and gain new strength from doing so. Also on the NES was my brother’s copy of Dragon Warrior, which I would dabble in but never actually beat until a decade later on the Game Boy Color. It was Zidane, Steiner, Vivi, Garnet, and crew that I will say got me into the RPG genre.
Picking up the game at the rental store and seeing that iconic cover I thought, “Hmm, this looks fun!” At the time the majority of games I played were Super Nintendo games like Donkey Kong Country and Street Fighter Alpha 2, so something like a story driven RPG experience was brand new to me. I think the game being told across multiple discs was also intriguing: the game is so big and amazing it can’t even fit on a single disc (or two, or three, but four!). That, combined with the growing knowledge I was gaining about video games in general from reading things like Nintendo Power and GamePro made me recognize the Final Fantasy name and brand. In short, it was a perfect storm of reasons to play it.
And play it I did. And I played, and played, and played. So much so, I remember having to ask my parents if we could rent the game again, because I simply wasn’t done with the story. I wonder if they even knew what that meant at the time, or if they just appeased their son with a simple gift. Either way, I eventually made it through the four-disc adventure and was never really the same.
Let’s start with the gameplay, specifically the battles and the ability system. Addictive is the word I’d use here. Leveling up was awesome. Mastering new abilities and substituting out the equipment (but retaining that mastered ability) was enthralling. Finding unique ways to defeat enemies (I’m looking at you Dracozombie and Hi-Potions). Entering Trance at just the right time to womp on a boss. Using Vivi’s insane Black Magic spells to wipe the screen. The list goes on. Imagine all of that being something totally new, something you just learned about, and think how impactful it could be. That was me.
When I think back on FF9 my mind always starts humming some melody from the game. The theme of the game, Melodies of Life, is perhaps the most iconic of the game, and one that stands out to me the most. It’s one Laura and I are legitimately thinking of including in our wedding. But it’s not just Melodies that sticks out. The battle music was something else, with those thumping beats as the battle starts and begins loading got me pumped for what was to come. The boss battle music with enemies like Kuja was equally epic. Vamo’ alla Flamenco, anyone? The entire series was and still is known for its music, and to me a huge highlight has to be FF9.
Remember at the beginning of this article I mentioned gateway games? Final Fantasy IX is my gateway RPG. After playing this game, naturally I had to try the other Final Fantasies on the PS1. Thankfully I went with FF7 first. Played through that one, loved it, but do think it isn’t as super fantastic as everyone makes it out to be (still solid though). Then I played FF8, and to this day have still never beaten it. Perhaps one day, but I’d honestly rather just play FF9 again. For a third time. It was that good.
And it wasn’t just Final Fantasy games I played. I dabbled with Legend of Dragoon, Grandia, and Wild Arms on the PS1. Then I looked at Phantasy Star Online and Skies of Arcadia on the Dreamcast. Oh, and over on the Game Boy we had of course Pokemon, but also games like all three Dragon Quest re-releases, and later on the GBA classics like Golden Sun and Advance Wars. Heck, I can attribute my liking of the Nintendo 64’s Quest 64 monstrosity to Final Fantasy IX. This relationship with role playing games extended to the game collection too, with RPGs making up a great portion of the games I enjoy hunting down and playing. Also worth noting, the Playstation 2 was a beacon for amazing RPGs too, so there’s something to be said there too.
Final Fantasy IX is up there in the list of my all time favorite RPGs, if not in the list of all time favorite video games, period. Nostalgia aside, I think the game holds up well. It has a good story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, something I find troubling with a lot of RPGs out there nowadays. The animation style is superb, and I’ve already mentioned my love of the soundtrack. 4 person turn based encounters with the Active Time Battle system felt so smooth then and now. The game itself being a love letters to fans of the series is just the icing on the cake for this all time classic.
I hope the rumors are true that this one may be getting a full on Final Fantasy VII Remake treatment at some point. I want to say FF9 may have been the least performing mainline game on the PS1, but that hasn’t stopped it from being mine and so many others’ favorite of the whole series. I am wishing for the day we can see that lovely logo pop up again on a new trailer. When that happens and I pop that disc in the system and see that Tantalus flying overhead, Vivi wandering about, Steiner doing his best, Blanc being the best of friends, Quina eating foes, Eiko summoning gods, Kuja causing havoc… oh man, I’ll be taken right on back.