Debating Final Fantasy games is a fucking mess, because there are always specific kinds of people that debate FF games. The one we’re all familiar with is the Final Fantasy VII fuckboy who trashes every other game because they haven’t played them anyway. There’s the FFVI purist who makes a convincing argument – until the FFVII fuckboy shouts “GO SUPLEX A TRAIN!” There’s also the FFVIII super fan who usually stays in the corner, writing Story of the Year lyrics inside a Death Note notebook.
Among the throwing of faeces and strawman rebuttals, a voice chirps: “Hey, what about FFIX?!” The mayhem stops. Everyone looks at each other in that moment of forced serenity and murmurs intermittently: “yeah, it’s good,” before getting back to the real argument – who can fling the most shit.
It’s strange that FFIX is never really appreciated to the degree you’d expect from the most critically-acclaimed Final Fantasy game. FF fans often state the chibi-style character design or the ‘kiddie’ vibe as FFIX’s main detractions, but it’s not on the same level as the rage-induced boners pointed at FFVIII for being too emo. So if it’s not because people don’t like it, why is it often overlooked?
Timing might have a lot to do with it. The PlayStation 2 was released in November 2000 for us Europeans (October 2000 for North America), and FFIX didn’t come to the technically obsolete PS1 for another three months (NA only had a month to wait after the PS2 release, while Japan had four). Considering it was the fastest-selling console at the time, it’s safe to assume people were too busy playing Tekken Tag Tournament, Ridge Racer V and Timesplitters on the PS2 to care about a new PS1 game – and probably getting really excited about FFX, which would feature 3D areas as opposed to pre-rendered backdrops (which were pretty ugly on FFIX, in all honesty).
FFIX also had the awkward job of following FFVIII, which turned a lot of people off Final Fantasy because of its Draw system and angsty teenage characters. Going from FFVII to FFVIII disappointed a lot of fans, so it’s no surprise many skirted over FFIX in favour of waiting for the bigger, more extravagant FFX on PS2.
Being in-between the (wrongly, imo) hated FFVIII and the mostly-loved-except-Tidus’-voice-actor FFX has meant that FFIX has been sent to the void of memory for all but the most dedicated Final Fantasy fans. With the recent Steam re-release, the benefit of hindsight and a matured appreciation, however, it’s no wonder FFIX still holds the title of most critically-acclaimed Final Fantasy game.
I’m 99% sure most of the people saying it’s too childish are still clutching to that opinion they first formed when they were around 10-13 – you know, that age when you say “Pokémon is gay and for babies,” but still go home and crack out Pokémon Gold. The art style is wonderful, the world of Gaia refreshingly organic and the humour at this point was still light-hearted and coaxed an innocent, Tom and Jerry kind of chuckle out of you.
There aren’t many disagreeable characters (with the possible exception of Steiner, but a fat man wearing rusty armour and eyeliner gets my vote every time), and FFIX has one of the most iconic and adorable characters in Vivi Ornitier, the clumsy and shy 9 year old black mage going through an existential crisis. Vivi came second in the IGN Top 25 Final Fantasy Characters list, losing out to the character of choice for edgy FFVII fuckboys, Sephiroth (so badass!!!11), so he even gets a silver medal for being cute.
Even though it wasn’t the most instantaneously-liked FF game at the time, FFIX kept the Final Fantasy series ticking over and provided countless hours of wholesome enjoyment for those who bothered to play it. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s definitely a lot better than fans gave it credit for. Now with the Steam PC port, there’s a chance to play it through again with updated graphics and enjoy it properly now that we’re all older, wiser and hopefully more appreciative of the most overlooked Final Fantasy game.