Final Fantasy IX Switch Review – A Timeless Adventure on the Go

    Title: Final Fantasy IX
    Developer: Square Enix
    Release Date: February 13, 2019
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Square Enix
    Genre: RPG

I remember waking up, 11-years old, on Christmas Day in the year 2000 to find Final Fantasy IX on PlayStation wrapped sitting under our tree. I recall the joy that it brought me to get what I had asked for and the hours that my brother and I spent trying to get through the game — steadily grinding our way through its many difficult dungeons and beautiful sceneries. Suffice to say, I was in love.

Years later, Final Fantasy IX had come back in my life on PlayStation 4 with its updated resolutions and new features. Yes, it was the same adventure, but the crisp graphics provided enough to hold onto my imagination until the final cutscene. Now, Square Enix has brought Final Fantasy IX back into my life once again by bringing the HD version to Nintendo Switch and Xbox One for a whole new generation of gamers to enjoy. My experience is with the Switch version and I’d just like to say that this adventure is one that doesn’t grow old with age, it truly only gets better.

Final Fantasy IX starts off with the kidnapping of Princess Garnet by a group of pirates. Their plan? Stage a play in her castle on her birthday and have Zidane go and grab her. Luckily, it seems Garnet isn’t too keen on staying in the castle and ends up running away on the ship with her guard Adelbert Steiner. Along the way, they also pick up a stowaway black mage named Vivi who has previously snuck into the castle to watch the play.

The opening delivers some interesting moments as it allows the player to play through the first two or three hours of the game from different perspectives. This is something that happens several times through the game, but it gives the player a new way to approach situations depending on which character they are controlling. Whereas most of the game you are controlling Zidane, who has a brash and blunt attitude, which as the player, you want to mirror that with your responses, however, when you have to control a character like Vivi, you know that his shyness might come in handy to get through a particular area. Steiner, on the other hand, is smart, but it does take him a while to be a true asset to the team.

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Similarly, the opening doesn’t throw you into Final Fantasy IX‘s open world too quickly. Your scope of the world is limited to Alexandria and then a dungeon. It’s not until much later when the game lets you run wild in its open world, and by then, you’ve already established a pretty solid understanding of the characters, battle system, and flow of the game. What’s most important here is that it feels like a true adventure. The game replicates the great unknown perfectly as you stumble through the world with very little direction and must deal with hardships as they come.

The story can be dissected in many ways, but I think that’d be too much for this review. I’d like to say that nothing is at it seems in Final Fantasy IX and each character will play an important role during the later parts of the story. When the characters are forced to split up, you feel the passage of time as they grow as individuals before they reunite and express their new way of thinking as they fill in the rest of the team on what had happened while they were away. The story rarely hits moments of low drama after Queen Brahne rears her ugly head, but even then surprises arise that will grab the player and not let go until the final moments of the game. I do think that some scenes at the end can get a little messy, but perhaps I’ve played this game so much that it just feels straight forward to me. I will say that the last boss battle is epic and is one of the toughest and strangest boss battles that I’ve ever encountered.

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Story aside, Final Fantasy IX has a riveting battle system that lets players use magic and summons without the need for Draw Points and GF equips found in the previous Final Fantasy title, Final Fantasy VIII. Battles are turn-based in which players enter battle and wait their turn to choose their action. To make characters stronger, players can unlock new skills and abilities through equipped weapons and armors. After each battle, players will earn AP that can allow the character to learn certain moves for good. This includes skills like Protect Girls and Auto-Potion, but also for abilities like Ice and Flee. This system means that players can’t exactly equip stronger weapons or armor right at the start to obtain better skills and abilities. Instead, there are times where you have to use weaker options for a while until you master skills and can move on. This does add a layer of grinding to the game, but it also makes each equipable item important, even if it is considered weak.

Battles are pretty straight forward after that with the addition that each character has a special skill, such as Freya being able to use Dragoon skills and Dagger (once named Garnet) being able to use Summons. I enjoy the differences between each character and they’re varied enough to make a party that fits your playstyle. With that said, there are moments in the game where you’ll need to use other characters so giving attention to each character is semi-needed if you don’t want to have a tougher time in the later parts of the game.

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When it comes to playing the game on Nintendo Switch, I will say that the game runs and looks amazing in docked and handheld mode. While docked is similar, graphically, to the other console versions of the game —  the handheld mode is just as clear and beautiful and I think that’s what makes this arguably the best way to play the game. Taking this adventure on the go with you is awesome and strangely, the mobile nature of it had me more willing to play more of the game’s card battle mini-game that can be played easily if you just have a few minutes to spare.

What’s upsetting is that the audio glitch is still present, which is also present in other Final Fantasy ports, where songs will restart after battles. This is not something that I’m directly affected by in this game because the music in this game is softer in tone, so it’s tough to notice, but the fact that its still there is still bothersome. Also, the Switch version doesn’t have a trophy or achievement system so doing things like having Vivi win the Hunt contest won’t trigger a satisfying achievement sound. Those gripes aside, I think if you’re an adult who wants to play Final Fantasy IX then the Switch version is your best option.

Additional updates include a new battle option layout which makes the text in battle boxier and easy to read. There are also options to speed up time, heal your party members and send them into a trance, turn off random battles, and also make each attack hit for 9999 damage. Each of these options can be turned on from the start menu in whatever combination the player chooses. Furthermore, there are irreversible options that make the playing through the game even easier, like quick characters and stat level ups, which also allows the player to simply enjoy the story. Being the “gamer” that I am, I felt that these additions are great for those who have already played through the game, but if you haven’t, then I’d experience the game the way it was meant to be played first and then go back through with the easier settings. However, the speed up option is a godsend during the Chocobo digging mini-game so maybe use that because no one needs to go through the tedious amounts of time that that game requires.

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From its world-building, character growth, sound design, and true fantasy setting, Final Fantasy IX brings together everything that the series has to offer into one package. While the game released almost 20 years ago, the Nintendo Switch’s mobile offerings of this HD version breaths a whole new life into this memorable story and even gives players who are on the go the chance to play the best version of the game.

Final Fantasy IX is woven within a lot of fantastic memories of mine growing up and hopefully, like me, there is an 11-year-old out there craving to play an adventure like no other. The sound glitch and lack of achievements to add replayable for completionist are disappointing, but I seemed to look past that while I was commuting, with my Switch in hand, replaying this truly timeless adventure.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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