Posted March 1, 2019 by Adam Ghiggino in Feature

Final Fantasy IX is Still a Delight on Switch

Imagine, if you will, living in the ancient long-forgotten year of 2000, a simpler time when Survivor had only just started airing, Disney was trying to make Dinosaur a thing and Square-Enix was just… Squaresoft, and was on one hell of a hot streak. Between 1997 and 2000, they released three of their most famous and beloved RPGs, the PlayStation trilogy of Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII and capped off by Final Fantasy IX. The enduring reputation of prestige and quality that the Final Fantasy brand came to represent is largely because of the legacy these games built (although fans will argue it began much earlier with IV or VI), as nearly every year a new masterpiece found its way into store shelves, each with its own original story and multiple CD-ROM’s full of content.

These days, the trickle of Final Fantasy content has slowed to a relative crawl, with rising development requirements and costs for current-gen systems, but thankfully we’ll always have the classics – at least because Square-Enix won’t stop pumping out new ports and re-releases. Final Fantasy IX is the first of the series to hit the Switch in a slew of planned ports, and just like the last five times I’ve played it, the game is still an absolute delight.

Final Fantasy IX was developed at a time when Squaresoft was splitting their focus, with part of the company looking at futuristic and sci-fi infused worlds that had inspired the last three games, while another was looking back at the series’ fantasy roots. While Final Fantasy X was being developed for next-gen consoles that would cater the more sci-fi and off-the-wall direction the series had been taking, Final Fantasy IX was being made at the same time as a tribute and love letter to the series’ past. Featuring a slew of references to older lore, like the ‘Four Fiends’ and a villain named Garland, and even crystals being central to the plot once more, it also had more traditional gameplay roles, including characters who represented the classic ‘thief’, ‘black mage’, ‘knight’ and other classes.

While there are plenty of homages in the storyline, it still remains original with its own unique twist on older ideas. A thief, Zidane, is hired to kidnap (he later learns, at her behest) Princess Garnet from the kingdom of Alexandria, whose Queen has become increasingly unhinged in her quest to wage war with the larger world, supplied with weapons by a mysterious third party. While there’s a lighter tone early on in the adventure, with derring-do adventuring and comedy at the expense of uptight-knight Steiner, the story soon becomes much darker and more emotionally resonant. Manufactured beings, like clones or engineered life-forms, are a recurring plot element in several levels of the narrative, calling into question what constitutes a person or even free will, and what any of this means in the face of inevitable death. It’s pretty heavy stuff, but Final Fantasy IX does a remarkably adept job at dealing with themes of life and death without becoming hokey or swinging the other direction into being convoluted.

The game is right at home on the Switch, especially in portable mode as you can dive in and out of the game for quick sneaky breaks whenever you feel the need, and without feeling so beholden to the archaic-feeling save system. There’s a lot of gameplay here, from the main storyline which itself will take you a good 40 hours, to numerous side quests and hidden areas, to Tetra Master – a fully fledged card game that’s almost as enjoyable as FFVIII‘s Triple Triad, and which you could basically lose another 40 hours to just challenging everyone in the game’s world to matches.

Make no mistake, this version of Final Fantasy IX is a port rather than a proper remaster, in fact it’s the same port that already hit the PC, PlayStation 4 and mobile devices not so long ago, for better or worse. That means it has the same pros and cons as those versions, for better or worse. On the plus side, realtime 3D graphics such as character models and battle environments have smoother textures and have been upscaled properly to the higher resolution, looking much clearer than the pixelated PS1 original. However, the menus have been re-formatted into a larger, uglier format that looks like it’s been designed for touchscreens while losing the simplicity of the original style. The game’s beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds haven’t received similar upscaling, so they do appear blurry against the sharper character models. There’s also bugs, including a well-reported one from previous versions where the overworld music resets after every battle, meaning many people won’t be able to hear much beyond the initial 10-15 seconds of the track.

This port also retains some of the quality of life ‘cheats’ that have been added on top of the original experience. At any time you can pause the game and activate a few different modifiers, including ramping up the game’s speed, turning off random enemy encounters, and even some game-breaking ones like maxing out your Gil or mastering all abilities (you know, if you don’t feel like actually playing the game itself).

Final Fantasy IX still functions as a heartwarming salute to the early era of Final Fantasy, as well as a damn good game and emotional story in its own right. On Switch, it’s still great – especially in portable mode – but suffers from being the same flawed port that has made its way to numerous releases. Maybe someday we’ll get the full-on remaster that the game deserves, but for now this is a pretty acceptable way to play the low-key best installment in the franchise.

Adam Ghiggino

Owner, Executive Editor of Rocket Chainsaw. I also edit TV, films and make average pancakes.