Saturday, May 28, 2011

Final Fantasy IX



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Final Fantasy IX
Developer - Square
Publisher - Square Electronic Arts
Release date - November 13, 2000

Final Fantasy IX is a role-playing video game developed and published by Square for the PlayStation video game console. Originally released in 2000, it is the ninth title in the Final Fantasy series and last to debut on the original PlayStation console. In 2010, it was re-released as a PSone Classics title on the PlayStation Network. The game introduced new features to the series like the "Active Time Event", "Mognet", and a unique equipment and skill system.


Story

Final Fantasy IX takes place primarily on the four continents of a world named Gaia (homonymous with Final Fantasy VII's Gaia, but not the same world). Most of Gaia's population reside on the Mist Continent, named so because the entire continent is blanketed in thick Mist. Lands outside the Mist Continent—the Outer, Lost and Forgotten continents—are uncharted territories not explored until midway through the game. Several locations on the parallel world of Terra and the dream land of Memoria round out the game's areas. The Mist Continent features four nations: Alexandria, Lindblum, Burmecia, and Cleyra. Alexandria is a kingdom to the northeast of the Mist Continent ruled by a monarchy located in Alexandria Castle. The technologically advanced Lindblum, ruled by a regent, is nestled on a plateau to the southwest where airships regularly fly by. The Kingdom of Burmecia, whose capital is showered by eternal rain is to the northwest and nearby to the isolated Cleyran civilisation, which is nestled in a giant tree in the desert, protected by a powerful sandstorm. Treno, a large, perpetually dark city, heavily populated by both aristocrats and paupers, is located on the southeast part of the continent. The Mist Continent is extremely mountainous resulting in a natural barrier between many of the ruling nations.

Gaia is inhabited by humans and various non-human races. Alexandria, Treno, and Lindblum are populated by a mix of humans and anthropomorphic animals. The Burmecians are anthropomorphic rats who value dance, thus accounting for their general aversion to footwear, and live in both Burmecia and Cleyra. The Cleyrans split from the Burmecians when the latter started to appreciate "the art of war". The dwarves are short humanoid creatures who appear as inhabitants of the village of Conde Petie on the Outer Continent. There is also a village of black mages that have gained sentient thought, who reside in the Outer Continent, as well. The Genomes, an artificial race of soulless vessels inhabit Terra; they will house the once-dormant Terran souls when Terra assimilates Gaia. Summoners are similar to other humans, but with a horn on their forehead. In the story, only two summoners remain (Garnet and Eiko); the others were exterminated when the Terran warship Invincible destroyed their homeland of Madain Sari. Lastly, the Qu are large, seemingly androgynous humanoids, who are recognised as fine gourmands. They inhabit marshlands throughout the world where they catch their main source of nutrition: frogs.


Characters

The eight main playable characters in Final Fantasy IX are Zidane Tribal, a member of a group of bandits called Tantalus masquerading as a theatre troupe; Garnet Til Alexandros XVII (alias Dagger), the Princess of Alexandria who has a strange connection to "Eidolons", Vivi Orunitia, a young, timid, and kind black mage trying to find the meaning of his existence; Adelbert Steiner, the Captain of the Knights of Pluto and loyal servant of Alexandria and Princess Garnet; Freya Crescent, a dragon knight from the city of Burmecia looking for her lost love; Quina Quen, a Qu whose master wants him/her to travel the world so that s/he will learn about cuisine; Eiko Carol, a six-year-old girl living in Madain Sari, the lost village of the eidolon summoners, and along with Garnet, one of the last two remaining summoners; and Amarant Coral, a bounty hunter hired to return Garnet to Alexandria. Other main characters include Regent Cid Fabool, the charismatic leader of Lindblum; Queen Brahne, Garnet's mother and the power-hungry Queen of Alexandria; General Beatrix, the powerful leader of the female knights of Alexandria; and antagonist Kuja, an arms dealer and enemy of Gaia. Other minor characters and groups also appear, such as Blank, Zidane's good friend and band partner, but their significance and back-stories are revealed as the game progresses.


Gameplay

In Final Fantasy IX, the player navigates a character throughout the game world, exploring areas and interacting with non-player characters. Most of the game occurs in towns and dungeons which are referred to as "field screens". To aid exploration on the field screen, Final Fantasy IX introduces the "field icon", an exclamation mark appearing over their lead character's head, signalling an item or sign is nearby. Players speak with moogles to record their progress, restore life energy with a tent and purchase items - a deviation from previous installments, which used a save point to perform these functions. Moogles may request the playable character deliver letters to other Moogles via Mognet, playable characters might also receive letters from non-playable characters.

Players journey between field screen locations on the world map, a three dimensional, downsized representation of Final Fantasy IX's world presented from a top-down perspective. Players can freely navigate around the world map screen unless restricted by terrain like bodies of water or mountain ranges. To overcome geographical limitations, players can ride chocobos, sail on a boat or pilot airships. Like previous Final Fantasy installments, travel across the world map screen and hostile field screen locations is interrupted by random enemy encounters.

Final Fantasy IX offers a new approach to town exploration with the introduction of Active Time Events (ATE). These allow the player to view events unfolding at different locations, providing character development, special items and prompts for key story-altering decisions. ATE are occasionally used to simultaneously control two teams when the party is divided to solve puzzles and navigate mazes.

Combat

Whenever the playable character encounters an enemy, the map changes to the "battle screen". On the battle screen, the enemy appears on the opposite side of the characters; each battle uses the familiar Active Time Battle system that was first featured in Final Fantasy IV. The character's command list is presented in a window opposite the ATB gauge list; while all characters can physically attack the enemy or use an item from the player's inventory, they also possess unique abilities. For example, the thief Zidane can steal items from the enemy, Eiko and Garnet can summon "eidolons" to aid the party and Vivi can use black magic to damage the opposition.

These character-specific commands change when the player goes into "Trance mode", which is activated for a short duration when an uncontrollable gauge fills as character sustains damage in a style similar to the Limit Breaks used in Final Fantasy VII. When the gauge is full, the character's strength is amplified, and the player can select special attack commands. Zidane's "Skill" command list, for example, changes to "Dyne", allowing him to execute powerful attacks; Vivi's "Black Magic" command evolves into "Double Black", allowing him to cast two magic spells simultaneously. Through the Configuration screen, the player can change the Battle Style from Normal to Custom, which allows two players to control any combination of characters during battle. However, two controllers must be plugged into the PlayStation.

A character's performance in battle is determined by numerical values ("statistics") for categories like speed, strength and magical power. Character statistics are driven by experience; when players win battles, they are awarded "experience points", which accumulate until characters gain "experience levels". When characters "level up", the statistics for their attributes permanently increase, which may also be amplified by the types of equipment the character is wearing. Winning battles also awards the player money (Gil), Tetra Master playing cards, items and ability points (AP).


Abilities and equipment

Final Fantasy IX deviates from the style of customisable characters featured in the last two titles by reviving the character class concept, which designates a character to a certain role in battle. For example, Vivi is designated as a black mage and is the only character who can use black magic, and Steiner is a knight and is the only character who can use sword skills.

The basic function of equipment in Final Fantasy games is to increase character attributes; arming Zidane with a Mythril Vest, for example, increases his base defense statistic. In Final Fantasy IX, weapons and armor include special character abilities, which the character may use when the item is equipped (permitting the ability matches their class). Once the character accumulates enough ability points in battle, the ability becomes usable without having to keep the item equipped. In addition to granting abilities the equipment in Final Fantasy IX determines the statistical growth of the characters at the time of level up. Armor not only raises base defense or evasion statistics but raises defense and/or other statistics at level up.

Abilities are classified into action and support categories. Action abilities consume magic points (MP) and include magic spells and special moves that are used in battle. Support abilities provide functions that remain in effect indefinitely and must be equipped with magic stones to be functional. The maximum number of these stones increases as the characters level up.


Tetra Master

Tetra Master is a card-based minigame that can be initiated with various non-playable characters in the field. Players assemble a deck of five cards, which can be obtained via chests, given as a reward, or earned from fighting monsters. Each card has various arrows which point to the four sides and four corners of the card, and various stats that vary between cards, with rarer cards being more powerful. Players take it in turns to strategically place cards on a 4x4 playing grid based on the available directions. Battles can occur when players place a card next to another card, depending on where the player places it. If the defending card has no arrows whilst the attacking card has an arrow pointing towards it, that card is placed under the player's control. When two arrows meet with each other, the cards do battle based on their point values, with the losing card coming under the winning player's control, sometimes triggering combos that put multiple cards in the winner's control. After all cards are played, the winner is the player who has the most cards under their control, with a draw occurring if they have the same number of cards. The winning player may choose a card from their opponent's deck out of the ones they put under their control. If the winning player scores a perfect win however, in which all ten cards are put under their control, they will win all five cards from the opponent's deck.


Development

Development of Final Fantasy IX began before Square had finished development on Final Fantasy VIII. The game was developed in Hawaii as a compromise to developers living in the United States. As the series' last game on the PlayStation, Sakaguchi envisioned a "reflection" on the older titles of the series. Leading up to its release, Sakaguchi called Final Fantasy IX his favorite Final Fantasy game as "it's closest to [his] ideal view of what Final Fantasy should be". This shift was also a response to demands from fans and other developers. Additionally, the team wanted to create an understandable story with deep character development; this led to the creation of Active Time Events. The scenario for the game was written by Sakaguchi. He began early planning on it around July 1998. Director Hiroyuki Ito had the idea to make the protagonist Zidane flirtatious towards women.


In the game's conceptual stage, the developers made it clear that the title would not necessarily be Final Fantasy IX, as its break from the realism of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII may have alienated audiences. This led fans to speculate that it would be released as a "gaiden" (side story) to the main series. By late 1999, however, Square had confirmed that the game would indeed be published as Final Fantasy IX, and by early 2000, the game was nearly finished. The developers made several adjustments to the game, such as changing the ending seven times. Director Ito had designed the battle system used in the game.

The game's developers sought to make the game's environment more "fantasy-oriented" than its PlayStation predecessors. Since the creators wanted to prevent the series from following a redundant setting, Final Fantasy IX distinctly breaks from the futuristic styles of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII by reintroducing a medieval setting. In the game, steam technology is just beginning to become widely available; the population relies on hydropower or wind power for energy sources, but sometimes harness Mist or steam to power more advanced engines. Continuing with the medieval theme, the game's setting is inspired by Norse and Northern European mythology. According to Ito, "[The development team is] attracted to European history and mythology because of its depth and its drama". The main Final Fantasy IX website says the development of the game's world serves as a culmination of the series by blending the "successful elements of the past, such as a return to the fantasy roots," with newer elements. The creators made the characters a high priority. The return to the series' roots also affected the characters' designs, which resulted in characters with "comic-like looks". Composer Nobuo Uematsu commented that the design staff attempted to give the characters realism while still appearing comic-like. To accomplish this, and to satisfy fans who had become used to the realistic designs of Final Fantasy VIII, the designers stressed creating characters with whom the player could easily relate.


Music

The music of Final Fantasy IX was written by series regular Nobuo Uematsu, with the title being his last exclusive Final Fantasy score until the release of Final Fantasy XIV in 2010. In discussions with game director Hiroyuki Ito, Uematsu was told "It'd be fine if you compose tracks for the eight characters, an exciting battle track, a gloomy, danger-evoking piece, and around ten other tracks." However, Uematsu spent an estimated year composing and producing "around 160" pieces for Final Fantasy IX, with 140 appearing in the game.

Uematsu composed with a piano and used two contrasting methods: "I create music that fits the events in the game, but sometimes, the event designer will adjust a game event to fit the music I've already written. Uematsu felt Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII had a mood of realism, but Final Fantasy IX was fantasy, so "a serious piece with silly, fun pieces could fit in." He felt the theme was medieval music, and was given a break to travel in Europe for inspiration—"looking at old castles in Germany and so on". The music was not entirely composed in the medieval mode; Uematsu claims "it would be unbalanced" and "a little boring". He aimed for a "simple, warm" style and included uncommon instruments like the kazoo and dulcimer. Uematsu also included motifs from older Final Fantasy games "because Final Fantasy IX was returning to the roots, so to speak" and incorporated ideas like "the old intro for battle music" and arranged the Volcano theme from Final Fantasy and the Pandemonium theme from Final Fantasy II. Tantalus' band is also heard playing "Rufus' Welcoming Ceremony" from Final Fantasy VII near the beginning of the game.

Uematsu was twice reported claiming without hesitation that Final Fantasy IX was his favorite score. "Melodies of Life" is the theme song of Final Fantasy IX, and consists primarily of two themes that were frequently used in the game itself, the overworld theme, and a lullaby that is sung by Dagger. It was performed by Emiko Shiratori in both the Japanese and English versions and arranged by ShirĊ Hamaguchi.

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