23 years after its release here in North America, I can now proudly say with pleasure that I finished it earlier this week. I first fired up FFIX this past summer on a warm late August evening. After pulling the game out of a box from the basement and copying the four discs to my PC, I loaded them into the RetroArch emulator equipped with the Beetle PSX core. I don’t mind using a software renderer for PlayStation games. Over the years I sold, lost, or gave away original hardware—I miss my 32” Sony Trinitron WEGA CRT television!—so these days I’ll rely on emulators or buy re-releases/remakes. Side note: I have seen some screenshots of Moguri Mod, it is truly impressive work! And that Memoria Project Unreal Engine 5 YouTube demo? Wow.
For me, it was such a trip from Alexandria and Mist Continent through to the end. Zidane, Princess Garnet, Steiner, Vivi – these are all characters that entered the RPG zeitgeist and never really left. Although I never played the game when it came out, I knew who the heroes were but I didn’t know they were – their stories, motivations, backgrounds, and traits were unknown to me. To experience this game for the first time… whew, what a feeling.
Allow me to wax nostalgic for a moment. In my youth, our family moved around Canada from province to province, chasing the inevitably-to-be-shut-down coal mines where Dad worked at. In the mid-nineties we lived in Grande Cache, Alberta. This town was formative for me in a big way – there was not a lot to do, so my friends and I visited other worlds via PC and console gaming, dial-up internet, reading books, listening to music, and watching movies. These are hobbies I still enjoy today as an aging man in his forties. (With zippier 1Gbps cable replacing the squelching sound of dial-up.)
When I first regularly (read: daily) chatted with my online friends using IRC, you’d find me in the #Square channel on DALnet. Friends like Cyan, Grimp, Crono, and Kufat, we loved SquareSoft RPGs, especially the Final Fantasy series. We liked other games as well, but #Square was a spot for us to obsess over our favourite SNES and PlayStation characters: Cecil, Rosa, Celes, Locke, Cloud, Aerith. Oh, and I remember (and would gladly forget if I could) the flame wars around the whole Aeris/Aerith English/Japanese name controversy – people got nasty and were very opinionated.
FFIX came out at a time when I was going through life changes – young adult, just finished post-secondary and working my first full-time job at a call center in technical support. I always meant to play it, but in retrospect I think this was the first occurrence when I didn’t have time to play a game. It wasn’t like high school when I played through most of Final Fantasy VII on a pair of fueled-by-Twizzlers-and-Brisk-Iced-Tea-do-nothing-else-but-game weekends. Ah, yes. Those were the days, weren’t they?
Another thing I have in common with Final Fantasy Fandom is love of its music. As kids we obsessed over the scores of Nobuo Uematsu (and Koji Kondo and Yasunori Mitsuda, too!) and still do as adults. Halfway through playing, I happened to find a decently priced copy of the FFIX limited edition four-disc OST on eBay. Yoink! It will pair nicely with the secondhand copy I own of FFIX: Original Soundtrack Plus (a companion disc that has music from the cutscenes) which I picked up on CD for the smooth price of $1.00 CAD, hash tag thrifting! I’m weird with soundtracks of movies or games I haven’t played, so I never listened to it until the day after I finished the game. (The soundtrack proper is still on its way from Australia…)
There’s plenty to like about FFIX that has been written about in countless blogs and articles over the years. Its story is built around themes such as love, loss, life and death, existentialism, camaraderie, and good vs. evil. I spent 23 years avoiding spoilers so I won’t tread into spoiler territory for anyone who is reading this! I was surprised at the story’s level of depth and its ability to make me truly care about the fate of its characters. If you’re like me and for one reason or another happened to miss or skip Final Fantasy IX, rest assured knowing that in another 23 years it’ll still be here waiting for you. It’s already considered a classic and trust me, it’s well worth your time.