The game is a return to earlier games, where each of the 8 characters have one class they stick to for the entire game. The characters weren't as customizable as those in the previous two games and the limit break system was replaced by a "Trance" system which had its own advantages and disadvantages (hitting Trance gives each character different special powers but you couldn't "save" it up between battles like you could with Limit Breaks).
The story itself is reasonably engaging, involving an over-dramatic villain of indeterminate gender (seriously, it's hard to tell whether Kuja is male or female, despite all the characters referring to Kuja as a he), a plausible love story and ultimately a fight for the souls of everyone on the planet.
Final Fantasy IX has many of the staples of the series with a few improvements. For example, the game actually encourages you to steal from creatures (there are about 4 or 5 creatures in the entire game that don't have something to steal, and one of the main character's attacks does damage based on how much you've stolen throughout the game), the Chocobo sidequest is useful for obtaining all sorts of items and it's actually possible to do well in the card game (Tetra Master) without a huge amount of effort. The major sticking point as far as the game system is concerned is the frustration that can be gained when trying to learn new Blue Magic - in this game, you have to beat down enemies to 1/8 of their health before the Blue Mage can eat them and gain their abilities (if the Blue Mage has Tranced, they only need to be down to 1/4 of their health)
Overall, while it's not as popular as Final Fantasy VII, it's still a good game in its own right, and a reasonably popular one among those that know it.
The characters are all unique and are brought to life by a beautifully written script. Nobuo Uematsu returned for his last solo FF sound track and it was amazing. From the beginning piece 'The Place I'll Return to Someday' to the emotionally powerful 'You're not alone', the music never fails to pull at those heart strings.
The gameplay is solid and enjoyable despite lacking any uniqueness. Which brings me onto another point about FFIX in that it was intended to be a throw back to the earlier Final Fantasys. In that respect the plot, characters and setting were not ground breaking. But all these aspects were done so damn well that Sakaguchi, the series founder called it the best Final Fantasy yet. Uematsu said the same.
In conclusion, FFIX is a magnificent game although it failed to make the impact that many FF fans (such as me) feel it deserved. So, for those of you who haven't played it, go play it now! It is more than just a game, the experience and memories may well last you a lifetime.
- Very restrictive and crappy limit break system, which often meant wasting hugely powerful moves on worthless opponents such as goblins, and then not using these moves again for another 50 or so battles
- Treasure items in hidden places in almost every single location your character can be a part of means that most players will feel frustrated at reaching the halfway point of the game and then realise they've failed to complete 60% of the games quests, because they missed a few important items in the first couple of villages (that were beside a girls bed in a random house, for example)
- New, weird races, which had no appeal to anyone and instead made the game feel surreal and alienated
- Cocky shit of a main character who you will feel the need to murder at several stages in the game
- The fact most new locations are destroyed a couple of minutes after you've left them, leaving you at the end of the game with fuck all to re-visit
- Un-customisable and straight forward character development, leaving almost no choices at all open to the player in how each character is improved, apart from choosing their equipment
- After acquiring all the games playable characters into your party, you feel as if you're travelling with a bunch of misfits, not a group of heroes who want to save the world
- Confusing, fickle and somewhat pointless storyline
- Lack of a "do what you like before the end boss" part of the game, like in FF7 with the airship
- Lack of massively powerful opponents, like the WEAPONs in FF7 and the hidden GF's in FF8
- That depressing feeling that this game has been aimed at the "younger audience"
- Slow and clumsy battle animation
- Shit summoning attacks
- No real excitement in the storyline and little information about the game's other characters
- Somewhat lack of seriousness that the other two games had, and instead has been replaced by a wizard candy-house ye-olde-medieavel world
- Frankly shit end sequence
- And to top it off, the slow realisation that this is probably the best game Square is going to produce in a long time, this confirmed when playing FF10
- Bad game music