After having played the latest port of Final Fantasy IX for the Switch, I think I have found the best port of an amazing game. The Square-Enix’ JRPG, first released for the original PlayStation in 1999, and subsequently ported to the PS3, Vita, iPad and Steam, has certainly had a lot of ports, but it really does feel right at home on a portable system.
With some of the additions made for the re-release, it is great for first-time players and returning fans alike. That said, it is very evident that this port was based on the iPad version, with some of the weird issues of that port maintained on the Switch.
For those uninitiated, Final Fantasy IX follows the tale of Zidane, a thief who tries to kidnap Princess Garnet of Alexandria, only to find that she was trying to escape the castle anyway to learn why her mother has been acting strangely. What follows is a moving, and often quite funny, tale of them and their ever-increasing band of quirky friends, including the adorable boy mage Vivi and the bumbling knight Steiner, travelling the world and uncovering a massive conspiracy that deals with some heavy themes, like genocide and slavery.
I also loved the implementation of Active Time Events, which let you see scenes of what other characters are doing when you aren’t around. It really makes the setting and characters feel vibrant, and that they exist outside of facilitating Zidane’s quest. The fact that the game has a strong sense of humour makes its serious moments hit a lot harder, as it has made its characters so likable.
The game is something of a throwback to some of the older titles in the franchise, such as the fixed job roles of Final Fantasy IV, and the four person party of the games prior to Final Fantasy VII. Even some of the names of locations and characters are references to older games, some muddled by an occasionally shaky translation. Overall, the gameplay has aged rather well, even if it can seem somewhat frustratingly linear for the first couple of hours as the game beats you over the head with numerous cut-scenes and forces you into certain unwieldy party configurations.
Fortunately, the game comes with many in-game boosters and modifiers to spice up your playthrough. Some of these, found in the options menu, include the ability to max out your currency, abilities or character level. You can’t undo these changes, but if you want to play on God mode and essentially breeze through the combat, the option is there.
It is also possible to double the speed of all the animations with just two button presses, which makes it far easier to speed through cutscenes you are familiar with, as well as making travelling a lot faster. Even the random encounters can be disabled from the pause menu. Whether you are here for the gameplay or story, there is something for you in this version of the game.
That said, it is obvious some corners were cut with this port. The iOS port, released in 2016, is pretty evidently the template for the Switch version. This can be seen in the ugly omnipresent grey bars on the sides of the screen, as well as the naming screen puzzlingly informing me that I can’t use emoticons in characters’ names.
Furthermore, whilst the updated character models are a nice touch, the game doesn’t address some of the problems that have plagued Final Fantasy IX from the start, such as the lengthy load times before random encounters. It can be up to a 3 or 4 second wait for some of them, and the fact that they are random can really kill the game’s flow. Also, the world map music theme resets every time you finish a random encounter, so you will likely become very familiar with the first couple of seconds of the rather serene and relaxing world map tune.
That said, even though the port has its issues (that are shared by all the other modern ports), that doesn’t stop Final Fantasy IX on the Switch from being an excellent time. It’s the same great game, on a hybrid console and with many cool additions to customise your experience.
Whether its your first time diving into one of Square’s best classic JRPGs, or you just want the nostalgia hit of returning to a game you love, you can do far worse than Final Fantasy IX’s latest port.