Dedicated to oChocoboX!
A while back ago, I talked about these two games being very different:
VIII was a look forward into the future of JRPGs (notices the fast-paced combat, semi-realistic character models, futuristic setting, etc). IX was a look backward at what made Final Fantasy great (job system, chibi characters, medieval setting, etc).
Yet, they couldn’t be more similar in scope of what they were trying to accomplish. They were both trying to break away from the past. In this sense, they’re two sides of the same coin.
First, a little bit of history:
Final Fantasy IX was developed alongside Final Fantasy VIII, but took a different approach by returning to the more traditional style of the early Final Fantasy games.
[Development of Final Fantasy IX began before Square had finished development on Final Fantasy VIII.]
Many people say Final Fantasy IX came from the backlash Final Fantasy VIII. True, fans and developers demanded a return to old-school form. However, Square Enix developed Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX alongside each other. Final Fantasy VIII isn’t a factor for that demand. Either way, both games include homages in very different and unique ways.
Final Fantasy VIII reinvents the tropes and homages of the series. The characters are amnesiacs and orphans. Cid isn’t an engineer of technology but in control of “engineering” certain events. Everyone can be a Red Mage, however, you could set defined jobs for them. Your elemental armor is your magic. Your stats increase with the magic you equip. You “level up” your weapon by buying parts for it. You could level up your Guardian Forces. You can grind in several different ways (battling, card games, drawing magic). Side characters play an intricate role in fleshing out Squall’s background. The grand sweeping epic of Final Fantasy is a character study of Squall. Did Squall die? Does R=U? Final Fantasy VIII was the very avant-garde title in the series.
Final Fantasy IX however, simply took the tropes and homages of the series to the extreme. The state of the art graphics made the best possible chibi models of that era. Zidane is a cheerful guy (Bartz) with a dark past (Cloud). Vivi is the prototypical black mage (FFI), but also a war machine looking for meaning in the world (Terra). The villain is an effeminate silver-haired narcissist not of this world (Sephiroth). Amarant is the ultimate loner (Squall/Vincent) looking for a fight. Eiko is a super young Genki thief girl with a theme, similar to Yuffie’s. Static job classes return from Final Fantasy I and Final Fantasy IV. The crystals return…well, near the end of the game. But they’re still there.
But something else went on in Final Fantasy IX. Remember when Zidane remarked how a sword reminds him of “a guy with spiky hair who carried something like this…” The joke here isn’t just the reference; it makes fun of Squaresoft’s tendency to include cheap references to their cash cow. Final Fantasy IX is actually poking fun at former titles in the series, and FF related homages in general. Unfortunately, the joke went over our heads. These jokes didn’t translate well, to say the least.
We can see how the franchise split after this, which went the way of deeper character studies (Final Fantasy X, Final FantasyXIII) or homages (Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy XIV). Perhaps Final Fantasy XV will bridge the gap?