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Forgotten Fantasy
Everything that's been said below is true. FFIX is both underrated and a symptom of the Enix groupthink that has made the series very...same-y. As most people know, IX was originally going to be a spinoff, similar to Kingdom Hearts. The decision to make it a numbered sequel was probably what drove them to incorporate Cloud and Sephiroth into the story. "Them" being Square Enix executives, probably. Inevitably the characters to fall into their prearranged slots: "Zindane is now amnesiac! Garnet will tonight be playing the part of Rinoa! Our replacement Yuffie is..." and so forth.

Still, I enjoyed revisiting PSX-era Final Fantasy. One detail I liked was the "Synthesize" shop which uses your old equipment to forge better accessories. I always hated not knowing whether to sell my old junk, or keep it for later use. The game is a challenge, with some pretty obtuse dungeons, a high encounter rate, and enemies who don't mess around. The black mage is actually useful, which I personally like (see also FFX), although Blizara, as usual, is the only spell worth using. (Seriously, Square. What is your deal?)

The new Limit Breaks are strange. I can't control when my party enters Trance, and they always blow it on a puny testicle monster and never, ever, on the upcoming boss battle.

The music is top-notch, as are the graphics. This is the last FF game to feature an overhead map, a beloved antique of the nineties. IX has perfected the art of overworld maps, with topographic views, cable cars, and a blanket of mist (Mist is always evil in this series).

The story is actually at it best when it's simple, dumb, and adventurous. There is something cathartic about a lunatic who isn't satisfied with nuking every rival nation on the continent in the name of "peace"; she wants to go conquer other continents, too. It's when we start drifting into Blade Runner — we already used up all the Star Wars references — that things become less fun.
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The overrated underrated game
Final Fantasy IX has been described by many as "underrated". But on the internet...it isn't. At all. In fact, an annoying tendency has developed to put it on a pedestal as to what Final Fantasy "should be" and bash other games in comparasion to it (except VI, of course...for some reason, these people are often on the VI side of that stupid VI vs. VII debate.)

So here's my unpopular opinion: I think it's not that different from Final Fantasy VIII. A shock, I know, as online VIII is a black sheep and IX has claimed godhood. And let's face it, they really are both polar opposites of each other in many ways.

But to me, they have more similarities than differences. Art style aside, they have the same style of graphics both in-game and in FMV sequences. They both have wonderful music composed by Nobuo Uematsu. And they both have very good happy endings. But in categories where VIII falters, I find that IX succeeds, and where IX falters, VIII succeeds.

For instance, the gameplay in IX is balanced and fun, and the story very well-written and paced. And the villains (Kuja, Garland, Queen Brahne, Zorn & Thorn, the Black Waltzes, etc.) are all excellent and stand out in their own way. Such was the opposite with VIII.

However, I found that VIII had the far more interesting world, as the world of IX is a generic medieval fantasy world. And yes, I knew that it was meant to be a callback to past FF games, but after so many inventive, interesting worlds before and after it, Gaia really seems weak by comparasion.

Also, the cast of heroes was more of a mixed bag to me here than in the past three games. Zidane was very likable, but he had little to no character depth. I don't mean Zidane needed to be angsty like Cloud or Squall, but it has to be said they were byfar deeper heroes. And Freya and Amarant were terribly underutilized and were neither very likable or developed. It was fitting they spent alot of their time being boring together. I loved Vivi, Garnet, and Steiner though, as they were both well characterized, likable and they grew and changed throughout the story.

In the end, FF9 is, like FF8, not the best RPG, but still an excellent one. I don't like it being underrated OR overrated, and it should be taken as it is: another great entry in a legendary franchise.
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Refreshing, Fun, and Underrated
Like the title said, Underrated is the word that better describs this game, since for some reason it didn't became as popular as its predecessors, despite not being worst. Nor best. Just different.

Because that's what this game tried to do. It tried to be different, new, refreshing. Which is an irony, since the prupose was going back to the roots. We said goobye to the ciberpunk/magitek world, and see the return of a more fantasy-oriented setting. Which, in my humble opinion, it was a wise move, since I always found ridiculous for people to still using swords in a technologically advanced world, although I know that they won't stop doing such thing.

Another new feature, or better said, return of an old one is the jobs: rather than having six equal characters with a special move, we had completely unique characters, each with its own set of abilities. Okay, this drew the problem that some characters were more useful than others, but the other system wasn't better for diversity either; now tell me how many people who played Final Fantasy VII used Caith Sith.

Speaking of the characters, they were one of the game's storngest points, in contrast to the obnoxious cast from its predecessor. It was good to finally have a FF in which the protagonist is a cheerful boy instead of an emo with anime hair and an impossible huge sword. You can see how all the characters grow (well, some more than others), since all of them have their own inner conflict that they must overcome, they face obstacles, they sometimes lose hope, but when this happens, they are always back on feet thanks to the best use of The Power Of Friendship.

Now, the game has its flaws too, like some characters that are left out of the game for too long (namely Freya), or whose backstories are much less developed (Freya again)

The minigames, such as the card game, and the treasure hunt with the chocobo are fun, but you can get tired of those pretty fast.

Al in all, this game wasn't awesome, nor terrible. It was different. If you can appreciate this, and all its good features, you will enjoy this game and its marvelous content.

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