Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: SquareSoft
The ninth installment of Square's flagship series is a return to its roots, ditching the cyberpunk and sci-fi trappings of VII and VIII and returning to a more classical medieval fantasy setting with a generally more lighthearted tone in both plot and character design. The main protagonist Zidane is a thief whose group of thieves/theater actors has been hired to kidnap Princess Garnet of the Alexandria kingdom. He is surprised when she actually wants to be kidnapped, but Queen Brahne of course isn't happy about it. After their airship crashes during the escape an adventure begins at first to get Garnet to safety and then to explore the reasons for the Queen's increasingly aggressive actions that threaten to plunge the whole of the known world into war.
The return to roots in setting is also in the gameplay mechanics such as the return to a 4 member party limit and exclusive classes between characters as well as numerous callbacks and references to the series as a whole. The leveling and abilities have been simplified and the whole game is much more accessible and user-friendly, making this a good entry point for new players. Though the game feels much shorter than other installments and it actually is since it is possible to complete the game in less than 20 hours which is a fraction of most JRPGs. One sidequest even requires a time limit to the endgame of 12 hours. Of course how much the player chooses to indulge in the leveling, minigames and sidequests will affect how much time and joy they get out of the gameplay which is good for experienced players.
The aesthetics are very well-designed with the bright and slighty cartoony backgrounds as well as the more stylized and deformed characters ranging from standard humans to anthropomorphized hippos and anteaters. This is only hampered by the limits of the console it was designed for as the PlayStation was on its last legs at the time of this release. The pixels on top of polygons effect that was used does squeeze more detail out of the hardware, but adds to it sometimes grainy and muddled visuals. Whatever that lacks in visuals though is made up in story and characters. The 8 main characters are all likeable and relatable with each trying to overcome their own problems ranging from existential crisis, the nature of duty and honor, love and loss and loneliness, etc. The adventure is not only a quest for a goal, but also a personal growth journey for each of them. My personal favorite of the series as well as that of the series' creator as it represents everything that the series was envisioned to be.
Can be found for the original PlayStation in both the original and Greatest Hits releases and as a PSone Classic on PlayStation Network.
4½ Surprisingly no palette swaps of enemies out of 5