Good news: Square Enix actually released Final Fantasy IX on the Nintendo Switch, allowing newcomers and old fans alike to bring the adventures of Zidane, Vivi, Garnet, and the gang wherever they go. Regrettably, I come bearing a little bad news as well. You see, the Switch version of Final Fantasy IX appears to be nothing more than a direct port of the PC edition of the beloved JRPG, which will no doubt thoroughly irritate fans to no end. Instead of giving this cherished game some much-needed polish, Square decided to simply dump it onto Nintendo’s console with zero enhancements or, for that matter, care. A major shame, really, as Square could have used this Switch port as an excuse to introduce some nifty quality-of-life updates to a game that could use a little tender, loving care.
Of course, even with all the problems inherent in this version of the game, Final Fantasy IX still manages to enthrall and enchant, though you’ll need to overlook a few issues to get to the good stuff. Even if you have difficulty with the high-resolution 3D models and the low-res pre-rendered backdrops, the story itself and its charmingly goofy sense of humor will help round off some of those harder edges. Although I must finger-wag at Square for the way they handled this release — poorly, in case I seeded any doubt — Final Fantasy IX still deserves some attention. Whether you’re willing to pay an inflated $20 for a years-old PC port (a port of a mobile game in its own right) depends on how much money you have in your bank account and whether you want to support Square’s questionable business practices.
But enough about that — time to delve into why Final Fantasy IX still has some magic in its old bones nearly 19 years after its release on the PlayStation. Sure, a few of its systems feel incredibly dated and its humor often feels more juvenile than charming, but the hits certainly outweigh the misses. Considering you can easily sink between 40 and 50 hours in the game (depending on how much you really want to experience), the fact that these elements still gel after almost two decades boggles the mind. Not every JRPG has aged well — including a few with the words “Final” and “Fantasy” in their titles — but Final Fantasy IX manages to keep you engaged throughout. Newcomers might turn their noses up at the dated presentation, but once the writing takes hold, they won’t have the ability to turn away.
Although you’ll control a number of different characters over the course of IX, the main storyline centers around a heroic thief named Zidane, who, along with his roving band of would-be kidnappers/troubadours, plots to kidnap Princess Garnet during a play at the royal palace. The twist: The princess — the hottest babe in the kingdom, according to one of Zidane’s cohorts — doesn’t mind getting kidnapped. In fact, she’d planned to hightail it out the castle anyway, so teaming up with these hooligans makes perfect sense. After a daring escape that finds everyone (including the head honcho of the castle’s guards and a black mage named Vivi) boarding an airship, the gang crash-lands in a foreboding forest, one that exists below the Mist. Unfortunately for our ragtag band of adorable characters, Garnet’s mother intends to conquer the entire kingdom, but she needs her daughter’s abilities to bring this nefarious plan to hideous fruition.
The plot may sound like something ripped straight from the pages of JRPG 101 — in many ways, the game serves as an homage to the genre as a whole — but its presentation makes the familiar plot points and genre tropes feel fresh, new, and enjoyable. It has all the stylings of a modern animated movie, right down to silly dialogue and some odd slapstick humor, which, on occasion, seem a little out of place when the game tries its hand at more serious storytelling. These moments, however, don’t happen very often, as Final Fantasy IX keeps a pretty jovial and playful tone for most of the tale. Considering how self-serious and downright preposterous the series can feel at times, this lighthearted approach somehow feels refreshing, even 19 years after its arrival on the PlayStation.
Gameplay mostly consists of wandering through pre-rendered backgrounds, reading dialogue, fiddling with items and equipment, and engaging in turn-based combat — in other words, typical JRPG stuff. Final Fantasy IX uses the so-called “Active Time Battle” system, which forces you to think on your feet a bit more than traditional turn-based combat. Basically, each character has a gauge that constantly fills up; when it reaches full capacity, you select what you’d like to do and then sally forth with your decision. However, time doesn’t stop while deciding between using and managing items, making a physical attack, or casting a spell, which can get you in some very hot water if you take too long to react. I’ve never been much of a fan of this system, though I can certainly understand why some people enjoy the challenge. Time-oriented stuff in video games can quickly make me sweat (often literally), so I found myself cursing Square under my breath when my opponent delivered a series of blows simply because I’m a little too slow on the uptake when making decisions on the fly.
The biggest barrier of entry for people discovering Final Fantasy IX on the Switch: the graphics. While the high-res character models don’t look too bad, they tend to stick out against those backgrounds. I’d almost rather have a direct port of the original PlayStation version instead of what feels like a very half-baked and deeply lazy remaster. Sure, the PlayStation version doesn’t look spectacular, but you won’t feel constantly distracted by the sharp contrast between the 3D models and their pre-rendered brethren. But, hey, at least curious fans finally have a port of the game they can take with them, which I’m sure Square considers a wonderful selling point since they’re asking $20 for it.
I am really struggling to pin a fair score on this version of Final Fantasy IX. On one hand, the game continues to dazzles, enchant, and entertain nearly 20 years after its arrival on the original PlayStation — an impressive feat by any standards. However, on the other, Square’s decision to unceremoniously dump an inferior version of the game onto yet another platform feels lazy, uninspired, and, frankly, opportunistic. I hate to kick around a game I genuinely enjoy, but I can’t honestly sing this port’s praises without feeling like I’m giving someone to the wrong impression. Simply put: The Nintendo Switch version of Final Fantasy IX is an inferior version of a superior entry in the series, one that deserves much better from Square. If you’ve never experienced the game before, then by all means, drop $20 and take the ride — you won’t regret it. However, if you’ve already played through it on PlayStation, mobile, PC or PlayStation 4, you won’t miss anything by skipping it. If I’d judged Final Fantasy IX on this port alone, it would easily have scored much lower, but fortunately, this classic manages to outshine these flaws.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A review copy was provided to us by Square Enix.
Although this is nothing more than a port of the inferior PC version, Final Fantasy IX feels great on the Switch and will introduce a whole new generation to the game's many charms.