Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
As usual, I'll be reviewing the games from how I remember it when I first played through. Hopefully.
Final Fantasy IX was Nobuo Uematsu's game. If you don't recall who that is, then I'll put it another way: Final Fantasy IX was the game that was saved by the plethora of beautiful and varied scores. OK, it wasn't really that bad in itself otherwise, but the music is lifting my grading a couple of notches, as it would otherwise be a B-.
Perhaps I should talk about the rest of the game before I return to the music. Final Fantasy IX is a typical console RPG game (which I personally refer to as a CAG: Combat Adventure Game, as it's an adventure game with combats instead of puzzles). The hero is a happy-go-lucky thief that politely kidnaps a princess that willingly allows this, and is gradually caught up in a plot filled with villains and heroes and some that are a bit of both. It's fairly well told up to the beginning of the 4th Disc, where it falls apart into a mixture of... stuff about the origins of the universe. But since much of that disc is taken up with the ending FMV, that doesn't matter too much. You'll mostly have a fairly good time up until then, if you like console RPGs at all.
The characters are a fairly varied bunch, and it may seem a bit strange that some of them end up in the party. But whereas the party addition in FF VII was all random and often counter-intuitive, here it makes sense because the hero is in fact someone that genuinely tries to help people in whatever way he can. He'd have beaten Yuffie, then immediately found out her problem, and then decided that she could be an asset to the party, teaching her some of his outlooks on life at the same time. You may not like his style, but at least it's a style, and he's consistently sticking to it. That's how you separate a character from merely an assembled bunch of pixels.
The main villain may look rather feminine (or as Francis of Pvp would have said it: Gaaaayyy), but again, he's nevertheless got plenty of personality and proper evilness, which is more than one can say about certain villains that you chase around the entire world without getting much more glimpses into their psyche than that they wear a Black Cape and have a Big-Ass Sword. He's even got fear when something doesn't go his way.
The graphics are mostly pretty OK, with the now expected spectacular FMVs and summoning sequences. The combat system is not new, but it never pretended to be either, with Square claiming they were going back to the roots. Of course, when the roots include the ATB meter filling up painfully slow even on the fastest setting, you get a feeling they could perhaps have stick to at least some of the newer stuff... Still, the way you learn abilities, as well as how you use Synthesize shops to create some new armour (all predefined, though) should keep you engaged for a fair while.
The minigames are also there, of course, with a card game that's annoying, random, and doesn't offer any rewards that will help in the real game. Far better fares "Chocobo Hot and Cold", which only shame is that you can't play it at any time. Still, it's a good diversion when you can play it, and the spoils, while taking some time to gather, are more than worth it. Another sidequest will have you collect coins, and this is also a nice diversion, if less so (the rewards are still good, though)
But the star of the game is still the music. Nobuo's outdone himself, giving us a varied experience that is mostly good. Flamenco music and ukuleles, anyone? But of course, the best parts are when he goes either Epic with a capital E, or delighfully understated. Such as a certain FMV scene including an airship and some black mages falling. It's barely more than a few piano keys for only about 20 seconds, yet the effect is more powerful than the entirety of some other console RPGs. Since there are so many tunes in this game, and so many of them good, it's easy to forgive those parts that are bland.
All in all, it's a standard, yet solidly executed console RPG which major fault is that it's too slow at certain things. But it stands out thanks to having some fairly good diversions, and one of the best overall scores in a game. Could be a lot worse, eh?