Is Final Fantasy IX Worth Playing on Your Phone?

Most gamers will agree that FFIX is one of the best installments in the series. Square (there was no Enix merger at the time) managed to craft a wonderfully deep experience that not only paid homage to classic JRPG gameplay, but also added an emotional love story.

But the story isn't limited to love and war, as tidbits of humor like the unusual take on the overused “kidnapping the princess” plot (Princess Garnet actually asks strangers to kidnap her) and plenty of other silly aspects help to keep the tone light and enjoyable. Sixteen years after the original release on the PlayStation, Square Enix has ported FFIX to both Android and IOS so a new generation of gamers can enjoy the old-school adventure.

Since the original game has countless reviews and the new version is a standard port with only a few changes, I'll mostly be talking about my impressions of this version. I played FFIX on an Android Galaxy S5, which has 16GB of memory. Since the game requires Android 4.1 version or higher and also requires a whopping 8GB of memory just to download and unpack, simply installing it can be a challenge.

Upon discovering this, I realized that FFIX comes with a free, and extremely annoying, mini-game that I like to call “memory wipe.” This mini-game basically consists of struggling to erase practically everything on my phone, which includes every app as well as all music, photos, videos, and documents. Players can also use a “cheat,” which consists of a factory reset, but where's the fun in that? Anyway, it seems like a lot of unnecessary work to clear 8GB of memory when the install only takes up 1.8GB (up to 4GB after multiple saves).

However, the effort required to install the game is quickly forgotten as soon as the first HD cut-scene is shown. I have to admit that I'm very impressed with the visuals on a 5-inch screen, and I look forward to more high-quality non-casual games being released on cellphones. Having said that, the actual gameplay visuals aren't quite as impressive. Square Enix has upgraded most of the character models, and they look great compared to the original, but little effort was used for the backgrounds.

As a result, the combination of high-quality characters against low-res backgrounds looks a bit odd. This is mostly noticeable in the adventuring aspect and not during combat as most players don't pay attention to backgrounds when there are creatures to be annihilated. Even with bumped-up character models, the gameplay runs very smoothly in all areas except the world map, where the framerate obviously runs slower than the rest of the game.

I had doubts about how a deep game like FFIX would control when limited to a touchscreen, but these doubts were quickly put to rest after experiencing both combat and adventuring. For starters, players can simply tap on the screen to make their character move to that location while exploring. This feature is flawed, however, as sometimes tapping on a spot isn't registered or is ignored on a winding path.

Fortunately, this game also has a virtual D-pad that pops up when a finger rests on the screen for a moment. I found this feature to be very handy as it helps to fine-tune movement, especially when following a path from one screen to another. By incorporating both movement aspects, guiding characters around the various environments became easy and intuitive. Having said that, it can still take multiple tries to get in range of a character or object in order to interact with it. It's a good thing that the interaction bubbles only pop on-screen when they're needed or else the screen would be cluttered and movement would be inhibited.

As for combat, the touchscreen controls actually work better than adventuring. The same type of on-screen menus pop up on this version as in the original, but the icons must be tapped rather than using a standard controller. Some people may find that it takes a double-tap to activate most menu “buttons,” but I appreciate how this alleviates the chance of making a wrong choice. Since the buttons are so small on the cellphone version of FFIX, it's not uncommon to tap the wrong button even with dainty fingers (mine are anything but). Forcing players to double-tap them lessens the chance of making a mistake, and one mistake at the right time can quickly turn the tide of battle against players.

It's not surprising to discover that FFIX can be challenging to newcomers, and the developers took this into consideration when incorporating seven different cheats, or boosters. Sure, it's fun to play the game the way it was originally designed, but these boosters can change up the gameplay and/or make certain aspects easier for casual gamers. Some of the more useful boosters include a fast-forward mode that increases the speed for everything from combat to adventuring as well as the ability to completely remove random encounters.

Other boosters include maximum gil (money), maximum character levels, maximum damage (9999) with every hit, instantly master abilities, and full meters for combat resources. Another useful addition is the ability to turn off battle introductions. While this only saves around 4-6 seconds per battle, it can significantly decrease overall playtime over the period of hundreds of battles.

This game also incorporates multiple save features that make life easier for people who enjoy gaming on the go. While it's cute that players can save their game whenever they encounter a Moogle, these adorable creatures can be few and far between. Realizing that mobile gamers can't always invest 30 minutes or more into a game per session, the developers have incorporated an auto-save function that saves the game every time players enter a new room. This means that the game can be quit and then resumed at any time simply by tapping the “continue” button.

In addition, players can replay boss battles over and over without having to travel from their last Moogle save to the boss encounter. Simple additions like these make it obvious that the devs wanted to craft a great game that's tailored to the mobile game experience.

Despite the irritating need to clear up mass amounts of data on my cellphone just to install FFIX, I still had a great time playing the game. Thankfully, most modern tablets and the new line of cellphones have 32GB memory or more, so downloading this game won't be a hassle for users. Many people will balk at the $16.99 price, but it's not such a bad deal when you factor in the many, many hours of high-quality gameplay that's provided. In my opinion, it's definitely worth getting this version of FFIX, but I think the experience would be much better on a tablet than a cellphone.