First, I've got a few of those dangling questions that I want answered. How was it determined that a clock stopped a week before the game time started? Why did all of those enemies keep zombifying my party when I started using auto-regen? And most importantly, why did the final sequence of the game have to steal from Neon Genesis Evangelion, Star Wars Episode I and The Matrix?
But those small questions aside, I really liked Final Fantasy IX. I'm still undecided on where it falls compared to the other Final Fantasy games, but it was a very good game that was a cut above the rest. I don't think it will unseat Final Fantasy VI (III in the US) from number one in my heart, but I'd wager IX has a good run for number 2. I'd probably have to play them all again to really rank them, because it's been so long since I've played some of them.
One of the first things I desire in a Role Playing Game is good characters. This is really reason number one that I like Final Fantasy VI so much. With fourteen characters, each of whom have their moments in the sun, there was excessive character to go around. In Final Fantasy IX, the characters interacted well, and while there were a couple I was less than thrilled with, I could live with it. I felt the same about Final Fantasy VI. And for that matter, I liked everyone in Final Fantasy IX better than I liked my least favorite characters from VI. What did irritate me about the characters in IX was that there were so many scenes of character development that were hidden from the player unless you happened to have a certain character in your party at just the right moment. Now that I've read a couple of walkthroughs, I see I missed a fair amount of development for the couple of characters I wasn't too happy with. Maybe that has something to do with it?
Next, the pacing of the game was great, right up until I stopped to do a "little sidequest" at the start of disc 4 that took me 15 hours. The chocobo quest would have been much more fun if the chocographs had been about twice as common initially instead of the quest getting exponentially easier as your chocobo evolved. The only reason I kept playing it was because I knew what the prizes were, not because I wanted to. Compare this to the card game in FFVIII, which I played for about fifteen hours because I wanted to, and I didn't know about it's rewards until Pi told me after I'd beaten the game.
The game was way too easy, and the final dungeon doubly so. In FFVIII, that last dungeon really sucked... But in IX, it was just a walk down a straight park. Feh. Yawn. The rest of the game was pretty easy, too. The only times I really got killed were when I did things that were optional. I don't mind the ease too much, though, because that really keeps the story moving as long as I want to go forward.
The other thing that kept my motivated was my desire to strangle the villain. Kuja, much like Kefka, annoyed me, and hence, I wanted to finish him off. Even if he looked suspiciously like a she at certain times. Looking at a couple of columns, I see Kuja didn't seem very popular amongst long time Final Fantasy fans. I'd just like to remind them that, whether he was smart or evil or anything isn't important, as long as you want to see him dead before the game is over. The purpose of the villain is to be beaten, and if the player likes the villain, then why would the player want to smash the villain and laugh at his crumpled corpse?
The graphics and sound were both great, as far as I'm concerned. The graphics maintained an acceptable framerate, unlike Chrono Cross. The full motion videos were great fun, and the music was all tasteful and well done.
Finally, my only real complaint about Final Fantasy IX. The various interfaces in the game were less than stellar. Why didn't the synth shops tell me how many of the items to be synthed I had remaining? How come there were about three different targeting methods during battle, depending on if you were using magic, attacking, or using an item? Why did the damage inflicted upon my party always get covered up by my menus? How come no one ever told me that pressing select showed me so much useful help? Why wasn't there a way to quickly see who had learned what abilities from each item so I knew if I could ditch it or not? And the list goes on. I liked the battle system itself, I liked the story, I liked the characters, I liked the ending, I liked the graphics, and I liked the music. The interface just lacked a lot polish. Most screens didn't present enough information where it would have been easy to toss in more useful stuff, and while it was possible to do everything I needed to do, a lot of it could have been done more efficiently. But much like windows, that wasn't enough to stop me from getting the job done.