It's that time of year again, folks. The days are short and cold, the nights are long and even colder, and one of the best places to be is in your nice warm house. Since you're there, you may as well break out the good ol' videogames and make those chilly winter evenings go by a little faster.
In honour of this, I'm going to be posting about one game each day in the run-up to Christmas, finishing on the magical day itself. Keep in mind that these aren't necessarily going to be games that feature Christmas (although some do). Rather, they're going to be a mix of winter warmers, personal nostalgic favourites, and games that echo some traditional Christmas pastimes. I'm sure other people will have their own winter favourites, but this is my unique list and I'm going to do my best to give a little history on each game and explain why they're featured here.
So, without further ado, onwards with day five!
Final Fantasy IX
Released in late 2000 or early 2001, depending on where you lived, Final fantasy IX came along at the tail end of the original Playstation's life. Excitement was already building over the impending arrival of Final Fantasy X, and the delights of the next generation were tempting gamers away from their PS1's and N64's left right and centre. Despite these distractions, FF IX sold well and was a critical darling. In fact it still holds the highest Metacritic average of any main series Final Fantasy game, clocking in at a whopping 94
Tonally, the game was a throwback to the NES and SNES era games in the series. Featuring a medieval fantasy setting, rather than the more modern aesthetic of FF's VII and VIII, the game felt much more traditional than its immediate forebears. This nostalgic traditionalism carried over to the character designs as well, with the main cast's models based on series staples including the black mage, white mage, knight, and thief. This was all tied together with a plot that was fit to burst with references and in-jokes. Characters shared names with heroes and villains of games past, direct references were made to old plot points, and crystals returned to the fore once more.
Despite all these allusions to the past, Final Fantasy IX managed to feel fresh and new. After two games worth of brooding protagonists and general po-facedness, the lighter feel of the game was very much appreciated. But it wasn't all smiles and rainbows. FF IX actually features some very dark themes, which have the characters questioning the very nature of their existence. But rather than getting all miserable and introspective, they face these dilemmas head on, with a sword in their belt and a friend at their side. This makes for a beautifully bittersweet atmosphere that will have you laughing one moment, and bursting into tears the next. Combine this with the excellent ability system, that had characters learn their spells, talents and skills from equipped items, and you've got both a wonderful game in its own right and a fitting tribute to the series' past.
Why It's Here:
Christmas is a time for storytelling. The kind of storytelling you do while sitting around a roaring wood fire. Final Fantasy IX epitomises a very olde world European style of story. Something like the brothers Grimm, but passed through a slightly mad Japanese filter. I just feel that this world and it's characters could have been legends, the tales of which were passed round a huge winter bonfire. Exaggerated, of course, with accounts of flying ships, foreign planets, otherworldly monsters and powerful wizards. These kinds of stories instil in me a fantastic sense of childlike wonder, a feeling that I believe is totally appropriate for Christmas.
And lets not forget the nostalgia and references to events of days gone by. The feeling of coming home after a long time away is one of my favourite sensations at this time of year. And not only am I nostalgic for Final Fantasy IX itself, but its reverence for the series past gives me a double hit of misty-eyed sentiment.
For me, this game is the ultimate winter fairytale. It's happy and bright on the surface, with a twist of strangeness and danger at its core. It reminds me of my youth and gives me a feeling of warm familiarity. It's that slightly odd story that I've always know was a bit weird, but that's just why I love it. Basically, it's a member of the family. I haven't seen them for a while but I know they'll always be there, and when I do see them we'll exchange the same old tales, have a laugh about the good old days, then go our separate ways.