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Final Fantasy IX for Android is almost a great port

I am one of hundreds of thousands who saw the announcement that Square Enix was bringing Final Fantasy IX to Android and was immediately taken back to the countless hours spent on airships and in caverns when the game was first launched. To this day an argument rages among my friends about whether this or Final Fantasy VII deserves the title of best in the series, and with good reason. There's a lot to like about this game, and that's why Square is hoping this updated version of the game with HD assets and a more tap-friendly interface will stop you from loading a pirated ROM on your PSX emulator of choice.

For the most part, they've succeeded. Final Fantasy IX for Android is easily the most feature-complete port we've seen from Square Enix to date, and is in general much more enjoyable than an emulator version on a touchscreen. That having been said, the overall experience suffers in a couple of key areas that Square still needs to do a lot of work on.

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Final Fantasy IX

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Final Fantasy IX

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Final Fantasy IX

Porting a game from the PSX era and making it look nice and run well on Android is a unique challenge. There are different size screens. different aspect ratios, and orders of magnitude more pixels than the original 480p game was designed for. In the past, Square Enix chose to put black bars on the left and right of the screen and fill that space with a virtual gamepad. They quickly figured out that delivering the same experience as the emulators they were trying to pull people away from wasn't a winning solution, and Final Fantasy IX is a great example of this growth. The game has been well optimized for multiple screen sizes and aspect ratios, making the game feel like it belongs on these screens. You'll still get small bars on either side of a 16:9 screen, but the overall the experience is visually more appealing.

The incomplete visuals do occasionally serve as a reminder that this game was originally designed for something else.

A big part of bringing Final Fantasy IX to Android is updating the visuals to support these higher resolution screens. The original artwork for this game lends itself well to an update like this, with the lower resolution "painted" environments and 3D characters running from scene to scene through the story. Each of the main characters, and a fair number of the side characters, have been updated to look sharper on Android and recreate the original experience found in the game. It works well, right until you find someone in the game who Square Enix deemed unworthy of a visual update. This isn't a huge deal, especially with the HD videos in-between to distract you, but it does occasionally serve as a reminder that this game was originally designed for something else.

Visuals are a big deal, but interacting with the game is by far the most important. While Final Fantasy IX will always be best played with a controller, the effort put forth in this release to make this game comfortable to play by tapping on glass can't be ignored. The virtual gamepad isn't gone entirely, especially when dealing with rapid-fire gameplay events, but this is fantastic progress.

Square Enix adjusted the controls in three critical ways — a floating joystick, a tap-friendly interface, and action buttons that only show up when needed. The floating joystick allows you to control you character by pressing anywhere on the screen and sliding your finger. The virtual joystick ring will appear and you'll be able to move wherever you want. If that's not your thing, you can tap anywhere there is floor and your character will run to that position. When you get to whatever you were trying to do, the exclamation point or question mark that appears above your head will also appear on the bottom right corner of the screen so you don't have to always reach over and tap your character to do things like open chests or start a card game.

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Final Fantasy IX

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Final Fantasy IX

Each of these things are important for comfortably using the screen as the primary interface in this game, but there's plenty of hiccups in the execution. The painted backgrounds and the tap-able space don't always line up, so you find yourself tapping to a treasure chest and then needing the virtual joystick to nudge the character closer so the action button will appear.

There are also some interesting legacy control issues when navigating the battle commands or settings menus. The game was built around a user with a controller navigating to an option and then selecting that option, and in this port that process is still two steps. You tap on an option and it moves the cursor to that option, requiring you tap again to select that option. It's the kind of thing you won't notice if you're using a controller like the creators originally intended, but it's also the kind of thing that reminds the user this updated interface isn't yet a complete thought.

For the hardcore Final Fantasy fan who needs some Freya/Vivi action in their lives right this second, most of this isn't a problem. The game still plays well and is plenty easy to enjoy. The people Square Enix are trying to sell to right now are the people who balk at the $16 price tag and wonder what makes this game so special.

While the story is compelling and the characters are well-written, the touch interface has problems and Square Enix needs to address that in order to draw in new users. While the effort put into Final Fantasy IX is much better than previous efforts, it's easy to see those new to the game easily frustrated by this interface, especially without a controller handy.

Download: Final Fantasy IX ($16.99)

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

24 Comments
  • I got this as soon as it was released. I'm now just waiting for ff vii. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I got this as soon as it was released. I'm now just waiting for ff vii. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Ok Johnny 2x Posted via the Android Central App
  • Nice of you to point it out for the blind among us. Posted via the Android Central App (Motorola Nexus 6 - US Cellular)
  • Any word on why this particular SE game is marked as not compatible with the Shield TV, but yet somehow IS "compatible" with other Android TV devices (namely 2015 Sony Bravia TVs)? I own both, and for the life of me, I cannot figure out why the game would be marked compatible with a device that likely can't run it too well, and not a device that's so much more powerful. No review of the Android port mentions this at all and it's quite frustrating and lousy.
  • Probably the chipset. Square might not have tested it on Tegra SoCs
  • You forgot to mention it's lack of compatibility with Android TV.
  • Functionality with a controller wasn't what I was talking about here, so no I don't think I did forget.
  • Maybe not Russell, but surely you agree that this being compatible with android tv would be a huge win for square and google? Imagine all the best square games of yesteryear on your tv and able to pull up any time!
  • Totally, I'm all for as many games on ATV as possible.
  • Don't expect any of these issues to ever be addressed by them. The best way to play the game is to download an emulator, grab a nice bluetooth controller (I prefer the NES30 by 8bitdo or a Playstation controller depending if I want analog and L2/R2) and download a copy of the game. If you feel bad about doing that go out and buy a copy on PSN or in the play store just to say you own it.
  • Yep Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • Nah, I've played it both on epsxe and this new official release. The official release is far, far superior. FYI I use a controller with both versions. My favourite thing in the official release is the ability to turn off the random battles. Makes exploration a thousand times more enjoyable.
  • Or you could just hook your ps1 back up to a CRT and really enjoy it. Just saying... Posted via the Android Central App (Motorola Nexus 6 - US Cellular)
  • I might have to take a look at this. I really enjoyed playing these when I was younger. I really wish that Blizzard would make a version of Warcraft: Tides of Darkness for android. I would love to play that.
  • I'm enjoying the game so far. I never played the original. My biggest problem is just finding the time to play. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Only kids who grew up after the SNES golden age think this one or VII are the best in the series. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Meh. I'm 38. Started with FF1 and Dragon Quest 1 on the NES and played pretty much everything all the way through the years. 7 and 9 are both at the top for me too.
  • But does it work with a Bluetooth controller like the Moga?
  • Around the same time that this game launched, Final Fantasy 2 was pulled from the Play Store. Anyone know what's going on there?
  • Is it not cheaper to buy/download an emulator and then download the game ROMs? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Probably. Cheapskate.
  • Tried to find it for Android TV? Nope. Install on Shield Tablet? "Not compatible with your device"... Get your act together #nintendo - I'd love to give you money for your product, but you won't let me.
  • I'm actually thinking of writting them a "thank you" note after playing this. I know the port is far from perfect, but they did address the main thing that was keeping me from going back to this classic: the character models. Playing the old Final Fantasy 9 on a Vita or a PS4 was a little painfull because the graphics no longer hold up. By upgrading the character models to look at least crisp and not blurry, not to mention the upgrade to the cutscenes, now the game is enjoyable on a modern device. I was particularly pleased to find out they upgrade the resolution on the Tetra Master minigame, which is by far my favorite minigame in all FFs. I'm suprised this review doesn't even mention that. To sum up, it's enough for me. I did not want a perfect port, nor I think we need high resolution pre-rendered backgrounds (which would take a lot of our phone's storage.) We got a port that works and it's enjoyable, and now we can revisit this gem on a modern device.