When I was going through the list of leaked games in Nvidia’s database last year, I felt I needed a series of bigger and bigger 👀 emojis – or a meme by Vince McMahon – to properly convey my reaction. Could they all really be real? Based on the number of leaks in the list that have been proven to be true: yes. I am confident that almost all of the items on the list are real or been real at some point (a few were probably old entries that got cancelled). And over the past few months, I’ve been working into borderline frenzy thinking about one game from the list: Final Fantasy 9 Remake.
This name delights me. It haunts me too. Final Fantasy 9 is my favorite Final Fantasy and my favorite JRPG. It’s a game created when Squaresoft was at its creative peak in the year 2000. It was the last Final Fantasy with the direct involvement of series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. To me, it’s a game that epitomizes “they don’t make ’em like they used to,” ironically given that it was, at the time, designed as a throwback to 90s Final Fantasy.
There is no remake that I can imagine being a higher stake for me personally.
I don’t know if I believe modern Square Enix can do Final Fantasy 9 Remake justice, as much of its spirit is rooted in its “retro” design. I don’t think Final Fantasy 9 is Final Fantasy 9 without its turn-based battles, pictorial towns, playful storyline, or comically proportioned characters. If the Final Fantasy 7 Remake is the model, a remake would push for more realistic graphics and more active combat. The game would be largely or completely rewritten. This path would lead to a Final Fantasy 9 that was 20 years newer, of course. But better? That I highly doubt.
It’s not impossible that Square could get it right. In 2020, the studio released Trials of Mana, a remake of a Super Nintendo RPG that remained impressively faithful while translating the game into 3D. But going from 2D to 3D gave developers more freedom to update the design of Trials of Mana: Final Fantasy 9 would require a much lighter touch and a much bigger budget, to do it justice, because it is a sprawling game.
This fan render created in 2019 is more or less what my dream FF9 remake would be watch like, I think: it sticks closely to the original art while reconstructing it in 3D.
Final Fantasy 9 was already ported to PC in 2016, so whatever that remake is, it has to be more substantial than just a polished “remaster” of the original game. And although I love it, there are things that could be improved. The combat system pushed the original PlayStation beyond its limits, with long spell animations that created an annoying lag between entering commands and executing them. His Trance system, a variant of FF7’s Limit Breaks, is so difficult to trigger strategically that it’s practically useless. Some of the band members’ story arcs could use a few more scenes to really pay off. The final boss would probably need a bit more foreshadowing.
If Square Enix gets its hands back in the bowels of the game and starts to put down roots, I hope none of those involved in writing Final Fantasy 7 Remake can touch it. They would commit unforgivable dialogue crimes with characters I deeply love, and I don’t know if my heart could handle it. As much as I’d love to see my imagined perfect version of Final Fantasy 9 come to life, I’d rather not see it at all. The 2016 PC version is greatly enhanced by the fan-made mod Moguri, which does everything possible to clean up the original game’s 2D backgrounds and fix bugs caused during the porting process.
But I believe it’s real and coming, whether I like it or not. I still think it’s a surprising choice for a remake; unlike Final Fantasy 7, Square never made sequels or spin-offs to FF9, but perhaps it has proven enduringly popular over the years in all of its ports and re-releases. Nvidia’s leak has proven to be accurate too many times for me to have any doubts at this point, and a French cartoon studio is currently working on adapting the game into an animated series – it would just be too weird without a new game coming, too. After months of consideration, I’m ready for the announcement to hit me like a moment of pure joy or a stab in the heart (maybe both, in that order, the more I see).
There are a few fantasies that give me hope that a remake can do justice to my favorite RPG. One is Square announcing that the remake is being directed by Hiroyuki Ito, who directed the original game and recently emerged from the bowels of Square Enix with its first new game in 15 years. The other scenario is even less likely: Square hires Hironobu Sakaguchi’s studio Mistwalker to remake Final Fantasy 9 as its swansong, giving the father of Final Fantasy one last chance to leave his mark on the series.
The city of Alexandria from FF9, built from physical dioramas like the world in Mistwalker’s RPG Fantasian? Now it’s a real fantasy come to life.