There’s Only One Final Fantasy Game With A Higher Metacritic Score Than FF7 Rebirth

There’s Only One Final Fantasy Game With A Higher Metacritic Score Than FF7 Rebirth

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth launches later this week, and fans are hyped off the back of rave reviews from critics. The game now sits as the second-highest-rated Final Fantasy game on Metacritic – but what’s the first, you might ask? Final Fantasy IX, my dear reader. You might be wondering why Square Enix’s release from 2000 trumps all others based on Metascore. As Kotaku Australia’s resident FFIX sicko, I’m here to tell you why.

Did IX really beat VII in the rankings?

Possibly to the surprise of many, yes. Final Fantasy VII sits at a comfortable Metascore of 92, putting it in good company with Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’s 92 as well. Both of these titles are beaten by FFIX though, which has a strong 94 – sitting squarely in Universal Acclaim territory.

Final Fantasy IX released in 2000 on PlayStation 1, three years after VII made its debut. It sits squarely within Square’s own self-described PlayStation ‘Golden Age’ of Final Fantasy gamesFrom a player perspective, I can guess why Square Enix calls this the Golden Age. The first Final Fantasy launched in 1987, and from it spawned five more titles before reaching Cloud’s story (the beginning of the Golden Age). In the decade before VII came into existence, Square Enix was fine-tuning the key factors for what today feel like an FF game. Everything from VII onward became part of an era where the company had dialled the franchise in, churning out new, exciting stories. Of course, the technological jumps first seen in VII and built upon thereafter play a massive part in memorialising an age of iconic games that many still laud as some of the best video games of all time.

There's Only One Final Fantasy Game With A Higher Metacritic Score Than FF7 Rebirth
Image: Square Enix

Ok, but why Final Fantasy IX?

When it comes to Final Fantasy IX specifically, there’s a host of reasons why it’s highest-rated in the franchise. I’d also go as far as to say that, purely subjectively, it’s the best instalment in the franchise to date. One of the key reasons I believe this is due to its blend of new-era technology married to rock-solid FF ‘feel’. VII and VIII lean into gritty, more modern concepts with advanced technology, while IX is more deeply steeped in the swords-and-sorcery end of the fantasy genre. Sure, it had steampunk leanings with Mist and airships, but beyond this, it rarely strays far from fantasy territory. Moogles and chocobos played major roles as save points and travel companions. Travel is done on a chibi chocobo traversing the overworld. 

A lot of this more classic feel also comes from the art style, with distinctive character designs that stepped away from the relative realism of VII and VIII in favour of a more stylised, cartoon-ish identity. The locations are vast and varied, switching from romantic European architecture to whimsical forests, massive medieval fortresses and villages built within magical trees. It all adds to a sense of fantasy that VII steers away from in favour of the cyberpunk-esque, gritty setting of Midgar.

While I could wax lyrical on the overall style of Final Fantasy IX for more words than I’d hazard almost anyone would care to read, there’s much more to its lasting success than this. The story of IX itself focuses on a war between cities, monarchy and magic – again, leaning heavily into classic fantasy trappings. Each character has their own side story, struggles and ambitions to explore, from dragon knight Freya searching for her lost love amidst the struggle of the Burmecians, to runaway Princess Garnet, and of course the main character Zidane. Amongst the range of characters, black mage Vivi stands a cut above the rest both due to his childlike personality but also his struggle to reconcile whether he too is manufactured from Mist and what this means for his personhood. While Zidane is our main hero from dubious origins, Vivi serves as an emotional core for the story. I’d even suggest he serves as the players’ eyes, with his monologues and musings on the unravelling story and events of the world a reflection of our own experience.

There's Only One Final Fantasy Game With A Higher Metacritic Score Than FF7 Rebirth
Image: Square Enix

All of this is to say that Final Fantasy IX retains the heart of the franchise and then some, while taking the best from the technological advancements and Square Enix’s growing confidence in the Final Fantasy formula and bringing something that feels uniquely FF. When I, and many others, think of the franchise as a whole, it’s often the world of Gaia that comes to mind first and foremost. This isn’t to say the other titles from the Golden Age and beyond aren’t good – because, they of course are – but they just don’t reach the same lofty heights as IX managed 24 years ago. And based on critic scores, it looks like many others feel much the same. It was the game that ultimately spurred on my love for gaming, and remains my favourite of all time to the tune of multiple tattoos, books, and the permanent urge to info dump on it to anyone willing (or unwilling) to listen.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth launches on 29 February, with a third installment in the remake trilogy to come. While I’ll be playing (and no doubt enjoying) these titles as they release, I’ll hold out hope that soon enough we might see IX get a remake of its own, if only to experience one of gaming’s greatest stories rebuilt with the same care, depth, and reverence as VII received.

[Correction 27/02/24 9:20AM: After speaking to MetaCritic, we found the reviews page for the original Final Fantasy VII. the article has been updated to reflect this.]

Image: Square Enix

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