Memories of life working on Final Fantasy IX, available with PlayStation Now

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Memories of life working on Final Fantasy IX, available with PlayStation Now

Kazuhiko Aoki recalls the joy of creating a true classic RPG - despite facing trouble in paradise.

Hello everyone, my name is Kazuhiko Aoki, and I was the event designer for Final Fantasy IX. I was responsible for bringing the characters of the game to life, as well as the different scenarios players would experience.

In honour of Final Fantasy IX’s release on PlayStation Now, I thought I’d share some of my personal memories of the game’s development.

Memories of life working on Final Fantasy IX, available with PlayStation Now

Starting out

I was assigned to the Final Fantasy IX team from the very beginning. I’d previously worked on Final Fantasy III, IV and VII, so I was no stranger to working on the series, but one thing in particular was going to be different this time: the game was going to be made in Hawaii.

That was a big move for me – I wondered what the development environment would be like over there, for example.

However, I didn’t start working on Final Fantasy IX right away. Right before development was due to begin, Hironobu Sakaguchi, the director of the game (and original creator of the Final Fantasy series!), asked me: “How about you make Chocobo’s Dungeon 2?”

As a result, I ended up taking the development staff for that game to Hawaii with me and we made Chocobo’s Dungeon 2 there as well. Maybe some of you played it on the original PlayStation!

Once that game was complete, I joined the Final Fantasy IX team and we started working on the game together. 

Looking back while moving forwards

From the very beginning, Mr. Sakaguchi said that he wanted Final Fantasy IX to be a return to our roots. Final Fantasy VII and VIII had been set in science-fiction-inspired worlds, and we wanted to go back to the fantasy style established in the earlier Final Fantasy games.

This did cause us a few issues, however. For example, we’d built up a lot of experience depicting taller characters with the two previous games, but in order to best support the fantasy atmosphere of Final Fantasy IX, we needed more stylised designs.

That meant we couldn’t rely on the techniques we’d learned – we had to essentially start again from scratch!

Characters who control their own destiny

It was important to get the designs right because the characters really are the heart of Final Fantasy IX. People who’ve played the game are very attached to the likes of Zidane, Vivi, Dagger, and Steiner. 

That’s something gratifying to hear because I worked my hardest when creating them all. One of the themes of Final Fantasy IX is that there’s no such thing as immortality in the world. How you live your life isn’t determined by destiny – it’s determined the instant you make your own decision about how you’re going to live. 

We wanted to portray characters who always lived according to the way of life they had decided for themselves, even in their final moments. By making each of them have their own unique charms, we thought people would be immersed in the world of the game.

Of course, I may have been thinking about all this at the start of the project, but once development started all I can remember is being worried about a lot of different things – like needing to make a certain part clearer or adding in additional episodes.

However, I do believe we were successful in our original goal – I think people were able to relate with the characters and how they lived their lives.

Deadlines and data limits

Perhaps the biggest problems we ran into when making Final Fantasy IX were due to data limits. Working on the original PlayStation, we were limited by how much information we could fit on a CD-ROM, and even with four disks we were right at the limit of that storage.

Towards the end of the development, we were calculating the data on each of the disks every single day. If we ended up exceeding the storage amount, we’d agonise over how to change the way the story was split over the disks.

It meant we had to make some cuts. For example, at one point in the story, the party splits up to take on four shrines. Initially we planned to make the player use each group of characters to fight, but due to the data limits we ended up only including the Zidane and Quina battle. 

Adding to the problem was the fact that we had three months less than originally planned to make the master of the game. The final polishing was incredibly tough!

A satisfying scene

Despite all our difficulties, I’m proud of the finished game. I’m sometimes asked what my favourite scene is, and – odd as it may sound – it’s the credits. 

My definition of a fun game is when the closer you get to the ending, the more you feel like you don’t want it to end yet – you still want to keep playing in this world! Then, once the ending starts, you’re all excited by the finale of the story, and once the ending credits roll, you’re just dazed, overflowing with a sense of achievement. 

When I played through Final Fantasy IX to test it, I experienced that feeling myself when I reached the ending – I felt like I’d achieved what I needed to do.

Memories of life

I have many fond memories of my time working on Final Fantasy IX, particularly that I was able to work under the bright Hawaiian sun. 

When I started living there, I saw people gazing out over the sea and sky with laid-back expressions and it felt like time itself was moving at a more relaxed pace. I’d been rushing around so busily before – it was a good opportunity for me to stop think about what kind of life would make me happy. 

Beyond that, I’m pleased that the game has had such a profound impact on the lives of its fans. Right after the game was released, I received a letter from a player who was going through an extremely difficult time in their life, but playing Final Fantasy IX helped them through it. Knowing that all our hard work helped someone overcome such a challenge… that was the first time I felt like I was glad to be making games.

Even today, the fans continue to inspire me. For example, I still watch Let’s Play videos on YouTube from time to time. People’s reactions when they play still teach me things I use in my current development work (my account name is Kazuhiko Aoi by the way… but I never say anything).

Final thoughts

Our work on the development of Final Fantasy IX finished a long time ago, but I believe its continued popularity is all thanks to the fans. In fact, I think of them as the ‘creators’ now. 

Anyone who answers Final Fantasy IX when asked to recommend a game, anyone who feels happy when they hear people saying they enjoyed certain parts of the game… these fans, like us, continue to build the game.

If you’re playing Final Fantasy IX for the first time on PlayStation Now, and find it fun, then I’d be delighted if you’d join us and continue to create Final Fantasy IX into the future.

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15 Comments

  • Those were the days. The days when Square sneezed out 10/10 Final Fantasy games in less than 2 years on a single console. Then they went multiplatform and it ALL went downhill from there. However, PS4/PS5 exclusive, Final Fantasy VII Remake, finally got them back to some form of critical acclaim/GOTY nominated status.

    Lets keep it that way. I prefer my games to NOT be steaming piles of you know what.

  • “My definition of a fun game is when the closer you get to the ending, the more you feel like you don’t want it to end yet – you still want to keep playing in this world!”

    I absolutely agree and feel the same way! <3

  • Is there a remaster in the works? That’d be cool.

  • I got to thank you for creating such a marvel in gaming history. Cant wait for Square Enix and SONY!!!! to go back to their roots and start making new TBS JRPGs. Thanks for everything.

  • Always has been, always will be, the best Final Fantasy.
    Also, this pretty much confirms the remake is real, right?
    …. RIGHT???!!?!!

  • « My definition of a fun game is when the closer you get to the ending, the more you feel like you don’t want it to end yet – you still want to keep playing in this world! »

    This quote right there is why I did not finish basically any Final Fantasy right away. I could be restarting a new game file multiple times before doing the final stretch of the game because I didn’t want it to end. For the record, VI (III on snes in NA) hooked me to the series.

  • So true, once the game ends you should have that feeling. I feeling like it was all worth it. Something I feel FF has been missing for sometime now. The remake is even worse bc you know it isn’t even the whole story. They need to slow things down and go back to those roots. Now they are even reusing names like Origins. They are lost and trying too hard to fit in to a gaming style that is over used and boring. Western style games are a dime a dozen. Time for some Japanese artistic storytelling. FF13 was nothing but babies crying, why me the whole game, FF14 is what it is, not bad or great. FF15 story was horrible, it felt like they ran out of time near the end so just time jumped to save time. FF16 looks… well.. it does not even feel like a FF game. If you want to remake a game, remake the whole game and stop the stuff that is happening with 7. A game that did not need a remake. Hell, 3 (or 6 for non USA) was a way better story and cast of characters that could really grow with the power of things today. But again, FF7 remake has… another 10 years before we even see a really ending with how it’s moving now. If they finish it at all.

  • Fantastic game with wonderful loveable characters. Thanks for ff9!

  • One of the best in the series! I was in grade school when I first played this game and it was the first FF I played. Played it again on PS4 and planning on buying it again via Steam. How I wish Square makes another FF that’s similar to the older ones.

  • Well the on going expansion of ff14 and the upcoming ff16 along with the slow paced ff7 remake releases confirms that square can have multiple ff games in development..

    So maybe just maybe ff9 is being remade (No Remaster please), and all the ideas and stuff they had to cut because of media storage can be added.

    See no problem with a small team starting the remake then after ff16 completion, some of those members can move over to ff9 remake team (if its happening) and no more drawn out remake like ff7… PLEASE!!

  • It’s my favourite game in Final Fantasy series.

  • I scarcely know where to begin, so many people I want to thank, so many memories. Final Fantasy IX came at a time in my life where I was desperate for heroes… desperate for people who simply wanted to do good. To feel as though there were something, anything worth holding on to.

    Final Fantasy IX to me is not just a game. It is one of my dearest friends. It is a reminder of what it is to have an ideal, and what it is to have something worth holding on to, no matter what comes. It is a story I laughed with, cried for, mourned beside, and felt some of the deepest joy within, in the conclusion.

    It taught me a lot of valuable lessons, lifelong ones that I’ve held dearly. “You don’t need a reason to help people.” It taught me more about being a good man than my own family. It taught a lonely boy what it means not just to have friends, but to be a friend. For that, and for so many other reasons, you have my lifelong, heartfelt, unyielding gratitude. As does each and every person who contributed anything at all to the production. From the executive producer, to whoever it was that swept up the offices at night.

    I am a better person for the experience you have shared with me, and I thank you with all that I am, and all I might yet become. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share with you what this meant to me.

  • As Long time fan of FF series. I enjoy FF9 a lot and had so much fun with it and learning the characters. I wish Beatrix was playable character to join the party and she doesn’t need trance because she is very powerful without it. Reason why I play DDFF on mobile just to play fully as Beatrix my Paladin favorite character and waifu I enjoy using. Even the boss battles against her was fun and i keep save back up just to fight her each time.

  • FFIX has been one of my earliest memories in gaming. I had a lot of fun playing it. Thanks Kazuhiko-san and the team for putting your hearts into making this beautiful piece of art.

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