I was happy to see Final Fantasy 9, my favorite game in the series, arrive on PC a few years ago. It was a decent port—good enough to be playable, improved in some places, with little issues here and there that didn't exist in the PlayStation original. But today, as Final Fantasy 9 celebrates its 20th anniversary, the PC version is the one I'd suggest anyone play, thanks to the Moguri Mod. It's one of the most comprehensive AI upscaling mod projects of the last couple years, going beyond just improved backgrounds to fix most of the PC port's other flaws, too.
Like a lot of other recent mod projects for old games, Moguri includes backgrounds upscaled with a GAN, or Generative Adversarial Network. I wrote a bit more about how these work back in 2019, but upscaling the entirety of a game as big as Final Fantasy 9 is a huge undertaking. It's not just running a bunch of jpegs through a filter; every background is carved up into many pieces in the game's files, then restitched together. Some backgrounds are actually video files rather than still images. Upscaling can causes seams to appear or other alignment issues when the backgrounds are reassembled. Much of that had to be fine-tuned by hand to make Moguri look as good as it does.
And as the technology get better, the upscaling method was updated for a sharper result. The new method was noisier, but snouz mixed it manually with the original upscale to get the best of the two worlds : https://t.co/373YiGEzDb pic.twitter.com/LtuA7RjecXMay 26, 2020
And boy, does it look good. There are limits to what's possible with a mod like this—the source images the modders are working from are small, and without the original assets used to make the game, there's a risk of over-sharpening or losing the art's intended flavor. Moguri makes some of the backgrounds look a bit more like watercolor paintings than they originally did, but compare them to the grainy, blurry versions in the original Steam release, and it's easy to spot the improvement. This is about as good as it could possibly get.
Moguri was first released in 2018, but it's still being improved. The most recent update, from May 2020, was big. Here are just a few of the bullet points:
- Redrawing of all layer edges (all 11000+)
- Recreated all places names with original fonts (for English and French, rest to follow)
- Seamless scrolling skies & backgrounds, removed 'staircase' edges
- Several bugs from the Steam & PSX versions fixed: screenshots
- Recreated baked in textures NPCs: screenshot
- 30fps FMVs (credit: Lykon)
- HD worldmap textures (upscaled and manually redone, mostly seamless and faithful)
- HD monsters (with exceptions)
- Fixed missing monster death sounds (credit: Tirlititi)
- Recreated Start menu and game over screens
- (optional) faithful font: Alexandria by Teaito screenshot
Some of those fixes actually correct mistakes that dated back to the original release on the PS1. Others correct some aspects of the PC release that feel like steps back; the custom font, in particular, is a huge addition to me. Square's modern ports of Final Fantasy games tend to use bland, ill-fitting fonts like Arial that are easy to read but don't mesh with their games stylistically at all. Other modders have fixed these issues, too, but it's nice to have so many things bundled together in one package. Moguri simply makes the game as a whole better.
There are some noted issues with the existing mod release, including some video glitches and upscales that aren't quite perfect. But another update is on the way to fix those (you can follow the development progress on a Trello board). And for a game of this size—I've played Final Fantasy 9 many times, and would say the average playtime is 40 hours or so—I'd gladly take 99% of the game looking vastly better if it means putting up with a few glitches.
You can download the Moguri Mod at the link, and Final Fantasy 9 is on sale for half price on Steam. Even 20 years later, it still has some of the best writing in the history of Japanese games. It's a joyful game, full of verve and delightful characters and a card minigame I still don't understand (does anyone?) but love anyway.