When I looked through the list of games leaked from Nvidia's database last year, I felt like I needed a series of progressively bigger 👀 emojis—or a Vince McMahon meme—to properly convey my reaction. Could they all truly be real? Based on how many leaks from the list have now proven to be true: Yes. I'm confident that nearly every item on the list is real—or was real at some point (a few were likely old entries that have been canceled). And for the past few months, I've worked myself up to a borderline frenzy thinking about one game on the list: Final Fantasy 9 Remake.
That name thrills me. It also haunts me. Final Fantasy 9 is my favorite Final Fantasy and my favorite JRPG. It's a game made 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 embodies "they don't make 'em like they used to," ironic considering it was, at the time, designed as a throwback to the Final Fantasys of the '90s.
There's no remake I can imagine being higher stakes for me personally.
I don't know if I believe modern Square Enix can do a Final Fantasy 9 Remake justice, because so 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, painterly cities, playful script or comically proportioned characters. If the Final Fantasy 7 Remake is the template, a remake would push for more realistic graphics and more actiony combat. The game would be largely or completely rewritten. That path would lead to a Final Fantasy 9 that was 20 years newer, sure. But better? That I very much doubt.
It's not impossible 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 to 3D. But going from 2D to 3D offered the developers more freedom to update Trials of Mana's design: Final Fantasy 9 would require a much lighter touch, and a much bigger budget, to do it justice, because it's a sprawling game.
This fan render created in 2019 is more or less what my dream FF9 remake would look like, I think: it sticks closely to the original art while rebuilding it in 3D.
Final Fantasy 9 was already ported to PC in 2016, so whatever this remake is, it must be more substantial than a mere polished up "remaster" of the original game. And as much as I love it, there are things I think could be improved. The combat system pushed the original PlayStation beyond its limits, with lengthy spell animations that created an annoying lag between inputting commands and watching them play out. Its Trance system, a spin on FF7's limit breaks, is so hard to trigger strategically that it's practically useless. Some of the party members' story arcs could use a few more scenes to really pay off. The final boss could probably do with a bit more foreshadowing.
If Square Enix does stick its hands back into the game's innards and start rooting around, I hope none of the people involved in writing Final Fantasy 7 Remake get to touch it. They'd commit unforgivable dialogue crimes with characters I love deeply, and I don't know if my heart could handle it. As much as I'd love to see my imaginary perfect version of Final Fantasy 9 come to life, I'd rather not see it at all. The 2016 PC version is greatly improved by the fan-made Moguri mod, which does as much as possible to clean up the original game's 2D backgrounds and fix bugs caused in the porting process.
But I believe it's real and coming whether I want it or not. I still think it's a surprising choice for a remake; unlike with Final Fantasy 7, Square has never done sequels or spin-offs to FF9, but perhaps it's proven enduringly popular over the years in all of its ports and re-releases. The Nvidia leak has been proven accurate too many times for me to have doubts at this point, and a French cartoon studio is currently working on adapting the game into an animated series—that would just be too bizarre without a new game coming, too. After months of thinking about it, I'm ready for the announcement to either hit me like a moment of pure joy or a knife to the heart (maybe both, in that order, the more I see of it).
There are a couple fantasies that give me hope a remake could do my favorite RPG justice. One is Square announcing the remake is being led by Hiroyuki Ito, who directed the original game and recently popped up from within the bowels of Square Enix with his first new game in 15 years. The other scenario is even less likely: Square hiring Hironobu Sakaguchi's studio Mistwalker to remake Final Fantasy 9 as his swan song, giving the father of Final Fantasy one last chance to leave his mark on the series.
FF9's city of Alexandria, built out of physical dioramas like the world in Mistwalker's RPG Fantasian? Now that's a real fantasy come to life.