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In Final Fantasy IX, the player navigates a character throughout the game world, exploring areas and interacting with non-playable characters. Most of the game occurs in towns and dungeons which are referred to as "field screens". To aid exploration on the field screen, Final Fantasy IX introduces the "field icon", an exclamation mark appearing over their lead character's head, signalling an item or sign is nearby. Players speak with moogles to record their progress, restore life energy with a tent and purchase items - a deviation from previous installments, which used a save point to perform these functions. Moogles may request the playable character to deliver letters to other Moogles via Mognet, playable characters might also receive letters from non-playable characters. Players journey between field screen locations on the world map, a three dimensional, downsized representation of Final Fantasy IX's world presented from a top-down perspective. Players can freely navigate around the world map screen unless restricted by terrain like bodies of water or mountain ranges. To overcome geographical limitations, players can ride chocobos, sail on a boat or pilot airships. Like previous Final Fantasy installments, travel across the world map screen and hostile field screen locations is interrupted by random enemy encounters. Final Fantasy IX offers a new approach to town exploration with the introduction of Active Time Events (ATE). These allow the player to view events unfolding at different locations, providing character development, special items and prompts for key story-altering decisions. ATE are occasionally used to simultaneously control two teams when the party is divided to solve puzzles and navigate mazes.
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