My thoughts on Final Fantasy X!
Coincidence can be a funny thing. I was writing this look back at an older JRPG, and I ended up putting off for a week. Much to my surprise that delay took us into July or as it’s being called on twitter #JRPGJuly. Well, as it so happened, I realized recently that I had no real memory or opinion of Final Fantasy X. That’s not to say I didn’t play it, but rather my own opinion had been muddied and overtaken by the very mixed opinion that this series has. I felt that with the HD remake being released recently, it was as good a time as ever to take a look back at Final Fantasy X and see what my opinion actually was on it.
I should state first off that this is not a Post game wrap up, as I haven’t beaten the game again. Second, this is not a review; it’s really just more my opinions on the game as a whole. I’m sure most people already have their own opinion on this game; all I’m doing is tossing my opinion out there to see how people react. I should also mention there will be spoilers, so we’re clear. Not that it changes too much either, but I’m playing the HD Remastered version, which adds in changes from the international version. Most of those are extra scenes and bosses, so they don’t really factor in that much to my opinion.
While many know the story, I’ll go over it all the same. You play primarily as Tidus, a blitz ball player living in the shadow of his legendary father, Jecht. After his city, Zanarkand, is attacked by a giant beast known as Sin, Tidus finds himself transported into the future, where Zanarkand is considered holy land and summoners from across the world conduct a pilgrimage to holy sites to pray for the power to defeat Sin, if not only temporary. He joins a young summoner named Yuna and her guardians as they go on this pilgrimage.
Let’s talk about the good stuff first. The engine of this game, or the system it’s built on, is fantastic. It’s a great evolution of traditional RPG game play. Combat is actually very fun to play. Your limited to 3 characters at a time, but you can switch out at will. I didn’t care for this much at first, but I’ve grown fond of it. If someone goes down no one comes in to replace them, so you still have to be careful, and it allows you to switch back and forth as the situation arises, to take advantage of character specific traits. This really only takes place in early segments of the game, but each character has a unique trait to them. Yuna heals, Tidus is quick, and Wakka’s blitz ball, the most deadly weapon ever takes out flying monsters with ease, and lets him hit targets that are out of other character’s reaches. You can level up and decide skills any way you want with the sphere grid to make characters more or less the same, but individual characters still end up having their own uses, and it encourages you to use each character often so you can level them up. Characters have unique limit breaks, or Overdrive, which has a multitude of different ways to fill the meter, any of which can be unlocked for every character. The best feature in combat is easily the turn indicator though.
The turn indicator lets you see the order in which turns go. It’s simple, but being able to see it does wonders by adding a level of strategy that wasn’t really prevalent in previous games. Seeing how your turn will play out before you do it allows you to decide if it’s worth the risk to try and kill something with a power attack, leaving you open for longer, or to play it slow and safe, or heal, or switch and change your strategy. It doesn’t sound like much, but it helps give combat a depth that Final Fantasy games never really had before.
Your characters also don’t level up traditionally either. Instead, as you use characters in battle, you gain AP for them. You can use this AP to move around the Sphere Grid, where you can increase stats and unlock new abilities using spheres you find in game, with each sphere being used to unlock something specific, like one sphere for new abilities, ones for stats, and so on. Each character starts in a different place, and those areas are suited to what each character is supposed to be good at. Yuna starts near healing magic for example, and Lulu near black magic, but you’re not limited to these areas. You can take any character in any section you want, even taking characters around the board entirely, making them all extremely powerful and very versatile. It takes work as sections are blocked off by locks and distance, seeing as the grid itself is massive, but you can get spheres to get around easily. That’s only in the standard version, as the international version comes with an option to play with the Expert sphere grid, which starts everyone off in more or less the same area, and is rather different in design. The sphere grid is very daunting to look at, but it’s not a bad way to play Final Fantasy. Personally, I prefer the class system of games like 3 and Bravely Default, but the sphere grid is really unique, and it works a lot better than the license system used in Final Fantasy 12.
Lastly, Equipment has also been drastically reduced and changed. Each character only has a weapon they use which is unique to them, and an accessory, which is also unique to them. What’s different is each item has slots, which you can fuse items together to transfer various buffs to the new item. Gear drops are plentiful, with a decent mix of randomized abilities for fusing, and gear can be bought from stores as well, so odds are you’ll never find yourself using an old item until you find something better, as you can just fuse them to make them that way. The game does have Ultimate weapons for each character, or Celestial weapons, which require both a sigil and a crest to unlock their powerful abilities. While I don’t care too much for the crest and sigil system, as each one his hidden behind some kind of time wasting mini game, like blitz ball or dodging random lightning, you also need a specific and otherwise useless item for it to work, which you have to do a mini game for to make it function. It’s a lot of busy work, personally. However, I do really like the equipment system outside of that. The streamline approach is worrisome, but being able to fuse equipment actually means you’re not likely to treat gear drops as just cash fodder, something that happens in many JRPG’s in general.
So, that’s the good. But, Final Fantasy X is not well known because of its great mechanics. No, people remember it for an entirely different reason, its story, which is where many of the games problems rear their ugly head.
First, Tidus is a whiny, aggravating, self centre little shit that only serves one purpose in the game, that of the audience surrogate, because people living in this world all their lives wouldn’t need to explain things like Sin, the pilgrimage, and the hand thing they do to each other. He spends the entire game telling you this is his story, but really it isn’t. This game could and should have been Yuna’s story; all you have to do is replace Jecht with Yuna’s dad, Braska, and you achieve basically the same result. You can keep Tidus in the story, but I argue strongly that he doesn’t need to be the lead, as he accomplishes very little in the story itself, especially considering he’s not really there in the first place. Yeah, Tidus wasn’t real; he was the manifestation of a dead society’s dream, not dead per say, but not alive, which was an odd twist that really doesn’t need to be there and only serves to confuse the audience further. In fact, Tidus and Jecht only have one real scene together that isn’t a flashback, and it’s just Jecht apologizing for being a shitty dad. The franchise went through an odd period where they made the protagonists of the games not match the true protagonists of the story, and this was the first example of it. The rest of the characters are ok, I suppose, but Tidus ruins it for all of them, making Tidus easily one of the most unlikeable characters in Final Fantasy history.
(Its telling when the most recognized scene in your game is two characters laughing. Poorly.)
Not that the story holds up much better outside of that, as there are tons of unexplained or ridiculous concepts in the mix. Its biggest fault comes from the concept of death and sending. If you haven’t played the game, to put it simply, in Spira you don’t die. Rather, you continue to exist as a sort of ghost. The stories go that a person needs to be sent in a sending ritual (performed only by summoners, though there are plenty running around) in order to pass on to the afterlife. If a person is unsent, supposedly they go wild and rabid after a time. I say supposedly because your party consists of two characters that are unsent that never show any signs of this, the recurring boss Seymour, and the entirety of the controlling body of the religion that controls Spira and Sin, are also unsent, and never show any signs of this. So in essence, everyone in Spira is immortal, and there is no penalty for death, nor is there any real penalty for being unsent. You could make the argument that it’s a false concept spread by the religion to keep the populous under control, but there is no evidence of that, at all. In the case of Seymour this is rather infuriating, because the party does learn this fact about him, and rather than sending him straight away the 3rd and 4th time the meet him, they instead choose to fight him. Only once does Yuna, being the only person in the party who can, try to skip this concept and send his ass, but she chooses the worst possible time to do it, whiles she’s marrying the guy at the altar, which of course doesn’t work.
There’s more too, lots of small things. Why can only Rikku, Tidus and Wakka fight underwater? What allows them to breathe underwater? Is it an item, or a skill? Why can’t other characters learn it? Why does Seymour insist on marrying Yuna? It doesn’t accomplish anything. Why is a guy using a blitz ball the most powerful attacker in your game? Why is it that the Al bhed are trying to stop the summoners from sacrificing themselves by seemingly killing them at every opportunity, especially Yuna, considering her Uncle Cid is the leader of the Al Bhed? What is this game’s fascination with close up of ass shots, especially the underage Rikku, who even gets a sexy strip scene in a high quality cut scene? Why do people keep trying to use machines to kill Sin, when it’s made clear time and time again that it doesn’t work? Why are the most powerful bosses in the game the creations from the Pokémon style monster fusion? The international version adds the dark Aeons, which makes a little more sense to me as optional super bosses, but the standard game’s super bosses are made by a guy in a field, and these monsters could easily stop Sin, being way more powerful than him. More issues crop up from design, as Final Fantasy X has a lot of foreshadowing for mechanics gamers will later despise, such as the “hallway” design of a lot of areas, the lack of freedom when flying an airship around the world map and the stream lining of gear. There is a reason why people have taken this game apart for how ridiculous the story gets, and the game deserves every stab for this undercooked and, for lack of a better term, stupid story.
That’s really what it boils down to for me. On the one hand, Final Fantasy X should be praised for being the last traditional Final Fantasy game, with mechanics that have been updated and at the time were fresh and new, yet still maintaining the traditional feeling of Final Fantasy. Visually the game is impressive too, and the audio, despite having rather poor voice acting, is rather good, in particular the soundtrack, which is par for the course, but impressive all the same. But on the other hand its legacy, according to many on the internet, is based around the story, and all the negatives that surround it. I’ve come to the conclusion recently that the internet, by way of majority, focuses solely on the negative, which explains how my opinions on Final Fantasy X were eroded away in my teenage years to be replaced with the negative opinions I had of the game until recently. My trip back into Final Fantasy X has left me very torn on it. The question is how important is story to you? Many people, myself included, would argue that as a RPG, story is as important as game play, and much harder to ignore here than in a shooter or a puzzle game. Final Fantasy X will forever be, to me at least, the game I want to like, and it’s better than popular opinion would lead you to believe, but I ultimately found I could not ignore that story, it just raises too many questions. If your able to ignore or make sense of the story in your head, great. I could not, nor do I really wish to try again.