“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.”
Final Fantasy X is both. It is the tenth numerical installment in the definitive RPG franchise. In many ways, FFX pays homage and represents the heritage of the entries that have come before it with a variant return to turn based battles, character job/classes, and the appearance of all of your favorite Final Fantasy mascots (moogles, bombs, cactuars, summons, chocobos, airships, and even an onion knight). However, FFX does not fail to have both one foot in the past and one foot in the future.It was the first game in the series to leave behind pre-rendered backgrounds and move completely to fully three-dimensional settings for battles and environments. It’s the first Final Fantasy to take hold of realism in presenting its characters with technology capable of capturing real humanity. It’s the first Final Fantasy to receive a direct sequel, FFX-2, that continues its storyline. And finally, FFX the first entry in the series to include voice acting (though some may say its clear that video game voice acting was still in its infancy, more on that later). It is this blend of honoring its heritage as well as reaching forward to new horizons that I believe makes FFX a stand out entry in the franchise and one of the best and most enjoyable in the series. It never slaps the faces of its ancestors and yet never fails to provide something fresh.
Final Fantasy X follows the story of Tidus, a blitzball player with a goofy voice. Think Mike Tyson if he played water polo, only Tidus’ voice is less high pitched. Tidus is all having the time of his life being popular when a huge monster arrives and destroys his city. He awakens to find himself in a strange new world, the world of Spira which is inhabited by several different races with cultures evocative of real life cultures. There, he meets a wide cast of characters and peoples. Another blitzball player named Wakka represents a first for the franchise as well. He’s Hawaiian! And that’s near and dear to my heart. He also meets the Al Bhed tinkerer Rikku, the black magic user Lulu, the silent Ronso guardian Khimari, and the warrior monk Auron, a man who knew Tidus’ father. Tidus has daddy issues, so that’s important. He also meets the lovely young Summoner, Yuna, daughter of the High Summoner Braska.
Tidus learns that the monster, which is called Sin, that destroyed his city of Zanarkand is also on a rampage in Spira. In fact, it has been for many generations. Cities have been laid waste. Families have lost their loved ones. A religion called Yevon has been built to try to explain why Sin exists: a punishment for the arrogance of Spira’s original inhabitants, people who used machina (machines) which are now forbidden and taboo. The only way to stop it is to send a Summoner on a pilgrimage in order to obtain the Final Aeon and the power to defeat Sin and bring on what is known as the Calm, a period of peace. Yuna chooses to undertake the dangerous pilgrimage together with the other cast members as her guardians. Tidus signs up and embarks on the quest.
However, Tidus soon learns that Spira is full of death. (spoiler: highlight to reveal) His home of Zanarkand he is told was destroyed a thousand years ago and is now a sacred ruin. Death has become an accepted way of life, and not only because of Sin. The Summoners are sent off under Yevon’s teachings to defeat Sin with the Final Aeon, but the Final Summoning will kill the Summoner and only temporarily disable Sin rather than ultimately defeat it. That is why Yuna’s father is dead and why the Calm is only a period of peace between each new incarnation of the monster. Everyone knows this and accepts it as a necessary sacrifice. When Tidus finds out it signals a change in the narrative and he moves forward less as a tag-along and more as a hero searching for a way to save Yuna from her sanctioned fate and at the same time stop the Yevon Maester Seymour from using the power of Sin for his own greedy ends. Oh, oh, yes and by the way… Sin is Tidus’ father, Jecht, who pilgrimaged with Yuna’s father and was fused with the monster. See? I told you Tidus has daddy issues. Turns out that with the Final Summon, the Summoner must choose one of their guardians, their personal bodyguards, to embody the Final Aeon and inhabit the consciousness of the new incarnation of Sin. That explains how Tidus’ father became Sin. And if Yuna were to choose Tidus as her Final Aeon, it would also give new meaning to the phrase “Welp, that’s it. I’ve become my father.”
FFX offers a fully formed fantasy world that is completely different from any other. It doesn’t fit the typical medieval-theme of so many fantasy games, neither does it resemble the cliched science fiction environment. It has succeeded in creating a realm which is neither of those: a fusion of Earth’s cultures to create totally new identities. The fact that it does this in every aspect of life from how we think about death, religion, the afterlife, economy, entertainment, daily living, geography, language, racism, and history is astounding. Experiencing this new world from Guadosalam to Gagazet alongside the ever curious Tidus is never dull. In fact it is primarily the fact that we take in Spira through Tidus’ eyes that makes the game interesting, and I’ll say more interesting than its sequel, which does not feature Tidus as protagonist. Tidus sticks out like a sore thumb, all rambunctious and irreverent in a world obsessed by fears of sacrilege and sacred duty.
The battle system in FFX moves away from the ATB (Active Time Battle) system of the previous installments and embraces CTB (Conditional Turn Based Battle) system, which basically means a return to taking turns except that characters and enemies will take their turn based on the speed of the character. This makes FFX’s battles less frenetic than other RPGs with a slower pace for strategy.
Leveling in FFX has gotten a level up (see what I did there?) with the new-fangled “Sphere Grid”.
Don’t worry if it looks complex. It is.
What the layout of the Sphere Grid provides is a way to visualize and plan the development of all of your characters with complete control, stat by stat by stat. You want Tidus to learn Lulu’s black magic. Fine. Rather have Auron be a healer. Great. Do you want Yuna to turn from a mild-mannered mage into a brutal brawler? Okay, weirdo, you got it. And fear not, for this degree of customization does not mean that your characters are homogeneous. FFX saw that coming. The developers didn’t want to deal with the complaints that each member of your team plays the same as the next. So they got around that by giving each character a unique trait in battle, in addition to their unique personalities, that makes them the most useful in specific situations.
For example, Tidus is best at taking out nimble, land-based enemies. Wakka has the accuracy to take down flying enemies. Rikku has the know-how to dismantle mechanical foes. Auron can pierce heavily armored assailants. Lulu does the magic thing best and takes advantage of elemental weaknesses. Yuna summons her Aeons to aid the party and Khimari is best as a jack-of-all-trades.
The Final Fantasy series is known for sidequesting and FFX does not disappoint. There’s Chocobo racing, tracking down secret Aeons, dodging lightning bolts (ugh!), finding the ultimate weapons, exploring the Omega Dungeon, breeding monsters in the Monster Arena, collecting all the cutscenes in the theatre, deciphering the Al Bhed language, and blitzball. Oh boy, blitzball. It’s the sport of Spira, the one past-time that alleviates the sorrow brought on by Sin (there’s a sermon in there, somewhere).
Besides Final Fantasy IX’s Tetra Master card game, blitzball may be the most involved and complicated Final Fantasy mini-game to date. It is so huge it feels like a game in a game. You can recruit players from the NPCs you meet scattered all over Spira. All of the players can level up. Players can learn new skills and abilities. Wakka and Tidus can get involved, themselves. Spira’s cultures rival you in tournaments with enemy sports teams so villainous you haven’t seen the like since the Mighty Ducks movies. It’s so huge and tough to learn but so enjoyable that nobody stops to ask the real questions: How do they breathe underwater? How does the audience see what’s going on? How can anyone stop from snickering at all the goofy names? Why doesn’t Tidus’ Meg Ryan-in-the-90’s haircut ever seem to get wet?
The heart of Final Fantasy X revolves around an intrinsic human relationships: the relationship between a boy and a girl, the relationship between a boy and his father, the relationship between a disciple and a mentor, the relationship between a member and their religion, the relationships in a love triangle, of sorts. FFX uses these fundamental connections between characters that most of us have experienced to drive its story arc forward, pushing its cast toward breaking and resulting in real emotional feedback from its audience.
I’ve shared elsewhere that this game made my wife cry. Well… it made me cry, too.
Final Fantasy X is simply Squaresoft on top of their game. It’s detailed, gorgeously visualized, solid, speculative, philosophical and incredibly involved gaming at its peak.
The 8-Bit Review
Since the HD Remastered version was released in 2014 for the PS3, and then again in 2015 for the PS4, the visual quality of an already impressive presentation was honed even further. I played the original release for the PS2 and then playing the remastered version again I was blown away at the level of refinement they achieved. Just look at this comparison:
They took the time to reevaluate and revamp the facial articulation of the lead characters and their expressions now more closely match the lines delivered by the voice actors. This was already a very intricate and vibrant game. Now it is even more so.
Nobuo Uematsu was the long-running lord of musical composition for Final Fantasy but this is the first entry in the series that featured collaborations with other composers. This is unfortunately a trend in more recent Final Fantasy’s where Uematsu has faded away and they’ve moved in other directions, adopting styles of music that seem out of place, considering the franchise’s heritage. But at least with FFX, Uematsu brings his melodic skills to bear and produces the memorable and instantly iconic pieces that we’ve heard him produce again and again. He has created a vast score with multi-layered emotion and sensation, a wide array of styles are brought together to bring Spira to life on a broad soundtrack. The only reason that FFX is not a nine is because of the sometimes infamous voice acting and the occasional flop in the OST (“Another World” feels out of place, I’m sorry).
Summoning Aeons to battle is a wonderful addition and being able to customize their skill-set only improves the experience. The way that leveling and the Sphere Grid works eventually boils down into tedium by the time you reach the end of the game. Certainly if you want to push your characters to their max stats you’ll be plenty sick and tired of traversing that accursed Grid. Sometimes a cutscene feels a little too long, especially if you die on the boss and have to sit through it all over again. Although everything else is in place, that leaves us at a seven.
Both an intimate, personal story and at the same time a sprawling epic involving history, religion and a huge cast of supporting characters and multiple villains, perhaps Final Fantasy X’s best feature is it’s storyline. Everything that you could want in a great story is here and developed with perfect execution. Because it hits upon so many relational levels it feels driven by its characters, rather than simply throwing them to the wayside for the sake of “big event” narrative, though FFX never shies away from “big event”. The characters here are flawed, they grow, they all want something, removed from the cardboard cut outs of fantasy-gaming, they are all multi-faceted. Adopting real world religious language and the semblance of real world ceremony and ritual only serves to deepen a profoundly tangible setting. Dabbling with the traditional subjects of conspiracy, betrayal, moral outrage and distrust of authority, the Final Fantasy tropes, FFX still seems to succeed in surprising with every twist and turn of its plot. A real winner. Except for the dialogue they gave to Tidus…
It’s not a particularly hard RPG, until you get to the boss fight Seymour Natus. And then it’s smooth sailin’ from there, until you reach Seymour Flux. The final fight against (spoiler: highlight to reveal) Yu Yevon is something of a joke. But there are plenty of challenges beyond the story mode. Lightning dodging comes to mind. Tap the button when you see the flash and if you’re quick enough, you dodge the bolt! Now you just have to do it again. 200 times. In a row. That is, if you expect to get an ultimate weapon out of it. Beyond that, there’s the Monster Arena with its baddies a billion times more difficult than the fight narrative battle. These guys are there for the challenge so they’re built to abuse the mechanics. The Arena’s “Nemesis” original creation has 10,000,000 HP. That’s over a 100 times more health than the final boss! Good luck.
Given that it’s a very long RPG, there isn’t much replay value. However the HD remasters have helped to improve that if even just for the sake of earning trophies for things you already did in the PS2 era. I’ve gone through the game a handful of times by now and I’m just about burned out on it.
Like I said, Final Fantasy X presents a completely unique fantasy realm. This isn’t StarCraft. This isn’t Lord of the Rings. This is a world that has dared to build everything from the ground up without borrowing heavily from any particular thing, even with its amalgamation of human cultures. It’s not Japanese. It’s not European. It’s not East. It’s not West. It has its influences, but everything feels fresh. You will be delighted to constantly learn more about Spira with Tidus because everything is new. I even feel that there’s enough unique twists on classic RPG elements like leveling up and learning abilities and turn based battle that FFX still stands out. In a franchise renown for its stand out titles, that’s quite the achievement.
My Personal Grade: 10/10
How can I possibly laud this game any more? What, you want me to bleed? Play Final Fantasy X if you haven’t before. Pick up the HD Remaster. It will be one of the finest games you’ve ever enjoyed. Fun will be had. Laughs shared. Tears shed. Hugs needed.
Aggregated Score: 8.0