Laying My Cards Out Right Now, Final Fantasy X Is My Favorite Final Fantasy

One of the main concerns I often have when reviewing my articles, is that I gush a little too much, I’m too kind to Final Fantasy and don’t call it out enough, especially the last 3 titles which were my main introductions to the series and JRPGs in general. This time? I don’t give a rats ass, I’m going to gush. Final Fantasy X is, to me (maybe not to you), the pinnacle of the series in almost all aspects. But...and this is a big but, it’s not perfect, and it does have it’s flaws and I will do my best to point those out as well. The best thing about finally arriving at this particular entry is that, with the recent release of the HD remasters, people like me can relive the game, and a whole new audience can experience what may be the last FF to not incite civil war, mass chaos, and complete destruction of FF fanbase camaraderie...though that may only be due to the lack of internet penetration and platforms back then. As you may expect, the HD remaster was used for this playthrough. It’s the International edition, which contains content not seen in the US, mainly composed of the Dark Aeons and Penance Super Bosses (that I’ve got half beaten) and Trophies (Fuck whoever did the 100% SG completion for all characters trophy). But without further ado, let’s get to the slobbering.

WARNING: Spoilers will be present, I will try to keep it to a minimum and vague, but I will be linking one video that those who haven’t beaten or past that point should avoid, lest they be robbed of the epicness.

FFX Represents A Massive Jump In Graphical and Audio Presentation

If there’s one thing every new console needs, it’s a graphical showpiece to really sell the extra power (and often extra cost) of the new purchase. Now there were probably other games before FFX that did this (I was 11 at the time, I have zero memory) but really FFX was the one that really stood out to me. Realistic bodies lacking (relatively speaking) the blocky polygons ala the previous three entries that came with improved motion. In cutscenes higher quality faces could be used to display facial movement to convey emotion. Now when someone was sad or angry, you could see it in normal cutscenes, rather than just the rare FMV sequences. The FMV’s themselves are also massively improved, they look kinda like the in game graphics we have today. You don’t have to have eagle eyes however, to notice that there seem to be a bit of a visual discrepancy between the design of some characters in the fmv’s and cutscenes (mainly Tidus and Rikku). I believe the reason stated for this was stated to be due to different teams handling the two. Regardless it’s a beautiful game both in terms of artistic design, and graphical power for the time. Hell i think the HD remaster still looks good. sure it’s nothing like modern games, but how the game looks won’t be a problem for those who find themselves unable to handle older games. The HD remaster has a few small glitches, the faces, especially in relation to the eyes can look a bit funky. One weird random thing that immediately stuck out was the lines on Kimarhi’s textures, they seem a lot sharper, leading to him looking like you could literally cut diamonds on his abs. Minor characters also haven’t received as much love, sometimes leading to some striking juxtaposition between a major character and the minor models they may be interacting with.

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Not to be outdone by the graphical upgrade, the audio presentation is greatly increased by probably one of the best additions to video game story telling ever: Voice Acting. Oh sure there have been games with voice acting before, but it’s a first for the series, and one of the earliest games of such length and breadth. Now stop, do not touch that keyboard, do not link the laughing video, that shit is the equivilent of being told to laugh after hearing your dog got murdered. However, lets talk about the actual quality of the voice acting. First of all keep in mind this is the series first foray in to VA so there are bound to be quirks. Having done a little research, it seems like a lot of problems can be pinned down to a lack of good directing to guide the VA’s in their duties. James Taylor (Tidus) sometimes goes a little overboard on the whiny, there’s a noticeable difference between present Tidus and narrator tidus, which most people assume was purposeful to show his more matured state, but I’ve also read that it’s actually because Taylor was told that Tidus was significantly older when narrating (he’s narrating from a point prior to the final act). Hedy Burress, as Yuna, sounds stilted and can have some akward timing to her speech, it’s been said that she was trying to synch with the lip movements, which were only matched up to the japanese script (and i question how accurate any lip sync was in those days regardless). Despite these issues, I’d still say that each character’s voice does fit them. Tidus is a bit whiny (we’ll come back to this later), Yuna seems like she would be a bit stilted and awkward, in addition to being soft spoken. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Best addition to game story? we had great stories before Voice Acting” and you would be right, you did. However as denizens of the internet, we’ve all borne witness to the troubles with deducing the intent and emotion behind written words, they can sometimes be limited in the emotion they convey without proper descriptors, which takes time. Games can succeed, even today, without voice acting, however, can you truly tell me that Auron’s famous speech would be even half as badass without Matt McKenzie nailing his lines like he did? if there’s any doubt, do yourself a favor and watch it again (unless you haven’t actually beaten the game, then don’t because the context is a major spoiler):

It Has Some Of My Favorite Music Pieces

If you’ve been reading my series so far, you’ve probably noticed the lack of mention of Final Fantasy’s musical aspects, which considering Nobuo Uematsu’s legendary status, has probably seemed a disservice to the series. Well it should probably make very clear my position that I do so now. Uematsu has said on record that he considers FFIX his best work, and I disagreed because I consider X his best. Interestingly enough, FFX is also the first FF in which Uematsu was not the sole composer, he had assistance from Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano. Now I’ve told you that it has my favorite pieces, so the question is, which ones are they? well there’s two in particular. The first, will probably not surprise anyone, it’s the song that plays in the opening cutscene when Tidus and crew are found outside Zanarkand, and he begins to narrate the events leading up to where they are now. The song is known as To (or At apparently) Zanarkand, and a beautiful song it is.

The second may be surprising to any who’ve not played FFX, and to anyone who has, I can almost be positive that it surprised them the first time they heard it. I consider it the best final boss music accompaniment and probably my favorite FF song ever, which probably isn’t surprising to anyone who knows that my admittedly shallow and small pool of musical preferences tends to tilt towards that of a rock/metal head, that’s why I love Otherworld so much, it was different from anything FF had really done before.

Now the HD soundtrack has had changes made, and I could talk about how the general perception is negative, but it’s something each person probably has to judge for themselves. The best pieces (the ones I linked) haven’t been changed, some have been overdone (hope you liked the brass in the regular battle theme) and some I’m kind of neutral to, such as Fight With Seymour. On one hand the removal of the chanting takes away the ominous feeling, but the synthetic makes it seem more deranged and crazy. Both sides of Seymour so I feel like both fit.

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The Sphere Grid Is A Wonderfully Visual Leveling System (But The Sphere Master Trophy Sucks)

Do you know what happens when you level up? oh sure, we all know our stats go up, HP and MP, and depending on a character’s growth curve, their attack/defense stats. But leveling in FF has (except for 2, which had its own problems) for the most part been an almost boringly passive experience. Square apparently felt it needed a little more interactivity, and thus the sphere grid was born. For those who don’t know, it works basically like a game board, where each sphere level allows you to move one space. using spheres of various types (power/mana/speed/ability) you can activate nodes to gain a stat. So every time you level up, you know exactly what you’re getting, 200 hp here, 1 str here, 4 def there. It’s a well paced staccato rhythm of stat gains that both feels wonderful, both to slot the sphere, and see what comes next, and allows you to organically see how a character will develop. While it’s not hard to deduce what each party members role, by examining someone’s path, it’s easy to tell what their specialty may be.

What sets the sphere grid apart from any other system, mechanically, is that it’s a good blend of choice as to how creative and free you want to be, especially if using the (exclusive to international/HD versions) the expert sphere grid. If you want to happily just plonk down spheres without a care in the world, and just beat the game, the systems use of Key spheres and Lock nodes (can’t get by the latter without the former) will keep you on track when using the standard sphere grid. If you want to get a bit saucy however, and have the experience and knowledge of how to quickly acquire key spheres, the world is your oyster however, and you can run any character down any path to suit your needs. In fact, one character in particular, Kimarhi, is designed to encourage this. As the “Blue Mage” of the group, his sphere grid section is very small, and you’ll quickly need to take him through a not so well beaten path to continue his stat growth. I personally choose a mix of speedy tidus, then through Auron, to create a quick brawler to join the mentioned two in my high damage beatdown set up. However that’s not the only option, as I know it’s also popular to take him initially down Rikku’s path to get access to Steal and Use long before Rikku actually joins the party. Honestly I can’t really think of anything bad to say about the sphere grid. Its visually good looking, and thematically fits with the games focus on spheres, Spira, etc. It offers you however much complexity you want with diverging paths, and gives you the ultimate window into the statistical development of your characters. I can see how people may view it as busywork, what’s the point of forcing the extra button presses and “annoyance” of needing specific spheres (honestly this only is an issue with ability spheres early in the game). However I’m not one of them, so I think it’s about as close to perfect as a leveling system can be. Even today you can see it’s obvious (whether intentional or not) influences in games like Path of Exile and Tales of Xillia.

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FFX Has A Unique Take On The Classic Battle System, And It’s Not Afraid To Kick Your Ass

Before FFX, I didn’t know that anything other than ATB existed, and honestly, after this specific implementation of turn based system (known as CTB, Conditional Turn Based, due to agility and actions modifying how often you get a turn) I don’t think I cared if ATB ever returned. There are two aspects on the surface of the CTB system that really make it winner in my book. First the game displays the order of turns farther in advance than any fight would actually need to properly react. This allows you to plan for the future, you know exactly when the boss will attack, and when you can act with what character. At the beginning these two aspects are mainly used to counter a particular enemies paper with your scissors. Flying enemy? swap Wakka in for Yuna, Armored? take out Lulu and put in Kimarhi/Auron. Magic weak enemy? Lulu’s time to shine. Like the sphere grid, we see that staccato rhythm that I find so enjoyable. Later on however, the game will ask more of you. Now you’ll need to do whatever you can to maximize your turns, minimize the enemies, and use context sensitive commands to take advantage of environmental factors. You’ll need to keep track of enemy ability rotations, potentially bringing a sacrificial lamb to suck up a boss’s ultra ability (usually aeons, but high HP party members may suffice). By the end you’ll have to manage swapping frontline characters in and out just to keep them alive, and manage status effects (there are no party wide cure spells, just items and Rikku’s healing mixes). Unless you’ve beaten the game previously, or had a guide/friend spoil things for you, the final few bosses will probably kill you easily (especially one boss who’s name starts with Y that has a bit of a nasty trick). No Final Fantasy has ever been seriously hard for the main campaign, but FFX definitely takes a good shot at making you sweat fights. The best part is, few to none of the fights feel cheap at all. There stands a good chance, by luck or caution, you’ll catch on to the mechanics and work around them, and if not, usually one failed attempt will usually give you the data needed to formulate a strategy (except for the Mt. Gagazet boss’s Total Annihilation attack, seriously fuck that guy, he’s the only boss nearly garunteed to kill me at least once).

The Story And Characters Read Like A Checklist Of My Favorite Plot Devices

Cheery protagonist who hides a hurtful past and must face his uncertain future. A Young woman following her path, never questioning it. Examination of the soothing, yet corrupting influences of religious institutions. Philosophical questions on whether it’s better to die with a glimmer of hope, or live in constant despair. Forces that conspire to cause harm, but are ambiguous as to their morals. It’s like SE went in to the future stalk me now, to make a game back then. I’m so in love with it, that I find myself wanting to spoil everything, and gush it all out in one big mess. But that’s not good so lets break it down into neat, individually titled sections for the sake of my sanity.

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Tidus is a star Blitzball player (think full contact underwater soccer) who is taken by Sin and transported 1000 years in the future. Through various events he comes to join Yuna’s group of Guardians (warriors meant to protect Summoners) on her pilgrimage (journey to gain all Aeons, summons, and defeat sin). As an Audience Surrogate Tidus can fulfill 3 roles, one as our Point of View character. At only one point is Tidus not around, and all narrations are done by him, so mission accomplished there. His role is also to ask the questions that we ourselves might ask, basically giving an in game justification of exposition. At the moment I’m reading The Divine Comedy, and in it, Dante acts in a similar function, but very passive. As he’s working his way through hell he asks the damned about their predicament and moves on. That’s fine for a book, but what an interactive medium like video games needs, and what Tidus is, is an active audience surrogate. He takes an active role in events and the questions he asks don’t just give us important information, it causes Yuna and the others to think about things they’ve never thought about before. Lastly an Audience surrogate is intended to be someone we highly connect to (after all they are our stand in). Now many probably won’t find this last piece to be so successful, due to the common complaint that Tidus is far too whiny, and yeah, he is kinda whiny, and as I mentioned, the VA does tend to go a bit overboard. However for me personally that actually kind of sells it due to the simple fact that anyone who knows me, knows that I am one whiny ass mother fucker. So when I think about Tidus’ situation, being warped far away from everything I’ve known and loved into a completely different looking world, you bet your ass I’d be a whiny little bitch, and I don’t have his athleticism or natural fighters talent to fall back on. While a child, Tidus also suffered under his cocky, emotionally abusive alcoholic blitzball superstar father Jecht. He early finds out that Jecht also found himself in the world of spira and that he is actually still following in his old man’s footsteps, as Jecht became the guardian of Yuna’s father High Summoner (ie successfully fought sin). Most information about Jecht comes second hand or via spheres (movie recordings) but it actually becomes one of the more interesting subplots to see how the relationship between tidus and his father has an effect on himself and the journey.

While Tidus’s development is mainly composed of his exploration of spira, desire to return back to his home, and confronting the legacy of his father, Yuna’s, who shares (and for a large stretch flat out steals) the main protagonist designation largely deals with the literal journey of her pilgrimage, and the secrets of its architect, the religious institution known as Yevon. Now I want to be very clear, Final Fantasy X is not anti religion, at several points the importance of faith as a fountain of strength is positively depicted. However FFX is not afraid to take a look and call out the power and corruptibility of all powerful religious institutions, and the dangers of complete and unquestioning faith. Yevon both acts as the spiritual and literal body of government for the world of spira, it’s teachings are seen as law, and only through adherence to its tenants can the people of spira ever hope to be free of the destructive Sin, those who don’t toe the line are treated as outcasts, mainly the Al bhed, a race of people who embrace machina (machines) that have been outlawed by Yevon. While this gives some form of peace to the common man, it’s obvious by my mentions of power and corruption, that over time, Yevon turns out to not be as holy as many thought. This set up actually does something that no Final Fantasy has done before in that there isn’t necessarily a true bad guy. FFX’s story doesn’t deal in black and white save the world, but rather asks philosophical questions as to whether it’s better to take the easy way out so that everyone has hope that one day the world will know peace, or better to live on, take the hard path and fight against the despair of of an invincible enemy. In layman’s term, is it better to focus on short term gains, or risk it all for the long game? None of the secondary antagonists, Yevon and in particular Maester (a high priest) Seymour do things out of pure spite or self serving. They’re wrong, but it is easy to see why they think the way they do in the face of the unimaginable power of Sin, and the societal pressures placed upon them. Throughout her adventure, Yuna will confront these truths, and be broken of everything she’s ever known, and similar to Garnet from FFIX it’s both heartbreaking to see the world fail her, but uplifting to see her rise above it. Her story may not break any new ground, but that doesn’t matter because you still end up rooting for her. You know her voice will ring out above those who have chosen the easier paths. With the support of Tidus and her other guardians, Yuna will rise above the powerful and wise men of Yevon to walk her own path, and I loved every moment of it.

Another subplot which is very interesting is that often the parallels between the previous pilgrimage of Yuna’s father, and hers. As mentioned, Tidus’s father Jecht acted as a guardian to yuna’s father Braska. Well Braska had another guardian, Auron, who also joins Yuna’s part as another guardian. Having someone who’s already ran this road adds an interesting dynamic, as well as the troubles that arise from having to guard a young idealistic summoner, and be guarded by an old all business badass. Unfortunately I can’t say more without massive spoilers, but I will say that the past becomes extremely important to the plot. I want to spoil it, but I won’t, in fact, i want to make it known how hard this section is because I want to talk about/spoil EVERYTHING, and there’s enough interconnectedness between it all that not spoiling something is a massive bitch.

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For Me, FFX Isn’t The First “Complete Package” But It Is My Favorite. Don’t Think There Isn’t More In Store For Final Fantasy Though

It looks good, it sounds good, it plays well (in a way I had never imagined), its story and central characters gripped me, I personally can not impart to you how much I love FFX, it’s the one I’ve beaten the most, and the one that I’m going to platinum...someday (seriously...FUCK whoever designed the most time intensive trophies). That doesn’t however, mean it’s necessarily all downhill hill from here. Still remaining is the first ever true Final Fantasy Sequel, and it’s first ever MMO incarnation. So as always sound off in the comments below on how you feel about Final Fantasy X, and don’t worry, if you don’t like it you won’t hurt my feelings (you bastard). Coming up hot on the heels will be my take on Final Fantasy X-2, which at the very least could said is a very interesting installment indeed.