Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Since the Final Fantasy X/X-2 Remaster was announced in back in 2013, there has been a mental sticky in the back of my mind to replay it. I’d spent many of my formative years oohing and ahhing over the game’s characters and story, and I wanted to reignite a sliver of that magic.
I was first introduced to Final Fantasy X (FFX) during one of my brother’s playthroughs; he had just defeated Yu Yevon, and the final sequence was playing out. Intrigued, I plopped a seat right beside him and started to ask the exasperating questions that only a younger sister could ask. “Who’s this? Why did so-and-so do that? What is their relationship? Why is he disappearing?”
He gracefully answered my questions, a bit gratified, I suspect.
I was curious but overwhelmed by the sheer scale of it. So, being the one-of-a-kind brother he was, he offered to play it over from the beginning so I could watch the story unfold in its entirety. For months we’d convene in his bedroom after school and inch ever-so forward in the story.
Through hours upon hours of watching, I eventually gained the confidence to start wielding the controller on my own. I then, a couple of months later, recruited my friend from school with stories of an epic pilgrimage, life-like graphics and a timeless love story. It wasn’t long after that we were having sleepovers every few weekends, passing the controller back and forth between us, and pulling all-nighters to pass every new checkpoint.
I have so many warm memories associated Final Fantasy X that I’ll always love it for what it meant to me. But even with the fond memories, would it hold up as an adult?
A few months ago, my boyfriend and I accepted the challenge and downloaded the Final Fantasy X/X-2 Remaster on our PS4. As we passed through the many sequences in the game that I could quote from memory, the compulsory question bloomed in my mind: was that as good as I remembered it?
Yes… and no.
It’s difficult to avoid getting swept up in the nostalgia, but I couldn’t help but notice that some things weren’t quite as I had remembered them. Now that I’ve had a week to congeal my thoughts, here are the things I found good, okay, and kind of, well, bad. Does Final Fantasy X have replay value?
“I can’t hear the hymn so well anymore…”
Series regular Nobuo Uematsu joins Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano in the series’ first collaborative series composition. The game is scattered with recognizable favourites such as Victory Fanfare and cheeky new takes, like Chocobo Jam.
FFX’s theme song Suteki Da Ne sung by RIKKI was a tasteful choice for the game’s emotional climax; the song boasts a shimmering and hopeful composition that effectively blocks out the worries of every day, if only for a moment. The title, Suteki Da Ne translates to “Isn’t it wonderful?” and why yes, it is.
And while this game is packed to the brim with tantalizing tracks such as that one, the all-time standout for me will always be To Zanarkand: a haunting piano track that soothes during the crux of the story. As Tidus and Yuna stare into the sea of destruction that was once the great city of Zanarkand, they’re both forced to accept the reality thrust upon them. Zanarkand was destroyed in a great machina war a thousand years ago; we’ve reached the end of Yuna’s journey, and we can’t go back now.
“Outside the dream world, life can be harsh – even cruel. But it is life. He wanted you to have a shot at life. I saw it in Sin’s eyes. That’s why I brought you here, to Spira.”
What makes a believable fantasy? A believable world.
Worldbuilding is still a relatively new concept to me, I admit; I’ve only recently stopped taking it for granted. During this playthrough, I was lucky to experience the story through an entirely different lens; a lens where the mechanics of the world and society needs to add up and every cent needs to be accounted for.
Why does this society follow Yevon? What is the relationship between the humans and the Al Bhed or the Guado and the Ronso, and why? Why do Aeons assume their form? Why are there tiny connections that tie Dream Zanarkand to the rest of Spira?
These are questions I ignored as a teenager in favour of the overall story, but I just couldn’t pass over any longer. The lore has a direct effect on the main narrative; it explains character motivations, important relationships, and gives credence to the world of Spira.
Fortunately for me, the creators spent a lot of time constructing a believable history; unfortunately for me, they explain it poorly in-game.
Conditional Turn-Based Battle and the Sphere Grid
“Now! This is it! Now is the time to choose! Die and be free of pain or live and fight your sorrow!”
Conditional Turn based battle
There are so many different battle systems in the Final Fantasy series with their own little nuances and distinctions. For FFX we get what’s dubbed “Conditional Turn-Based Battle” (CTB).
On the Final Fantasy Wiki they describe CTB as a “turn-based system which does not operate in rounds, instead, it uses an Act List that is affected through various means and thus does not guarantee that each participant in a battle will have an equal number of turns.”
What does that mean? Essentially, you can modify who goes and when depending on your choices. For example, using a character’s Overdrive will require more “cool-down” time than, say, using an item. Because of this, you have to be even more deliberate and strategic with the moves you choose.
The Sphere Grid
Ah, the Sphere Grid… you either love it or you hate it! When my boyfriend and I started playing he’d drone on about how it makes no sense, it’s unnecessary, it’s this, it’s that. But after getting the hang of it and realizing it’s really not as complicated as it initially looks, he changed his tune. Suddenly he wanted to be the one making advancements in the Grid. Hmmm…
In short, the Sphere Grid is the levelling up system. With every new battle, your characters gain “AP” that gets converted into “Sphere Levels,” and then be transferred into new abilities. You can navigate your way through the Grid on either Standard or Expert, which both offer different levels of customization. The Grid allows you to forge your own path and impart the skills and techniques you want onto your party.
“This is my story. It’ll go the way I want it…or I’ll end it here.”
When I was a teenager, the story was at the heart of my adoration for this game. But what I’m assuming is partially due to localization and a bad English translation, a lot of the key elements in the story aren’t explained well at all.
As I mentioned earlier, I actually really enjoy the lore and the world-building in this game. I think it’s interesting to the point that it’d be a fair assumption to think that I love the story just as much, but I can’t.
At least in the English version, a lot of the core mechanics of the story are just so poorly fleshed out. To this day many of the people who’ve played through this game in its entirety STILL think that Tidus was transferred 1,000 years into the future. Hell, I didn’t know that Dream Zanarkand was an actual physical place Spira until a few weeks ago!
A lot of people’s understanding of the game comes from Final Fantasy X Scenario Ultimania Omega when it should come from their actual playthrough. I shouldn’t have to watch a 40-minute video on YouTube and read multiple Wikipedia pages to understand the story in its totality.
I spent a bit of time browsing through forums of people discussing FFX to see if I’m the dumb one, but no, many people are confused AF. Just read this (LINK) thread on the IGN message boards if you need proof of that.
“I trust my guardians with my life. But they are also my friends. I will not stand by and watch them be hurt. I will fight you, too!”
I like the characters. I really do. I enjoy the relationship that develops between Tidus and Yuna the whole way through and found a subtle satisfaction in Wakka’s crumbling worldview. There are some really interesting character shifts in the 3rd act, and I was here for every one of them.
I think that the characters work very well as an ensemble; there’s someone to satisfy every flavour. Independently, though, character development is thrown to the wayside for the less important party members.
What’s more, when Seymour was introduced into the game, the first thing my boyfriend said was, “So… he’s evil.” He didn’t even have to speak, and he already knew where the story was progressing. I tried to shrug it off it in pursuit *shocking* reveal, but there was no denying his sinister aura. Call me new school, but I like it when a baddie catches me by surprise (especially if the plot is pretending they’re ~not evil~).
“First the sea, then it spreads to the sky, then to the whole city. It gets brighter and brighter till everything…glows. It’s really pretty. I know you’d like it.”
This game was originally released in 2001, and even with the remaster, it shows. The graphics just can’t compete with the competence of today, and while it’s unfair to compare it, you can’t help but notice. It was a very visually stunning and groundbreaking game at its time of release, but if you’re playing it in 2019, that might go over your head.
Where it’s the most distracting, in my opinion, is in the lip movements; the English dialogue matches up with the motions about 10% of the time if we’re lucky. It’s just awkward.
But with all that said, the pre-rendered cutscenes continue to shine 18 years later. They somewhat work against the rest of the game in highlighting the leaps and bounds the in-game render still had to go, but they’re such a welcome treat every time.
Defeating Evrae and surfing the wires down from the airship to crash Yuna’s wedding is, and will always be, HYPE.
“AH HA HA HA HA HA HA.”
You knew it was coming.
As it was Final Fantasy’s first-ever attempt at voice-overs, I have to give it a partial pass. But only a partial pass, because yeesh, is Tidus annoying. People have complained about his voice for years, but I’m only now, as an adult, agreeing. You were right! He’s super annoying!
No disrespect to James Arnold Taylor, because I’m sure he had to voice Tidus within the parameters of the overall vision, but… it’s just not good.
And why does Yuna talk like there is a period. After. Every. Single. Word???? Let it out, woman!
The voice acting isn’t bad to the point of being a deal-breaker by any means, but it’s hard to ignore many times throughout. What’s worse, is that my only gripe with the voice acting has to do with the two main-main characters.
I think that the actors for Lulu and Auron did quite well in their respective jobs, honestly. I know Lulu’s English actress gets some flack for being so deadpan all of the time, but isn’t that just Lulu? Even Kihmari, with the few lines he’s given, sounds just as I’d imagine him, and Wakka and Rikku are perfectly fine too.
I’m even tempted to give Yuna’s voice-actor a bit more of a pass because I think she voiced this emotional scene (LINK) SO well. But Tidus… oh, Tidus…
The primary issue I have is that it’s such an important part of the player’s immersion; I shouldn’t be giggling at particular emotive moments because of the questionable voice acting, nor do I want to be.
“Uh…what’s a ‘sending’? Are we going somewhere?”
The dialogue is often credited as the reason why people who don’t like FFX don’t like FFX, and fine. It can be cheesy, fitfully way over the top, and straight-up nonsense at times.
What’s worse, in my opinion, is that the janky dialogue directly plays a part in why this story is so confusing for some. I’m not suggesting that everything needs to be spelled out for the audience, and we can’t fill in our own gaps, but at least steer us in the right direction every once in a while. Like, damn!
But no, I didn’t hate the dialogue. I can’t. Even though I recognize it as a Net Negative, there were still some quotable moments and iconic back and forths. I still enjoyed it in my own way, but yes, it’s pretty bad. I’ve even seen people try to justify some of the weaker moments by saying it’s like that because Tidus is retelling the story and so couldn’t get all the details exactly right. Insert the “Sure, Jan” meme here.
Does Final Fantasy X it hold up?
While it’s not a perfect game, I attribute most of its failures to localization and experimentation. In many ways, Final Fantasy X was the first of its kind, and the growing pains needed to happen for continued improvement.
Yes, the Cloister of Trials will always be a hard pass for me and grinding for the sake of advancement isn’t my favourite aspect of any game, but I love the focus on strategic gameplay in a world filled with button mashing. I enjoy customizing the characters to specialize in this or that and setting the controller down for a few moments of glittery cutscene bliss.
And for a game that’s often condemned for being too linear, it has a lot of optional side quests to keep you busy; there are a lot of things to uncover.
Final Fantasy X is Yoshinori Kitase’s directorial swan song, and its achievements were, and still are, monumental. If you need an excuse to revisit the world of Spira, here it is. It’s still a cut above the rest, as I suspect it will remain so for years to come.