Made Me Reevaluate: Is This My Favorite Final Fantasy of All-time?
I had forgotten how good this game is at everything.
IGN’s Ranking: #24/100
With a brand new PS2 at home and a little bit of Christmas money, I stalked the aisles of Circuit City in late December 2001 looking for something to play. There I saw it: Final Fantasy X. It was completely possible, being a kid during a time before the internet seeped into every facet in our lives, to be completely unaware of a video game release. I was a well developed final fantasy fanboy by this point — it was an immediate purchase.
When I got home, however, I didn’t rush downstairs into the basement to start a new adventure. I sat at the kitchen table, slowly undid the packaging, and thumbed through the manual. Being 13 and in eighth grade gave me a coming of age perspective. I had a very adult idea: nothing lasts forever. How many more times would a moment like this come?
I finally made my way downstairs and began to play. When I got to Besaid Island, I hit pause and let that music wave over me. It was another adventure with a new set of friends and fresh story. This was a unique time that might never come again, and I soaked it all in.
Looking back on that memory, I lament how right I got it. From ’94 to 2001, a poultry seven years, Square released 5 main titles which some consider the best video games of all time. From 2002-2020, we received the same amount of titles taking more than double the time while none of them considered remotely GOAT worthy (not to mention two of them being completely MMORPG). What’s even more disappointing is how FFX seemed to be harkening of things to come. All the pieces finally came together where storytelling, graphics, gameplay, music, and world-building interwove unlike ever before.
Replaying FFX in 2020 only puts more lemon juice on that open wound. With the perspective of time, it’s sad that Final Fantasy has drifted away from such a potent formula. After beating this game, I released a good cry and immediately went to the internet for more lore — I wasn’t ready to be done. This game is that good.
Square had an amazing run on the PS1. It released three main titles (Final Fantasy 7 to 9) along with a bevy of other games that were varied in genre and style. Now was the time to transition to the new PS2 hardware. It was the same opportunity they had with the FF7 when they moved from the SNES to the PS1
FFX boasts several firsts in the series such as voice acting, motion-captured facial expression, and more. It was one of the most successful PS2 releases having sold over 8 million copies to date. The story also starts from an innovative point of view: you meet the characters in the middle of their journey with Tidus, the main character, bringing you up to speed with a retrospective recount.
With a game that is so beloved, it is difficult to even know where to start.
It’s All About Perspective.
One of the simple and ingenious things about the narration is that we share a very important thing in common with the main protagonist Tidus: we know nothing of Spira!
Tidus is thrown into a completely foreign society due to muddled events involving Sin, a creature that wreaks havoc in Spira. Spira has a very developed, ossified religion built upon a history and culture of dealing with Sin. With every taboo that Tidus commits, we too feel like we are being punished for something we don’t understand. When someone pulls Tidus aside to explain something, they are really talking to us the player.
We go through the same process of discovery as Tidus does. As he pieces things together involving the traditions of Yevon, so do we. We feel a part of the world because Tidus is so relatable to us as being an outsider. Tidus is a reflection of our experience as we play the game.
This allows the story to do some very neat things.
Motivation wise, every conversation becomes a cliff hanger to continue. We get a little bit of information to feel satisfied, but we want more. We become invested as we slowly learn what we are dealing with as lived through Tidus. We keep playing to find out what happens next.
Character wise, this gives a deeper meaning to people’s actions. At first, we do not fully understand the behavior of Yuna, Wakka, Auron, or anyone, but the more we learn the more we reflect back on earlier events with greater understanding. Not only do you learn things going forward, but you reflectively change things looking backward that give a whole new meaning to everyone in your party.
This constant unlayering of the onion is done so well to the very ending.
The Lure of Lore.
As we learn about Spira through Tidus, we learn that this is a very robust society. While this might lead some narration to rely heavily on deus ex machina, random magic to fill in gaps, or big ol’ plot holes, most of Spira’s back story is accounted for.
At the center, there is a hierarchical religious institution that most of society kowtows to. Why is that? Well, they have the only known way to defeat Sin via a Pilgrimage to obtain the final Aeon/Summon. Over the years, they have hidden what really happens at the core of that pilgrimage as well as tied this process to a moralistic set of duties and obligations. By leveraging the fear people have of Sin, the leaders of Yevon are able to hold powerful positions while keeping people ignorant of what’s really happening.
How are they able to keep people ignorant of what’s really happening? The final summoning tradition is only known by a few (it has only be successful a handful of times in the 1000 year history of Sin). Most who accomplish the journey think it better to give Spira a few years of peace (known as the Calm) then take people’s hope away. Thus Yevonites are ignorant that Sin has nothing to do with their morality but is a cycle started by a Summoner many years ago.
We could continue (Why does Sin keep coming back? What is the Final Aeon? Why did this Pilgrimage Start?) but take it from me: almost ALL of it is explained in game and is not a confusing mess like other Final Fantasy games.
Under the Hood.
FFX also changes some of the trends in Final Fantasy games as far as battle mechanics. Instead of the Active Time Battle System where the focus is quick decisions, FFX concots a mix combining the original NES Final Fantasy gameplay with new features.
Now, all commands happen one at a time giving you an infinite amount of time to make decisions. A bar is provided telling you when everyone gets their turn, including enemies, so now you can plan a sequence of attacks or commands. While a bit jarring at first, it really allows you to play with a lot more depth as you can foresee problems and try and work your way around them.
Final Fantasy X also solves the problem with multiple party members: at any point in battle, you can sub in another character without any penalty. Each character also has a specialty (for instance, Wakka with high accuracy is good against flying enemies who have high evasion). This motivates you to actually use your entire party versus sitting on your favorite 2 or 3 characters.
The way you level up your characters is also different. You now earn points to move on a grid that unlocks nodes to give you abilities and stats. While in the beginning it is very rigid, it becomes more versatile to allow you to direct character development in the direction that you would prefer.
While it seems like micromanaging to have to unlock every stat upgrade, there is something satisfying about developing your characters one node at a time rather than a blanket upgrade where you don’t really see how they improved.
So Much To Do, So Little Time.
The front end of the game is extremely linear. Much like FFXIII (but without any of the criticism), Spira is one big long hallway. Fortunately, there is so much world-building and people to talk to, it’s hard to notice it. Once you get the airship unlocked, you are able to either complete the story or do several end of game quests.
One of my favorite things the game did (which speaks again to its world-building and narration) is hide language primers over the world for the foreign Al Bed language. Each primer corresponds to a deciphered letter which allows you to understand what they are saying one letter at a time. Eventually, this allows you to piece together what they are saying.
Get enough of these primers and you will be able to find secret locations on the world map where secret treasure is hidden.
Then, you have the “celestial weapons’ that require some of the most ridiculous tasks ever known to man. While amazingly strong and somewhat required for other end of game tasks, getting them requires a jack-of-all trades talent pool. The quests range form dodging 200 lightning bolts, capturing butterflies, or completing a chocobo race at 0 seconds.
There is also an arena where you capture monsters from various places in game. When you capture all the monsters of a certain type or region, the headmaster creates an OP beast for you to destroy. He rewards you special items for these accomplishments which allows you to boost up your equipment which then allows you to beat these monsters which then gets you items to boosts up your armor/weapons which then…
It’s almost endless.
IGN ranked this #24, but I have a feeling it’s going to be hard to unseat it as my personal #1.
Other People’s Takes:
- A Fictional Bookworm: “Spira is a world heavily inspired by Asian culture, and I loved how that shone through. But the nature of Spira, and the story of FFX in general, is nothing short of dark and melancholy. I adored it.“
- The Almighty Backlog: “I love so much about Final Fantasy X. I love the themes, I love the characters, and I love the battle system, and that’s the brunt of the game right there in those three things.”
- Dashe Plays Trash: “Final Fantasy X, a great game that was made good by virtue of a series of extremely sadistic minigames and then spoiled by its own sequel.”