I remember when I first played Final Fantasy X. It was an experience that I will go out there and say it right now to the interweb masses, life changing. With the upcoming release of Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster I believe that this is great moment to review the original incarnation of the games from a current point of view as opposed to the 10+ year old reviews that many would-be buyers may read.
The Final Fantasy series is one of the longest running franchises in entertainment. I’m not just talking about video games but the entertainment industry in whole. The series spans nearly 30 years, outlasted only by a few other well-known franchises you may have heard of: James Bond, Godzilla, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones. In terms of video games, only the likes of Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong have lasted longer while it is also of note to mention that another game was first released the same year as the first Final Fantasy, Metal Gear. It takes something special to have the longevity of these entertainment franchises and as we take a glimpse into the experience of Final Fantasy X/X-2, I hope that you too will see just how beautiful and rewarding of a game this is.
When we talk about any RPG, we should always first start with the story. Like all Final Fantasy games this story focuses on a group of heroes on a quest to save the world. You are Tidus, the Lebron James of Blitzball (just go with it), and are pressed into the service of Yuna, a summoner on a pilgrimage to rid the world of the evil monster known as “Sin.” You along with her band of guardians: Lulu (mage), Wakka (also a blitzballer), Auron (big sword wielding Ronin-type character),and Kimhari (big buff beast with a horn on his head) must travel across the world of Spira, visiting temples along the way to get to the big fight at the end against Sin. Of course I’m leaving out a lot of plot details but the point is that the overall story and goal are basic. Like any RPG though it is not the plot structure that matters but instead the intricacies of the characters, their development, and their interaction with you, the player.
The game opens with Tidus delivering a voice-over, narrating the story to you in a first person autobiographical style. You experience the game through his point of view as a retelling, having him revisit you in voice over form periodically throughout the story reflecting on what he was thinking at the time and how he feels about that situation now. This development of Tidus is personal, I mean he is talking to you directly and explaining his feelings, insecurities and so on. Rarely do you have this level of insight into a character’s motives and thoughts like you do with him and building that relationship between the main character and the game player is vital in my opinion for any RPG.
The other characters are written just as well as Tidus. Yuna exhibits the insecurity of a young summoner who must grapple a task that at times seems well above her head. Her guardians Wakka and Lul
u provide emotional support for her during her pilgrimage while also tutoring Tidus regarding his role in the journey. Auron and Kimhari do not speak as much but like the other characters are hashed out well and are consistent.
The biggest aspect of the original game was the voice acting. What is now common-place among high end video games was just beginning to be possible due to advances in hardware at the turn of the millennium. The voice acting is good, though can be at times awkward due to the localization efforts. The scenes were all designed for Japanese speech, so having to matchup English speech to have the same effect in the same amount of time proved to be a difficulty. Think the filming of the commercial scene in “Lost in Translation”, Suntory Time!
All games in the series have always been known for their sound and visuals and as the first Final Fantasy game for the PS2, X was able to take full advantage of the processing power and deliver stunning visuals with a cinematic score complementing it. The pre-rendered scenes were gorgeous and the details of things as simple as the drops of water falling from the hair of Tidus were ahead of their time and to this day still look great.
But what about the gameplay?
The game plays easily. There is no hour long tutorial at the beginning of the game teaching you how to attack, use magic, or access an item. The feel is intuitive and it is your standard conditional turn-based RPG setup. There are three active combatants on your side at once but you can sub in another member of your party at any time. This allows you to fight against enemies with different weaknesses with your party member that is best qualified to handle it. For example, Wakka throws a blitzball as his weapon and is effective against flying foes while Kimhari uses a spear whose piercing effect is best against armored foes. If you enter a fight with a flying enemy and you only have fighters in your party who pierce or slash, you can sub out Kimhari in realtime and bring Wakka in. You can have Wakka kill the flying foe while the other two members attack a different enemy. Once the flying foe is dead you can tag team Wakka out for Kimhari and focus your attack or follow whatever other strategy you want.
Leveling up is done on a more custom based process called a sphere grid. This is a foundation of sorts for later RPGs where players can customize their level progression by choosing how they want to apply their leveling. Each character begins in their own section of the grid but as time passes they are able to cross over into other ones and learn the abilities of other characters.
There are plenty of side quests for you to do along the way as well. Everything from deciphering a language to collecting the pieces needed for legendary weapons and obtaining special Aeons for summoning. I don’t feel that this is the strongest point of the game but there is plenty to keep you busy.
The key to this game though is its ability to immerse the player into it which is the point behind a role playing game. The genre of RPGs is simple, you are playing the game as someone else. You learn about them, their strengths and weaknesses not necessarily as a combatant, but as a person. FFX gives us insight into the life of Tidus complete with his insecurities and daddy issues. These are issues that we are able to relate to and it is story telling like this which catches our attention and keeps it. Depth is where this game shines in both story-telling and playability and it is where games like FFXIII have fallen short.
In order to truly develop a relationship with a character you have to see them in different situations, making decisions or showing their vulnerabilities. You need to see them as people and not stock characters who fulfill a plot point. FFX’s dynamic characters deliver a true epic RPG experience along with a follow up sequel for those who wish to continue the story of Yuna and Spira. I’ll admit it is pretty different from FFX and isn’t on my list of all-time favorite RPG’s but at the release price for FFX/X-2 HD of $40, you are getting a blockbuster game and a sequel that you may enjoy which I think is a fine deal.
I’ll be reviewing the HD versions very soon but will focus on the additions to the game since it is the international version which is different from the North American release version that I’m familiar with. Screenshots of the HD version have been around for a couple months so anyone can find that if they want to, but the content is what I care about. I’ll check back in when I hit around 100 hours of gameplay. Until then, happy gaming!