Final Fantasy X HD Remaster – 70 Hours In

One month ago I did a retrospective on Final Fantasy X, one of my favorite games of all time. I felt that with the re-release of such an iconic game that it deserved attention and I, like many other fans of the game, could not wait to get my hands on this version and revisit the world of Spira that had taken so much of time over 10 years ago. Since then I have played the game a lot and shunned many other responsibilities and duties (have you noticed I haven’t been writing anything since then?). As of this moment I am at the 70+ hour mark in the game and am in the process of going through the checklist of completing every single side quest in the game, something that I accomplished on the PS2 version previously. Now that I have spent so much time with the game in its remastered HD form I feel that it is a good time to check back in, especially for those who have played FFX in the past are have decided that it would be silly to purchase a game that they have already played, mastered, and completed.

First, the obvious parts. Every reviewer of this game has talked up the same enhancements that Square Enix promoted: updated graphics, sound, and for those in North America, a different international version versus what we received. There then came the brief descriptions of what these improvements mean along with some nostalgic comment about Final Fantasy and why can’t the new games be as good as this. Okay, enough of that, now what is the game like after a significant time investment?

The music is amazing. Now I know, it’s the same music as the previous, so what is the difference. Well first the music has been rearranged and remastered and the difference is significant. One of the first things I noticed was how sharp the violin sections were, as if the producers really wanted to point out that aspect of the theme and have it stand out over the rest of the melody. Though many may think this is just a small detail, it truly builds on the presentation of the game and its settings. Having the right audio track with visual mediums adds to the overall experience, making it more memorable and assists in creating the tone that the director is attempting to create with each scene. I give high marks to musical arrangement of the game and put it right up there with any current game release.

Unfortunately, one issue I have found with the music is that the mixing between the audio dialogue and background music is now not balanced well. There have been numerous instances in the game where I was straining to hear what the character was saying, often at important plot points in the story. For a game whose story is the most important part of the experience, the mixing has done it a disservice. Yes the music is good, but I shouldn’t have to try and block it out mentally in an attempt to listen to what the characters are saying.

Final Fantasy Anthology suffered from long disc loading times, creating a disruptive gaming experience.
Final Fantasy Anthology suffered from long disc loading times, creating a disruptive gaming experience.

When Square first decided to remake their games for next generation consoles their first attempt was a release called Final Fantasy Anthology here in North America way back in 1999. It was a port of FFV and FFVI with additional cut scenes for the PS1 and it was plagued by an issue that made the game unplayable for me, disc loading times. For me to truly convey to you how frustrating the game was, FFVI is probably my all time favorite Final Fantasy title (#retrogaming), and the disc loading times caused me to never make it past the one hour point in gameplay. I just could not do it.

FFX suffers from some noticeable loading times but luckily nowhere near the afore mentioned Anthology title. There are times though where there can be a wait upwards of ten seconds for something to load, an issue that game developers have learned to disguise with transition scenes or other tactics to take your mind off the loading time, unfortunately this game does not have it. Does it ruin the experience, no. But for those who played the original you will notice it and wonder what is taking so long.

Now the gameplay. Here is where I have begun to really notice the difference between my original experience and I’m wondering if it has to do with the updated international version or am I just not as a good of a gamer as I once was.

This game is harder, and I don’t know why. I never remember having my party wiped out as often as I do in this game. I have found myself needing to grind for experience points or getting specific armor and weapons for areas that I remember being able to just power through with sheer force. I think part of this comes from the difference in the sphere grids. I am using the expert grid as opposed to the original sphere grid setup that was the only option we had in North America and it has changed my character development immensely. This is all a good thing, I often felt that FFX was a little on the easy side and didn’t give you any real challenge, but that has changed.

Developing your characters on the expert sphere grid is now an involved process where the sphere grid presents you with several options of where you can take their development. If you had not played the original, you wouldn’t know that Auron’s standard skills are the “break” attacks because there is an option almost immediately in the sphere grid to move onto the grids of Tidus or Wakka. This ability to customize your character and easily move between the standard grids of characters really presents something new to the game and I enjoy it. For those who do not have the knowledge of the abilities though it can be perilous, some of the abilities are vital in progressing through the game and a wrong move down the grid can set you up at a great disadvantage against normal enemy encounters, but again I like the challenge.

There are two other points of the game that I wish to address and this is specifically for those who have already played the game before and are working on the final side quests, so….

*semi-not plot related-spoiler alert*

Dark Shiva has 1.1 million HP. Hope you are ready.
Dark Shiva has 1.1 million HP. Hope you are ready.

The Dark Aeons are new to us in North America and I remember reading about them 10+ years ago and wishing that we got them on our version. Now that I have run into a few of them I am glad that I wasn’t put through the initial frustration. My first experience with one was in Besaid, I was going to get the Jecht sphere there by the temple and ran into Dark Valefor at the entrance to the town. I thought to myself, cool, I haven’t fought one of these before so let’s see how I do. I never hit him. He hit my party 3 times, each for 99,999hp. Thank god I had saved at the save sphere up the road.

I don’t really know at this point how I’m going to go about dealing with the Dark Aeons other than super grind to get to the level I’ll need to be at. I knew they were supposed to be strong but doing the max hp damage possible on a single hit is a little ridiculous. I’ve run into Dark Ixion, Dark Bahamut, and the Dark Magus Sisters as well and have either been able to run away or suffered a tremendous beating. I’m going to beat them someday, but it is not anytime soon.

"Hey Chocobo, I hate you."
“Hey Chocobo, I hate you.”

The other thing I’ve experienced that is new is the sheer difficulty of attaining the Celestial Weapons of Tidus and Lulu. On the PS2 version I got every weapon. On this version I don’t think it will be happening. Beating the chocobo race to get the sigil for Tidus has always been a combination of luck and skill, more so luck in my opinion and I’m close but I just don’t have as much free time as I did when I was a college student who never did homework. As for dodging lightning for Lulu, I can’t do it. I don’t recollect it being too difficult on the PS2 version. Yes it took me a while and I’m sure I would get up to like 180 dodges and then mess up, but this new version is impossible for me. I can’t get back a streak of 2. I don’t even know if 2 in a row is considered a streak but regardless of that I can’t do it. I don’t know what is different but something is. Maybe it’s my controller, maybe it’s my reaction time diminishing, maybe I am just too old to be mashing an X button, whatever it is I can’t do it. I would love to hear experiences from others regarding the lightning dodging.

Anyways, I’m 70 hours into the game and it has been fun. An enjoyable time spent playing a game that truly evolved what we think of as a modern RPG. Yes there are a few little issues with the game but there always will be. I still stick with my original statement that those who have played FFX in the past should pick this up, and for those new to Final Fantasy, this deserves to be on your shelf. For those wondering about FFX-2, sorry but I just don’t really care for that game and I have decided that I will be putting my time elsewhere. I haven’t even finished Lightning Returns yet and that holds a much higher priority than seeing Yuna be a pop star. This is my story.