After the high standards set by Square on the Playstation the expectations were high for a Final Fantasy title on the Playstation 2. Final Fantasy X launched to a wave of hype and manages to push a number of impressive firsts onto the players for the long-running series.
Recently re-released onto the PS3, Vita and PS4 in HD format in a number of special edition packages, Final Fantasy X was the last game worked on by series veteran Sakaguchi before leaving Square Enix to found Mistwalker. It’s a fitting swansong for him however, pushing new ideas and keeping the focus on the story where his priority has always lain. It’s interesting that fears about the shift to 3D from 2D and the addition of voice acting on the part of the characters remained throughout production when they have become such a natural part of RPGs today.
Graphically the shift into true 3D from 3D rendered characters on pre-drawn backgrounds makes a big difference to the way the player sees the world. Areas pan and the camera moves to give the best angle for each location as the player moves, allowing for things to appear much more seamless than they ever did before. Some areas still look beautiful today in their layout and the tropical island setting of this title drives home the point that this is something fresh and new. Areas for the most part are sunny and the whole game uses lighting to indicate tone. Character models are detailed, and some hold up even today. Tidus’ design is a little standard compared to some of his fellow adventurers, channelling the surfer-dude image, but others stand out nicely. Yuna in particular comes across as a splash of Asian influence to the group. Special mention should go to the sphere grid and menus system, which turns what could have been a mess of information into a simple and free-flowing experience. The game seems to have a running visual and story theme of circles and water, which recur throughout the length of the 40+ hour romp and can be seen in everything from building designs to intricate clothing details.
Getting things out of the way early, yes that laughter sequence is terrible and the voice acting has dated somewhat since launch. It’s worth remembering that voice acting throughout a whole game wasn’t a common event and high-quality acting even rarer when FFX came out. Titles such as Grandia had managed to include speech samples on the original Playstation and were great examples of how it could go horribly wrong. All things considered the casting still holds up relatively well to this day, and I personally will always refer to the lead character as Tide-us, even though James Arnold Taylor calls him Teed-us in the interview DVD that came free with the first release. Tide seems to better fit the water based themes of the world, and it’s the same English pronunciations that lead me to always refer to Cecil by our local use when playing FFIV. Sound effects are all newly recorded and sound great, taking advantage of the games science-fiction leanings to throw in some interesting noises alongside genre staples and making for great sound design throughout. Musically the game changes things up with rock tracks sitting alongside subtle musical numbers and it has one of the most varied scores in the whole series.
The story of Final Fantasy X follows Tidus, star Blitzball player of the biggest team in the futuristic city of Zanarkand. Blitzball is a football (soccer for you americans!) type sport with elements of Rugby thrown in and is played in a sphere of water suspended in the air. The game later makes it playable but as far as the introduction goes it’s made to look pulse-poundingly brutal in a manner similar to the old Speedball games. When a giant Kaiju-like monster called Sin appears and begins to lay siege to the city, spreading spores and insect-like creatures everywhere, an old friend of Tidus’ father’s named Auron appears and hands him a sword before ensuring that he falls into the beast’s wake. A short period of being stranded and survival later, Tidus is picked up by a scrappy band of tech-scavangers working off of an oil-rig and then separated again to be washed up on the shores of Besaid island. This dislocation process puts a lot of distance between the game as it goes on and the city of Zanarkand, which people he mentions it to seem to believe is a myth. An introduction to the games female protagonist Yuna and her far greater quest to save the world from Sin ends up with him joining their group. In part to return home and in equal measures because of their shared attraction. The game uses Tidus’ relationship with his father, a more famous Blitzball player than he ever was and a hero in the world outside Zanarkand when he reaches it but an abusive and harsh father figure, to great effect. The games conclusion manages to wrap this theme of him both finding and understanding where his father was coming from up alongside the bigger world changing events and feels nicely bookended because of it. The game of course has several big revelations which I won’t spoil here, but ultimately the tale ends on both a sad and victorious note in a similar fashion to Final Fantasy VII’s finale.
Gameplay is largely unaffected by the switch from 2D to 3D, with all of the usual exploration, puzzle solving and NPC chatter one would expect from a game of this fashion still firmly in place. Tidus moves through these areas using the analogue stick smoothly, and the camera pans back to give the best views in most scenarios. The biggest changes come in the form of the battle system and sphere grid. Combat is strictly turn-based, abandoning the ATB system for the first time since its inception in Final Fantasy IV and using a new one that allows you to swap all of your characters in and out of combat whilst fighting with three in a manner not unlike Breath of Fire IV. Each character now has a specific speciality monster type that they are more powerful against. Wakka can target flyers, LuLu can hurt Slimes and Tidus is especially powerful against dog-like creatures, etc. Yuna can summon large monsters into battle in the traditional manner and for the first time the player controls these instead of the party for fight. These build gauges that when full trigger special attacks of devastating power, a novelty at first but later in the game when facing more overpowered bosses it amounts to summoning a beast to use this skill and then seeing them knocked out, not unlike the one-shot spell power of the summoned spirits in other titles. These summonable beasts can be levelled and trained, with strengthening them a key tactic late in the game. Characters similarly have their own meters to special attacks not unlike Limit Breaks in FF7, although these are less powerful. The Sphere Grid is where characters make levelling-like progress and unlock new stat boosts and skills and offers flexibility in character building. This comes in two flavours, one which puts everybody on their pre-scripted paths for you to follow and another more advanced grid where everyone starts in the centre and you evolve them as you see fit. This adds a great amount of customisation and allows you to plan ahead to better build characters as you like. Blitzball works as a mini-game accessable through save points and recruiting NPC players can take some time if you want the strongest team. Inside the game you’ll find a stat-driven passing and shooting sim where levels and tactical approach take priority over twitch-reactions. At the time I felt that a simplified football game in the like of World-Cup Italia on the Mega Drive would have felt more rewarding, but with hindsight it is easier to see that Square wasn’t going for an action game. Winning levels players abilities and allows you to unlock Wakka’s ultimate move.
Overall Final Fantasy X was the best possible start to the Playstation 2 era Square RPGs and really made a point of capitalising on the hardware at the time. Owners of a PS3, 4 and Vita will find that the new HD edition looks beautiful, although there are problems with the random encounters on the PS4 that may spoil the game for some (namely that they are no longer random). As a swansong for Sakaguchi it’s not as sentimental as Final Fantasy IX about the past, but it does what he always set out to do – tell a darn good story.