Back in a Gamestop next to a stripmall Walmart, I laid hands on my very first PlayStation 2 controller with a Final Fantasy X demo inside. This was my first experience with an RPG which, as a late-80s baby, is a complete sin to 16-bit purists. I was a bad boy, person, and gamer, I know.
Anyways, I went through about the first 45 minutes of the game, learning all about dumb sports, a terrific villain introduction, and how turn-based combat worked at all. Blinking back in my mind, it stands as one of the largest gaming examples that keeps me focused on the entire experience, not just snippets.
Even through my Micro Reviews, I attempt to give a quick snapshot of what I experienced for titles I’m just not into at the time. I’d never want to turn that experience into a full review because, as you’ve probably seen, I don’t play nicely with a lot of them. I didn’t with Final Fantasy X either in that demo time. I walked away bored and confused by this brand new form of interacting with my favorite medium and, at the time, wanted nothing more to do with it.
Now, with the additions of the HD version notwithstanding, Final Fantasy X stands head and shoulders above every other FF as my absolute favorite.
In a real way, this first PlayStation 2 juggernaut did for story what Super Mario 64 did for 3D gameplay. The first go at voice acting for Square Enix’s flagship series was the sticking point for advertising, and it’s thanks to an experimental mindset that nearly every idea and character works. Take the laughing scene as an example. History and memes haven’t been kind to it, but inside the context, all that laughing served as a genuinely creative way to break the ingested tension of the characters. More interestingly, can you imagine any other property today trying something like this? The closest I can recall is the snowball scene from Witcher 3, and even that feels utterly staged compared to this goofy-ass, heartfelt moment.
That scene is a sign of a story team that understood the weight of the character’s deeds and actions. In a lot of ways, Final Fantasy X unfolds like the closest thing we’re going to get to a Last Airbender full-fledged RPG story in the sense of tone and the beating heart within. That should sound f*cking fantastic to you.
The only story aspect that seem to show some weakness is Seymour. The Maester of Disaester Seymour works as a secondary enemy to the ever-present Sin in the world with power to match his boastful confidence. He’s gleefully hammy in the beginning when his plot is still sinister and focused. He’s used far too often, plain and simple. You’ll feel married to him by the end of the game you’ve seen him so much. You’ll ask him where his half of the rent is and if he can take out the garbage. He’s a never-ending cycle inside of a game about cycles, which doesn’t offer the dramatic payoff you might expect it to.
Final Fantasy X, while boasting an incredibly strong cast at its core, does have some bloat and one who’s dead weight. Kimahri shoves his oversized cat feet into those useless boots, which is a shame considering how he starts. His role is that of a protector to Yuna from her childhood forward, but that role is eventually taken up by Tidus, leaving the loyal protector rudderless. Square attempts to give him the spotlight again when other Ronsos bully him like grade school chumps but it doesn’t stick. He rings hollow for 80 percent of the journey.
Rikku and Wakka can be overbearing at times, especially with Jon DiMaggio’s naturally grating voice peppered with “bruddas” all over the place. Their arcs are there and do feel fully-realized – Rikku as the undeterred beating heart of hope and Wakka as the traditionalist learning new ways – without either becoming too stereotypical. Everyone else in the party is a homerun of character design with Auron, Yuna, and Tidus all embracing stereotypes to eventually subvert them completely in brilliant strokes.
Fighting is turn-based with heavy reliance on turn order and weakness exploits. Early button mashing to get through fights turns into 40-minute engagements come the end in a beautiful cultivation of simple game conceits. Everyone in your party is available most times with only 3 on the battlefield at once with the secondary goal to balance out everyone’s abilities to give whomever you want to level the leg up. In all honesty, boss fights are the only challenge you’re likely to face as long as you stick to the Haste-Heal-Hurry-up-and-Summon strategy during the main game. Then, there’s the insane amount of side content and bosses. We’ll get to behemoths in a moment.
The battling itself feels ultimately unrefined but serviceable. You should’ve been given access to different weapons in battle to counter sudden area-based strength characters. I could argue for plenty other shouldas but that one would’ve made the largest difference to me, especially for Tidus. Auron and Yuna, with a sprinkling of Lulu, are my others with them all able to adapt through natural progression to pretty much any scenario.
Two aspects that I think make and/or hurt this game tremendously are the search for the ultimate weapons and the end game. To the latter, I say yay. A thousand times yay. This is one of my favorite endgame grinds in ever, giving you another game basically beyond and outside of Sin. The monster wrangler’s headquarters is a swell of content by itself with a couple dozen monsters to fight leading up to Nemesis and Penance at the very top of the tower. Your characters have to, by and large, max every single stat to hold a candle to either of these cats, making the journey the distinct highlight (especially with no real reward beyond pride).
Ultimate weapon finding in Final Fantasy X HD, specifically, is a sh*tshow. At least in the original American version, you could easily access the needed emblems for Yuna’s and Tidus’ ultimate weapons, or take on the hunt for final Aeons. With all the bosses of the international version inserted, you have to face down Dark Aeons with instant death scenarios handed out like breath mints. You’re forced into a power-leveling scenario to even get close to taking Dark Shiva and Dark Bahamut. Yevon help you against the dark secret Aeons.
And let it not go unsaid that the two worst mini games in…basically since Battletoads are required for you to gain pieces of ultimate weapons. Lulu’s lightning dodge and Tidus’ Chocobo Racing need no introduction to series veterans, but are ghastly disasters of control and common sense to those that haven’t seen and fled them. Baffing is their inclusion as frustrating is their existence in Final Fantasy X, which was doing so damn well elsewhere.
The wide birth of gameplay and depth of the story simply cannot be held down by these rotten pieces within Final Fantasy X. I sure as hell don’t ever want to touch them again, but I’ll come back to this classic any time it’s mentioned to eventually take down all the big bads that are left standing. It’s no wonder this started the sequel trend for Final Fantasy games because with characters and a setting this good, there’s always going to be a rabid following willing to travel to the end of the world and back for just one more glimpse.
Final Fantasy X HD Score: