"The crux of FFX’s story is everyone’s relationship with Sin. No joke."
Settle in and grab a drink, because this is going to be a proper read.
What do you do when the ending to your Role Playing Game is so disappointing that fans demand greater clarification for the conclusion? For a developer/publisher like Square-Enix this isn’t so much a problem as it is an opportunity. However, there’s a more serious issue at hand: What was it that displeased your audience at the end of it all?
Final Fantasy X was the next step in the technical evolution of the franchise and made excellent use of the PlayStation 2’s outstanding hardware capabilities and popularity in the marketplace. I picked up a copy without hesitation and played through its vivid, gorgeous world right up until the battles within Sin. Then I heard about the ending and dropped it like a hot potato. It’s only just in the December of 2018 – fourteen years later – that I decided that I had to see for myself what the fuss was about. Having purchased the Remaster a year prior, I figured it was time to close that chapter in my life.
Oh boy was it not fun. The dissatisfaction and frustration are real, and totally fitting for what FFX looks to be: A traditional Japanese tragedy. The subtext of the entire story is that life is precious because it is nothing more than a brief flicker of brilliance that is destined to fade and return to the earth, perpetuating the infinite spiral of life and death. If what I understand about fan outrage is correct, that’s not the problem so much as what happens between the Blitzball playing protagonist Tidus and Summoner Yuna, fated to bring the Calm to all of Spira.
The crux of FFX’s story is everyone’s relationship with Sin. No joke. The canonical explanation is that Sin is punishment for abusing forbidden machina (machines) one thousand years ago, and has taken the form of a city sized monster that randomly destroys coastal villages. The only way to catch a break is for a Summoner to embark upon a pilgrimage, pray to obtain summons from the fayth and defeat Sin with the Final Summoning. It’s also a manifestation of Japan’s cultural issues with Christianity, but you didn’t hear me say that out loud. It’s true. I just wrote it.
Where the story falls apart is its understanding of forgiveness, humility and redemption, subjects that aren’t addressed satisfactorily. Somehow a song, opposition to organized religion and the “power of friendship” is enough to overcome a beast that can wipe out the entire civilization of the world, should it so chose. This dynamic is fascinating for a while, but it never follows through on the principle of Sin. The concept is just a problem for Tidus for reasons I won’t discuss because spoilers. The story hinges on several real emotional points and hooks an inconsistent narrative to them, which ends up feeling exploitative and disappointing.
FFX does, however, keep up the tradition of mechanical consistency and diversity that is extremely satisfying. Like its progenitors, combat takes place on a separate screen where you control three party members. Not long after the beginning of the game you’ve got six in your party, and thankfully FFX has a clever if somewhat exhaustive way of handling party switching. First of all the three in combat can be anyone at all, and you can switch to anyone in reserve by pressing L2 at any time. That essentially means you decide when someone gets a turn, transforming combat into a dynamic, pulse quickening experience that is rare for the genre.
The Sphere Grid is where characters are assigned abilities, skills, magic and attribute points, and looks like a massive stone plate with runes networked by carved lines. Initially each character has a set path that will give them the qualities of a specific class, such as Tidus having high accuracy, speed and average strength for the smaller, faster monsters you’ll encounter. He also utilizes team enhancing skills including the likes of Haste, and for his own particular benefit, Quick Hit, which increases how often he gets a turn.
Each character is suited to fight monsters that are tailor made for them, and you’ll have to switch out team members in order to acquire the Ability Points you’ll need for their progression. The only drawback is that characters who don’t take an action in a fight don’t get any AP, so you’ll have to switch out in order to keep everyone at an even keel. On the Sphere Grid, AP pays for Sphere Points that move you around the Grid so you can activate nodes for attributes, skills and abilities. Characters also have Special abilities that allow them to buff the party in strength, evasion and so forth. These can be used as many as three times in battle and can go a long way to tipping the balance in your favour.
One of Final Fantasy’s strengths is how it ties character progression to story advancement, and how seamlessly it introduces its mechanics. With Tidus as a “newbie” guardian of Yuna, he is introduced to the complexities of combat by those best suited to deal with the enemies at hand. Wakka primarily deals with airborne foes thanks to his high accuracy, whereas Auron can cut down armoured foes the rest can’t touch due to the Piercing effect of his two handed sword. Lula counters elementals such as slimes, while Kimahri and Rikku just sort of ... exist.
Yuna gains quick access to healing and elemental nullification magic and her summoned Aeons can tank larger enemies, beginning with Valefor, a beautiful and lithe samurai styled dragon with Yuna’s colour palette. Eventually you’ll have access to the indomitable King of Dragons, Bahamut and a handful of others. If you choose to partake of some side quests, even the Magus Sisters from Final Fantasy IV make an appearance as insect styled siblings who won’t be told what to do, but end up being indispensable with the Delta Attack.
Wakka is the lovable, uplifting brother type who provides much needed hope after much loss. He is also a Blitzball playing knight who thrashes enemies with this thrown blitzball. His comedic side isn’t overplayed, and he’s not too sympathetic, but that might be because that part of his story didn’t hit home with me. He shares a character development arc with...
Lulu, who is the resident
sexpot Black Mage who commands the destructive elemental powers of the universe in a costume as impractical as possible. How a fur lined off the shoulder and more dress with belts sewn into the skirt makes any kind of sense is beyond me. As WTFashionshark would say, "It’s Got To Go." Her character arc has some moments, but comes across as an afterthought. Speaking of skirts, I’m going to breeze on over the rest of the cast since I run the risk of getting tedious.
Auron is the mentor of Tidus and Yuna both, and the enigmatic paladin in warrior-monk clothing who hefts a big sword and grizzled, world weary attitude. He is a fan favourite for so many reasons. Then there was the boring as undisturbed water, Kimahri. He’s a blue furred blue mage panther-like warrior with feathered shoulders, a samurai hairstyle and a sworn oath to protect Yuna. He was her first guardian after her father brought the Calm, and can mimic monster attacks when he experiences them. Out of the two or so dozen maybe six of these are essential, since he’ll need them to defeat his Hans and Franz parody brothers. You know, the ones that are toxic in their masculinity and irritating when they relent.
Does he forgive them? Did he ever need to? Either the story doesn't know or it doesn't care.
Finally there’s Rikku, whose posterior is one of the camera’s favourite subjects, who is nonetheless our resident thief and mixer. You didn’t misread that: She can mix items together and produce some astounding effects ranging from explosive firebursts to instilling status conditions such as [Auto-Life], which works as you might imagine. You’ll need some patience to effectively employ the spoils of Steal, though this is hampered somewhat by her late introduction to the party and the fact that she can only mix items when in Overdrive – however you can see at a glance the result of a mix if you leave the help system active.
Overdrive is the FFX version of Limit Break, and activates depending upon one of six conditions, which you can set for each character individually. At the start Stoic builds the meter when a character takes damage, but they may gain the ability to charge it conditionally on inflicted damage, enemy defeat, their turn or an ally’s turn, or combat victory. It’s a utilitarian aspect of combat that you might forget about, but can make all the difference if you’re struggling with a boss.
In practice no amount of grinding is going to solve all of your problems, which is where weapons and gear come into play. Each character has two equippable slots: A weapon and shield, which doesn’t sound like much, but each of those can have four stat boosting effects such as [HP +20%], or imbue an effect like [Auto Haste] or [Ribbon]. There’s actually a limited selection of weapons per character, about six for each, and how useful they are is determined by the total of slots they have.
To facilitate your pursuit of the items you'll need to craft these protective slot abilities is the Hunting Grounds. Though it has the appearance of a side quest, it's actually critical to obtaining status negating effects like [Stone Proof]. For the completionists there is the added bonus of unlocking enemies and bosses far tougher than anything the story will throw at you. Collecting monsters for the Hunting Grounds is very rewarding, even if you don’t unlock everything there is to offer.
Oh. Yeah. Blitzball, and... something about Chocobo Racing. These are the two seminal gripes that most players can agree upon, for those who do understand the laughing scene. No spoilers, but I will throw you a hint: Just think about the theatrical nature of this title’s presentation. Anyway, as mentioned, Tidus and Wakka as Blitzers partake in a plot entwined event involving their career sport. That’s just dandy, really, though if you think you know what you’re doing, you probably don’t. It does stand to reason that the sport ties into Tidus’ Overdrives, and it’s a nice touch, but it wasn’t my cup of tea.
If you comprehend it, well ... good on you then. To my way of thinking it’s the worst of math and football/soccer/hockey/basketball ever. In a spherical ball of water - suspended in a stadium mid-air - two teams of five members each try to get the ball in the opposing team’s net. Sounds simple enough except for the implementation of basic mathematical functions like addition and subtraction to determine if your pass is going to be fumbled into your opponents sticky ... slippery? ... fingers. How do they breathe under water, anyway?
Don’t sweat it: Certain characters can, and because there are underwater battles, it’s relevant to your party that Tidus, Wakka and Rikku do because they’ll be the ones fighting. It’s not at all coincidental that Rikku makes a perfectly capable Black Mage - she’s certainly more appropriately dressed for ... well, everything. Ahem. It’s not Lulu’s fault, okay? The poor girl needs a shawl, at least. Moving on.
Training a Chocobo for one part of the map is all well and good until you have to use that bird to evade seagulls and blitzballs hurled at you while you try to collect enough balloons to earn a time of 0.0 seconds. When you can make a weapon better suited to endgame than the one you can earn through teeth gritting frustration, it makes for a concession on the part of the developers. On the other hand, who in their right mind is going to dodge 200 lightning bolts for the single most forgettable character in the game? Not me, no sir.
That kind of lightning didn't strike twice.
Overall FFX has it where it counts, and certainly raised the bar for future instalments, but such was the clamour of the fanbase that it necessitated the first franchise sequel, FFX-2. Mind you that was after the movie style FFX Eternal Calm failed to satisfy Japanese fans, even though it did a pretty job of teasing FFX-2. Frankly it was a good problem for the company to have, since it proved that sequels were possible. Fortunately it didn’t become too much of a trend after FFXIII and its sequels fell flat on their face, internationally.
This is running long, but Final Fantasy X/X-2 Remaster is unequivocally contains the definitive versions of these games. Squaresoft didn’t make a bad play in this instance; parameter adjustments like Grant All Items, Maximium Gil and Activate All Abilities make replaying this game all the more tolerable. You still have to obtain your summons normally, and it makes toying with the Sphere Grid a pleasure. Who wouldn’t pass up a chance to have Yuna one shot Seymour in the face for tens of thousands of damage?
The Remaster gives players access to – as mentioned – the optional vanilla Sphere Grid, or the “unlocked” version for full progression expression. We’re also granted an improved Omega Weapon with nothing short of one million hit points. Then there are the Dark Aeons, enhanced and extra lethal versions of Yuna’s Summons. There’s even a footrace in there somewhere, and it literally means the difference between a tough or impossible fight making for a welcome change of pace. FFX is already a whopper of an RPG, and the extra content is welcome as it doesn’t pad things out or get in the way – except a little when you’re trying to acquire everyone’s Celestial Weapons.
There’s no questioning that fans of the game will want to have this in their collection, even if it sits unattended in your library for months or years at a time. This isn’t one of those stories that you rush back to experience, after all. Personally I don’t agree with FFX’s take on spirituality and the afterlife, even in principle, though I understand it is widely accepted in Asia. As I’ve said before, we don’t like the idea that our little molehills amount to nothing, and my heart tells me that’s not true. It just doesn’t resonate with me. That’s why it’s just as easy to pass up this tale and its trappings; a heart warming fairy tale this isn’t, so decide for yourself.
Community review by hastypixels (January 02, 2019)
At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.
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