"After that debacle, though, I noticed that Yuna had a particular piece of armor designed to block three particular negative statuses, so I decided to make sure she was always in the party when fighting them. Sure enough, she was able to avoid being confused or silenced by the beast and, as a result, cure my other members so they could finish it off. A tough monster made easier due to me using my brain — I was proud of myself!"
I'm used to playing older games and realizing they've aged poorly over the years. As technology improves, it makes sense that many games of yesteryear just won't have that "zing" to them anymore and will just feel archaic and clunky. I'm a lot less used to playing an older game and realizing I like it a lot more than my first go-around with it. But thanks to Square-Enix's recent work with the Final Fantasy brand, that happened to me with the 10th title in that series.
I remember all the critical acclaim Final Fantasy X got when it came out. I was less impressed than most, it seemed. While, as one might expect from Square, it was a very pretty game with a nice soundtrack, it seemed like a further erosion of the J-RPG to me. In the 30 or so hours I spent playing it, I found myself traveling in a straight line throughout the game with little to do except walk from plot point to plot point while taking frequent breaks to mess with one of its main sidequests -- an underwater rugby sort of game called Blitzball. I wasn't miserable playing it, but I did feel underwhelmed.
Now? My line of thinking is that it might wind up known as the last truly good single-player Final Fantasy title. Thank Final Fantasy XIII for me coming to this conclusion. It is quite similar to X in many ways, but the older title succeeds in many areas where the newer fails to impress.
Both games are pretty linear. After X's intro, protagonist Tidus finds himself in a strange world where he quickly makes the acquaintance of a summoner, Yuna, and her guardians. Spira (said strange world) regularly finds itself under attack from a monstrous force known as Sin, which can only be temporarily defeated by the best and bravest of summoners. As a stranger in a strange land, Tidus casts his lot with Yuna's crew in the hopes he can figure out how to return to his planet.
For most of Tidus' adventure, you'll be on rails, walking from town to town, occasionally stopping to make your way through temple puzzles in order to collect Aeons (summon spells) for Yuna. There are few side paths to explore and only a couple diversions from the main quest. To add to the comparisons between X and XIII, the latter game's Crystarium seems to have based on X's sphere grid. Instead of leveling up in a traditional manner, characters get points used to move along a vast grid loaded with all sorts of bonuses ranging from spells and abilities to stat increases.
Back in the day, it all felt so restrictive -- like I was being forced to rocket through the game at a forced march. I burned myself out on Blitzball solely as a means of rebelling against the linearity. But then I played XIII and learned what it was like to experience a truly restrictive game. In comparison, X isn't so bad, after all! It's the little things that count in a game and if you can look past how much of the game is on rails, you'll see that Final Fantasy X nails a lot of the little things.
There's a pretty killer battle system, for one. Humorously, this was another aspect of the game I had issues with when it first was released. I'd really enjoyed the active-time turn-based system that has been used in about every Final Fantasy since the SNES days, so seeing Square revert back to a "primitive" pure turn-based system seemed to be a step back. Stupid me…if anything, this decision allowed them to create a deeper, more tactical system that actually can make tough fights more exciting. Each character has his or own specific use. Tidus, for example, is most effective against small, quick foes like wolves and lizards. Yuna can summon beasts to take on particularly powerful foes and also provides healing. The powerful Auron is best against armored creatures, while black mage Lulu's spells can destroy monsters who are resistant to physical attacks. Only three characters can be in battle at once, but you can move them in and out with ease to quickly get the best fighters for a given situation in your active party.
The easier fights can get tedious, as so many of the monsters are from the same generic templates. In just about every region of the game, you can count on seeing different kinds flying insects, elements, lizards, floating wizards and a few other types of monster. Have the right characters in and watch them go down in one hit apiece. Tougher foes require more strategy, though. They might be heavy hitters whom you'll need to inflict with the dark status to prevent them from connecting. Or they might have massive amounts of life, forcing you to use Lulu's Bio spell, so its poison can whittle down their health more quickly than just your attacks alone.
Or they might be Malboros. X is one of the Final Fantasy titles that treats them as a legit threat instead of just a tougher-than-average regular monster. I encountered my first one in a place known as the Calm Lands and that battle led to me seeing the "Game Over" screen after its Bad Breath attack led to me being utterly devastated by status ailments. After that debacle, though, I noticed that Yuna had a particular piece of armor designed to block three particular negative statuses, so I decided to make sure she was always in the party when fighting them. Sure enough, she was able to avoid being confused or silenced by the beast and, as a result, cure my other members so they could finish it off. A tough monster made easier due to me using my brain -- I was proud of myself!
That was the sort of satisfaction that was sadly lacking in XIII with how all I had to do in most fights was make sure the monsters had been Libra'd and then occasionally switch Paradigms if necessary. Give me a choice in a video game and I'll pick the intricate system where I have full control over my characters over the simple one where I'm mainly watching pretty graphics every single time.
And, as the game advanced, there were a number of satisfying (and extremely tough at times) side quests. While you can play Blitzball most of the time after getting to a certain point early in the game, other ones only become doable after you've FINALLY gotten full control of an airship. Now you can collect monsters from all over the world so an arena operator can grant you access to super-powerful optional bosses, collect the ultimate weapons for your characters and hunt down optional Aeons for Yuna. Some of these tasks will ensure you'll be playing this game for some time. Let's put it this way: to simply beat the game, odds are that your characters will fill up their starting section of the sphere grid and perhaps move into a second section to start gaining extra abilities and stat bonuses. It's possible for each character to move all over the grid and gain access to everything if enough time is put into the game. To beat the toughest optional challenges, you'll probably feel like you're expected to do that, no matter how long it takes. And it'd be even more crazy if I was European, as the PAL version has even more devilishly tough optional bosses, some of whom put everything in the original version to shame.
Final Fantasy X isn't perfect, but is a lot of fun. I'm not a big fan of linear RPGs, but the story in this one was good enough to keep my interest until things opened up and I got some freedom. I think a big part of that is simply because Tidus is a newcomer to the game's world and, therefore, as clueless about what's going on as the player. This gives some of the major plot points, such as how a summoner's fight with Sin is supposed to end, extra impact. I still don't know that I'd consider this to be one of the all-time great J-RPGs, but it is a lot more fun than my initial experiences would have led me to believe. At the very least, it was nice to sit down with a Final Fantasy game and truly enjoy myself again. It's been a while since I could say that.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (April 28, 2012)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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