Final Fantasy X

This is it. The last of the mainline, non-MMO Final Fantasies where you’re allowed to name your character whatever your heart desires. Since Final Fantasy X boasts full voiceover for the first time in the franchise, it only lets you name the main guy, traditionally known as Tidus. As an ardent protagonist renamer, I knew I would need to give him a moniker truly worthy of a JRPG hero.

There. Perfect.

Players are also given the option to name their Aeons (summoned spirits) as Yuna acquires them on her summoning journey; I named them all after progressively fancier cars. You know, because they can all reach a point of overdrive.

To the uninitiated, Overdrive’s what this Final Fantasy calls that special attack gauge that fills up in battle as party members meet conditions that you can actually customize after a certain point in the game. A surprisingly large amount of content in here is customizable, but as far as the characters are concerned, Final Fantasy V still has this game beat in that regard, but it’s a hell of a lot more flexible than Final Fantasy IV was. Technically, as you progress through this game, you can make anybody into anything you want…but with some limitations. Each character can equip a single weapon and piece of armor, and each weapon and armor piece is unique to each character. You can eventually give Yuna all of Auron’s abilities, but she’ll always end up using rods and equipping rings, and her overdrive will always be “Grand Summon,” which is decidedly summoner-specific. Summoning is always going to be a function that’s unique to Yuna, and a lot of the ultimate (Celestial) weapons give the characters extremely useful boosts that are only useful if you play them as their starter class. I guess Square didn’t like that there were people like me out in the world obsessed with making all of their princesses into beefcakes. My bad.

Despite the gimmicky-looking sphere grid system, which turned out be really satisfying to fill out in lieu of traditional leveling, and despite an HUD that occasionally reminds me of visiting early 2000s websites and watching the Weather Channel, the game was really straightforward. There isn’t much by way of a world map. Instead, you just travel in more or less a straight line, on a journey that’s been taken by countless summoners and guardians before you. Since this is the sixth gen, expect the requisite amount of water. This time, they even invented a sport played inside giant spheres of floating water, which frankly outdoes every other “Hey look, guys, we can make the water physics playable now!” game the PS2 and Gamecube got. More on that later.

If I had to offer up a complaint about the gameplay, the menus can be a pain in the ass to navigate later in the game, when you have a lot of items and abilities. As far as I’m aware, you can’t change the order of your abilities at all, and you can’t just drop weapons you don’t want unless you’ve actively found another weapon and are trying to pick it up.

The story is really good, but the existence of Final Fantasy X-2 renders at least one major spoiler totally obsolete and creates an almost foregone conclusion that really takes a lot of the suspense and emotional punch out of the entire thing. I’ve spoken to some people who have insisted that the ending to Final Fantasy X was unsatisfying, and that a sequel was necessary, but after finishing the main game myself, I think it stands more than well enough on its own. If X-2 had been given more ambiguous box art and promotional materials, it could have kept things under wraps for the slower gamers out there (at least for a little while), but here in the States it’s all right out in the open on the DVD case. Ever since the partnership with Disney on Kingdom Hearts, it seems like Square caught the sequelitis that had been running rampant through Disney’s direct-to-DVD department around that time. I do own X-2, and will probably be playing through it at some point to offer up a proper opinion on it, but the corporate timeline surrounding the Enix merger, partnership, and sudden influx of Final Fantasy spinoffs and sequels that followed makes me more than a little suspicious.

So, on the off-chance you are living under a rock or have never played a video game in your life, try and get a friend to go buy you Final Fantasy X and then google absolutely nothing. I’m very generous with spoiler circumnavigation on this blog but I think even I have said too much.

I’m ambivalent on the music, but there was some heavy metal in there that popped up a couple of times and struck me as, at the very least, intriguing. It’s not normally my genre, but it’s fun seeing it in a JRPG. And fighting an endgame boss to it.

Which then leads me to the minigames. The sheer number and variety of minigames available is impressive. There is even a sports game bundled in with this fantasy RPG, which I don’t think I’ve seen before or again, to this extent, anywhere. Blitzball is, in fact, a major element of the plot. Two of the playable characters, including Pukeface himself, are professional Blitzball players, and a part of the storyline and a particular Celestial Weapon minigame involves turning the Besaid Aurochs, the worst Blitzers in all of Spira, into a reputable team. I didn’t care for how the game presented this task. The first match you play (and the only mandatory match in the game) is high-stakes in the context of the story, gives you minimal introduction to the system, and is extremely easy to lose unless you really know what you’re doing–probably to a point where you’ve played Blitzball before. You can complete an earlier minigame to get a move that can give you a potential edge over your opponents, but that minigame is only attemptable once, and you trigger it through normal cutscene progression with no warning at all and no way to try again if you fail. The whole experience really turned me off to the entire sport; it was not very satisfying to play an alleged professional Blitzball player and then watch the game play out like nobody on my team understood how to play at all. It was very out of character for Pukeface. The key to being even remotely good at Blitzball, I’ve found, consists of essentially firing your entire team and replacing them with different players, rather than actually training them into proper athletes. Professional Blitzball is a rough, unforgiving industry.

There are several additional minigames with a difficulty level that I can only describe as sadistic. The first, which involves going into a lightning-prone area and dodging lightning bolts, is mostly just tedious thanks to a bug (or feature) in the system that can make a lightning bolt always spawn near a specific crater. You still have to dodge 200 bolts in a row without missing once. In later versions of the game, dodging 200 bolts is a proper achievement, so you’ll get a pop-up once you’ve accomplished it and earned the sigil for Lulu’s Celestial Weapon. On the good old PS2, you have to count those manually. I accidentally ended up dodging 298 because I wanted to be reeeeeeally sure I’d never have to do that again.

Secondly, there is a monster arena. It’s not a novel concept for a JRPG, but this one has you go out and catch the monsters to fight, like they’re Pok√©mon or something. Occasionally, you can unlock special monsters by capturing every species in an area, or every monster of a certain type. Those fights are absurdly brutal and will often just OHKO your entire party for way more than the HP limit before you can move. By the time you get strong enough to defeat them, you’ll have probably filled out the entire sphere grid and rendered any AP you’d get from the fight utterly useless.

If you choose not to use a guide to obtain the celestial weapons, you’ll find a number of things written in a foreign language called Al Bhed. Throughout the game, you’ll find 26 primers that help translate them into text that the player can understand. That in itself is actually a really cool mechanic, like the pianos in Final Fantasy V, but way more useful. Learning a second language in a video game is awesome. The really tricky part is finding hidden messages in Al Bhed across the world and knowing to input the messages written on them into the world map screen to unlock new areas. The only code I was able to find in the actual game was “MURASAME,” which leads me to believe that with so many guides offering the passwords straight-out, it’s significantly more challenging to find the password locations in the game than to find the passwords themselves now.

And finally, there are two variants on a time trial. The first involves catching seven blue butterflies and avoiding red ones, and you’d be inclined to believe that this was more a matter of finding blue butterflies, rather than a matter of there being only seven blue butterflies on the map at all, arranged in a set path, which you had to run like a race with zero mistakes. I’ve seen people on YouTube claim that it’s possible to hit a red butterfly and still win, but I simply do not have the skills for that. It is deceptively difficult.

I never was able to get a perfect time of 0.0 seconds in the Chocobo race, which has no qualms about being a race. The Chocobo is very difficult to control, there are birds constantly homing in on you to slow you down, and the balloons you have to pick up to shave time off of your run are arranged randomly every time you play. Many arrangements actively prevent you from winning at all. The best I could do was something in the realm of 14.5 seconds.

I mean, yeah, I get that these are supposed to be how you unlock weapons so good that they break through the normal damage counter, but I really, really want to know what they expected the thought process would be for a person going in without a guide, just randomly deciding, “I think I’ll try and dodge 200 lightning bolts and see if you get anything!” Part of me is a little curious to see if you get anything from 500, but I’d rather not. I do recommend going for Celestial Weapons because they make the endgame that much easier, but in a pinch, if you’re really not able to master many of these minigames, go for the secret Aeons at the very least. They’re more than worth your time.

So there you have it. Final Fantasy X, a great game that was made good by virtue of a series of extremely sadistic minigames and then spoiled by its own sequel. I’m going to give it:

Four out of five stars!

I’ll be back around with Final Fantasy X-2 eventually, but I need a break from JRPGs. I don’t know what I was thinking when I stockpiled them back in the day.

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