I’ve been quite keen on reading the plethora of recent reviews of and insights into and speculations about the likes of a number of Final Fantasy games, including Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, and Final Fantasy XV. Opinions on these games run from the “hate hate hate” to “love love love” ends of the spectrum; but then again, that seems pretty standard for all things Final Fantasy. I want to be a FF fan in reality, but I am only in principle given that I’ve played…uh…four games in the series. FFVII, FFIII, FFIV, and FFX. While I might want to feign disbelief at the fact that I’ve yet to talk about Final Fantasy X after over two years of blogging, I know exactly why I haven’t said anything about it…until now. (Because Lightning Returns and also hopes for FFXV brought FFX back into mind and it seemed like a good time to write about it and okay I’ll shut the hell up now.)
I didn’t like it.
I remember being quite excited for the game prior to its release in 2001. Though I had only played Final Fantasy VII and could hardly claim to be a FF fanatic, the game was simply too pretty to ignore. TV commercials promised grandeur beyond grandeur with state of the art-graphics and character models.
I purchased the game quite some time after its release (had to be a good 12-18 months), but I barely got in a few hours of play before life intervened. There was grad school. And then there was another move. And then there was more life. And then during a lull, and only then did more adventuring in Spira, FFX’s primary landscape, happen. Even though I still had my original save data from that brief play session years ago, the gap was far too long for me to even hope to remember where I was with things. So I started up a new game.
FFX told the story of Tidus, a world-famous blitzball player, and his fight against an entity called “Sin” after it destroyed his home city of Zanarkand. Tidus, of course, did not venture alone. Joining him in his quest was mystery man Auron, summoner Yuna, salvager Rikku, another blitzballah (cause he was down like that) named Wakka…and maybe others? Frankly, you’re lucky that I remembered even these names. But really, how could I forget them? Aside from Auron, I found them all so very annoying and therefore memorable (by my own deformed logic). Also, I couldn’t even begin to describe the story any further. In typical Final Fantasy fashion, it was convoluted and strange and huge. And something about the turn-based battle system that paused for each combat choice irked me. It really shouldn’t have given how much I don’t like feeling pressured; but, the pause in the action often led me to overthinking my choices and usually picking the most inappropriate one. I quickly got bored in trying to keep up with all the minutia of the game and focused my energy on just getting through it.
Oh, and also looking at stuff. Like I said, it was a very pretty game with very pretty environments and very pretty cut scenes. Though I didn’t give a damn about Tidus’s laments or Wakka’s outbursts, I sure had a nice time watching everything unfold. It really was a marvel of graphical engineering. FFX brought out the best of the PlayStation 2.
Once I (reluctantly) finished the game, you might think that I’d have thrown it into the garage disposal. But I didn’t. For whatever crazy reason, I kept it among my small, hallowed game collection.
Fast forward a couple more years. The PS2 had been relegated to our console graveyard (a storage bin containing old consoles) and the PS3 had taken over as one of our primary gaming systems. Lucky for us, our PS3 was one of the backwards compatible models that could play most PS2 games. One day we decided to test out some of our PS2 games to see how well they worked. I pulled out the box of PS2 games and we went through them one by one. When I got to FFX, I stopped and set it aside. Seeing the game case invoked a strange and sudden urge to play it again. Like a siren’s call. Oh, I recalled the bad memories of the first playthrough, but sometimes it’s hard to ignore the summoning (pun intended) of a JRPG, no matter how bad it might have first appeared.
Once a bit of alone time presented itself, I decided to visit Spira once again. But this time was going to be different.
By the time I go to the second FFX playthrough, things were different for me in terms of gaming. I had been playing games more regularly, big games like Fable and Mass Effect. I had learned to be a more thorough, attentive gamer. Or something like that. I guess. Whatever the academic reason, the second time I played FFX, I got it, and I really enjoyed it! It was still as beautiful as a PS2 game got. It played almost seamlessly on the PS3, save for a hiccup when the game once failed to load. And just about everything in the game made better sense.
The convoluted story? Gone. In its place was a tapestry rich in lore and religiosity about the ancient “Sin” and summoners.
The annoying characters? Gone…mostly. Okay, so I didn’t really connect with Tidus any better, and I still could have done without Wakka, but their individual and collective purposes made much more sense, particularly as far as the story went, and they were all therefore much more tolerable.
The ridiculous conditional turn-based battle system? It was still there. It took me a little while to get used to it, but I think it helped me become a little more patient. I’m one a blast/kill/ram-my-way-through gamer, but I learned to use FFX’s combat pauses to my advantage. Sure, I still occasionally knee-jerked in combat, especially as the battles got tougher and longer, but FFX’s combat system really grew on me. In fact, I think I prefer now it to dealing with applied pressure in turn-based battle systems of other games.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed FFX the second time round; so much so, in fact, that I can now easily call it my favorite Final Fantasy game. I mean, there will always be room in my heart for Cloud and his adventures in FFVII (which, oh. my. god. I’ve still yet to finish, and that’s simply terrible), but until I have time to jump into another FF game, I’ll keep FFX up on that there high pedestal.