The PlayStation 2’s first Final Fantasy was a mind-blowing entry for its time. For many, Final Fantasy X justified the purchase of the new system back in 2001. So, lets go back almost twenty years as we remember Hironobu Sakaguchi’s ‘Final’ Fantasy Fantasy.
When Final Fantasy Mattered Big Time
These days, almost no one ever says, “I need to buy a PlayStation 5 just to play Final Fantasy XVI”. Times have changed, JRPGs are no longer popular with mainstream audiences, and even though Final Fantasy remains a successful property, franchises like God of War, The Last of Us, and Horizon Zero Dawn have taken its place as console movers.
This was not the case back at the turn of the millennium. Back then, Final Fantasy was the quite possibly the most popular franchise (along with Gran Turismo) featured on the PlayStation brand. The PlayStation 2’s possession of Final Fantasy X’s exclusivity meant a great deal in Sony’s bid to drive the Sega Dreamcast out of the home console market, and to retain (and expand) its control of said market against Nintendo and then new comer Microsoft.
With over 8 million units in lifetime sales, Final Fantasy X was a huge success for Square Enix, and a driving force behind the PlayStation 2’s early sales success.
Final Fantasy games on PS1 established the series’ reputation for gorgeous visuals, and impressive cinematic scenes. Final Fantasy X continued that tradition on the PS2. At the time of its release in 2001 it could have been easily argued that along with Gran Turismo 3, Final Fantasy X was the most impressive looking game on the PlayStation 2.
Square finally ditched the pre-rendered backgrounds and crafted fully polygonal environments. These environments couldn’t be meticulously explored because the camera remained fixed at a distance (unlike Ocarina of Time and Skies of Arcadia where the player could zoom it in and out). But, it didn’t matter because the visual experience was more immersive than in previous FF entries.
The polygonal characters approached the quality of CG models of the previous generation, even though they were quite a bit behind Square’s newest CG scenes on the PlayStation 2 (which were absolutely gorgeous).
All in all, I was mind blown by the game’s visuals at the time, as there was little complain about the visual presentation in the game. The fact that the remastered version remains visually pleasing two decades later, is all that you need to know about how amazing the game looked back in its heyday.
A Fast Paced Battle System and the Sphere Grid
Final Fantasy X was on the easy side, but mainly because it was too much fun to battle and grind in order to utilize the sphere grid to develop the game’s party members. The ability to swap party members in and out of battle (during the battles) added a new dimension to the franchise’s combat system, and made every character feel like an important part of the game, as in the more difficult battles you might had been forced to utilize them in different ways.
Summons also changed. After being summoned they remained on the field combating the enemy forces until they were either victorious, dead, or recalled. At the time, Final Fantasy X was probably the most enjoyable experience within a battle system in a role-playing game that I had played.
The game also featured numerous side quests and diversions, most notably the game of Blitzball. I must admit, I never really got into Spira’s most popular sport. I really played these types of games for their stories. Apart, from Final Fantasy VII and Ocarina of Time, very few other RPGs (traditional or action) had drawn me into their side diversion content for more than just a few hours.
The Greatest Love Story that Final Fantasy Ever Told
Aerith tragically being taken away from Cloud in Final Fantasy VII was a sad moment for me. But, given the game’s poor translation, and all that was going around its characters in the plot, Aerith, Tifa, and Cloud’s love triangle felt more like a side dish than the story’s main course.
Final Fantasy VIII was Squaresoft’s first great attempt at a romantic story between its protagonists, but in my opinion it fell flat. Squall never sold me that he cared about Rinoa until late in the game, and he was a difficult character to like to begin with.
Final Fantasy X had no such issues, the writers developed Tidus and Yuna perfectly, or as perfectly as they could have given the era in which the game was made. Yuna was a tragic character, whose fate was grim. On the other hand, Tidus was the outwardly cheerful leader that supported Yuna’s quest to summon the final Aeon simply because he was oblivious to what it would mean for Yuna in the end.
The game would flip flop the roles eventually, and Tidus would end up making the ultimate sacrifice in the most heart wrenching finale that series has ever seen.
Either way, while Aerith’s death got me a little teary eyed, Final Fantasy X’s ending did make me cry. To this day, it remains the greatest love story in the series, even if in terms of popularity Tifa/Cloud or Aerith/Cloud are its most popular couple pairing.
Uematsu Goes Out With a Bang
Nobuo Uematsu would never again compose a full Final Fantasy score after Final Fantasy X. One could say that the series has been the worse for it, as Uematsu’s absence is only second to Sakaguchi’s own in terms of how far the series has degraded in quality and in spirit from its former glory days.
That said, Final Fantasy X’s best tracks (including “Suteki Da Ne”) are some of the most powerful tracks that the series (or gaming in general) has ever featured. This is truer when these pieces are heard in their full orchestrated glory.
The voice acting has been often criticized, and indeed, Tidus’ voice work was somewhat annoying, but Final Fantasy X made strides for the series, and voice acting in games at this point remained in its ‘infancy’ stages even if Lunar the Silver Star had pioneered this aural presentation form nearly a decade earlier.
Final Fantasy X’s Legacy
To me at least, Final Fantasy X stands as the last great Final Fantasy that felt like a “Final Fantasy”, even if the game pioneered a more linear (no over-world map) approach to the proceedings. It also pioneered the ‘direct sequel’ practice with FFX-2 that would later be abused by FFXIII.
In my opinion, FFX-2 was a decent experiment that was not needed. Final Fantasy X’s ending was perfect as it was, even with the post credits scene showing Tidus awakening underwater in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes ambiguity is best when dealing with stories such as this.
While Final Fantasy XII would reach incredible levels of critical praise, it just didn’t feel or sound like a Final Fantasy game. The series itself would never again reach the levels of popularity that it had going into its 10th entry. Truly, Final Fantasy X was the end of an era.
Thankfully, the game has been ported everywhere in its remastered form, and it is easily and cheaply available for everyone to enjoy.
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