I first played Final Fantasy X over a decade ago. It was the reason I got a PlayStation 2 and it was the only game I owned until I completed everything there was to do (yeah even dodging 200 lightning bolts!) It was recently re-released as Final Fantasy X HD along with its intriguing sequel, updated graphics, beautifully remastered soundtrack and extra content from the Japanese versions. It is a bittersweet moment for me though as I keep asking myself why is this 10 year old ago game so much better than any other RPG I have played on my PlayStation 3 this generation?
Final Fantasy X is not my favourite RPG, or even my favourite Final Fantasy, but it is a fantastic game and transitioned the soul of the series wonderfully well from the PlayStation era to more powerful PlayStation 2 hardware. When people talk about modern RPGs, I have seen the argument that the often criticised Final Fantasy XIII is the exact same linear design first featured in Final Fantasy X. Initially I got the same impression, but the deeper you delve into each game, it becomes more and more apparent of how much superior FFX is and it really highlights the flaws in FFXIII and other modern RPGs in general.
RPGs that tell engaging stories always have to have a component of linearity, but the ones that are elevated above the normal are the ones that still provide the illusion of freedom. The older Final Fantasy titles did this amazingly well that we didn’t even notice it was a feature until it was gone. Sure, you had to go from one place to the other as the story dictated, but the choice was always yours. You could explore other areas off the beaten track to find secret items, you could backtrack to previously visited areas to see how things had progressed, you could partake in mini-games at your leisure, you could fight endless battles to build your characters up to insanely powerful levels or when you were ready you could just get on with the story. The illusion of freedom was always there, Final Fantasy X had that… Final Fantasy XIII did not.
Final Fantasy X HD has had a facelift and I really appreciate the effort that has gone into the visuals. The backgrounds are magnificent, sharp and intricately detailed and the main character models have also been noticeably upgraded. There are plenty of elements left over from a game originally released in 2001, but for me this world is beautiful and endlessly enticing. FFX’s Spira is one of the most living and breathing worlds in any RPG and I found myself talking to all the NPCs around and often stopping to take in the extraordinary scenery. Again I have found it hard to be absorbed in the worlds of modern RPGs, but Final Fantasy X does it effortlessly. This is a fantasy I was more than happy to return to.
I hadn’t played FFX for over 10 years so I couldn’t remember every single detail of the story, but I was surprised how quickly I was drawn into the story. Having visited Japan recently, the themes and locations really hit me as having a more Asian feel than most games in the Final Fantasy series, such as the island-like setting, the temples and architecture, Yuna’s kimono and respectful/ reserved personality, Auron’s design etc. While lots of modern Japanese companies are striving to “Westernise” their games to better appeal to English speaking cultures, it is ironic to see how Japanese FFX feels and then how popular it is with said fans. The story is a big feature of Final Fantasy X and it is fantastically realised and implemented. Again to compare it to FFXIII, the backstory of Spira and its fate is easily and logically explained through gameplay itself, instead of having to read through a datalog to try and follow what is going on.
Just like the world, the characters are also full of life and depth. During its original development Squaresoft put a big emphasis on character emotion and this groundwork still shines through today. The interactions between the main characters are thoughtful and touching and I really enjoy the honest moments between Tidus and Yuna. Some of their conversations have an air of innocence and childlike perception and I can’t help but think this was the influence of Hironobu Sakaguchi as many of his games share this trait. Modern Square Enix RPGs including FFXIII definitely don’t have these moments and a lot of the staff are the same between these two games except Sakaguchi, it couldn’t just be a coincidence could it? FFX was also one of the first RPGs to feature extensive voice acting and while it is not perfect there are some truly memorable performances that helped elevate the experience. Viewing Auron’s emotional and thrilling speech before the battle with Yunalesca still sent shivers down my spine even today and the noticeable difference between Tidus’s whining voice during the first half of the story, compared to his deeper more mature voice during his narration is a great example of subtle character development that is not just thrown in your face.
The last thing I want to touch on is the battle system. I still think this is one of the best battle system in any RPG. The ability to switch out party members so that everyone can participate is genius and adds a lot to battle strategy as different characters are needed to deal with different enemies and it helps build attachment to whole party. Being able to control everyone in battle is a big feature for me and games like FFXIII that limit you to one only is a big disappointment. Seeing as you spend so much time in RPGs during combat, having a flexible, strategic battle system is a must. Square Enix tried to speed up the battle system in FFXIII but lost a lot of the strategy as I did find myself just hitting auto battle repeatedly, just waiting until I staggered the foe, switched combat roles and repeat. If they wanted to speed up the battles they only need to look at Final Fantasy X’s sequel that hit a great balance between speed and strategy/ control.
I am fully immersed and loving every minute of Final Fantasy X HD. I just wish they would still make these kind of RPGs with big budgets on home consoles today. It is just not nostalgia for me, they are just simply better designed games…