So, a little while ago, way back in 2011, Square Enix announced that they were going to be putting out an HD version of Final Fantasy X for the PlayStation 3 and Vita. They announced that, and since then, we've had pretty much nothing in terms of details since. That was, until very recently, where the publisher launched an official site over at the aptly titled finalfantasyxhd.com. The site has the first official screenshots as well as confirming the rumour that the sequel, Final Fantasy X-2 is also getting the HD treatment, and both will come on the same disk on the PS3, as "Final Fantasy X | X-2 HD Remaster". The screenshots show some fairly significant work on the textures, meaning Square are putting a little more effort into this than simply upressing the game to HD resolutions.

So why am I writing a blog post about this? Well, it's rather simple: Final Fantasy X is my favourite video game. Ever.

There are a handful of games that I consider to be my favourites of all time, but organising them all into an ordered top 10, top 5 or even a top 3 is something I'll probably never be able to achieve. The one thing that's become abundantly clear to me over the past few years though, is that Final Fantasy X will always top that list. It and most, if not all, of my other favourite games all share one thing in common: they were released, or I played them, during my formative years. That time, around the ages of 7-15, where a great experience will stick with you much longer than most things would during adulthood. FFX released over here in May 2002, and I thoroughly played it well before the sequel's release in February 2004, meaning I would've only been 12 or 13 at the time. Playing a Final Fantasy game at that age, games that dedicate a lot of time to world building, character arcs and epic plots, it's no surprise it would stick with you. I would say FFX almost single-handedly influenced my tastes in games to come: a preference for those with a heavy focus on the story. Final Fantasy VII is similar, another game that I consider one of my favourite of all time.

Final Fantasy X released here on May 24th, 2002, five months after the North American release and ten months after the original Japanese release (because LOL EUROPE). The game was Square's first foray onto the PlayStation 2 with Final Fantasy, as well as (if I remember correctly) one of their last major releases before the eventual merger with Enix. Being the first game on a new generation of hardware, there were understandably high expectations, especially after the well-received Final Fantasy IX only a year prior. X is the first in the series to feature voice acting of any kind, as well as just generally better looking graphics than its predecessors, including some, at the time, very impressive facial animation. The game was absolutely stunning at the time of its release, and still holds up fairly well to this day. Or at least, significantly better than the PSX games. Looking at you, Final Fantasy VII and your LEGO-like character models.

The iconic intro to the game,

The iconic intro to the game,

You play as Tidus, a star Blitzball (a sort of soccer-like game played in an underwater dome) player hailing from the massive and technologically advanced city of Zanarkand, the "city that never sleeps". At the start of the game, Tidus is in the middle of playing a match when the city is attacked, and ultimately destroyed by, a huge monster known only as "Sin". Tidus then finds himself transported and lost in a strange world known as Spira, with the eventual revelation that his city of Zanarkand was apparently destroyed a thousand years ago. Spira is a world ravaged by Sin, who destroys any city that grows too large, which results in a world that isn't that advanced technologically, especially when compared to Tidus's Zanarkand. Tidus quickly finds himself in the company of Yuna, a young summoner about to set off on her pilgrimage, the ultimate goal of which is to defeat Sin and bring about the Calm, a peaceful time that only lasts until Sin's eventual rebirth.

I'm not going to go into much more detail about the story, even for a decade-old game, but Square's strength in storytelling from previous entries in the series was as strong as ever, with a rich and detailed story, with some fantastic and truly heartbreaking twists and revelations. Compounded by the addition of a set of fully-acted characters, something not really feasible in previous games, there's a reason why people consider Final Fantasy X to be the last great Final Fantasy game. Indeed, my only real flaw with the game's storytelling was the decision to make Tidus a nameable character, meaning he is only ever referred to via pronouns during voiced dialogue, something that becomes even more painfully apparent during the game's sequel, X-2.

The quality of the voice acting is surprisingly strong, given that it was Square's first attempt at it in a major release. The English cast features some well known names including James Arnold-Taylor as Tidus, Tara Strong and Futurama's own John DiMaggio. People in particular like to point out and laugh at the infamous "laughing scene", something people love to take out of context and provide as an example of the "terrible" voice acting. While I'm not saying the scene should be held up as a fantastic example of quality voice acting, it's not even close to being as bad as people like to make out, especially considering the apparently awfulness of the laughing is completely contextualised previously in the exact same scene. The laughter is intentionally forced, as Yuna asks Tidus to do it. She wants her journey to be full of smiles and laughter, to keep things positive during a tough and hard pilgrimage. After the characters themselves realise just how fucking stupid they sound, they eventually break into genuine laughter. As we all know though, the Internet loves to takes things and present them completely without context, so it's not hard to see why in that sense, it seems like poor VA.

Auron, badass incarnate.

Auron, badass incarnate.

The game isn't completely without some examples of poor voice acting though, with Hedy Burress's performance of Yuna probably being the weakest link. While not terrible, she, for whatever reason, seemed to make a lot of attempts to try and sync her performance to the game character's mouth movements... which are based off the original Japanese performances. This results in a lot of reads with a really weird and awkward cadence to them, though is something that thankfully doesn't plague her entire performance, and Yuna's VA is for the most part noticeably better in the sequel. For examples of great voice acting in the game, look no further than the character of Auron, the game's resident badass, who spews well delivered, quotable lines like there's no tomorrow.

Gameplay wise, if you're familiar with Final Fantasy, or even just JRPGS in general, you should know what to expect. The battle system in FFX is purely turn-based however, the "Conditional Turn-Based Battle" (CTB) differing from the "Active Time Battle" (or ATB) system the series is well known for, which incorporated realtime elements into a turn-based system. X does away with that though, opting for pure turn-based shenanigans, even going so far as to include a HUD element that shows the exact order of the turns for the current battle. Different actions affect the turn of battle, and you can see how the current move changes the flow in the aforementioned HUD element without even confirming your turn, which allows for a great deal more strategy and planning than previous games would necessarily allow. The effects of time-altering magic such as Haste, which causes a character to speed up his or her actions, is now something you could directly see the benefits of instantly, due to that character's face now showing up much more frequently in the turn order. Not only that, but the turn-based system allows you to play completely at your own pace, without having to worry about being at a disadvantage for taking your time with your moves, or having to mess around with the arbitrary speed settings that previous games would have.

X's battle system, with the turn indicator on the right.

X's battle system, with the turn indicator on the right.

The game does away with a traditional overworld, something that would possibly lead to people's criticisms of the later Final Fantasy games being too linear, something that people were very vocal about in Final Fantasy XIII. I'm not very familiar with the games pre-Final Fantasy VII, but the PSOne games in particular, when you really look at them, aren't any less linear than X is. Sure, those games had an overworld, a world map where you could seemingly go wherever you wanted and do whatever you wanted, but that wasn't the case. Remember when you finally left Midgar in Final Fantasy VII and were presented with the huge open map, letting you go anywhere? Except, the only place you could really go was to the small town of Kalm to the north-east, a place you where required to go to advance the plot. This holds true for the majority of the game, with the only time you're really free to go as you please is at the end of the game, and even then, you can only do sidequests outside of finishing the game. I'm not terribly familiar with Final Fantasy VIII, but I seem to remember this mostly being the case for IX as well. Those games weren't really any less linear than X and even XII were, they just gave the illusion of it. In fact, by stripping out the traversable overworld completely and just creating a bunch of well-designed, interconnected areas, I would argue this has a large benefit on the overall pace and structure of the game. Late in the game, you gain access to an airship, allowing you backtrack to anywhere in the game easily, but rather than manually piloting it throughout the world as in the previous games, you just select where you want to go from a menu, and are instantly warped there. X-2 turns this up to eleven by giving you access to most of the major areas in the game right from the get-go, and during the times you have multiple objectives to accomplish, the game lets you tackle them in any order you wish.

As for my opinions on Final Fantasy X-2? It's a fairly stellar game that probably get a somewhat unfair rep due to the abundant fanservice and somewhat Charlie's Angels-esque tone, something that largely takes a backseat after the first third or so of the game, before delving into more serious storytelling (though still a damn sight more upbeat than it's predecessor). Regardless, the game overall is a fairly drastic shift in tone from it's predecessor. Final Fantasy X opens with the annihilation of a city. X-2 opens with... a pop concert. It's definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea, and had I not been such a huge fan of the first game, I'm not sure how I would've taken to it. For me at the time, just having more time to spend in that world with those characters was more than enough. The battle system is also pretty great, and one of the things that people consistently praise the game for, moving away from the previous game's turn-based affair to something more closely resembling the ATB system that series veterans would be familar with, along with a job-switching system reminiscent of Final Fantasy... V? Like I said, I'm not terribly familiar with the Nintendo-era games. The battle system in X-2 however definitely places a lot more emphasis on the realtime aspect of battling than previous games that shared similar systems, with the game rewarding you when you manage to properly time and chain together attacks from multiple party members. It definitely makes for a more fast-paced and hectic playing game than X, stopping the sequel from just being more of the same. X-2 also has a pretty interesting soundtrack, with a fairly heavy J-Pop influence, for better or worse. It's a far cry from the superb OST in the previous game composed by series veteran Nobuo Uematsu, but X-2's music does a reasonably good job at setting the tone of the game, and features some genuinely fantastic standout pieces, the final battle music and the title-screen music being particular favourites of mine.

Probably about time I wrap this up a bit. I apologise for the somewhat ramble-y and not particularly well-structured post. I just really wanted to talk about FFX in light of the recent developments on the HD re-release front, as well as the fact it's been almost a couple months since my last post. So if you made it this far, thanks for reading.

Happy New Year, I guess, this being the first post on here dated 2013 and all. If you're at all familiar with my blog you'd know going weeks without posts shouldn't seem too out of the ordinary. I generally don't adhere to the philosophy that more content is better. I'd much rather there be a post ever month or two where I actually have something to say as opposed to once or twice a week where I have to force myself to write about something that I don't particularly feel the need to. I was the same way when I used to make silly Call of Duty videos on YouTube. I didn't have a partnership, so I didn't make money, so there was no benefit for me to shit out videos every day. I could put out something when I felt I actually wanted to, and as a result, my soul remains thoroughly intact.

But today, I do have something to write about on here. Since last we met, I've attained an entirely new device for playing video games on. A PlayStation Vita. I didn't really ask for anything for Christmas, so I was originally planning on using the inevitable Christmas Money towards a Wii U. However, since the new Nintendo console is on the better side of £300 (and there's fuck all games for it yet), I decided to hold off for a while and put my money towards a Vita instead. So imagine my surprise when I was gifted one on Christmas. First time in a long time that I remember being genuinely surprised at what I received. I had casually mentioned to my mother that I was interested in one and might think about picking one up maybe 6 months prior, but apart from that, I'd made no mention of the thing.

So I picked up a few games for it, both retail and downloadable. The hardware itself is very nice. Sleek, sexy black, with an absolutely gorgeous OLED screen. It's a capacitive touchscreen as well, and is really responsive in that regard. The analogue sticks feel pretty decent, considering their size. The Dpad is nice (and apparently one of the best in existence for fighting games). The system just feels good. The OS interface itself, is not so good. It's fine for what it needs to do, but there could definitely be some improvements. Being a touch screen, it's inherently easier to simply navigate than the XMB was, but the OS has some really odd omissions, like not being able to manage your save files. The home menu apparently has a 100 item limit as well, which may not seem like a total problem now, but a couple years down the line when the system is (hopefully) more established, it could be a real problem for people who play a lot of games. The use of expensive, propriety memory cards is annoying as well, especially considering the system doesn't even come with one. But other than a few glaring issues, some of which could hopefully be fixed with firmware updates, the system overall seems pretty well made.

oh jeez what

oh jeez what

But onto the games. I'm yet to amass a vast collection, but I've picked up a few: Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Modnation Racers: Road Trip, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and Persona 4 Golden. Mortal Kombat and Gravity Rush I also got through PlayStation Plus as well. I'm not going to talk too much about them all (except for Persona 4, which I will at some point in it's own separate post), but they're as you'd expect. Console-like experiences on a handheld system has always been PlayStation's thing, so the games play as you'd expect, though obviously not with quite the same amount of graphical fidelity. Need for Speed in particular has some particularly brutal framerate issues, especially in multiplayer, in my experience. Uncharted as well, while looking pretty fantastic for a handheld game, is nowhere close to the quality you'd expect from the full-blown console releases. When comparing with console releases, I should probably make special mention of Mortal Kombat, since they're pretty much functionally the exact same game. The portable version has taken a pretty hefty downgrade in the looks department though. The character models, especially when viewed close up, are laughably terrible. The game still runs at 60 FPS though, so that's something. Whether or not this is indicative of the system's power or simply a case of devs not being intimately familiar with it remains to be seen. For the most part, the games I've seen look pretty good though, considering the context. Unfair comparisons are inevitable though, simply due to developers aiming for console like experiences on a system that can't handle the fidelity expected of such releases.

But overall, the system is good. Would I recommend one? That depends. Generally, I'd never say buying a console for a single game is worth it, though Persona 4 Golden is that game for a lot of people, and I'm almost inclined to agree with that sentiment. However, the amount of games out for the thing right now is pretty sparse, with not a whole lot announced for the future, it seems. The PSN store has a large back catalogue of PSOne and PSP games that are downloadable and playable on the system, but recommending a system solely for old games from a previous system isn't exactly a ringing endorsement. I wanted my Vita mostly for Persona 4, with a passing interest in some other titles. It's an awesome Persona/Final Fantasy machine, but its not that great of a games machine at the moment. Unless you are desperately wanting one, I'd recommend holding out for a price-drop and/or some more signification game releases.

It's that time of year, the time where everyone gets all reflective and reminisces about their favourite games of the year just past. So I figured I might as well do the same, seeing as there's been nothing posted here in a good two months. These games are listed in no particular order, and the only qualification to being on this list is that they were released in 2012 and that I enjoyed them.

Mass Effect 3

The conclusion of this epic trilogy, and perhaps the greatest new IP this generation, was somewhat of a let-down for a lot of people. Say what you want about the ending, but the entire rest of the game is just the type of rollercoaster thrill-ride of emotions you expect from a Mass Effect game, with the highs being as high as they've ever been in the series. The fact BioWare went back and fixed (and in some cases, straight up retconned) a bunch of stuff with DLC is a little...ehh... but the core game at release was still a fantastic experience through and through. The multiplayer was also surprisingly well made, and something I ended up playing for a surprisingly long time.

Borderlands 2

If you've read my previous posts, you'll already know how I feel about Borderlands 2. I could never get into the first game, but something about it's sequel just clicked with me. The gunplay is tight, the storytelling got to where it needed to be and the silly (and polarising) humour was a breath of fresh air for me amidst all the super-serious games that clog up the marketplace. I don't see myself going back to the game very much in the future, but the 80 or so hours I spent on Pandora was some of the most enjoyable time I've spent this year.

Spec Ops: The Line

I don't think anyone expected Spec Ops to be the game it turned out to be. A generic modern-military, third-person shooter, with generic boxart and even a generic name. However, when it turned out to pretty much be the video game equivalent of Apocalypse Now, people were suddenly paying a lot more attention. Never has a game made you question why you're shooting all these dudes, and make you feel terrible about it, quite like Specs Ops does. With some of the most masterfully crafted character progression I've ever experienced in a video game, Spec Ops: The Line is a game that everybody should experience. You might wanna play it on easy, though.

Primordia

A classic point-and-click adventure by Wormwood Studios, published by Wadjet Eye Games, a small indie publisher known for... classic point-and-click adventures. Adventure games have has somewhat of a resurgence in recent years, in large part thanks to Wadjet Eye, and Primordia is one of their best offerings. Following the story of Horatio Nullbuild, version5, on his quest to get back his ship's stolen power core, which, this being a video game, obviously turns into something much, much larger. The game has a great plot, with multiple endings, some fantastic, fully-voiced dialogue, and puzzles that are actually completely logical, yet still challenging enough to make you feel smart when you get that one step closer to what you need to be doing. Oh, and it stars Logan Cunningham, best known as the narrator in Bastion.

Hotline Miami

I don't know what I can say about Hotline Miami that countless others haven't already said, and said better than I can. The game oozes style. The gameplay is tight, quick, challenging and satisfying. Oh, and it has quite possibly the best soundtrack of any game this year.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II

It's still early yet, but Black Ops II is probably my favourite Call of Duty since MW2. The gunplay is as tight as always, the pick 10 system is a nice, fresh take on the create a class system that allows for some more esoteric loadouts than past games have allowed. Whether or not I still enjoy the game in six months from now remains to be seen, but for now, the game is good, in my book.

Halo 4

I was originally planning on writing a full review of Halo 4 on here, but never got around to it. The game is great. Great. While the campaign does have it's fair share of flaws (mostly down to a distinct lack of in-game contextualisation of key plot points), it's easily one of my favourite Halo campaigns. As someone who values story and character in my games, it's nice to see Master Chief as an actual person now, rather than a blank slate for the player to project onto. On the multiplayer side, the game is still Halo, but with a few things borrowed from some other games you might know. Customisable loadouts, killcams, etc are there, and they work surprisingly well with the Halo formula. Again, there are flaws, but overall, Halo 4 is a fantastic offering from 343 Industries.

Fez

From the outside looking in, Fez looks like a rather typical, cutesy, indie puzzle-platformer. But there's a point that you reach when playing Fez. A point when you realise that Fez is so, SO much deeper than you ever could have imagined. When you realise than all this extraneous stuff in the background, the stuff you only thought was there to give the world a sense of character and style, was there for a reason. You have that realisation, and the rabbit hole is blown wide open. Playing this game at release and witnessing what could almost only be described as a Zeitgeist, watching the entire Internet scramble together to solve the mysteries locked so tight into this otherwise innocent looking game, was nothing short of incredible. Also, that soundtrack. Good God, that soundtrack.

Sleeping Dogs

Once known as True Crime: Hong Kong, before being picked up by Square Enix, Sleeping Dogs is a truly fantastic open-world crime game. The game has tight storytelling, a well acted set of characters, and hands-down the best meleé combat ever seen in this type of game. It's not a particularly innovative game, but everything it does, it does well. It's also an absolutely fantastic looking game, especially so if you play on PC.

The Walking Dead

I'm a little hesitant to put The Walking Dead on here, since I've only played the first three episodes, so I'm not sure how the story pans out. But even without playing the last two entries, it's abundantly clear that The Walking Dead is not only one of the best examples of storytelling in games this year, but one of the best examples of storytelling in games ever. The characters are completely relatable, and because of that, you get attached to them like no other. You care about them, and you regret every bad decision you make. I don't feel the need to sign its praises, as everyone and their dog who's into games has already done so, but this masterpiece by Telltale has to be experienced.

Honourable Mentions

Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, Assassin's Creed III, Resonance, Dust: An Elysian Tail, Far Cry 3, FTL: Faster Than Light, Trials Evolution, Frog Fractions, Diablo III, Need For Speed: Most Wanted, Persona 4: Golden.