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.
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.
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.
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.