Kicking Off Final Fantasy Summer: A Look Back at Final Fantasy X

While RPG fans are (all of us, I am sure) excitedly awaiting the release of Final Fantasy XVI (coming soon!) I thought I’d take the time now to look back at another Final Fantasy game, one that I loved in particular.

Final Fantasy X came out in 2001 for the PlayStation 2, on the heels of Final Fantasy IX, which was released on the original PlayStation one year prior. And as we know, these games (along with VII) have enduring fanbases to this day. Now, I played IX and X sequentially, one right after the other, and I while I liked IX (and I may write about it too, someday) I loved Final Fantasy X. 

Unfortunately I missed the game when it first came out, because at that time I was very busy cosplaying as a respectable adult. It was a good cosplay! Many people believed it! I believed it! Well, in 2001, respectable adults did not play videogames. It was part of the cosplay to avoid them. So that is why I missed this game. And years would pass before I would finally come around to it. 

Now to acknowledge the obvious, the game is old. It looks and feels old. It was already old when I played it. But it’s the good old, you know? The kind of old they call classic. The fine-wine kind of old. One of the good old games. 

Anyway, as you might expect, the introductory sequence of Final Fantasy X is a blend of the cinematic and the tutorial. You begin in the futuristic city of Zanarkard, by the sea. There is a stadium for blitzball, which is like an aquatic soccer. And you play as Tidus, a young blitzball star, who by the way harbors a lot of anger towards the father who abandoned him years earlier. So good so far: This will be a story. 

And the story of Final Fantasy X kicks off during the tutorial, when a sea monster known as Sin (yes, Sin) rises from the water and begins smashing Zanarkand to pieces. Smithereens! Amid the chaos and destruction, Tidus tries to flee, but he ends up falling (or being pulled) up into Sin, and then waking up in an area of submerged ruins. And just like Dorothy in Oz, Tidus needs to find his way home. So right away you know, your gaming adventure will be a quest for Zanarkand. 

Now I am going to share one more small part of the early story, because this was the mystery that had me hooked and reeled in. Tidus is rescued by a group of scavengers hunting for scrap metal, and while on board their boat, he is told that he can not be from Zanarkand, because Zanarkand was destroyed a thousand years ago. Moreover, he learns that the ruins of the ancient city of Zanarkand are considered a holy place. Oh, and Sin is still active, destroying seaside settlements and spreading fear and toxins everywhere.

So what in tarnation is going on? Has Tidus been thrown a thousand years into the future? And if so, how? And why? And what in the heck is this monster they call Sin? That, my friends, is a great story hook to a great story. 

In fact it’s an excellent story. But it is also famously linear. Now listen. I love exploration and I love open worlds, and in recent years we – myself and others – have gotten used to open world games. But that is not what you find in Final Fantasy X. The world of Spira (the FFX world) is a straight path. There is nothing to explore off the path, and nothing to discover outside of the story. The world is a path, the path guides the quest, the quest tells the story, and the story is the game. And the game is excellent. Don’t fight me on this. 

So that’s the story set-up, the story hook, and the world. But what about the party? This is a JRPG, after all, so of course you have a party. On your journey, you (Tidus) will be joined by six traveling companions, who carry the skills of some classic Final Fantasy job classes: a summoner, a black mage, a samurai, a dragoon, a range-weapon dude, and a thief. And quite apart from your quest to find your way home, your companions are on a separate and very important mission of their own. They are very dedicated! 

The battle system is turn-based, as it was with Final Fantasy games until recently. Let’s be honest and let’s not lie, turn-based battles are strategic and often difficult in a way that action battles are not. And this game does feature some very challenging battles. But you can always grind experience, am I right? I know I love it! 

And battles are not the only, or even necessarily the most, challenging thing in the game. To progress in your travels, you will have to solve puzzles in temples along the way. And these can be quite tough. One in particular is downright crazy hard! Bevelle Cloister of Trials, I’m looking at you! (A word of advice: When solving each puzzle, make sure to find the destruction sphere in each temple. You will regret it if you don’t. Trust me on this.)

Anyway, as characters gain experience, they level up through a sphere grid. Basically, with experience characters earn spheres, which you place in selected nodes on a grid in order to increase a given character’s stats and abilities, thus managing each character’s development. And it is enjoyable to trace out different paths in the sphere grid for different characters, and maybe the fun in that makes up for the fact that there is only one path through the world. 

Now back to the story. The game, as I’ve said, is about the story. For anyone who hasn’t played the game, I won’t spoil anything, but I must say at least this. There is a reason why so many people love this game. The story at its end is complete and satisfying. The mystery of Tidus’s missing father, the nature of Zanarkand, the role of Sin, the mission of the traveling companions – it all ties together, in a way that is mystical and thought-provoking. And also, at the end, bitter-sweet. 

Trailing Sleeves gives FFX  9 / 10 bowls of soup:

And I leave you with this bit of music:

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