Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy X & X-2


The Plot

A thousand years ago, the leader of the land of Zanarkand – Yu Yevon – called upon all his summoners to war with the nearby civilization of Bevelle.  He sacrificed them and turned them into crystalline soul prisons called Fayth and his people to turn himself into a living god.  However, Yu Yevon lost his mind in the process and began a tirade of destruction across the land.  Over the centuries, a religion grew around Yevon in hopes of appeasing the monster they dubbed Sin because it was viewed as the embodiment of their wrongs come back to punish them.  Followers of Yevon task Summoners with making a great pilgrimage to gain the blessings of the Fayth and then sacrifice themselves to bring about the Calm, a few short years without Sin attacking the people of Spira.

The game follows one such Summoner – Yuna – and her guardians as she makes the pilgrimage like her father before her.  Early on however, she meets Tidus.  Tidus is a sports star from Zanarkand who was flung here when Sin attacked his home a thousand years ago and then joins Yuna’s entourage as a guardian.  Throughout their journey, Yuna and Tidus fall in love, only for Tidus to discover late in their journey that the pilgrimage ends with Yuna’s death.  Rejecting this, he sets out to find another way to handle things.  The others resist as ‘this is the way of things’ until Yuna too turns on the plan when its exposed that the pilgrimage ends with her turning her most trusted guardian into the new Sin and it killing her. The Calm is just the time it takes the new Sin to manifest.  Along with discovering that the Church of Yevon is full of corrupt undead politician priests that have used this all to their own advantage.  Yuna and Tidus vow to kill Sin once and for all and expose the Church of Yevon.

This is all complicated by the revelation that the current iteration of Sin is Jecht, the former high summoner’s trusted guardian and Tidus’ abuse dick of a father that vanished.  Jecht apparently traveled with Yuna’s father and Auron, a warrior monk, during the last successful pilgrimage. Jecht asked Auron to go find his son and bring him to help kill Jecht-Sin.  Teaming up with the technology people of the Al Behd, Yuna and Tidus attack Sin and fight their way to his core to kill Jecht and then destroy Yu Yevon himself – now a mindless parasite inside the husk of Sin.  However, their victory is short lived as it’s revealed that Tidus is not actually real.  He and his version of Zanarkand (the real one long destroyed) were idealized dreams that the Fayth were forced to create by Sin.  With Sin gone and the Fayth at last able to rest, Tidus too will vanish.  The game ends with Yuna saying her final farewells to her love as he vanishes.

My Thoughts

Final Fantasy X is one of those games that just make it so easy to make fun of.  It really is.  Namely because of the voice acting which ranges from ‘good’ to ‘wtf’ in places.  Being the first voiced Final Fantasy game, I have often wondered if it was because of bad direction that produced some of the stranger moments.  For instance, Yuna’s voice acting was…  spaced…  out…        alot… because the actress has said she was trying to match the mouth movements.  Where with other performances that wasn’t the case.  Which says to me – as someone who did study film for quite a few years – that it’s likely that the director didn’t give any direction for what to do in some of these performances.  James Arnold Taylor, who voice Tidus, has stated that he did the voice over lines as a much older and wiser Tidus relating the tale down to children, where as it’s eventually revealed later that it was Tidus talking to his party members about 3/4ths through the game.  Clearly an error. Did NO ONE know what happened later in the game when they were recording? Did everyone just do it linearly and never thought to skip ahead?  Again, this isn’t bad voice acting. This reeks of bad direction or just inexperienced direction.

Beyond that, I thought the game was alright.  I often felt that Tidus and Yuna’s characters and dialogue would have made a bit more sense if they were younger than they are in the game, and I have pondered if that was maybe something that got changed through development.  Like they started out closer to Vaan & Penelo’s age from Final Fantasy XII (a game we sadly won’t be touching on because I’ve only made it about 25% of the way through).  But beyond that, the characters are likable enough.  Even the characters I don’t like aren’t bad.  Wakka for instance is in my opinion an idiot.  Now, as far as I can tell, that’s intentional.  Since he’s a big dumb jock who has been raised on church indoctrination, and he acts like such.

One thing I really did like in this game was the combat changes.  Continuing the evolutionary push started back in VII, X does the crazy thing of ditching the iconic Active Time Battle system in favor for something more rigidly turn based where the order of attackers is displayed in the corner and attacks can alter that order in strategic ways.  Combine that with the ability to swap out any of the three active combatants with any of the inactive ones and you have what I would argue is the most strategic Final Fantasy outside of the Tactics spin off series.  And the game utilizes this really well with boss encounters that take advantage of the strategy element.

I suppose if I’m going to talk about the combat system, I should speak of the “leveling” system as well.  There are no levels to speak of.  Instead, you gain experience toward each characters next “Sphere Level”.  For each sphere level you spend, you can move one node further along the Sphere Grid – a massive map of circular nodes that will do things like grant Strength, Magic, Defense, or new abilities.  All characters share a single grid but depending on the version of the game, you’ll either start in the center or in your respective section.  However, you’re never limited to one section. You can break out into the other sections and eventually every character can acquire every node in the grid.  This system is essentially the groundwork for most leveling systems in the future games.  XII’s lisence board? XIII’s Crystarium?  WoFF’s Mirage Boards? All shades and hues of the Sphere Grid. Even XV looks to have a similar system for skills in place. And this system isn’t bad.  Not in the least.  It actually opens up the level of customization and lets you put priorities on what you want.  I for one felt that Yuna with her 1 MP spell cost ability should learn Ultima. That seems helpful to be able to cast for cheap. And done! Just as easy as navigating her place on the grid to the Ultima spell node and unlocking it for her.  I really liked this system and I found it to give something constantly to look forward to while playing.  Oh yea, we’re getting tedious fight after fight on the Highroad but HEY! We got a bunch of sphere levels for it. Let’s go see what we can get with ’em!  It was a really fun system.

Of course all of that would be thrown out for a completely different experience in every way when Final Fantasy X broke the biggest tradition in Final Fantasy games…  And gave us a direct sequel.


The Plot

Two years after the defeat of Sin, Yuna has fled her suffocating duties as a high summoner to pursue treasure hunting with her cousin Rikku and their new friend Paine.  They discover a lost sphere that showed Tidus screaming in a cage demanding to “see her” and Yuna wants to discover the truth.  Along the way, they also get roped in to the current political fallout of the world’s one church/one government being exposed as frauds two years prior.  Most of the world is divided between New Yevon who believes in slow but sure change and more of a revision of their fallen faith’s views, and the Youth League who prefer radical change and feel that the older generation failed them.

The stories collide when its discovered that it was not Tidus in the sphere video but a man named Shuyin who was a sports celebrity in the real Zanarkand a thousand years ago and also had a lover who was a summoner.  During the war between Bevelle & Zanarkand, before Sin was created, Shuyin stole a massive doomsday weapon called Vegnagun to save his lover from destruction but they ended up both dying in the end. Vegnagun was sealed away never to be used because they built a doomsday weapon that would attack anyone and anything that showed negative emotions. It’s Vegnagun that both the Youth League and New Yevon are looking for.

The reason why is actually explained in a long sidequest that shows that the founders of the three major factions – New Yevon, Youth League, and the Machine Faction (who doesn’t have any political designs beyond making cool stuff to help people) and Paine all were part of a military squad back in the day.  They opened a sealed cave and unleashed the angry spirit of Shuyin who possessed one of them, looking for a chance to use Vegnagun and destroy the world out of his pure concentrated hatred.  The other leaders are looking for Vegnagun to stop their friend from doing something terrible.

Ultimately though it falls to Yuna and her crew to diminish the number of threats that Vegnagun can sense by uniting the people of Spira, and then venturing into the Farplane where the dead go to face off with Shuyin and then destroy Vegnagun.  The world is saved again thanks to Yuna and her friends and this time when she returns to her hometown of Besaid, there’s a certain blonde sportstar turned real waiting for her.

My Thoughts

Considering it’s the first direct sequel in the series and a sequel to one of the games hailed as one of the all time greats, Final Fantasy X-2 is probably one of the most controversial titles ever released in the series.  I mean, there is so much hate out there for this game.  But for me personally? It’s honestly on the short list of my favorite installments.  No, seriously. I really love X-2.  Okay, granted the story is silly and the characters are cartoonish…  but that’s okay.  It’s okay for there to be a silly Final Fantasy game.  I mean, it probably helped that I didn’t play it until the HD Remaster and by then knew fully well not to expect the same experience as the games that came before it.  It’s a lighthearted adventure to save the world using the power of ‘the feels’ and song.  But sometimes that’s okay to have.  Especially when the game is just so damn fun.

The game takes a break from X’s strict linear structure (that sometimes borders on so linear that you literally just run in a straight line and fight monsters for several areas) and gives you access to pretty much every map from the first game, and a few new ones. The main storyline is fairly short but it is supplemented with an abundance of sidequests.  Some of which actually explain quite a bit about the history of Spira or the current situation of the game and some are just silly fluff (Curse you Monkey Dating Game!) There is a megaton of things to do in this game and none of which border on the insane side bits from X where you need a below zero finish time in a race or dodge lightning 200 times without leaving the screen.  Don’t get me wrong. Some of the side quests are annoying.  Getting 100% is annoying. But it’s not AS annoying.

However, my all time favorite thing in X-2 has to be the return of the Job System.  It’s labeled as “Dresspheres” but it’s the Job System.  Heck, it even has a lot of the same jobs.  You select what ability from the job you want to learn and all Ability Points earned in combat go toward learning that ability.  You can switch jobs in MID-COMBAT to further customize your game play.  And there’s something like 20 jobs you can play with.  As a completionist, I actually find it really fun to be able to completely switch up how my characters play and look while grinding out my 100% so that nothing becomes too repetitive and this game delivers that in spades.

X-2 also has – in my opinion – the all time greatest line of dialogue uttered in a Final Fantasy game:

Next time we’re going to start digging into some familiar territory for fans of the blog and I get to rant a bit more about what I feel is a very under appreciated game in the series.  Until then, May the light of the Crystals guide your way!

Do you have any great memories from these classic Final Fantasy games? Feel free to share in the comments!

X-ing out Final Fantasy X


So continuing my long trod down games that are really well known and extremely divisive that I somehow never played for one reason or another, I picked up a copy of Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD ReMix (World Championship Turbo Xtreme Deluxe Gold Edition et cetera et cetera) and decided to give it  whirl along with my lovely girlfriend who was quite fond of the games back in the day (She stands firm that X-2 is one of her all time favs).

I’ll be honest, I know exactly why I never played this game back in the day. His name starts with T and ends with -idus.  I only played through the intro back when the game first came out and oh god, I wanted to hurt this whiny little brat of a protagonist so much.  So much!  In duplicate!  From the get go he just feels like the kind of guy you want to punch. He whines about his situation, he blames other people for everything, and he completely ignores anything anyone tells him about the local cultures like an American tourist.  In fact, with his faux tan and bleach blonde hair (yes, that’s bleached.  He’s shown in flashbacks as having brown hair) I’m almost tempted to say that he’s a stereotype of an annoying Californian.  The kind of jerk who lives in the lap of luxury, thinks everyone needs to eat raw foods only and if people would only like talk or something than peace is like totally easily, shaaa.

Sorry, I hate Tidus with a passion.  Which is kind of sad because it initially barred me from what is honestly a fairly well polished game. The combat system is active, fun, and extremely strategy based where most enemies can be defeated easily if you counter with their weakness and turn into a grueling slog otherwise. The game quickly becomes about learning what abilities to use when and – in a unique twist on traditional Final Fantasy combat – you swap out members mid battle as you see fit to meet the challenges.  The world setting is really interesting and has a great set up and backstory for it. The world is bright and…  kind of linear.

Actually, speaking of linear.  You know what Final Fantasy X really reminds me of?  Final Fantasy XIII.  Same long, straight shot corridors,  an alternate leveling system, cast of characters with internal and external conflict, really confusing plot without a ton of research, etc etc.  Except one is an award winning game that is considered to be one of the greatest RPGs of all time, and the other is pretty much universally despised.  Which is interesting to me.  Maybe it’s because of the lack of squicky love story?  I dunno.  But really now that I’ve played both, Final Fantasy XIII is clearly an attempt to harken back to FFX’s style of play in terms of design. Yet everyone hates that one.  Maybe it’s because in the interim we’ve been introduced to the Elder Scrolls III & IV, Fallout 3, the Fable series, and a bunch of other open world RPGs.  That may be it.  Either way, it was an interesting comparison at least.

Most of my complaints about the game are things that have been lobbed at it ever since it first came out.  I know that.  But since I’ve been talking about every other Final Fantasy game I’ve been playing I said maybe I’ll just chime in with a bit.  Because while I may have my problems with the game, there isn’t anything here that ruins it for me.  I still am enjoying the game as I push toward the end, trying to get SOME of my celestial weapons (No, I’m not going to bother with the 200 lightning jumps. Sorry Lulu. You are plenty destructive without an Onion Knight plush.) And while I do still find Tidus to be annoying little lump of genetic discharge, his dialogue and scenes – along with his comrade in dumb, Wakka – are still enjoyable to simply point and laugh at.  If I’m not enjoying for what it is, I tend to enjoy it for what quality riff material it delivers.

(Still not happy about the Macarena joke though.  That crap was dated when this game was brand new.)

But how about the HD Remix?  What does it add?  Do the visuals hold up?  Well, the one perk to this being a HD Remix of the original is that they actually took the time to go back and remodel the main characters with high def textures, so they look great.  The problem really comes in when they are talking to a non-main character and you can blatantly tell which has had work done.  They also didn’t really bother to update any of the animations, so even the beautiful people have rigid mouth movements that flap around like an anime nut cracker.  I will say that the pre-rendered stuff looks gorgeous at any resolution, as to be expected from Square-Enix, as do the environments.  So what about the Remix part?  Well, sadly, most of what was added was from the International release which means stuff we probably already had.  The expert sphere grid is available that starts off the characters in the center of the grid, allowing them to go in whatever direction they want but also has less spheres meaning less stat growth.  It also includes the short movie, Eternal Calm, that bridges X and X-2, Last Mission which takes place after X-2 and a short audio drama dubbed in english (which is amazing because we hardly EVER get the audio dramas on this side of the pond) that details Yuna and Tidus’ break up post X-2, Auron’s secret daughter, and the impending war across Spira.  Yea, looooot of people not happy about the audio drama.  But hey, it’s narrated by Tidus.  Listen to his story.  Before I break his jaw for mentioning that it is his story again.

Is it worth it? Sure. If you can find a good deal on it.  I dunno if I’d spend $50 on it.  I used a gift card. But $20-30?  Sure. It’s two fun games.  Though you might wanna wait. I hear they’re re-doing it AGAIN for the PS4.  /eyeroll