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Final Fantasy X Then And Now: Has The Game Changed, Or Have I?

February 9, 2014 Written by Heath Hindman

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It’s funny how much we change.

I’m playing Final Fantasy X‘s HD remaster on the PS Vita, and with every hour, I’m hit with both a flood of memories and completely new feelings. My upcoming review of both X and X-2 in HD will be a review of how those titles deliver as HD remasters, and not so much reviews of the games themselves. Since I’ve played these before, I’ll be reminiscing in separate pieces beforehand.

Wanna see some pretty bad writing? Well, here you go, a Final Fantasy X review I wrote for my high school newspaper in early 2002. Later, I copied it onto the internet and increased my audience size by tens of…readers. Oh, I know it’s bad, you don’t need to tell me. I’ve thought about rewriting a lot of those oldies from years and years ago, but eh, that would require effort, and you know how I feel about effort. Still, much like a letter to a loved one or a diary entry, it’s interesting to read exactly what we had to say and why we said it so many years ago. The re-release of Final Fantasy X has given me a chance to reflect not only on this game, but on myself and what I see in games.

AH HA HA HA

Go ahead. Laugh. I’ll wait.

As a kid I remember thinking about how most fields were just straight paths, and how most treasures were just giant red boxes at the end of a narrow offshoot. This is sometimes overdone in FFX, and many other games, but it annoyed me then more than it does now. I’m more okay now with the fact that FFX‘s puzzles and exploration are kept largely separate. I think maybe as a kid I was more, I don’t know, selfish and entitled? If I had a vision of how a game should be, before it came out, and then it was different, I was likely to rage. We regularly see this type of reaction in comment sections of news and reviews today. Today, I hear that younger version of myself complaining in his review and think, “Meh,” and proceed not to care anymore.

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This probably doesn’t look as good on a computer monitor as it does on Vita’s OLED screen.

But there are cases of the opposite. When I first played Final Fantasy X in December of 2001, I don’t recall being bothered by a high encounter rate. (And it wasn’t mentioned in that 2002 review of mine either.) In 2014, I often find myself sighing at how often the screen shatters and my party is again made to fight monsters that could kill us if we gave them 10 free shots. This might be in part thanks to recent playthroughs of games without random encounters or other ways of forcing battle on the player. The recent release of Bravely Default was a joy to me, because I could battle when I wanted and explore when I wanted, but alternating back and forth between it and FFX exposed the latter’s high encounter rate anew every time. One game’s flaw isn’t necessarily bad or worse due to that flaw not being in a certain other game, but as human beings, we can’t help but notice such things.

Then again, Final Fantasy games seem to always rank high in the encounter rates, compared to other RPGs. I remember being perturbed by the random battles in Final Fantasy VII, VIII, IX, but not the games before or after those. If anyone’s got hard data on this, share it in the comments, because I’m starting to wonder. Meanwhile, the PSP version of Final Fantasy IV even ramps up the random battles compared to the SNES version (according to my anecdotal research on both Japanese and NA versions, which are somewhat different, but that’s another topic for another time). Did the Square guys decide at some point that games with random battles need to have them happening every ninth step? FFIV on PSP is probably the worst offender overall. As I said in the review, there were so, so many times when I’d come out of battle, only to fight another one on the very next step. Thankfully, FFX isn’t on that level, but wow, I get a little knot in my gut every time I have to turn around from a dead end, because I know there will be a battle waiting for me.

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During combat itself, I remember being thrilled to rotate all seven characters into the fight so that they can earn Sphere Level progress.  The battle system being mechanically similar to Breath of Fire IV was fine by me, but now I feel a little irked at the nagging urge to do this in every battle. Often, you can finish a fight with only three or four actions, yet for maximum level-gaining efficiency, it works best to rotate every party member into the fight and take an action.  What excited me then somewhat bothers me now.

Originally, I wasn’t too high on Tidus as a character, but these days, I don’t mind him and realize that Final Fantasy X uses him as a storytelling avatar, at least for the first half of the game or so. Spira is as new and mysterious to him as it is to you. Gameplay further immerses players in the lore. I only noticed in my second playthrough, knowing what I know about the story, the exact purpose for the colorful pyreflies that come bursting forth from defeated foes, the enemy origins, and so on. I love the use of spheres in the temples, technology, and nearly everything else in Spira’s culture. That makes the spheres more than just a battle and level-up mechanic, it serves to intertwine the gameplay and world. Such touches completely went over my head as a kid.

Despite the flack as it got (and still gets) for its high linearity, Final Fantasy X greatly rewards dutiful explorers. Treasure chests can be found in obvious places that frankly look a little weird, but those not diligent definitely won’t be finding everything, and will likely miss some helpful scores. This clashes with the game’s infamous inability to backtrack on some occasions. In the Al Bhed Home, there are doors that, once entered, can’t be exited. I’d want to go back and see what the opposite path might lead to, but couldn’t. Pick the wrong way during simple exploration, and you could be paying for it with missed items.

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Minor characters didn’t have as much detail back then, and they still don’t.

Something that gets me just as hard now as it did back then, however, is FFX‘s powerful ending. I love endings that have guts like that. There are a lot of people about to play this for the first time, so I won’t spoil or even allude to anything specific, but wow, those who know what I’m talking about will probably nod in agreement.

I also put a ton of hours into Blitzball back in the day, and I once again find myself enjoying the polarizing minigame quite a bit. Hell, I think given a few more options, teams, abilities, animations, formations, and fleshed out in some other ways, it could be sold as a standalone PSN title. Certainly not as-is, but with proper upgrades and additions, for $6 or so, yeah, I could see myself considering that. Blitzball is one topic on which I suspect a lot of people might have the exact same opinion they did 12 years ago.

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When I first played Final Fantasy X, I was 18, my immediate focus being the Christmas break and longer-term attention being on the impeding end of high school. Now at 30, playing the re-release, I’m on the other side of an ocean, I live with a wife instead of parents and siblings, and my thoughts about the end of any school year come from the perspective of a teacher instead of a student. Teaching, and yet, learning all the time.