“Listen to my story…”
A lot of games made waves for me growing up, but none of them hit like Final Fantasy X. Let me preface by saying there are a handful of Final Fantasy (FF) games that made an impact on me growing up. In addition to teaching me roman numerals, they all occupy a warm place in my heart.
There are pros and cons to each game, as with any series of games. Final Fantasy X is no exception. Originally a Playstation 2 game and the first of the series to debut on the 2nd-Gen system, FFX was a new beast in the world of Final Fantasy. We could spend hours dissecting gameplay, graphics, and the phenomenal soundtrack, but this isn’t that kind of review.
This is a review of the memory of FFX, a review of how it makes me feel, all these years later.
(Obviously major Spoilers ahead. It’s been out for almost 20 years, so play it.)
There’s a timeless debate rehashed every so often: “what’s the best Final Fantasy (FF) game?” It’s something of a pissing contest for fans where they show off their encyclopedic knowledge of the games and employ high-level, elaborate arguments as to why one game is the best. If you’re fortunate to have never been in or a bystander to one, let me paint the scene for you:
You’re at a low-key event that you have to be at: your friend’s college party that never quite took off, work potluck, birthday for your least favorite nephew, etc.
You have no real desire to be there and consider leaving.
It’s too early, though.
You try to come up with reasons to stay.
Maybe you’ll talk to your crush.
You decide to grab a refreshment.
While grabbing said refreshment, you overhear Jim and Bob arguing.
Each of them holds a near empty beer.
You position yourself at the edge of the conversation.
You feel in your bones this is a mistake but have already committed.
“There’s just no replay-ability! I can hop on Seven and still have fun today. I can hardly say the same for Six. Be honest — when was the last time you played Six?”
“Not that you need to replay a masterpiece to appreciate it, but I’m actually working toward the world record any% speedrun. It has substance. Seven is just another edgy teenager fighting against dystopian capitalism. Oooh, inner turmoil and a love triangle! It’s overdone and unoriginal. Weeb Hunger Games.”
You make the mistake of chiming in: “Are you all talking about Final Fantasy? I love those games.”
They shoot you a look somewhere between friendly and pompous.
“Yeah, we were discussing our favorites. Do you have a favorite?”
It’s an innocent enough question. You know better.
You sip your beer, swirl the bottle, and shrug.
“I guess I’d have to say Ten.”
There’s a moment of acknowledgement. They look at each other and nod, then both finish their beer.
“Yeah, true. Ten is pretty good.”
The mood lightens. They forget about Seven and Six, and you all reminisce about Ten until it’s clear the event is over. Your crush left without you noticing, but you leave at the end of the night feeling warm.
This is the power of FFX.
In all of the heated debates over the best FF, everyone agrees that FFX is something else. It doesn’t need to be the best. People simply love it. It’s the Hey! Arnold of Final Fantasy. The Mac ’n’ Cheese of JRPGs.
In a sea of games centered around overpowered main characters on a one-dimensional quest to save/change the world, FFX managed to do it different.
On the surface, it follows the same formula that failed many awkward JRPGs.
Tidus, the main character, is an annoying and brash anime heartthrob who is deus-ex machina’d into importance. He is an unremarkable and otherwise uninteresting Blitzball star with daddy issues. It’s hard to blame him, though, since his dad did leave to become the vessel for a God that would come back to destroy the world every 1000 years. That would mess me up, too.
Plus, what is going on with these pants? I still blame Tidus for putting zip-off pants out of style.
He does develop as the game goes on, but that’s not what’s memorable here.
Moreover, the story isn’t a huge departure from the common narrative either. There’s a grand apocalyptic event on the horizon, the return of Sin, AKA Jecht, AKA my boy Tidus’ dad. Tidus accompanies Yuna and friends on the ultimate quest to stop sin. There’s mystery and adventure galore as you’d expect in any other high budget RPG.
Where FFX hits different, as well as what makes it so memorable, is that the story and the flat main character are all foil to the true narrative of the game: a star-crossed love story across a dreamlike world. The real game sneaks up on you in little moments that ease you into it. You needed it even though you didn’t know you wanted it, like a good nap on a rainy day.
This is what tugs on the nostalgia strings. I look back on FFX and remember these brilliant, subtle moments that build this love story.
I remember running across the beach of Besaid, listening to the calming marimba and piano melody of the soundtrack, and meeting Wakka at the beginning of the game, already overcome by wanderlust for this bizarre world. Even now I throw on that song and feel at peace with the world.
I remember the chill of the Hymn of Faith, entering the Aeon trials, followed by the frustration of forcing my way through the contrived puzzles.
I remember Tidus’ terrible laugh, which would go on to become a meme and somehow not be the death of this game.
I remember dying repeatedly to Mecha Seymour Guapo atop Mt. Gagazet, only to realize, foolishly, that he was undead and thus susceptible to healing/potions for free damage.
I remember finding the hidden Aeons and thinking it was so cool that Yuna, who I thought was going to be a healbot, was by far my strongest character.
I remember thinking Auron was the single coolest character I’d ever seen, and watching the relationship evolve between Tidus and him felt organic.
I remember Zanarkand.
Finally, I remember Tidus and Yuna falling for each other against the odds. And of course the shock at the end when we find out that the unlikable protagonist we’ve impossibly come to root for must be separated from Yuna to complete their task, followed by the intangible loss when it actually happens. Looking back on it, this might be the first real loss I ever resonated with in a game. I think it’s partially because up until then, when the stakes got bad I always assumed the main character would somehow come out on top. I knew in the back of my head things would be okay.
But that’s not what happens in FFX.
We’re left to marvel at their tragedy, knowing it’s the way the story had to end. It ties up everything into one huge nostalgia bomb, but it feels right. The game couldn’t have ever succeeded if it was a happily ever after. Everything about it led up to that ending, and it’s what landed it a place in the hearts of so many fans for years to come.
I still replay this game every year or two. The remaster does it justice, and I can only hope that the remake of Final Fantasy 7 lives up to the same level of hype, though that’s an entirely different can of worms.
Thank you, Square, for this remarkable gift.