Monday, August 10, 2020

Final Fantasy X HD Remaster


Sin and Punishment

When I graduated high school back in 2002, my graduation present was a PlayStation 2 along with the original version of Final Fantasy X and its accompanying strategy guide. I had decent memories of my first PS2 RPG, to the point where I sunk well over a hundred hours into it, and would gladly play Final Fantasy X HD Remaster on the PlayStation 4 over a decade later. Certain circumstances would lead me to borrow games from my younger brother, among them being the Nintendo Switch version of the tenth entry of Square-Enix’s beloved franchise. Has it stood the test of time?

Final Fantasy X opens with Tidus, star player of the Blitzball team known as the Zanarkand Abes, participating in a game, when a malevolent force known as Sin attacks, launching the athlete into the world of Spira, where he seeks to return home, in the meantime serving as a guardian for the summoner Yuna, who becomes something of a love interest. The characters are well-developed and at times memorable, such as the deadpan-snarking Lulu, and Auron, the leader of the group, and the lore is good for the most part. However, the narrative is fairly derivative, the collection of summonable entities borrowing from a few Tales games, for instance, and never reaches excellence.

The localization is good for the most part, with the battle dialogue, for instance, actually sounding somewhat believable, and there are no spelling or grammar errors of which to speak. The enigmatic Al Bhed language, deciphered through dictionaries found throughout the game, the translators also handled very well. Granted, there are some scenes that probably would have been better left out of the English version, for instance one where Tidus and Yuna guffaw loudly to relieve stress (although to be fair, it probably didn’t sound any better in Japanese), and the lip-syncing is often off, but otherwise, the translation was one of Square’s better efforts.

Final Fantasy X ditched the active-time battle system of its predecessors in favor of a fully-turn-based engine, battles randomly-encountered, more akin to that in the Grandia games, albeit without real-time elements, necessary foresight, and the need to consider, with the exception of maybe a few boss fights, character positions on the battlefield, and definitely has plenty of good ideas. Characters and the enemy take turns depending upon their agility, with a gauge luckily showing who goes when. The player’s characters execute their commands immediately upon input, with a recovery time necessary until they reach their subsequent turns.

Three characters serve on the frontlines of combat, and during their turns, if they’re alive, the player can swap them with an ally in backup. Character commands include attacking with equipped weapons, using abilities that may or may not consume MP, using consumable items, defending, changing equipped weapons and armor, or attempting to escape (in which case only the character using this command escapes, and as long as at least one character makes it away, and even if the enemy kills an active character, the player will leave the battle). The escape option naturally doesn’t always work, but one of Tidus’s skills guarantees evacuation of standard fights.

Regarding standard attacks, each character has an attacking style that is central to advancing through fights. For instance, Tidus’s quick sword attacks are good for slaying small, agile enemies, Wakka’s blitzball is good for knocking out aerial enemies, Auron’s heavy sword is good for armored foes, and the like. Characters can also execute skills such as white and black magic, with Yuna and Lulu respectively good in those areas, and, since their standard attacks are fairly weak and they have ample MP, the player can dedicate them to performing those particular actions.

Final Fantasy X divides consumable items into two types: those that any character can use regularly, and those only Rikku can use per a special command, such as throwing grenades at foes. Each character also has an overdrive gauge, which initially fills when they take damage, although as the game progresses, options to change to fill method to other means such as attacking become available. However, the game is somewhat unclear as to how the player acquires these alternate methods, as there doesn’t seem to be some sort of visible subsystem in this regard.

Overdrives naturally vary depending upon the character, with Tidus for instance having powerful “swordplay” skills, where repeated use slowly unlocks new ones, although I acquired a grand total of three in my latest playthrough. Other notable commands include Yuna’s Aeons, basically her summon spells, where the summoned entity alone participates in battle, having its own health and other stats, not to mention overdrives. While Aeons tend to be powerful, the game is designed so that they can’t be spammed, with most bosses able to instantly kill them, although at times the player can still use Yuna’s overdrive to call a summon with a full gauge and unleash its special attack.

The player naturally wins a battle when they’ve eradicated all enemy units, with all characters that executed at least one command obtaining experience for occasional levels, which the player can use to move them across the Sphere Grid, serving as the game’s primary means of acquiring higher stats and new abilities. When starting a new game, the game offers players a choice between the standard Sphere Grid or an “expert” version, in the latter case where the characters start off closer to one another and can more easily branch out into other skillsets.

The Sphere Grid has four different levels of locks that separate spheres representing character stat increases and new abilities, with occasional powerful abilities behind higher-level locks, the keys to these restrictions coming rarely. The tenth Final Fantasy’s character development system is generally fun, with lots of possibilities regarding character builds, although an in-game compendium detailing things such as what enemies drop or what Rikku can steal from them would have been nice, since some of the items allowing advancement are uncommon, for instance the consumables that activate luck-increasing spheres, not to mention the sphere locks.

There are also a number of minigames that figure into the general game mechanics, given their potential rewards to make the main quest significantly easier, and while some, such as dodging two hundred lightning bolts on the Thunder Plains, can be frustrating, perhaps the most enjoyable is the sport Blitzball, where the player can assemble a team that plays across another in Spira for two rounds, with plenty of strategizing, and rewards such as special spheres and even new overdrives for Wakka. Granted, that doesn’t mean the minigame is perfect, since the random number gods can oftentimes be cruel, and the interface for the sidequest is somewhat user-unfriendly.

The mechanics in battles themselves have issues as well, such as that a character’s death results in their removal from the turn order gauge, with no indicator of when they’ll take their turn when revived, not to mention the death of all frontline characters resulting in a Game Over, with no attempt by backline allies to take over. The endgame sequence is also incredibly annoying, with an unskippable portion with the potential for several enemy encounters and a subsequent cutscene the player can’t skip (as they can’t do for other cutscenes). Cheap enemies and bosses also play part, one needs a guide to make the most of certain areas, and ultimately, the game mechanics don’t work nearly as well as they could have.

Along with the aforementioned user-unfriendliness of the Blitzball interface and total inability to skip cutscenes, in most cases skip through voiced text, there are other issues with control. Chief among them are the drawn-out puzzles in Aeon temples necessary to advance the storyline, bearing no significant rewards other than an occasional item the player likely won’t have significant use for, which actually led me to using the internet to make things easier. The save point system can also be stingy, with occasional long stretches between opportunities to record progress. Furthermore, the player cannot enlarge the minimap to view a greater map of the area, and overall, interaction is where the tenth entry is weakest.

Where Final Fantasy X is strongest, however, is its aural presentation, with notable music such as the peaceful “To Zanarkand” and its various remixes serving as one of the game’s central themes, along with the vocal version of the main theme “Suteki Da Ne” and its remixes sans singing. Other significant pieces include a pop remix of the Final Fantasy prelude that plays in the intro sequences, a grunge-type piece that plays early on and serves as one of the final boss themes, the forest theme, and the Calm Lands music. Granted, the quality of the voice acting, particularly regarding James Arnold Taylor’s performance as Tidus, is somewhat inconsistent, although the soundtrack more than makes up for it.

The tenth installment also shines with regards to its visual presentation, with an updated widescreen presentation of the game and anatomically-correct characters models with good animation, emotion, and reflection of Tetsuya Nomura’s character designs, along with plenty of good designs for the fiends, reskins uncommon. The colors are realistic, the environments believable with plenty of excellent designs, and shadows reflect their respective character models. The CG FMVs also appear superb, with only a few issues with the graphics such as some blurry, pixilated texturing, poor collision detection at times, and a general shakiness to the character models, but otherwise, the graphics look nice.

Finally, with a significant amount of my time devoted to Blitzball alongside the main quest, it took me somewhere from two to three days total to finish the game, and while it is fairly linear, there’s plenty of side content such as collecting monsters for the Monster Arena to fight later on, the other minigames, and some replay value in that one can bequeath Al Bhed translation dictionaries from previous saves towards the beginning of a new quest, although there’s no actual New Game+, and the lack of a scene-skip feature can tax additional playthroughs.

In conclusion, Final Fantasy X certainly has many amazing aspects, particularly with regards to the Sphere Grid system, the good lore with solid localization, the excellent soundtrack, the pretty graphics, and plentiful side content. However, it does have serious flaws that mainstream, casual players need to consider such as the grindy nature of the game at many points, particularly the ending, the mandatory puzzles that mar the pacing several times, the need to use a guide to make the most of the game, and the derivative storyline. Although the game initially held a place in my heart, as George Ball said, nostalgia can be a seductive liar.

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy borrowed by the reviewer.

The Good:
+Sphere Grid system.
+Great lore.
+Solid localization.
+Excellent music.
+Visuals have aged decently.
+Plentiful side content.

The Bad:
-A bit grindy towards the end.
-Puzzles difficult without online assistance.
-Guide necessary to get most out of game.
-Story is fairly derivative.

The Bottom Line:
Not nearly as good as I remember.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 5.0/10
Controls: 3.5/10
Story: 5.0/10
Localization: 8.0/10
Music/Sound: 9.0/10
Graphics: 7.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 7.5/10
Difficulty: Variable
Playing Time: 2-3 Days

Overall: 6.5/10

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