The Pinnacle of JRPG Storytelling and Gameplay
I’ll not mince words; Final Fantasy X is my favorite video game. I remember my jaw hitting the floor the first time I saw a commercial for it in 2001. Final Fantasy X was the reason I finally bought a Playstation 2 in 2005, and even after four years of anticipation it did not disappoint.
You play as Tidus (pronounced Tee-duss, from the Japanese “Tiida,” meaning “sun”), a glitzy celebrity athlete à la David Beckham. Instead of soccer, though, Tidus’s sport is Blitzball, which is like handball played inside a floating sphere of water. On a side note, the bewildering fact that Tidus and a few other characters in the game can breathe underwater is never explained.
During the opening movie sequence a floating whale-monster called Sin destroys your hometown, swallows you up, and drops you into another world called Spira. After exploring a dank and foggy region of Spira, you meet up with a brutish group of folks called the Al Bhed. Their female leader, Rikku, eventually becomes one of your party members. But before Tidus can do more than introduce himself properly, he is once again attacked by Sin.
This time Tidus wakes up floating in the ocean off the coastline of a tropical paradise. The people he meets on the beach are friendlier than the Al Bhed, and Tidus is pleased to learn they are a Blitzball team in training. Their captain, Wakka, guides Tidus to his village to meet Yuna (fittingly, the Japanese word for “moon”). She is the daughter of a famous Summoner who defeated Sin ten years previous and brought peace to Spira…at least until Sin returned, bringing Tidus with it.
Now, if you’ve been paying attention to my Final Fantasy reviews, you can probably guess that a Summoner has the ability to call monstrous creatures to fight for him or her. Yuna is in training to be a Summoner like her father in the hopes that she too can defeat Sin and bring peace to Spira.
In fact, the central religion in Spira is based on Summoners, who must make pilgrimages to the world’s temples, each of which is associated with a different summoned creature, or Aeon. The only people who may accompany the Summoner are her chosen Guardians, whose job it is to make sure the Summoner survives until her inevitable showdown with Sin. The temple pilgrimage is a perfect setup for a travel adventure, and Yuna’s interactions with the people throughout Spira create a vibrant and soulful world.
Tidus naturally knows nothing of Spira, Sin, or Summoners, but since he has met Sin twice and survived, he is permitted to become Yuna’s Guardian and join her pilgrimage. I wish I could share, deconstruct, and otherwise revel in the desperately beautiful conclusion to Final Fantasy X’s story with you here, but my column is, as always, spoiler-free.
Despite detractors who say the game is too linear—what could be more linear than a pilgrimage, right?—the main story will take you at least 30 hours to complete, and the optional sidequests, monster hunts, Celestial Weapon creation, and superbosses could easily double that length. If that still isn’t enough for you, there is an International Version, released only in Europe and Japan, that adds around ten extra superbosses. Unfortunately, you must also have a PS2 from one of those regions to play the extra content.
Your party levels up between the temples where Yuna picks up her Aeons. A massive level tree called the Sphere Grid gives you a high degree of control over how your characters level up. Each battle gives you points to put toward skills, physical attributes, magic, or new abilities. Even better, you can swap any of your characters in and out of battles to make sure they all earn points and level up together.
On a technical level, Final Fantasy X is surpassed by only a handful of games on the Playstation 2. Considering it arrived very early in the PS2’s lifecycle, that is no mean feat. The characters are voiced by professional actors for the first time in the series (a couple of the voice actors unfortunately provide the game’s only grating moments), and the music is simply peerless. The temple Aeons each sing a slightly different version of a song called the Hymn of Yevon, which is not only haunting and lovely, but becomes an invaluable tool in the final showdown with Sin.Every aspect of Final Fantasy X, from the battle system to the script to the art design, is either perfect or a hair’s breadth away. It is my favorite game of all time and comes to you with my highest possible recommendation.