By ZombiePie 60 Comments
Part 1: Oh God, Why Am I Doing This?
I have a greater personal connection with Final Fantasy X than any of my previous subjects. Final Fantasy X was released around the time I got into video games. While I went down the path of aligning myself towards Nintendo and Microsoft properties; the Final Fantasy franchise was busy carving a massive niche with my friends and schoolmates. Even I recall the release of Final Fantasy X being a big deal. Practically everyone I knew was talking about the game in some capacity. This leads me to one of my darkest video game secrets. This is the first PS2 game I have ever played.
I know that seems ridiculous coming from someone who moderates a video game website but hear me out. For much of my childhood, my family was not financially stable. In terms of video games, I was "stuck" with one console and a game per month. My parents strictly monitored my video game playing and selected Nintendo consoles due to their lower price and family-friendly reputation. For much of my life, my inability to play Final Fantasy games wasn't my choice. Every game I played required the religious stamp of approval from my grandparents or mother. Why I didn't immediately use my adulthood to rectify this inadequacy is a different can of worms, but what comes around goes around.
Final Fantasy X is the Final Fantasy game I know the most about, and thus the one I secretly wanted to play when I started this series. I know I have told this story before, but it bears repeating. I have seen Final Fantasy X’s ending. When I was in elementary school one of my neighborhood friends was into Final Fantasy to an embarrassing degree. When I told him I had never played a Final Fantasy game, he implored me to spend the night at his house as he endeavored to "re-educate" me. He decided it would be a great idea to force me to watch the last twenty minutes of Final Fantasy X and the first fifteen minutes of Final Fantasy X-2.
If the prospect of me knowing the ending is throwing you into a tizzy, then relax. I don't remember a GODDAMNED thing about this game. I can barely remember what I ate for dinner, let alone the narrative significance of a purple slug monster. I know more than I would like, but it isn’t getting me anywhere. So without further ado, let's review a few tidbits of "housekeeping!" What do I mean by that? Well, let's discuss which version of the Sphere Grid I elected to use:
Fun fact for those who have not played the PC port of the Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, it defaults to Japanese when you boot it up for the first time. . WHO WOULD EVER DO THIS? I honestly think no one at SquareEnix understands what PC gaming is. No decent human being would do this.
Part 2: Let's Talk About The Ins And Outs Of The HD Remaster
Before we jump into the "nitty gritty," there's various housekeeping items I feel inclined to mention. It would behoove me to disclose I am playing the Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster. As someone who never played the original on the PS2, I lack the ability to discuss the ins and outs of this port job. That said, there are many positives and negatives even a neophyte like myself could identify within the first handful of hours.
The most astounding positive in terms of my early impressions of Final Fantasy X would be its spectacular artistic design. The HD Remaster is partly to credit for this. The in-game textures occasionally appear "smoothed" and the character animations often descend into the "Uncanny Valley," but so be the technical limitations of 1999. Almost in spite of these technical limitations, the game evokes an emotional response whenever you embark into a new environment. The pastel and neon-drenched set pieces are breathtaking and being able to trek through these worlds in 1080p is an equally impressive experience. I have found Final Fantasy X to be a visually stunning and impressive game regardless of its age.
Credit must go to the developers and programmers as each location feels eager to please. The set pieces evoke a distinct sense of mood and tone, and each plays a role in establishing a clear sense of "place." The game communicates that we are exploring the skeleton of a nigh dead civilization both in a literal and figurative sense. Characters will provide exposition on the sorry state of humanity, and immediately you are thrown into an environment which reinforces this sentiment. The absence of complex technology in each of the locations adds to the game's mood and tone. It is as if the majesty of video game storytelling is in full effect!
There are a couple nitpicks I wish to mention before we move on. The HD Remaster uses the "International Version" of Final Fantasy X. This is directly responsible for one major annoyance I have with the game’s controls. In prior Final Fantasy PC port jobs, the [X]-key translates to "Confirm" and the [C]-key to "Cancel."
The International Version reverses these keys, and I cannot describe in words how infuriating this is.
I know the rebuttal is something like "But ZombiePie, you can change the keybindings to whatever you like!" This exclamation is correct but ignoring one of the guiding principles of this blog series. I play these games using the default control settings no matter what. I do this to have a better sense of what it would have been like playing these games when they first launched. This dedication is ill-placed, but one of the few things I feel strongly about.
The other major nitpick is technical. A significant amount of time and effort was put into improving the visual look and design of the in-game textures. The cutscenes and pre-rendered environments, on the other hand, were adjusted from a 4:3 to a 16:9 screen ratio. This has led to one major unintended consequence. The cutscenes and pre-rendered environments lack visual and emotional panache. Now that so much of the real-time graphics have improved the CG cutscenes especially feel and look their age. Worse yet, they no longer provide their intended purpose of astounding their audience.
Part 3: Let's Talk About The Voice Acting... Because There's A LOT To Talk About
There's one big "elephant in the room" whenever Final Fantasy X is brought up. This problematic topic would be Final Fantasy X's voice acting. Even someone like myself who has avoided playing Final Fantasy X for seventeen plus years knows the game's voice acting is commonly cited as one of its sore points. Over the years in which I have moderated a video game website I have noticed two distinct "camps" regarding Final Fantasy X's voice acting. One camp defends the acting as laying the groundwork for future entries in the series, and the other views the acting to be the worst thing in human existence. Trust me on this, this is definitely NOT a logical fallacy used for comedic purposes.
My response is far more pragmatic. Final Fantasy X is a product of its time, and the quality of the voice acting is one of the many indicators of this. If you examine the quality of anime voice acting for 80% of what aired on Toonami during the block's original run, you would find Final Fantasy X to be part of the norm. Add in this being Square's first fully voice-acted Final Fantasy game, and a script chock-full of technobabble, and I err towards the viewpoint of this being the best possible outcome. I do not wish to equivocate larger issues which stem from the voice acting. Its inclusion unleashes many unintended consequences, but at the same point, I feel there are bigger dragons to slay in Final Fantasy X.
I do not feel the need to malign any member of the voice cast. I would even hazard to say they did the best they could with what they were given. Anyone capable of even the slightest bit of introspection can look at the script the voice cast were given and immediately discover how insurmountable their job was. Final Fantasy X is guilty of long-winded exposition dumps which hardly lend themselves to emotional pleas or method acting. Likewise, the script is filled to the brim with proper nouns every step of the way. I dare you to say "Sin," "Blitzball," "Zanarkand," and "Yevon" all in the same sentence without your tongue falling off. As a thought experiment, I counted the times Wakka said a proper noun in a two-minute scene. The answer is eleven. It is savage to expect any actor to salvage such an awkward script. As I like to say, you can coat shit in sugar, but it's still shit.
Most of all, the game's cast features some of the most emotionally honest characters I have seen. Understanding the pathos and logos of the cast means that even when the game is at its worst you understand what was intended in any scene. When Tidus screams in frustration after exiting the Kilika Cloister of Trials, the literal execution of that scene is "wanting." However, the scene's honesty and intention are so charmingly clear you can almost forgive the game for its shortcomings. The technical limitations can be ignored so long as the purpose of what is attempted is honest and intelligible. More often than not I feel this is the case.
Rest assured, I find Tidus's voice to be largely intolerable. The way he enunciates and spews witticisms sabotages scenes the game wants you to view as poignant. The supporting cast doesn't fare much better. The acting for the Luca Goers is atrocious. I mean, HOLY SHIT their voices are an abhorrent nightmare! I get they wanted them to be the game's equivalent of the Cobra Kai but give me a fucking break. This highlights the biggest issue with the voice acting. When the stars are not entirely aligned the voice acting can cause entire scenes to shatter before your eyes. Worst of all, this is a monumental problem the game cannot entirely shake away. Like a looming Sword of Damocles, the voice acting can viciously assassinate entire scenes without warning.
There's one more talking point I would like to bring up before jumping into the story. Since announcing I would cover Final Fantasy X, I have since received four or five PMs, Twitter DMs, and/or Tumblr messages sending me links to the Tidus laughing scene. Please stop doing this. I get it. That scene is a weird fucking thing. I need not watch ANOTHER video to understand this. .
Part 4: First Impressions Are Everything, And Final Fantasy X Starts Strong
I have nothing negative to say about the first scene in Final Fantasy X. The game's initial moments in Zanarkand are fucking awesome! The neon metropolis of Zanarkand is full of life and establishes an eclectic world you want to explore. Yes, the NPCs are terrible, but they serve their purpose in establishing a sense of vibrancy. The lead up to the massive Blitzball match works because it endeavors to craft a distinct sense of place. Zanarkand is a futuristic world with particular rules and customs. We are living in a world at its peak.
The visual presentation of Zanarkand is a master stroke in video game storytelling. As ridiculous as it sounds I do not hate the presentation behind Blitzball. Playing it is an abhorrent shitshow, but at least it looks good during the game's cutscenes. The sport also serves as a great segue to Sin's attack on Zanarkand as it allows the game to flow with a lively pace. The first two set pieces each center on Tidus desperately attempting to survive dire circumstances, and they work magnificently. Both set pieces culminate in confrontations with monstrous creatures that are above your skill level. They also develop a sense of increasing stakes as the story progresses. The music that plays during this sequence, on the other hand, is FUCKING TERRIBLE! WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK IS THIS? THERE’S NOTHING ELSE ON THE SOUNDTRACK THAT SOUNDS LIKE THIS! IT IS AN ASSAULT ON YOUR EARS!
This inevitably leads me to one of my favorite aspects of Final Fantasy X. This is a game eager to please its audience. Final Fantasy X is an exercise in technical excellence as it pushes the boundaries of what was possible in 1999. The battles are snappy and energetic, and the backgrounds are visually delightful. I especially appreciated the game using dynamic camera angles during battles. Whenever you perform even the simplest attack, the game makes it an excitable character moment. These small touches all work wonders in crafting a unique feel to Final Fantasy X. We have seen futuristic cities in past Final Fantasy games, but not with this sense of scale or gravitas.
In terms of storytelling, the game lays the groundwork for its protagonist within minutes. Tidus is a headstrong free spirit who thinks highly of himself. He’s also a social butterfly who seeks group interactions and fame wherever he goes. The game develops a darker subtext to Tidus when Jecht is brought up as Tidus tags along with Auron. The game does well to establish a sense of "mystery," without revealing too much too soon. Less is always more for introductions especially when we need to pay attention to the story and new mechanics.
Speaking of which, Zanarkand is a great tutorial level. Credit goes to the developers for ensuring the first two boss battles cannot wipe you out. They instead provide visual variety to the chaotic situation Tidus has been thrust into. I also think it was smart to split up the editorializing into chunks. Zanarkand tutorials the main combat mechanics, and other levels address different ones. This prevents the player from experiencing information overload and lowers the risk of total failure for the sake of allowing them to enjoy a spectacle... well at least in theory it does.
Part 5: I CONTINUE TO BE TERRIBLE AT PLAYING JRPGs!
I honestly have no one to blame but myself. In what can only be described to be my greatest "accomplishment" in a Final Fantasy game yet, I somehow died in Final Fantasy X's first location. I am amazed this is not an achievement given how "fool proof" Zanarkand is. Not knowing the blue hovering spheres were save points I idiotically blasted through the first level without healing my party. This was a dumb thing to do. My idiocy in playing Final Fantasy X does not stop at the combat. It wasn't until I reached Luca that I realized the game had equipable items. Then there was the time I moved Yuna backward on the Sphere Grid. I initially thought you were supposed to move TOWARDS the glowing orbs instead of away from them.
I have never claimed to be the best at playing video games, but this is disgraceful even for me. Final Fantasy X isn't that difficult of a game to wrap your mind around. The turn-based combat is a massive refinement from Final Fantasy IX, and the turns are far more explicit. The order of attacks is provided in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, and this order can be manipulated via status effects or character death. The biggest improvement from Final Fantasy IX to Final Fantasy X is the inclusion of “wait time.” In Final Fantasy X, you can wait on attacks for as long as you’d like. Allowing for an infinite amount of wait time means I can fully revel in my affliction of "analysis paralysis." On a more literal level, the combat in Final Fantasy X is relatively straightforward, and yet somehow I still fucked it up.
If there is one thing I refuse to take flak over its performing the Overdrives in Final Fantasy X. After selecting a character's Overdrive you are prompted the name of the finishing maneuver and immediately thrust into a character distinct minigame. There's no pomp or circumstance in using your first Overdrive, and the lack of a practicing mechanic all but guarantees the first use of any Overdrive will whiff massively. I found the interface for Trigger Commands and Overdrives to be cumbersome and the prompts for both too nondescript given their importance.
Another dick move is when there is a tutorial for equipment. The game equips items for Tidus to show you the ins and outs of the system. If you go back and re-examine Tidus, you will notice the changes from the tutorial weren't real, and he’s been stuck swinging around dog shit for the last hour. This is the THIRD TIME a Final Fantasy game has done this, and it NEEDS TO STOP! This is the worst way to tutorial any mechanic, and it is slowly driving me insane.
Part 6: Establishing A Sense Of Mystery Using Gameplay And Story
There's no going about it. It is time to delve into the organized chaos that is Final Fantasy X's story. As mentioned earlier, Final Fantasy X does a spectacular job in using its first handful of set pieces to set up the mood and tone of the game. Likewise, the script is replete with proper nouns which cause the dialogue to come across as unintelligible technobabble to first timers. To call the introduction a “mixed bag” would do it a disservice. As is par for the course, Final Fantasy X's initial moments work better when you tune off the logic centers of your brain and appreciate the spectacle for what it is.
A mysterious gentleman named Auron brings Tidus up to speed regarding the ensuing destruction to befall Zanarkand. A massive monstrosity named "Sin" has somehow lumbered into Zanarkand with no one noticing it. This right here is a wonderful example of the "Godzilla Conundrum." We have a massive monster of epic proportions, and yet somehow it can ninja its way into every scene significant to the protagonist. It's a fucking twenty-story tall monster that creates a massive tsunami whenever it surfaces! How is NO ONE able to notice its arrival? You mean to tell me the technologically advanced society of Zanarkand lacks ANY system to track this behemoth? This problem applies to Sin for the rest of the game mind you, and it's a major reason monster movies rarely "work" for me.
Our intrepid Blitzball player is thrust into action, but not before a hooded child and Auron suggests there are greater forces at work. I want to share a personal “fan theory” I have developed. I'm sure this introductory scene is a dream sequence and isn't real. So much of Tidus's introduction comes across as pandering to his ego, so I honestly think we are in his “dream life.” I will even hazard a guess and predict Auron is tasked by another force to rip Tidus from his blue-pill induced state. It is a stupid theory, but a stupid theory just dumb enough for a Final Fantasy game.
Either way, Final Fantasy X does a phenomenal job in crafting a sense of foreboding. The juxtapositions and cutscenes work to establish a feeling of unease you can appreciate from a distant vantage point; even if that vantage point is from the moon. After Auron tosses Tidus into the anus looking portal the game continues its snappy pacing. Just as you think you are out of the woods new confrontations continue to establish a sense of increasing "stakes." For those of you following this story using Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” Auron is the “Supernatural Aid” which allows Tidus to meet the “Threshold Guardians.”
The stakes at the temple are lower on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but they do the story wonders. A simple quest to build a fire can articulate how far the character has fallen from their perch. Yes, Tidus spends 90% of the scene whining like a toddler, but again the emotional honesty saves it. Tidus isn't meant to be a likable protagonist when we first meet him. He's meant to be an egotistical and self-servicing prick. Eventually, he will be humbled, but right now he's still refusing to accept the “call to adventure.” Poignant scenes where Tidus is forced to confront his humanity don't work unless there's a point of reference. This hindsight is something I can thank Final Fantasy IX for.
The scene after Zanarkand does well to showcase how Tidus needs his compatriots. He is our proverbial "fish out of water" character. Tidus is ill-equipped to survive the new world he is in, but how Tidus goes about expressing this role is a soul-wrenching annoyance. I mean for fuck's sake, when is Tidus going to develop some much needed social skills? Every time Tidus asks questions about Sin, summoners, or Yevon... I want to die. The acting here results in stiff line reading, and their forced nature is cringe inducing. Worse yet is when Rikku tells Tidus not to bring up the subject of Zanarkand with the people he meets... AND HE KEEPS MENTIONING HE'S FROM ZANARKAND!
Part 7: The Dream Sequences Are A Flaming Pile Of Trash
After offing a massive fish monster Tidus kindles a fire and falls asleep in the temple. Tidus enters a sketchy looking temple full of baddies, and his first thought is to get some rest. What a wonderful example of human intellect.
Upon falling asleep Tidus subjects the audience to a dream sequence. We need to talk about these. Tidus's dream sequences ARE ATROCIOUS. HOLY SHIT, ! Each sequence "attempts" to convey Tidus's id, ego, and super-ego because psychoanalytical psychology is the ONLY psychology represented in video games. Unfortunately, the appalling script results in the stiffest line reading in the game, and the technical limitations entirely ruin the scenes' intent. Take for example this scene:
The dream sequences partially assist in building Tidus as a character. For one, Tidus is seen in an emotionally vulnerable state. He has some "daddy issues," and his previous vanity feels like a call for help. But this is narrative “low hanging fruit.” How many times are we going to have Final Fantasy protagonists be abandoned or orphans? Everything feels so stunningly superficial that it is honestly painful to watch.
There's an insufficient sense of progression with Tidus's dream sequences. Each furthers why he hates his father with little ambiguity provided. I cannot help but think other gaps in Tidus’s character arc would have been better served here. How about discovering how Tidus became a Blitzball player or his relationship with his mother? It's just scene after scene of Tidus trying to be happy, and then his father being a dick to him. The game is bludgeoning you over the head with its simplicity.
Part 8: The Fan Service Makes Me Want To Puke
After Tidus wakes from his convenient slumber, he is chucked into a battle against a horrible monster. Luckily for all involved, a team of masked bandits arrives to Tidus’s rescue. The lone female member of the masked team joins Tidus in his fight. Our new party member has the "Special" ability to throw grenades, and this is FUCKING COOL! Equally badass is how our new party member is the deciding factor in our victory against the monster. However, the game designers then fuck up a perfectly fine introduction by including bullshit fan service.
This is decidedly NOT COOL! Ostensibly our introduction to Rikku devolves into fan service. Does the game introduce Wakka with a camera pan hovering over his junk? Hell no, and the contemptible practice of emphasizing certain parts of the female figure is a recurring issue. Here I am trying to process the news of Tidus being thrown 1,000 years into the future, and inexplicably the camera pans to Rikku's ass. Like honestly, what the fuck is happening?
My main quibble is how there is important information to process whenever we talk to Rikku, and this is a distraction. Given she saved Tidus's life I wanted to learn more about Rikku. However, the game's sense of narrative triage places the inclusion of an ass-shot above positive social interactions. Given that fan service defined two whole scenes with Rikku, I have developed a sense of dread regarding future interactions with our female party members.
Think I am joking? How about we discuss what happens when Lulu gets the finishing blow in a battle? Lulu bends over, ever so prominently, and you can see her cleavage. Rikku's ass-shot is one scene, but Lulu's fan service continues for the entire goddamned game. It's the pits. It's the drizzly shits of Final Fantasy X.
Rikku’s fan service is a damn shame. It was a hair away from ruining the introduction of the Al Bhed. The dress, language, and culture of the Al Bhed is interesting in concept. The mannerisms used by Rikku's party members are touchingly done. The Al Bhed have no intention of hurting Tidus, and you slowly develop the sense they wish to help him. Unfortunately, the game's priorities are decidedly fucked.
Part 9: OH GOD THE SPHERE GRID!
When the nauseating fan service has subsided Tidus finds himself aboard a ship. Unable to speak the language of the Al Bhed, Tidus increasingly gravitates towards Rikku who can speak his language. Whilst aboard the Al Bhed ship they request his help in exploring an undersea platform. It is at this point the game introduces the "Sphere Grid."
If there is one aspect of this game which causes me to wake up in a cold sweat, it would be the Sphere Grid. This byzantine monstrosity is more complicated than it has any right to be. Admittedly, the game's heart is in the right place, but a child who makes a grilled crayon and thumbtack sandwich should be told to try again. To the Sphere Grid's credit, most of the pathways are straightforward for the first dozen of levels. The branches and dead-ends do not rear their ugly head until much later in the game.
Equal credit goes to the developers for attempting to provide the player with the opportunity to customize the characters to their liking. I'm only five hours into the game, but I have been told the Sphere Grid can result in noticeable changes in how characters play in combat. Personally, I find this to be an appreciated change of the "Tabula Rasa" direction of Final Fantasy VII and VIII. The Sphere Grid also motivates you to take advantage of every party member. While every player has their favorite character(s), I feel a sense of satisfaction in progressing and developing each character as relative equals. If a system results in greater buy-in by the player, then it can't be entirely horrible, right?
Well, we're ignoring the obvious. Navigating the Sphere Grid is a chore, and the consequences of moving a character down its many branches are not articulated to the player. In theory, moving one character makes them similar to the character they are moving towards. But what this results in is up to the player to discover AFTER they have selected a direction. I'm moving Tidus towards an unoccupied sphere and do not understand what this means because the branches themselves are neither color coded nor labeled as being distinct from one another. Am I making Tidus a physical attack powerhouse or a minister of time-bending magic? Lacking a point of reference also hurts the system and my desire to experiment with it.
I need to ask a burning question about the Sphere Grid. Why isn't the Sphere Grid an individualized tech tree? If you want to have branching paths then why not have the paths result in distinct character classes like every other action role-playing game? What the Sphere Grid expects out of the player isn't communicated at all. Neither are the possible endpoints or destinations. Here the game mentions they exist and asks you to forget about them for the next four hours. To say the tutorial for the Sphere Grid is “inadequate” would be a gargantuan understatement. The Sphere Grid is indisputably intimidating to newcomers, and the game subjects you to “trial by fire” after introducing it.
Part 10: Slow And Steady Wins The Race
I have gravitated towards Final Fantasy X’s story more than I expected. The story initially revolves around Tidus’s desire to return to his past. With each location, we learn more about Tidus's upbringing and the world of Spira. There's a simple, but effective flow to the game which adds to its whimsy. Tidus's ego driven nature results in him constantly trying to assert his prior fame. The dialogue here is cringe-inducing, but it's another case of the game's honesty carrying you through its limitations.
When we join Rikku in exploring an underwater facility, it is a journey not only for Tidus, but for us. As much as I would like to deny it, Tidus is my vessel in understanding more about the world of Spira. In that regard, Tidus serves his role with distinction. Admittedly the game’s use of Tidus as a “fish out of water” isn’t entirely successful. The narrative tries to justify Tidus's awkward questioning by claiming Sin can “poison” people’s memories. Unfortunately, this justification does not stop many of Tidus’s introductions from devolving into schlock.
As Rikku and Tidus beat the ever loving crap out of an octopus, they power up the underwater facility. Upon returning to the surface the two have a simple aside. Rikku reveals her name and brings Tidus up to speed. Zanarkand has been in ruins since a thousand years ago, and Sin's activities have all but ruined modern civilization. It is an honest to goodness well-done scene where the emotional core of the moment supersedes everything else. Tidus lets his guard down, and our sympathy builds for him. Moreso, there's a genuine sense of caring by Rikku.
After dealing with his superficial posturings for what seemed like an eternity, Tidus showcases a more emotionally vulnerable side. By allowing Tidus the opportunity to exhibit a breadth of emotions he feels more “real” than his predecessors. What takes other Final Fantasy protagonists two discs to achieve, Tidus has accomplished in one hour. There is a consequence to Tidus being painted with a potpourri of affections. The game jumps between disparate emotional states in the same scene. The narrative dissonance this results in is undeniable. In one scene we can witness Tidus cracking a joke, fawning over Yuna, having a heart-to-heart with Wakka, and becoming emotionally torn between two worlds. Then there’s Tidus’s voice actor… his inflections are ALL OVER THE PLACE! Entire scenes are torn from their foundation because Tidus always sounds like a sarcastic sack of shit.
Moments like these show what Final Fantasy X's characters can bring to the table. They are still caricatures, there's no denying that, but there's a resolute sense of honesty whenever they interact. These interactions are simple to understand and work to build our sympathy for the cast. They are rarely intellectually challenging, but this is a game trying to put its best step forward before it sinks in its tendrils. Until then we have a story grounded with a small compact cast of believable characters. What more can you ask for out of a Final Fantasy game?
What I'm saying is: I cannot wait for Final Fantasy X to fuck up this grounded and character-driven narrative with some bullshit science fiction plot twist. Let me guess. Tidus is going to have an existential crisis where he is forced to confront his personal identity! Then Yuna pulls him back into reality. Oh boy… I am waiting with bated breath.
Part 11: Wakka Is A Rollercoaster Of A Character
After further discussions, Rikku pounces on the news that Tidus is a Blitzball player. She resolves to take Tidus to the city of Luca as the sport is played there. Rikku eventually reveals Zanarkand to be a "holy site," and Tidus shouldn't bring up the subject of the city when interacting with other people. It's another scene where Rikku expresses a sense of concern regarding Tidus's well-being. If only Tidus did well to honor this sense of caring.
Just as Rikku developed her "master plan," Sin arrives and attacks the ocean platform. I guess Sin has a natural attraction to Tidus otherwise Sin's appearances are terribly convenient. Tidus is knocked off the platform and somehow drifts to an island populated by characters critical to the progression of the plot. As Tidus washes onto the shores of Besaid, a Blitzball bumps against his face.
I like Wakka as a character. He's your usual bumbling buffoon that seems typical in these sorts of games. Unlike comic-relief characters in prior Final Fantasy games, Wakka has some much-needed depth. He's the captain of a failing blitzball team, and a religious zealot. Wakka holds his religious beliefs near and dear to his heart and they are a defining aspect of his character. His brimming enthusiasm is complementary to his desire to honor his religion. Eventually, we discover a darker subtext to Wakka when we learn more about his dead brother.
Wakka's multi-faceted nature highlights another aspect of Final Fantasy X I have enjoyed. The main characters have avoided feeling one-note, and much like Spira feel distinct from previous entries in the franchise. Better yet, each of the supporting characters has a social network of friends even before Tidus arrives. For once we see a supporting cast pursue interpersonal relationships beyond the protagonist. Watching Lulu privately confide to Wakka about current events is one example of the game doing its darndest to create a sense of community amidst the ruins of Spira. It is both an inspiring and touching undertone.
As my title suggests, Wakka is a bewildering rollercoaster ride of emotions. Sometimes Wakka is a comic relief character for the sake of humor. Other times he can level with Tidus in a brotherly manner. How about Wakka's voice? Here I was thinking Tidus somehow found his way into post-Apocalyptic Hawaii. Instead, we have another Final Fantasy game with a character featuring a distinct manner of speaking no one else seems to use.
There is one quibble I would like to mention before discussing the hidden depth behind Besaid. The brush strokes that crafted the HD Remaster are careful in some parts and broad in others. This point is made all the more obvious when we examine supporting NPCs next to the primary cast. Important characters including Wakka and Tidus have an extra resolution when compared to the rest of the game. Hopefully, this screencap will help cement this point:
Part 12: Final Fantasy X's Creative Use Of Religion And Sport
Exploring Besaid is a visual treat. We arrive in the village via swimming through some of the most pristine waters you could ever imagine. As we enter the village proper, we have a better sense of how far civilization has regressed.
There is something compelling about witnessing the cataclysm which destroyed a civilization and watching the remnants try to live idly by in the ruins. More often than not, players take control of characters from the perspective of archaeologists or post-apocalyptic survivors. Witnessing every step of the rise, fall, and resurrection of a civilization is fascinating. The totality of Sin’s destruction is another compelling aspect of Final Fantasy X. The visuals hit home the dire situation humanity is in.
While Spira lacks the technological supremacy of its past, it has maintained two bedrocks: Blitzball and religion. Blitzball is an odd commentary on sports culture, and its deadening effects on all who subscribe to it. While not everyone is a Blitzball player, everyone subscribes to enjoying the sport as a panacea to their otherworldly problems. While the threat of Sin is looming the people of Spira are more than willing to disclose the Blitzball team they root for. The sport has filled a massive void and drives many like Wakka to the point of obsession. I would even conjecture Blitzball is a clever cautionary tale against the ills of consumer culture. Everyone fawns over Blitzball players more than their political leaders.
The game's depiction of religion is equally interesting. The practices and customs of the game’s religion have a distinct "folk" feel to them. Tidus at one point shares how the prayer of the religion has appropriated a victory signal from Blitzball. Religion has united hundreds if not thousands of people in a fight against Sin. The comparisons to established religion honestly write themselves. While the threat of Sin is a physical and tangible threat, masses of people turn to religious institutions to solve their problems. The citizenry follows the orders of a governing force which uses a religious mandate to direct them in an unwinnable war.
Both elements are oddly specific, but they further underscore the unique nature of Final Fantasy X. While Final Fantasy VII set its target on environmentalism and personal identity; Final Fantasy X sets its target on something a few pegs lower. Not that one game is superior or inferior to the other. Instead, I would like to commend the writers of Final Fantasy X for picking a simple and easy to hit target like sports culture. This assists them in crafting an "accurate" story with an excitable pace. Final Fantasy X has avoided repeating the follies of Icarus as its targets are only a few feet above its head.
Part 13: The "Law Of Averageness" In Storytelling
This inevitably leads me to my final note for this episode. Final Fantasy X's first hours are a highly rewarding experience thanks to workmen-like writing. While Final Fantasy X does not set itself up to slay any large dragons, it crafts a provocative world with mostly relatable characters. There are plenty of bumps and bruises to be had here, but I have to admit the game's infectious enthusiasm is rubbing on me. For once, I'm playing a Final Fantasy game which squeezes a smile out of me from time to time.
In my many attempts to discover why this is the case, I gravitated towards an old storytelling theorem I once postulated. Sometimes it is better to play it safe rather than risk a swing and potentially miss. Much of the game is spent introducing the world of Spira in a nonconfrontational manner. The characters are the glue to this, and they use most of their dialogue to please your neural synapses. Final Fantasy X is a dopamine inducing travelogue like a summer blockbuster.