Out of hand, if you heard that a games company folded into another company immediately after releasing a new game, you’d probably assume the game was a bomb, and that it was to blame for the merger. Add in the fact that it was the first game of a new generation, a traditional stumbling point, and that makes it seem even worse! From those facts alone, it sounds like we’re about to take on another Mega Man X7 or whatever.
But FFX is none of those things. The merger was already in the books and the generational upgrade only helped them, though after FFIX was practically bursting at the seams of the PSX, maybe that’s not surprising. Despite sometimes not being considered a part of the Final Fantasy golden age for fact of its release generation, FFX holds a reputation as one of the best games in the series, in that upper three with VI and VII. And yes, even I’ve played it before. I’m not familiar enough with it to call this a Retrospective or anything, but I watched good chunks of it back in the day and have played it completely once. Kyle has also played the game, making it, as I said in a previous post, the second and last game we’ve both played fully before getting to it in the Marathon.
For this run, we’ll be playing the HD release on Steam. Our first session goes from the start of the game to the end of the visit to Guadosalam. Unfortunately, this post is going live during quarantine from COVID-19, and Kyle and I haven’t been able to get together for a while now, so I’m going to have to pare the posts back to their minimums to make sure we don’t run out of content!
FFX has an opening demo, but it’s one of those games that just replaying the opening, so we don’t need to cover it. The only changes are some opening credits and a dramatic appearance of the game’s logo that are only in the demo, no big deal.
The game itself begins with some revision-exclusive additions. The first such revision originated in the International Edition released in Japan: the choice of “Sphere Grid.” The Sphere Grid is, to keep things short, the game’s character progression system. The Standard Sphere Grid is a slight variant of the original release’s, while the Expert Sphere Grid allows a greater degree of freedom and, of course, consequences in your build. I wanted to do the Expert, both because I enjoy having control of my build and to give readers a “first-timer’s” element in some element of this playthrough. The second new revision was the HD version’s choice of music: original soundtrack or remastered. We did the latter, if that matters to you. After that, the game begins.
The opening scene shows a bunch of weapons stuck into dead earth. Oh god, it’s the Keyblade Graveyard! Or…! Oh god, we’re disrespecting Angeal’s memory again! Or…! Oh god… you’re really going to dull your blades like that, do you realize?
A famous tune begins to play in the background, Final Fantasy X’s most famous theme, “Zanarkand.” Most fans know it better under another title, one that’s also official but more frequently used among fans than Square Enix: “To Zanarkand,” which is arguably more appropriate, since it matches the theme of the game, but not least of all because… welllllllll… the song… doesn’t actually play… in Zanarkand. Ironically, the song was composed at the last minute despite its fame, making it not unlike Final Fantasy’s chief leitmotif, “Prelude.”
We get a look at several characters around a fire, and one of them gets up, puts his hand on a fellow party-member’s shoulder in an affectionate manner, and then goes off to look at a nearby ruin surrounded by strange, ghostly lights. The man begins a mental narration, seemingly addressing the player: “Listen to my story. This may be our last chance.”
We fade out and return to see a futuristic setting as bouncy remix of “Prelude” plays in the background, literally the track’s only appearance in the game in a strange break in tradition! As an excited crowd runs past, a ghostly boy in a hood manifests and follows.
We eventually see that the character from earlier has just arrived on the scene via boat, and the crowd has come to greet them. Various NPCs shove slightly bumpy balls at him, asking for his autograph, a setup for the name-entry screen. FFX makes the odd decision to have its main character be named by the player, even though the game is voiced, which forces the narration of not just this game but the sequel to avoid mentioning the name at any time! It’s a baffling decision and frankly, a poor one, but oh well. The default name is “Tidus.”
It’s clear that Tidus is some kind of sports star and is on his way to a game. When some kids in the crowd ask him to teach them how to “blitz,” to his credit, he tries to schedule a meeting, but the ghostly boy appears and says that he “can’t tonight,” and Tidus hears him, accepts his statement without question, and reschedules for tomorrow. The kids give an odd little gesture and the crowd lets Tidus go.
Time to start with my usual voice actor credits. Final Fantasy X is the first Final Fantasy game to make strong use of voice work, and also the first to use motion capture not just in cutscenes but for gameplay animations, including facial capture. And thank goodness, they actually credited the entire motion cast! Was that so hard. Apparently it was, because I know for a fact that Kingdom Hearts is missing its list, and it’s probably not the last. Anyways, let’s get started.
Tidus’ English voice actor is James Arnold Taylor, the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi in various Star Wars properties. He’s also done work on Marvel and DC properties, various voices in Scooby-Doo, and in other words and all-around regular. Game fans will also know him as the voice of Ratchet from Ratchet & Clank and even in Monkey Island 2, and we last saw him on this blog in Kingdom Hearts, both as Jack Sparrow in KH2 and as Snow White’s Prince in Birth by Sleep. But never as Tidus! Long story. As for our motion actor, we’ve met him as well: Masakazu Morita, the regular actor behind Zell from FFVIII. He also voiced Tidus in the Japanese version! This is also true of our female lead but seemingly no one else in the cast!
As for the ghost boy, he’s voiced by Debi Derryberry, a voice actress primarily known as the voice of Jimmy Newtron, though she’s been dozens of products going back to the late 80s. This includes the voice of Wednesday in the 90s Addams Family cartoon, enough Disney credits (prior to her Nickolodeon days) to give my Kingdom Hearts side a bad itch, Monster High, and even the voice of Pac-Man in Street Fighter X Tekken, which is not a credit I realized could even exist. This character has no assigned motion actor, so was probably done by Yasuko Fujinami, who has the credit for “Sub characters,” which I’m going to have to call something of a “broad” label, since there are loads of important characters with no credited motion actor! As a rule, if you don’t see me credit someone for a character’s motion actor, they were probably Fujinami. As an aside, I’m not surprised that these child characters were mocapped from an adult, their animations are a little jank. I wasn’t able to find any other credits for Fujinami, despite him doing a huge chunk of this game’s heavy lifting!
Tidus finds himself on one of the stranger set-pieces we’ll be seeing today: what’s clearly a raised highway, but with no cars and loads of foot-traffic instead? I have a feeling this room may have been created for a certain later scene where Tidus’ visit is a bit more rational, and was only repurposed as the world’s least-appropriate footpath at a later stage. Among all the problems above, shouldn’t a big star like Tidus be riding a car? To get to the place on time, to avoid the fans, and so on?
Glowering over the scene is a video screen depicting a somewhat older man in a bandana. Tidus looks at the man and huffs, and all of a sudden a voiceover begins to speak, discussing the disappearance of a man named Jecht, presumably the man on the screen, some ten years back. The speaker, Zanar, is not given a proper credit in the voice list and is probably one of the game’s “Additional Voices” credits. It seems Jecht was also a big sports star, and Zanar recounts how his disappearance hit everyone he knew extremely hard, despite the fact that Tidus is clearly unimpressed. Zanar eventually gets to the point and suddenly adopts a radio DJ’s tone, and reveals to the player that he’s actually a sports announcer and that this reminiscence has been part of the build-up to the first-ever Jecht Memorial Cup, being played between the “Abes” and the “Duggles,” and wouldn’t you know it, Tidus is the star player of the Abes, and furthermore, Jecht’s son.
After getting through a crowd of fans, Tidus arrives at the arena, where we get a pre-rendered CG of him waiting in a shallow pool. Suddenly, electricity bursts to life, and we see Tidus is on a ring surrounding a newly-appeared magical sphere. And here’s an interesting situation: we’re actually hearing the game’s de facto final boss theme right this instant, “Otherworld,” performed by English-language, hardcore punk vocalist Bill Muir. The magical sphere explodes into a sphere of water, and a montage begins. Half the scenes are of Tidus and his team playing some manner of underwater, full-contact sport, while others are of an older man dressed in red, looming about the city, where the real action is happening. The man, who keeps one of his arms in a sling, is carrying a large bottle, which he uses to salute a strange but massive swell in the ocean water, and then walks away casually as the swell carries into the city and begins to level it. The two lines eventually converge as Tidus begins to make a preposterous jump-kick out of the sphere and sees the swell, only for it to fire on the stadium. Realizing he’s fucked, Tidus tries to grasp part of the ring around the sphere, and saves his own life as the sphere collapses.
Tidus escapes the arena into total chaos, and discovers the man in red, whom he identifies as Auron, last seen on this blog in KH2. It seems they know one another. Auron is voiced by Matt McKenzie, himself last seen on this blog in TSW. Auron’s motion actor was Jun Ishii, also used as a motion actor in X-2 as someone named Mevyn Nooj, and in less specific roles in Advent Children and FFXIII.
Auron leads Tidus onto the highway as an evacuation route (see, now it makes sense to be here), when suddenly the ghostly boy from earlier shows up, freezes time, and for some reason announces: “It begins. Don’t cry.” I could have lived without this bit. Frankly, I’m not sure why any mystic guardian ever bothers to show up to the ignorant hero to say “It begins,” and frankly “Don’t cry” feels just as isolated, for all it will make a teeny bit more sense later. I guess they just wanted to doubly confirm this kid Is magic? Tidus basically forgets this ever happened the moment it passes.
The “swell” from the ocean has now taken flight as a giant sphere not unlike the playfield from Tidus’ game back in the arena. FFX is good at little thematic comparisons like this. Auron tells Tidus: “We called it ‘Sin,'” but if he had anything else to say (which, knowing Auron, I doubt), he’s interrupted by the arrival of a strange, floral tentacle that explodes out of a nearby building and then fires pods that open into insect-like creatures. These… well, harmlessly bump Tidus around a bit, not exactly the best way to build tension. Once Auron gets tired of this daycare slap-fight, he decides to give Tidus a sword, which he clearly doesn’t know how to use… for all of ten seconds, after which he’ll use it as his primary weapon for the rest of the game. It’s just that easy! Auron himself draws a heavy katana.
FFX finally gives up the old Active Time Battle system that’s been in use since FFIV, and created a new one dubbed “Conditional Turn-Based Battles” (CTB). Unfortunately, CTB isn’t really all that new. FFT used an extremely similar system just a few years back, and the end result frankly isn’t very different from the party-based JRPG standard established by Dragon Quest II, itself barely modified from D&D. Sure, CTB has you “accumulating points” until you take your turn, like a not-so-active Active Time Battle, but in practice, this is little different from taking turns in initiative order (adjusted by buffs) in literally any other JRPG on the market. Oh, FFX’s got new ideas, but its innovations are not in bloody turn order, no matter what the marketing would have you believe.
What FFX does do well is to make combat feel more strategic through a wide variety of factors and systems that just happen to be rooted in CTB and could have honestly been plugged into a huge number of other JRPGs on the market. Unfortunately, nearly all of these features are not available for basically the first hour and a half of gameplay, spanning three distinct areas of the game, followed by a fourth area that’s nothing more than a tutorial for the actual interesting stuff! This leaves you with nothing but the shallow, genre default, and it’s this dull start that’s driven me to waste all these words on my former systems’ analyst’s semantic rant.
Auron insists the monsters, dubbed “Sinscales,” don’t matter and that they should try to break through. This adds a little dynamic element to the second combat when you’re surrounded on both sides but only have to kill the enemies on the “forward” side. After this second fight, the two of them find their way to one of the tentacle things that popped up around town, this one named “Sinspawn Ames.” This fight introduces the Overdrive system, this game’s version of Limit Breaks. Its closest relative is FFVII’s Limit Breaks, even including the part where characters get multiple Overdrives, that you can choose between on the fly. On the plus side, you aren’t forced to use the Overdrive after you fill the meter, more like FFVIII. One major change from FFVII’s system is that you can also unlock new ways to fill the Overdrive menu in the first place, which you can “equip” from a menu. The starting “Overdrive Mode” is Stoic, and increases when you take damage, but there are also modes for attacking the enemy, ones for healing, or various specialized drives that fill more of the meter, but only under increasingly obscure situations. You learn each mode by being in that situation a certain number of times, though the number of times vary by characters. For example, Auron with his giant sword naturally gravitates towards the “Warrior” Overdrive, requiring him to make 100 attacks to unlock it compared to 150 for Tidus or 300 for one of the party’s Black Mage. Tidus, meanwhile, is a bit of an ego-case and takes 300 instances of allies taking damage before he learns “Comrade,” the Overdrive that builds up with righteous fury when a friend takes damage, compared to 100 for most party members. Of course, not all the instances make perfect sense. The party’s primary White Mage is somehow in the middle of both Warrior and Comrade!
Auron’s Overdrive is a modified version of Sabin and Zell’s, with the player punching in a bunch of on-screen button combinations. His Overdrive was also a group attack, which the game used to clear the initial wave of Sinscales. Tidus’, meanwhile, is a timed hit. You get quite a bit of time to land the hit on the on-screen metre, but your damage output is based on the speed you land it. Tidus’ Overdrives are also important to use as soon as possible, because he (and he alone) unlocks new ones in the FFVII fashion of using them a certain number of times, first (I enjoy this much more than FFVII, which basically gave you new Limit Breaks as an apology for forcing you to use so many Limit Breaks!). Basically any other party member can bank their Overdrive from here to the boss at the end of a dungeon with no consequences, and I’m 100% fine with that!
The rest of the fight against Sinspawn Ames is no big deal, as it can only cast Gravity and can’t kill you alone. The game does go the extra mile by having its tentacles dissolve as it takes damage, though!
Not long after the fight, Tidus and Auron end up surrounded by Sinscales. A few rounds of fighting later, and Auron points out a damaged tanker that’s hanging over the edge of the highway (yeah, this road really is meant for vehicles!), and suggests you attack it. It’s worth noting that, unlike past Final Fantasy games, this special target is only engaged after you see this scene. It’s not valid beforehand, a modification that would seem to have been beyond past games for whatever reason! A few attacks later, and the thing falls off and causes a preposterous collapse that knocks out the forward Sinscales and allows Tidus and Auron to parkour their way across a falling building to the far side. Sure, why not?
Tidus ends this action scene dangling from a ledge, and Auron for some reason hesitates to rescue him. At this point, the water sphere has begun absorbing parts of the city, and Auron turns towards it and asks: “You’re sure?” He then reaches down and picks Tidus up by the shirt, holding him still as the two of them are absorbed into the sphere, saying, “This is your story. It all begins here.”