Final Fantasy X

Bitter 05/29/2003 

FFX: the High Tide of Accountancy Role Playing

Osh Kosh returning to stylishness.
Subtlety, thy name is Square Soft. Though I haven't played any of the previous games in this series, and will very likely not be playing any of the future games, I enjoyed the gentle, subdued majesty of a game that names its main villainy thing "Sin".

Seriously, laying out the plot of this game, which resolves around a journey to defeat the Big Bad (don't they all?), makes you curious about the kinds of drugs available in Japan, which from the TV appears to be full of short, polite people who are into some seriously fucked-up sexual shit.

We start with the main character. I named him "Fruit", although the game's manual indicates Tidus. We see him playing some trippy version of underwater soccer called Blitzball in a floating stadium in some near-future city, when the Big Bad begins to devastate said city. Fleeing for his life, Fruit runs into Auron, an associate of his (missing) father. Battles with bugs end with the two heroes being sucked into a vortex created by the Big Bad.

So our hero wakes up in an unknown land, blah blah blah, associates with band of misfits banding together to take on the Big Bad against the manipulative hand of a conspiracy, duty, honor, country, the Corps, the Corps, the Corps. It fits together about as well as the movie of the same name: i.e., who cares.

The only marginally interesting take here is that Fruit is more a sideshow to Yuna, a female "Summoner": that is, someone who can harness the power of the dead (known as the Fayths) incarnated in the forms of some really fucked-up but visually impressive creatures called Aeons that do very well in the Blowing Shit Up department. It's a rare game that doesn't have the player in the role of Determined Protagonist, and one of a few nice touches that decorate the nonsensical plot at points.

The Fayths: Death means ready access to hard drugs.
The main arc of the story follows Yuna's journey from shrine to shrine, where at each shrine she goes through some trial -- causing you to endure some truly monotonous puzzle elements -- that gives her access to more powerful Aeons, leading to a Final Summoning which will provide her with access to an Aeon mighty enough to drive Sin away for a time, providing peace to the people of the planet but also killing Yuna, boo hoo. Unless there's an alternative? You will of course find out, because the game's linearity is beyond the level of bondage into a Hellraiser hooked-chain style of compulsion. You will run down the road. You will turn right at the end. The only relief comes close to the end of the game, when you can return to areas of the game previously visited. Earlier, though, it's like bowling on the kiddie lanes with the inflatable gutter guides: safe but boring.

Cut scenes more than the game deserves.
The cut scenes in the game are visually stunning, quite magnificent. A nice feature provides access to all the cut scenes that you've seen all at once, which helps when you've been power leveling for awhile and forgotten what the heck it is that you're about. There is a similar feature for the game's music, which is okay, I guess, but not particularly memorable.

Sadly, the general atmosphere of the game is one of desolation: there just doesn't seem to be much in the way of people around, and your interactions are quite circumscribed. There's basically one town in the entire game, it's very small, and all the people just echo a few pat phrases. There's a whole world, but there're apparently only about four topics of any interest, and you keep running into the same dozen people over and over again.

The game's characters are fixed: your choice of party members is not at all alterable. This makes it possible to have a more coherent plot I guess, opportunity lost, oh well, but does somewhat limit your options about having that lesbian half-orc illusionist/bard. This is supposed to be compensated for, I think, by the variety of choices that are potentially available in the game's character upgrade system (more in a moment), but to me left a number of the characters feeling undifferentiated and bland.

The leveling system, in my thoughtful opinion, slurps goat nuts through a coffee stirrer. What you are given is basically a series of nodes of varying characteristics connected by lines that you traverse. Each character starts in a different spot, and the choices they make as to direction through these nodes (many nodes have multiple branches) affects character attributes and abilities. The attributes of each node change things like character strength or other abilities, or can teach a character a new spell or special move. In order to power up a node, a character needs "spheres" that are collected from defeating enemies in battle, with different types of nodes requiring different types of spheres that come from varying categories of enemies. Mostly it doesn't matter after a short while: you'll more often than not have quite a surfeit of each kind of sphere.

Also present on this sphere grid are locks: nodes that cannot be progressed through until you've gotten an appropriate sphere to unlock it. This directs progress and serves other purposes, I'm sure. At various points you get special spheres that let you do things like go back to any previous node or move to a node activated by another character, etc. It's reasonably complicated and probably accounting students will cream their pants, but mostly it is dull dull dull.

Additionally, it's an odd experience system that rewards all actions of the characters alike, so that a character that does nothing but heal other characters could still end up with ferocious strength and hit points based solely on what nodes of the sphere grid you happen to be passing through, and a character employing only physical attacks could likewise become an archmage if they are on an appropriate section of the grid. However, the grid does have the advantage that experience gains appear to be rapid, since the cost of a sphere grid level is essentially fixed. Instead of the occasional strong hit of experience heroin, you get more of a paced, methadone-type delivery to keep you puttering along.

One corner of the Hell of the Sphere Grid. I preferred filling out the 1040a.
Combat is at first reasonably fun: at least to someone used to PC RPGs as opposed to console fare. The visuals are quite interesting and the menu system is a snap to negotiate. Sadly, it pretty much devolves into rock-paper-scissors toward the end of the game, where the right combination of moves and matching of special abilities against monster weaknesses will result in instant death for the monster(s) and no damage to your hardy crew. However, there are tons of different abilities and whatnot that can be added to weapons and armor, which should allow tinkerers to wile away many an hour in pasty-faced contentment. Magic and spells, on the other hand, are all quite similar and consist mostly of blasting the baddie with one of four different colors of light at a couple of different levels of intensity. The protection spells are a little cooler.

The minigames are imps of Hate from the lowest levels of the Edgy Ass Pirate level of Hell. For instance, there are "ultimate" weapons available in the game for each character, "hidden" to a degree, and of course the Powers, Yea They Be [on] High, have declared that balloons, diving birdies, and fucking surreally colored butterflies are to be their protectors in an Ironman of the Drool Cup Worthies. If you've always thought that precision navigation with an analog stick or D-pad was hootin' good fun, well then, pardner, you're in for a heck of a time. I ultimately gave up on a couple of these to save what little sanity remains to me.

I think at the end of the game there's a showdown and probably a cut scene or something that resolves everything or whatever, but even though I bought the game over a year ago, I haven't gotten around to beating it yet, and every minute that I play it, I know that on the status screen there will be a counter in the lower left that is counting up the minutes and hours I've spent shuttling around my perky band of misfit upstart hero people around the empty world, which contains (roughly) 42 hojillion monsters for every normal person.

You will wish for death before you ever see this screen.
When considering this game, budget for the amount of paper you'll need to print every single reference guide from Gamefaqs. My own list includes:


... and I wouldn't even consider playing this game without them. I mean, the only point in the game is to play it thoroughly -- rushing it through this game is like speed-reading Kant, you are Missing the Point -- but cruising the hideous crap like the shrine/temple puzzles makes the game a bit more palatable.

Overall, I would rate this game Infamous Taco.