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Remembering… Final Fantasy X

Final Fantasy

The Final Fantasy series has had its share of memorable protagonists throughout its 13 installments. The amnesiac Cloud Strife, clad in a purple jumpsuit, weaved a poorly translated tale of a forgotten past and a hidden purpose. The green-haired Terra, also amnesiac, was initially more of a weapon than a person, at least in the eyes of the ruling empire. There’s also the amnesiac Squall Lionheart, who in hindsight was as dull as can be, but at least he wielded a nifty gunblade and sported an impressive scar across his face.

The hero in Final Fantasy X, Tidus, was unlike any of the previous world-savers. He doesn’t brood. He wasn’t born on a battlefield or suffering from amnesia. Rather, he was a fairly optimistic sports star with a cheery “can do” attitude.” His looks also differed from the typical hero mould. He has an extreme tan, bleached blonde hair, plenty of jewelry and wears the most ridiculous pants seen since MC Hammer. In short, he looks like the stereotypical Guido.

Most importantly, what set him apart is that from the rest of the heroes is that he could talk. And talk. And talk. Finally, he could talk some more. The characters, for all their possible faults, are more alive in Final Fantasy X than any their predecessors.

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While later games would abandon the trappings that were prevalent in the previous ten games in the series (random encounters in particular), Final Fantasy X had one step in the future and one step in the past. All the main characters are fully voiced, replacing the boxes of text that would sometimes become intolerable in the lengthy scenes of past entries. With the impressive graphics, which still remain beautiful nine years later, the detail and animation brought the characters more to life more than blocky polygons or small sprites ever could. Still, it was the voices that stood out and truly define what each character was like. It’s a shame that the two main characters, Tidus, and obligatory love interest, Yuna, are such a pain to listen to.

The strong, silent type is a common archetype in JRPGs, and Tidus was anything but that. After barreling through time and being dumped 1,000 years in the future, from his futuristic city of Zanarkard to a strange world called Spira, Tidus was intended by the developers as a passenger for the players into the customs and history of this dangerous new world. As such, the absurdly-dressed hero was given a number of monologues that sound like something from “The Wonder Years,” albeit whinier and much more obvious. Taking second-billing is Yuna, a small-town girl trying to live up the heroics of her father (oddly enough, mothers are hardly featured in the storyline). Doe-eyed and innocent, Yuna often sounds like she’s out of breath, or perhaps she believes that her next breath could be her last with the way she mutters “O.K” as if she’s terrified. Considering the threats facing Spira, maybe she is fearing constant death.

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Most of the recent games have pitted man against man, often with some sort of supernatural/spiritual element associated with it, and this game is no exception, however that conflict is relegated to a subplot. The real villain is a mindless flying whale-type thing that destroys everything it can. Followers of the world’s religion say people must atone so Sin, the flying whale-type thing, will stop destroying everything, but there’s a workaround to that. If a summoner (that’d be Yuna) can complete a lengthy pilgrimage and defeat Sin, the beast will vanish for ten years.

With fully-voiced characters being so rare in 2001, the back of the box proudly advertises the feature prominently. Some kinks are to be expected since text-based games were still the norm, but Final Fantasy X absolutely nailed the voice acting for most of the characters. Rikku, a pre-teen in short shorts, has the perfect chirpy voice, although the sexual undertones with a character so young are a bit disturbing. One cutscene shows her dripping wet and taking off clothes. Jailbait, anyone? The other supporting characters are also so much better than leads, from stoic Auron frigidly bitchy Lulu, who wears a dress made out of belts and displays a very ample amount of cleavage. The voice acting is so good for most of the characters that it’s easy to overlook that no attempt was made at syncing up the voices to the characters’ lips.

The three previous “modern” games in the series, Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX entered the mainstream and gave many gamers their first taste of what JRPGs can offer. The tenth entry is a culmination of all that and represents the most finely-tuned and polished game in the series at that point. It’s also one of the last Final Fantasy games that truly resemble the games that were on the Nintendo, Super Nintendo and PlayStation. Later games would either go online or adopt a more real-time combat system that eliminates those pesky random encounters.

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Long-time composer Nobuo Uematsu, who quite literally wrote hundreds of songs since the series began, was starting to feel burnt out (perhaps some gamers were, too) and was relegated to a part-time role. The merits of the pushes made away from the staples of the series – as small as they may be – can be debated endlessly, but one thing is for certain: playing the tenth game is a fairly quaint throwback to a series many had grown up with.

There’s something about walking a few feet, the dramatic music kicking in, the screen swirling into colors and the battle erupting that just screams Final Fantasy. Granted, most other JRPGs also did this, but it was always in the Final Fantasies that the music was perfect and the graphics were excellent. It’s been nine years and counting since a random encounter reared its head in a Final Fantasy game, and with that, good riddance. Some changes are for the best.

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Linearity has always been a key aspect of JRPGs, but Final Fantasy X, took it to absurd levels that haven’t been replicated since … the latest installment in the series. Many areas are simply straight roads that go on for far too long, and there’s always a big red arrow on the map pointing out where to go. Getting into a battle every ten or so feet with the same music playing each time over the course of 40 hours makes one yearn for the free-roaming areas of Final Fantasy XII. There are some nice touches that hide the fact that all one is doing throughout the game is walking in a straight line, such as characters that are repeatedly seen on these otherwise boring paths, but the dated random encounters with only one piece of battle music (excluding bosses and some other brief events) was a harsh reminder that the series has changed for a reason.

In some ways, Final Fantasy X is a relic of a day when games in the series were much simpler. It often looks amazing, but at its core is the same type of game that has been made nine times before. Still, the seeds of change were planted and the tenth entry slowly started to emerge from the shackles of a 15 year history of the series. Later games would truly break free, and they owe a small debt of gratitude to this game, with its comically-dressed characters, mixed-bag of voice acting and a genuinely coherent storyline. Plus, the amnesia is kept to a minimum.

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @akarge.

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