Revisiting Final Fantasy's Awkward Middle Age Through FFX HD

Fancy graphics only serve to highlight the odd nature of Final Fantasy's first PS2 outing.

Preview by Jeremy Parish, .

Over the past few days, my gaming time has been evenly split between three Final Fantasy games: The upcoming Lightning Returns, the soon-to-be-reissued Final Fantasy X HD Remaster, and the call-a-spade-a-spade Bravely Default. While all three are technically new releases, taken together they feel more like a trip along the series' timeline.

If Lightning Returns represents Square Enix's earnest if inelegant attempt to push the franchise forward and Bravely Default sees the company dabbling in nostalgia, Final Fantasy X merits reconsideration as the tipping point between the two. Bravely Default is an echo of the way Final Fantasy once was, while Lightning Returns in many ways feels like an attempt to get back to the halcyon territory staked out by the 3DS game. And FFX? That's what Lightning Returns is stumbling over itself to get away from.

A samurai, a jock, and a goth walk into a bar....

Don't get me wrong -- Final Fantasy X is a peach. It's a fairly dated peach despite the high-definition facelift, mind you, but it really was quite a game back when it first arrived. At the same time, it's kind of startling to be reminded just how much of a beautiful yet limited march through a linear story it was -- exactly the kind of experience Final Fantasy XIII was excoriated for offering. The two games aren't identical, but FFXIII was essentially FFX taken to its ultimate extreme. That's hardly news, but replaying the older game has surprised me with just how slim the differences really were.

Final Fantasy X is more or less a straight line from start to finish, minus a few spots where you can wander around and perform frustrating, repetitive tasks to score super-weapons. Tidus starts out as a possibly deranged jock and follows his crush Yuna along the same linear pilgrimage they walked 13 years ago. This time around, though, you do have a few more options for wandering: HD Remaster is based on the International Versions of Final Fantasy X (and of its sequel, Final Fantasy X-2), which means it includes all the little bonuses like the monster battling arena and the super-battles with pumped-up versions of Yuna's Aeons.

Unlike many remakes, the FMV movies have been re-rendered at high resolution, so you're not randomly falling back into 480i video sequences.

It also includes the alternate, advanced version of the Sphere Grid character-building system. As with the basic grid, you define your characters' skills by moving along a board game-like setup, unlocking new abilities and statistical upgrades alike by collecting expendable spheres and placing them into slots. It sounds fairly stupid, but in practice it works well, walking a line between flexibility and restriction. The advanced version offers even more freedom in building characters, allowing players to easily take their party members into classes God never intended. The advanced grid gives this rendition of FFX far more replayability than the original release; the flow of the game never changes, but the makeup of your team can vary radically from one session to another... so maybe you have a reason to dredge through the game a couple of times in order to dig up all those Al Bhed primers.

That's for the best, as I'm not entirely the high-definition visual overhaul alone is enough to do it. The up-rezzed graphics look crisp -- a far sight better than other HD compilations of PS2 games -- but despite the considerable detail that's been added to the character and environmental models, it's all still running with 2001-vintage animation (which is to say, robotic). The increased detail and resolution makes the disparity between the different levels of character hierarchy stand out: The main character models have wonderfully detailed faces and occasional flashes of high-quality animation, while minor characters look and move much more simplistically. Even alternate versions of the leads (including Rikku in the dive suit-slash-bondage gear she makes her debut in) look cheap.

The new widescreen resolution makes it even easier to appreciate that everyone in this world has the worst fashion sense in video game history (the NPCs are like bad Star Trek: The Next Generation extras on some planet best forgotten).

The collection sports an improved soundtrack to match the revamped visuals, though in this area the upgrade is much cleaner. The music has been completely overhauled, perfectly recreating the original compositions with more robust instrumentation. The original sound effects still mesh perfectly with the new soundscape -- there's nothing quite like the audio design of the Final Fantasy games -- and the original voices don't sound particularly out of place either. Although now that I know John DiMaggio's voice, I can only hear Wakka as a weird Hawaiian version of Jake the Dog.

In concert, these elements make for an odd remake. FFX pushed the series forward into new territory, adopting a totally new turn-based combat system while stripping out most of the distractions of the RPG genre in favor of a lean, story-focused experience. It sent the franchise down a path that proved to be a dead end, and in some ways its stilted acting and animation make it feel more aged than the older and more primitive-looking SNES Final Fantasy games. On the other hand, it inspired Final Fantasy X-2, the most wonderfully weird game in the franchise... which, incidentally, is also included on this disc as well. Handy, that.

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Comments 19

  • Avatar for Dogislander #1 Dogislander 4 years ago
    Nice write-up, Jeremy. It's nice to see this taken for what it is, which is basically a linear, beautiful story with a solid battle system and interesting characters. it's sad to see this style of RPG fade into the past, since I sincerely believe there is room for the linear among the open-world offerings. As someone that cares about personality as much as, if not more than, mechanics, these games are a treat that will look stunning on the Vita. Great stuff.Edited January 2014 by Dogislander
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  • Avatar for Frosty840 #2 Frosty840 4 years ago
    Is X-2 remade in HD, or is it just a reissue? Seems odd to barely mention it in the final paragraph, either way.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #3 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    @Frosty840 It's also an HD remake, which is basic, back-of-the-box info. But what's so odd? This article was specifically about the FFX portion of the collection and was presented as such.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #4 touchofkiel 4 years ago
    What's interesting is how very Japanese this one seems to be. The setting is a stand-in for Japan - a series of small islands constantly under threat of what is essentially natural disasters coming from the ocean. And the fictional religion seems much more eastern-inspired.

    I always liked how consistent the game was in this regard.
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  • Avatar for orient #5 orient 4 years ago
    I'm slowly making my way through the series chronologically, skipping the entries that don't interest me, and FFX will probably be joining II and III in the skipped pile. The characters just look ridiculous. XII looks far more appealing to me.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #6 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    @touchofkiel Yep. They said pretty early on that FFX was specifically inspired by Okinawa (though for the U.S. da accents were localized as Hawaiian, brudda), so a Japanese vibe runs through it more strongly than any other game in the series. Someone who knows Japanese history better than I do could probably make a case for a metaphors about the incursion of Western missionaries and the conflict with indigenous peoples like the Ainu...
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  • Avatar for zzapsizzler #7 zzapsizzler 4 years ago
    Still the same god awful voice overs then?
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  • Avatar for IPA #8 IPA 4 years ago
    I tried to play FFX a couple years back when I was playing the series through and it left me cold. I disliked the setting and the characters, but kinda enjoyed the grid leveling system. Being a completionist, it bothers me to no end that I left this one unfinished. But...Wakka's voice...the outfits...I'm not sure I can return.
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  • Avatar for cscaskie #9 cscaskie 4 years ago
    @orient XII is my favorite FF. You're right to be excited for it. That being said, you're going to be doing yourself an incredible disservice by skipping X. Because the world of X is so small, it feels more fleshed out and real than any other game in the series. More lived-in. It's very intimate and special. Besides the worthwhile cultural allusions to Japan as an island nation, which quite afew comments here have mentioned, X has ALOT to say about religious culture and the cyclical nature of sacrifice and suffering that are key to the buddhist and hindu faiths. More than any FF that I've played, X is rich with metaphor worth exploring. The sadness and melancholy of its story work well when contrasted with the bright visual style - X's world is constantly at odds with itself. Don't skip the game - it's wonderful.
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  • Avatar for tyetheczar #10 tyetheczar 4 years ago
    Why Japan regards FFX as the apex of the series I'll never understand.
    It possibly has to do with Japanese gaming's audience being mostly made up of teens and younger. When you grow up in Japan, it's all work and no play.Edited January 2014 by tyetheczar
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  • Avatar for Suzusiiro #11 Suzusiiro 4 years ago
    I wonder why FFX mostly got a pass for the linearity that XIII was crucified for. I guess the people who hated it were too busy bashing on other aspects of it to get around to the linearity?
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #12 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    @zzapsizzler I played back original cutscenes from YouTube immediately after they played in the game to compare, and unless I'm just deaf they sound exactly the same. So now I guess it's a race to be the first to get an HD video of the laughing scene online....
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  • Avatar for BeeZee #13 BeeZee 4 years ago
    I enjoyed X, but I'll mostly be buying this on the off-chance that it incentivizes Square to give FFXII a similar treatment. FFXII International in HD on my Vita is my holy grail of gaming.
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  • Avatar for buddygillespie74 #14 buddygillespie74 4 years ago
    @Suzusiiro Essentially, because FFX came out approximately 10 years before FFXIII did. Standards have changed since then.
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  • Avatar for orient #15 orient 4 years ago
    @cscaskie Hmm, I hadn't heard that particular take on X's game world before. I'm far more interested in dense, intimate games as opposed to the default "big but empty". Quick aside: I love Bethesda games, but the main problem with their game worlds is the lack of density in populated areas. A medieval city should be bustling with life, not 5 people standing still in a market square. I hope that's the first thing they address on next-gen hardware.

    lol @ the down-votes. Nothing but praise will be tolerated by the FF faithful.
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  • Avatar for alexb #16 alexb 4 years ago
    @jeremy.parish You don't even have to transpose things to another Japanese minority group for there to be parallels. Okinawa used to be a separate kingdom called Ryukyu until Japan dominated and eventually absorbed the country in the latter of the 19th Century in a fashion very much like we did with Hawaii.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #17 cldmstrsn 4 years ago
    I have been saying how XIII was just like X and people refuse to see it. The more people rag on XIII the more I love it and see it for it really was. It was a very ambitious game that just didn't quite take with people which is a shame. Very Excited for this Remaster. I have been looking forward to it ever since they announced it.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #18 cldmstrsn 4 years ago
    @BeeZee Yuo hit the nail on the head. FF XII is my favorite FF. And I really really hope they do an FF XII remaster. it will most likely be on PS4 though... or maybe for vita and PS3 as well!
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  • Avatar for alexb #19 alexb 4 years ago
    @captainN2 It was the last traditional, single-player game in the series that had both Sakaguchi and Uematsu on the team. I think that gives it a certain patina to fans of a certain age.
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