I think it might be safe to say that the PlayStation 2 was a success. At 155 million consoles sold, it stands to this day as the best-selling console of all time, which is absolutely insane when you think about it. 50 million were sold in America, which means that one in six people ended up owning one. Even early on, the signs were there that the PS2 was going to make waves. Good thing, then, that Final Fantasy X has such a heavy focus on water.
This is part of a continuous series. Be sure to check out other entries in the Year of Final Fantasy!
The point is, Final Fantasy X had a lot to prove back when it was first released. There was a gigantic audience to please already, and on top of that it was the first PS2 Final Fantasy. Clearly, Squaresoft had their work cut out for them. Unfortunately, for America this would turn out to be Squaresoft's swan song. They did work on Final Fantasy XI in Japan until April 1st, 2003, but the game didn't release here until 2004. After the disastrous release of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Squaresoft and Enix would merge to create the team we know now as Square Enix.
I admit, I was very excited to start Final Fantasy X for this review. It was, in fact, my first Final Fantasy game I ever played! I always loved it growing up, so I'm excited to come back to it and give it a more critical look. I'm definitely hoping it's still as good as I remember, but it's been several years since I last played it. Who knows what's in store with a more critical eye?
So here we are. Squaresoft's ... uh ... last story? Ultimate tale? I swore up and down that I wouldn't make the joke again, but that's because I didn't think this far ahead. This is for real the last time though, I swear! That aside, let's dive right into the deep end.
Final Fantasy X: beloved classic of the series, wretched abomination, or somewhere in-between? Time to find out. Blitzoff!
This is part of an ongoing series. Be sure to check out the previous entries in the Year of Final Fantasy!
Final Fantasy X – July 19, 2001 (PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, PC)Version used for review: Steam remaster, 2016
Story“Listen to my story. This... may be our last chance.”
It's worth noting right off the bat that Final Fantasy X is not a particularly happy game. This is reflected in the first scene of the game to great effect. When you start a new game in a Final Fantasy game, you expect some sort of grand opening. IV started with battles on an airship. V began with a meteor strike. VI told the story of the War of the Magi. The PS1 era games upped the ante with exciting and engaging FMVs of swordfights and trying to survive raging seas.
Final Fantasy X does none of that. Instead, we're treated to an exceptionally somber in medias res intro, with a cast of characters looking grim around a campfire. No chanting choir, no FMVs, just an in-game cutscene of these silent characters looking glib, set to a quiet piano piece that we'll get to later. The main protagonist, Tidus, goes and looks over the ruined city they're at and utters those prolific first spoken words in a Final Fantasy game.
From here, things go back to the very beginning. Tidus is surrounded by a crowd in the giant, bustling city of Zanarkand as he makes his way to the blitzball sphere to prepare for his big game. Blitzball, a sport in the world of Final Fantasy X, is a major attraction and Tidus is the star player of his team. However, things go almost immediately awry. During the game, a titanic beast floats into the city, causing everything to start warping and falling apart. The stadium under siege, Tidus manages to escape and finds himself face-to-face with Auron, a familiar face to him.
Auron, with very little explanation, hands him a sword and tells him to fight. The two manage to carve a path through one of Zanarkand's highways, and after a while the giant beast catches up to them. As things start to go white, Auron explains that Tidus's story is about to begin.
When the light fades, Tidus finds himself in the flooded ruins of a temple. Confused, scared and hungry, he's soon found by a group of tech-savvy people who speak a strange language. Only one of their members, Rikku, speaks any English, explaining that he can stay with them if he helps them excavate something in some nearby waters. After doing this, Tidus is proud to explain he's the star member of the Zanarkand Abes blitzball team, which makes Rikku think he's a nutcase.
After all, Zanarkand was destroyed a thousand years prior, obviously. She explains that getting as close to Sin as he did can mess with your head and warns him not to say anything about being from Zanarkand. Another Sin attack later, and Tidus finds himself separated from Rikku and the crew, awash on the beaches of Besaid Island. Here, Final Fantasy X really begins.
Tidus meets Wakka, a blitzball captain from the island. He laughs Tidus off when Tidus mentions he loves blitzball and he's from Zanarkand, but instead starts to help him understand stuff once he realizes Tidus was so close to Sin. In the island village, Tidus is told he should go to Luca to see if he recognizes anyone. Also aboard the ship are Wakka, a black mage named Lulu and a silent feline-looking man named Kimahri. They're protecting a summoner named Yuna, who is beginning her pilgrimage to defeat Sin.
As she boards to leave, the people of Besaid are practically beside themselves. Most of the residents wave goodbye amid uncontrollable sobbing. Must mean they'll really miss Yuna until she returns!
Yuna, being a kind woman, believes Tidus's story once he tells it, realizing that his father Jecht came to Spira ten years prior and befriended her father, Braska. Seeing as his dad disappeared ten years ago, Tidus is shocked but still holds a bitter hatred for him. According to him, Jecht was a drunkard who stole his mom away from him and constantly belittled him when Tidus was a child.
Their first stop, the island of Kilika, is besieged by Sin as they're arriving, completely decimating the town and killing swaths of the few residents of the island. Yuna then performs one of her duties as a summoner: sending the dead to the Farplane, which is sort of like the afterlife in Final Fantasy X. These first opening hours of the game are excellent at setting the tone and central theme of the game, and it does so beautifully; the sending that Yuna performs is a gorgeous dance on the water, as the souls of the dead fly off to the Farplane.
This is where Yuna receives the power of Ifrit, at the Kilika temple of the fayth. The fayth are people who sacrificed themselves to the cause of defeating Sin, and they're where the power of summons called aeons come from. After this, they finally reach Luca where Sin's monsters once again lay siege during a blitzball tournament. Thankfully, the powerful Maester Seymour Guado is in attendance and pushes back with the help of his aeon Anima. Auron also happens to be here, and this is where we're going to start the spoiler section!
Spoilers for the entire plot of Final Fantasy X are below! Skip to the next bolded text to avoid spoilers for the game!
In a shocking revelation, Auron reveals to Tidus alone that Sin is actually Jecht himself. After an understandable meltdown, Tidus vows to help Yuna on her pilgrimage to stop his father's rampage across Spira. Auron also signs up to aid Yuna, having previous aided her father and Jecht on their pilgrimage.
From here, the path is set. The group heads toward Djose Temple for another aeon, but along the way they find that a group called the Crusaders are planning on using ancient weapons and machines called machina to destroy sin at Mushroom Rock. This goes against the teachings of Yevon, the religion that Yuna and her group are a part of. The teachings state that machina are what created Sin in the first place, to punish the people of Spira for their hubris and that only by total atonement will Sin go away forever.
Unfortunately, Maester Seymour gives the Crusaders his blessing, much to the shock of the group. According to him, they want to defeat Sin and even though it's in their own way, it's still worth trying. The operation is an unfathomable disaster and the beach is lined with tons more dead to send to the Farplane.
I know it seems like I'm just skipping and gliding over these terrible disasters, but I'm not. Much like the characters in-game, they bear witness to the tragedy and continue onward, knowing that they have to stop this madness. Thus, they make their way to Djose, collect another aeon, and continue toward Guadosalam.
Along the way, Wakka mentions that the Al Bhed are the reason for Sin, since they use machina. Not long after, Yuna is almost kidnapped but saved by Tidus and Wakka, and down the road a bit Tidus finds Rikku. Apparently, Rikku is an Al Bhed herself, but is in fact Yuna's cousin. Yuna turns out to be half-Al Bhed, which they explain Wakka can't know since he's pretty vehemently racist against Al Bhed. She explains that she was trying to steal away Yuna to protect her.
Rikku joins the group permanently, rounding out the cast as they reach Guadosalam on their way to another aeon on Lake Macalania. Here, Seymour proposes an idea to Yuna, quite literally: he proposes to her. According to him, a half-Guado maester and the daughter of a revered summoner getting married would put forth Guado-human relations in a positive light and be cause for celebration for Spira.
Around this time, Seymour's deceased father Jyscal tries to come clawing out of the Farplane, which is located in Guadosalam. He drops a sphere, which are this world's version of videotapes and televisions. Yuna is the only one who sees it, watches it, and decides to marry Seymour despite her trepidation. This throws the group into chaos and with Seymour already headed to Macalania to hear her reply, they set off.
After a long trek, they pass through the Macalania Woods to the lake to give her reply. However, Tidus confronts Seymour directly after sneaking a peek at the sphere and Yuna reveals that she knows Seymour murdered Jyscal for power. They kill Seymour and are branded traitors of Yevon. Here, things go even more sour. Sin appears to cause havoc and the group is thrown into a desert. Turns out, it's Bikanel Island, home of the Al Bhed. Yuna is missing, but Rikku assures the group that she's at their city, safe and sound.
Rikku leads them to the Home only to find it under attack by the Guado. Monsters and Guado alike are tearing through the underground facility, trying to get to Yuna and they successfully kidnap her. As it turns out, the Al Bhed have been kidnapping summoners to stop their pilgrimages. Why? Well, this is the other major revelation: summoners who collect the Final Aeon to defeat Sin give their life to do so, and Rikku couldn't bear to have Yuna sacrifice herself.
This suddenly puts everything into perspective. The clues were all there: Yuna's awkwardness when Tidus would ask what she planned on doing after defeating Sin. The uncontrollable crying from the people of Besaid. The people telling Yuna how brave she is for following in her father's footsteps. The Al Bhed kidnapping summoners for some reason. The laughing scene, where Yuna explains that it’s basically her job to always smile and laugh despite where her journey will lead her. It's a reveal like this that I love in a story. If you pay really close attention you might figure it out, but otherwise it'll punch you right in the gut.
Feeling terrible that he made a big deal of beating Sin and enjoying life with Yuna afterward, Tidus vows to rescue her from Seymour. Cid, leader of the Al Bhed and Yuna's uncle, uses the airship that Tidus and Rikku helped salvage in the beginning of the game to take the crew to the holy city of Bevelle, the headquarters of Yevon.
Apparently, Seymour is still intent on wedding Yuna. Though dead, Seymour remains an unsent: someone with such a strong emotion tying them to the world that without a proper sending, they will remain like a ghost. However, not all is as it seems.
As they arrive to help Yuna, she reveals her plan to send Seymour, but things fall apart when the group is held captive. Technically, Yuna marries Seymour to prevent them from dying, but one very tense scene later, they’re simply thrown in prison instead and must escape. Meanwhile, Yuna escapes to the temple to receive the next aeon.
Despite being branded a traitor to the religion, Yuna presses on with her mission to stop Sin and save the people of Spira, even at the cost of her own life. They defeat Seymour yet again, this time for good! With that, they run from Bevelle on their way to the final temple, in the ruined city of Zanarkand where the game began.
It’s here that we reach one of the several emotional climaxes of the game. As they pass through Macalania Woods again, Tidus apologizes to Yuna for all he said about her life after Sin, then says she should just … not do it. Just live her life the way she wants. She agrees, smiling, before things get extremely heavy for her. Her smile quickly turns to sobbing as she realizes she couldn’t betray herself by abandoning her pilgrimage like that, and finally their feelings for each other pour over in one of the most bittersweet scenes in the franchise.
From there, Tidus vows to find a way to stop Sin without her dying. They climb Mt. Gagazet, home of Kimahri’s species, the Ronso. At the top, they encounter Seymour yet again! Having chased after them, he murdered a fair number of the Ronso to prove a point: he should become Sin to kill everyone, because with everyone dead there’s nobody to feel sadness. Did … did I mention this guy is insane? Because he’s insane. Anyway, they for sure kill him this time. For totes realsies.
The group finds out that Jecht is Sin, and from there they reach Zanarkand to obtain the Final Aeon from the unsent Lady Yunalesca, the first summoner to defeat Sin one thousand years ago. Oops! Turns out one of the group members has to give their life to become the Final Aeon, and then when they defeat Sin, ten years later the Final Aeon will become the next Sin.
Hence Jecht; he chose over Auron to be the Final Aeon for Braska, assuming he could break this cycle. Clearly, he didn’t, so after that he had gone to attack Lady Yunalesca for giving them false hope. Unfortunately, this killed Auron … which means he’s been an unsent the entire game, tied to the world by his sworn oath to Braska and Jecht to protect their children.
Of course, Auron already knew this, but now Tidus does too. The others won’t catch on until later, but for now they cast aside these false teachings and lay some good old-fashioned beatdown on a thousand-year-old ghost lady. No more Final Aeon, no more Final Summoning, no more dead summoners. Time to find another way to fight Sin!
And so they do. With the connection between Tidus and Sin, they manage to get inside him to stop Yu Yevon. An ancient summoner, it now lives like a parasite inside Sin, latching onto the Final Aeon and spending ten years to create another Sin, hence the ten-year Calm period between Final Summonings. Once inside Sin, they go in to find Yu Yevo—
SO THEY BEAT SEYMOUR'S STUPID ASS AGAIN AND SEND HIM THIS TIME THANK GOD.
Ahem. So they go in, find Jecht, end his suffering, find Yu Yevon, and wow this boss fight is a disappointment. It’s one of the pretty low points actually. Jecht was a tough boss, but Yu Yevon is a total pushover. You uh … you can hit him with one zombie attack, throw a phoenix down at him and it’s game over for him. It’s dumb and unsatisfying to say the least. But hey, I still killed him!
Huzzah, world saved! Everything’s great. Oh wait, I guess I forgot to mention … the Zanarkand that Tidus is from is a dream of the various fayth in Spira. Zanarkand was a gorgeous technological city and was destroyed, so they wanted to remember it. Thus, they concocted a dream Zanarkand, including all the people in it, including Tidus. With Sin gone for good, the fayth can rest peacefully, and the dream will end. This … includes Tidus. So after all that, it’s Tidus that knowingly sacrifices himself for Spira instead of Yuna, and this is another heartbreaking emotional climax of the game.
However, despite all the crushing sadness, after sending Auron to the afterlife since he completed his mission, Yuna is proud to announce to the world the arrival of the Eternal Calm. Spira saved, bittersweet ending, there you go.
Talk about an emotional journey! So many ups and downs, and some more downs, and … wow, Final Fantasy X is kind of a serious bummer most of the time. But it’s a testament to the will of Squaresoft. Instead of making an upbeat adventure all about friendship and happiness to celebrate the first PS2 entry, they went the other way. They challenged the player with mature themes, very serious emotional conflicts, and grounded characters.
That brings me to Tidus. Everyone complains that he’s a whiner or that all he does is complain. Honestly, I don’t see it. Throughout the game he has two legitimate meltdowns, and both are completely justified. When he finds out his dad is the one causing so many people to die, he freaks out like anyone else would.
When he finds out he’s been skipping along and laughing about life after Sin only to find out Yuna is going to die, he again loses it for a minute. These outbursts don’t last more than a couple minutes, and after that he takes a much more rational approach to the situation. Like any person with feelings, however, he reacts to shocking news with actual shock. Shocking, I know.
Not to say he’s a perfect protagonist, but I would actually argue (and in fact have argued) that he’s one of the best protagonists the series has to offer. He feels the most grounded of the protagonists. Except for the laughing scene, which even then I don’t hate it. I adore that scene, if only for the awkward love blossoming between Tidus and Yuna as they try to escape reality for a few brief moments.
Listen, I’m a sucker for a good love story. I think that Final Fantasy X is a fantastic love story, not just because I think Tidus and Yuna are one of my favorite couples in gaming. It’s important for games to tell all sorts of stories, and this one taught me a very important lesson as my first Final Fantasy title so many years ago: Not every game has a happy ending.
This was the first title for me that taught me, at 10 years old, that not every story is a happy one. Much of the game’s plot flew over my head back then, but that ending really stuck with me. Despite everything going right, despite the heroes defeating the bad guy, not all was well. I was quite sad and confused back then, thinking that was the bad ending, until I looked it up. Nope, turns out that’s just the one ending of the game. Auron and Tidus aren’t meant to live in Spira as it is now. It sounds really corny, but I think I grew up a little that day.
So, even though Final Fantasy X is a good love story, that doesn’t mean it has a happy ending. For Spira, it is a happy ending. For Tidus and Yuna, that remains decidedly untrue. I think that’s the sort of big splash Squaresoft wanted to make back then, and I would say they succeeded with flying colors.
Spoilers end here! You can continue reading below!
Without a doubt, Final Fantasy X’s story resonates with me much more than any other Final Fantasy yet. While I love the redemption plot in IV or the slow buildup of finding hope in a seemingly hopeless situation in VI or VII, the central theme of X is that you must always push on and carve your own path, no matter the costs. It could hurt or even kill you, but you must always go forth and complete life your own way.
It’s a powerful message, and the fact that Squaresoft acknowledged the maturity of gamers gave us a great story. I love the plot, the characters are good, the twists are many and very hard-hitting. It’s worth playing the game just to see how the plot plays out. Just be prepared to cry at least three times in the game, by my count!
Graphics“The sea sure looks beautiful from here, but Sin's lurking out there, somewhere.”
Once again, Squaresoft wanted to make a big impression with Final Fantasy X. The power of the PlayStation 2 would allow them to make one of the best-looking games they’d ever made to that point, and they wasted no time in getting it to look downright gorgeous. They didn’t need emotion-bubbles or exaggerated animations to show their feeling anymore. Instead, they could show feelings and thoughts through the faces alone for the first time at any given moment they wanted.
This would explain the many times you get a super close-up shot of characters during scenes. It’s jarring at first, but they were clearly proud enough to put their characters on display. It may just take some getting used to, as the camera often finds itself a little too close to the characters’ faces at times. Other than that, they look just fine!
Spira itself is also wonderful. Colors pop in just about every frame of the game, and it was clear that Square put a lot of time and effort into just the environments. Nothing ever looks drab or gross unless it’s meant to. Even the dusty ruins of Zanarkand are positively gorgeous to look at.
The one minor gripe I’d have to level at the game is that they reuse a lot of enemy types in the game. Like, a lot. A vast majority of enemies you’ll see palette swapped at least once, and probably many more times after that. It never particularly bothered me in this, or any game really, but it’s worth mentioning for potential players. If that’s a problem for you, you’re gonna run into it a lot.
Another minor thing is that the framerate is locked at 30fps. Once again, it’s expected for such a game that ties its game logic to framerate, and for me it really isn’t an issue. It’s just something worth mentioning for those who like to know the technical ins and outs of the game. Would I love to see 60fps for the game? Of course. However, it’s not necessary and, having seen what happens when you remove the framerate cap … It’s best not to mess with it.
One last thing I’m happy with the game about are the FMVs. While they were cool to see in the PS1 titles, this is the time when they became incredibly visually impressive. They put a lot of work into making these cutscenes appealing, and once again it was another giant success in my opinion.
Overall, the graphics are totally fine! They’re not perfect, but for when they came out they were utterly stunning. The jump from Final Fantasy IX to Final Fantasy X is incredible. They nailed the style of the game, the characters, and the world so well. Kudos to Squaresoft!
Sound“That song we heard there, in the temple ... I knew it from my childhood.”
While this is where I normally discuss the music of the game, this is going to be the first time I discuss more than just that! After all, this happens to be the very first Final Fantasy with voice acting. Though it seems crazy, it’s true: voice acting wasn’t a thing in the series until the tenth main installment.
For the most part, things go smoothly in my opinion. Tidus sounds a little odd at first, but I quickly grew to like his voice and personality given to him by James Arnold Taylor. Yuna, by far, is my favorite voice in the game. Hedy Burress manages to make her character very soft-spoken, which makes the moments of her raising her voice in anger or swelling courage all the more shocking. The rest of the cast also manages to bring in decent to great performances.
Auron stands out as another great performance, while characters like Kimahri or Lulu bring in merely serviceable performances. Sure, there are some flubbed lines that probably should’ve been redone, but those are few and far between. Everyone knows when to be more reserved and when to really let the emotion out into their dialogue. Overall, then, for a first attempt, I feel that Final Fantasy manages to hit the target on the performances.
Voice acting isn’t the only milestone, though. Final Fantasy X marks another important landmark in the series aside from being Squaresoft’s final game in the Americas. It’s also the first game to not be entirely composed by Nobuo Uematsu himself. While he is the main composer and by far did the most work, he was also aided by fellow composers Junya Nakano and Masashi Hamauzu. Remember those names, as they will be coming up again in the future!
Anyway, despite Uematsu not doing all the music by himself, the soundtrack of Final Fantasy X remains downright stunning. It is, without a doubt in my mind, perhaps the best soundtrack in the entire series and contains a level of consistency in this series I haven’t seen yet. I know I sound like a broken record in this regard, but here is where I mean it most: Final Fantasy X may just have the best soundtrack in the entire series.
Every single track seems to drip with emotion befitting a scene, far more than any other game in the franchise to this point. Remember when I said that the opening to this game wasn’t as flashy or exciting as previous titles? What kind of adventure do you think you’re in for when this track is the very first thing you hear?
Who would’ve thought that a solemn piano piece would be one of the best tracks in the series? That song perfectly encapsulates the journey in Final Fantasy X as a whole: somber, and quite sad. Even when it sounds like it’s about to get cheerful for a moment with the rising tone of the keys, it simply continues its sad tune in the end. It’s fantastic, I love it.
However, there’s so much more to this soundtrack than just this one theme. As I said, Final Fantasy X is perhaps my favorite soundtrack in the entire franchise. Uematsu’s contributions have a level of quality that surprise me when I find out that Final Fantasy IX is his favorite soundtrack he worked on. It shocks me because of how much careful thought and feeling he put into every piece he wrote for the game. This includes music like Suteki da ne, which he wrote and had Japanese singer Rikki perform for one of the game’s many emotional climaxes.
I won’t spoil the scene (unless you read the spoiler section!), but just from the song alone you can tell Uematsu had perfected setting a scene by this point. Granted, he had nine entire RPGs to hone his craft, but that’s just a testament to his ability now that he, in my opinion, hit his apex in the series with this entry.
Yet another quieter theme, however, is Calm Before the Storm. Instead of being sad, it’s quite relaxing. Which, when playing this game, is a welcome reprieve. One can only handle so much crushing sadness for so long!
Not everything is slow and sad in Final Fantasy X, however. Uematsu does a fantastic job as always with his battle themes, particularly what may be the most famous one in the game. The battle against recurring villain Seymour is another of the game’s several highlights, and it’s in no small part due to his intense battle theme to go along with his final form.
Staying true to form with Seymour being such a strange and vile person, Uematsu makes heavy use of synthesizers in his version of the battle theme against him. As expected from a man of his caliber, Uematsu manages to pull off another hit with the theme. It doesn’t sound terribly triumphant like some battle themes. Instead, it instills a sense of determination while still managing to sound somewhat intimidating to the player. By the point you hear this, again without too many spoilers, you have run across and defeated Seymour several times. As such, he’s not nearly so fearsome as he seemed before, and Uematsu wants to instill that in the player.
However, while I don’t hate this next theme, I feel that in the long line of final battle themes, it doesn’t come close to previous themes. With a string of amazing themes, it rather surprising to hear a theme like this after so much incredible music. Again, it’s not bad, but after the long streak of incredible final boss themes from IV to IX, this one falls short.
It may not shock you, then, to find out that Nobuo Uematsu wasn’t involved in this track at all. Masashi Hamauzu was the sole composer of this track, and having heard his later works, I can definitely hear the resemblance.
Listen, I could link songs all day long here. Point is, Final Fantasy X’s soundtrack is unbelievably good. It, to me, is the apex of the series to this point, and I’m not sure if later games are going to be able to compare. It’s so good it’s almost unnatural. Or … you might say it’s otherworldly.
Gameplay“People are depending on me. They're depending on both of us!”
I hope you don’t mind taking a break from the ATB system, because Final Fantasy X completely flips things on their head this time around. The game returns to turn-based gameplay for the first time in six titles! However, don’t fret, as that doesn’t simply mean they’re reusing the same battle system from the 80s.
In place of Active Time Battle is the Conditional Turn-Based system. Unlike a traditional turn-based system where everyone chooses their actions and then a round plays out, the CTB system works on an action-by-action basis. A window in the top right corner of the screen indicates the order of events, giving you a chance to plan and manipulate the battle. Each character or enemy performs an action on their turn instead of waiting for everyone to input an action.
This system also rewards higher-speed characters, as it means they will actually get more turns in battle than slower characters. On top of this, the power of an ability or spell can affect your CTB gauge. If you use an Overdrive, for instance (this game’s version of Limit Breaks), you may find that your next turn is delayed a bit. It allows for much more strategic planning, which is nice since Final Fantasy X can be one tough cookie at times.
Of course, there are many ways to manipulate the CTB gauge for better or worse. Haste and Slow do exactly what you’d expect: allow more or fewer turns for a target. Delay Attack is a skill that can push back a target’s turn, and Delay Buster pushes a turn back quite a bit.
Switching out a slower character for a faster one mid-battle can result in more turns for the faster character, disrupting the order of events. Equipping an Initiative or First Strike weapon increases pre-emptive strikes and guarantees the weapon holder will go first, respectively. Manipulating the CTB gauge to your benefit can end up being very important later on!
Speaking of switching, that’s a new addition as well. For the first time, you can swap out all of your seven party members at will during battle. As I mentioned before, depending on the speed of each character, it can disrupt the CTB gauge, which can be good or bad depending on the situation.
I also mentioned Overdrives, and those have been overhauled as well in Final Fantasy X. It used to be either “get hit enough to raise your bar” or “get low enough HP to trigger a Limit Break." When you start off, everyone will have their gauge fill from being attacked, like normal. However, as you play the game, each person’s playstyle will unlock different Overdrive modes.
For instance, healing a lot as Yuna will unlock Healer, which fills her gauge when she heals HP. Warrior fills the gauge based on damage you do, Ally fills the gauge a little bit every time it’s that character’s turn in battle, Comrade fills a gauge when the person’s friends take damage, and more. All in all, there are 17 different ways to fill your Overdrive gauge. And that’s not even all the innovation with these things!
See, each character has their own unique Overdrive in Final Fantasy X, which is normal for the series. However, the way you obtain more powerful Overdrives is unique in that each character has different methods of learning them. The only three who don’t change are Yuna, Lulu, and Rikku, whose Overdrives (Grand Summon, Fury and Mix) are fully unlocked from the start.
Grand Summon lets you summon an aeon with a full Overdrive gauge right off the bat instead of having to fight using the aeon to fill it. However, Fury and Mix only get more powerful as Lulu learns stronger spells and you find better items for Rikku to mix together. Everyone else learns their Overdrives in different ways beyond that.
Tidus, for example, learns his four Overdrives by simply using the previous Overdrive over and over to unlock it. Kimahri, the resident blue mage, must use Lancet to, for lack of a better term, suck an ability out of an enemy that has something he can learn.
To unlock Auron’s overdrives, you must find spheres of his journey with Braska and Jecht scattered around Spira. Finally, Wakka only unlocks his various slot reels by playing blitzball for what feels like an eternity. Trust me when I say, however, that it’s absolutely worth it as we’ll discuss in a bit.
Now, the keen-eyed reader might notice that I sort of skipped over talking about “fighting with an aeon” to fill their Overdrive gauge. You didn’t misread that! In yet another first for the series, our summoner steps aside once they summon an aeon and the player takes the reins.
Each of the five mandatory and three optional aeons (though one of the optional ones is three characters) in Final Fantasy X are fully controllable by the player, each with their own special abilities they have and can learn. Yes, you can actually teach certain spells and moves to these aeons with the right items!
Now, while the mandatory aeons all play relatively the same, two of the optional ones play decidedly differently. If you can haggle with Yojimbo enough to hire him, you’ll notice he has no “attack” function. He works based on payment (“Yojimbo” is Japanese for “bodyguard”), and you must pay him for his services.
While this sounds like a cheap mechanic, think again! You can make money hand over fist in Final Fantasy X over time, and you need only pay Yojimbo modestly for great results. I start with 1000 gil, then 2000 gil, then increase from there by 200 per round. If you continue to pay him and use him in battle, and don’t just try to swindle him by paying nothing, you’ll be in his good graces.
This means he’ll do more damage and better attacks. Spoiler alert: if he’s attacking with his dog Daigoro, you’ve pissed him off. If he’s using kunai and his wakizashi, you’re good. Sometimes, if you’re in good graces with him, he’ll perform a free attack. Play him well enough while in his good graces, and you’ll get Zanmato.
This attack kills everything in one hit, and I mean everything in Final Fantasy X. Odin’s got nothing on Zanmato. You can kill the ultimate superboss with one attack, and when you pay enough it’s not even a bad chance of activating it (~50% with Yojimbo’s full overdrive gauge and paying 66k while you’re on good terms). Believe me, I used this more than once and I’m not even ashamed to admit it.
Now, the other set of aeons that control a little oddly are the Magus Sisters. Cindy, Sandy, and Mindy used to be bosses in Final Fantasy IV, but now they’ve returned much stronger in Final Fantasy X. Controlling them isn’t completely straightforward, however. Instead of the usual “Attack," “Black Magic," etc. commands, you get prompts like “Do as you will.,” “Fight!,” “Help each other!,” and more. Since they’re so powerful, it’s a way to balance out what they do in a fight. It’s not necessarily difficult to control them, but it does switch up the gameplay in a fun way.
Now, for all aeons, as I mentioned before, they all have separate Overdrive gauges that fill much faster than the regular characters’, and they all fill when they attack, get hit, or evade an attack. When their gauge fills, they can perform their Overdrive. This is the attack that most people associate with the character, such as Shiva’s Diamond Dust or Bahamut’s Mega Flare. Speaking of which, you might be shocked to see that Mega Flare will sometimes do over 9999 damage. Crazy, huh? Well, what if I told you that you too could be so powerful?
We’ll get to that in a bit, but for now, back to the changes. Another gameplay element in the game that changes up the entire leveling system is called the Sphere Grid. This vast change completely upends traditional leveling systems much like Final Fantasy II did back in the 80s. That being said, Final Fantasy X does a much better job in creating an alternate leveling system in my opinion.
There’s a giant grid filled with hundreds, if not thousands of interconnected nodes. Each character starts somewhere on this grid and can move in just about any direction from where they start. There are some roadblocks that require Key Spheres of certain levels, but once you find them that issue solves itself. So, as you battle you acquire Ability Points.
When you get enough AP, you gain a Sphere Level. Each level lets you move from one node to another. There are various nodes with various stats, spells, and abilities to use. Each stat has a node you can activate by using corresponding items to the node. For example, to increase HP, Strength, or Defense, you use a Power Sphere. To increase MP, Magic, and Magic Defense, you use a Mana Sphere. If you want to learn any sort of ability, spell, or special attack, you use an Ability Sphere, etc.
These spheres are acquired through battles and chests, and appear very often. There are even abilities and weapons to force enemies to drop them upon defeating them. To be perfectly honest, though these help, the fact that you even need these items to activate nodes in addition to needing those sphere levels to move around is actually bad in theory.
For normal play, it ends up more or less fine, but if you want to max out the sphere grid for everyone it’s got to be a chore to say the least. You need hundreds of each sphere type since you’re leveling seven characters separately, and you can only hold 99 of each. It’s utterly absurd!
Aside from that, it’s not too bad. Again, in regular play the worst I ever had to deal with was a dearth of Ability Spheres for about an hour. After that, they started to trickle into my inventory, and I continued as normal. However, as someone who wants to complete the Sphere Grid one day, I fear for that future self as it seems daunting enough even without the sphere cap. It definitely seems more balanced for the average playthrough than the completionist playthrough. That’s fine for now, but I doubt I’ll feel the same in the future if I do attempt such a complete run.
With all said and done, Final Fantasy X has essentially turned the series on its head yet again. The gameplay is extremely dissimilar to the previous entries in almost every way, and yet even then it doesn’t seem to bother me. I was able to quickly adapt to the new gameplay elements with relative ease, and getting to control summons is a great feeling.
The sphere grid is seriously intimidating at first, but go into it with the mindset that you don’t need to complete everything. It becomes much less daunting once you do that, and things should go smoothly. I welcome the various changes made in Final Fantasy X’s gameplay, as it really helped freshen everything up for me after marathoning these games for ten(!!) months. It’s a great change of pace!
Extras/Replay Value“We were just worried you guys might've gone crazy!”
I mentioned in gameplay that Bahamut seems able to break the damage limit in Final Fantasy X, as do the Magus Sisters. As I said there, fret not. You can also be like that! It just so happens to range from a smooth ride to so infuriating that you might lose your mind in the process of getting that strong.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the main sidequests in Final Fantasy X: the Celestial Weapons. Each character has an ultimate weapon, and unlocking them and their true potential ranges from easy all the way to mind-numbingly difficult at times. Firstly, to even find these weapons, you need the Celestial Mirror. This is actually quite easy to accomplish, as it requires you to finish a small race to get the Cloudy Mirror and then visit Macalania Woods. Here, at a certain spot, you can imbue the mirror with power to get the Celestial Mirror. Easy enough. From there, you must find the weapons themselves. Again, this isn’t really too hard. They’re hidden, but not super hidden. So why did I say it can be mind-numbingly difficult?
Well, I might have omitted a thing or two. Finding the weapons in Final Fantasy X isn’t too difficult of a task. Powering the weapons is what might make you lose your hair early. See, on top of finding each weapon, you must also find a celestial Crest and a celestial Sigil for each weapon to unlock its power. This is where you’ve probably heard of people losing their minds trying to dodge lightning 200 times or playing blitzball for countless hours. And I did it all!
I want you to understand the sort of crap I did for this review. I know I’ve been saying I love Final Fantasy X, but it’s not perfect and I’m about to explain why. Sorry, not sorry, it’s time to rant a little bit.
To get the Sun Sigil for Tidus’s Caladbolg, you have to win a chocobo race. Sounds easy, right? Just dodge the seagulls trying to deck your bird in the head and get to the finish line. Kind of annoying, but doable since the AI racer is stupid. Nope! You have to get a total time of 0.0. Yes, 0.0. You do this by picking up balloons tethered to the ground on the course. These reduce your time by three seconds per balloon, while the birds add three seconds. You can see why this would quickly become annoying on a course that can last from 35-45 seconds. But I did it.
In order to get the Venus Sigil for Lulu’s Onion Knight weapon, you must dodge 200 lightning bolts in a row in the Thunder Plains. This requires you to pay attention, wait for the screen to flash, and hit X (or in my case, A) on the controller before you get zapped. You mess up once, you have to start all over. Thankfully, you can pause the game with no penalty, so I ended up going 50 bolts, pausing for a minute to relax a bit, then going back to it. It’s tiresome and tedious. But I did it.
For the Mercury Sigil to power Rikku’s Godhand, you need to go to Bikanel Island and find ten cactuars around the desert. It’s not as simple as you think, however: You have to go to an altar for a clue to their whereabouts, figure out the clue, find the cactuar, then play a minigame of Red Light, Green Light. Regardless of win or loss, you still get a small sphere from the cactuar that you must then cart back to the altar, where you then get your next clue. You have to do them one at a time, meaning that even with a No Encounter weapon, it can take ages running around a desert. It’s completely draining! But I did it.
Next is the Jupiter Sigil, to power Wakka’s World Champion. This is a random prize given in a blitzball league. Now, this one is exceptionally annoying. See, to even see this as a prize, you must first win the remaining three slot reel Overdrives for Wakka as prizes in blitzball. The first is the Attack Reels, which are acquired in a tournament for first prize. These tournaments last about three games, which is fine. No big deal.
Next, you must get the Status Reels. These show up as a League first prize after you unlock Attack Reels and fight in at least 250 battles. This is where things start to get insane. A league is ten matches, so you have to do that and get the reels. Only then can you unlock the Aurochs Reels, which are another tournament prize that appear after getting the Status Reels and fighting 450 battles.
Now, there’s obviously some overlap here, as tournaments are so much shorter than leagues. This means you’re gonna have to plan well, as you may find yourself trying to finish a tournament late in a league in order to get the first prize, so that way you can finish the league before another tournament starts, where the first prize will hopefully be the next reels.
Great, you have all of Wakka’s Overdrives. Now what? Well, you have to hope that the Jupiter Sigil appears as the League first prize next time, of course! If not, you can always soft reset and try again until it appears. Even then, you have to play the entire ten match league to win it which is insane.
In total, with absolutely perfect play, you can win all three Overdrives and then the Sigil with a total of 26 wins. For the record, I ended blitzball and got the Sigil on my 55th win because things weren’t exactly perfect for me. Blitzball is so easy to break it’s almost sad, so it gets boring after the first hour or nine. But I did it.
Auron’s Mars Sigil requires you to participate in another big sidequest in Final Fantasy X: The Monster Arena. This sidequest tasks you with using a special weapon for each character. Once you get these weapons 75% of the way through the game, the idea is to go back to every previous and following area. You make sure you kill enemies with those special weapons to “capture” them. There are two goals: to capture each species in an area, and to capture ten of each of them.
When you begin catching species and filling out the areas, the guy running the Monster Arena will use them to create what are essentially superbosses for you to take on. It’s a neat challenge, but I’m glad it’s optional. However, if you want to get Auron’s Mars Sigil, you have to have ten total captures. That is, any mix of area completion and species completion. It’s not difficult, but it certainly is tedious after a while. But I did it.
Those are the most egregious examples, while the others are far less annoying. It’s absolutely insane busywork to expect your player to do, and in some of those cases it doesn’t even try to hide it (the Mercury Sigil, for example). But I did it.
While this did end up draining a significant portion of my playtime, I won’t lie to you, actually seeing the fruits of my labor, seeing those weapons power up after all I did? I was so giddy I was bouncing in my seat. After all that busywork, all those mindless hours playing blitzball and scampering around a stupid desert, I was still ecstatic when the time came to finally power up all my Celestial Weapons. On top of that, the benefits they provide are unique to each character. All of them break the damage limit, but some have unique benefits as well.
On top of the monsters you can create in the Monster Arena, of which there are many, the other sidequest introduced in the International release and now the HD remaster of Final Fantasy X are the Dark Aeon superbosses. These shadow versions of all the aeons in the game are insanely difficult to fight, so you have to grind and grind using every available method you can. Fighting all of them unlocks a fight with Penance, the super superboss of the game and the ultimate challenge. You’d better make sure you have you sphere grids maxed out here!
So yes, there is a lot to do in Final Fantasy X. That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy, and it certainly doesn’t mean it’ll be fun all the time, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it was cathartic. Going through all those things just to see my characters get the best weapons available in the game felt so good. You may not want to do all of that, and I don’t blame you. But for me, despite the stupidity and tedium, I’m still glad I did it all.
The Final Word“Stay with me to the end...please.” "Not to the end. Always."
This is the 14th page of my review, and that’s before adding pictures and captions. What more can I really say to you here?
Final Fantasy X is a treasure to me. I was afraid I might be blinded by nostalgia since it was my first entry in the series, but going back only cemented the feelings I felt toward the game since I was a kid. Everything comes together in one of the best packages of the series.
The story is the most mature thus far, and in my personal case taught me an important lesson about storytelling early on. The graphics still look good today, let alone 16 years ago. The music is so utterly phenomenal I can hardly believe it. The gameplay is fresh and engaging. The sphere grid isn’t perfect, but I still enjoy the system overall.
The sidequests can range from fun to enraging, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the feeling of triumph upon fully powering everyone’s ultimate weapons. For me it was worth the struggle, but I absolutely understand it may not be for others.
So where do I stand now? Well, if we’re gonna be totally honest with one another, I adore this game. Originally, it was my second or third favorite Final Fantasy behind IV and possibly V. However, I might actually like it more than both of them now. It’s hard to decide between those three in my opinion. That being said, make no mistake: Final Fantasy X is a stunning game and a true force of nature for this series.