oh boy, with Final Fantasy there is always so much to talk about.
I haven’t beaten more than a few of ’em, some I’ve only played once if barely at all.
It’s probably more interesting if I just talk about FFX, because I guess that’s the one I feel I like for interesting reasons.
Narrative-wise I think it’s got to be the overall best executed one. I might like FFVII more on a thematic level, but it’s pretty close, and FFX is so much more of a complete package in terms of execution.
Even the stuff it’s often given shit for, I think is honestly pretty good, and I can forgive some of the technical limitations. Sometimes I think the mocapping had more to do with peoples’ perception that the voice acting and characterization was awkward… it’s always strange to me to see what looks like to me, Japanese physical gestures and mannerisms, matched up to English speech and language. And the clipped way in which translations end up not always having creative solutions for cramming longer English phrases into lip movements that are too short for a natural sounding line. I played the HD version not all that long ago after I had thought about this one for a while, and was sort of casting a critical eye on it in that light, trying to forgive awkward mocapping and lines that sound clipped mostly because of needing to shove a line in a place it doesn’t fit. Long story short, I think one of the best performances in the game is Auron, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that that might at least partially be because in most scenes… his mouth is completely covered by his collar, giving Matt McKenzie much more license than most other characters to give a more natural delivery of his lines.
Even with that in mind though, I like most of the voice acting (no excuses here for Wakka’s embarrassing fake patois though), and on top of that I like most of the characters (I still can’t dislike Wakka as a character!). Preaching to the choir here, but you ever notice how often Gamers and the like complain about things specifically because they actually just Missed The Fucking Point? Tidus is a bit annoying and Yuna is a muted sometimes and silly others, and suddenly Gamers are complaining about it for a decade. As if Tidus being a bit of an unbearable twerp and Yuna going between either having a lot on her mind or just being no thoughts head empty is kind of the point. But I guess because Main Character isn’t just an uninterrupted power fantasy and Gamers might have to understand how people respond to you if you’re a bit of an unbearable twerp, it somehow doesn’t resonate.
Narratively speaking, I think FFX is easily the best told story in the flagship series, single player wise (a weird statement only serving to remind everyone that FFXIV is easily the best story in a FF game). Framing the lion’s share of the game as Tidus recollecting on the journey thus far, with his occasional disembodied commentary and reflections, I think does a lot of great tone setting. Games don’t use stuff like this nearly often enough, I’d say. Especially considering that above point about how Gamers being annoyed by Tidus just literally didn’t get the fuckin’ point because you have already been promised a character arc that will be moving very far in the direction away from “unbearable twerp.” The structure of the journey as a pilgrimage as a main story objective was a fantastic choice and allows the story to keep moving when it needs to move and rest when it needs to rest. Working toward an always known and obvious destination combines brilliantly with having good reasons to stop everywhere along the way.
It’s one of the few FF games where I really feel connected with everything in the world and in a world where everything is connected. It’s really cool how much work they put into giving each part of Spira you visit if not its own fairly fleshed out identity, at least its own distinct visual aesthetic. I like the idea that you get to see almost every corner of Spira and see all of those people and communities. In contrast to a game like, say, XII, I feel I don’t really understand all that much about Dalmasca, or, the other two, other than that that’s where the game is set (sidenote, I love FFXII but that game’s story is a total non-starter for me and fails to deliver on any of its most interesting promises… I think the moment I grew up was the moment I was confronted undeniably that the “political intrigue” in FFXII that Electronic Gaming Monthly promised me was going to turn into Anime Teens With Good Hair And Their Crystals Saving The World Because That’s What You Do When You’re A Crystal Aligned Anime Teen). It’s a curious quirk of Final Fantasy to often tease at the idea of geopolitics but rarely do much work to convey a world with convincing geopolitics or using that level of worldbuilding with much substance (this is also a reason why FFXIV is by far the best story in any FF game). I even like there are some races and cultures in Spira that remain mostly a mystery. I love those shoopuf guys, but like, who are they?? I wanna hang out with them way more.
I get a lot out of FFX thematically as well. It’s maybe the only FF game where there is a convincing arc of a character being downright xenophobic for purely emotional reasons, having those xenophobic preconceptions challenged and his assumptions dismantled, seeing the error of his ways and growing and changing as a person. Tidus’ relationship and overall arc with Jecht is pretty great, just, in general. It has things to say about grief, loss, coping, celebrity, corruption, destiny, personal sacrifice for the greater good, all sorts of things. My maybe more unique and most resonating thing is probably its statements on tradition and complacency. You get a writer starting to talk about major disruptions in a social order, you got my attention. I might be reading into this way too much, but I also tend to pay close attention to when Japanese media seems to even come remotely close to acknowledging things like colonialism or cultural imperialism (I live in a country that likes to pretend it does but never actually does). A big part of me wants to think that the references to Okinawan and Southeast Asian aesthetics were about more than just a visual aesthetic and also about at least a subtle nod as part of some of the other broader themes present in the narrative.
One of the things FFX is about to me is shared societal complacency and the acceptance of a false history. Hence why I feel there is a tiny little chance the evoking of Okinawan aesthetics isn’t just a coincidence or a shallow choice as these are the sorts of things that are integral for the day to day functioning of a former empire but also maybe a cultural empire that isn’t so former. It’s much harder to see the problem with the present if the dominant culture has done a very good job at revising the historical truth. So getting to reject a simple answer with major moral caveats, and undoing a safe but ultimately corrupt and morally bankrupt social order, is an exciting exercise for me.
Anyway. You know what I’m not even remotely ashamed to admit I think would be really cool? A FFX Remake