Long stream-of-consciousness incoming. While a lot of it is related to Final fantasy and FFX in particular some of it veers off towards only tangentially related topics. So be warned.
I agree with much of what has already been said about FFX by @JoJoestar and @Gaagaagiins, but I’d like to add a few of my own cents. Also, seeing so many people love FFX makes me happy and I should probably get over myself with the constant references to nebulous “game-likers” who hate it as I’m sort of beating up on a straw-man. But it’s hard for me to let go off, because of the annoying discourse surrounding the game I subjected myself to in the mid to late 2000’s. So I apologize to anyone on the board who doesn’t like FFX and feel like I am straw-manning their opinion. I promise I am mostly fighting ghosts from circa 2007.
I also enjoy the palpable sense that death and rebirth permeates everything in the world of Spira that @JoJoestar mentioned. It feels thematically consistent and constantly we are presented with how the people in this world has come to terms with sudden violent death as an inevitable part of life. While the concept of the monster Sin is of course pretty on the nose, as the people think of it as a literal punishment for their sins I think that it does ultimately work. Particularly, as it is revealed that Sin has no real purpose besides self-perpetuation and the entire religion of Yu Yevon is essentially a coping mechanism trying to find meaning in meaningless destruction through self-flagellation. It is not exactly subtle, but then again subtlety is not something that I associate with Final Fantasy. I do think that it is a pretty crude criticism of religion, at least on the surface, what with almost all the leaders of the church being corrupt and “in on the secret”. However, I also take it as being about stifling traditions and corrupt power-structures in general, not limited to religious ones although that is the main focus.
There are some attempts at presenting priests lower in the hierarchy as sincere and I do think that there is also an attempt to show that religion can present relief in the face of a hostile world, although this is ultimately depicted as a false sense of relief preventing people from solving the problem. This is of course in line with many criticisms people have of real-world religions as well (insert something about opium for the masses) and while these definitely have potency they can also sometimes lack nuance. While I never got further than about halfway into FFX-2 I do think the fallout of what happens when the church leaders are revealed to be corrupt and and the empirical foundations of the scriptures (i.e. the physical manifestation of Sin) is revealed to be bogus would make for good story material. As that game had a faction of new Yu Yevon worshippers trying to hold to their religious tenets in spite of the above, it might interesting. I don’t know if a good job is done with this though, anybody who played the game fully and are willing to weigh in?
Obviously it is possible to criticize the story in FFX for becoming convoluted towards the end, for certain structural issues such as the repeated kidnappings of Yuna etc., but ultimately I think what decides your overall view is how you feel about the characters and the world/theme, rather than the specifics of the plot.
I can’t really parse out the non-spoiler stuff from the spoiler stuff so I put the whole discussion of Yuna’s character inside one. Not sure how much spoilers for such an old game matters, but better safe than sorry.
Yuna is a character who could have easily been boring. Indeed, I have seen criticism of her character that pretty much reads her in this way.Self-sacrificing saint stoically, almost passively going towards her death for the greater good. However, I think that this is a very superficial reading and ultimately not justified by the text. While she obviously feels an immense sense of pressure from being her father’s daughter and her wrestling with his legacy is a large part of her character, going on the pilgrimage was ultimately an active choice she made because she wanted to bring joy to the world, however fleeting. It might not be the best decision and as she starts to question society and her faith she struggles with the decision. However, what I really like about her is that she is not all doom and gloom all the time or completely consigned to her fate with saintly composure. Because she is traveling to make the ultimate sacrifice she wants to enjoy things along the way. While part of this is an attempt to look happy in order to sooth others it is also a genuine desire on her part. In part because she does enjoy many aspect of life and in part because she is ultimately not at peace with the idea of her own death and wants to distract herself from it and have fun while she can.
I think this is in large part why the romance subplot with Tidus works well. Here is someone who initially does not treat her with the solemn distance reserved for the potential high summoner, in fact here is a character who is not even aware that she is going towards her death. While Lulu and Wakka obviously care for her, the issue of her pilgrimage is ever present in every interaction she has with them. She can interact with Tidus unencumbered by her ultimate fate and it allows her to express genuine joy. Indeed through this we see that she likes having fun with a more playful personality hidden beneath the somewhat somber face she has to put on as the potential high summoner. Her individual desires are however in constant conflict with her sense of duty towards the people of Spira and comes to a head multiple times throughout the game. Tidus influence as an outsider also allows her to reevaluate some of her assumptions about her own role as the high summoner and of course ultimately she decides to forge a better path rather than simply submitting to tradition.
Tidus can initially come across as somewhat obnoxious. He is loud, kind of rude, brash and has seemingly no respect for the rules and culture of Spira. His extroverted confidence which is clearly an attempt to overcome the self-doubt instilled by his father, can be grating. However, as the game moves along he starts to overcome his feeling of inadequacy and as a consequence he becomes more reflective. He thus becomes less rude and brash, while his confidence becomes more of a positive assertion that a better path can be found. I think there is quite a lot going on with his relationship with his dad, but I already wrote too much about Yuna, so I will leave this aspect for now.
Also, the Japanese voice-acting in the game is really good – particularly Yuna whom I feel is not quite done justice in the English voice track. I agree that Auron is very good in English though! As a 13-year old boy he was definitely my favorite character, being the epitome of “cool”. I still have a soft spot for him and I do think that his character has some depth as well, what with him essentially thinking of himself as a failure, driven both by his hatred of the church which betrayed his faith (and by extension his hatred of his naive younger self) and his sense of guilt towards his fallen comrades, while the audience (and the other characters) initially just sees him as this totally legendary badass with a somewhat cynical attitude.
While the story and characters are probably the main reason that I like the game so much, I would be remiss not to explain why I also enjoy it more as a game than the majority of the series. I honestly don’t like the ATB system that much, preferring fully turn-based particularly the system of FFX and I therefore enjoy it more than any entry with an ATB system. In fact, while I was initially skeptical, I was pretty happy with the battle-system they ended up adopting for FFVII Remake and found it much more fun and engaging than the ATB system of the original. Here are a few reasons that I enjoy the turn-based system in FFX: It if quick and responsive. I like the ability to switch characters on the fly. The main reason though is the turn-order mechanics. I really like how I can see the next couple of turns and how an action I am about to take will affect the order. This allows me to plan things much more than the ATB system. This was mostly useful for boss battles, as random encounters didn’t need much in the way of strategy, but here the fast pace of the battle system helped a lot and I felt less annoyed by these encounters than those of say FF7.
I also think that the expert sphere grid is pretty fun and I like the equipment customization options that allow for some interesting game-changing abilities to be added to equipment. Mind you, I think both sphere grid, weapon customization and battle strategy completely breaks down if one attempts to do end-game stuff, devolving into a grind for +4 spheres at the monster trainer that eventually make all characters the same, with the battle strategy essentially being to exclusively use quick hits. While I did some of this post-game content when I was younger I don’t have the patience for it today and I don’t think it is worth it as it’s just one long grind.
As I acknowledged in the Suikoden topic I think that FFX being my favorite FF is in large part due to it being the first FF I really played at the right age (13 in my case). I had played a little bit of FFVII and FFIX before, but never gave them a real shot (I didn’t own them). Buying FFX soon after it came out was actually quite a risk, because it represented a lot of money for me at the time. I remember that I thought it looked really cool, I had this idea that I ought to enjoy games like Final Fantasy, but at the back of my mind I did wonder whether I was making a mistake. As is evident from this post, I ended up loving it. It is my pet idea that people’s favorite FF is often the first (or maybe second) one they played particularly if at the right age, say around 11-15. I could however be completely wrong, maybe many of you actually prefer one that you played years later?
On the flip-side I am loath to use “nostalgia” as a criticism against people for their prefered entries, as I think this has a tendency to not engage with the substance of that preference instead insinuating that emotional attachment rather than any stated reasons are the only reason that someone likes something. As someone who have often enjoyed older media (including plenty of stuff from before I was born) I find this particularly annoying as it seems to imply that old things simply cannot be good on their own merits.
Also I am not a real connoisseur of Final Fantasy games. In fact the only FF games I have finished are FFVII, FFX and FFVII Remake. I have however played about half of FFVI,FFX-2, FFXII, FFXIII and maybe 8 hours of FFIX and FFXV. In the case of FFVI it was long ago on an emulator and I remember liking it, but just sort of stopping at some point. I played and finished Chrono Trigger and Lufia II within the last two years and enjoyed those quite a bit. I therefore think I would like FFVI better if I were to play it again and I plan to play both it and FFIV within the next few years. For FFX-2 and FFXII it is a somewhat similar story, liked them fine but then lost interest and just sort of stopped at some point. For FFXIII I stopped when most people said that “it got good”, i.e. in gran pulse. I just realized that I didn’t really care much for the battle-system and as I was no longer being pushed forward quite as much I sort of stopped. I would be interested in playing it again from the beginning though. I don’t think I will give FFXV another chance as it just bored me, but I would like to get into FFIX as I like the style but it’s just so very slow…
I am particularly interested in playing FFX-2 again as I remember finding aspects of it quite interesting. Mostly the idea of seeing how Spira changes due to the massive upheaval of religion, tradition and material conditions that would be a consequence of the ending of FFX. Just a shame about some of the very questionable “humor” like the Leblanc massage scene…
This is slightly related to what @Gaagaagiins mentioned about some gamers missing the point, but it’s something that has been on my mind lately. Perhaps it would be better sectioned of into a different thread, but let me just give the short version here as it relates to criticism of Tidus in particular. I remember a lot of criticism of Tidus related to both his physical appearance (i.e. he looks like a woman etc.) and his character (i.e. he is a whiny little bitch and Jecht was right to treat him coldly) that essentially seemed rooted in the idea that he is not a proper manly man. This criticism was not limited to Tidus, in fact it was very common towards any “bishounen” character in Japanese media, even if they were otherwise coded masculine by western standards, although the vitriol was of course worse if they also happened to have emotional issues of any kind. I think it was more common among gamers, however, and I do wonder how related this is to later and much worse outpourings of toxic masculinity with the advent of the Gamergate crowd. I mean nowadays many of those people hail Japanese games as untouched by the “evil SJWS”, but I still think some of the impulses that led to the intense hatred of characters like Tidus are similar.
Don’t get me wrong I am not claiming that games with such characters were super-progressive or anything, it’s just that what is within the acceptable limits of proper masculine behavior was different in Japan then in the West. So while such characters were not pushing social boundaries much in Japan the reactions to them from some people in the west do seem to stem from an aversion to characters that are not “manly” enough.