Quite a few years have passed since I first fired up Final Fantasy X on the PlayStation 2. I was relatively new to the series back then, and had only partially watched a good friend play FFVII on his PSOne. It was therefore with a great sense of mystery that I launched the tenth game in the series on my own, and took a great leap into a world I knew nothing about.
Back in the summery days of 2002, Final Fantasy X would draw me in like no other game had before it. That was 13 years ago. Since then I have undergone several playthroughs of FFX and its successor FFX-2 on the Playstation 2, but also on last year's PS3 and Vita editions. It was time for yet another journey through Spira then, when the game launched on a fourth console a few weeks ago. You might think that my verdict of these two games will be coloured by nostalgia. And you are partially correct. This will not stand in the way of a nuanced review of the newest version of a title I am all too familiar with, however. The main question should therefore be; is it really worth acquiring again if you already own a previous version of the game?
Final Fantasy X takes us on a journey through time and space, from the bustling city of Zanarkand to the dark world of Spira. It introduces us to Tidus, the star player of the Zanarkand Abes, and we will see the world through his eyes for the remainder of the journey. We will meet the young summoner Yuna who has sworn to follow in her father's footsteps and defeat the doomsday beast Sin, a creature capable of nothing but terror and destruction. It inspires us to travel through the large and diverse world, to experience a reality and a story at least I could never have imagined possible. And finally, it lets us experience love and hardship first hand, never underestimating its audience.
It is difficult to write about the story in detail without spoiling anything. The world of Spira is in reality a theocracy, ruled by the pope-like character Maester Mika. It is a medieval mentality we are up against - a world filled to the brim with religion and its teachings. This theocracy has also banned most forms of high technology for the sole reason that it supposedly brought forth the abomination Sin, a creature bringing death to the world. The fear of this creature in turn brings the masses to the religion of Yevon, making sure Maester Mika never loses his grip on power. It is with this in mind that Yuna sets out on a pilgrimage to defeat Sin, a feat her father accomplished 10 years ago.
There's a lot to take in, but your gradual introduction is through the eyes of Tidus, to whom the world and this society is equally alien. The game is actually told via flashback, beats and twists given a personal touch via his voiceover, revealing his personal thoughts and memories, something the series hasn't attempted again.
No Final Fantasy is complete without its famous soundtrack, and if there is one thing I wish to point out (other than the story), it is exactly that. Say what you want about the works of Howard Shore in the Lord of the Rings saga, or the soundtrack in The Elder Scrolls universe. I completely agree that both are wonderful. I do have to say, though, that the composers of Final Fantasy X, among them the famed Nobuo Uematsu, have bested themselves and everyone else. Not only is it beautiful, but the game would simply not have been the same without it. It hits all the right spots time and time again, and at certain points in the game, the combination of scenes and score make this ever-so-manly boy let out a tear or two.
I mention this first because the soundtrack has been recomposed. A difference first introduced in the PS3/Vita editions as a mandatory change, but this time around, we are able to jump from the original soundtrack to the "arranged" one whenever we please. The arranged soundtrack offers a higher audio quality and more instruments per song, but loses some of its clear melody in the process. At least, that is my experience. Even though I remain loyal to the original score, it is not difficult to enjoy the new one, and it would not surprise me if newcomers will prefer the latter. It is a great soundtrack either way.
Story and characters are unchanged in this latest version. The character models, however, are altered, although not drastically. It might be a tad unusual to meet Tidus and Yuna once more on the PS4 if you are arriving straight off the PS2 airship, but it will not take long before everything looks just right.
The Playstation 4 version of the game is by far the most beautiful one in terms of visuals. Better water (my gosh, that water, though!), shadow and texture quality makes everything appear softer and sharper at the same time, making the world and its characters richer to the player eye. Nevertheless, I am disappointed that the characters are still rendered in varying graphical quality from time to time. In addition, another issue is the lip-syncing, which at times is simply atrocious. A problem that carries over from the game's original release when the tech wasn't available.
The battle system's unchanged since the last release. It's a more passive turn-based system, but perhaps more strategically important than the more famous Active-Time-Battle system used in FFX-2 (and many other FFs). The latter is a semi-turn-based system where each character's battle gauge charges up, and you have to act fast to take full advantage of your turn. Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses, but between them carry the strongest combat systems in the series. In addition, the controls have been made more responsive and precise, with a decreased chance of messing up due to technicalities (because it is never your fault, am I right?).
In addition to changing up the battle system, Final Fantasy X alters how we level up. In contrast to the traditional XP gathering and levelling from 1-9, FFX uses the Sphere Grid. This is essentially a board of nodes, each offering a buff or new ability that's activated with accrued Ability Points. Final Fantasy X probably does levelling better than any other FF, as you truly feel your characters getting stronger for each upgrade.
FFX-2 returns to the traditional level system, but adds Dress Spheres into the mix. These are different classes you can switch between, and you must be careful to strategically upgrade these as you go, as well as be mindful of which items you are equipping. A lot of fun micro-managing for the whole family, in other words.
Story-wise, Final Fantasy X-2 is a walk in the park compared to its predecessor. At least at times. In FFX-2 we follow Yuna after the events of X, and Spira has changed a lot in two years. Whether these changes are good must be decided by each and every one of us, but it is clear that this Spira is much more inspired by Japanese pop-culture. The type of humour and certain characters have clearly originated from that mindset. The story and its characters alternate between being simply awkwardly horrible (looking at you, Brother), to exciting and mysterious.
Spira has not changed much visually, and although this is no huge negative in itself, some might be put off by the fact that we are basically exploring the same place we were in the previous game (with some changes and additions here and there, naturally).
Final Fantasy X/X-2 for the Playstation 4 is the definitive version of the two games. However, if you happen to have played last year's edition, there is not a lot of new content in this newest version, apart from better graphics and the ability to play the original soundtrack.
Having said that, few games have influenced me in the way Final Fantasy X has. The dialogue, the music, the beautiful CGI scenes, the incredible directing and the combination of these is simply overwhelming at times. In spite of the disappointing lip-syncing and a shortage of new content, it's good Square has brought back the original soundtrack, and players will appreciate the graphical tune-up. Tidus and Yuna takes us on a fantastic journey in these two games, a journey I am overjoyed is available on Sony's latest console.
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