I didn’t play Final Fantasy X until well after it came out. I’m talking about somewhere in the neighborhood of three to four years after its release in 2001, which also puts my experience with the game after its strange, expansive addendum of Final Fantasy X-2. I couldn’t afford to buy many games back then, and my parents learned very quickly to stop renting me RPGs from Blockbuster.
But I feel like that was the age when keeping up with games wasn’t as important as simply devouring them as voraciously as possible. In those transitional years between middle school and high school, I explored beyond my fiscal means with admittedly illegally obtained ROMs and perfectly legal emulators. It colored my tastes for games for the rest of my life, but mostly told me I had a thing for Final Fantasy.
Then I made a friend who had an extensive PS2 library. And like a hungry, greedy, hungry hippo, I loosed his collection from his grasp and gobbled them up. The first one I teed up was, of course, the most recent of a storied franchise that, besides the MMO experiment of Final Fantasy XI, had eluded me. I took FFX from him and never looked back. (Except for when I had to finally return it.)
Now, a decade later, it has come full circle. Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster has come out with a HD-ified rerelease of one of the most critically acclaimed games in the series. But with 10 years of education on the taxonomy of criticism and the context of the industry’s unrelenting growth and sometimes commensurate but often lagging maturity, all I can muster after so much is that FFX-2 is really fucking weird.
Let’s start, however, one X-2 step back from the progeny and start with FFX. It’s also really fucking weird. Most notably it’s weird because it’s the first entry of the franchise to feature both fully 3D environments rather than 3D characters over pre-rendered backdrops as well as straight-up voice acting. And one of them made the game extra strange.
Admittedly, localization was never a strong suit of Final Fantasy‘s. But it’s one thing to read an oddly phrased sentence that, while syntactically valid, makes little semantic sense. (More than that, the idiomatic implications and connotations of certain words were often missed altogether.) But it’s something completely different when you hear English voice actors trying their best to make it work.
Many of them work fine. In fact, I think it often adds to both the charm and veracity of the game. It’s a weird world, so why wouldn’t they speak a little weird, too? And regardless of the muddled results of some translation doc that floated around the office, the voice acting was actually quite good. Hedy Burress as Yuna was great, and Matt McKenzie really pulled of the Japanese trope-ish bad-ass Auron with aplomb.
And then there’s Tidus. James Arnold Taylor is a fine voice actor, actually going on to be in basically every video game and cartoon ever as a voice in some capacity or another, but his Tidus felt overly…scratchy. Like his voice and his character chafed up against each other too often. It felt like someone who wanted to sound like an Auron trying to be young and impetus enough to be a Tidus and never figured it out.
And that god damn laugh. Jesus christ. Like, why. It’s not even a question. It’s a statement as to how fucking alien it was. But also here’s a YouTube video of it looping for ten hours if you hate yourself.
FFX is also perhaps the last Final Fantasy game to successfully blend the franchise’s strangely religious but extrapolated interpretation of philosophy with an impossibly anachronistic, nonsensical world before devolving into incomprehensible histrionics. It was somber without being cloying in its resolution or its complications and it rarely let its Kojima-esque ruminations kick you in the face with non sequiturs. (Instead, it would just abrasively caress your cheek with them.)
Which makes FFX-2 both the most logical and absolutely bonkers departure from the, uh, formula(?) that could have possibly been made. It’s not a question of how do you top yourself as I doubt even a room of three people could reach a consensus on the best Final Fantasy, but more a question of where do you go from here? As far as roughly hewn, amateur philosophical quandaries has taken them involving a planet spirit, destiny, time travel, forlorn love, and spiky hair, much of that known cartography was likely generated by Square/Squaresoft/Square Enix/Soft Enix.
So obviously you take the impressionable yet stoic Yuna and turn her into a pop star, letting the already bubbly Rikku act as her conduit into being a scantily clad, gun-slinging, equally sprightly world-saving performer.
Its premise is ridiculous. Its mere existence is puzzling. What made Square believe that, after nine past titles of equal or greater success, FFX would be the game to branch out into its first direct series sequel? You, I, and everyone in between could speculate all day, but it’s essentially an inscrutable decision. It’s such a large departure from its progenitor in terms of setting, plot, themes, and characters that it could have been done with any Final Fantasy game.
Perhaps even stranger is that, despite its desire to stick to being overtly Japanese instead of being an outright video game of worldly considerations, FFX-2 is actually kind of good. Not as good as FFX, but far better than it probably had any business being what with it coming out in the midst of FFXI and appearing to be nothing more than an overly sexualized cash-in in par with Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball (which, oddly enough, also turned out to be a surprisingly decent volleyball game).
I doubt I’m going to go through the entirety of both games again with this remastered package. It’s just too much time to sink into something I already know how I feel about and Goat Simulator is out and, well, you get it. But revisiting both as briefly as I did feels somehow important. If you get a chance, I recommend you take a look as well. You might be reminded of what you used to like about Final Fantasy and how that streak of unlikely success from that first nearly final Final Fantasy has carried on like a lingering disease of fat profits and big swords.