At the start of 2019 I wrote a feature piece declaring my love for Final Fantasy, listing my top five games coming to Xbox One this year. I also included a little disclaimer stating that any of the top three could be number one on a different day.
Final Fantasy IX was top of that list on that day, but I would like the disclaimer to come into full effect right now. Playing through Final Fantasy X again for the umpteenth time, I realise this one is my favourite. That is at least until I play through IX again.
This is the same version of Final Fantasy X that was given the HD Remaster and re-released for PlayStation 3 in 2014, and then a year later on PlayStation 4. It also comes neatly packaged with the direct sequel, Final Fantasy X-2, but more on that one later.
Final Fantasy X tells the story of Tidus, a star blitzball player – think turn-based football played underwater – who is thrown 1,000 years into the future from his life and everything he knows when a hulking entity known as Sin completely levels his hometown of Zanarkand. Tidus must figure out what happened and how he can get back to Zanarkand. But he can’t do that alone. He eventually arrives in a small coastal town of Besaid and quickly befriends Wakka, another blitzball player. Wakka – who is drawn to Tidus for his resemblance to his dead brother – tells Tidus they are travelling to Luca for the blitzball tournament and he may find the answers there that he needs.
Whilst in Besaid, Tidus meets Yuna, a young summoner who has taken it upon herself to complete a pilgrimage across the world of Spira in order to defeat Sin and bring about The Calm – a period of time where inhabitants can live without fear of Sin.
Of course, being a Final Fantasy game there are twists and turns aplenty. And just within the first game there are arranged marriages, racism, sports and fathers out for revenge alongside the more typical elements of love, death and everything in between. Final Fantasy X’s story isn’t the most cheerful at the best of times, and it isn’t afraid to be that way.
Then, in a seismic shift of tone, Final Fantasy X-2 is a saccharine journey again through Spira featuring returning characters Yuna and Rikku, alongside a new character called Paine. It is impossible to describe the story of the sequel without ruining the ending to the first game, but given all those points above, think the exact opposite for this title. The game even opens up with the trio singing and dancing in front of a crowd of thousands, which really sets the stall out for the rest of this adventure. It was a major shift in tone that alienated fans on release and still feels a divisive title in mainline Final Fantasy games today. It is still well worth your time however.
Gameplay is also vastly different between the games. Final Fantasy X is – for the most part – a linear journey visiting all the towns and temples within Spira, only unlocking the ability to fast travel back to previous towns near the end of the game. Final Fantasy X-2 has that ability from the very beginning and is split into five chapters. Main missions are clearly marked on the map that will progress the story, but most locations also have a side-mission during each chapter, and the player has the option to pick and choose where to go first.
Combat in Final Fantasy X makes it perhaps the most accessible entry into the franchise. Gone is the Active Time Battle (ATB) system used in almost every other Final Fantasy game, and in its place is the Conditional Turn-Based Battle (CTB) system. Rather than having characters and enemies filling up gauges to indicate when they can next attack in ATB, CTB has a timeline to the right-hand side of the screen that allows you to see who’s next to attack. It allows players to properly plan and strategise without losing the integrity of turn-based battling. You can even see in advance what certain buffs and debuffs will do to the queue of attacks to really get an understanding of the battle system.
The ATB system does make a return in Final Fantasy X-2 along with an additional feature called Chain Gauge, delivering out additional damage if you can properly chain attacks together between the party. This requires a more intricate knowledge of individual timing of attacks to really dish out extra damage.
The versions included in this HD Remaster package are based on the International versions that were previously only available in Japan. For Final Fantasy X this means additional bosses and the expert Sphere Grid to allow players to build any type of team they require right from the off; for Final Fantasy X-2 it includes additional dresspheres – an alternative working of the traditional Job system employed in Final Fantasy’s more subtle origins – an extra dungeon known as ‘Last Mission’ and the Creature Creator system.
The Creature Creator system allows players to capture, train and battle many of the fiends found throughout Spira. It all sounds very familiar to Pokémon but features many limitations at the same time. Fiends are categorised into small, medium and large: small fiends take up one slot in your party of three, medium two and a large fiend will replace your entire team. These fiends then also fight autonomously with very little direction from the player, but they can be amended to suit a certain playstyle using items and accessories as you see fit. Thankfully though, this is all optional and unless you go digging through the early game tutorials can even be missed completely.
There are also new story elements to bridge the gap between the games, even adding an extra dimension to the ending of the second game. The ending, known as Final Fantasy X: Will, purposefully leaves an ambiguous conclusion to be interpreted as you wish, but will only really leave you with further questions you want answered.
New features aren’t the only additions to the HD Remaster though as both games have received a substantial graphical overhaul, and the majority of Final Fantasy X’s soundtrack has been rearranged. The option is there to still have the original – and my own personal favourite – playing on your journey. Final Fantasy X-2 has not been given the same love and only has the original soundtrack, though this is less of a problem considering it is a more J-pop inspired soundtrack.
Some character models have come off worse for wear in this overhaul though, and even the facial animations on the main party sometimes do not look like they’ve had any work done. These are only momentary lapses and for the most part, the game looks great.
When first released, Final Fantasy X and X-2 were the first FF games to include voice acting, and some of the delivery of the lines was questionable. The HD Remasters feature the same voice acting as before – warts and all – and it really struggles to stand up to voice work in more recent games. Yuna in particular at times sounds like a soundboard; her words are mashed together to form sentences with speed and pitch all over the shop.
The Xbox One version of the remaster has annoyingly bundled up the separate trophy lists on PS4 into one elongated 1000G list on the Xbox. There are 67 achievements in total for the game and it will take in excess of 100 hours to earn them all. The timing at which you will unlock them are also heavily weighted to endgame activities; completing the main stories of both games will only net you a handful of achievements. And with 67 achievements split into 1000G, don’t expect many to offer significant Gamerscore boosts either – most come in at 10G and 15G.
The arrival of Final Fantasy X/X-2 on Xbox One – along with Final Fantasy VII, IX and the upcoming release of XII – represents the franchise in its golden age. This particular duology is – in my opinion – the franchise at its peak. Across the two games you get the best parts of the franchise: the story, the gameplay, the random battles, the minigames, the chocobos and everything else in between that make Final Fantasy one of the most iconic gaming series out there. Final Fantasy X in particular is instantly accessible for newcomers and puts players in a great position to play the sequel straight after.
This is the perfect entry point into the series for newcomers. And for everyone else, it is one of the best JRPGs of all time.