Final Fantasy X would be released to Japanese audiences on the 19th of July 2001, with a North American release in December of the same year and a European release in 2002. The tenth numbered entry in the Final Fantasy series (in case you couldn’t tell) follows the exploits of Tidus as he is thrust into the world of Spira. There, he learns about its world, history and what really happened to his home, Zanarkand. The game received incredibly positive reviews and sold well both in Japan and internationally. The game is still warmly received, with many considering it the last great Final Fantasy, a view I don’t share. It has seen HD Remasters on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. It would also be one of the final few games Hironobu Sakaguchi would be listed as an executive producer before his departure from Square in 2003.
A Busy Development
Final Fantasy X was developed during a busy time for Square. It started development in 1999 for the PlayStation 2. The PlayStation 2 was released in March of that year and Square had also released Final Fantasy VIII in February, with Final Fantasy IX on its way in 2000. Square also had two new projects in the pipeline, their first attempt at an MMORPG with Final Fantasy XI and their first attempt at a CGI film with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. As a result, it was an exciting time to be a fan of Square and the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy X would cost approximately $32 million and would have a staff of over 100 people, a massive undertaking. It would be helmed by Yoshinori Kitase, who had overseen Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII. Tetsuya Nomura would return as character designer and the writing would see collaborations between Kazushige Nojima, Daisuke Watanabe, Motomu Toriyama and Yoshinori Kitase. Nobuo Uematsu would return to compose the score but would be assisted by Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano, a first for the series. Final Fantasy X was on its way to being a classic.
A Cultural Shift
Final Fantasy X would see a shift in design for the series. While the previous entries had been heavily influenced by European design, from the medieval worlds of the early games, to the near-future world of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy X would take influence from the South Pacific, Thailand and Japan. This would help to craft Spira’s culture and geography into something truly wonderful and unique within the series. The wonderful seas of Spira, the eloquently designed temples that dot the land, the wonderful villages such as Besaid and Kilika, and the glistening Macalania are some of the most enchanting Final Fantasy locations to this day. Not only did the setting and cultural influence shift but Final Fantasy X moved from the pre-rendered 2D backgrounds of the PlayStation era to full 3D environments, taking full advantage of the PlayStation 2’s power. The game also did away with a traditional world map, instead replacing it with connecting maps that showed the changing topography of each area. This would also have a bit of a downside as now the game felt a bit more linear than those that came before it. While the world maps of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII had helped to create an illusion of openness early on, the narrow pathways of Final Fantasy X felt a bit more claustrophobic. I personally am split on this. I felt the world of Final Fantasy X was smaller than others but I love the detail that was put into each area. The soundtrack was once again a masterpiece. The wonderful To Zanarkand helped to set the melodramatic tone of the journey, while in contrast Otherworld helped to get the heart pumping for an astounding adventure. Even the beautiful Song of Prayer helps us to understand the reverence the Temples are held in in the world of Spira. Music wasn’t the only sound to receive a boost this time. For the first time in the series history, the characters would be voiced. Talent such as James Arnold Taylor, Hedy Burress and John DiMaggio would be brought in to bring the characters to life. This allowed us to experience the characters in a way that had never been possible before.
A New Combat System
Combat and levelling up would also receive an overhaul. The Active Time Battle system was gone, replaced by the Conditional Turn-Based Battle System. Instead of having a bar that filled up to allow us or the enemy to take action, CTB allowed us to see in what order characters would take action. This allowed for a more strategic battle as you could see when your enemy’s turn was coming up, you could see what affect each action could have on your next turn and what order you needed to attack in. It was slower than the ATB system of old but these could always be switched to “Wait” mode if you needed more thinking time. The CTB system also brought in one of my favourite features in the whole series, the ability to use your whole party in a battle. Characters could be switched in and out during your turn, allowing you to customise your set-up depending on what was needed. For example, if you were fighting a flying enemy, Wakka could be switched in to help take them down. The CTB system wouldn’t be seen outside of Final Fantasy X, with Final Fantasy X-2 switching back to ATB while Final Fantasy XII used a battle system closer to MMORPGs (but it allowed you to switch party members in combat). The levelling system of old would be replaced by the Sphere grid. Here, characters could obtain Spheres to purchase new stats, abilities and spells. By competing in battle, characters would obtain AP, which was needed to move around the Sphere Grid. They could stick to a characters predefined path, for example keep Lulu a black mage and Yuna a white mage, or they could unlock abilities from other classes. This gave the player full customisation over how they wanted to develop their characters. They could pour spheres into Auron’s health and strength to make him a tank or spend them on spells to boost his magic abilities. Of course, each character is best suited to a particular style so many probably wouldn’t deviate from the path until much later in the game.
A Beautiful Story
Final Fantasy X’s narrative is simply wonderful. Another change for the series, the story is told retrospectively by Tidus up to a certain point. He recaps the events that led the team to the doorstep of the ruined Zanarkand and how he learned about the culture and customs of Spira. Tidus, who was trust into the future by Sin, arrives in a world that is strange to him. Technology is forbidden and summoners set out on pilgrimages to defeat Sin but Blitzball is still around. Through his love of the sport, he manages to connect with Wakka and the wider world. The game does a wonderful job of explaining the world to us. We are essentially Tidus, learning all about Spira as he does. The narratives tone can feel light-hearted but delve into it and you’ll find an interesting story full of deceit, religious hypocrisy and powerful friendship. It’s one that explores several bonds, from friendship to family, between organised religion and the masses, between sport and its place in a chaotic world, and between life and death. It’s a story full of wonderfully contrasting moments from the first time we see Yuna performing a sending where we really see the true scale of Sin’s destruction, to the tender moments between Tidus and Yuna in Macalania Woods. The game also does a great job of building up its antagonists, showing us that often they aren’t really who we (or Tidus) thought they were. It’s a truly breath-taking journey.
Final Fantasy X would also become the first game in the series to receive a direct sequel in the form of Final Fantasy X-2, where we could once again dive into the world of Spira and experience the events that followed the original game. Its legacy really is something, with people praising its complex narratives, interesting combat system and wonderful orchestral score. It was the first Final Fantasy on a new system but it took full advantage of it to deliver a wonderful experience. Even now when we’ve received several Final Fantasy games on better hardware, Final Fantasy X stands out amongst the series as one of the true greats, not just in Final Fantasy but in all JRPGs. I absolutely love it.