We all know too well the dangers in hyping up a game before its release, but what about hyping up a game after its release? It's easy for us to get into the latest games and shower them with endless praise until the day comes that they get shelved with all the rest. I'm going to take a look at the games of the past to see just how good they were and, more importantly, how good they are in hindsight.
I'm going to start with a classic of the PlayStation 2 days most people are sure to at least be aware of: Final Fantasy X. Looking back now, what can I say about it on the surface? It's awkward, confusing, and totally unusual. The dialogue and story throughout the game was known to trip people up who may not have been paying attention and was even completely off the rails at some parts.
But in spite of any of that, Final Fantasy X was outright enchanting. Its diverse cast of characters with stellar voice acting carried the game through each moment both early and later on. The story, once it really got going, was depressing to the point that I was afraid to see how it might end, while being too enthralling to actually stop. The world-building was immersive and the soundtrack was there at every step of the way to add even more to the overall game experience. Gameplay itself was top-notch turn-based strategy, with many ways to build the party and switch things up.
Let's start with the premise of Final Fantasy X and what made it so good then, and why it aged so well so many years later. There will be mild spoilers ahead, so be warned.
Right at the beginning of the game, I'm shown what's going on towards the end of it. A bit jarring, but the protagonist Tidus starts me off. This is his story. And just like that, I'm whisked away to his home of Zanarkand, a technological marvel filled with extravagant buildings and lights that stretch further than the eye can see.
I get a better introduction to Tidus here. He's the star of the Zanarkand Abes, a renowned Blitzball team, and son to the legendary Jecht, another star player from the same team. He's immediately surrounded by his adoring fans before he can make his way to the big game.
It's an unusual world for me to see and relate to, but this isn't my story. Not yet.
Tidus starts his trek to the stadium while the sports casters do some pre-game discussion, mostly about Jecht and his disappearance ten years ago. When Tidus arrives, I'm shown the first cinematic of the game that really orients me to the sheer mystery of this world I've only just been thrown into. I get to see what Blitzball looks like, how popular it is, and the wild technology needed to make it happen.
I was also shown that the story of Tidus is only just starting and it's not going to be a pleasant one, as indicated by an enormous wave suddenly approaching the city while a mysterious man in a kimono raises his drink to it.
As this strange new threat wreaks havoc across the city, Tidus recognizes the mysterious man as Auron, the man who has been looking after Tidus since Jecht's disappearance. Together, they make their way through the now chaotic Zanarkand as dangerous fiends roam the streets, prompting Auron to teach Tidus how to fight.
Their efforts are seemingly in vain, though, as the entire city of Zanarkand is sucked into the giant wave, which is now a creature taking up the whole view of the sky. All hope of getting out of this situation was lost a long time ago, but Auron manages to cut through the mounting dread and confusion of the two characters flying into an unknown light.
"This is it," he says. "This is your story," he dryly proclaims while dragging Tidus towards him. "It all begins here," as the screen fades to white.
Though the journey into Final Fantasy X starts off in such an abrupt and dizzying way, the rest of the pacing makes more sense and gave me time to think and understand what was happening. Tidus and, by extension, myself have been thrown into a new world known as Spira. In fact, starting from this point in the game, it does a good job at making Tidus and I feel like one and the same since we are both being exposed to new things at the same time. Tidus often asks questions I might also be wondering, and sometimes reacts in a way that I would react in those situations.
That fact alone explains why Final Fantasy X captured the hearts of so many so quickly. It literally sucks the audience in and gives them a story, whether it follows Tidus or the audience themselves.
Much in the world of Spira has a parallel to what is known in the world outside of Final Fantasy X, giving me even more ways to relate to the story. For example, there is an organized religion known as Yevon that has great power and influence over the entire world. Many characters in Final Fantasy X are devoted to Yevon out of fear of Sin - the great creature that destroyed Tidus's home earlier - and as such, live simple and principled lives.
This is shown in Wakka, one of the first people Tidus meets when he washes up on a beach on an island known as Besaid. He is lighthearted and easygoing, but he is also a life-long devotee to Yevon and its teachings, defending them at every opportunity and denouncing what he views as wrong in the eyes of Yevon, particularly the Al Bhed who defy the teachings.
Even so, there are those who are skeptical of Yevon or those who are able to separate themselves from religion, even if they believe in it. Lulu, a friend to Wakka and Guardian of Yuna, demonstrates this. She is always critical and pensive, and never misses a beat when it comes to pointing out the mistakes of others and even herself.
A small minority of characters in Final Fantasy X are just there to do the right thing, however, whether it's for themselves or for someone else. Yuna is one of those characters, and rounds out the composition of the characters met so far with her soft-spoken demeanor and compassionate attitude. She is a Summoner, and daughter of High Summoner Braska, the last person to defeat Sin.
The last character met on Besaid is Kimahri, a Ronso whose only care in the world of Spira seems to be Yuna's safety, no matter the cost. He also doesn't like to talk.
Later on in the party's journey, Tidus meets back up with Auron, who asks to become a Guardian to Yuna to join them on their journey. His experience and wisdom helps an otherwise naive group of Guardians protect their friend.
Finally, the party meets Rikku, who Tidus was saved by before he washes up on Besaid. She is a perky and driven Al Bhed who also has a vested interest in protecting Yuna while trying everything she can to get Yuna to quit her Pilgrimage.
It's this cast of characters that really gets things going as they travel the world to complete Yuna's Pilgrimage so that she might become strong enough to defeat Sin like her father before her. As they travel, they find places destroyed by Sin. They find people who still have hope and people who have given it up long ago. Each encounter strengthens the bond the party has with each other and the connection that I in turn feel to each character.
Left to right: Auron, Rikku, Wakka, Tidus, Yuna, Kimahri, Lulu
This is because, suddenly, it's not just Tidus's story anymore, or even my story. The cast is so diverse and fleshed out that each character met along the way feels like they are the center of their own story, because they are. Different backgrounds, motives, ideas, and personalities all come together or go against each other to create an interesting and dynamic world which anyone could draw parallels to outside of Final Fantasy X.
Each location the party comes across is equally as unique, with personalities to match at every step. From tribal islands to grand trade hubs and cities, the varying places in the world have clearly received the same attention to detail that each character, both main or supporting, got as part of their background.
It's hard to follow one character's mindset throughout all of Final Fantasy X, since many of the characters, particularly Tidus, are growing and changing in their own ways while the story progresses. And while the story progresses, it gets gradually darker as the ones the characters and the player are supposed to trust in are perpetuating a religion built on lies to control people and their history.
Characters once thought to be friends turn out to be central antagonists, and the party has to throw aside everything they believed about Yevon and morality to do what they have to at any cost to stop Sin.
While in many ways, Final Fantasy X is a story about religion, corruption, and immorality, it's a story about so much more, too.
It's seen in Tidus's initial selfishness, just wanting to get back home, even though this new world needs him more than his old one does.
It's seen in Yuna's self-sacrifice, putting herself after everyone else at any and every cost.
It's seen in Wakka's climactic moment after finding out the cause he's spent his life believing in and defending was a lie.
It's seen in Lulu eventually forgiving herself and others for the past and moving on.
It's seen in Kimahri witnessing the loss of his entire race of Ronso in order to protect Yuna.
It's seen in Auron confronting his failures as a Guardian and guiding the next generation to do what he could not.
It's seen in Rikku whose strong family values and love for her cousin and friend Yuna make her reject the idea of Yuna sacrificing her life for others.
It's seen in every other character in Final Fantasy X, both main and supporting, protagonist and antagonist. Everyone has their own ideology and background that shapes who they are and how they relate to me as the player. Each character has their own story and each can be a parallel to our own stories outside of Final Fantasy X.
I could attribute Final Fantasy X's success to any one of its components that make it a fantastic game, but what really sets Final Fantasy X apart from most other games is how it makes a world and story totally foreign to me, the player, feel like it actually is a part of me and was a part of me the whole time.
There's no way for me to talk at any length about Final Fantasy X without getting nostalgic. It has a story that relates to any part of history and just about any person. It has rich storytelling, character-building, and world-building that are all timeless and unique. It has one of the most incredible soundtracks produced for a video game, fitting every individual mood and moment seen throughout the game. It has tense fights and difficult puzzles in both exploration and combat. It also just has so much to do and all of it was immensely fun and challenging and still is to this day.
I tend to try and play through Final Fantasy X once a year and I have been doing that ever since I first played it as a kid. For that and for many other reasons, more than any other game or story I've invested in, Final Fantasy X is easily one of the most impressive and memorable experiences I've had. Even today, over sixteen years after its release, it holds up exceedingly well and never fails to grip me emotionally even though I know everything that's going to be said and everything that's going to happen in my play through.
Final Fantasy X is still awkward, confusing, and totally unusual, but it's also something I treasure and appreciate no matter how many times I get into it. It's special in ways I can hardly describe and enlightening in ways that would just take too long to write about. It challenged the ways of individuals and societies of the world to an extent that few have come close to. Lastly, it's helped me grow as a person by watching characters, fictional as they are, also grow in a way that I could learn from.
In hindsight, I can't imagine how things might be if Final Fantasy X hadn't played a part in my life. Every element of it as a game is incredible, but everything it had to teach me as a person was well worth any price tag.