Things just sort of sneak up on you when you’re not paying attention. Cripes, I can still clearly remember getting FFX on my PS2 and sitting down for long stretches to get through it. I lent the disk to a friend who lost it, then went out and bought it again. Then I got it for PS4. Then for PC. The only thing that would compete with FFX in time played is WoW.
Final Fantasy is anything but nowdays. I’ve played every iteration, and for a plethora of reasons have enjoyed that series much more than others (Breath of Fire or Dragon Quest are top of mind). There’s just something about a vanilla cake with new icing that gets me going – because at the basic level, all FF games are the same. Plucky heroes, crazy villains, weird gods, end of the world, and some crystals thrown in. Often there are cycles too. The mechanics may change, but the pieces are all the same.
There are all sort of categorizations for FF games. 1-6 tend to be grouped together as they were pixel based and isometric. 7-8 went for a more steampunk 3d look. 9 is a standalone homage to everything that preceded it. 10 and 12 are iterations on 7-8. 13 was a weird one that tried to streamline a bunch and 15 is the only FF I cannot bring myself to play through. I’ve ranked them in the past, and 10 always end up on top of my list. Less because of what it does, but more about how it does it so seamlessly.
Spira is infinitely more interesting to me than any other setting. This is a world that undergoes an apocalypse every generation, and has done so for 1,000 years. How does a society even bother rebuilding in such circumstances? A world built on a lie is how, and what a lie. A world where agency doesn’t exist, and reverence is the only path. There are breaking factions, those that want to change, those that want to find the really ancient. The ‘linear’ path of the pilgrimage explores distinct yet related environments, each more challenging that the last. The sense of exploration and mounting difficulty is perfectly analogous to the journey of the main characters building strength for the final battle.
Consider any other FF game, where enemies at the end are harder than those in the starting zones. Why? Why is the bird at the end, found in the wild, harder than before? Spira gives a reason for it.
The FF archetypes are all here, and the whole Tidus/Yuna relationship is one we’ve seen time and time again. Except to the point we reach when we understand the sacrifice, and then again the final twist on Tidus’ true origin. Everyone understands what’s going on but Tidus, all the way until the final bits. It’s a solemn march to death, and they all do it willingly. Fine, the voice acting can be irritating, but each character does have an arc to go through and they are different at the end than at the start.
And Seymour as a villain is really quite well done. No one will beat Kefka, but still this guy is something else. Nearly a demi-god when you first encounter him, his history and unwavering belief in what’s right is impressive. It helps that his boss battles are quite difficult as well. But importantly, he’s in the story nearly every inch, and right up there with Arthas when it comes to crazy enough to be sane.
We may not think much of it now, but the Sphere grid was revolutionary at the time. It took the concept of jobs but took away the need to grind skill improvements. How many games have emulated this model since? Gone are the days of linear growth.
It’s also the last time that we truly get to see turn based combat in all it’s complexity. The Yunalesca battle was a nightmare if you were not properly anticipating the next moves, but a relative cakewalk once you did. Managing turns, understanding status, and interrupts was how the end part of the Monster Arena worked. And in the international version of the game, you could not take down Dark Aeons if you did not master the combat system.
And who can forget Blitzball? The gimmicky, complicated, painful process of getting Waka’s ultimate attack? No card games, limited randomness, just a purely tactical game. Not to mention a foundational piece of culture in the game world… not some bolt on.
FF9 was an amazing bookend to the series’ beginnings. We still see Vivi after all these years for a reason. FFX could not have worked without FF9 preceding it. That palate cleanser allowed for some very interesting ideas to be attempted here with impressive results that have just been iterated upon since, to various degrees of success. Heck, it was so successful that it was the first game to get a proper sequel. A sequel that tried to merge previous game mechanics into the same setting, with varying results.
And forevermore, this song will be burned into my psyche. 20 years feels like yesterday. Time for another playthrough.