Final Fantasy X: RPGs Past And Future

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Starting up the HD remaster of Final Fantasy X has given me my first opportunity to look at it since completing Final Fantasy XIII. The two are often compared, usually in criticisms of the latter. I’ve always felt like there are stark differences between the two games that are really important when it comes to FFXIII’s reception.

The leading issue with FFXIII and fans in the years since its release has been its linearity. Instead of exploring a vast world map you pretty much just spend 60 hours running down corridors that blur the line between RPG and cinematic action game. In every discussion I’ve seen about this someone eventually snaps back citing how FFX is equally linear. I agree the two games are possibly more similar to each other than to any other main FF game. When you think about it FFXIII is sort of the logical conclusion of some of the things FFX started. FFX was the first game in the series with voice acting, the first 3D entry with lots of real time cut scenes, and it uses a ton of what are essentially scripted events during gameplay.  Maybe that similarity between the two games is what makes their differences all the more important.

Most of FFX is indeed a straight line like FFXIII, but I think the main difference is what you do along that straight line.

My main issue with FFXIII was always that you pretty much just watched cut scenes and fought monsters for the whole game, which wears thin over the course of 60 hours. FFX on the other hand features towns full of non-player characters to talk to, shops to browse, inns to stay at, secrets to be found, and quests to complete. In a sense, FFX still manages to feature a tangible world despite the heavy linearity of its map. In it you still do most of the things people associate with role-playing games.

FFX’s story furthers this too. The game is about a group’s pilgrimage across the world, so the feeling of a globetrotting journey that’s near ubiquitous in classical Japanese RPGs is still present. FFXIII feels more like an action game briskly taking you from event to event. In general I think FFX manages to skillfully dodge a lot of the problems people have with classical JRPGs too.

I’ve had a lot of problems with the genre, mostly dealing with its mechanical stagnation in the face of western RPGs that try to offer the most open-ended worlds they can. And yet, I don’t really disdain FFX’s random battles, character tropes, and anime designs at all. It feels like a just-fresh-enough take on just why people like JRPGs.

When I first played the game back in 2001, even though I saw it as a basic kids-save-the-world story, it was immediately apparent there was something more to the story, world, and characters, even if that was only the flavor of the storytelling. To this day FFX’s character designs also stick out at me because of how cohesive they are with the world (excluding Lulu) and how unique they are among RPGs. How many Final Fantasy games have deliberately Asian-looking settings? The battle system is random and turn-based, but simultaneously offered new flavors of old mechanics while keeping those mechanics impressively well-balanced.

Look I’m just saying. I think a lot of people complain about FFXIII while ignoring its similarities to FFX because FFX still does what it needs to do to feel like the traditional JRPG many fans expect. In a lot of ways it’s about as condensed as the traditional formula can get before it starts to become something else.

BULLETS:

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