May 08, 2014

That's A Wrap: Final Fantasy X

warning: may contain spoilers

I have played Final Fantasy X as many times as years it's been available, plus a few. It's a tradition for me to pick this title up and blast through it at least once a year, so excuse me if I consider myself something of an expert on it.

I can't fully recall my first impressions of FFX, but when I think about this game my brain overflows with memories, some of the most prominent of which are from my first playthrough, in which I trailed my friend Rich, and we'd get together every day to talk about the game. Allow me to take a moment to insert this confession: if ever there were a fictional character I'd totally marry the shit out of, it's Seymour Guado. Stupid voice actor and all! That said, Rich was the recipient of one very pathetic phone call, from one devastated Lo Burton who had just killed Seymour. His response was "...which time?" and my day was made.
This time around, there was some initial shock regarding how poorly FFX has aged, and how it compares to the current gen, but those feelings were quickly replaced by the anticipation of diving into the world of Spira, its magnificent story, its interesting cast and the last game in the series to hold onto the longtime values that make a game worthy of the title, 'Final Fantasy'.

The original release of FFX for Playstation 2 is (at the time of publishing) thirteen years old, and it shows. After a long slew of Xbox 360 and PS3 games, popping FFX into the PS2 took me by a bit of surprise.
The game's FMVs are still quite good looking, but they were absolutely stunning for their time. The general look of the game is not only rough, but dated too; the game is an ode to the once revolutionary polygon characters and their wild gestures, and a static camera made the work load a little easier for background artists, but certainly restricts the player. Some of the graphic details did hold up over the years, though, like the bright color pallet, the attention to details, and iconic artwork and character design including but not limited to one gorgeous, pointy-haired Seymour Guado… It's worth mentioning that in spite of the game's aged appearance, I quickly overlooked all of its graphic flaws. The game has so much more to offer that you'll adjust to the graphics in a pinch!

One such offering is the game's soundtrack, which is easily a 10/10. Not only one of the best Final Fantasy soundtracks, but one of the greatest video game soundtracks of all time. This was the first FF in which regular composer Nobuo Uematsu had some extra help in the music department, in the form of Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano. The man is a musical magician on his own, so it's incredible to see what he can do with some extra hands! The musical accompaniment for FFX is not only outstanding on its own, but really adds something special to the gameplay. The tracks are beautiful, rich and descriptive. I've a lifetime of scrutinizing music under my belt, but I'd struggle to point you in the direction of a more solid and enjoyable soundtrack. Also noteworthy: the soundtrack continues over load screens. God, I miss that. These days, soundtracks are often interrupted and take their sweet time loading into the next area, but in FFX, the tunes not only continue when there is no need for pause, but load pretty seamlessly altogether, if with a dainty cross-fade.
It's clear a great deal of thought went into the sound effects, too. In spite of its growth, the PS2 still had some restrictions, forcing developers to pick and choose where to put the details. In FFX, the effects are very fitting and realistic, down to the different sounds for footsteps on different terrains. I also noticed the wildlife in this game really, really stands out. There was one point during my gameplay where I had sauntered off to the loo and left the post battle screen up. The screen plays FFX's version of the iconic Victory Fanfare, but also incorporates environmental effects from the level. I was almost certain I had a mice infestation in my home, but it turns out it was just some birds and stuff on Besaid...
FFX was the first Final Fantasy game to include voice acting, and while it isn't exactly outstanding - in fact it might be some of the worst ever - it does kind of grow on you in time. The casting wasn't truly terrible, but the emotional choices of the actors were. Actually, being trained in audio production, I'm almost certain that the vocal soundtrack of FFX is very "cut and paste," and some of the acting decisions weren't even meant for the scenes in which they were used. Regardless, if I were in charge, I think I'd be holding some casting auditions. The only characters I really love in this game, in terms of acting, are Auron and Wakka, to some extent Rikku and maybe Kimarhi...
There is one last mildly soundtrack-related aspect in FFX: Al Bhed. Yes, the game has its own made up language! I really wish I understood Japanese enough to explain how they handled this in the game's native tongue, but for us English-speaking folk, Al Bhed is simply a rearrangement of the 26-letter English alphabet, so it's still understandable... with some studying, but more on that later.

The plot in FFX is incredibly complex and layered, and given to you in pieces. This is, I think, what makes or breaks a potential fan of FFX. Some people appreciate the difficulty of the plot, and the fact that it's a far departure from the "classic" stories of previous FF games, others hate it for this reason and/or won't invest the time it takes to fully understand the narrative, and as such, simply don't love the game. For the sake of spoilers, I'm not going to discuss the plot in detail here, but rather in a "side quest" at the bottom of the article. If you're unfamiliar with FFX: relax, I won't disclose too much, but if you are, and still struggle to understand, I will do my best to detail the story to you below.
In short: this is Tidus' story. Our crybaby has been whisked away to a land unknown where people think he's batshit, and his only hope of getting home is to join the pilgrimage of Yuna and her guardians. Along the way, there are also a few subplots, including our cast learning to reconcile their pasts and presents; the importance of life; racism; and how your father affects who you are.

The cast of FFX is rather large, and it's impressive how much development each character received. The principle cast consists of:
Tidus, or whatever you choose to name him, it doesn't matter because his name is never actually spoken. This lead to a large debate among fans, whether his name is pronounced Ty-dus, or Tee-dus. As far as I'm concerned, it's the former. Ti is the young, optimistic star of the Zanarkand Abes, and his only obstruction - his famous, athlete father, Jecht - disappeared years ago. Things are pretty sweet for Tidus, until a mysterious monster called Sin shows up and tosses his world around like a burnt pancake. Tidus washes up on a land he doesn't recognize, and when he seeks direction to Zanarkand, he's told his home was destroyed by war 1000 years ago. Tidus stands out as a leading character, particularly in Final Fantasy, because of his bright and cheery disposition. In so many of the previous titles, the leads were the dark and broody types, usually lifted by their counterparts, but in FFX, Tidus is the game's source of optimism, and many, many laughs. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Tidus fights with swords - many of which are gifted to him - and status magic, and is a pretty well balanced character with emphasis on speed.
Auron has apparently been Tidus' caretaker for the last 10 years. After Hecht disappeared, Auron showed up and helped influence Tidus into the man he is today sorta, and apparently managed to do so without ever actually explaining his own past to Ti. Auron was once a highly respected monk, but after being exiled for refusing to marry, he turned to guardianship to fill his time. This is where he met Hecht, and together the two guarded Braska through his pilgrimage. Auron is the team's powerhouse, fighting with large swords capable of piercing even the toughest armor, and has the skills to match. He's also my favorite; he's incredibly useful, and you'll miss him when he's gone; he's one of the best portrayed and also has a gripping story which is a pleasure to unfold.
Wakka is arguably Tidus' first friend in Spira. Also a blitzball star, the two quickly bond over the sport which also serves as the basis for Wakka's fighting style: he throws balls at stuff. Seriously. But don't underestimate him! He's not only one of the stronger guys on your team, but you will depend on him more often than not for his distance abilities. It's through Wakka (and his part-time job as a guardian) that Tidus is brought to
Yuna. It wouldn't exactly be wrong of you to consider Yuna the game's second protagonist. Yuna is a summoner, using white magic and Aeons in battle, and also serves as the catalyst for the major plot progressions. Tidus joins Yuna on her pilgrimage to stop Sin and bring peace to Spira, like her father Braska did 10 years earlier. Yuna is naive and very soft, which contrasts her companions, such as
Lulu, the resident black mage. Lulu is experienced, tough and almost as cold as her 'blizzaga' spell. This isn't her first time attempting to guard a summoner, and she struggles not to remind herself of her past experiences, especially since she's now guarding a surrogate sister.
Kimarhi is an interesting character, and a little all over the map. Sometimes literally. Kimarhi is Yuna's oldest guardian, charged with bringing her to Besaid as her father suggested before he died. Kimarhi is big, hard and blue… like… the mage. The blue mage. Remember those? Kimarhi has an ability called "lancet" which, when used on certain enemies, allows him to adopt the special skills those enemies possess. He' also capable of being the strongest on the team, if you spend enough time with him. Because he's so versatile, he's often overlooked, but Kimarhi has the ability to be almost as stunning as his story.
Rikku is distant family to Yuna, and the last to join her party. Rikku is a young, bubbly alchemist with never-ending energy. In addition to her heavy hands, she can use all manner of items, such as explosives, as well as her own unique, healing Al Bhed potions which are easily the most desirable in the game. She's also the team's thief, stealing all sorts of goodies from the baddies. And she hates lightning. A lot.
For the record, my dream team usually consists of Auron, Tidus and Wakka, although I'll frequently swap Wakka for Lulu if I require magic, or Tidus for Yuna if I require Aeons. Since I typically pimp out Tidus, I seldom need Rikku, and Kimarhi is either the star of the show or forgotten entirely. What can I say? I like heavy hitters. That said, there are a few battles in which Rikku makes a phenomenal healer. In fact, I think I depend on her and her Al Bhed potions more often than Yuna's healing spells or items. She's handy like that, because when she's not needed for healing, she can busy herself with stealing rare items from our foes.
The truth is: I've played this game so many times now that I've tried damn near everything. Sometimes I get creative a build a different team, but I almost always fall back on Auron.

The game also boasts a fair few supporting cast members, including our protag's fathers, Jecht and Braska. Jecht is the neglectful, drunken father of Tidus, and he struggles to come to terms with fatherhood and giving up his vanity. After falling into Spira, he begins his own journey of atonement and learns to embrace his family. Braska is quite the opposite, a family man with a lot of love to give, but after his wife is lost to Sin, he makes the difficult decision to leave Yuna behind and take down the terror himself.
You also learn of another family drama in FFX: Seymour and his parents. Seymour is the multi-racial child of human and Guado - a race humans find difficult to accept. His father was highly respected and praised for his bravery in blurring the lines between the two races. Seymour, on the other hand, had a very difficult childhood, amplified by his mother's poor decision making. This ultimately leads him to a life of evil, and that makes him your enemy.
Some of the other come-and-go characters include the traveling merchant O'aka XXIII and his cousin Wantz, who takes over when O'aka can't be handy; the leaders of Spira: Maesters Kinoc, Mika, and Kelk, all who have small ties to the main party; Shelinda, a young supporter of Yevon (the game's prominent religion), who struggles to find her place in the world; and my personal favorite: Maechen, the scholar and traveling historian. You run into Maechen at various points in your pilgrimage and have the opportunity to take advantage of his wisdom to fill in plot holes and tie pieces of information together. I highly recommend you spend some time with Maechen. And that, as they say, is that.

As the tenth main installment in the Final Fantasy series, there are a number of recurring elements that make the game familiar to fans. You've heard me mention before that I consider X the last playable title in this series, and these are some of the reasons why. That said, there were a number of these elements absent in this title, which began the downward spiral that is modern Final Fantasy.
As always, there were summonable creatures to aid you in battle, and in FFX these are called Aeons. Ifrit, Shiva and Bahamut all make their regular cameo, as well as newcomers Valefor and Ixion, who specialize in energy and lightning, respectively. There are also the token optional Aeons: Yojimbo, Anima and the Magus Sisters return! Since FFX is much more linear in design, there is no true over world map, and the only time you get to save your game is at any of the many save spheres scattered throughout Spira. These also do you the favor of restoring your HP and MP, as well as reviving fallen Aeons, and eventually, you can use them to instigate a Blitzball match or board your airship.
Each character has their signature charged attack, and in this title we call it 'overdrive'. Your overdrive meter charges based on the mode you set it to (default is 'stoic', or every time you take damage) and you can unleash this all-powerful attack at any time after the meter is full. These are very useful, and unique to each character. Titus has an overdrive attack called 'Swordplay', which, to perform, you're expected to land the X button on your Dualshock 2 when the shuttle passes over the indicated section of a meter that pops up for a short amount of time on screen. The quicker you execute this, the more powerful his attack. Tidus learns new swordplays after you use the existing ones so many times. Aaron has a similar style, called 'Bushido', in which you have to execute a string of button-press commands within the designated time. Aaron learns new Bushido attacks if you can find all of the Braska and Jecht spheres the men left scattered throughout Spira during their journey. Wikka's attack is called 'Reels', which, as the name suggests, brings up an elemental slot machine. You hit the stop for each of the 3 reels, which will power Wakka's ball with the corresponding element. Typically, lining up 3 of the same element will prove to be more powerful than any 3 at random. Luna's overdrive specialty is the 'Grand Summon', in which she's able to summon any of her Aeons one time, with THEIR overdrive meter already full. Yes, the Aeons possess overdrive meters as well, and their attacks are well worth the time it takes to build them. Having Yuna overdrive ready means you can forgo this process for one of your mighty helpers.
Lulu has one of the most annoying overdrives, 'Fury', in which you have to spin your right stick in circles as many times as you can before time runs out. The ease with which you'll complete this corresponds with Lu's magic power. You get to select which spell she casts, and she will cast it as many times as you complete rotations, however her casts will be significantly less powerful per cast, it's the combination of casts that potentially makes her deadly. Cast cast cast. Kimarhi's overdrive is 'Ronso Rage', in which he's able to perform one of the powerful skills he's learned using his 'lancet' ability. And finally Rikku, whose overdrive is 'Mix', which allows her to make a random concoction using the various items you've acquired along the way. This makes her overdrive capable of being the weakest, or absolutely devastating. 
Some of the details that round out these "familiar things" are status ailments and their corresponding armor and weapons, the iconic Victory Fanfare, and the adorable chocobos and their classic diddy. As always, riding a chocobo leaves you immune to the random encounters, also a Final Fantasy staple.
Noticeably absent elements include the haunting Prelude and good ol' fashioned difficulty. As I said before, I maintain FFX managed to hold onto the core values that make these games so great, but change did bare its ugly teeth for this installment, and this game is both linear and easy. I'd like to say that FFX requires strategy, but it really doesn't when you consider that the game holds your hand in battle and teaches you who to use and what to do for each enemy. It's neat that they considered every strength and weakness, but annoying that there is no other way to handle combat. The sphere grid (we're getting there, hang on) is also painfully commanding and there really aren't many points in the game when you get to truly hold the reins.

And with that, let's talk combat.
Battles in FFX are, as per tradition, brought on by random encounters at any point in your journey, except while in towns. You battle with three of your party members, but you can switch them out at any time by simply pressing L1 and choosing the character you want to take over. This is good and bad. It's super handy to switch members at your heart's desire, but it also makes battles significantly easier. In FFX, switching characters doesn't rob you of your turn either.
You'll notice a bar on the right side of the screen that displays many familiar faces as well as some "boss A", "mon B" etc. This is your turn timeline. Instead of the classic 'active time battle' system, FFX uses something called 'conditional turn-based' battle, in which your order of turns is determined initially by each character's speed or any turn-influencing skills (such as "first attack" or "initiative" which are found on weapons). You can scroll through this timeline using R1 and R2. You'll notice however, that the timeline rearranges itself based on the decisions you make during battle. For example, if you choose to use an item, your recovery time is quite quick and it's likely you'll have another turn before the battle is handed over the opponents. Using a powerful spell like 'Holy' or 'Ultima', however, requires a longer recovery period and you'll not have another turn for a while. Since we're using CTB instead of ATB, there is no time pressure whatsoever. The battle essentially pauses while you design your plan, and you have all the time in the world to execute it.
Your options vary from person to person, but for the most part, you have the option to attack the ol' fashioned way, use skills, "special", white or black magic (which cast immediately!), use items, and if you press your left stick or D-pad to the right, you'll find you can change your weapon, your armor, or run away like the little girl! If you choose to flee, it has to be done one by one (which sometimes fails), unless Tidus (or anyone else) has learned the 'Flee' ability from the sphere grid. If your overdrive meter is full, pressing left will allow you to choose your overdrive attack, but remember to be prepared for some quick actions for Tidus, Auron, Wakka and Lulu. In a handful of battles, you're offered the option to choose "trigger event" which usually just spends your turn talking, but adds something to the battle that is sometimes necessary.
Use X to navigate your menus and circle to back out of them. Pressing triangle will put your character into a defense stance and otherwise forfeits your turn. Your left stick or D-pad will help you choose your target. One qualm I have with the battle controls is that the direction to swap targets changes all the time. Sometimes you need to press left and right to change targets, sometime it's up and down. If you're a speed demon like me, you'll find yourself occasionally attacking your friends instead of your foes.
If you've got Yuna on the front line, she can summon an Aeon, who will replace the whole party in battle until either dismissed by Yuna or dismissed by the baddie (killed). Aeons also possess melee attacks and magic as well as one unique attack. They also have overdrives which are identical in nature to the rest of the party, but their meters usually fill up faster and they only have one charge mode.
Weapons and armor often have a few abilities attached to them which will affect you in battle, such abilities include elemental affiliates, stat boosts or the sensor ability, which allows you to see your opponents info, like HP and elemental strengths or weaknesses. You can also call upon the help bar at any time by pressing 'select', which will often give you little hints as to how to take on the tougher enemies.
In FFX, you do not carry status ailments with you outside of battle, and if you should die, you will revive with 1 HP afterward. Of course if you are killed or petrified at the end of battle, you forfeit the experience, and members must participate in battle to reap the rewards - that means completing an action (switching out doesn't count, defending does!).
Beware underwater battles - and there are quite a few - as only Tidus, Wakka and Rikku can fight in water! Make sure you have them equipped accordingly, and don't neglect these three when leveling up.
Winning a battle nets you Gil (money), AP (ability points) and the occasional item, including spheres.

So about that Sphere Grid thingy…
The sphere grid is FFX's attempt at a unique method of leveling up your characters. Rather than earning experience points and growing with levels, you instead earn ability points (AP) which act much like experience points, except they contribute to your sphere level instead of a generic level. You then take your sphere levels to the sphere grid, and spend them 1 for 1 moving around the nodes of the grid. That is, for every S. LVL you have, you can move that many spaces on your sphere grid, unlocking the various nodes as you go, which offer skills and stat boosts. To unlock the node, you need to have the corresponding sphere in your inventory (they are - for the most part - extremely common), which you get from enemies as well as chests. There are four main nodes/sphere types: Power, Mana, Speed and Ability. Power nodes offer strength and defense boosts, Mana offers magic and MP boosts (including magic defense), Speed is pretty self explanatory, and Ability teaches your characters a new skill or spell. There are a handful of other spheres you can collect although they're quite a bit more rare, and affect things like luck or allow you to create an additional node on your character's path. Then there are also a few transportation-type spheres which allow you to move somewhere else on the grid without spending sphere levels. You will also encounter locked nodes on the sphere grid that require key spheres of various levels to unlock.
In the grand scheme of things, I don't hate the sphere grid, however I don't care for the restriction it places. Each character has their own laid out path and you're not really supposed to deviate from it, (and doing so is quite difficult) so you really have no choice in the matter of training your characters. In the past, Final Fantasy always came up with really unique ways to give the player control of their character's development, but in X, it's as linear as the rest of the game. Speaking of which…

General gameplay consists of walking or swimming through the various levels, uncovering the occasional chest, talking to NPCs and being bombarded by random battles. For most part, you don't really have a choice in where you go, there is only forward. When you reach a town, there are shops for you to purchase new weapons, armor and items, and sometimes a sort of inn to rest and a few other places to visit, some of which are mandatory for the plot. It's virtually impossible to get lost since the game locks all the areas that aren't incorporated into the current story, and there's usually a little red arrow on your mini map to help you find the next event. As I mentioned before, the camera is fixed, which messes with your controls a bit, but honestly I've seen worse. Every now and then you get to participate in the many conversations, and the game will prompt you to choose your response, which may affect the scene slightly, but won't change the game at all. I recommend hitting on Lulu. You'll see.
The first chunk of the game is spent journeying from village to village so that Yuna can pray at the Temples of the Fayth and earn herself a new Aeon. To get there, you first have to solve the Cloister of Trials, which is the game's puzzle offering. Each cloister increases in difficulty, and consists of moving the glowing spheres from recess to recess to make your way through, as well as solving a number of other puzzles.
Each cloister also has a single "destruction sphere", which, when placed in the correct spot will net you a shiny prize which is of the upmost importance if you plan to complete one of the game's side quests. And there are many side quests. If the plot alone isn't enough for you, you can take up FFX's signature mini game, called Blitzball. The game provides a very instructional guide to Blitz, so I'm not going to explain it to you now, but I will confide in you that I absolutely hate hate hate Blitzball. Many people love it, but I've found in my 13+ years playing FFX, I've had the poorest luck and even poorer patience, so I just can't bring myself to enjoy the made up sport. But not to fear, there are many more things to do like mastering Al Bhed, the aforementioned made up language unique to FFX. Al Bhed is the language spoken by the race of the same name, which includes Rikku and her father Cid (which is another FF recurrence!). There are Al Bhed primers littered throughout Spira, and you'll be given a few as well to help you conquer the language, so when spoken in your presence, the otherwise jumbled letters will organize themselves into understandable English. There are 26 primers to be acquired, but there's a small cheat for any who've played the game before! In any of Rin's Travel Agencies, and a couple of other random spots, you'll find a lone sphere on the floor called an Al Bhed Compilation Sphere. These babies will scan your memory cards for previous FFX save files and transfer any of the primers you've found in past files to your current one, cutting down the challenge for the current playthrough. You'll also find Sphere Terminals in Spira, which host all the tutorials, controls and terminology, if you're finding yourself a bit lost. But back to side quests - Aeons. There are five mandatory Aeons you must acquire during your story, but there are three more you can hunt down of your own desire. These are Yojimbo, a unique Aeon who you must pay, not only to fight for you in battle, but just to join your party! Anima, who will become familiar to you after a certain point in the game. She can only be sought out near the end of the game, but she's totally worth it. The last optional Aeon will be very familiar to longtime FF players: the Magus Sisters. The sisters are probably the hardest to acquire and requires you participate in two other side quests: Belgemine and her Aeons. Belgemine can be found at various points in your journey, and she will offer to train you in the ways of the summoner. It's beneficial to engage Belgamine as soon as possible, as she will give you helpful prizes that allow you to grow your Aeons, and finally, one of the prizes needed to unlock the Sisters. The other quest is a monster hunting quest associated with the monster arena in the Calm Lands.
Another thing you may discover on your path are Jecht spheres. These are recorded videos that Jecht, Braska and Auron left behind on their pilgrimage, and finding them will offer Auron new overdrives. The biggest side quest in FFX is the Celestial Weapon or "ultimate weapon" quest. Each character has a Celestial weapon and they are an absolute pain in the ass to earn. The quest consists of four sections: the Celestial Mirror, the crests, the sigils and the weapons themselves. Essentially, you acquire the useless weapons and then must power them up via crests and sigils, which all share a name with a planet, and Yuna's with the moon. I won't detail each of the subquests since there are countless guides online and many are presented to you in plain sight if you talk to everyone in the game, but if you're going to take on this quest, patience is mandatory. Have you ever heard someone complain about dodging lightning 200 times? This is why!
Then there are the Al Bhed passwords, the hidden co-ordinates, the battle arena, chocobos… lots to do.
Fun fact: my version of FFX is the original NTSC release of the game, which does not include the expert sphere grid, the Dark Aeons or the super bosses, like Penance.

Here's a look at the menu in FFX. To the left is your party and their immediate condition. At the bottom is your time stamp, bank account and current location, and to the right are your many menus:
Sphere Grid > Takes you to the grid where you can spend S. LVLs to boost your characters. The white "0" in the image actually indicates each character's level, and as you can see, I'm all leveled up!
Item > Allows you to use and sort your inventory, including items, equipments and key items.
Ability > Allows you to select a character and view their current skills and magic, and their MP cost. In the case of white magic, you can use these abilities outside of battle to heal your party.
Overdrive > Allows you to select a character and view their overdrive options, as well as set the mode you want them to use.
Equip > Where you can view and select which armor and weapons you want your party to use. Each item displays its attached abilities when highlighted.
Status > Allows you to select a character and view their current stats, including strength, agility and magic, and if you press X, you can cycle through the character's abilities.
Aeons > Displays the full list of your acquired Aeons. You can view their stats, and if you have the proper items, you can teach them new abilities or boost their attributes.
Formation > Allows you to move your party around on the left. The top three characters will begin in battle.
Customize > Where you can alchemize weapons and armor to add new abilities. Equipment must have empty ability slots to be customized, and you must possess the correct items to add the abilities you want. Available abilities are listed in white, while unavailable ones will be greyed out or absent altogether.
Config > Where you can configure your game settings, such as audio preferences, subtitles, and how long your Aeon's cutscenes are.
Help > Takes you to a window in which you can access basic tutorials for the game.

The controls are painfully simple. You use your left stick to move Tidus, triangle brings up your menu, circle is cancel, X is your input, and square, when applicable, can be used to execute special commands such as recruiting new members to your Blitzball team. Other than that, the game will indicate what to do. You'll usually have your mini map to help guide you.

FFX can pretty much be as long as you want it to be. This time around I completed the game in 42 hours, and that was with some of the side quests and a little grinding, just for fun. I have many other saves on the same memory card that range from 45 to 75 hours. The game is not very difficult at all, and while there is still tons to do, it's nothing like the previous titles. That doesn't mean it's not fun, though. I pick up this title at least once a year and it's largely due to the fact that I can plow through it as quickly as I desire, and it never affects the plot. Even in its shortest form, the game is still very entertaining and actually, the quicker you play it, the more challenging it is!
I suppose I'm obligated to mention the sequel, Final Fantasy X-2. This game is nothing like its predecessor, and significantly less entertaining. If you enjoy FFX, I recommend you instead follow the footprints backwards, and see what this series was once capable of before it died a most painful death.

LOTIPS
  • Before you leave Besaid, go back and find the dog. It's worth it.
  • AnimaAnimaAnimaAnimaAnimaAnima
  • Related: you won't be able to obtain the destruction sphere prize from Zanarkand on the first visit. You'll have to go back!
  • Towards the end of the game, you're going to find it's helpful to have everyone's overdrive on call. While traveling, take the time to fill up everyone's gauge and be ready for anything. Also, using overdrives as often as you can sometimes merits rewards!
  • As much as I hate the Omega Ruins, they are one of the quickest ways to level up at the end of the game. Just don't wander too far from that save sphere.
  • Spend time with Rikku right way. Her HP will be way low and you'll need her battle appropriate sooner than later. Luckily her sphere grid is jam-packed with HP spheres.
  • Speaking of which, if at the end of the game you're finding someone a little lacking in the HP department, warp them to Rikku's neck of the woods on the sphere grid and spend some time chewing on those.
  • Evade & counter.
  • It's easy to forget about Yuna if you're pro-powerhouse like me, but don't forget to level her up equally, so her Aeons are where you need them to be later on, as they grow with her.
  • Keep your equipment! Once you have Rikku, you gain the ability to alchemize your weapons and armor to customize them! This, of course, requires stuff, and the upgrades won't show up until you have at least one of the item required. Remember that sometimes weapons will have the same names but different stats.
  • Trio of 9999. You're welcome.

SIDE QUEST
An explanation of the plot of FFX

Here's the deal, folks: I've played FFX more times than I'm able to keep track of, so I feel like I've fully figured out what's going on in this game. That said, this is MY ACCOUNT of the details of the story, and it may or may not be entirely accurate, but I'm satisfied with my understanding of the plot and happy to help others figure out some of the things that aren't force fed to you.

warning: extreme spoilers. if you are anyone other than somebody who has played the game 1+ times and would like the plot explained, go away.

First thing's first: the game actually begins near the end of the story - "medias res" they like to call it -and what follows is actually a narrated retelling of the plot up to that point, even though you're playing it at the time. That's why Tidus pops up every now and then with a comment on what's going on and what an idiot he was.

So let's rewind a bit: 1000 years prior to the events of the game, Spira was inhabited by two main powerhouses: the pro-machina* citizens of Bevelle and the summoners of Zanarkand. Both cities were bustling machina metropolises, but when both decided they wanted control of Spira, Bevelle's experience with the technology vastly outweighed Zanarkand's, and defeat was imminent.
Enter Yu Yevon, leader of the Zanarkand summoners. He decides that machina isn't everything and devises a clever plan to preserve Zanarkand and everything its people love. Yevon asks the people of Zanarkand to sacrifice themselves to become fayth, so that he may summon an entirely new Zanarkand, herby known as Dream Zanarkand, where life as they know it will carry on.

Before I go on any further, let me briefly explain fayth and summoning. 'Fayth' is a made up concept in which people willingly die so that their souls can be preserved in statues (remember that colorful wall of statues outside Gagazet?). These statues serve as pillars for summoners to draw power, often in the form of Aeons, which are essentially a physical representation of the person's (who became the fayth) inner power/feeling. Remember that small child who guides Tidus? That's Bahamut. Yes, that tiny, scrawny little boy obviously carries a big heart and a lot of spirit, because his Aeon is a total badass! Also noteworthy is Anima, the summon from Seymour's mother. She is clearly torn by her love for her son, and her desire to help him, as well as her disdain for the evil man he's become, thus Anima is gargantuan, ugly, but unbelievably powerful Aeon.

Using the fayth from the people of Zanarkand, Yu Yevon summons a new city, rather than an Aeon. This landmass is identical to the pre-war Zanarkand everyone loves and is filled with the memories and dreams of the people who lived there, including Jecht and Tidus. But Yevon is no fool. In a world where machina is the norm, he knows it's only a matter of time before Bevelle and their flying ships discover the summoned Dream Zanarkand and destroy it. To combat this, Yevon gathers the pyreflies of Spira and morphs them into a sort of armor, referred to as Sin.

Real quick - "pyreflies" is the nice name for the random, naturally occurring "life force" found in Spira; very present in spiritual areas or areas where life and death occur at a high rate.

Yevon intends to control Sin himself, and essentially "programs" Sin to monitor two things: the safety of Dream Zanarkand - which is floating in some undisclosed location away from Spira's inhabited areas - and the destruction of any place which possesses large amounts of machina (because it can be used to destroy Yevon's creations). This includes the original Zanarkand, which is Sin's first stop, and scares the bejeebus out of attacking Bevelle, who quickly retreat to their home to warn people of the horror they've witnessed. As I said, Yevon is no fool, and he capitalizes on this fortunate turn of events and involves his daughter Yunalesca in his master plan.

Yunalesca travels to Bevelle and explains (lies) to the people there that Sin is result of Spira'a failure to appreciate peace and cohabitation. She plants the seeds for what becomes the religion of Yevon -honoring her father - which teaches that people need to learn to live without the privilege of machina and atone for their sins, and when they have done enough, Sin will disappear forever. Of course, Yunalesca knows the truth behind Sin, and knows that simply teaching the ways of Yevon won't satiate the people of Spira forever, so she invents a plan to provide temporary relief from Sin, sacrificing herself in the process so people will believe her story and continue to worship Yevon after she is gone. This process is the Final Aeon. Yunalesca demonstrates that a summoner - having proven their worth by acquiring the various Aeons from the fayth in Spira - can sacrifice someone to whom they are deeply bound to acquire the Final Aeon, and together they will have the power to defeat Sin.
However Sin reappears roughly 10 years later, and the cycle must be completed once more, this time, the summoner bearing the burden will travel to the ruins of Zanarkand to meet Yunalesca who will force the summoner to sacrifice a loved one like she did (her husband, Zaon) and though both will die, Spira will be free from Sin once more… for another 10 years.

What's really going on here is that Yu Yevon has basically gone bonkers. The task of maintaining Dream Zanarkand and Sin has proven too much for one summoner and Yu Yevon has lost his humanity and his ability to fully control Sin. When Yunalesca sacrificed her husband, he became a fayth and corresponding Aeon, which Yu Yevon immediately possessed. This bond becomes the core for the new Sin, but it is a very young Sin, and requires time to grow strong enough to perform the duties assigned to Sin, thus the 10 years of peace.

Fast-forward a few hundred years, on Dream Zanarkand, the people aren't really aware that they're only a summon, and live life as normally as can be expected. One such case is Jecht and his family. Jecht is the greatest Blitzball player the city has ever seen, so great that they honor him by naming tournaments after him and worship him like a rockstar. Growing older, Jecht now has a wife and young son, but isn't ready to concede his vanity and when everyone expects him to retire from the sport, he instead vows to train harder and continue. Meanwhile Jecht has a bit of a drinking problem and is struggling to adapt to fatherhood, often berating his son for simply being a child. Hecht's wife is also enamored with the life of fame and often neglects her son to simply be "Jecht's wife". Needless to say the boy grows up with some daddy issues.
As part of his training regime, Jecht sails out to sea to practice, and unexpectedly comes into contact with Sin, who retaliates by shifting Jecht off of Dream Zanarkand and into modern day Spira. There, Jecht is thought to be insane, and his propensity for the drink doesn't help his situation, and he's quickly imprisoned. 
Meanwhile, a devoted Yevonite loses his wife in one of Sin's rampages, and elects to leave his young daughter in Bevelle to become a summoner, and defeat Sin, as summoners have done for nearly 1000 years. This is Braska, and his daughter Yuna - named for Yunalesca, who is thought to be long gone by the people of Yevon. They don't know that she remains on Spira as an unsent** so as to guide unsuspecting summoners to their doom, so that they can't return to explain the truth behind Sin and Yevon.
Also finding a new life in Spira is Auron. Once a highly respected monk, Auron has been disgraced by Yevon after he refused to marry the daughter of "higher-up" and his impending promotion was instead given to the man called Kinoc, Auron's friend. Auron decides instead to devote his life to guardianship, and allies himself with the shiny new summoner Braska, who quickly realizes the irony of their group - Braska is frowned upon because he married an Al Bhed, a race that rebels against the teachings of Yevon; Auron is disgraced from Yevon as well, so surely the missing piece of the puzzle is the random crazy guy who claims to be from a land that was destroyed 1000 years ago, right?
And the three set off on their journey and ultimately succeed. Braska dies, and journey proves to be a soul-searching one for Jecht, who ultimately volunteers to become Braska's Final Aeon, and the new Sin. Auron is unable to comprehend the events that just occurred, and confronts Yunalesca, who responds by fatally wounding Auron. However, Auron has made several promises to his friends: that he would transport Yuna to Besaid, so that she may live a peaceful life away from the terror of Sin, and that he would find a way to get to Dream Zanarkand, a look after Jecht's son, Tidus. In his dying moments, Auron is found by the recently expelled Kimarhi Ronso of Mt. Gagazet. Shamed by his fellow tribesmen, who've cut off his horn, a sign that a Ronso is powerful enough to live among the Ronso tribe - Kimarhi is requested to find Yuna and take her Besaid, which - without much else to do - he agrees to, and quickly grows fond of the young girl, and promises to stay with her on Besaid. 
However Auron's convictions prove to be too strong for the Farplane (essentially the afterlife, a physical heaven) and he awakes an unsent, and begins fulfilling his oaths. He finds Sin and, now composed entirely of pyreflies, he's able to pass via Sin to Dream Zanaraknd, where he finds and watches over Tidus, as per his promise.

Fast-forward again, 10 years to present day Spira. Sin a.k.a. Jecht is all grown up, and while under the influence of Yu Yevon who is now but a parasite, Jecht proves to be a bit of a bitch to control. He finds and attacks Dream Zanarkand to find Auron, who interprets the meeting as a suggestion that he and Tidus travel to Spira. While most of Dream Zanarkand is panicked, Auron keeps his cool and Tidus decides to trust and follow his mentor. He awakes on Spira, and thus begins Tidus' story.

If you ask me, Jecht is the real hero here. In spite of his stubborn nature he was somehow able to devise a plan to end the terror of Sin, even though it would mean he and his son would disappear forever. He manages on more than one occasion to repel Yu Yevon and act of his own accord, sort of communicating with Tidus, and he's figured out that his son is the only person who loves and hates him enough to find him and kill him, without further emaciating the people of Spira. It's interesting that the summon itself (Hecht and Tidus) would be Yevon's downfall - the only thing capable of finding a way to end it.

With Yu Yevon's defeat, Dream Zanarkand and all the fayth are finally let go to the Farplane, and Sin is unable to return. Consequently, Tidus disappears, and Auron is finally sent, having fulfilled his duties. Yuna returns to expose the truth to Spirans, and the ways of Yevon are largely renounced.


*machina is the game's word for the fictitious technology used in the game, everything from elevators to weaponry, anything unnatural, is considered machina.

**unsent are pretty much what they sound like. Normally, on Spira, when someone dies, a summoner must perform a "sending" so that souls may pass to the Farplane and die peacefully, otherwise they turn into the fiends that attack travelers in Spira. However, when a soul has unfinished business with the world of the living, they sometimes remain on Spira in their previous form so as to fulfill their duties.

So there you have it, my best attempt at fully explaining the complicated spiral that is Final Fantasy X. If something I've said doesn't quite make sense or I haven't touched on something you'd like to know, feel free to drop it into the comments and I'll try to add it in!

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