[The PS2 is now officially discontinued! We wanted to give this mighty system a proper farewell so we're dedicating an entire week to it.]
One thing that always drew me to the Final Fantasy series is how masterfully Square presents a glossy, colorful, beautifully detailed world with dynamic characters layered atop stories that take dark and shocking turns. Over the years, Square has done a masterful job of keeping the player on his/her toes by doing things like killing off a major character in the first half of the game or allowing the villain to actually follow through on his destructive agenda. The combination of high stakes and the possibility that things might not actually turn out okay in the end made for some truly unforgettable stories.
Final Fantasy X is a notable title in the series for many reasons; it was the first on the Playstation 2 and it was the first to contain voice acting. The way this game portrays, along with its theme of absent fathers, the true strength of its hero in the face of unspeakable misery makes it arguably the finest game in the whole series.
As mentioned above, the idea of a global threat is not uncommon to the Final Fantasy series, but Spira is a world truly on the brink of oblivion. From town to town, you meet people who are all but completely beaten down by the relentless onslaught of assaults by Sin, a giant monster that stalks them. Death is everywhere in Spira. It is cruel, brutal, and shocking, and Final Fantasy X forces you to face it throughout the game.
Blitzball star Tidus, your character, washes up on the island of Besaid and reaches his first real town. It’s little more than a temple surrounded by tents. I remember thinking to myself at the time, “When are we going to get to a real city? There’s nothing to do here.” On the boat from Besaid to Kilika, the group of heroes encounter Sin and receive an object lesson in why towns don’t get very big in Spira. A tsunami engulfs the seaside town, killing dozens while our heroes are powerless to do anything about it. Well, Yuna does all she can by using her powers as summoner to ‘send’ the souls of the fallen so they don’t come back as monsters.
Without a single word of dialogue, this is one of the most touching moments I’ve ever seen in a video game. While the ceremony is beautiful (and can you believe how amazing that still looks?), it manages to capture the sheer exhaustion of a population where this kind of thing is all too common.
Suffering in Spira comes from more sources than just Sin. Seymour Guado, a religious leader and all-around vengeful maniac, decides that the only way to defeat Sin is to join it and destroy the world (well, that’s one solution). He pursues your characters until they meet atop Mount Gagazet. Just prior to the battle, he reveals that while he was chasing you he encountered Kimahri’s people who tried to fight him. Seymour responded to the challenge by killing all of them.
Every. Single. One of them. Even after watching the non-stop beatdown of a world throughout this game, that revelation and the reaction of the characters in the moment shocked me like few other moments in a game.
In spite of the dark shroud engulfing this world, Yuna emerges as one of the best heroes of this series. She grows from a painfully naive village girl into a brave summoner who stands up to Spira’s power elite, both living and dead, and takes them both down. What is most impressive about her is that she doesn’t resort to cliched video game representations of ‘toughness’, but instead uses her inner strength and goodness and never stops believing that Spira is worth saving.
Almost 10 years to the day since I first played Final Fantasy X, I often think about Yuna as a character that I admire because she sticks to her beliefs and kicks ass without having to become a ‘gun-toting babe’.
Okay, so that happened. You know what? Final Fantasy X-2 was still a pretty great game because it had a great combat system and a ton of cool side quests that didn’t feel like your typical JRPG grindfest. Besides, where do we get off judging Yuna? She LITERALLY saved the world and everyone in it from the brink of destruction, so if she wants to spend the rest of her life as a gunslinging, hot-pants wearing, pop star babe, that’s her business. As far as I’m concerned, she’s earned the right to do whatever the hell she wants.
There are definitely some story issues in Final Fantasy X-2 that damage the poignancy of its predecessor, but one thing I appreciate about it is that even though the threat of Sin is gone, the scars still remain. Towns are still being rebuilt, and people are happier but cautious and uneasy about where to go next as a result of being exposed to the corruption at the core of their entire belief system. The tone is far lighter in Final Fantasy X-2 but that lightness has come at great cost, and the game never lets you forget it.