Upon the release of the PlayStation 2, JRPG fans had much for which to be hopeful. The era of the original PlayStation, despite a slow start and the advent of truly awful 3D computer graphics, had resulted in many excellent JRPGs, and new and novel approaches to the genre as well. Some of the finest 2D JRPG worlds ever built found their way to the PlayStation, including the simply stunning pixel art of Wild Arms and Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, amongst others. And, with the enormous success of Final Fantasy VII, and Final Fantasy IX‘s feel-good nostalgia combined with exceptional storytelling, the trajectory seemed a foregone conclusion. No longer was the sky the limit: the stars themselves beckoned. The PS2 would allow massively more data and incredible increases in processing power: voice acting, photorealistic full-motion video, studio-quality music: a paradigm shift in video games was seemingly at hand. It was everything gamers had been dreaming about for two decades.
But reality has a funny approach to the way in which it answers dreams. The end of the 20th century was full of promise–and I should know, dear reader, because I was there. The ’90s had been a constant rush of success upon success as things got better and better. Standing on the cusp of a new century, a future of peace and prosperity beckoned. Here in 2017, we all know how that turned out. And sadly, something similar befell Final Fantasy fans when their beloved franchise made the leap from the PlayStation to its successor console. Despite stumbling with Final Fantasy VIII, SquareSoft had produced a true classic with Final Fantasy IX. Squall and his misfit band had been an aberration. Zidane and company showed that SquareSoft still had what it took, and in spades.
But they did not. Instead, SquareSoft sailed blithely towards the giant Enix leviathan which watched with colossal maw agape. In due course, they would be swallowed and the whole would be renamed Square Enix, but that unhappy fate was still two years away. For now, it was clear sailing. As voice actors were hired and high-quality graphics were released, Final Fantasy fans grew ever more excited. The apotheosis of the series was surely at hand.
Few voices advocated caution. Remembering the impressive pictures of Balamb GARDEN that had been released in advance of Final Fantasy VIII, some suggested that pictures of Tidus standing in a lush, tropical landscape might not necessarily presage a competently made game. But that earlier incarnation of the internet functioned more as a vehicle for fandom than as a means by which companies could be critically examined. As more information trickled out about Final Fantasy X, fans should have been prepared: the soundtrack was not encouraging, the explanations of the battle system were contradictory, and the description of the sphere grid was impenetrable. The development and release of Final Fantasy XV shares some similarities with that of Final Fantasy X.
But no one was prepared. Instead, Final Fantasy X launched and its fans, having endlessly declared that it would represent a paradigm shift in JRPGs found that, after years of unwarranted praise for an unreleased title, they could not readily backtrack to a note of skepticism more appropriate to the reality of the game they actually had. The music was often questionable and only occasionally good; the voice acting was stilted and unwieldy, with Yuna’s voice actor especially poor as a result of trying to match the English script to the character’s lip movements–movements which had not been changed from the Japanese release. And the battle system’s constant swapping-in and -out of party members, to say nothing of the massive but yet restrictive sphere grid, was hardly the kind of paradigm shift that anyone really wanted. Instead, it felt as if the bozos responsible for Final Fantasy VIII had escaped from the circus once again to wreak new havoc upon gamers in the form of Tidus and his endlessly whingeing protagonist, trapped in a spiral-shaped world called Spira which is literally described by one of the game’s villains as “a spiral of death”–writing with all the narrative subtlety of a rhinoceros.
With a battle system and soundtrack which were only mediocre, Final Fantasy X could have been saved by its story. So of course, it is the story which fans of the game most laud, but which is the biggest failing of all. If the rest of Final Fantasy X is, at worst, mediocre, then the story is bad–and not merely bad in some sort of off-hand way, but rather catastrophically, astonishingly bad in a way which has serious ramifications for the player. The story of Final Fantasy X robs the player of intellect–people become stupider the more they play it. Believing the story of Final Fantasy X is good is a sign that one has the aesthetic taste of a high-school Freshman carrying his copy of Nietzsche to his tenth Green Day concert of the season. If the reader wishes to know if a person truly possesses a fully-functioning aesthetic judgement of taste, there is no reason to turn to Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement. Instead, simply ask the person if they think the story of Final Fantasy X is good, and if the response is in the affirmative, then one knows that they are dealing with a confirmed imbecile.
Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) is widely (and deservedly) mocked for having Sonic share an end-game kiss with a human princess–a kiss that leads to the temporal reversal of the entire game so that the events of the story never transpired in the first place. But Final Fantasy X got there first. “This is my story,” Tidus insists from the moment the game is turned on until the moment it ends, but of course it turns out that he never existed at all except as a dream in the mind of the Fayth–the sleepy, moribund, undeveloped gods of Spira who spend their time snoozing annoying teenagers into existence. The plot of Final Fantasy X is the Fayth’s effort to have someone wake them–a forty-hour JRPG alarm clock; but who can fault them? Anyone who dreams of characters as annoying as Tidus would be desperate to be awakened, and might well employ measures even as deplorable as the creation and subsequent release of Final Fantasy X.
The conclusion is no surprise. It is what all men of sagacity and intellect know: Final Fantasy X is a very bad game. Aggressively mediocre at best, its story is one of the truly great catastrophes of role-playing history, on par with its spiritual predecessor, Final Fantasy VIII. Playing through its linear maps, experiencing its mind-numbingly sophomoric narrative, suffering its stumbling and robotic voice acting, and enduring its hyper-ordinary soundtrack will do serious damage to the player’s sense of aesthetic judgement and intellect, and therefore Final Fantasy X should be avoided–not as a curiosity, but as a genuine threat to the mental capability of gamers everywhere.