Yeah, I know, I bought this game back when it released in March, and it’s what, almost July? But I have so many games I haven’t beaten yet, I determined that I had to beat AT LEAST TWO before I played Final Fantasy X HD. I managed to beat Catherine last month, and I was going to wait until I beat Bravely Default, but I am REALLY frustrated with Bravely Default right now and I had a rough weekend, and Final Fantasy is like my mac-and-cheese comfort food of gaming, so I said SCREW IT and finally played the first few hours this weekend.
Let me tell you, it was worth the wait.
I have mentioned before that Final Fantasy X is my favorite game. This does not mean that I think it is the BEST game, mind you, because it has many flaws (*cough*BLITZBALL*cough*), but it was my first RPG and my first non-Atari game that I played all the way through and the first game that I really got super into. I have played it multiple times and unlocked most of its secrets. I even once played enough blitzball to unlock Wakka’s secret weapon. Because I am a masochist.
So the idea of playing an HD remaster of my favorite game was understandably VERY EXCITING. And believe me when I tell you that this excitement was not misplaced.
The remaster is just…so beautiful. Really. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Final Fantasy X was a fantastic looking game for its time. It was released in 2001, very early in the PS2’s life cycle, and it continued to be one of the best-looking games on the system right until the end. It was colorful and dynamic and had tons of really cool environments to explore, and the rendered cutscenes absolutely blew my mind when I experienced them for the first time in 2004.
The HD Remaster took all of that beauty and made it 1000 times better. It’s like someone took my favorite painting from the Renaissance and carefully and lovingly restored it to how it was supposed to look. The colors are brighter. The contrast is better. The water! Holy shit, the water! FFX is essentially Waterworld: the Role-Playing Game, so water is EVERYWHERE, and super important, and now it looks AMAZING. Seriously, I spent a ton of time just staring at the water once I got to Besaid.
The biggest improvement in the graphics is the revamped character models for the main party members. I can’t really express how much better Tidus, Yuna, Lulu, and the whole gang look in the remaster.
This video from Sony does a pretty good job of showing the changes, but it’s even more beautiful rendered from the PS3 onto an HDTV, believe me.
Besides making the game into even more delicious eye-candy, which is awesome, the improved character models give the characters a much greater range of facial movement. The eyes especially are much larger, more mobile, and much more expressive. This makes them MUCH more sympathetic. Even Tidus, who often comes off like a whiny little bitch, seems waaaay more likable now that his face can actually register the confusion and unhappiness he feels.
The other major graphical improvement is the contrast. Final Fantasy X is full of gorgeous outdoor locales like forests and islands and mountains and lakes, but it’s also got its fair share of dark, dark temples. REALLY dark temples. Maybe I just played the original on really shitty televisions, but I always had a hard time seeing what the hell was going on inside those dark, dark temples. Every single Cloister of the Trials puzzle that I played was made intensely frustrating by the fact that I had a great deal of difficulty seeing where doors and empty sphere receptacles were, because it was so goddamn dark! This is no longer a problem in the HD Remaster. In fact, now I love going into the temples, because I can see a million details that I couldn’t before. I never knew there were so many statues in the temples! IT WAS TOO DARK TO SEE THEM.
Sadly, not everything received updated visuals. The backgrounds and the main party characters look amazing, it’s true. But they didn’t bother to update any of the secondary character models, and it’s really, horribly, glaringly obvious. Every time Wakka has a conversation with the rest of his blitzball team, it looks like he’s a human interacting with a bunch of blow-up dolls. Or creepy robot people. Or mannequins.
I understand that it would have been a massive undertaking to remodel every single NPC in Spira, because there are a LOT of NPCs in Spira, but it’s a little jarring, especially when they talk and their mouths don’t really move.
Obviously, the main reason to play an HD Remaster is to experience the shiny new graphics, but there’s a lot of other little improvements sprinkled through the experience. The soundtrack was completely remixed and remastered, which isn’t generally super noticeable, although it certainly sounds crisp and wonderful. But they DID add electric guitars to the main battle theme, and let me tell you, that shit sounds AWESOME.
The user interface and menus are also completely redesigned. I never had a problem with the original UI design, but the new one is probably optimized for HDTVs, and it’s pretty and easy to read.
There is also a new Sphere Grid option available – the Expert Sphere Grid. I was pretty damn excited about the Expert Sphere Grid. The Expert grid is smaller, more compact, much more interconnected, and it opens up a wider range of character customization way earlier in the game. Like, immediately. You can send almost anyone down anyone else’s path. There’s still locks around some branches and more powerful abilities, but the possibilities are much more open. I’ve got Kimahri and Tidus both headed down the Tidus skill tree at the moment, because having two super strong, super fast doods that are hard to hit seems like a fantastic idea. Maybe I’ll make Rikku a Black Mage AND a Thief! The possibilities are endless!
There’s also some new abilities and items that allow you to farm specific types of spheres from enemies, which I think is an excellent addition to the game, particularly when used in tandem with the Expert Sphere Grid. I remember being irritated in past playthroughs if I ran out of Speed Spheres or Ability Spheres and just had to camp out on the Sphere Grid while my Sphere Levels accumulated uselessly, just waiting for someone to FINALLY drop the right kind of sphere before I could move on. No more! Now I can extract Speed Spheres to my heart’s content.
I have only played the first few hours of the game, so I haven’t gotten to experience any of the new endgame content from the International Version, but I am excited to fight me some Dark Aeons.
My one great disappointment in the HD Remaster is that they didn’t include the Japanese vocal track. That just would have been SO COOL if they had. The English voice acting isn’t terrible…okay, yeah, it’s pretty terrible. It was really good English voice acting for the time, mind you, but when compared to modern games like Bioshock Infinite or The Last of Us, the voice acting did not age well. Especially compared to the really excellent Japanese voice acting. It would have been a nice bonus to include the Japanese voice track, and I’m sad SquareEnix chose not to include it. According to this interview, it wasn’t possible due to the space restrictions for the PS Vita release. Ugh, really, guys? It’s not like anyone owns a Vita anyway, don’t base your decisions on the goddamn Vita. I think a lot more people would have bought the PS3 remaster if the Japanese voice tracks had been included. If only to avoid having to sit through this scene again:
Terrible voice acting aside, I am also excited to share the game with my husband, who tried to play the game once on my PS2, but got really fed up with blitzball and stopped playing. We’re playing the HD Remaster together, switching off every three save points (although our agreement states that I also have to do all the blitzball and the Cloister of Trails puzzles, because I know how to cheat at blitzball and I kind of like the puzzles). It’s great playing the game with someone who has no idea where the plot is going, and it makes me happy to see him forming attachments to some of my favorite characters, especially adorable, wonderful Yuna. He’s even stopped making fun of Tidus quite so much, now that Tidus’ face moves like a real person.
I am really excited to play through the rest of the game again. Every time I visit a new location, I am going to squeal like a little girl about how pretty it looks. I am going to find all of the ultimate weapons. I am going to get all of the secret aeons. I am going to murder all of the secret bosses. I am going to team up with my husband to level grind. And I am going to enjoy all of this game’s feels.
THEN I AM GOING TO PLAY DRESS UP IN FFX-2.