Final Fantasy 10 is over ten years old and still one of our favourite modern RPGs. We run down the Square Enix classic’s finest points in a celebration of the adventures of Tidus, Yuna, Lulu, Wakka, Kimahri, Auron and Rikku.
Popular consensus regarding the Final Fantasy series wavers with the ebb and flow of fashion. Final Fantasy 7 has gone from all-time classic to something to waggle your horn-rimmed glasses over while you talk up how good Final Fantasy 6 was. Final Fantasy 8 was going to be “four discs long with Resident Evil-style graphics”, but its confused themes and unpopular magic system have rendered it something of a red-haired stepchild of the series despite its boldness. Final Fantasy 9 was a return to the old school stylings we all said we wanted, but has gone largely forgotten by everyone except me (it feels like).
The same tides have affected Final Fantasy 10’s reception. The dizzying hype we experienced building up to its release held out for a while as we marvelled at the beauty Square Enix wrung from the then-new PlayStation 2, but crashed down bare months later. Suddenly it was all, “Hironobu Sakaguchi took a back seat on this project” and “dodging lightning is stupid” and “the sphere grid is broken” and “that scene with Tidus and Yuna laughing is fucking creepy”.
Well, bollocks to all that. We are not at home to irony around here; we do not feel the need to distance ourselves form things we like out of insecurity that someone will judge us. We are grown ups. Final Fantasy 10 is fantastic.
Here are a couple of reasons why we have eternal love for the adventures of Tidus and co. Spoilers follow.
Square Enix’s avowed intent with Final Fantasy 10 was to break away from the generic medieval European look of many fantasy worlds. Personally, I don’t think Final Fantasy 6, 7 or 8 suffered from that at all, but 10 certainly made great strides in depicting a world with a more South-East Asian flavour in the mostly coastal inhabited regions of Spira. (Don’t ask difficult questions about why hardly anybody lives in the great empty plains where the monster from the sea can’t get to them. The explanation is as silly as it is unsatisfying).
Final Fantasy 10’s ensemble cast are varied and interesting and for once that makes some kind of sense. In the story, Yuna’s crew of protectors were chosen for their skills and their relationship to her, rather than just being dragged along by events. For once, someone found a decent justification for throwing a chirrupy blonde into the mix beyond “she happened to be there at the time” – and all the character save the giant kitty cat have decent, complex motivations.
While your mileage may vary, Final Fantasy 10’s party is certainly memorable. Wakka’s stoic cheerfulness and respectful pursuit of Lulu are only part of the story; his little brother issues make him a perfect companion to Tidus. Lulu’s unsuccessful first pilgrimage explains a lot of her reserve and need for control, and her warmth, when it shines through, is touching. Auron is – well, that’s one of the great spoilers and certainly explains a heck of a lot.
Look, one of the characters has a dress made entirely of belts and fights with stuffed toys; if you want to argue about that you go right ahead.
The Sphere Grid
Yes, the Sphere Grid is a bit broken. If you put in the time (a lot of time) you can ruin the game utterly. But really, if you’re going to spend the hundreds and hundreds of hours required to erase all the low-stat spheres and replace them with major ones, you probably deserve whatever you get.
In the meantime, the sphere grid grants a genuine sense of progression. Later Final Fantasy games (notably Final Fantasy 12 which is excellent even in its unfinished, cobbled-together, confused state, and I don’t care to argue with you on this) refined on the theme, making it far more flexible and customisable, but this early-proto version was fantastic in that every few levels felt like you were actually achieving something. Much better than just watching a bar fill up.
It must be said though, Kimarhi’s also-ran starting position, where he’ll always be slightly less good at whatever path you choose than the character with a head start, is a crying shame – because who doesn’t want an eight foot blue horned lion in their primary party.
Regular series composer Nobuo Uematsu isn’t above sneaking memorable singles onto Final Fantasy soundtracks. Final Fantasy 10’s Suteki Da Ne is a corker, and that cutscene still ranks. Apart from that, Final Fantasy 10 made some bold departures from franchise norms with its score – the opening cutscene with its heavy guitars was shocking at the time, and remains memorable.
Also, I know all the words to the Hymn of the Fayth and I will sing it to my children.
This is a controversial one, because a lot of you hate Blitzball. It’s certainly not easy to get into, but once you get the hang of it, start gaming the system, and begin recruiting in earnest it actually turns into a pretty cool little sports management sim – only everyone is underwater? Somehow? It’s much more fun than Triple Triad et al, anyway.
Page two is packed with spoilers, so don’t click through if you’re yet to experience Final Fantasy 10.