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Let's revisit Final Fantasy X! Anyone? Exclusive
Let's revisit  Final Fantasy X ! Anyone?
June 25, 2014 | By Leigh Alexander

June 25, 2014 | By Leigh Alexander
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    59 comments
More: Console/PC, Art, Design, Exclusive



I really don't want to open an article with how I cried when I saw Yuna again. Crying over video games is uncomfortable to talk about, and it's the mark of a "feelingsy" game critic, isn't it? It's not like I haven't done it before, weighed and measured tears as if they were a sign of something to do with the entertainment I consumed.

Remember just a few years ago when "can a game make you cry" was a question that didn't make you laugh? For a moment there, it was like we thought we could mark the sophistication of an entire medium with a liquid measure. Of course, all kinds of people cry about all kinds of things. Just lately I cried during Nintendo's E3 presentation for Yoshi's Wooly World, because, like, it was so cute -- these older Japanese men tucking knit Yoshis into their suit jackets and talking about how they want to put smiles on people's faces, and oh, man, so cuuuute, help, et cetera.

Who really cares if replaying Final Fantasy X in HD made me cry -- quite unexpectedly, as if encountering an old friend I'd wholly forgotten about and wasn't really expecting to see? It doesn't tell you anything important.

Except maybe that games record our memories of the people we were when we played them, leave young ghosts in their infrastructure that will always be there. Or it tells you that maybe an entire genre, an entire age of Japanese console games swelled thanks only to the labile tendencies of our youth and died just because we grew up and don't feel like crying about such silly things anymore.

Yuna is not the protagonist of FFX, but she's arguably the "main character," in that most things in the story are to do with her. She was maybe the first woman in video games that I cared for. Before that I had "liked" all kinds of others, sometimes dutifully borrowing lenses from the men's eyes through which most games were intended to be seen. I was usually attracted to women characters when I was supposed to be, and I was on board with "saving" them when the game told me to. Sometimes I liked them well enough as concepts, or thought I might want to "be" them. But Yuna, I cared for.


Virtually the entire battle party of FFX is "there" to protect Yuna. The story is happening because everyone wants to protect and accompany Yuna. Not because Yuna is fragile, but because Yuna is lovable. She is "good", but not moralizing, charmingly uncertain but sometimes surprisingly bold, and dutiful, quietly noble, in the face of certain tragedy. Her recipe is not unique, and in fact it's unwelcome these days -- why is the only way we can care about a woman to be entrusted with the care of her, and all that -- but it worked on me when I was 19.

"For a teenager or young twenty-something, even the simple idea that there are people or values larger than yourself is revolutionary."

Probably because for a teenager or young twenty-something, even the simple idea that there are people or values larger than yourself is revolutionary. The thought that someone else's objectives might matter more than yours, and that you should make sacrifices, is one of those things that just comes as a revelation to most teens. I didn't do feminist analyses of game protagonists at that age. I was not a game critic. I was just an unhappy young person, then, and I wanted to go someplace beautiful.

The good thing about Japanese role playing games of that time is they all took you someplace beautiful, or cool. The older ones were about leaving your small town, which was convenient because to leave our small towns was exactly what all of us playing them wanted. You say goodbye to your mother. You go to a shop, maybe. You head off into the woods and you find out you have a Destiny, a reason to matter, and an infrastructure for questioning the world and its laws.


I forgot, actually, how beautful Final Fantasy X is. All of these mellow seasides, these small entrenched villages, lakes dotted with tiny lights, and the music, pretty and sad. It's a sad story: people trying to come to grips with the cruelty of the inevitable, trying to carry on traditions of hope even though it's all probably useless. The character of Yuna is an emblem of all of that: Steadfastness, sacrifice, hope. I don't think I noticed all of that before, the sadness.

You, on the other hand, have to play as Tidus. Latter-day Final Fantasy heroes are famously unlikeable: Cloud, the mopey cipher, Squall, tight-lipped and sullen, or Zidane, shallow and smarmy, sporting a creepy monkey tail. These young men, so often named after changeable weather systems, brought illustrious quotations like "..." and "Whatever" into common parlance.

Tidus is probably the worst of all of them, and not just because of his bizarre asymmetrical jorts, his blunt and frequent huh?!, his constantly-gaping mouth, teeth rendered in eerie detail. It's not just That Laugh: Tidus is arrogant, irreverent, disruptive, and selfish. During Yuna's sacred pilgrimage he yanks the attention onto himself at every opportunity -- he's shoehorned himself into this party's somber journey, interrupts its rituals, consistently demands answers to basic questions at the least convenient times.

Tidus' only major talent is Blitzball, some kind of turn-based underwater FIFA variant. When somehow in the midst of all this global upheaval Tidus' new hosts' poor little team has to play in a tournament, we expect Tidus will at least be good for that, redeem himself for the nuisances he has applied.

But the first Blitzball game of FFX mechanically sees the player greatly outmatched. Only the most committed players would reload and retry obsessively enough to eke out that slim victory. The vast majority of people who play FFX don't care that much, will take the loss. You aren't even devoted enough to do the one thing Tidus is supposed to be able to offer.

Your Tidus is told time and again about Yuna's important, time-senstive pilgrimage. But your Tidus meanders, talking to everyone he meets along the way, hunting niches in the map in case there are treasure chests. A great battle occurs, and the casualties wash up on shore, and having been spared, Tidus checks each broken body in case they're still alive -- in case someone wants to give him something.

Tidus roams the shattered village, opening the treasure chests inside the ruined shops. When you save before a big battle, you always have the option to PLAY BLITZBALL from the Save menu, as if this guy really would just go off and play sports at any time.

"We are playing as someone who has never thought about the world beyond what he can use it for, beyond his own immediate needs."

That our "heroes" often do dissonant things is normal for video games -- recall beloved little Link, plowing into a villager's home and smashing all the pots, opening the chests while the homeowner looks on beatifically. But it doesn't even feel dissonant to be Tidus: We are playing as someone who has never thought about the world beyond what he can use it for, beyond his own immediate needs. And when we were young fans of role playing games, we were someone like that, too.

There's this one point where everyone gathers to wait for Yuna to come out of a temple; all your party members, her guardians, are standing at their posts. And you, the player, go and talk to everyone in turn, because that's all there is to do. They all tell you to just wait. Auron tells you to stop running around so much.

But if the player actually makes Tidus stand and wait, nothing will ever happen. The game does not progress until the player gives up, has been told repeatedly by everyone to settle down, and attempts to exit the waiting room. It's like the game knows what kind of person it's dealing with: You don't care what Yuna is doing in there, you just want to move on to the next scene.

Those old Japanese RPGs gave us infrastructures to practice being adults. Saving, investing, upgrading. Willingly tackling optional side quests. Taking care of each member of the party. Gaining control over the world, earning a vehicle and then an airship, traversing all its spaces with ever more knowledge and confidence.

At the end, you fight God, some great force of injustice. Often it's something you once thought was righteous that has since betrayed you. A deified father figure, a monstrous stand-in for a parent, lawmaker, mentor, friend. You fight nonsense, you and your companions lined up on some twinkling outer plane, some space-age hellscape. You fight the very idea that there are things you can't control or predict.

"Games cut from this cloth used to be huge. For lots of people I know, they were the only games we played."

Games cut from this cloth used to be huge. For lots of people I know, they were the only games we played. The reason to look forward to E3 was there would be a new video, where pink sun-tinged landscapes, sighing water, twinkling eyelashes and lacy, outlandish costumes, a woman praying, the flash of an interesting-looking character from one corner of a screen to another. You'd just watch the trailer and notice the components -- A beautiful world, characters that made eye-contact, a flurry of piquant feathers or something -- and you'd go, I'm buying that.

It's a shame there's something of a vacuum left, there. There are so few "blockbuster RPGs" of that sort anymore, so few peach skies and impossible gowns. You can play the Western kind, where you trundle across a gray land among hovering words and numbers and "grit," wondering how many more Plate Mails you can carry before you become Encumbered. Of course there's the Persona series, which took all the unspoken dissonance, all the cynical urges modern teens have to view people as resources and worlds as landscapes to be strip-mined for usable opportunities, and made that the game.

As an adult I have more patience for Tidus. He's just a boy, and playing as him I want the things I'm supposed to: A better sword, more money, to conquer the map. And more time with Yuna. I see now -- everyone is an archetype. Like every JRPG, there is a world to save, a woman to protect, and power to attain. Probably the formula never really was that interesting.

But I really must have loved this game back then, you know? All these little old feelings are coming unlocked, the way that muscle holds memories. I loved the lesson about the world being bigger than just what you're going to get next. About how you can meet someone and realize their needs are going to be more important than yours and that that's pretty much what loving feels like.

A whole generation of teens used these games to model our growing-up. What do teens today have?

"Minecraft," my boyfriend says. I admit I kind of wanted him to sit and take sappy turns playing FFX with me like the boyfriend that I had when I was nineteen did, but this one already played this game and it won't hold his attention now. Most of us are pretty "over it."

I'm sure there are a few grown-ups left, waiting for a sparkly E3 trailer, some glittering glorified cinematic, to feel that way again.


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Comments


Alfa Etizado
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That really put some light into why I liked JRPGs so much.

Kevin Maloney
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FF X dealt with Junginy primal folkloric Hero's Journey kind of stuff in a stylized manner that felt both honest and transcendent. The cultural origins of much of our story telling is for us to overcome our ego to be able to meaningfully sacrifice our wishes for the greater good. As you pointed out to essentially grow up.

In many cultures there is ceremony around becoming an adult and what that means and large parts of our culture has lost this. Games like FF X take some of that on and that is why if you are a young adult and experience something like that its so impactful.

It would be super hard to pitch this stuff though I think. "So I have this idea where you fight the selfish parts of your self but really it's your dad who is an interdimensional flying whale that is sort kept in existence of the collective unconsciousness of a lost civilization that is a metaphor for hubris."

I think RPG's are uniquely positioned to be able to help young people become adults I wish the medium did more of it. Its certainly a message that's worth delivering.

Kaze Kai
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I don't like the idea of making a standard people must go through to grow and evolve. That's the problem with public education - it's forced on everyone and to hell with your individuality. Cultures that have trials for people to become adults also ignore that facet of humanity.

People grow up by doing it on their own. Outside influence is something people should come across from their own volition, and be allowed to make their own interpretations about it. That's how people grow and evolve - by thinking on their own, acting on their own and making their own mistakes. As such, we make our own judgements, which form our beliefs.

Personally though, to me, growing up is all about throwing away whatever perception you had about what it means to be an adult and having the sense and the stones to be honest about how you feel regardless of how childish it makes other people think you are. Those people still have some growing of their own to do if they believe in a standard for adulthood anyway.

Mario Bonilla
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I liked FFX when it came out, but it's not really much of a game though, is it? It's an occasionally interactive 40 hour anime that plays the same way no matter how many times to go through it.

Personally, I'm happy that the today's teens are growing up on progressive games like Minecraft and Western RPGs (Elder Scrolls) because they teach that the "story" should be player defined, which is what makes the interactive medium unique in literature.

The death of the AAA JRPG has as much to do with it being an archaic example of the medium as any other reason.

Fabian Fischer
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Right. What's game-ish about FFX is utterly boring. I recently played the HD version. Firstly, there's a lot of pointless walking around. The random (and fixed "story") battles are super-repetitive and rather trivial puzzles to solve, akin to "put the square peg into the square hole (over and over)". The single most interesting thing was that I didn't have nearly enough ability spheroids in the beginning. I thought: "Huh, cool, actual resource management!" Until I discovered that you indeed have the means to grind infinite spheroids by using special weapons. It's a shame. It's the game design breaking in front of your eyes. The same with Blitzball. It seems like it could be kind of a cool game-like element, but sooner or later it becomes totally trivial because your players get good enough so that you can outsmart the dumb AI every single time (by the way, I did not lose a single game and had only two draws in two full seasons, it is definitely NOT hard but at least the first few matches were mostly close affairs). Plus, the Blitzball interface is ridiculously inefficient and inconsistent. And why is it 3D with all those animations anyways?

Most of the audiovisual art is very good, but I feel like it loses a lot of momentum in that regard by throwing one dumb fight after another at me, just so that you can look back at a "100 hours experience" in the end, as if that was worth anything on its own. The same is true for the story, which maybe could be a kind of decent 1-2 hour experience, but it just isn't anything inside this huge noisy goo of a wannabe interactive system. I guess that's just the way of the JRPG. I'm glad they're mostly gone now.

Sawyer Beaton
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Was this your first RPG or something? Battles are repetitive? Have you played an RPG where they weren't?

Resource management? This isn't Resident Evil. You can and have ALWAYS been able to grind for things in any RPG. Need more gold/levels/gear? Grind it out. Want a challenge? Try beating the game at a low level. That's how every JRPG has been since Dragon Quest.

What would you like to do instead of "one dumb fight after another"? Don't you realize that's the point?

Did you even bother fighting the boss monsters in the monster arenea or the Dark Aeons and Penance? They're some of the toughest fights in FF history and they are there to provide the "challenge". The main storyline is supposed to be on the easy side if you aren't doing a no-sphere-grid run.

Stephen Horn
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If you want an "occasionally interactive 40 hour anime", you're looking for the original release of Xenosaga episode 1. That game is *very* cutscene-heavy. It even includes a 20-minute cutscene, followed by a save prompt and another 20-minute cutscene. There are about 6 cutscenes between the tutorial dungeon and the first non-tutorial combat (which is optional, you can instead proceed directly to one more cutscene before an actual dungeon).

Honestly, I don't think "occasionally interactive" is a fair assessment for FF X. FF XIII-1, maybe, but XIII-1 is the one that had the surprisingly optimal auto-combat feature so you could get through most combat by simply mashing the "confirm" button, and combined that with near-completely linear pathways and no attrition.

Bob Fox
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@Mario

Early JRPG's were good because they focused on the combat and battle systems. I still play final fantasy 1 to this day and mourn the fact that JRPG's didn't go in a more gameplay focused direction.

You are right that FFX is a movie masquerading a game mostly, the combat/item system is stripped down and mostly fillter. FFX is more about JRPG's and the "game industry" generally making movies with stripped out gameplay

While Skyrim is better than a typical JRPG, it's not better than oldschool retro RPG's. Skyrim is an action game with RPG elements. The same thing with Fallout 3 and new vegas, it's basically a first person shooter with RPG elements. Same goes for borderlands.

Modern gaming is a wasteland of rehashes.

John Flush
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The downside of player defined "story" though is you won't get any analysis like this from a Western RPG... ever. Because the story is defined as you go your protagonist will never be deep enough to analyze, and everyone else that played the game got a different experience. Instead of talking about the frailties of the characters or their strengths instead the conversation will be "did you do the whole Thieves guild quests?" Hardly as ground breaking and thought provoking as a more closed and interesting story. Luckily though games realize they will never rival written media (which is crap, they could but it is taboo in the industry) so we won't have to worry much about that aspect.

Instead games without a defined story will teach 'responses' to action. "If I play like this, I expect other people to act like that..." and when they get in the real world and it doesn't work like that people will be shocked. But oh well.

Fabian Fischer
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I've played hundreds of RPGs. One worse than another, but most JRPGs are easily among the worst.

"Don't you realize that's the point?"

Well, I guess I see no point in bad game design. :)

Christian Nutt
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Guys, this is not NeoGAF. Stop sniping each other with pissy comments about which kind of RPGs are BETTAR or SUX more. Thanks!

Totally thrilled for you to discuss the actual design of the games, but please keep it civil and not partisan.

Bernardo Del Castillo
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I have a few counter points, first of all, I wouldn't call ffX a 40 hour anime that plays the same way no matter how many times you go through it, because although the main storyline is indeed linear, there is a wealth of side quests and options variating from the main game. (I think you may be confusing FF13 and FFX, FF13 is indeed what you describe).

In the end the range of options available to the player are just that: a range. The player only really has the flexibility to execute whatever is predefined in code and design. It gives the impression of freedom but it is simulated and it only exists within the predefined boundaries.
While a game like Heavy Rain is in one end of the spectrum, and Minecraft is on the opposite end, FFX is actually somewhere around the middle. There is a surprising amount of side activities and possibilities in the various gameplay systems that make sure that the experience feels in fact like something rather unique to the player.

In this sense I believe you are misunderstanding the design decisions of the game. For example, A game like The last of us, is very defined in its narrative, however, it is quite open in it's combat mechanics, there is a different creative input required from the player to advance. Having more or less structured goals doesn't make it better or worse, nor more or less interactive, it only presents different tools for the player to play around with.

And in this aspect, you are overlooking the different requirements for "teen learning". On one side it is indeed fantastic for children and teenagers to have a sandbox creative experience, it can allow the most direct creative input. But at the same time it also incentives diffusion and lack of focus. Open ended learning is only really beneficial when a base of directed learning is accomplished.

In most disciplines during formative periods of life, at some point, the required dedication to make progress is greater than the will to achieve such progress, having the alternative of doing it will often fail to constitute sufficient reason to accomplish it.
IE, while a kid may enjoy playing piano, without some structured learning, improvisation is likely to be chaotic and unproductive, so there are certain directions that help grasping the skills necessary for proficiency.
This processes often require the completion of very specific actions("less interactive" if you will). And it's at this point that the need for narrative arises, when the player knows or thinks they have heard the tune, they are more likely to accomplish the action. In this way, there is a very delicate balance between openness and direction, the story should FEEL player defined, but it should also guide players and provide them with the tools to progress.

Narratives give us a justification and a drive for seeking the completion of certain tasks. Even when someone makes some magnificent LEGO structure, it doesn't come into existence from thin air, it follows a certain personal narrative, and a specific predefined structural pattern.

In other words, directed narrative is as necessary for development as free playground. You may feel from your perspective that it's not, but that's only because you have already gone through the more established building blocks.

On another note, I'd question the separation that you make from games as interactive, distinct from literature because if their "interactivity". When in fact interactive literature exists way before videogames. Interactivity is one of those concepts that has become greatly meaningless, a keyboard isn't "more interactive" than a light switch. And a game where you can't cross certain doors or you can't jump isn't less interactive than one in which you can fly. A game's interface is and should be only in function of the transmission of it's desired experience, and should only be judged accordingly.

In the end I find that discussion a bit pointless: painting, theatre, literature or sculpture don't ever try to justify what makes them special or distinctive, they simply ARE. They respond to the experience that wants to be transmitted more than just the medium. Moreover if you consider interactivity in a brain level, all perceivable action is my definition interactive. It is only a matter of how much of an effect it has in our particular experience.

I'd personally argue that AAA JRPG is not dead ( I'd say that the only company that really does those is SquareEnix, and they have only released one major -very flawed- entry in their series ), it just has had a hard time adjusting to current western sensibilities, and it hasn't had the bravery to stand by it's defining characteristics either. I believe accomplishing either could bring them success, such as what has happened with bravely default, Fire emblem Awakening ( although they aren't quite AAA ), or dark / demon souls, although those are more decidedly western.

Dane MacMahon
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I loved JRPGs as a kid but I find them impossible to enjoy now. Which is a bummer because I'd like to see those worlds, explore those stories, but I just can't get into it. Once I moved on to more open Western style RPGs with much more mature writing like Fallout and Baldur's Gate there was just no going back for me.

Final Fantasy X was the last one I played, and your write-up gives me the most positive of memories of it. I know I would never enjoy playing it again, but it's nice to relive the memories another way.

Bernardo Del Castillo
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I concurr, I can't get into the JRPG fare anymore... but I think it has more to do with the intense time and attention investment they require. I don't know if it has anything to do with western RPGs being more open and having more mature storylines.

Sure, they are more open but that also means they have less focus and less cohesiveness. For me, playing Baldur's gate, Elder Scrolls, or Fallout all the massive experience blurs into a generic, drab whole. The games become more a number /completion grind than an actual adventure.
And yeah, although they deal with more "mature" themes, I find that more often than not it comes out as juvenile and rather blunt. The conflicts are more spread out, more sporadic, less involving ( since more often than not, it doesn't matter if you complete the challenges or not ) and in a way, it inadvertently undermines your importance in the world.
Not once have I truly been very emotionally torn by a western RPG, at least not that I remember, and even with all it's flaws, at the time FFX did that an more, like a good book I couldn't think of anything other than the characters and their struggles.

I just recently picked up persona 4 on the vita, and I must say it caught my attention in a way NONE of the modern western open ended RPGs have ( and also more than any other JRPG since FFX ).

I feel we simply had too many excellent JRPGs very close together, so a lot of people fell in love with the "genre" but I also recall there being a ton of crap that was simply overlooked because of how high the highs were.

So around a lot of this analysis through the lens of "adulthood" I also wonder if it's possible that they simply haven't made very good games lately. Or if they have focused on the wrong aspects when trying to "modernize them". They seem to either go all oldschool, like ni no kuni or bravely default. or on the opposite side, completely streamlined, simplified corridors with flashy combat ( like FF13 ).

Another thing is that I simply cant be bothered to play a game that is over 40 hours long more than once... Things never have as much impact as the first time, and I end up losing steam, but I don't think that particularly speaks of the my mindset towards the game or the game's quality in itself.

However, I do understand that this could be a matter of taste too.. but I simply haven't found that many good stories from JRPGs lately

Dane MacMahon
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I've never played Persona but comparing the writing in Fallout to the writing in Final Fantasy X is like comparing The Catcher in the Rye with Twilight, in my opinion. I don't mean that to sound elitist, there are other aspects to games, but I care a lot about writing and that's my opinion. (It could also have a lot to do with translation versus native writing).

That said I think it's the open world aspect that matters most. Once I started playing games like Fallout and other more "open" games on PC it became very, very hard for me to play linear games. I barely ever do, even today. A shooter on rare occasion, though even in that genre it's stuff like Crysis and Far Cry that keeps my attention.

So I really think it's the linear aspect of JRPGs that kills it for me.

Mark Verrey
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I haven't played too many western RPGs -- I've been scared off by the complexity -- but I did get deeply into Skyrim. For me, the differences in storytelling styles are that while Final Fantasy will tell you a story, Skyrim invites you to participate in one.

Skyrim presents you with a world in which there is a story taking place, and you can get involved if you want. You can play like a psychopath and treat all the NPC's as tools to be used, or you can try to just make good decisions and treat people decently. The more of yourself you put in the game, the more impact it has on you. I honestly felt bad the first time I lost a companion, and when I got an inheritance letter from an NPC that had died.

I have to admit that I eventually fell into the slog of checking off quests one at a time and quick-traveling everywhere. It's not perfect, but there were some genuinely special moments in there.

Theresa Catalano
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I can't recommend Persona highly enough. It has stellar writing. As nostalgic as I am for FFX (and many other Final Fantasy games) there has never been a Final Fantasy that comes close to the quality of Persona 4. But, that's only because Persona 4 is one of the best games ever made, IMO.

Dane MacMahon
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@ Mark

I wouldn't really hold Skyrim up as an example of great writing or great RPG systems. It's excellent at immersive exploration, but probably not much else in my opinion. Though obviously I still loved it for that exploration.

The pinnacle of Western RPG design for the last few years is probably Fallout: New Vegas. The deep faction play, intricate quest design, stellar writing and true role-playing are, along with the open world, what makes me love Western RPGs.

Randall Stevens
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@Dane

I don't know which game you are insulting with that writing comment. I think you are making the point that FFX is bad, but is FFX bad because it's twilight? Or is FFX bad because it's Catcher in the Rye? Tidus is a whiny petulant ass so FFX is more like Catcher in the Rye I guess, but Fallout can't be twilight. You see my dilemma.

Dane MacMahon
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@ Randall

If you don't like Catcher in the Rye then insert any other literary classic into that sentence. The point is about the depth of the narrative, the maturity of the writing and the seriousness of the world.

You can certainly like Twilight, but it's not on the same level (nor is it trying to be).

Travis Penner
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I'm sorry but comparing Fallout to Final Fantasy X is like comparing Historical Fiction to a Sci-Fi novel. They're two different genres completely. Final Fantasy X is telling a story through cut scenes and a traditional JRPG framework.

Fallout is more of a story in the vein of choose your own adventure, where YOU are the narrative. Yes, there are quests, and side quests, but they're not the same overarching story as there is to FFX.

So comparing John Steinbeck to Stephanie Meyers in this context is quite disingenuous.

Theresa Catalano
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Personally, I can't get into open world games like the Fallout games. The story doesn't draw me in. I think it's hard to have a powerful narrative that leaves too much open to chance.

I think the western games that impress me most with their storytelling tend to have linear stories. The best written western game I've ever played has to be The Longest Journey and Dreamfall. If you want to talk about "The Catcher in the Rye" (or whichever literary classic you like) of western games, I'd pick those over Fallout.

Dane MacMahon
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The Cather in the Rye comment was about pure writing, nothing else. Fallout is much better written than almost any other game.

As for linear versus not, everyone's different. I'm just saying what I like.

Langdon Oliver
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I guess I never grew up. I played IV and VI when I was 13 and 14 and loved them dearly. I played X when I was 21 and loved it just as much. I got the platinum trophy in XIII: Lightning Returns in March when I was 33. It wasn't quite as mystical as the other games, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm 34 now and would love to see a new, but traditional Final Fantasy get released. I'm hopeful that XV won't be overly action oriented and will still be filled with wonderful characters and a great story.

I still use tears as a measure of a great game (and a great movie/TV show at that). I don't remember X doing it, but X-2 definitely made me teary eyed -- it had a great little side story.

Dan Felder
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Looking back at FFX, I'm amazed at how well it *evoked* a sense of grandeur, unique settings, tragedy, deep characters and excitement... Without having really any of those things outside of the cutscenes.

The story, save for some truly brilliant sequences (such as the reveal of Yunalesca and the cutscene where Tidus leaves), is comical and full of plot holes. The stop to play blitz ball while godzilla is wrecking the universe, seymour's whole motivation, the question as to why summoners wait until Sin is back before beginning their journey again so he gets more chances to run wild, the bizarre repetitive captures of Yuna even when it makes no sense (such as the army beating you to the other side of the desert world and capturing Yuna despite the fact that even you lost her while you were sent there via magic random teleport), major plot points are revealed without fanfare or any opportunity to follow up despite it making sense in character and far, far more.

The meta-narrative is jarring, what with fighting alongside former guardians that have apparently been to high level areas before but have to level up with you all over again. The voice acting definitely doesn't hold up. The combat is slick and fast-paced, though also repetitive (though I'd say the combat is one of the system's strong points).

All that said, FFX is a glorious experience I look back on fondly. I think the designers understood how to evoke an extraordinary journey, to paint big ideas with bold brushstrokes and trust us to fill in the gaps. They shrouded the plot holes in hints of mystery, with an authority that implied the world had a clear logic but was mysterious and we just didn't understand it yet. By the time we should realize we weren't getting an explanation the game had moved on and we had moved on with it.

I don't quite understand how FFX made such a great experience when most of the pieces that make it up are so flawed individually. I should probably go play it again and see. =)

Theresa Catalano
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How did FFX make such a great experience when it has so many flawed pieces? I think this just goes to show that there are some "invisible" game elements that turn out to be very important. A huge one is the soundtrack. It's amazing how a really good soundtrack can turn a cliche, run of the mill story into something powerful, compelling, and memorable. This is something that the Japanese seem to be masters at, and to this day I feel like western games have a lot to learn in this category.

I also think FFX's characters are very likable and endearing, and that helps to mitigate a plot that is full of holes.

Samuel Green
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Yeah FFX did an OK job with characters... I love the more ancilliary characters like Auren, Lulu, Kimahri and Rikku... but dislike all the main ones (namely Tidus and Yuna... Wakka bugged me too). Still, I can't remember a single character in FFVIII except Squall (who also sucked). I love FFIX (my 2nd favourite after 7) but only really remember Steiner (what a great character), Vivi and Beatrix.

I feel FFVII was the pinnacle of cool characters (I loved every single one... even Cait Sith got good when you found out it's secret)... even the NPCs were freakin awesome. Then again, I've got FFVII bias. Was my first JRPG so I automatically think it's the best ;)

Theresa Catalano
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From FF8, I like Rinoa, Selphie, and especially Quistis. Unofortunately the male characters were a bit boring... I like Laguna but he is less involved in the plot than I would have liked.

I love FFIX too... you didn't mention Freya. How did you forget my favorite character from that game? Actually I think Garnet / Dagger is a pretty good character too.

I like Wakka, Yuna, and even Tidus. I can see why Tidus would be annoying, mainly because of his voice actor. But Yuna is very endearing to me, and I like Wakka as well. Rikku and Auron are my favorite characters in that game.

When it comes to FF7, I dunno... I like the characters, but personally I think that 10 has the best cast. I'd take Rikku over any of the other characters. That's just me, though.

Dan Felder
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Theresa, that's a very good point. A soundtrack is an extraordinary way to evoke emotion. For some reason I almost never think about it when working on design, probably because it's not something under my control. Or because I'm being an idiot. There's that possibility too. =)

Thanks for bringing it up.

Larry Carney
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I view Final Fantasy X far differently. To me, it was the game which laid bare the staggering flaws of the genre. No longer were subtlety and mystery key elements of the JRPG: instead the developers could expound upon every trope and cliche with abandon, could give the player an awkward and cumbersome gameplay system which got lost in its own arcane rules and byzantine logic because they were finally unshackled from the limitations of hardware which in previous generations had brought forth a sublime simplicity in design (and yet strangely enough offered no real evolution of the basic mechanical foundation of those systems).


It was the game where I could look at Square and think, The honeymoon is over, I'm not in love with you any more.

Ian Richard
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I'm with you. While FF8 was a bad game, FFX was the first to truly disappoint me.

Between my boundless irritation for Wakka and Tidus and the corridor based level design I didn't feel any of my past RPG joy. I felt like I was watching a bad movie and that nothing I did mattered.

Now that I think about it, it was the first game that made me feel like playing a modern gaming experience. No wonder I have such bad memories.

Daniel Markstedt
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I feel exactly the same.

I watched a friend play a good chunk of the game when I was a university exchange student in Japan back in 2001, and at the time it blew me away with its colorful visuals and exotic setting.

But when I finally picked up the HD Remaster earlier this year I ended up bailing before making it past the 10h mark: The colorful visuals and exotic setting are mostly intact, but I just couldn't stand the inane banter between Tidus and Yuna, or the unbearable jockishness of Wakka. And as has already been mentioned elsewhere exploration and combat is mostly perfunctory and bland.

Perhaps you need to have experienced this game in full at a more impressionable age to have the emotional connection to look past its flaws? Or maybe it's just because the last console generation saw JRPGs with far better writing and characterization, in particular Nier and Lost Odyssey, that FFX stands out as particularly bland and shallow.

Theresa Catalano
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I don't think you need to have encountered FFX at an impressionable age. I think it just has to do with your preferences. Some people find the characters and story more appealing than you do, that's all there is to it.

Rodney Emerson
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I haven't played FFX, so I can't really comment on it as a game. As for jRPGs in general, my best experiences were with Final Fantasy 1, Final Fantasy 4, The Baten Kaitos games, Baroque (Not sure if this counts, as it's more a roguelike) and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. All the jRPGs I really enjoyed were mainly for their gameplay systems (I did really enjoy FF4's tale, though), but I also highly enjoyed their aesthetic, and their use of rather unconventional ideas.

While there may be much better multiplayer-action-arcade-ish-Rpg-ish games out there, I doubt I'd find something as plainly sweet and fairy-tale like as FFCC, especially if one looks on the western hemisphere. As well, while the market may have more card-rpgs nowadays, I can tell that absolutely none of the are anything like Baten Kaitos. And if anyone can find any game that is remotely similar to Baroque...I'll be very, VERY surprised.

Now, if I wanted a much deeper stat-based gameplay experience with more freedom to do as I wished...I'd skip the entire popular RPG genre altogether and just play a roguelike. I may be wrong, but they just seem to do what the entire RPG genre wants to do, only better and while using a lot less resources and allowing much more freedom of action to the player. Not to mention they tend to last longer, and aren't so easily consumed due to how difficult they are.

Theresa Catalano
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Personally I like to avoid using the term "RPG," but I'm pretty sure most people who use the term consider roguelikes to be a subset of the RPG genre. (I suppose it is confusing... that's why I avoid using the term.)

Rodney Emerson
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The entire role playing genre name game is utterly bizarre. Even "JRPG" itself is a weird swirly hole of inconsistent definitions. For example:

"Dark/Demon's Souls is not a JRPG, but a WRPG made in Japan"

It made no sense when I first read comments of the above comment type, and it still makes no sense even after reading lengthy explanations of the idea behind them. JRPG is a regional term, until it isn't then it only refers to anime-esque games with turn-based battles. This gets even worse when the definition further shifts to "Vaguely D&D-ish game that I don't like and is from Japan".

I've seen many further distinguish Rouguelikes from RPGs due to their arcade-style focus on combat and quick gameplay, which is the logic I used in the previous post. But if you were to ask my own personal definition, I'd like to go with:

An "RPG" is any game that bares a strong resemblance to D&D's game systems (Mainly concerning combat).

But the problem with this is that most video games have some roots in D&D...

Theresa Catalano
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The classical definition of RPG is that it is a game that is mostly stat based, in other words stats are what determine your success and failure. As opposed to action games where it's reflexes and player skill. This basically means that only games with turn based combat are RPGs (which makes some amount of sense as DnD itself is a turn based game.) This is how the label RPG used to be applied.

But then the term started to be fragmented for a bunch of reasons. For one, action games started to use in depth leveling systems, giving rise to the term "action RPG." And in time people started dropping the action part and just calling anything with a leveling system "RPGs." Then there's the fact that RPG stands for "role playing game," which confused people into thinking that RPG's have to have a heavy story element. Today, a lot of people even consider an RPG to just be a fantasy game (since nearly every game labeled "RPG" takes place in a fantasy world.) It's so weird and fragmented.

In the past I think Roguelikes we're always considered RPGs, as the term literally used to mean "games like Rogue," and Rogue itself was very much like DnD. But now, with the rise of action games that borrow properties of Roguelikes, I guess it's a bit different. Personally I consider any game that has permadeath to have roguelike qualities.

Stephen Horn
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I liked Extra Credits' coverage of the difference between JRPGs and WRPGs. 3 very insightful episodes, I felt. I'll just leave links and let their videos speak for themselves.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_rvM6hubs8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8aiEsIW9IM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cmkdoz5LjdE

Jim Burns
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I love FF X

John Maurer
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For all you guys bashing JRPG's that are actually fans of the genre, you should really check out hand-held systems like the 3DS & PSVita, most of the better modern JRPG's are running on them

Theresa Catalano
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Absolutely! Shin Megami Tensei IV was a near masterpiece, I loved every second of it! And there's also Fire Emblem, Etrian Oddysey, Bravely Default, Crimson Shroud... people like to wax nostalgic for the PS1 Square era, and I don't blame them, but this is still a very good era for these types of games!

Matthew Mouras
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Exactly. Too many think that "open exploration" is inherently better than linear game play. It isn't. With good writing, pacing, and interesting characters, a linear experience is very compelling. I would take an experience like Persona 4 over something like Skyrim any day. Open worlds are not compelling to me in and of themselves.

Jeanne Burch
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There has been a recent spate of re-released classic games ("Tales of Symphonia in HD! Final Fantasy X in HD!") that have me holding out my checkbook and saying, "Take my money for the uber-special edition, TAKE IT!"

From the moment I played Phantasy Star on the Sega Genesis, this became the game genre that most appealed to me. Although I enjoy the new RPGs that are on my handhelds, it was also wonderful playing the games that I love on my 50-inch screen.

Jonathan Lin
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Agreed. Along that line of thought, I've found the stories of many "JRPGs" to have more insight and depth than the "darker and grittier WRPGs", with Persona 4 being a top example. Not that all JRPGs have good stories, but I think the format of a linear story offers a stronger focus and allows for greater impact than a series of smaller stories in a wide open, impersonal world.

And again, speaking of Persona, a linear story doesn't have to mean there's no choices to be made in-game. Games like Persona or Fire Emblem requires lots of thought on a range of choices on the player's end to succeed.

Theresa Catalano
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Yes, linear storytelling certainly offers a more coherent vision for the story. It also allows for more intricate plots, like those in the Phoenix Wright games, 999 or Ghost Trick. And I think generally it allows for more robust character interactions as well.

Of course, the stories don't have to be completely linear, and there's often some room for some controlled choices.

John Maurer
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Like Chrono Trigger new game +!

Theresa Catalano
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I think we all need to remember something: games like FFX are not dead. There are still narrative driven Japanese adventure games like these coming out (I don't like to use the term jRPG.) It's just that the modern gaming press has a sad lack of interest in them. Just recently, we've had Tales of Xillia, Xenoblade, Final Fantasy XIII Lightning Returns, Nino Kuni. Even the new Atelier Rorona game. Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts 3 are on the horizon. These types of games may no longer be kings of the gaming world, but they are still very much here.

And I'm glad, because what a game like FFX gives me, I can't get from western games. FFX is a game that is more than the sum of it's parts. There's just something beautiful about the way the visuals, music, story, and gameplay all work together.

For anyone who remotely enjoyed FFX, I have this message: forget about the negative buzz around FFXIII and try out Lightning Returns, it's actually a great game. If you haven't played Tales of Xillia, do yourself a favor and check it out... it's a woefully underplayed masterpiece. There's still a lot of great games coming from Japan, you just have to dig a little bit deeper.

Dane MacMahon
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Indeed.

Genres never go away, they just fall out of mainstream focus. People said point and click adventures were "dead" for years when there were still dozens of them coming out. They just weren't covered on IGN anymore, that's all.

Especially in today's eclectic game market people need to have the confidence to be niche markets.

Matthew Calderaz
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I'll generally be among the first to argue that in general games are better at presenting systems then they are stories; but I have to agree that there is a welcome place for a game that intentionally eschews systems and just wants to tell a story. FFX being a great example of one.

As much as I enjoyed the freedom in Skyrim, it's main quest story line didn't muster a tenth of the emotive qualities for me that FFX did!

I have to agree on the latest game too, I'm enjoying Lightning Returns quite a bit more than I ever did XIII or XIII-2.

Theresa Catalano
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I agree that it's okay for games to just focus on telling a story, but Final Fantasy games have always had a focus on trying new and different kinds of systems, including FFX. And it feels to me that Sphere Grid system is actually pretty influential on other games.

Kris G
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This was the first JRPG I ever played. I didnt expect to like it at all, but the quality of the visuals and the story kind of drew me in. I plan to get the HD version sometime soon and replay it again for the first time since it came out.

Bruno Xavier
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This is the game of my life. For REAL!
If I ever loved a video-game it was this one. But FF X-II... Meh.

Killing the Nemesis boss from the Monster Arena to earn that hidden achievement was like 100x harder than killing Sin; when I killed him I felt sooooo good haha.
Oh, and the secret to win the Blitzball first match is to have Jecht Shot skill xD

Robert Walker
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Excellent article! I remember being in love with the Final Fantasy series during the golden age of Square, FF3/6, FF7, and FF8 were all amazing to the teenage'd me. When FFX came out, I was about to graduate high school and didn't have time to play it right away. When I finally did get around to it, it was a great adventure, but somehow didn't stand out to me in quite the way you describe. It's funny how things work at different points in life!

Jay Kohl
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This sentence spoke to me: "I don't think I noticed all of that before, the sadness."

That precise feeling has been bothering me since I booted up FFX HD, my first time re-visiting the game in over 10 years. The last time I played, I was 19-20 years old. Now I'm in my 30s. And the thing that blew me away was that, in my teens, the sadness of the story was lost on me.

Teenage Me: "In this world there's an unstoppable monster that randomly kills people. Interesting. I suppose it'll be my job to stop that monster. Let's get to it!"

Today Me: "I cannot imagine living in a world where Godzilla With Tsunamis & Lasers might show up at any moment and massacre my entire village and we're completely defenseless against it. Does everyone in Spira have PTSD? Is this what living during the Cold War was like -- never knowing if some unavoidable calamity was about to happen? And then if you can't find a priest fast enough, your dead loved ones become monsters?! This is horrible. I'm not sure I want to visit this place, this reality."

The story seems so profoundly sad to me now that I almost don't like it. It reminds me too much of the inevitability of death and that it may arrive at an unexpected moment and we're powerless against it.

Brandon Kerr
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Great read. Thanks for writing!

Kaze Kai
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In typical counter-culture fashion, I'm going to list all the games that make me cry as a not-so-subtle middle finger to the people who believe this is somehow demeaning, embarrassing, or otherwise unacceptable. (Seriously, why do people associate emotion with something beneath them?) Anyway, here we go... Oh, by the way, this contains spoilers.

Flower, because of the fifth level. So desolate and depressing, so full of hopelessness. It's the only level in the game where you can take damage, and you take a lot of damage near the end. So much that it ends without you being able to create a flower and restore nature. The last level of the game starts out with you, in a bleak landscape, and a tiny vortex where you can plant yourself to make a bloom underneath the mangled horror that is human machines choking nature and winning. Then, somehow, by some miracle, nature heaves an effort of strength and dismisses it, destroying it, the sun shines and color returns, and you rise with the power to demolish these metal thorns, and in doing so, you create a city where humans and nature coexist. You bloom flowers on roads, bring color to skyscrapers, and lighten playgrounds. You end the level by taking on the dark tower of nature-killing monstrosities and turning it into a giant cherry blossom. It filled me with such emotion because it wasn't about nature versus mankind, it was about nature considering mankind as part of itself, that we can live together, that we are also victimized by pollution and destruction, and together we can overcome it to find peace and love. I'm a hippie for this stuff, I don't care how cheesy it is.

To The Moon, because it starts with a dream a man can hardly remember, fueled by a promise blotted out by a tragedy. You help him rediscover who he really was, and in the end, his last memory was reaching out and holding hands with the person he'd forgotten as they launch, and then he flatlines with peace in his heart. But that's not the entire reason that I cried at the end. I cried because I was happy for him, but also that I knew it was a lie. It was a bittersweet moment for me that left the debate on whether it's best to die believing a lie than facing the truth, no matter how painful and empty it might be. To this day, that debate is left unsolved. I believe each person should decide that for themselves, but it will leave him very confused if there is an afterlife.

We Love Katamari - yes, really - because even though the game is silly and makes me laugh, the cutscenes about your father's childhood, no matter how dramatic and overplayed they might be, are still sad. The saddest thing was a cutscene in reference to an older one. the then-prince got second place in a kickboxing match and the then-king threw it into the ocean in disgust with his failure, and his son stares out as if he's about to cry. I wonder if he's crying because he worked hard for it, or if he desperately wanted his father's approval. Well, in this cutscene, he's barging into his father's study to demand to see the future queen, when he sees his 2nd place trophy on his father's desk. His father went back to the ocean, dug it up, and cradled it. He really did love his son, even though he was hard on him. He kept it there all those years ago. He pushed him so hard, but he still cherished his achievements even though he didn't want him to settle for second. It was heartwarming.

Okami, because of so many things. Kaguya's story, especially the music that plays when she's departing, the water dragon, queen Himiko's sacrifice, Waka's true feelings, Issun's coming-of-age realization, as well as Kokari's, the stories of the lost canine warriors, Yatsu's soul coming at rest, Oki's spiritual growth, and Susano coming to terms with his true desire are all examples that come to mind, but most of all is at the final boss fight when, after you painstakingly regain all of your powers and think the boss is dead, imagining your little friend that accompanied you throughout all the pain and joy, Yami turns everything to darkness and fucks up your shit bigtime, making you weaker than when you started. Then, everyone you helped, all the lives you effected, feel concern for you in turn, and Issun having finally realized his purpose, spreads the truth about you and all of those people send you their love and gratitude as praise to strengthen you. You become what you were once 100 years ago, fueled by the shared love and friendships forged, to fight this empty hatred. You do it for your friends, and that is a wonderful thing to me.

Majora's Mask because of the sidequest involving two lovers. If you fail, Anu goes to the ranch and cries on the bed. The thing is though, she has no idea you were involved, so when you succeed, her choosing to stay in the inn, at ground zero, because her faith in her significant other is that strong. When you get his mask back, and the two meet in spite of his curse that made him a child, the two masks form the mask of love, and they resolve to stay there and meet the dawn. They love each other so much that they will die there, content with the simplicity of each other's company. I don't know if I could ever love someone that much, but it's beautiful to witness. It made my resolve to complete the game that much stronger, and my favorite part of the ending sequence is watching them walk down the aisle together.

Dark Cloud 2 because of far too many reasons to list, notable examples would be Lynn's story, Cyrus's story, and Elena's story. But the most tragic to me was Gaspard's story, and how when you defeat him for the last time, his mind fading, you aren't sure if he's dreaming or really headed toward the afterlife. The last thing you see of him is coming home to the mother he lost, as a little boy, and they are together for all eternity. The source of his pain is finally resolved and he can be with her. He loved her so much that his last thought was of her, and their happiness. I love the parallel the game draws with Max's story and memories of his mother as well.

Journey, because I had an epiphany at the ending sequence that changed my life, because it turned something that previously scared and depressed me and made life seem worthless into the most beautiful thing I'd ever witnessed, thus changing my perception of it, and granting my belief that the journey alone is life's meaning.

There's a good chance I'm forgetting some games but this is probably enough for now. Anyway, if something makes you cry, it just means you're human and were born with tear ducks. I actually do judge the quality of something by its effectiveness to make me feel emotions because that something has an air of humanity about it that is revoltingly lacking in much of today's media. It seems like the status quo is based on how apathetic or callous someone can be, or how much they can laugh at tragedy. It is honestly very immature to believe that being able to not feel things somehow makes you a strong, mature person. I celebrate my humanity by defying this belief, and praise anyone mature enough to cry when they feel like it, laugh when they feel like, and admit they're afraid when they need to instead of bottling everything up inside or trying to kill all their emotions and the emotions of those around them in some bitter vendetta against them.

tl;dr people aren't vulcans, stop being ashamed of your tears or the fact they might influence your opinion because you have nothing to be ashamed of, and anyone who says you do is probably 12.

Marc Blanchard
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I don't usually cry while playing games, but I'm not the slightest bit ashamed to say I cried during the end of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. If you haven't playing it yet, and you're looking for a deceptively simple emotional journey, I highly suggest it. The gauntlet of emotions the developers managed to incorporate into it is inspiring.

Anthony Betancourt
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Back when this game came out I was impressed by the voice acting. Maybe it was the Tidus monologues that got me, but hearing the characters talk really gripped me more than the previous Final Fantasies did. I never beat it though, which is a shame because I really enjoyed the game. Today I am playing the HD remaster so maybe now I can finally beat it,

Slo Bu
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When I remember playing FFX at the time I was deeply underwhelmed. I didn't feel the need to dink around with the sphere grid until half-way through the game. The plot continued the trend towards disjointed nonsense that FF7 started. The true disappointment was how utterly linear the game was.


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