RPG Corner: Final Fantasy 10

RPG Corner is a monthly series covering a recent RPG I’ve been playing. Action, turn-based, Western, Korean, and Japanese RPG’s all apply. 

Warning: Light spoilers ahead

Institutionalized religion is dangerous. Blind faith breeds ignorance, encouraging devout followers to live in sheltered bubbles. Routine makes way for stagnation, whereby potential character growth is stifled by familiarity and xenophobia. This contemptuousness fuels Final Fantasy 10‘s story. As the first voiced mainline Final Fantasy game, it stumbles to effectively deliver its message. Luckily, its inconsistent and sometimes dated design is propped up by one of gaming’s best renditions of traditional turn-based combat.

Final Fantasy 10‘s narrative missteps clash with its production values. Released 18 years ago, FF 10 impressed with stunning CG sequences. While the modern-day remasters highlight the limitations of the low-resolution source code, CG cutscenes still demonstrate a high level of artistry. The sending scene in Kilika, for example, remains one of the most beautiful cinematic sequences in gaming.

Final Fantasy 10 sprinkles these visually and aurally stimulating scenes throughout its roughly 40 hour adventure. They’re typically used to punctuate the game’s most emotional moments, though on occasion, Square Enix flexes its muscles with short clips that add nothing except a few moments of visual flair. These CG scenes hit the hardest, seeing as the story itself is about as subtle as a naked man running through the street.

Tidus and Yuna exhibit a believably immediate connection that gradually develops, but the same can’t be said for most of the game’s writing. Its “blind religious faith=bad” narrative hinges upon poorly telegraphed plot twists. No one with half a brain could have trusted Maester Seymour, yet all characters act surprised when he turns out to be a villain. You’re telling me the man with veins running down his face, ominous attire, and the most exotic hair in the entire game isn’t a good guy?

The disconnect between characters’ and the audience’s reactions makes it difficult to take the world seriously. If something as obvious as Seymour’s betrayal shocked everyone, then these aren’t believable characters existing in a fleshed out setting. They’re puppets, acting as conveniently as the plot wants them to so that clearly telegraphed moments can be treated with extreme dramatization. That’s to say nothing of Tidus’ misused, on-the-nose monologuing that saps all subtlety from his emotional compass.

It’s an overall poorly written script with average voice acting that’s saved by a few endearing moments. The soundtrack keeps the game’s emotional center from falling apart. Some of the most poorly written conversations are held together by music that effectively encapsulates the emotion those scenes attempted to create.

JRPG’s have had worse stories. Hell, Final Fantasy has had worse stories, but this game is worth playing because of its highly concentrated combat. Unlike most RPG’s, all party members become available a few hours in. Streamlining is a dirty word in the RPG community. Streamlining RPG systems and design often leads to a significantly worse experience. In Final Fantasy 10‘s case, making all party members available near the start works in its favor. It gives players all the tools to plan out end-game and late-game compositions without a random character throwing the whole plan out of whack 30 hours in.

Also unlike most turn-based RPG’s, Final Fantasy 10 doesn’t penalize players for swapping party members out mid-battle. Random encounters still exist, but they’re not a major concern. You won’t run into situations with an enemy formation your party isn’t equipped to handle, forcing you to waste precious turns swapping the right characters in. Streamlining this entire process takes chance out of the equation. You’re no longer hoping that the RNG gods don’t screw you. Final Fantasy 10 places the emphasis squarely on puzzle-solving through a strategic guise.

This is reinforced through its extreme balancing that perhaps takes things a bit too far. Each character is strong against a specific enemy type to the point that a single attack kills it. Rikku can dismantle machines in a single turn with the steal command. Tidus can kill smaller beast-like enemies. Auron handles armored creatures. Wakka handles flying beasts. Lulu handles elemental creatures. Its intuitiveness means you’ll steamroll through standard encounters within seconds.

Because of this, random encounters don’t grow as stale as old-school games. However, with no difficulty settings, you’ll also soon find yourself wishing for a bit more adversarial resistance. Final Fantasy 10 is a laughably easy game that only occasionally spikes in difficulty during boss fights. Despite how harsh I sound, there’s something to be said about such a focused battle system trimming the genre’s fat.

It’s not so much a game of strategy. Most battles play out more like simple puzzles with simple solutions. The gratification comes from decimating foes because you put the pieces where they belonged. Instant kills are your reward. To slightly offset this extreme balancing, brute force methods are a death sentence. The game is easy when you place the right pieces, growing exponentially more difficult the moment you try something unorthodox.

Final Fantasy 10 isn’t the classic it’s often hailed as. It’s a solid turn-based RPG with mediocre storytelling. It also signaled the beginning of the franchise’s downfall. People complain about Final Fantasy 13‘s linearity. FF 13 at least had  two chapters with dozens of side quests spread across several, massive sweeping vistas. Final Fantasy 10 has the calm lands; a single location that’s a fraction of the size with a fraction of the content.


      Updated: May 21, 2019

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