Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mini-Retrospective: Final Fantasy X

I'd been feeling cravings for my PS2-era Final Fantasy games, so I recently played through Final Fantasy X again. I have many fond memories of the game: it was the first game my wife (girlfriend, at the time) and I played together, start to finish. But now I'm older and my critical analysis muscle is much more developed. Years later, I have realized two things about Final Fantasy X:

1. The translation and voice performances are worse than I remember.

This isn't really news to anybody. Whether we loved or hated the game, we all knew the vocal work wasn't perfect. It didn't stand out so much when it was released, back when voice acting in games was pretty mediocre across the board. But looking back today, it's pretty poor.

And it's understandable. This was Square's first attempt to include voice acting in their biggest franchise. You can't expect them to nail it perfectly the first time. And considering it was their first attempt, they did a decent job. Much better than many of their Japan-based competitors were doing at the time.

But playing through FFX today, especially after seeing the amazing translation and voice work Square-Enix pulled off with Final Fantasy XII, the flaws really do stand out. The occasional awkward sentence structure, the prolonged pauses, the unexpected shifts in dialogue pace from "very slow" to "very fast", etc.

The easy place to assign blame is with the voice actors themselves, but I don't really believe they were the ones at fault. Most of these performers have proven themselves to be capable -- if not exceptional -- voice actors over the years. I imagine the real source of the problem lay in other factors: most of them to do with Square's localization pipeline.

But once I got past the awkwardness of the voice work, I noticed something else:

2. The story is actually better than I remember.

I was a bit shocked to realize how strong the underlying story to FFX was. If you can see past the translation and voice acting, there are some powerful themes and character arcs happening under there. The death cycle that is the world of Spira, the recurring theme of accepting death, the reality behind a summoner's pilgrimage and the weight that realization adds to earlier scenes. Even the love story that develops much more subtly than that of FFVIII, but turns out to be so much more moving by the end.

It's a shame you have to look past the animation and voice performances to see the quality underneath. I started watching the cutscenes and shutting out the voices, focusing on the text and not the speech. I was impressed by how much easier it was to take the story seriously.

In fact, I'm prepared to say that Final Fantasy X might have the strongest story in the entire franchise. It's too bad it was told so clumsily.

I'll probably move on to Final Fantasy X-2 next. It should be very interesting to see how well that one has aged.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Lecture Update: Script Finished / Narration Recorded

First off, I want to apologize for updating this thing so infrequently over the last couple months. Life has been pretty jam-packed for me lately, but the whole point of having this blog here is so I don't vanish for long periods of time. I'll be working to keep the updates a little more frequent.

Second, the script is complete for the next lecture episode and the narration is recorded. James is back at the wheel and has some great topics lined up for us. The upcoming topic: Controversy.

Third, if you haven't checked out the Digital Cowboys podcast yet, I highly recommend it. They asked me to join them again last week to talk about storytelling in games and I think the resulting episode turned out rather well. Why not go have a listen?