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.


  1. You say you like the story but found the lack of work that could be done due to the limits in the medium. So would you be okay with the trend of revamping the animation and rework the voice actors for the games to be resold?

  2. Hmm, good question. I would love it if they did, but I don't think it would be worth their while.

    A game's "presentation" is a big selling point to me (probably more than it is for other people). I see a lot of excellent things in FFX's presentation are exceptional, but I really do wish they could go in and fix the weaknesses. But I guess the weaknesses aren't big enough to merit a complete game remake.

    But, in general, I'm a fan of the "remake trend". I like seeing old games dolled up and given the chance to shine on modern hardware, especially if the old game's visuals haven't aged well. Whenever Square gets their butt to work on remaking FF7, I'll be cheering with everyone else. Even remakes with small enhancements are great (widescreen support, HD, etc).

    If Square does decide to remake FFX someday, though, I'll be very excited to see how it turns out.

  3. have you played beyond good and evil and would you do a retrospective on that id like to seev your opinion of one of my 3 favorite games of all time(the other two are viewtiful joe series and okami,just in case you wanna know)

  4. Glad to see I'm not the only one that appreciated FFXII's translation-- a lot of people I've heard talking about it were put off by the flowery prose of that game, but I personally enjoyed it. (Or rather, am enjoying it, since I've yet to finish it...)

  5. It seems to me that these two things are mutually exclusive. If you have a badly written and badly performed story, wouldn't that make it a bad story? If Hamlet was re-written by Uwe Boll and performed by the cast of Twilight, would it still be a good story? FFX is a game I could rant about for days, but I'll save that for my own blog and my own space. I'm just not sure I can follow the logic of "this was terribly written and terribly acted, but the premise is interesting and that makes it a great story".

    Definitely interested in any thoughts you have and eagerly awaiting your next lecture.

  6. He didn't say it was badly written. He said he LIKED the story, just that it was badly PERFORMED, and perhaps badly translated. I think perhaps you projected your own opinion onto him...?

  7. Yeah, I should clarify. I see a distinction between bad writing and a bad story. When I refer to the "story," I am talking about the characters, the general plot, the themes, etc. When I refer to the "writing", I am referring more specifically to the presentation of a story. Translation, dialogue, how the story is told.

    For another example, look to the Metal Gear games. Clearly, there is a solid story there, and very well-presented for the most part. However, Kojima has a tendency to get long-winded in his dialogue. Sometimes it's no big deal. Other times, it can hurt the impact of a scene by "talking it to death." Is this a story flaw? No, the flaw is in how the story is written, or presented.

    My point is, it would be possible to improve the dialogue, directing, and performances of FFX and still tell the exact same story.