Quite recently, I landed myself a nice, comfortable day job, which means I get a monthly salary, which means I can buy things I want to buy and don't need to eat porridge for three weeks to afford them. Well, one of the things I had on my list were the OSTs for Final Fantasy X and XIII, which arrived via mail last week. So, that's the background for writing this particular blog post.
When my brother bought a Playstation 2 for himself (and sold the PSone and its games to me at a reasonable price, given that we're related) one of the earliest games he got for it was Final Fantasy X. Now, neither of us had ever played a game like that before, so we were pretty overwhelmed by it, to say the least... I myself competely fell in love with the way it was played, with blitzball and aeons, the storyline, the characters and their clothes (Auron especially) and hairstyles (well, who didn't like Wakka?) and well, pretty much everything else as well. My brother played it a lot more than me at first (given that it was his game and his console and I had also the PSone to play with) but he didn't bond with the game quite so much as I did, when I eventually was given leave (and sometimes when I wasn't) to finally play it. What I remember from my first games is that I didn't know English very well at this point yet, so it sometimes took me a long time to figure out what I was supposed to do, because I couldn't understand all of those helpful characters who were basically telling me what to do - instead it was more of a just trying and running around and fighting the random encounters and what's this Accuracy thing anyway and where do I need it -kind of game play for me. Later on, I naturally learned stuff, not only about the language but about the game as well. I think I've played the game through four times, all in all, and there have also been several games where I've played the game up to a point and then never finished, because I've been collecting the fiends for the arena or the ultimate weapons or just plain playing a bit past Luca so that I can play blitzball whenever I want.
Now, over ten years after its publication, I've played four other FF-series games as well: X-2, XII, XIII and VII and I also have VIII, IX and XIII-2, waiting on the shelf as it were. Of all these games X remains to be my favourite though, because it incorporates an amazing story and setting with a game play that's not too dull but not too difficult to grasp or too versatile either. VII came the closest in comparison when it comes to the story; in XII I loved the setting the most and in X-2 the character development and the dress spheres were naturally my big favourites. In XIII I was a bit disappointed in the story, the setting remained a bit aloof the whole time and while the game play is very, very good, it tended to get a little too dull, at least for me, when you basically would use the automated action list most of the time, with a little variation naturally here and there. As mentioned, VII had the best story (maybe the best of all, but I still do like the one in X very much too) and as the game play goes, it is also the closest to X in style - the problems I had with it were that I didn't wholly identify with the setting and I would have like to be able to develop my characters myself, although that surely is just a byproduct of having played such FF-series games where you could.
X-2 is a very good game of its own and I liked the battle game play and jumping up and climbing trees a lot, but once again, the story lacked that special something that was in both X and VII and as the setting was basically the same as in X but just evolving, I cannot give it full marks on that area either, were I in the habit of giving marks to any of them. XII I really liked, up until the point it ended and I noticed that the writers must have just gotten bored with the whole idea and written THE END at the end of a page - also, I never quite thought the group dynamics within the party worked really well (the usual 'why are Vaan and Penelo even there' -discussion). I did love the setting though and I liked the way the game was played - if only they had written a bit longer ending for it, that's what I really wish...
The thing about the storylines in VII and X, what I love in all sorts of story formats, is the twist. X-2 is really the only other one of those FF games I've played that tried having it, but it didn't really work as well as it did in VII and in X. XII did have a few surprises, but nothing you couldn't see was coming - the same really goes for XIII. The main disappointment in the latter two games was really that I was so expecting a twist and was myself imagining several different kinds of possible ways a twist might occur - but the games themselves always fell a bit short of my expectations. While in VII and X, even if I had expectations and I don't really think I had any in X at least since it was my first game, I was just plain dumbstruck at the way the story finally enfolded. Now that I think about it, I don't think I had expected a twist of that degree in VII either, and was really amazed of it when it finally came - as such it tells its own story of how much I liked playing VII as well, as I wasn't really even hoping for it to surprise me.
The character development in X is the most delicate one I've yet to see in the FF series. The sphere gird system allowed you to tweak every aspect of your character, from skills to attributes, and you also had all of your fully customizable weapons to give you further boosts and other useful effects for fights. The mini-games; blitzball, chocobo racing, butterfly hunt and the temple puzzles all brought an excellent balance for the otherwise fight-oriented game play, although blitzball got boring after one got very, very good at it, chocobo racing stayed difficult (could have had more courses as well) and the butterfly hunt and the temple puzzles were bit of a one time thing, really. Another thing entirely was of course the collecting of the Jecht spheres, the crests and sigils and my personal favourite, the Al Bhed -primers. Also, there was something to do with all the cactuars in Bikanel, right? Not to mention all the other hidden things one could completely pass by (and I probably did and do, still) if one was going on too fast.
Of the other character development systems I liked were the ones used in X-2 and XII, and I really loved the coin mini game in X-2 too. And speaking of XII, I really liked the way it began and I was in love with its setting from the first moments I laid my eyes on its cutscenes. The way the game opened left much to desire in the way it continued on, however.
So, that's my take, for now, on the FF series. Maybe I'll have time to play through XIII-2 before Lightning Returns comes out in February (if they don't push the publication date forward yet again, damn them).