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Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Analysis of a Computer Game

Final Fantasy X is an RPG developed and released by Square Enix. Originally released in 2001 for the PlayStation 2, it was then re-released for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita in 2013 as Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, before finally being released again on the PlayStation 4 in 2015 and for Windows in 2016. Having played both the original and the remastered version, I will be focusing mainly on the PS4 version as it is the version that I have played most recently.

Content wise, the game is heavily influenced by Asian themes, especially in terms of the cultural and geographical design of the game. Compared to that of the previous Final Fantasy games, this was bold choice as it was very much a step in a different direction than the previous iterations of the series. For example, FFVII had a Sci-fi setting, and FFIV had a more medieval setting relating back to earlier games in the series. FFX is set in a world in which nature is allowed to run rampant over the world, with tropical islands and forests taking the place of major cities in the game. The design of the characters within the game, specifically the clothing that is worn by characters, is hugely important within the game, as it allows players to be able to quickly identify which race that character belongs to. As an example, the attire of the Al-Bhed race made them out to be seen as strange and slightly eccentric, which helps to reinforce the fact that they might have different ideas and beliefs to other people within the world, and might be shunned because of their ideas. Combat in the game is also changed up from previous entries in the game, using a conditional turn-based system rather than an active time battle system. This means that instead of the battles happening in real time where characters move when their action bar is filled up, players have turns in which they have no time limit in order to take their turns. This allows players to think out what they want to do without having the pressures of the constant threats from the monsters attacking. This type of battle system does lower the intensity of the fights as you don't have to worry during your turns, and instead have all your time to think, which might take players out of the experience of the fight, although this does help to give players a higher sense of tactics and planning by knowing which character or enemy is going to be moving next, allowing the player to protect themselves, or be able to deal the final blow to an enemy before they get to attack. However, the random battle system in which you can be randomly be put into a battle when you are moving through areas can get frustrating, especially if you are almost at the end and you are low on life. This can cause annoyance with the game as you may just want to get past an annoying area but you continuously get caught in battles that you don't want to fight, which is one of my criticisms of the game. The game also includes lots of ways for players to improve their weapons and armour by defeating enemies and getting new weapons, a lot of the them with different abilities which allow you to customise your load out depending on what enemies you are fighting. This adds another level of strategy to the game as it allows you to take advantages of weaknesses of the enemies that you are facing. For example, there is an area called the thunder plains in which a lot of the enemies are weak to water attacks, so this allows you to plan your fights out beforehand and give yourself a slight advantage. Another way that you can improve your characters is to collect their celestial weapons, which are incredibly strong weapons for each character. To get these you have to collect the weapon, along with the crest and the sigil to activate them. To collect these weapons and parts you generally have to complete some kind of side quest, some of which are fun, but some of which are incredibly frustrating and difficult. The side quest to get the sigil for Tidus involves winning a race in a time of under 0.0 seconds, by collecting balloons that decrease your time and also by not getting hit by birds that increase your time. This is very difficult to achieve and is very frustrating, and is one of my least favourite things in this game, as although it's not needed to complete the game, if you are a completionist it makes the game a lot more frustrating to play.

Graphically, the games Asian influences can be seen in full effect once you reach the Island of Besaid and Kilika, with the areas being filled with lots of forested areas and tropical natural life. Due to the fact that is only a remaster, graphically it doesn't stand up to newer games being created specifically for these next generation consoles, although it is still an improvement to that of the previous versions of the game, with much higher texture resolutions and detail in the world. It is the first Final Fantasy game in the series in which the world and town maps have been fully integrated, with the terrain outside of the cities being rendered to scale. This makes the game look much better than previous Final Fantasy games in which the backgrounds were 2D representations of the area that the player was in. Furthermore, it is also the first game in the series in which used motion capture and skeletal animation technology. This makes the game feel much more realistic as it means that the game was able to include realistic lip movements for the characters when they speak, and it really helps to add to the games ability portray characters facial expressions and emotions, which ultimately helps to create a more powerful story for players to enjoy.

In the sound department, being the first Final Fantasy game in the series to include voice acting made a real improvement to the game as it allowed for more powerful emotions to be portrayed throughout the story, rather than just using text based options. This helped to keep the plot of the game much simpler, as the complexities of the characters are able to be portrayed through the voice acting and rather than having more complexities within the plot itself. However, the use of voice acting does lead to some problems for game, due to the fact that the original voice acting was done in Japanese, which meant that the lip movements of the characters were created to fit that dialogue. For the English version there is a lot of lip syncing issues when characters are talking, which makes the game look poorer as the voice acting and the lip movement don't fit together well it the majority of cases, which can make the game look like someone is just talking over the characters whilst their lips are moving, which can take away from some of the emotions that are trying to be portrayed. The voice acting itself, although sometimes slightly out there in terms of its content, is very good at portraying how the characters are feeling at the time, and really lends itself to the improvement of the story of the game. I don't think would have worked without the added emotions of the voice actors, as the story relies heavily on the relationships between the characters and the dynamic between the group, especially the way that they are feeling and how they react to their situations.

The game takes influence for previous games in the Final Fantasy series in which it is set in a fantasy world where the player controls a party of characters, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and characters that develop as they gain experience through defeating enemies. However, in FFX the traditional experience point system is replaced by a new system called the Sphere Grid. Traditionally, characters would level up when they earned enough experience via winning battles, increasing in strength when they did so. Using the Sphere Grid method, characters would earn Sphere Levels after earning enough AP, or Action Points. AP is earned in a similar way to experience points, as when you defeat monsters, or fiends as they are known in this world, you gain AP corresponding to how strong that enemy is. When you have earned enough AP to gain a sphere level, you can then use that level to move around the Sphere Grid, which is a pre-determined grid of interconnected nodes that contain various stat boosting effects, abilities, and empty nodes. Players can then apply spheres found in the game to these nodes in order to improve their characters. This system allows players to fully customise each of their characters however they want, contrasting them from their starting roles. For instance, this allows characters that are naturally physical damage dealers to become strong magic users or healers. This gives players a huge amount of diversity when levelling their characters and allows them to fully customise the game to play how they want. However, the flip side of this is that a level system this complex can lead to a lot of newer players becoming confused about how to level their character properly, and may lead them to have an under powered character which would make the game much harder, and may make players frustrated at the game, which could lead to them no longer playing the game.

A central theme of the game is that of religion and the impact that it can have on characters and the world as a whole, despite being a fantasy game with magic and monsters. Set in the land of Spira, the game follows the story of Tidus, a star Blitzball player from Zanakand as he tries to find his way back home after being taken to Spira by the main antagonist of the game, an immense creature known as Sin. Beginning in Tidus' home city of Zanarkand, a high tech city filled with machines, we find out that Tidus is a famous Blitzball star. During a Blitzball tournament, Zanarkand is attacked by a creature which Tidus finds out is called Sin from Auron, a man who is not from Zanarkand. Zanarkand is destroyed, and Tidus and Auron are taken to Spira. When he arrives in Spira, he is alone in a ruined temple-like place without food or water, until he is rescued by a group of Al-Bhed scavengers who speak a foreign language to him, which helps to show the player that they are in a very different place to where they first started. He learns from Rikku, one of the Al-Bhed that speaks his language, that Zanarkand was actually destroyed 1,000 years ago by Sin, which makes it seem that Tidus has been brought forward in time by Sin. However, Sin attacks again and Tidus is separated from the Al-Bhed and drifts to the tropical island of Besaid, where he meets Wakka, the captain of the local Blitzball team, the Besaid Aurochs, and also a devout follower of Yevon's teachings who believes that anyone who does not believe in the teachings is a heathen, which explains his hatred of the Al-Bhed. Tidus impresses them with his Blitzball skills, and is asked to join the Aurochs, who are considered the worst team in Spira due to their 10 year losing streak. Once they reach the village of Besaid, Wakka introduces Yuna, Lulu and Kimahri. Tidus learns that Yuna is a summoner who is about to go on a pilgrimage in order pray at the temples around Spira to obtain Aeons, powerful summoned creatures that will then fight for her, before being able to obtain the Final Aeon and defeat Sin, and follow in the footsteps of here late father, High Summoner Braska. Lulu is a guardian to Yuna, someone who protects a summoner on their pilgrimage to defeat Sin, and is well versed in the use of Black Magic, which is the use of damaging spells to defeat enemies. Kimahri Ronso is Yuna's first and most faithful guardian, having known and protected her since she was seven years old. He is not well accepted by the Ronso tribe due to his shorter stature and broken horn. Kimahri met Auron in the city of Bevelle after leaving the home of the Ronso, Mount Gagazet in shame, who asked him to fulfil the wish of Yuna's father to take her away from Bevelle and take her to Besaid where she could grow up in peace. Tidus joins with Yuna and her Guardians, Lulu, Wakka and Kimahri in across the country in order to play in the tournament and also to help Yuna gather her Aeons and defending against attacks from Sin.

After the Blitzball tournament in Luca, the party is joined by Auron, who reveals to Tidus that himself, Lord Braska and Tidus' father Jecht had taken the same journey 10 years ago to defeat Sin, and that by doing that Jecht became the reincarnation of Sin, revealing to Tidus that his father hadn't died 10 years ago like he had thought. Auron and Tidus then officially become Yuna's guardians at the request of Yuna's and Tidus' father. The party continue travelling Spira, collecting more Aeons before being joined by Rikku, who is later revealed to be Yuna's cousin, which makes Yuna part Al-Bhed. The party reach the city of Guadosalam, home of the Guado people, where the leader of the Guado and also a Maester of Yevon, Seymour Guado proposes to Yuna under the guise that it will ease Spira's sorrow of constant attacks from Sin and give them something good to believe in. However, it is revealed that Seymour was in fact responsible for death of his own father, and now aims to destroy Spira by becoming Sin. The group rescues Yuna and in the process killing Seymour, causing them to become branded as heretics as they have killed a Maester of Yevon, and becoming villains to the majority of the world that believes in the teachings of Yevon. After Sin attacks the pa
rty again, they become separated on Bikanel Island, the homeland of the Al-Bhed, Tidus discovers that the Summoners die when they summon the final Aeon, which leads him to want to find a way to defeat Sin without having to summon the final Aeon due to his growing affection for Yuna. The party finds out the Yuna has been captured by the Bevelle forces attacking the Al-Bhed and has been taken to Bevelle in order to be forced to marry Maester Seymour. The group crash the wedding and rescue Yuna and proceed to the temple of Bevelle in order to gather another Aeon. Having done this they are captured afterwards and are ordered to stand trial. They escape from their trials and head towards to ruins of Zanarkand, the place where the Final Aeon is waiting.

Whilst travelling to Zanarkand, Tidus finds out that himself, Jecht and the Zanarkand that he is from are summoned entities much like those of the Aeons Summoners can use. Long ago, the original Zanarkand and the City of Bevelle battled each other in which the former was defeated. The survivors of the battle became Fayth, humans who willingly give up their lives to have their souls sealed in order to commune with summoners and enable the summoning of Aeons. This Fayth used their memories in order to create a new city removed from the reality of Spira, including the creation of Tidus and Jecht. The Fayth, however, are tired of dreaming, and wish to be free of the dream. The leader of creating this Fayth was Yu Yevon, who was the one who created Sin in order to defeat Bevelle, however the mental effort needed to create both dream Zanarkand and Sin effectively wiped his mind clean and replaced it with one final command of summon the dream Zanarkand and also summon Sin, which means that in order for the Fayth to be allowed to rest, Sin must be destroyed completely, or Yu Yevons final command will continue to allow Sin to be reborn by merging with the Final Aeon. Once the group reach the ruins of Zanarkand, they meet with Yunalesca, Yuna's namesake and the first summoner to defeat Sin, as an unsent. She tells the party that the Final Aeon is created from the fayth of someone close to the summoner, hence why Jecht became Sin by becoming the final Aeon and merging with Yu Yevon. Yuna then decides against using the Final Aeon due to the fact that she did not want to sacrifice anyone and that it would be pointless as Sin would return anyway. Yunalesca then tries to kill the party, but she is defeated and disappears, leading the option of collecting the final Aeon being gone for good. The party decides that they have to defeat the spirit of Sin in Yu Yevon, and it's host of Jecht's imprisoned spirit. When Yu Yevon is defeated, Sin is defeated for good, and the spirits of the Fayths around Spira are allowed to rest, which also includes the Fayth that has created Tidus. Furthermore, Auron is also to be revealed to be an unsent, someone who has died, but stayed on in the world due to strong attachments to the world, which was protecting Yuna in this case and he goes to the Farplane, the place where spirits rest. Tidus then disappears from the world due to the Fayth no longer summoning him. The game ends with Yuna giving a speech to the citizens of Spira resolving to help rebuild Spira free from the influences of Sin.

I think the narrative in this game is one of the best that I have ever played, building up complex, strong relationships between all of the main characters in the game, along with all of them having a strong backstory that has led them to be in this position. The world itself is also rich with many different races and beliefs that makes it feel like the world is truly alive, which helps make the world more realistic as it wouldn't make sense for all the inhabitants to all be the same and have the same beliefs. Furthermore, it also deals with some controversial topics that lead the story to become a lot more interesting because it deals with topics that a lot of games stay away from due to the connotations that they might hold. Predominately, the central theme of religious manipulation and the development of the characters through the use of religion in order to build the foundation of the story and the growth and development of the characters. Specifically, Wakka's development throughout the story is a great highlight of this. When you first meet Wakka he is a devout believer in the teachings of Yevon, the religion of the world, and he denounces all of those who do not believe, especially the Al-Bhed who actively work against the teachings and use the forbidden machina, ancient machinery that is said to have been the reason Sin was born. Throughout the story Wakka struggles with his beliefs as he comes to see the corruption among the religion, even being reluctant to fight against Maester Seymour despite knowing of all the crimes that he has committed. As he becomes to realise the corruption of the religion and their leaders, with all the lies that he uncovers as the party travel together, he begins to think for himself and come to his own conclusions about the world, which leads him to grow as a character and finally denounce his prior beliefs, both as a believer in Yevon and his feelings towards the Al-Bhed, thanks to his growing friendship with Rikku. The ending of the game is also incredibly emotional as you have been through this journey with all of these characters, built up bonds with all of them, especially romantically with Yuna and then to finally have the world at peace, but be unable to stay there gives off a sense of satisfaction that you have saved the person that you love, but also sadness that you have to go. Any game that can make the player feel such powerful emotions is a sign of how great the narrative is in this game. However, despite the great narratives in the game, the main complaint I have is that it feels very linear compared to most other games in the series. In previous and future games you have a lot of freedom to go where you choose, using an airship to travel the world, or the use of a world map to move on in order to get to areas much quicker, and you can go where you wish to go. In FFX, you get the airship very late in the game, which is great for allowing you to revisit previous areas that you have been to, but for the majority of the game you are stuck following a linear path, which is a shame from an exploration sense, but it does ultimately make sense as the party is on a pilgrimage to collect the Aeons, however it would have been nice to be able to choose which direction you went and what order the Aeons could be collected in.

Character wise, the only real negative I have is with the main character who can come across as annoying and childish. Other than that I think the game has a lot of strong characters, especially in Yuna. She is a strong female character who instead of relying on being particularly athletic and strong in a physical sense such as a Lara Croft type character, she instead uses here strength of will and belief to continue on her journey. This is typified when she agrees to marry Seymour despite knowing the crimes that he had committed, so that she could put a stop to him without endangering any of her friends. The rest of the characters all have really interesting backstory, from Lulu having been a guardian to other summoners and failing, to Auron dying but still living on to fulfil his promise to his friends, and Kimahri being shamed and sent away from his home and then returning stronger and better than he was, I think that there is a character that everyone can relate to in their struggles and growth, which lends itself to having a great story.

 I think the target audience for this game is probably any fans of RPG games, especially turn based games due to the change in combat. Being a Final Fantasy game, it already has a committed audience that are going to by a play the game, yet the story and gameplay are strong enough to enitce other RPG fans to play the game. Furthermore, there is very little need to have played a Final Fantasy game before as it is own contained story, and you don't miss out on everything, you just might not know as much about the stereotypical Final Fantasy tropes than other players, such as the use of Chocobos for travel. Although it does deal with some complicated themes, it is generally quite a tame game with no cursing or sexual content, with the only real issue being with violence and fighting, giving the nature of the game there isn't really anything that can be done about it.

Overall, despite some of the flaws that the game has in terms of some poor lip syncing in the non-Japanese version, and some annoyance with the main character, I honestly think that this is one of the best games of all time, with a fun combat system and a great story with an emotional ending, I don't think there are many games that can do this style of game better. It looks great for a game that was originally made over 15 years ago and has only been remastered, it has one of the best soundtracks of any game which adds to the intensity of boss battles and also the more emotional side of the game. It also takes a huge step forward in changing the shape of the RPG genre as a whole as it was one of the first to include fully animated characters with full voice acting, along with fully rendered 3D backgrounds. It represents not just a great game but also a big leap in the genre as a whole, which is why I think the game is great, despite it's few problems.

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