Final Fantasy X Part 6: Meet the Maesters

By Shamus Posted Thursday Jul 14, 2016

Filed under: Retrospectives 158 comments

Blitzball is so important to the people of Spira that most of their religious and cultural leaders show up for the tournament. Now that Tidus has made a few friends and has a long-term goal, the storyteller starts explaining how this world works. Note how this is backwards from Mass Effect, where you’re thrown face-first into expositional cutscenes and most of your team doesn’t join until after the major details are filled in. Either way is valid, although you’re probably not going to be shocked to hear that I’m more a fan of details-first style stories.

Meet the Maesters

On the right is Maester Mika. On the left is our secondary villain, Seymour's haircut.
On the right is Maester Mika. On the left is our secondary villain, Seymour's haircut.

Spira is apparently a theocracy under the religion of Yevon. We never hear about any secular political leaders, even on a local level. Yevon is controlled by four guys called Maesters. We meet two of them here.

Grand Maester Mika is a very tiny old man and seems to be more or less the Pope of Yevon. He’s been Maester for fifty years.

Maester Seymour is the young new Maester, having inherited the position from his father who recently died of COMPLETELY NATURAL AND UNSUSPICIOUS CAUSES. Seymour has this strong vibe of Commodus from the movie Gladiator. He comes off as unstable, creepy, and sketchy as hell. He’s also the proud owner of the second-most ridiculous haircut in all of SpiraCredit where due: He’s really working hard for first place..

We see a few of the Blitzball teams arriving before the big game. For some reason, the Luca Goers also arrive by boat, even though this is their home city? I’d assume that they were getting back from an away game, but the announcers make a point of saying this tournament is the start of a new season. Maybe they’re returning from a trip to their ancestral home on the Island of Intolerably Smug Dickheads?

In a details-first story like Mass Effect, the writer might sit us down for a long conversation about how the political power works in this world, what the Maesters do, and what people think of them. Then maybe we’d get a codex entry or two about famous Maesters of the past, and about how the current Maesters get along with each other. But this is a drama-first story, so the storyteller does everything through characters.

What are we doing? We're bowing? WHY DID NOBODY TELL ME WE'RE BOWING?
What are we doing? We're bowing? WHY DID NOBODY TELL ME WE'RE BOWING?

Brash iconoclast Tidus – who knows nothing about Yevon – is flippant about the Maesters, because all of this pomp and fanfare feels strange to him. Devout Wakka rebukes him for not showing respect. Everyone else bows deeply. Maester Seymour bows deeply to Maester Mika. In just a few seconds of screen time, the storyteller tells us what we need to know for the purposes of this story.

How do the court systems work? What about taxes? Are there any elected positions in this world? Are all Maester positions hereditary, or is Seymour an unusual case?

It doesn’t matter! The world is not the star of this story. We’re tourists in Spira, and the world is just a backdrop for the main attraction, which is the story of Yuna’s pilgrimage.

Seymour Saves the Day

The story never explains how all the sinspawn got INTO the stadium. I'm going to go ahead and assume it was orchestrated by Seymour, who probably gave them tickets to the game.
The story never explains how all the sinspawn got INTO the stadium. I'm going to go ahead and assume it was orchestrated by Seymour, who probably gave them tickets to the game.

As the tournament ends, Sin attacks. Tidus and Wakka get to fight some Sinspawn in the Blitzball sphere, and no I’m not going to theorize how they got in there since it would just lead to difficult questions about how anyone gets in or out of a glass sphere with no visible airlock or openingThe Zanarkand stadium at the start of the game seemed to use a forcefield that somehow held water but allowed people to pass, but this one in Luca is depicted as being an actual sphere of some glass-like substance..

Auron – who we haven’t seen since Zanarkand – shows up and gets a few moments of cutscene badassery.

But despite how awesome and tough our heroes are, the sinspawn really do seem to be overwhelming the stadium. Apparently Maester Seymour has summoner training, and apparently he’s pretty good at it, because he shows up and calls a massive creepy Aeon that solves the entire problem with a few terrifying shrieks.

Wow. That guy is a badass! I sure hope we never have to fight him!

It turns out Yuna knows Auron. He guarded her father Braska during his pilgrimage ten years ago. Then he vanished. Tidus knows Auron as the guy who showed up in Zanarkand (the awesome one of the past, not the ruined one of the present) ten years ago. So they each know the same guy, but from different worlds.

This does sort of make it odd that people – most notably Lulu and Wakka – continue to doubt Tidus about being from Awesome Zanarkand. They could just ask Auron. Or Tidus could tell them to ask Auron. The writer gets away with this because Auron’s arrival is a really big deal so there are lots of more important things to talk about right now. And nobody thinks to bring it up later.

You Must Gather Your Party Before Venturing Forth

Auron is so badass.
Auron is so badass.

Since he served the last High SummonerThat is, the last successful summoner., Auron is automatically called Sir Auron. It’s not like he was knighted or anything, and I actually suspect that “Sir” is really a stand-in for a Japanese honorific with no direct English analogSama? Sensei? Sushi? I dunno. I barely speak English, so don’t ask me about Japanese.. He offers to be a guardian for Yuna, which is a huge honor according to how they do things here in Spira. His only requirement is that Tidus comes along.

We’re something like five or six hours into the game and we’re just now settling in. Our party is formed, we have a goal, and we’re about to be turned loose for our first “real” travel sequence where we’ll be doing a lot of fighting. Previously, combat sections have been very brief. The party is finally complete in a mechanical sense, in that now we have a dedicated character for each of the major monster archetypes:

  1. Elemental foes made of fire, water, ice, etc. Lulu handles these.
  2. Armored foes that have incredible damage resistance. Auron can bypass their armor with his sword. Kimari can also use piercing weapons if you choose to give him one. I’ll talk about wild-card Kimari later.
  3. Flying foes that can easily dodge melee attacks. Wakka can hit these with his beach ball. Of course, Lulu could also blast them with elemental attacks, but you often need to spend her turn on the elemental foes.
  4. Fast-moving foes with high evasion. Sometimes you run into really evasive foes that even Wakka can’t hit, but fast-moving Tidus can. Again, Lulu could kill them with magic, but her turns are usually best spent elsewhere.
  5. Huge foes. Sometimes you run into something really big, and you can bring in Yuna to call an Aeon.

Like I said at the start of the series, I haven’t played all of the Final Fantasy games, but FFX is the only one I know of where you can hot-swap people in and out of your party during combat. This is mystifying to me, since doing things this way solves a ton of problems. Final Fantasy is an RPG where you usually control three people out of a seven person party. If the player can’t hot-swap, then you can’t make the enemy types too diverse because you can’t count on the player having a particular group composition. Without hot-swapping, you’re asking them to choose what three tools they want to use to accomplish an unknown task.

You can solve this by making most of the characters mechanically similar, so that choosing a group is more about picking your favorite three and leaving the rest on the bench. This makes group composition an aesthetic choice instead of a strategic one. That’s not bad, although it does create odd moments where characters you haven’t seen in hoursHi Cait Sith! show up in cutscenes and act like they’ve been part of the proceedings all along. You also end up with a lot of same-y fights where you use the same attacks in the same order, regardless of enemy composition.

You have three people at a time in the fight, but when someone's turn comes up, you can swap them for one of the people currently sitting on the bench.
You have three people at a time in the fight, but when someone's turn comes up, you can swap them for one of the people currently sitting on the bench.

The FFX system keeps everyone involved and gives you more choices during combat. You get to hear bits of in-combat banter between various combinations of characters. It creates little puzzles where you have to figure out what characters to use in what order to bring down the enemy as quickly as possible:

“This Fire WidgetNot a real foe. Invented for illustrative purposes. is really dangerous and can KO fragile Lulu in one shot. I want to take it out quickly with Lulu, but Lulu is already in the party and her turn doesn’t come up until after the Widget. I could bring in Tidus and have him quickly clean up this attack dog, and just hope the Widget doesn’t target Lulu, or maybe I should bring in Yuna and have her cast Null Fire on the party. Or do I bring in Wakka and have him expend his super-attack and gamble that he can end this whole fight in one move?”

I loved it. Too bad they never used it again. Also too bad it’s in the same game with the sphere gridWe’ll talk about the sphere grid later..

Awkward Laugh

Even in the HD Remastered version, there's still no SKIP CUTSCENE button.
Even in the HD Remastered version, there's still no SKIP CUTSCENE button.

I suppose I need to stop and talk about the most infamous scene of the game. It’s used as casual shorthand for “LOL look how awkward and dumb Tidus / FFX is.” The laughing scene.

Yuna has a conversation where she talks about how part of her job is bringing joy to Spira. It won’t do if people see their summoner miserable on their pilgrimage. So part of her duty is to feign happiness. The people should feel joyful to see her go. She wants to ease their suffering, not saddle them with guilt.

This is a continuation of an earlier conversation where loud-mouth Tidus talks about how sometimes when he’s frustrated he’ll let out a scream to make himself feel better. Yuna is offering a counter idea, which is that she thinks about how her moods and words impact the people around her. She’s explaining why she doesn’t leave her emotions on the outside the way Tidus does.

Tidus is a livewire. His emotions are out there on the surface where anyone can see them. Yuna is so quiet and reserved that it’s not until much later in the story that we realize just how much she’s holding in. Both of them are dealing with some pretty intense emotional stuff right now. So she challenges him to try things her way and pretend to be happy. This results in a bunch of awkward, self-conscious fake laughter. Then the exercise to pretend to be happy devolves into real laughter as they are overcome with how silly they both feel.

Which is to say that yes, the scene is awkward. But it’s awkward on purpose and shows a very teenager-ish way of dealing with uncomfortable emotional challenges. James Arnold Taylor – who is an amazing voice talent – even has a video where he talks about this scene:

Link (YouTube)

If you hate the scene or it still makes you uncomfortable, that’s fine. But I find that realizing it’s supposed to be awkward kind of takes the edge off. I think it starts out as a good scene with important character development / revelation for the audience. The problem is that the fake laugh drags on for way too long. It goes on for so long that the (intended) discomfort and awkwardness is replaced by (unintended) boredom and irritation. And then it keeps going. I think some editing could save the scene by conveying the awkwardness without ruining the mood.



[1] Credit where due: He’s really working hard for first place.

[2] The Zanarkand stadium at the start of the game seemed to use a forcefield that somehow held water but allowed people to pass, but this one in Luca is depicted as being an actual sphere of some glass-like substance.

[3] That is, the last successful summoner.

[4] Sama? Sensei? Sushi? I dunno. I barely speak English, so don’t ask me about Japanese.

[5] Hi Cait Sith!

[6] Not a real foe. Invented for illustrative purposes.

[7] We’ll talk about the sphere grid later.

From The Archives:

158 thoughts on “Final Fantasy X Part 6: Meet the Maesters

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    This is one of those times that Im sad you arent a game of thrones fan.Pycelle would die to get a mention in this entry.

    1. Galad says:

      Why Pycelle? The only characteristic I can think of him off the top of my head is being a Lannister lackey and an occasional client of whores

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Because he is the one dying to get into this entry.

  2. KarmaTheAlligator says:

    Did you miss the fact that the Goers were on the same boat as you? They were at the Kilika temple when you got there (remember how they were introduced?), and they had to take the same ferry you did. Yes, that ferry had the Goers, Aurochs and Kilika Beasts on it.

    Also, the game does tell you how those fiends got in, but it does require talking to NPCs: The Guado brought them in under Seymour’s orders, so that he could save the day and look all heroic.

    Also, FFXII can also hot swap the party at any time (as long as the character isn’t the target of something), and it makes sense since when the front is wiped out, you get to swap the back in, instead of getting a game over, like in X.

    1. Syal says:

      Not explained why the Goers were in Kilika though. Is it a common thing for them to go to Kilika to pray before a game? How about Djose, which is within walking distance of Luca instead?

      Yeah, I haven’t gotten into 13 far enough to know, but 10 and 12 both let you swap party members almost any time. 12 lets you swap people in to replace fallen party members as well, so you have three active members until you no longer have three living members.

      Just as a note, three party members is only the standard in 7, 8, 10, 12, and (probably) 13, and active party limits only started causing story problems in 6, which was the first game to give you more characters than were currently in your party.

      1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

        They themselves say it’s to pray for some competition. And I imagine a boat trip is better than a trek through fiend-infested areas, especially considering how bad the Highroad is (not even talking about the road just before Djose, filled with petrifying fiends).

        13 doesn’t let you swap in battle, but that’s why they give you the option to retry any fight.

        1. Sleepyfoo says:

          I imagine the boat trip is actually shorter than the Highroads. Certainly easier on the players.

          And talking to the guado in the end game gets them to tell you they summoned the fiends in the Stadium the same way they do when you visit shiva’s temple and the story event immediately after that.

          As for the Stadium, it also seems to run on force fields. It’s best seen in this cutscene. That’s not to say it’s behavior actually makes sense, but there certainly doesn’t seem to be anything physical holding it up.

        2. King Marth says:

          While you can’t hot-swap party members in 13, the battle system basically ignores action selection in favor of hot-swapping character classes/jobs as a group, changing ally AI along with the set of auto-battle skills and passive buffs all at once. After the 20-hour tutorial finishes and you can actually play real battles, it’s actually a quite elegant and fun system, conducting the flow of battle instead of the minutia. Of course, until you finish the main story each character only has 3 of the 6 classes and they do get some different skills (the physical-primary character’s buffing class gets double strength/half duration buffs, for instance) so party composition is still a consideration, but it’s a strategic choice instead of a tactical one.

      2. Abnaxis says:

        It’s explicitly experienced why the Goers were in praying in Kilika–the high summoner associated with the temple in Killika was a renowned blitz player, so it’s become a place to go for blitzball-related prayers

        1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

          That, too. Forgot about that.

          Also, probably explained rather than experienced, I think.

          1. Abnaxis says:

            Yes, I was typing on a phone for that one…

      3. Shoeboxjeddy says:

        Note: the end game of IV also has MANY more characters than there are spots in the party. They solve this earlier in the game by killing or (mostly) fake killing people instead to make room for new ones.

        1. Hal says:

          In the remakes, all of those (not quite) dead (*ahem*) characters are available to you for swapping in and out of the party to tackle the final dungeon (or the bonus dungeon.) But it’s only available to be done in Mysidia, so once you troop off to the moon, you can’t swap out without either beating the game again or returning to Earth.

        2. Syal says:

          In the original version of 4 there’s lots of characters, but no more than five are journeying with Cecil at any given time, so at no point is there the option to switch someone in/out. I don’t know about any remakes.

          1. Merlin says:

            The swap-in/-out is only in the endgame, and was added in the GBA version. Then removed in the next version, then re-added in the one after that I think, and eventually made standard? There’s a truly bizarre number of versions of FF4, and each release tinkered with the script, gameplay, content, and graphics in various ways.

            1. Abnaxis says:

              But is Edward a spoony bard in all of them?

              1. Ronixis says:

                Actually, yes:

                (This site as a whole has a lot of localization-related stuff I thought was pretty interesting, and FFIV is one of the things it’s going in particular detail on.)

    2. Angelofdust337 says:

      FFXIII’s was a weird system. It felt like the devs wanted to keep an open system like the recent previous FFs but the game had a structure where the player was constantly switching parties for narrative purposes, so the paradigm system was a compromise.

      The fights felt very limited compared to FFX. It felt less like it was tackling a puzzle as more just a highly kinetic game of spamming the monster till it dies type of battle older FFs had, but here the only real strategy was timing the role shifts. There was not much else to the battles since the shifting paradigm wasn’t even switching roles or abilities as much it was switching behaviors for the party. Much of the strategizing was just finding out what set of paradigms to use for the course of the game and tanking out bosses since there wasn’t much incentive to do otherwise

      What was even weirder was that near the end there’s a scene where everyone gets access to all paradigm roles (before they only got access to a certain amount to suit a party formation for wherever the characters were at during the narrative). But its utterly pointless because it costs just as much for a character to get basic skills on a role they just acquired compared to the roles they were already building throughout the game so spending points on the former was a waste. I guess the devs wanted to give aesthetic choice but it just led the player to having to select a team for gameplay purposes anyways.

      Overall FFXIII was compromised in how it approached things, and in a lot of ways felt like the devs trying to do FFX but failing

      1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

        No, giving the Paradigms to all wasn’t an aesthetic choice, it is a postgame choice because the stats of the characters are not identical. Characters can be rather good in unexpected roles that they never fulfilled in the plot, the only time to really get into that is in the bonus stuff though.

        1. Angelofdust337 says:

          But that takes immense amounts of time for such little reward that the stats only feel relevant, or even noticeable, in post game. It still basically just feels like an aesthetic choice unless you’re a completionist who has enough stake and patience in the game to 100% it. So its just an extension of “oh its good 20 hours in” the game has. Why design mechanics that are only useful so many hours in, after the game ends?

          1. tmtvl says:

            Because Japanese gamers (still the primary market for Square Enix) really like that kind of thing.

      2. KarmaTheAlligator says:

        Also the switching party members all the time up until chapter 10 is there to teach you how to use all the jobs, and how even if they have the same jobs, characters have different abilities.

    3. Phantos says:

      That’s one of the few things 12 did better than 10. Half of your team is still in the game, and it acknowledges that. There’s a real incentive to leveling up EVERYONE, and not just your favourites, because you need a back-up plan in case your main team gets wiped.

      Instead of in 10, where… I guess the other four party members just die out of sympathy?

      It gets even dumber in 13, where if ONE party member(the specific one you’re controlling) runs out of health, it’s a game-over. Even though you can teach your allies to automatically use Phoenix Downs to revive KO’d party members. It’s by far one of the dumbest things in any video game I’ve seen.

  3. Lame Duck says:

    Yeah, for all of the game’s other faults, I still think the combat system in FFX is the best execution of turn-based JRPG style combat I’ve ever played.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      Aye right. I feel sure that, on the PS3, you used to be able to see more of the ‘Up Next in This Fight’ queue, though? Seems a little odd to squeeze it down like that, particularly when you have more space on the screen.

      It looks like you can scroll it in the screenshot, but seeing it all (or lots & lots of it) in one go was the best bit, for me! It would update on the fly, so you could see what was going to happen to the ordering in, like, 15 turns time if you cast Haste on someone, or swapped someone sluggish out for someone speedy. Great stuff.

      1. MrGuy says:

        The swap mechanic is a great gameplay mechanic, and (as Shamus points out) it’s a great way to allow you to think strategically and leverage the right characters for the job.

        It’s only drawback is that it’s completely nonsensical if you think about it. You have a party of ~7. Why does it make sense that only three of you can attack (and only three of you can BE attacked) at any point in time? The screenshot Shamus posts shows the problem. Why can’t other characters be attacking from the side? And why (if you’re allowed to put half the party in an apparently untocuhable back row) can’t your casters cast from back there?

        Don’t get me wrong, I like the combat in this game. I just think the mechanic makes no sense in a “how would that work?” sense if you think too hard about it.

        1. Ringwraith says:

          Tales of Xillia is a rare Tales game with its brawly action-y fights letting you tag in one of your two backbenchers into your party of four at any time, and it works wonderfully (and equally nonsensically). There’s some similar enemy mechanics there too (like enemies who defend a lot can be opened up by Alvin being your backup partner, as it’s about fighting in pairs).
          Xillia 2 ditches the tagging idea as the character roster is expanded, although for the main plot, you cannot select your party, and for the big side-stories you often only get a choice about the fourth space. This does mean it likes throwing very specific challenges at you which you just have to deal with the cards been dealt, and this leads to memorable fights. Often when you’re denied the character who could trivialise the fight.
          It also feels less harsh than most games with forced party sections, as being the sequel, you already know how all these characters fight, so it simply forces you to adapt with known tools in possibly unfamiliar arrangements, rather than getting complacent.
          They did make the unremovable main character swap between three different weapons on the fly instead for some enemy-type juggling though.

          1. Trix2000 says:

            I know Breath of Fire 4 also had such a mechanic, where each turn (you gave commands to everyone at once) you could pick who took actions (front row) and who got to sit out and suck their thumb for a moment (the back row). Made more interesting by the fact that the order in which you picked commands mattered, as characters acted in command order regardless of speed (so a slow character first was a good way to ensure your party all acted together – useful for combos).

            Also, the back row wasn’t completely removed from the fight (they’re actually shown to be just behind the front row, offscreen except when targetted). You could heal people in the back row (using people in the front), and there are one or two special abilities that allowed characters in the back row to contribute (Ershin might randomly fire a fist, for instance). There was a lot of strategy involved with juggling character positions, especially when you consider that the back row was immune to damage.

            I really really liked it, because getting to actually USE all my party members feels so much better – I always hate the concept of “the bench”, but too many games practically necessitate ignoring characters. FFX’s system was different from BoF4’s, but had a lot of the same advantages that I loved – really puts its battle system above most of the other Final Fantasies for me.

            1. Ringwraith says:

              Man, I knew a game which let you force a certain character order of your choosing if you needed to that turn as just one of the menu options, so you could really jumble the order up. It was neat.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    How do the court systems work? What about taxes? Are there any elected positions in this world? Are all Maester positions hereditary, or is Seymour an unusual case?

    What do the maester eat?

    1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

      Pyreflies. Or nothing, they’re mostly unsent anyway.

      1. Syal says:

        Pyreflies and Glyph Spheres.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    This does sort of make it odd that people ““ most notably Lulu and Wakka ““ continue to doubt Tidus about being from Awesome Zanarkand. They could just ask Auron. Or Tidus could tell them to ask Auron.

    But would auron know tidus?I mean,tidus is a simulation based of a (presumably) real dude,but did that real dude really look like tidus?Or is that just some kind of mental projection or memory hallucination of the current tidus?

    1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

      I don’t know if you mean that in a funny way, but… This is the same Tidus that Auron takes out of Zanarkand at the start. They obviously know each other, the scene about them talking before going to see Yuna makes that very clear.

      It doesn’t matter who Tidus is based on. Auron would have no idea about the original anyway since he’s from Spira, and only travelled to Awesome Zanarkand 10 years ago.

      1. galacticplumber says:

        That, and he was literally watching the boy for ten years. This is why he never got seen in spira since almost right after…. spoilers for side conversation.

      2. Decius says:

        Playable Tidus doesn’t know anything about the memories that he’s based on, either. He only knows what he knows.

        1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

          Yeah, I mean, it seems to be only his appearance that based on the other anyway. He’s his own person.

    2. Taellosse says:

      I don’t think there ever was a “real” Tidus. His Zanarkand was created centuries ago, and at that time, the simulated people inside it might have been modeled after the “real” denizens at the time of the original Zanarkand’s destruction. But the simulation is markedly different from historical Zanarkand (it is not warlike, has no neighbors, has no magic, etc.), and there is no indication that it’s locked in some sort of stasis. I think the simulated people had simulated babies, who grew up, had simulated kids of their own, and so on, down the generations just like natural flesh and blood people, and Tidus (and, by extension, his dad) were the product of that process.

      However it works, pyreflies have the ability to basically create matter at will, including living flesh that behaves exactly like a normal organism would, if they so choose, and that’s what everyone in simulated Zanarkand is.

      1. Ringwraith says:

        X-2 later confirms this somewhat, with an appearance by Not-Tidus (he’s even got his own name, to help deal with the fact you can name Tidus whatever you want), whom is clearly what Tidus was based off of, although he turns out quite a lot differently due to the events in his life, despite looking identical otherwise.
        He even uses differently-named versions of Tidus’ overdrives in his inevitable boss fight.

  6. Syal says:

    I actually suspect that “Sir” is really a stand-in for a Japanese honorific with no direct English analog

    Please tell me it’s ‘Senpai’.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      No,that means ritualistic honor suicide.The word he was actually searching for is “sudoku”.

      1. Noumenon72 says:

        No, that’s Christopher Lee’s character from “Attack of the Clones”. The word you need is “sciatica”.

        1. MrGuy says:

          No, that was the name of one of the minor wizards in Lord of the Rings. I think you’re looking for “sansa.”

          1. TMC_Sherpa says:

            The internet is dead at work. Go on without me.

          2. MichaelGC says:

            Isn’t he the Christmas guy? I think the word you’re after is ‘satnav’.

            1. 4ier says:

              I thought that was the philosophy that your self is the only thing you can be sure exists? You were probably going for “solecist”.

              1. tmtvl says:

                Isn’t that Marxist philosophy? I think you meant “snape”.

                1. Syal says:

                  You mean that one inquisitive country?

                  …we’re back to ‘senpai’.

        2. TMC_Sherpa says:

          No, that’s an island off the coast of Italy. You’re thinking of “semaphore”

          Edit: Crap, MrGuy piped me. Gimme a sec

          1. Grudgeal says:

            Nah, that’s what you call the holes in sponges. You’re thinking of “sithis”.

            1. 4ier says:

              Pretty sure that’s the Morrowind Tribunal guy. You may have meant “snickersnee”.

              1. TMC_Sherpa says:

                You mean Nightcrawler? I’m not sure what Marvel has to do with Final Fan…. wait. Final Fantasy X, X-men!
                Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a winner.

                Er… was I supposed to answer Michael instead? Chicago land got Comcasted earlier today and while fighting mutant rats for food and functional WiFi I appear to have forgotten the social mores that go along with posting in a comment chain.

                1. MichaelGC says:

                  I haven’t the foggiest what the rules are to be honest! Or even if there are any! But I’ve been in stitches, anyway, so I reckon that’s the main thing.

          2. MichaelGC says:

            And you’re I think thinking of the Hogwarts guy. Reckon the word you want is ‘se’.

  7. lurkey says:

    Are we going to see the owner of the most ridiculous haircut? I’m really curious what can outgoof this guy.

    1. My money’s on Yunalesca. She’s about 95% evil monster hair. Puts Seymour to shame.

      1. Joe Leigh says:

        Not to mention she’s essentially nude. I despise Yunalesca’s character design; it makes no freaking sense in a game where character design is mostly sensible (with a few obvious exceptions: Seymour’s hair, Lulu’s belt-dress).

        1. Grudgeal says:

          Well, I mean, Yunalesca spends all of her immortal life hanging around in a rotten old hole in the ground waiting for the rare summoner who actually completes the pilgrimage to go meet her so she can give the “final Aeon”- schpiel, and then goes back to waiting for another twenty-odd years for the next one to show up. Your wardrobe options are probably as limited as your chance to hone your interaction skills.

          If I was stuck in that job I think it would only take three-four pilgrimages before I’d start greeting summoners wearing a wifebeater and sandals with two weeks’ worth of stubble on my chin just to see their reaction.

          1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

            Yeah, but according to the sphere Seymour shows the party, she was dressed like that before the whole Yevon religion and the pilgrimages even started.

            1. Grudgeal says:

              Oh. Well then I’m out of excuses, that’s just stupid. Even stupider than Maestro Hiney up there.

            2. Ringwraith says:

              Summoner garb can be weird.
              Recurring summoner Dona is barely wearing… anything.
              It never gets brought up.

              1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

                Well to be fair, while we don’t know where Dona’s from, we can assume it’s from a warm place. Yunalesca has no such excuse, considering Zanarkand in up north, past the snowy mountains.

                1. Ringwraith says:

                  She might’ve been from somewhere else originally.
                  Not that she makes much sense at all.

              2. Locke says:

                One of the standard Kilika/Besaid villagers looks like this. Dona’s own guardian looks weird from the waist up, although at least his pants are normal. Luca is surprisingly sane, though. I guess when you live in such a massive city, the rent is too high to dump hundreds of dollars trying to have the weirdest costume/haircut, which is an unstated national sport in all Final Fantasy games.

          2. Locke says:

            Yunalesca’s an unsent. She can look like whatever she wants, which is why she turns into some giant hair/face monster when her human form isn’t cutting it.

        2. ThirteenthLetter says:

          “it makes no freaking sense in a game where character design is mostly sensible”

          What game are you talking about? This post is discussing Final Fantasy 10.

        3. Morzas says:

          Perhaps the belt-dress is symbolic of how she’s trying to keep it together after Chappu’s death? Or the artist just thought it looked cool.

  8. Grudgeal says:

    AFAIK, Auron is just addressed as “Auron-san” in the Japanese. “Mr. Auron” would be the direct translation of that, it’s a pretty normal honorific to use in everyday conversation.

    It’s probably translated to “sir” in the English because the other party members don’t seem to use honorifics for each other at all, especially not Tidus who is very informal.

    1. -dono” is often translated to “sir” as well. Could be that but I’ve never heard the original Japanese dialog.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Thank you.Now I finally understand that styx song.So they were actually singing about sir Arigato,robot-san.

        1. Grudgeal says:

          Assuming you’re not being sarcastic, the Styx song goes “domo arigatou, mister Roboto”. “Domo arigatou” means “thank you very much”.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Assuming you're not being sarcastic

            You should neveralways assume that about me.

          2. Syal says:

            Ari Gato and Robert Oto were the lead singer and songwriter for Styx. It’s actually an incredibly arrogant song.

            1. MrGuy says:

              Which is, famously, why the band split up. It may be Ari Gato-dono, but it’s merely MR Rob Oto. Ari used the lyrics of the song to ensure everyone knew he, the songwriter, was the true driving force behind the band. Rob, who doesn’t speak Japanese, sang the song proudly for over a year before, after a tour date in Tokyo, someone politely explained the dis to him. Rob was furious. After trashing the hotel room, he announced his departure from the group, and invited the other members to “Come Sail Away” with him.

      2. Grudgeal says:

        I originally thought it was “-dono” myself (it fit with Auron basically being a samurai, and “-sama” didn’t make sense from any of the characters’ standpoints) until I actually found an undub video of the laugh scene on youtube.

        As you can hear, both Lulu and Yuna refer to him as “Auron-san”.

        1. Peter H. Coffin says:

          Man but that dialog flows so much more naturally. Overwrought, sure, but at least it doesn’t sound like they’re all sitting around a table with styrofoam cups half filled with cold coffee and an empty doughnut box on the floor.

          1. Ringwraith says:

            They didn’t have control over the voice line length or lip syncing with X originally I believe when they came to dub it, so if you were wondering why some lines sound really fast that’s why, they were sped up to fit.
            Also Yuna’s voice actress didn’t realise she didn’t have to try and fit the mouth movements, so her dialogue is especially odd at times.
            None of this happens in X-2.

          2. Neko says:

            I think it’s a huge improvement, too. I only have a rudimentary grasp of Japanese, so sometimes I wonder if I’m just being a weeaboo for preferring Japanese audio over English. I’m more sensitive to things sounding “off” in my native language, and maybe my favourite anime sound just as stilted to a native Japanese speaker.

            Then again, maybe the dialog is written with Japanese idioms in mind from the start, but loses something in the translation that the English voice actors subsequently find a bit odd and difficult to convey.

            1. The first thing i did after installing FFX on steam was to praise the lord for the fact that someone had already made a mod that made it possible to use english menus and subtitles with tha japaneese audio

        2. tmtvl says:

          Hideo Ishikawa doing his best Wakamoto.

        3. Jsor says:

          I dunno, different people may use different honorifics, in the Undub of the scene where they meet him it sure sounds like Wakka says “-dono”

          Edit: This would make some sense in Japanese. To Yuna, Auron, a successful guardian, would probably be a rough equal to a summoner, and -san is roughly an honorifc you use with someone at a similar or maybe slightly higher social standing than.

          Wakka, on the other hand, is very devout, and really WANTS to be a good guardian. it makes sense that he’d have a great deal of reverence for a famous successful guardian, hence treating Auron with far more respect, seeing himself as a junior guardian who looks up to him. Lulu and Yuna are still more respectful than they are with, say, Tidus, but if Wakka is saying “-dono” it implies his respect for him is fairly deep. (He still likely wouldn’t ever use -sama because that’s so ingratiatingly formal it would likely come off as patronizing)

          English lacks these little differences in respect, so it gets glompfed into “sir”, because while “-san” may generally be more translatable to either no honorific or “Mr/Mrs”, neither is really appropriate here so they kind of get upgraded to “sir”.

          If it were my localization choice, I’d probably have Wakka refer to him as something like “(Great?) Guardian Auron” and Yuna/Lulu refer to him as “Sir Auron”, assuming you could fit that in the time you’re given to speak. Which would communicate that Wakka reveres him as a former guardian, while the others are using a more perfunctory if still reverential title.

      3. Peter H. Coffin says:

        –dono, even though it’s usually translated as “Lord —-” isn’t really as respectful as -sama, I suspect because it’s an obligatory honorific derived from the subject’s station in life rather than one conferred by recognition and admiration. There’s a faint level of archaic or ridiculousness associated with it now, kind of like how in a lot of Western cultures you might get a bunch of medical doctors all addressing each other as just “Doctor” even to the point of confusing themselves as to whom one is referring.

        1. Grudgeal says:

          I originally wrote a long paragraph on the etymology of “-dono” and how to use it before I had to delete it because the fricking game wouldn’t conform to my wild guesses. In short, “-sama” is more respectful than “-dono” because “-dono” can be used within the same social class/position as a mark of respect, while “-sama” is always an implicit acknowledgement that the person you’re adressing is superiour to you. Thus “-sama” is more humble, because it means “you, who are cooler than me”, while “-dono” can mean “you, who are really cool but I’m still equal to you”. Two samurai can refer to each other as “-dono” as a mark of respect because they’re both nobles, but if one were to call the other “-sama” it would mean he saw the other samurai as his superiour.

          And, as you note, “-dono” is extremely archaic. I think you can use it in the military, but in everyday Japanese you’d look as strange as if you began referring to yourself with the pronoun “sessha” (an old, outdated and very humble form of “I”).

          1. tmtvl says:

            Instead of writing a long paragraph, you can just link to tvtropes.
            In fact, let me:
            Japanese Honorifics

    2. Volvagia says:

      Also that only one party member in this, Kimari, has anything that could be called a last name and “Sir” makes way more sense in a primarily mononym setting than Mr. That helps. (To compare to Tales of Symphonia for a moment: It’d be like calling Genis Sage “Mr. Genis” and not “Mr. Sage.”)

      1. Syal says:

        ‘Yuna’ is a last name. Her first name is ‘Lady’. Her middle name is ‘Summomer’.

  9. Solism says:

    I always assumed that Seymour brought in the Sinspawn and then Anima, to win over the people of Spira. Since he’s half-Guado, people would be slower to warm up to him and even slightly suspicious.

  10. Joey245 says:

    I like the fact that you used a screenshot of the Chocobo Eater to demonstrate the party-swapping. It’s actually a really cool battle where you can win by either beating it up or by forcing it back until it falls off the ledge. And I agree with you whole-heartedly on the combat – it’s still one of my favorite battle systems in Final Fantasy.

    In FF4, what foes you fight and what tactics you use is mostly based on who’s in your party at any given time, which changes rapidly as characters come and go throughout the plot. In FF3, the characters can switch jobs, but only outside of combat. In FF13, you can’t swap characters out mid-battle, but you can assign different roles to each character via Paradigms. They were all okay, but they just don’t compare to being able to have characters tag in and out.

    And spot-on analysis of the laughing scene, too. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about the sphere grid and Kimahri.

    1. galacticplumber says:

      I’m also interested in what he has to say about the early game thief. I mean technically he can be other stuff, but we don’t get primary thief until later on and steal is so good to have being an instant kill for many non-boss robots and getting useful items. It also helps that almost literally none of what makes a thief useful comes from stats throughout the main story. They’re all about item hax.

      1. Trix2000 says:

        I actually found using steal to kill robots to be a little bad (useful occasionally, though), because you could not overkill with it. And I REALLY liked getting overkills.

      2. Syal says:

        I usually make him a black mage. Lancet is a magic attack, and Thunder is also an instant kill for most non-boss robots.

    2. Hal says:

      FF6 went the route of having a large cast, but you can only swap them out at a given location or specific times. It also faced the problem of every character being “samey.” This was the fault of the magic system, in which everyone could learn every spell; magic was so useful, and powerful, that there wasn’t much reason to use the characters’ inherent abilities. (Yes, some of the characters had really useful abilities, but others’ were near useless.)

    3. Ringwraith says:

      Also in FFXIII, for the majority of the game, your party is completely fixed anyway, and with its linearity it almost puts you through just a series of puzzles you have to figure out with most battles.
      It is more about role management though, and when you do get to assemble a party, you have to keep in mind who’s best at what. Like Hope’s best at healing and dying.

  11. Darren says:

    The other problem with the “pick whoever you like best” approach to party composition is that developers love to lock you into predetermined parties for narrative purposes. Nothing sucks like being allowed to pick your party for a full game only to have to face a dungeon that requires you to bring the character who has been benchwarming for ten hours and is fifteen levels below everyone else.

    As for the battle system, there’s nothing that has such distinct hard counters as X, but X-2 and XIII (all three of them) had battle systems that emphasized mid-battle class-switching. XII had completely open character creation, but you could swap characters mid-fight, and the upcoming HD remaster will add in classes that will make it a little closer to X’s approach (though undoubtedly not as pronounced).

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      character who has been benchwarming for ten hours and is fifteen levels below everyone else.

      Thats easily solved by having party level instead of the inferior character level.

      1. Darren says:

        Oh, it’s definitely easily solvable. Doesn’t mean that the game in question implemented the solution, or that anyone notices when a game does something neat to avoid this (nobody has ever copied anything from Chrono Cross, and that game is filled with quality-of-life stuff that could and should be adapted).

      2. Ringwraith says:

        Or characters just gain full experience regardless if they’re in the party or not.

        Sometimes they try and meet halfway with scaling experience depending on the level difference of the character and defeated foes, which has varying success, although as a system does heavily discourage overlevelling and instead promotes being crafty.

        1. Trix2000 says:

          I always liked half exp for not-in-combat members as a good compromise if you didn’t want them to get full rewards for not battling. With clever exp requirement scaling, it means they’ll never be TOO far behind to bring up to par if you need them to (since half overall experience will result in more than half the levels).

          But limiting sharing at all should be looked at carefully, as there should be a good reason (gameplay or narrative) not to just throw full experience at everyone. Maybe you want to encourage investment in certain characters, or emphasize the effects of them actively learning to fight. Otherwise, there’s few downsides to just spreading the love evenly.

          1. Ringwraith says:

            Half tends to annoy me if there’s no scaling reward.
            Just means I play the revolving party game for no good reason.
            I’m looking at you Eternal Sonata, ~12 characters and a party size of three.

  12. The Rocketeer says:

    “Hi, Cait Sith,” indeed.

    Cait Sith’s (intentional) unpopularity as a character left too many players unaware that he was tied with Aeris as the mid-game’s best magic user. Cait Sith gets the earliest four-slot Double AP weapon, although Aeris gets one later in the same area and the rest trickle in at a steady rate not long after. But in Nibelheim, the second story location after recruiting Cait Sith, you find the Silver Megaphone, a weapon with eight unlinked slots. Aeris might already have a seven-slot weapon, but only if you fought the optional Turks boss in Gongaga, and only if you defeated Reno before Rude. Otherwise, you won’t see another weapon like that for quite a while.

    Now, here’s where the important difference between Aeris and Cait Sith comes into play. Aeris’ big draw is her Limit Breaks; she has lots of unique, highly-useful recovery and utility Limits, while Cait Sith gets Dice and Slots. Screw Dice and Slots. But Aeris is weak. She has low HP and worse defenses. Loading her down with too many Materia ensures she won’t survive tough fights. But Cait Sith has ridiculous HP; the next location after getting the Silver Megaphone, you’ll get the Edincoat, a seven-slot armor. You can conceivably put that on Cait, load him down with 15 red and green Materia, sending his Magic and MP through the roof and he’ll still have damn decent HP.

    During your visit to the Forgotten Capital, two things happen that catapult Cait Sith into the position of strongest caster: Aeris gets sliced, taking her out of the running, and you obtain the Comet materia. Comet is fucking radical. It’s the first spell in the game that lets you access the full potential of the MP Absorb support materia, which you can pick up earlier during the optional Wutai sidequest. The MP Absorb materia restores MP equal to 1% of the damage inflicted by spells cast from a linked magic or summon materia. Comet takes a very steep 70MP to cast, but theoretically, if you can break 7000 damage with the spell, you can break even or even gain MP as long as you have enough MP to cover the casting. Even if you can’t, dealing, say, 5500 damage with Comet means you’re dealing Limit Break-level damage every turn for a net casting cost of 15MP a pop. That’s cheaper than the second-tier elemental spells you got a hold of an entire disc ago.

    Comet deals insane damage, and it’s non-elemental; nothing resists it. But 7000 damage in the mid-game is no joke. At the point you’re able to attempt it, only Cait Sith can come close to managing it. Well, not really; Cloud can definitely manage it, overpowered son of a bitch that he is. But Cloud’s high, balanced stats mean you want to keep him on the frontline either as a physical heavy or an all-rounder, with summons and a well-loaded Enemy Skill list. Vincent has Magic on par with Cait Sith, but there are much better ways to use Vincent. So it falls to Cait Sith to give you cheap-nigh-onto-free castings of Comet every round.

    By the time you reach Jenova-DEATH beyond the Whirlwind Maze, you can have Vincent dealing perfect-accuracy-Deathblow+regular-attack combinations every turn and Cait Sith one-shotting any given enemy for a net MP surplus while a nigh-physically invulnerable Cloud automatically intercepts and counterattacks all physical threats.

    To say the least, while I tremendously respect FFX’s hotswapping paradigm, the idea that FFX’s encounter design increases the player’s choices in combat is… ahistorical.

    1. Genericide says:

      Here’s the thing: None of those points were about encounter design. They were all about character and equipment design, and incredibly specific examples at that. This falls in with what others have said: In other FF games, you tend to find an overpowered combo and stick with it. It’s like a skill rotation in an MMO. There’s a ton of depth in building that combo, but the turn-to-turn fighting is more repetitive and less interesting.

      That isn’t to say that the encounter design in FFX is perfect, but I’d say that aspect of the game outshines others. Regular enemies are suited to specific tactics, but typically several options will work and the full-party swap gives you access to more options on any isolated turn. This is especially true in boss battles. FFX has my favorite type of RPG boss fights: Open ended puzzles with specific mechanics that force you to change playstyles without going too far and forcing one specific option. Granted, FFVII has some neat boss fights as well. But many of them (and practically all of them in the early FFs) are, to borrow another MMO term, pure tank n spank. Deal your big damage combo and heal, that’s it. FFX has some comparatively great encounter design.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        For a lot of people, experimenting with different combinations and finding optimal builds is the fun part. Personally, I like both routes about the same.

        I knew I shouldn’t have chucked that last line on there. Honestly, I didn’t intend to contrast the two games’ approaches, and I don’t disagree with what Shamus said in context; I just wanted to be contrarian and point out that the famously-derided character was actually very strong. But now that it’s out there, I do stand by it. I agree, FFX has some very good encounter design. But FFX’s design creates tension by very narrowly restricting the player.

        It can’t be said more concisely than it is in Shamus’ post: FFX is a game of hard counters. And the nature of hard counters is that there isn’t a real choice to be made. You see a lizard, you use the character that one-hit-kills lizards. You see an element, you use the character that one-hit-kills elements. You see an armored mole… guess. You see something you’d rather not deal with, you summon an aeon and wreck it. The game’s heavy reliance on palette-swapped archetypes means that standard encounters aren’t meaningfully distinguished from one another from the time you pass the tutorials on Besaid to your ascent of Mt. Gagazet. It’s only at around that time, nearing the very end of the game, that enemies begin to significantly deviate from the die-cast model of species+elemental weakness+status infliction. The standard fights are very unengaging due to this coupling of very strict funneling of the player’s options and uninspired cut-and-paste monster variety.

        FFX is, to a far greater extent than most of its predecessors, heavily stat-driven. A few points of attack power or defense one way or another makes a significant, easily-observable difference to the player. On one hand, this is one of the few things that redeems the sphere grid; the ponderous, piecemeal nature of improving characters makes each tiny improvement stand out; when you improve a character’s strength by 4, you know exactly how that character changed because you initiated that change yourself, by itself, rather than changing along with a sea of other stats on level up; and in the very next battle, you observe a significant upgrade in damage.

        But the game leverages this extreme degree to which stats affect damage and hit chance, again, to funnel the player into a single viable plan of attack by invalidating all others; when only one character has higher than a 20% chance to hit an enemy that has no relevant status vulnerabilities and resists magic to the extent that it takes a small percentage of its health in damage from whatever the current standard tier of spells is, and it can be killed in one hit by the relevant character, how many options do you realistically have for dealing with this enemy? I absolutely disagree that the game presents more than one competitive solution to any given enemy for the overwhelming majority of the game’s combats.

        It’s alleged by Perceptiveman- the aptitude of whose name on which I’ll refrain from commenting- that I inadvertently painted FFVII’s combat system as having few choices, and funneling you into doing the same thing every turn. But what wasn’t said was that the party makeup I describe above isn’t the option; it’s an option. It’s a very effective one, but it’s also based on, without exaggeration, dozens of observations about the game’s tools, characters, and how they interact that a player learning the game has to discover, earn, and learn on their own, without my two decades of hindsight. Second, what I described is one of all but innumerable alternate, competing ideas. If what I came up with to embarrass Jenova-DEATH as revenge for being likewise mistreated by Jenova-LIFE earlier was the game’s ultimate build to which all players eventually gravitate, it would be another story. But that’s far from the reality. I find it fun and funny to strenuously min-max an alleged joke character into a self-sustaining damage monster, but the materia system is a broad playground of emergent mechanical interactions. Third, the example strategy above is interesting not because it’s what the characters were built to do, but because it’s one of a multitude of things that those characters can do. Just as I noted, Cloud’s stats mean he can be played in any given role. Vincent is an excellent mage, but his Limit Breaks surrender control of the character, so you won’t have access to magic you might need if you use him that way, and his perfect-accuracy weapons allow for various shenanigans. Cait Sith’s talent for little else but magic would be restricting if not for the great wealth of options that magic encompasses in the game. The characters’ stats, Limit and equipment availability as the game progresses, and complements to one another make for versatile, but not interchangeable tools.

        Final Fantasy X, by contrast, has nothing emergent or permissive of any kind. It has four elements, a handful of status effects, and a menagerie of palette swaps. Progression is heavily weighted to stats, which are tied to the static sphere grid. As the player progresses, they tend very, very rarely to gain new tools; rather, the efficiency and power of the old tools is increased. Silence Attack gives way to Silence Buster, the shorter but more reliable version. Elemental spells are upgraded. Single-target buffs become multi-target buffs. Famously, the player’s greatest agency in character progression comes toward the end of the second act, when they begin completing character’s “proper” sphere grid path and branching into others’, assuming they even waited that long to do so. But this still gives way to no emergent behavior, no new interaction of skills or mechanics that were impossible before. Sharing access to another character’s stable of skills results in the same linear escalation it always had: more characters have access to those skills, so they can be used more often, and are more likely available during the necessary turn, and may be used without as steep an opportunity cost. And that’s… fine. Boring. But fine. FFX’s extremely stat-driven combat means that the greatest benefit, and the greatest emergent development, is in breaking individual characters out of their “inherent” stat build; giving Tidus the strength of Auron’s path, Auron the speed of Rikku’s path, Lulu the magic power of Yuna’s path. This, more than anything else in the game, is a choice reliant on the player’s own judgment. Any two given players’ parties at around the Macalania stage of the game will be all but identical, and the same two players’ parties post-Zanarkand may be all but unrecognizable from one another. But its practical applications are tellingly limp. You don’t fight in new ways. There is no late-game explosion of class and ability permutations a la my darling Final Fantasy V. You just have two characters that can do the One Correct Thing to one-hit kill a given archetype of enemy.

        Corresponding to our dear Perceptiveman’s description, FFX is not a game in which you do the same awesome thing every turn. Contrary to his implication, though, it is, rather, a game in which you do the same tedious thing every turn for almost the entire game. Almost. I still maintain, as I did above, that there is great encounter design in FFX. But it is all reserved for most of the bosses and a paltry handful of late- and post-game enemies. The overwhelming majority of the battles in the game- and therefore, a proportional share of the player’s contribution to the game- received, and is in turn worthy of, only the barest attention and novelty.

        But the game does let its own design paradigm shine when it wants to. Overall, I do openly praise the game as the most mechanically solid and unified in the series. I just disagree strongly and comprehensively that the game’s idiosyncracies liberate the player when compared to the game’s predecessors. To the contrary, FFX’s triumphs are all gained through its harshly restricting and judging the tactics employed as strictly valid or invalid. As the game progresses, it becomes increasingly heavy-handed in this regard. More and more, the player is guided with carrot and stick to observe the bosses’ patterns and reactions above all. Most bosses settle into very short, very predictable loops of behavior, and anticipating them to invalidate or survive them is the “carrot” part of the equation. The “stick” part is that bosses are quite often coded to counter very cruelly to certain tactics, explicitly steering the player away from them and back onto the prescribed path. (Personally, I think having so many late game bosses that totally invalidate Aeons was a bit of a dick move, but whatever.)

        This is where the game takes advantage of its limited but powerful toolset. By restricting the player’s options to a predictable stable of capabilities that remain roughly constant throughout the game, the designers can tightly anticipate what the player is capable of, and what they are likely to expect and attempt- and therefore very precise in what they can encourage. It’s all too right to describe them as puzzles, because they work for the same reason that great puzzles work: the creators implicity understand where the Eureka moment lives in the mechanics available, and are precise in incentivizing and disincentivizing every path toward or around it.

        This is where the games’ heavy reliance on stats and the modal, pass/fail utility of various tactics shines, rather than confirming that the player can fit the square block through the square hole, like the rest of the game. Take the notorious Seymour Flux or Yunalesca battles. Both are very heavily scripted to punish specific tactics, and both rely on tightly-scheduled combinations of attacks that work in tandem to defeat the party. They cannot be reasonably overpowered or headbutted through. You must engage with the rules that they set for you to abide by, or die. It’s in moments like these that the game’s jump from ATB to its so-called “conditional turn-based” system and its restriction of specific skillsets to specific characters proves more than a whim; the need to sit back and think about each move, while working to a very strict schedule of when given characters need to perform specific actions in a specific order, certainly does give that feeling, upon victory, that you solved the boss, that you bested it with skill and thematically-appropriate reliance on playing to your diverse party’s individual strengths. FFX didn’t just want fights to work this way for the sake of doing something different; they needed to work this way to support the story they were trying to tell. And that’s a rare degree of insight I can’t denigrate.

        At its best, it’s tense and rewarding, an artisanal test of the player’s reason and their understanding of their arsenal. But it’s the reward of overcoming despite limitations, rather than the reward of liberation from them. Final Fantasy X is strictly tactical; the skillset on hand is largely static, and the challenge- and the fun- is in applying that skillset to a carefully-curated series of challenges designed to engage intimately with that skillset. Games like, say, Final Fantasy V, or FFVII, or FFVIII, are broadly strategic. They hand you a wide array of sources and varieties of power, and the Eureka moments come from self-motivated discovery of those ever-multiplying powers’ interactions and permutations, and the challenge comes from testing your ability to intuit and support an idiosyncratic skillset robust enough to overcome a series of unpredictable challenges.

        In FFX, it’s essential to allow the player access to their full party (and therefore their full arsenal) to engage their understanding of that arsenal’s utility in a specific situation. Likewise, in these games, it’s key that, after offering freedom in the grander scale, they limit you to what you’ve set for yourself in combat; the test is in developing a reliable, personalized subset of the larger possibility space, not in drawing on the entire arsenal’s overbalancing power in any single encounter. If that leads to conservative or uncreative players to “spank and tank,” so be it. There’s more there for those who can find it. And that’s the critical point: there’s broad liberty in how the player can approach the game, and make their own experience.

        I like Final Fantasy X. But it never gives that. Final Fantasy X lets you use the entire silverware drawer, whenever you need it. Some of its predecessors let you use only what you can carry from an armory. I’ve had a lot of fun with both approaches, and I don’t mind anyone preferring one over the other. But there’s no contest which approach favors player choice.

        1. Genericide says:

          Hoo boy. I was not expecting a 2,100 word response. Not knocking you for it at all, just a little overwhelmed. From what I can gather from all that, I at least partially agree with much of what you’re saying. It is true that my praise is mostly for the bosses and the late-game. I didn’t get into progression systems or the merits of enemies that force certain actions versus enemies that are fought identically, because there’s a lot to unpack there and I don’t think I could do all this justice without some sort of pre-planned article. I’ll leave aside everything else and just say this:

          You talked about how FFX values turn-to-turn (tactical) combat whereas others value more planning (broadly strategic). I think the ideal scenario would be a game that allows both. Obviously this is quite difficult to do, or else more games would’ve done it. I think part of the reason I tend to jump to FFX’s defense is because it’s method is far RARER. Most of the series takes the other option, allowing enjoyable hours planning but thoughtless execution. (“Aw dude sick, this enemy is a humanoid triceratops with an ATV for legs! What kinda cool stuff can he do?” “He hits you for 4% more damage than other enemies in the area, just smack him a few times and move on.”)

          Even FFX’s direct sequel completely dropped the combat, a frustrating fact for a fan of it. I’ll concede that FFX, at the very least before late game, needs more character building freedom and the like. I just wish other games in the genre would take some cues from its late-game/boss design and make me put just a little more thought into their fights.

        2. Morzas says:

          >It can't be said more concisely than it is in Shamus' post: FFX is a game of hard counters. And the nature of hard counters is that there isn't a real choice to be made. You see a lizard, you use the character that one-hit-kills lizards. You see an element, you use the character that one-hit-kills elements. You see an armored mole… guess.

          And this kind of gameplay is very fun for people who don’t play games with regularity, which is one of the audiences that Final Fantasy games reach (and other games would KILL for). Yeah it isn’t complex or mentally challenging but when you’re making a game for teenagers, it doesn’t have to be.

    2. Perceptiveman says:

      Dunno; It seems like you just did a pretty good job of explaining why there WEREN’T so many choices in the FF7 engine, because you could build a party that would do the same awesome thing every turn.

      1. GloatingSwine says:

        The other thing is that you totally didn’t need to do any of that because almost all of the fights were trivially easy anyway

        You could produce ridiculous OP combos in FF7, but you didn’t need to because hitting the enemies with swords and casting cure now and again did the job 99% of the time.

    3. Jsor says:

      “But Aeris is weak. She has low HP and worse defenses.”

      Hmm, you don’t say…

  13. OriBiggie says:

    Minor nit picking (really I just wanted to pretend I had something to contribute), but the wolf enemies that you get Tidus to hit you tend to do so not because Wakka can’t hit them, but because Wakka tends not to have the strength to kill them in a hit. From what I remember, they tend to have high magic resist as well.

    The game really pigeon holes the characters into what enemies they can kill if you take the “standard” route through the sphere grid. That said I had way more fun with the expert version of the sphere grid anyway (which I don’t think the US version had for the initial release?).

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Expert was invented for International version, yes. So the US audience didn’t get to see it in an official release until the Ps3/Vita/Ps4/Steam re-release.

    2. Syal says:

      Wakka’s generally stronger than Tidus. The wolf thing is entirely about Agility; if Tidus isn’t in the party the wolf will attack before Wakka, and the later ones inflict nasty status effects upon hit. Plus they show up with birds constantly so Wakka killing a wolf means no one kills the bird until slow Wakka gets another turn.

      1. GloatingSwine says:

        Also Tidus gets a move which delays the enemy turn pretty quickly and another one which has a quicker than usual followup, meaning even if he doesn’t kill an enemy he can knock it down the turn order and let someone else finish it before it gets a go.

        1. Syal says:

          And of course Haste. Tidus is defintiely The Speed Guy.

  14. Abnaxis says:

    Man, you keep making me feel like “that guy” as this series goes on. You know, the guy who is all, “Well, actually, if you play the DLC this major character that has no motivation totally makes sense,” whenever you point out that something isn’t explained in the narrative. Except, about 60% of the “game doesn’t explain it” accusations actually are explained in the main cut-scenes (e.g. Goers in Kilika, unsent people turning into fiends) while the other 40% are explained by a no-name NPC standing around that will tell you all about it if you wander around talking to people (e.g. the fact that people can hold their breaths for hours on end in this world).

    To that end, and I’m sorry to be “that guy,” but I feel that you are being a bit unfair to the game in your characterization of the story as “drama first.” I mean, don’t get me wrong–this is Final Fantasy, with all the physics-defying haircuts and absurd weaponry the series is known for–but most of the incongruities between the way Spira works and the way the real world works that actually pertain to the narrative are lampshaded, explained, and thought out in a very “details first” sort of way, without requiring that the player go way out of their way to find the details.

    1. Syal says:

      I agree the examples aren’t great, but the story is definitely drama first. The Goers are explained as being in Kilika because of Ohalland (which I managed to miss every single time), but the reason Ohalland was from Kilika is presumably so that you’ll run into the Goers there. The reason the Farplane is in Guadosalam is because the conflict arising from visiting the Farplane is about the Guado. The reason the Crusaders are introduced as an 800-year old group is to contrast the major operation they’re pulling in the present day and show that people in Spira may view the cycle as inevitable but are by no means content with it.

      A details first game would have examples of former successful Crusader missions, backstories for the pilgrimages of all the different High Summoners, details as to why Bevelle, Luca, and Temples of the Fayth have been left alone by Sin, how Kinoc became a Maester, how someone manages to steal a Fayth.. But, because it’s drama first, it’s content to explain the plot points and leave the rest a mystery.

      1. Abnaxis says:

        If I am reading you right, you are making the distinction between “details first” and “drama first” based on the number of details presented which aren’t directly germane to the narrative being told–more extraneous details means more “details first”. However, from my own understanding of the terms, “extraneous world-building details” isn’t what characterizes a “details first” work.

        Rather, what a quintessential “details first” work does, is it establishes a set of preconditions for how the creators’ fantasy world functions–who are its factions, what is its history, what special technology/magic exists and how has it affected society, that sort of stuff–and then it relates a narrative within that established framework. While a hallmark of this type of fiction is to exhaustively explore a speculative universe that is different than our own, what really matters in “details first” fiction is that the rules are established and followed consistently.

        Contrast this with “drama first” fiction, in which ideally the rules of the universe are kept vague enough that the creators can build cool dramatic scenes without contradicting themselves. If the writer wants the sith lord to shoot lightning from his fingertips because it looks totally badass and evil, then force lightning is a thing that exists now. If the writer wants the protagonist to be special and tragic, then his parents loved him so much that it left a magical scar on his forehead when they sacrificed themselves and orphaned him. If the writer wants a T-Rex to blindside the car with the kids in it, then it approaches from the side even though ten minutes later that same T-Rex will push the car off a hundred-foot sheer-cliff in the same direction it ambushed them from.

        The art of “drama first” is the art of selective vagueness–if the writer spells everything in their fiction world out the dramatic contrivances will be laid bare for all to see, so the writer keeps things undefined as much as possible. They then do their best to sneak the contradictions that still exist despite vagueness past the audience’s attention and hopes nobody notices in the heat of the drama. In the “drama first” world, head canon can ideally come up with halfway-reasonable justification for the contrivances later, since the laws of the fictional universe are so nebulous

        While the “rules” set out by the world of Spira are pretty off-the-wall crazy, once you accept the likes of physics-defying hair, swords that can double as wakeboards, and people who can train themselves to hold their breaths for hours under physical exertion FFX doesn’t renege on the rules it has laid out. At the same time, the narrative of FFX doesn’t just leave everything vague–the writer didn’t have to make up the spiel about High Summoner Oholland, they could have just had the Goers show up and have their drama. The details are there in FFX, and 90% of the time you don’t even have to walk off the beaten path to seek out the details via “voice logs” or nameless NPCs because the details are actually explicitly portrayed in the unskippable cutscenes. That portrayal is what’s important in a “details first” story, rather than expositing on what Maester Mica had for breakfast this morning.

        More and more, I feel like FFX is characterized a “drama first” because there’s something about the way the narrative delivers details that encourages people to overlook the details given to them. Shamus talks about how the characters are introduced first, then the world is explained rather than going through an opening exposition dump–I wonder if delivering a world in the FFX style is why people can go through the Kilika sequence and never pick up on the Oholland thing? Do we need a “okay, this is where I’m going to explicitly explain how the world works” cue to file world details into memory so we remember it later?

        1. Syal says:

          That portrayal is what's important in a “details first” story, rather than expositing on what Maester Mica had for breakfast this morning.

          It’s pretty useful in a drama-first story too. Drama first just means the details are in service of the drama, not necesarily that there aren’t any details. If you want your bad guy to shoot lightning, you can make a static amplification field; they have lightning towers that collect the electricity and use it for various tasks, from running water pumps to welding. And then the guy shoots lightning because he’s got a welding glove he’s augmented for killing people. But if the details are in service of the guy shooting lightning from his hand, it’s still drama first. (This would probably be a better example if I knew something about electricity besides “don’t stick your face in it”.)

          Take the Farplane, Guadosalam and Macalania Temple. The Farplane seems like it would be an important place to Yevon. Why are only Guado here? The Guado are said to have only recently joined Yevon; did people know about the Farplane before that? Did the Guado take over Macalania after that, or have they always been at that one?

          The real reason it’s set up the way it is, is because it’s in service of Seymour’s arc. It’s important to have the Jyscal drama at the Farplane after Seymour gives his proposal but before answering it. (It also brings up the question of why Jyscal leaves the Farplane right then. Has he been waiting for a non-Guado to show up?) So, the Farplane is in Guadosalam, which is on the way to Macalania Temple.

          Details first builds a world and then builds a story that fits in it. Drama first builds a story and then builds a world that fits around it. When done wrong, details-first is boring and drama-first is nonsensical. When done well, they become progressively harder to distinguish from each other.

          More and more, I feel like FFX is characterized a “drama first” because there's something about the way the narrative delivers details that encourages people to overlook the details given to them.

          I think that’s how much time the game spends talking about the details of any given area as opposed to talking about the main characters, central plot or current arc. It’s usually a few lines about the area and three or more full conversations about the pilgrimage or most immediate threat.

          Do we need a “okay, this is where I'm going to explicitly explain how the world works” cue to file world details into memory so we remember it later?

          They have that, it’s Maechen. I’m going to remember that Shoopuf explanation for a long time.

          1. Abnaxis says:

            I’m honestly not seeing the distinction. Are the details not in service to the story in either case?

            Let’s take the first Mass Effect–the go-to example of “details first” fiction. You can read about the the “First Contact War” in the codex, where it describes an unfortunate chain of cultural misunderstandings that ultimately wound up in a bloody war between the Humans and the Turians. It is a prime example of one “detail” that makes ME1 a “details first” story.

            …Except, I can also make the argument that this detail only exists “for the sake of drama.” Even if the First Contact War isn’t explicitly called out in the main narrative, it shapes the way humans interact with aliens–and by extension the way Sheperd interacts with the Council–through the entire game. The only reason we care about the First Contact War in the audience is because it informs the relationship our character has with their crew and their bosses.

            What’s the difference between this typical ME detail, and the collective details about the Farplane?

            I don’t think there is a difference. Again, I think the primary difference between “details first” and “drama first” is in how holistically the details presented are justified in-story and followed to their logical conclusion. If a character is able to jump three stories, they shouldn’t be stopped by a chest high wall so the villain can dramatically escape. If a new wondrous, miraculous power saves the day, it is foreshadowed and explained beyond “the power of love prevailed.” I feel like FFX meets those criteria.

            1. Syal says:

              Again, I think the primary difference between “details first” and “drama first” is in how holistically the details presented are justified in-story and followed to their logical conclusion.

              I think that’s more a measure of how well the story is told.

              The difference between the First Contact War and the Farplane is the First Contact War allows an intuitive beginning to the story, while the Farplane just facilitates the story. Two military powers coming to blows is an intuitive and reasonable extension of two military powers coming into contact with each other, and the timing is based on the actions of the characters.

              The Farplane has no established precedent for a soul walking out of the Farplane until after it happens, and no given explanation for why it happened at the most dramatically convenient point, instead of the day before or after you were there. The chain of events can potentially be explained, but they can’t be intuited beforehand. Even going back with full knowledge of the rules of the world, it comes off as luck. That applies to much of Final Fantasy 10, and even more to the series as a whole.

              Maechen means the world is more than just a throwaway thing, but it doesn’t mean the story is details first.

              (I’m leaving other Mass Effect details to people who have actually played it. I could try using KOTOR, as the only Bioware game I’ve played, but I don’t know how many people consider KOTOR to be details first.)

              1. Abnaxis says:

                I think that's more a measure of how well the story is told.

                I strongly disagree with this, because I think there’s a lot of quality media out there that would be markedly worse in the eyes of its audience if it included more details. The Great Old Ones of Cthulhu fame are better off left as incomprehensible and mysterious–to explain their means and motives would rob them of their mystique. Likewise, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is supposed to be both quaint and wondrous, and best left unexplained as to the exact underpinnings of why the magic works the way it does.

                More to your point, while there’s (I think) no explicit explanation why Jyscal appeared at the time the party was at the Farplane and not the day before, it’s not much of a leap to assume it’s because he wanted to deliver the “Please stop my son he’s a terrible psychopath who murdered me” message to Yuna, who had just been proposed to by Seymour moments before arriving in the Farplane. Jyscal is a tormented spirit beseeching a person (who is in a position to get close to Seymour) to take vengeance against his murderer.

                Of course, none of that is explained at the time Jyscal appeared, which is part of why I think FFX is getting a bad rap–the storyteller limits what the player knows to what the character knows. Almost nothing is actually explained when it’s introduced, so that by the time it is explained the player has already filed events away as “convenient” and doesn’t make the connection as details are revealed in a slow trickle. I mean, I’m pretty sure the whole “Jyscal asked Yuna to do something about Seymour” thing is still hours away from being revealed after the Farplane visit.

                This slow-reveal of detail is fairly typical of FFX, and it is part of the reason why I like the FFX style of doing things. It’s nice having a world with fiends and magic and vengeful spirits where the characters don’t know with scientific precision how or why everything is the way it is. That doesn’t mean there aren’t details baked into the setting, it means the writers are limiting our perception of those details.

                1. Syal says:

                  I guess I don’t get your first point. The Old Ones don’t follow the protagonist’s expectations, but horror stories are all about people being unavoidably wrong about stuff. Not knowing the details is the detail, and they lead to the story’s logical conclusion of the humans going “I seriously can’t handle this.” Harry Potter are in large part mystery novels which very loosely fit the same category.

                  Thinking about FF10 and FF8*, I’ve started calling FF games ‘coat rack’ settings; they have a lot of story elements that stick out from the main plot, and if you throw an explanation on them it can hold one, but by itself it’s just a peg. Jyscal can be explained (although why didn’t he meet the summoner on the Farplane where her first instinct presumably would not be to Send him straight back there: and fans can solve that one too, if Sending him is what creates the memory sphere), but the game had opportunities to do so and didn’t think it was important. Which it isn’t, really. The plot is served without any explanation at all.

                  Probably a better example, at Operation Mi’ihen Auron expresses surprise at Kinoc being a Maester. Why? Our only experience with Maester promotion is Seymour replacing his father. Is that why it’s surprising; the position is hereditary but Kinoc isn’t of noble birth? There’s one Maester of every race and one additional human. Is that why it’s surprising; Kinoc upsets the racial balance? The Maesters are each the leaders of the various Yevon-respecting groups. Is that why it’s surprising; not that Kinoc became a Maester, but that he became the leader of the Crusaders to begin with? Is it an election, and electing Kinoc is like electing a used car salesman to Spira’s highest office? Is hair an important status symbol in Spira, and that’s why the Maesters put up with so much of Seymour’s nonsense?

                  The game doesn’t answer that, because any of the details lead to the conclusion that the Maesters of Yevon are acting shadily and shouldn’t be trusted. Maester promotion never comes up again because the drama revolves entirely around the current Maesters, and anything before or after them is trivia. The what is important, the why is left to the fans.

                  (*Seriously, FF8 never should have had the “A GF did it” explanation. Just leave it a mystery that fans can fill in and everything improves.)

                  1. Abnaxis says:

                    I guess I don't get your first point. The Old Ones don't follow the protagonist's expectations, but horror stories are all about people being unavoidably wrong about stuff. Not knowing the details is the detail, and they lead to the story's logical conclusion of the humans going “I seriously can't handle this.” Harry Potter are in large part mystery novels which very loosely fit the same category.

                    I think we’re talking past one another. From my perspective, what I’m talking about is how a fantasy setting is constructed–it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about mystery or horror or schlocky action or character study, what matters is how the writers conceived of the world the characters inhabit.

                    On the one hand, you have “details first,” which to my mind means that there is a meticulously-crafted design document/idea in the back of the writer’s head for how the fantasy world is different than our own and what those differences mean for their fantasy society at large. This type of work puts the “speculation” into speculative fiction. A well-done details first world will enhance the theme and plot of the story being told, but will avoid having the characters take actions contrary to the design document even if scenes could have more impact without such restrictions.

                    On the other hand, you have “drama first,” which will still have a design document, but rather than focusing on the ramifications of a fantasy world affected by fantasy elements, the design document should focus on what feelings the fantasy elements are intended to evoke to the audience. Magic (or indistinguishable levels of technology) is first-and-foremost supposed to make the audience feel mystified, fearful, exhilarated, or amazed in the moment they experience the story, with only enough detail to make sure everyone stays engaged with the narrative. A drama first setting done well will yield an awesome roller-coaster-like thrill to the media-consuming audience, only to seem bugnuts crazy in retrospect after the ride is finished.

                    Given these two definitions, my intuitive sense for FFX is that the setting was created in a “details first” manner. No, we’re never actually told how maesters acquire their position, or who the mayor of Besaid is, or why Kilika is built on water platforms, but the way in which Spira is constructed gives me the impression that these details were at least thought of if not written down somewhere in the Squeenix offices. The audience just never sees those details, because the writer chose to limit the audience to Tidus’s perspective on the events that unfold in the narrative, and Tidus doesn’t know any of those details any more than we do.

          2. Abnaxis says:

            Also, I feel like the fact that FFX has a character like Maechum standing around to fill the player in on Spiran trivia outside the plot is prima facie evidence that FFX should be classified as “details first.” He’s basically the Codex from an era before codices were a thing.

            1. Shamus says:

              Without resorting to FFX-2 or the Ultimania guide:

              * How does Auron “ride Sin” to Zanarkand?
              * How does he leave again? Isn’t Yu controlling Sin? How is Jehct doing stuff when he’s posessed?
              * How does the dream world work, anyway? Like, how do they not know they’re in a dream? Doesn’t anyone ever try to leave town? Is there a fence?
              * If Tidus and his Dad are dreams, then how is it they go to the afterlife?
              * All of my many questions regarding death from a few entries ago.
              * Braska beat Sin, and it was back in less than a decade? Are some calms longer than others? How does the calm work?
              * Besides Blitzball players, who lives in Besaid? They’re supposedly a textile-based village. Fine, but where do they get raw materials? Who’s in charge?

              The fact that the game has details doesn’t mean it’s details first. After all, Mass Effect is details-first and yet it still has drama. It’s obviously more of a gradient, but the preponderance of vague details surrounding core plot elements is what makes me call it drama-first.

              Now, if you want to insist its details-first, fine. It just means your scale is calibrated a little differently. Although using your definition, I’m not sure if ANY games would qualify for drama-first. Maybe Half-Life 2?

              1. Abnaxis says:

                In all due honesty, I’m just now replaying FFX for the first time since it was initially released on the PS2, and I’ve just now made it across the Thunder Plains–I bring this up, because (IIRC) most of the “what Zanarkand really is and how it works” stuff happens after where I’m at in the game right now, so I don’t have much for the “how do they enter? How do they leave?” questions.

                As far as “how does death work?” goes, that entry is actually what got me started down the “well, maybe FFX is really a details-first thing” because virtually every question posed in that article is actually addressed without going out of your way in-game:

                *: If the sending doesn’t happen, the souls of people turn into fiends. Not ghost or zombies or undead, but the actual fiends you fight constantly in random battles across Spira–all the elementals, wolves and bats are made out of angsty dead people, which is why you see pyreflies leak out of those fiends when they die. The part about dead souls becoming fiends is explained in the cutscene where Yuna first does the sending, while Maechen give more detail on “that’s why fiends leak pyreflies” if you choose to talk to him later on (in Guadosalam I think).
                *: Similarly, unsent are also made of pyreflies. This is why people sometimes disappear on a sending and some don’t–the ones that weren’t unsent leave behind a body. This isn’t so much explicitly said as it is shown through unsent react to sendings, but the information is still there.
                *: Actually, upon re-reading a large portion of that entry was trying to align the idea of a body reanimating itself after being stabbed, burned and beaten, when the game is pretty clear that the unsent don’t have normal bodies. We even see an “unsent” forming in the story when Jyscal Guado tries to leave the Farplane.
                *: I must admit, I don’t know what would happen if you performed a sending indoors. I’m guessing the people in Spira, like the people on Earth, prefer hold their funerals outside. :p

                And for other questions on the parts I’ve gotten through so far:

                *: Tidus and Dad go to the afterlife just like everyone else–their rainbow sparkles fly away to join the other rainbow sparkles in the Farplane
                *: The Calm is definitely something that does not need explained. How would anyone in the world of Spira be able to acquire the knowledge of what factors increase the length of a Calm? Walk up to Sin and ask it why it took fifteen years instead of twenty years to go back to killing everybody?
                *: On some level, critiquing Besaid because it’s small strike me as like critiquing Skyrim because you can find septims on draugr–sure, it doesn’t make sense but it’s a common video game abstraction utilized in countless titles, including more details-oriented fare. On the other hand, the village does admittedly look pretty silly with the small number of huts…

                As far as games that qualify for drama first, I’m not very good at coming up with examples either. The problem is, I think drama-first by my definition is exceptionally hard to do well in games–a drama-first writer’s job is to keep everything vague enough and to move between scenes in a way that keeps the audience so emotionally engaged they overlook contrivances, which becomes profoundly more difficult when the audience gets to control pacing and camera angles.

                I strongly suspect that action-setpiece-type games would generally qualify by my definition, though I don’t play them so I can’t say with authority. The latter Mass Effects definitely tried to do drama-first, but failed horribly because the contrivances were too blatant in context. Left 4 Dead (and I suspect just about any game by Valve) definitely fits the category what with the “go to the top of a hill, enter a building, and go through the door at the top of the stairs to reach the sewers” map layout. It seems like cheating, but most Telltale games I’ve played trend to drama-first. Pokemon and Zelda (old school at least, last ime I played either was N64-era) should probably also go on the list, though I’m not sure whether to include them since they’re not really cinematic games.

                1. Syal says:

                  The Calm is definitely something that does not need explained.

                  I’ve got one though, because it’s fun. Might be drama first but the game holds explanations pretty well.

                  Yunalesca explains the Final Aeon is powered by the bond between a summoner and their sacrifice; the deeper the bond, the more powerful the aeon, and if the bond is deep enough the aeon will be strong enough to defeat Sin.

                  Once Sin is defeated, Yu Yevon takes control of the Final Aeon, warping it into the new Sin. The Calm lasts until Yu Yevon’s power overcomes the bond and turns the whole thing to his purpose. Part of why Jecht can do things is because he has a bond with Tidus, that hasn’t been corrupted like his bond with Braska because Tidus hasn’t been in Spira until extremely recently.

                  1. Abnaxis says:

                    I need to get to Yunalesca before I run my mouth because I’m not sure whther this is head cannon or it’s mentioned in-game, but the way I remember it the Calm is explained as the time period between when when Sin is defeated and when The Corruption that is Yu Yevon takes over. I also could have sworn that I heard at some point that Braska’s calm was especially short because Jecht was deliberately going on a rampage before he loses his marbles, in the hopes that his (just now grown) son will help Jecht kill himself.

                    I don’t know if that’s what’s spelled out later in the story or if that explanation came from me reading between the lines on the whole “Jecht killed all these people so you won’t hesitate to kill him when you have the chance” spiel Auron gives after Operation Mi’ihen

              2. Locke says:

                Tidus’ house coastal house is located where the landbridge to Spira is in the real Zanarkand. You follow the same road into the ruined city as you did from his house to the Blitzball stadium. Dream Zanarkand is an island.

                Besaid is a fishing village. You can see the nets at the dock. The government is fairly vague, though. The priest of the temple clearly holds significant influence over the village, but it’s not clear if his authority formally extends past the temple or if there’s a more secular leader he has to get along with. More damning is the fact that Luca has no clear government whatsoever. None of the maesters appear to be local, they have no temple that might supply at least the suggestion of a local theocratic leader, and when the Al Bhed up and kidnap a celebrity, her personal army has to retrieve her from them by engaging in an extended skirmish in the docks. The docks of a port town dependent upon trade to feed its sizable population (nothing comes down the Mihen Highroad – no caravans are going down the stairs that connect the city to the road, and anyways it’s an extremely dangerous trip to the nearest population center of Guadosalam, which is a hop skip and a jump from the coast anyway). The lack of any kind of Lucan government in not only leadership but also enforcement is bizarre, because unlike small villages that can get by on nothing else but personal connections and shared culture, cities cannot survive without some kind of official government.

              3. KarmaTheAlligator says:

                * No idea, it’s not explained.

                * Yu Yevon doesn’t control Sin, he just gives it basic orders. YY is busy summoning Dream Zanarkand.

                * Dream Zanarkand is a massive aeon. It’s not a dream world or anything like that, just a summon based on the Zanarkand from 1000 years ago. It’s called ‘Dream’ Zanarkand by the fans because of what the Fayth say: that they’re dreaming it (read: summoning it). And why would they leave? They have everything they want, and they’re in the middle of an ocean. Jecht got out just by going to far out at sea, so it’s apparently very easy to do so, it’s just no-one’s done it before Jecht (or at least no-one says anything about it).

                * Tidus and Jecht are part of the DZ aeon (the analogy I use is, they’re like the fleas you’d get on Ifrit). Made of pyreflies, like every aeon, so of course they reach the afterlife. It also depends on how said afterlife works, since according to Rikku it’s just the pyreflies reacting to a person’s memories, so anyone can show up there, and it doesn’t mean they really are there.

                * Pass because I don’t remember what you asked.

                * The Calm lasts until Sin makes an official appearance. Braska’s lasted less than a year (plenty of NPCs refer to attacks from Sin less than 10 years ago). I mean, even Tidus narrates that “people can sleep in their beds without fear for a few months” when it comes up on the Mi’ihen Highroad.

  15. Curious Stranger says:

    If you talk to the Guado at the end game, you find out that Seymour enlisted the Guado into bringing fiends into the stadium for the purpose of killing them all and saving the day.

    The Guado are seen as outcasts even now, so the thought was that the Guado could trick people into thinking them as heroes. The Guado tend to follow their leaders exactly, and have different thought processes from humans anyway.

  16. MrGuy says:

    In a details-first story like Mass Effect…

    I believe you mean “In a details-first story like the first Mass Effect game…”

    As you wrote the book on, calling Mass Effect “details first” is like calling Star Wars a Jar Jar Binks free universe. It had a good little run there for awhile, I guess, and we all appreciate that, especially in retrospect. But it’s just no longer an accurate description.

  17. MadTinkerer says:

    “. Without hot-swapping, you're asking them to choose what three tools they want to use to accomplish an unknown task.”

    FF1: Red mages can substitute for white or black mages, so although you can screw yourself over with an all white-mage party, any first-time player who chooses four different classes will end up okay.

    FF2: Preset characters and abilities.

    FF3: Slightly harder than the first two specifically for the reason you said. However, you can change characters’ classes during the course of the story.

    FF4: Preset characters and abilities.

    FF5: Four party members and you are forced to take the “easier” classes first, but eventually have the option to switch to any of over twenty once you know what you’re doing.

    FF6: Preset characters and classes, but anyone can learn any kind of magic as the spells become available over the course of the story.

    FF7: Can swap any ability or spell between characters and an inventory of spare abilities in-between battles. Most customizable ability system of any FF ever, and one of the major reasons why fans want it revived.

    FF8: Characters have piles of spells “junctioned” to stats as well as abilities tied to summoned creatures which are assigned to one character at a time. Most abstract, arguably most interesting, ability system.

    FF9: Preset characters and classes. Many character-exclusive abilities, but even more non-exclusive abilities.

    FFX: You know this one.

    FFX-2: Just remembered I only played this for about ten minutes. Got distracted by Elder Scrolls IV and never came back. I think there’s a class system.

    FFXI: Own it on Steam, never played.

    FFXII Original: My favorite ability system out of all of them. Unlocking new abilities makes you move across a “board” of choices in any direction. The optimal moves are obviously designed to gently push players towards specific builds that will make the game easier (and incidentally be similar to past classes), but you can basically build any party with any abilities you want.

    FFXII Director’s Cut Thingy: Don’t own it yet, haven’t played it, but they brought back classes instead of leaving the perfect ability system alone.

    FFXIII: Not an RPG. It’s a brawler set in the longest corridor ever, periodically interrupted by cutscenes. Does not get better after you reach Cocoon: don’t believe the lies. Anyway, it’s got a class system where you can instantly swap classes, and that’s the only good part.

    FFXIII-2: The only actual good part of FFXIII crossed with Pokemon and Back to The Future. If they didn’t steal the ending from players and hold it hostage as DLC, this might actually be considered a good game. Is an RPG, incidentally.

    FFXIII-3: Was going to be a fantastic Valkyrie Profile game, but was ruined by idiotic design decisions. The fact that it’s part of the XIII “series” isn’t even the worst part about it. So bad that even the people who liked XIII and XIII-2 didn’t like it. I haven’t played it, but there’s a class system. A class system with one playable character.

    FFXIV: No interest in playing.

    FFXV: Not out yet

    1. GloatingSwine says:

      FF2 doesn’t have preset abilities. It has a system not dissimilar to the Elder Scrolls, where doing a thing levels up that thing. Hit things with swords and you get better at swording, hit them with fire spells and you get better at fire spells.

      FFX-2 uses the same job system as 3 and 5, but you can change jobs in battle (and it modifies the ATB system by giving different actions different cooldowns and some have execution delays instead where you wait before they happen and can input a new command straight away afterwards)

      1. Syal says:

        I was also going to say that about FF2. It has the least preset characters of any of the games; every single stat gain is based on how the player plays that character.

        It’s also super broken, but, details.

        1. MadTinkerer says:

          Okay, sorry, I meant that in FF2 the abilities are not explicitly chosen by the player either by choosing classes or choosing the ability via some sort of system where they assign the abilities to the character.

          So yes, FF2 does not have a preset ability system, it has an automatic skill point system and is probably tied for most interesting with FF8 (purely my opinion). I was trying to finish the list quickly and I actually cut & pasted from FF4, which I wrote first because it was the most obvious standout in the entire series.

          EDIT: By the way, “most interesting” is just from the point of view of how different those two are from the rest of the series. 2 and 8 are the only ones not somewhere on the spectrum of “characters have their own unique abilities” to “player chooses classes which determine abilities” to “player customizes all abilities at any time”. They’re still very FF, just not in a way explored by any of the other FF games.

    2. Darren says:

      He (correctly) points out that not being able to swap mid-fight is what means you face each problem blind. He’s not saying that any of the titles lack flexibility for the player, he’s saying that mid-battle flexibility makes X the best. You don’t have to agree, but don’t misunderstand what he’s arguing.

      1. MadTinkerer says:

        I wasn’t trying to make an argument. I was trying to leave a quick summary of how the other games in the series handle the “unknown task” of random battles with different enemy types. Specifically, they handle it through a combination of character customization and carefully prescribing which enemies appear at which points in the story. Not being able to swap characters mid-battle made character management and ability / class choice more important (except in 2 and 4), so I was trying to explain quickly about how each one worked.

        Final Fantasy Tactics, the entire series, handled it by letting you choose your party at the start of each battle after you see which enemies you’re facing. That would by my favorite method of handling the problem.

        EDIT: Come to think of it, the games which had the most mid-battle flexibility had the worst character / ability progression systems. Does more mid-battle flexibility cause the progression systems to suck, or is it just general incompetence on the part of the designers? Hmmm…

    3. MrGuy says:

      One of the main changes with FF6 was the ability to choose a party that was a subset of the full party – I BELIEVE all the previous game had a single party that did everything.

      Also, FF6 at a small number of key points requires you to “split up” into several parties, meaning there’s incentive to use/level everyone.

      The magic is indeed learnable by almost everyone, but equipment limitations make some characters more useful for certain purposes than others…

      1. MadTinkerer says:

        Oh, good point. Before FF6 there were characters who joined and left the party, but it was all predetermined. FF6 was the first one where you (later on) chose which characters you had in your party between battles. Mechanically, FF3 and 5’s class systems are similar to choosing different characters, but canonically you’re swapping abilities between existing characters.

    4. Ringwraith says:

      Nitpick time!
      The “story” DLC for XIII-2 isn’t really… anything.
      It doesn’t tell you much more than you’d already know.
      Mostly just lets you play some of the off-screen scrapes leading up to where the game actually jumps into, which is just an endless cycle of war.

      XIII’s pacing is terrible, the part where it opens up is indeed the worst part of the game. It’s also where it destroys the finely-tuned challenge curve by telling you to go and grind a bit, but not how much.
      Also it’s not really a brawler, it’s a party management game. As you’re just making sure to switch between the right AI routines at the right time. It’s still weird.

      Mind you, not that I like the big-budget JRPG series that much, my preferred ones are much lower-budget.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        FFXIII-2 was created by combining scraps of ideas that had been cut or gone undeveloped in FFXIII’s shameful development cycle. The add-ons to FFXIII-2 were born from the cutting-room-floor scraps of that.

        It is what comes out of the back of the human centipede.

        1. Ringwraith says:

          Really that specific DLC is toying with ideas which become XIII-3. i.e. a single character with multiple classes you switch to with precise timing and action bar management.

    5. KarmaTheAlligator says:

      Could you please not make general sweeping statements like your “So bad that even the people who liked XIII and XIII-2 didn't like it”? I love all three games, LR the most (I have 290 hours of play time on it). Also, what’s wrong with a single character class system?

      Also, sorry, but no about 13-2’s ending. The DLC adds nothing important.

      1. MadTinkerer says:

        Citation needed? All right then.

        “Also, what's wrong with a single character class system?”

        I was talking about the context of “tools to accomplish an unknown task”. I’m not saying that specifically was a bad implementation in terms of gameplay. The class changing mid-combat is the best part of any of the XIII games.

        However, one class at any one time means one set of tools out at any one time, instead of every other FF game. XIII-3’s worst problems have nothing to do with this, however.

        EDIT: By the way, just to be clear, I actually like XIII-2. It’s biggest flaw is it’s association with XIII, which can’t really be helped. As for XIII-3, I haven’t gotten around to playing it. At all.

        But I’d still rather play XII again before any FF on the PS3.

        1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

          I really don’t give a rat’s ass about somebody’s opinion on the game. Yes, plenty of people disliked it. But then again plenty of people liked it. That’s what I meant, you can’t produce just one video and proclaim that “even the people who liked 13 and 13-2 hated it”, because there are plenty of people who loved it. Had you said “some people”, that would have been better.

          And that kind of my point, you’re talking about a game you never played. How do you know how it plays? How are you qualified to make any claim about its worst problems? And just so you know, you can customise your “class” to have whatever tools you want.

    6. Abnaxis says:

      FFX-2 had the “dress sphere” system–the game itself only had three characters, but (IIRC) those three characters could be any class, and could switch class mid-battle by moving around a (player-customized) graph of classes. A lot of strategy is focused on building the “Dress Sphere” for each character–the battle system is ATB, changing classes takes time, an there’s an “ultimate” transformation that can only be achieved by traveling through every edge of the graph, leading to a trade-off between the number of nodes available, the number of jumps to get from one node to the next, and the time to traverse the entire sphere grid for each character. The classes themselves also individually tracked ability unlocks for each character.

      It, uh, sounds a lot more complicated described than it is when you play it (though it is pretty complicated), but ultimately the system is probably the same as hot-swapping characters would have been in other FF games, within limits

  18. Locke says:

    The Sahagin, Garuda, and that one thing Auron fights that I forget the name of encountered at Luca aren’t Sinspawn, they’re regular fiends. Sinspawn are special fiends left behind by Sin after his attacks and he will later on come and reclaim them. Standard fiends are what happens when people die, don’t get sent, and for reasons unspecified do not become an unsent. They pop up in areas where people have died for any reason, not just from Sin attacks (and technically Sinspawn would pop up in Sin attacks that didn’t result in deaths, if that was a thing that could ever happen), and they do not have any impact on Sin’s behavior.

    The exact life cycle between pyreflies emitted by the dead, the unsent, fiends, and Sinspawn is very vague. How long do pyreflies take to become a fiend? How come some pyreflies get to become unsent instead? Can Sin break fiends down to create pyreflies, or does he have to use raw pyreflies? Does Sin create Sinspawn and leave them behind intentionally, or are they just parts of his body that fall off when he fights and sometimes he forgets to pick them up before leaving? Personally I like the idea that pyreflies become fiends become part of Sin, but that’s just because it makes me feel better about random encounters. I’m resetting the cycle and preventing Sin from getting bigger and stronger, yay! There’s no particular justification for it actually happening that way.

    1. Mark says:

      Pretty sure that pyreflies coalesce into unsent if they have a strong sense of identity, will, and purpose (and, most importantly, know that it’s possible to do), whereas they become fiends if their minds are consumed by the malice that the dead bear the living.

      1. Locke says:

        None of the maesters outside of Seymour seem to have particularly strong purpose or will. They want to hold onto power, but I’d expect that at least a quarter of Spira would have an attachment to friends, family, or other unfinished business at least as strong. Knowing that unsent are a thing might be the difference maker, but it’s a vague implication at best.

  19. Mark says:

    In the cutscene of the opening blitzball game, you can see that there’s nothing at all containing the water. The surface is fully permeable, and Tidus body-checks a dude out of the water and into the stands to impress his fans. You enter a blitzball arena by diving into it, and you exit it by swimming out.

    This all works using magic, of course.

  20. Ah the laugh scene. Ya aint the first to point out that it’s supposed to be awkward and you’ll not be the last, but the thing of it is while I’m as a miffed as the next guy when someone props that scene up without context as an example, it’s only because if they bothered to include the context, it’d still be the best scene to use as an example.

    So we’ve established this game’s narrative focus is – as you term it – ‘drama first’, with a heavy emphasis on individual characters. The demands for executing that kind of story are completely different from the ‘details first’ kind. For DT’s, the execution is largely irrelevant over the content, requiring little more than text. Drama, however is all about the execution…or more accurate to say, the performance.

    If you’re going to focus your story on complex emotional characters, you need to have complex emotional performances and FFX fails to deliver. First: the technical:

    In one of your old Diecasts, you guys were talking about a comedic Telltale game, and somebody – I believe Chris – mentioned dialogue rhythm and how most games up to that point hadn’t really got that kinda thing down. He was right, the timing between speaking lines in a scene is crucial for maintaining drama and most games aren’t able to pull it off even today without extraordinary expense and certainly not games using engines as primitive as FFX. Now with text based dialogue, that’s easier to deal with because more often than not, the player has some control over the speed and frequency with which people talk in-game and without audio, they have to provide the cadence for the delivery of that dialogue themselves, so they get to fill in all those blanks themselves leading to a much smoother interpretation of any given dramatic scene.

    Then there’s the visual hangup of having a story revolve around the emotional journeys of various characters in game that has characters that can’t emote. Again we look to the laughing scene. Yes, it’s supposed to be awkward, but that’s communicated through everyone’s reactions too that laughter and while the intention is clearly meant to be deadpan, the characters don’t change their expressions at all. They can’t, the engine was never designed for that. Instead, they look on with neutral non-expressions while locked in their canned stand-still animation cycles. The intention is clear, but drama is all about execution, and the lack of nuance – for example, trying to substitute deadpan with no expression at all – is what makes that execution’s failure so clear and the result such an awkward mess.

    In order to combat the engine’s inability to communicate subtle emotions, the game tries to shift focus to large and overt emotional melodrama because 1) it’s a Japanese game, 2) over-the-top performances are far less demanding and 3) it’s a game made in Japan. The problem is that kind of direction needs to be consistent and this game is…not. After Yuna and Tidus are done with the ‘fake’ laughter, they have a ‘real’ laugh and some light banter. The audio suggests relatively hearty laughter, but nothing even coming close to gut-busting guffaws, however Tidus’s mocapped animation has him doubled over clutching his stomach and reaching for a railing for support. The ‘fake’ laugh had less dissonance!

    Now it’s easy to simply point out how unfair it is to expect that level of fidelity from a game released in ’01 and…you’d be right. It’s completely unfair…but so what? The demands for telling good drama don’t change based on circumstance.

    I mean, there’s a pile of other stuff as well – the sub-par writing plays a big part in all this – but the core of the issue is how the game simply cannot support the demands of the kind of story it wants to tell.

    1. Abnaxis says:

      I’m going to draw a line in the sand right here, and say that even today–with a modern machines and techniques–there’s nothing I would change about the laugh scene beyond possible a resolution upgrade. The direction is spot on, the voice acting is spot on, and the writing is spot on for what that scene is supposed to convey. It takes exactly as much time as it is supposed for the story to hit all of the beats its supposed to hit, and it is, in fact, the scene that got me into the game’s story the first time I played it. I might be outnumbered by people who disagree, but I am of the strong feeling that if you dislike this scene it is because you are already disengaged from the narrative being told–likely because of the mess that is the Luca tournament that happens a few minutes before this–to the point that you just are not understanding what is supposed to be transpiring in the laugh scene.

      To more specifically address the points you bring up, I find it patently absurd that you assert that the only way you can communicate subtle emotions is with a high fidelity engine, and I feel like that sort of philosophy leads to the incorrect conslusion that More Polygons = More EMOTIONS. FFX makes it clear from the very beginning that it is not shooting for photo-realism–it is a stylized world with stylized depictions of characters that is typical in anime and similar forms, and dinging it for not having “realistic” animations when the work itself is not striving for photo-realism is unrealistic and unfair.

      Going further than that, and saying that no work that uses similar techniques can forge an empathetic connection with audiences, and further that they relay on “less demanding” performances to make up for their shortcomings, comes off as downright pretentious.

      1. Syal says:

        Agree. Might just be me reading into it, but after Yuna says it’s enough, the second round of fake laughter sounds a lot more bleak than the first round, and gives the impression that Tidus is trying and failing to cover up that he’s just screaming again like in Kilika. Then Yuna jumps in and makes enough of a fool of herself to get Tidus somewhat out of his funk. It’s a good scene, as long as you aren’t sick of Tidus.

        The inscrutability of the other characters adds to that I think; Tidus can’t tell what to make of them because he can’t tell what they make of him.

  21. Wide And Nerdyâ„¢ says:

    If this were an American game, I get the feeling you’d be playing Auron instead of whiny little Tidus. What is it with JRPGs? Just this once I’m going to unabashedly say our approach is better.

    I just played the updated remastered FF4 and Cecil sounds like a prepubescent Justin Beiber while Kain sounds like George Takei doing a solid Barry White impression. They’re the same age. Why can’t Cecil have that voice?

    1. Ronixis says:

      One of the things I actually like about JRPGs is that the main characters aren’t that kind of masculine archetype (not quite sure what the right word is, but I hope the idea’s clear enough). It’s really more of a personal preference thing, I would think.

    2. Syal says:

      Wait until Cecil turns into a paladin and suddenly gets the voice of a chain-smoking dragon.

  22. John the Savage says:

    Lulu actually has terrific physical defenses, fyi.

  23. Phantos says:

    I’d go so far as to say the “revelation” scene later on is much more awkward and cringe-worthy than the laughing scene. Just because of the “YOU ARE SAD NOW” music. It kills the big payoff that scene was supposed to have. It would have been better if there weren’t music at all.

    Nobuo Uematsu and the rest of Square-Enix’s composers have done a lot of good things. That particular moment was not one of them. It would be less jarring if the player finds out the shocking plot twist, and then this music played.

  24. cloudropis says:

    weird not seeing anything about the kidnapping plot, one of the most nonsensical sequences concievable

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