Oh, America. I remember how you wished you could play the international version of Final Fantasy X. You had to wait until 2014 to get your hands on all of the nasty challenges waiting for you. Me? Well, I had to experience them when I was nine years old. Final Fantasy X is, for the most part, an easy and gorgeous game with the best combat in the series. I remember taking sick days from school just to watch my mum play it for the first time. I eventually made the leap to take my own adventure through Spira, and I loved every moment. I got to the end of the game quite easily, and then there was the Celestial Weapon farming. This memory isn't about that, but it's about taking the wrong turn at the wrong time.
I made my way to Bikanel Desert, which is where I thought the Mercury Sigil was hidden away. This was needed to complete Rikku's Godhand. It turns out I was in the wrong place, and instead I offered to help out a young woman who had lost her child. Little did I know she was a summoner leading me into a trap, and she called upon something I recognised, but looked inherently different. It was Ifrit, but he was black-skinned with a grey mane. Something wasn't right, and I realised about 30 seconds after going into battle, when he proceeded to break the damage limit and kill all three of my party members. I don't think I even had a chance to sip my drink. That was something I was never going to touch again. Of course, now that I'm older and wiser, I decided to win my pride back, and I went back to Bikanel desert and whipped out Yojimbo and send Dark Ifrit to an early grave. I don't think I've ever been as smug before in my life, or since. So, to those of you who have tried the Dark Aeons, I feel sorry for you. For those who have prevailed, I am jealous. But no one can take this moment of smugness away from me.
I can't pass up a "Memories of Final Fantasy" feature without writing about Final Fantasy X, easily my enduring favorite of the series. It was largely my first exposure to the wonderful world of role-playing games, as I was able to flip through the pages of the strategy guide at my local elementary school, or enviously watch my friend Scott get his party wiped by Anima (I didn't have a PS2 at the time).
To say Final Fantasy X "changed my life" would be hyperbolic at best, but I think it's safe to say that it reinforced my gaming tastes. The battle system is elegance itself, one of the best turn-based combat systems ever conceived, and the mesmerizing art direction and memorable characters set a precedent, in my mind, for what I could expect from RPGs.
X is also such a wonderfully bizarre game. What other mainstream AAA title features stat-based underwater soccer as a prominent minigame? I hated Blitzball when I first tried it, but playing the game again for Retro Encounter had me change my views (curse you, Sollosi!). I have to say, though, my favorite moment in the game is still the fight with Braska's Final Aeon, where against the backdrop of Nobuo Uematsu's best Slayer impression, the newly transformed Jecht yanks a flaming sword out of his heart.
...I mean, what else is there to say? That's totally metal.
The fact that FFX sits near the top of my personal series ranking isn't just because it's a fantastic game, it's also because I have fond memories of what it meant to me at the time of its release. You see, it was a particularly rough patch in my life, and my brand new PS2 and copy of FFX were where I spent many hours escaping reality. It's the first game that I can remember playing that had an in-game timer that went above 99:59, and boy did I put mileage on it.
It was a milestone for the series as well. It was the first with backgrounds and environments fully rendered in 3D, the first with full voice acting, and the first with fully integrated areas rather than a top-down world map. It was a big shift for the series and paved the way for its successors, in ways both good and bad. You know you love the sphere grid. It also includes one of my favorite characters in the series: Auron. Also, forget the haters. Blitzball is awesome.