A worthwhile story and memorable characters are hindered slightly by lacking quality-of-life features.
The deluge of Final Fantasy titles being released on Switch almost forces you to compare them against each other. Is it chronological with VII, IX, X, or does the inclusion of HD flip the order to X, XI, VII? Final Fantasy X does show its PS2-era age in ways that you might think would have been covered by the Remaster, but it features a compelling narrative of Yuna’s sacrificial pilgrimage, engaging combat, and an unrivalled progression system.
I would be remiss to not begin by focusing on the strength of the story and the story-telling. Final Fantasy X opens in medias res—in the middle of an on-going narrative—where we encounter all of the characters in the party resting before the beginning of the end of their journey. Protagonist Tidus’s re-telling of their adventures is the device that takes us back to how everyone met and how they arrived at their impending confrontation with Sin. The narrative being told retrospectively allows for Tidus to interject his present feelings into various past scenes, which creates a sense of mystery and foreboding. Despite his melodrama and naivety, it’s hard not to sympathize with him and feed off his unbridled enthusiasm.
While the voice acting and writing can certainly be cheesy, Final Fantasy X does an admirable job of creating real bonds between the characters. By the end of your 30-40 hours, even if you haven’t gravitated towards all of them, the relationships between the characters and their shared desire to bring peace to the world of Spira are palpable. Auron’s gruff exterior hides a compassionate and wise soul; Wakka and Lulu’s shared trauma—the death of Chappu—helps us see these characters as real people, and not just a pious soccer player with crazy red hair or a voluptuous and dour black mage. Of course, it’s their connection to and support of Yuna that keeps the group focused and foregrounds the story as a whole.
A complaint that can sometimes be made against story-based games, even those with powerful and thought-provoking narratives, is that they are too linear, and Final Fantasy X can be guilty of this as well. The first 95 percent of the game gives you almost no option to explore the world map or backtrack to previous areas. It is not until the final chapter, when you are preparing for the final boss, that you are given access to an airship, and even then you are merely choosing from locations on a list or randomly searching the world map by inputting coordinates. Final Fantasy X does not have the freedom of VI, VII, or IX; the path-based exploration of each area you visit isn’t nearly as satisfying as hopping in a boat and sailing across the world to a new continent like we did even in the original Final Fantasy.
However, the simplicity and choice in terms of progression in Final Fantasy X is second-to-none. The Sphere Grid system, the Expert Grid in particular, allows you to essentially give any character any ability in the game. While the job system of FFV or XII does something similar, X shows you all of the possibilities at once, giving you the chance to plan out your characters from the very start, even the choice to improve specific things like magic defense, luck, and health points. To explain very briefly, characters accrue Ability Points (AP) instead of EXP, and rather than leveling up in the traditional sense, gaining enough AP rewards you with an AP level that can be used to move a character around the Sphere Grid and claim individual stat increases and abilities. In the Standard Grid, characters are led down more prescriptive paths: Yuna is a white mage; Auron is a warrior; Rikku is a thief. In the Expert Grid, paths in the Sphere Grid diverge regularly to let you mold your party as you see fit. My Yuna is my most powerful magic-damage dealer, and my Rikku is my best healer. Final Fantasy X sacrifices overworld and exploratory freedom for greater agency in progression and party-building, and the trade off is a welcome change of pace.
Combat reverts back to a purely turn-based affair from the famous Active-Time Battle system of previous entries. The new mechanic added to Final Fantasy X is the ability to swap characters in and out of your party at will. You use three characters at a time but can always replace them with any of the other four in reserve. This creates an element of strategy in that you might need to bring in Yuna for healing, and then rotate her out for Wakka when you need a ranged attacker. The downside to this system is that only characters who take an action in combat receive AP at the end of the battle, and so if you want a balanced party where everyone is leveling up equally, you have to constantly rotate people in and out. I kept up with this during most of my playthrough, but at the end I rolled with my four strongest characters: Tidus, Rikku, Yuna, and Auron.
With the HD Remaster come improvements to the presentation of Final Fantasy X, most for the better. Load times on the Switch are short and the game looks excellent both docked and handheld. Even when it first released in 2001, X was acclaimed for its gorgeous visuals and art style, and the same can be said about this most recent port. The world of Spira is beautifully realized, especially during in-game cutscenes. The cinematic cutscenes also look impressive in HD. Unfortunately, while the soundtrack isn’t bad by any means, it isn’t nearly as memorable as those from past Final Fantasies. The HD Remaster gives you the option of the original OST and an arranged version, but the music overall is mostly atmospheric. An exception to this is the beautiful and soulful music that plays over the ending. One small note about menus, when you boot up Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, you have to first select which of the two games you are going to play before getting to the individual start screen for that particular game. This means that it does take a little bit of time to turn the game back on and resume your progress.
Final Fantasy X HD Remaster is an excellent port of a classic JRPG that mostly holds up today. Playing it portably helps accommodate the length, but certain scenes really do deserve to be seen on a big screen; this remains one of the most visually-stunning Final Fantasy games. The absence of quality-of-life features like those in the ports of FFVII and IX, such as the ability to speed up the game or turn off random encounters, would have been nice to see, but the worst omission is the inability to skip cutscenes or fast-forward cutscenes. Nonetheless, the enjoyable and satisfying progress system and the wonderful story make Final Fantasy X another strong addition to the growing library of Switch RPGs.