Religion, nowadays, seems more like a state of mind than a way of life. If given the choice between worshiping a holy figure and a television set, the latter will be my answer. While this may seem incredibly cynical, it might also represent the mainstream attitude. This gives a good idea of why this subject is so under exploited in the gaming industry. Yet one developer in particular, Squaresoft, saw potential where no one else could and incorporated the idea of religion into their flagship title for Playstation 2, Final Fantasy X (FFX). However, this game does not present religion under its best image. Instead, it casts some of its most negative aspects under the spotlight, as would guests of the "Ricky Lake Show," washing their dirty laundry in public. To add to this already volatile situation, FFX contrasts this aspect of religion with a protagonist who sees no use in any form of belief. By "digging up the dirt" concerning religion and clashing it against modern day mentality, Squaresoft offers one of its most appealing and addictive stories ever in a Final Fantasy game.
FFXs main plot deals with Tidus, who has been hurled a thousand years into the future and seeks to understand what has happened to his homeland, which now seems to lie in ruins. On his quest he joins Yuna, a young summoner who must go on a pilgrimage to acquire the help of what could be described as spirits, known in this game as "fayths." With their assistance, she hopes to rid the world of Sin, a mysterious entity that leaves nothing but death and destruction in its wake. What is truly amazing is how this games story reflects a satirical view of our societys understanding of religion during Renaissance and medieval times. From the clergys intentional prevention of technological and scientific advances to the corruption that could be found at the root of the religious order (without forgetting the crusaders, whose every act—whether moral or immoral—was justified in the name of their beliefs), FFX gives us an idea of how a person with a 21st century mentality would view a world dominated by religion. The Al-Bhed, one of FFXs many diverse races, prefer to put their trust in technology rather than "Yevon," the deity upon whom the whole religious order is founded. For this reason, the rest of society despises them, accusing them of leading a sacrilegious way of life and usually using them as scapegoats for anything that goes wrong in the world. "Youre either with us or against us" as the saying goes.
This game offers everything expected to be associated with religion. Maesters, also known as priests; warrior monks, designed to look more like firefighters than anything else; and sacred temples, created in full 3-D environments (as are most areas in the game), are but examples of these elements. While this is a good effort at truly pushing the series into the third dimension, two features seem to have been neglected—the first being a function or button that would allow the player to control the camera. Frustration can arise easily in areas where this same camera presents itself in awkward angles, making it very difficult to make heads or tails of the surroundings. The other is the use of a first-person view. While not being essential to the game itself, it would still have added to the realism to be able to contemplate the 3-D world from Tiduss point of view.
The gameplay remains true to the Final Fantasy formula, offering players the traditional turn based battle system (where every character and enemy waits for their turn in order to perform an action), and players can choose from a large arsenal of spells and weapons, each bearing unique properties. However, most features involved now seem to revolve around the games main theme. For example, through the use of a system called the "Sphere Grid," characters can increase their strengths, learn magic and acquire special abilities to be used in battles such as a sleep attack or, believe or not, an ability called "Pray". Certain weapons now possess names with theological significance, such as the Nirvana, Judgement or Apocalypse. Another religious reference can be found in summons, who are creatures a characters can call upon for help in a battle, which are now viewed as sacred spirits, on a holy mission to help their summoner defeat Sin.
Sound has also been influenced by religion. The theme heard in the interior of sacred temples throughout the land can only be described as some sort of religious hymn, similar to a Gregorian chant in a church, tailor made for the game. The first full-motion video in the game also offers something unheard of in a Final Fantasy title—a metal-style song. Unfortunately, it is the only song of the sort in the game even though there is still more than enough to be impressed with when listening to all the themes FFX has.
Many would qualify FFX as being flawless. Personally, I dont believe any game can bear that quality. Flaws are part of every game and we either learn to gradually accept them or we reject the game they are part of altogether. Squaresofts newest addition to its Final Fantasy line is no exception. Newcomers to the role-playing (RPG) genre might easily shy away from this title, as its beginning will tend to leave the player feeling like Tidus, lost and disoriented. However, the most annoying aspect of this game can be summed up in a classic line often said by parents at the beginning of long road trips: "You better go now before we leave because were not stopping until we get there". Ladies and gentlemen, this game is as linear as they get. The earlier titles allowed for exploration most of the time but FFX forces the player to stay on the right path until the very end. Only then is he given the choice to proceed to the final showdown or take the time to explore. Of course, once you get to that point, theres plenty of exploring to do; items to acquire and side quests to complete but much of this could have been introduced earlier in the game. This title also removed the traditional world map over which the character could walk and instead replaces it with a single image where coordinates designate locations. Unless you can decipher the passwords that give the exact coordinates, finding secret locations on the map has now become similar to playing darts blindfolded. While I welcome most of the new features found in the game, this new style for the world map proves that not every change is for the best.
FFX is a game that should be viewed as a pioneer. Not only is it the first Final Fantasy title to be created for the Playstation 2, but it dares to offer something most games would not: a story built around an unconventional theme. Granted, some aspects should be reworked for the next sequel (mainly the camera system). However, concerning the story, Squaresoft shows one its strong points once again, drawing the player using something which, ironically enough, doesnt seem to be anyones focus of attention anymore. If researched correctly, religion can represent a vast resource of inspiration and knowledge. The research was obviously done for FFX, as religious references from around the world can be found throughout the adventure, whether it be the Crusades from Medieval times or the Churchs determination to have Galileo refute his radically new scientific theories to name a few. With any luck, this game could be an icebreaker, paving the way for other titles to take advantage of this much under-exploited theme.