1. Some clever combat mechanics
One strong aspect of the game was that they attempted, at least in many of the scripted fights, to break away from the series' usual norm of "find enemy weakness, spam until dead". This entailed things like attacking a machine with lightning to power it up then using it to attack the enemy, knocking an enemy back with powerful and eventually driving them off a cliff, and even having to swap between several positions throughout the fight to avoid having your whole party hit by large-area attacks. Which was pretty cool stuff, and made the combat a bit less tedious overall. I always like when you can use the environment to your advantage during combat in games, and it's a pretty rare thing to see it in a turn-based RPG.
Final Fantasy's design philosophy has always seemingly been one of hastily throwing together a portfolio full of whatever random ideas they could come up with and trying to iron it all out into a cohesive storyline later on. This usually results in games and stories that feel messy and disjointed, but the upside is that occasionally a clever idea slips in as well. Case in point, Yojimbo.
A summon you have to not only complete a sidequest for, but pay for his services. And you'd best pay him well, otherwise he'll just put out a half-assed effort at best and scamper with your cash. But should you have the means to pay him handsomely (as in, several hundred million Gil), he can instakill any enemy in the game - even the final boss. That's awesome, not to mention a pretty awesome twist on the concept - summons to this point in the series were generally little more than glorified attack spells, but now here's one that actually demands something in return for unleashing the power of a demigod onto the battlefield in your name. Maybe if they'd played this idea up a bit more, it would drive home the whole Faustian pact angle they were trying to play with the plot point about the Final Summoning, or just provide a bit of the over-the-top number crunching fun that Disgaea provided... but alas, Square never was one to take grasp of a good idea and use it to its full advantage.
3. A gorgeous game in general, especially for 2002
Yeah, it's a lame go-to platitude to excuse a game's grievous flaws with "BUT AT LEAST THE GRAFLX WERE GOOD ASSHOLEDD@@@!!!@!", but they at least have a point in Final Fantasy X's case. Throughout the whole game, the environments are lavishly detailed and the story is often punctuated with very well produced cutscenes that have a strong cinematic quality throughout, even if I don't personally care for its overdone aesthetic style in the least. Nor did I particularly care for the fact that said overdone style seemed to be a cheap way to cover for the stiff character animations, which make the characters look very un-lifelike and borderline uncanny valley most of the time...
4. Auron's utter dickishness.
Contrary to most who have played this game, I didn't care for Auron at all as a character (more on why in a bit), but his actions at the start of the game never fail to amuse me. He shows up out of the blue once Sin attacks fakey-fake Zanarkand (which completely goes against the fundamental reason for Sin's existence...), spouts some cryptic nonsense, tosses Tidus a sword, then carries him away on Sin's back... only to dump him into the ocean halfway to his intended journey and make him swim/walk the rest of the way there. For no reason other than to be a jerk. It's utter nonsense in every respect, but it got a chuckle out of me.
5. Mother fucking Jecht
I've said it before, but Jecht is the one true redeeming aspect of Final Fantasy X. He has a way more interesting arc and character than any of the so-called protagonists this game throws at us, going from an abusive drunkard to Spira's hero to hastening its destruction against his own will, and the scattered flashback scenes that occur throughout the game perfectly highlight that arc. Not only that, his reunion with Tidus near the end is undoubtedly the best moment of acting in the whole thing; all the things he's done weigh heavily on him as he realizes that he'll never become the hero and his only shot at redemption is by death at his son's hand. It shines through in that moment, making it a very tragic and memorable scene that almost - almost - makes up for a lot of the stupidity up to that point. Jecht is bar none the game's best character, and I just found myself wishing that he got more screen time. Hell, I actually would have played Final Fantasy X-2 if it was a prequel following his story, because as underutilized as he was, his scenes were the one part of the game that I would have liked to seen expanded upon.
Gotta admit, it'd make a way better story than the shrill adventures of Blando and Incesty
And now that we've done that, it's on to the bad stuff. I've already rambled about these in great depth elsewhere, so I'll try to keep things brief here. Of course, the challenge on this half of the list was limiting it to just five when there's so many more to talk about!
1. The plot twist
This one grates on me, not because I'm particularly fond of any organized belief system so much as it just feels like yet another attempt to kick one last cry of "BRILLIANT!" out of a dead horse. Let's face it; the whole "evil organized religion" basis was already played out when the likes of Breath of Fire 2 and Neon Genesis Evangelion did it in the mid-1990s, and even Square seemed to know that by this point. No, the reason it really gets to me is because once it occurs, the game ceases to make any sense even by its own shaky logic, seemingly out of Square's misguided attempts to put one last "clever twist" on the idea before retiring it. Just to name a few:
- Characters can magically defy death and retain their personalities indefinitely as ghosts even though we've spent the first half of the game setting up that they become mindless, hostile monsters that can only be banished by a Sending. No explanation is ever given for this. (And no, your apologist fan fiction's explanation that is not reflected in evidence anywhere in the game itself does not count.)
- Seymour and his buddies at the church are enacting some nihilistic plan to make him the new Sin and annihilate all life on Spira, even though they've been perfectly happy to this point to string the populace along with false hope and keep themselves in power. What changed, exactly?
- Despite this plan requiring at least some degree of subterfuge to secure Yuna's cooperation, Seymour blows his cover right away by leaving around incriminating evidence and acting extremely suspicious and violent, paving the way for you to kill him. As per the first bullet point he not only retains his personality in death, but ascends to become basically a demigod, able to wipe out two entire civilizations in a matter of minutes without even breaking a sweat.
- Despite that, he still just bides his time and confronts Yuna directly, apparently in hopes of slaying her Guardians and forcibly making himself the new Sin even though he could very easily wipe out humanity's last bastions himself, Sin or not.
- Oh, and of course, we establish that machine-based weaponry is all but useless against Sin as we witness a large force attack it in the game's first act, and get demolished in minutes. Yet through the magic of a deus ex machina airship that only gets revealed after forty hours of padding, we can now conveniently defeat Sin by showing him the power of love and pelting him with Blitzballs. That shit's so corny even the Disney Channel wouldn't touch it anymore by 2002...
2. Not a single likable character in the bunch
Square's usual weaknesses in writing shine through once again, creating a cast that's largely forgettable if not outright annoying and/or frustrating in how they fail to build them up at all beyond their visual design. This is best at display with the playable characters; Auron is an unabashed dick for his failure to disclose information that would have rendered the entire quest moot right out of the gate and saved thousands of lives*, and the rest are barely defined archetypes at best and outright sociopaths at worst. Case in point:
To put that image in context, he is saying that to someone watching their ancestral home go up in flames after a monster attack. With her friends and family trapped inside and dying of smoke inhalation, falling debris and third degree burns. And he's not remorseful for it at all. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.
* It would have been one thing if Yuna didn't believe Auron and only came around once the evidence started piling up, but this doesn't happen; in fact, they barely speak a word to one another throughout the entire game. Hell, the only time he even drops a hint is when he states that Sin is Jecht, and Tidus, brilliant mind that he is, doesn't even think to question this statement...
3. The sidequests
Seemingly taking a page from Disgaea, Final Fantasy X's sidequests are intended to open an entirely new chapter on the game, essentially causing your characters' power levels to increase tenfold through new customization options and lifting the damage cap to new heights so that you can take on challenges far beyond those presented in the main game. Which would be fine if they took the other half of that page from Disgaea and made this process fun, but it's about as far as you can get from being entertaining. In fact, more often than not, these just boil down to pure tedium and/or frustration. Whether it's playing 200+ games of the giant snorefest Blitzball, dodging 200 consecutive lightning strikes without a single save in between, or dodging birds on a chocobo that doesn't respond to the goddamn fucking piece of shit controls to get a time below 0.0 seconds, it's an absolute chore. And games should not feel like tedious busywork, especially an a genre that already prides itself on its length and the required mental involvement on the player's part!
4. The anticlimactic ending
Alright, so we've defied the sacred laws of Spira, broken the sacred Final Aeon rite and slain the person who inducts said rite so that it's no longer possible for anyone to stop Sin anymore, even on a temporary basis. We did this despite having no plan, placing our hopes on finding some yet-undiscovered way to kill Sin and knowing full well that our failure would leave the Church of Yevon free to enact their nihilistic plan to end all life. But lucky for us, we had the Deus ex Machina ship bail us out and grant us access to Sin's innards. We've felled the mightiest foes in the world, slain our own Aeons to prevent their induction into Yu Yevon's fold, vanquished his fiercest guardian in the Final Aeon, and have finally come face to face to the scourge that has plagued Spira for millennia. And he's...... absolutely pathetic.
No, really. The guy barely even attacks you, for crying out loud; he mainly just heals himself over and over whenever he takes a hit, allowing you to win the fight by simply casting Zombie on him and waiting, or casting Reflect on him and then slowly bonking him to death with your weapons. There is absolutely no tension to this battle either - you're given permanent Reraise status for no particular reason, so you have literally unlimited time to figure out one of these simple loopholes. Hell, you can't even excuse it as being a scripted battle for story purposes a la Final Fantasy VII or Persona 3 or Earthbound, as there is no dialog exchanged and no scripted events during the fight at all. This is easily the lamest, most anticlimactic final battle in the history of the series, and considering the amount of buildup it's given, that's pretty much unforgivable.
5. The cynical and disingenuous propaganda.
I've already rambled on for a solid three pages about why this element single-handedly makes Final Fantasy X one of my most disliked games of all time, so I won't get too far into it here. But suffice to say that I find the "message" it carries offensive and insulting in the extreme, even as a nontheist. Maybe it's just me being sick of every two-bit loser on the internet denouncing every major religion because they found the one true way in their 1,245th viewing of Fight Club and the latest hideous hate-rant from the Amazing Atheist... but this just looks like yet another iteration of a bunch of losers replacing an established belief system with their own self-serving bullshit and pretending they're now "above it all". Except it's not even that; it's a disingenuous marketing ploy to extort money from people who actually think that way masterminded by the rich conservatives who run two of the largest corporations in the electronic entertainment industry. So if you were one of the many people who bought this game hoping to advance your political beliefs, then congratulations - you're an easy mark who got played by the very system and string-pullers you claim to be so much smarter than and morally superior to! Now if you REALLY want to strike a blow for your beliefs, sell everything you own, pull all your money out of the bank (it's probably owned by an evil rich conservative theist anyway), put it all in a suitcase, then leave it in the dumpster behind your local Subway; my