Final Fantasy X
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In the middle of a sort of lazy long weekend slump that Whitney and I were both experiencing, we went out and found a second-hand copy of Meg Ryan's Excellent Adventure on my recommendation. I've played it all the way through before, but this is Whitney's first time seeing it.

I never really understood the bad reaction that the fandom had to FFX. Certainly it's by far the easiest game of the series (though some of the side quests are just mad), and the English translation, both in terms of script and acting, could best be described as diabolical - particularly as it's done in a sort of contemplative narration style that tragically reminds Whitney of The Wonder Years. But despite distractions like the entirety of the storyline, it's the actual game part of it that I genuinely think is when they finally got their system right.

A lot of this is the result of having come from FF9, which at times was criminally slow and had your characters wait a truly controller-chewing amount of time between turns. They fixed that beyond all reasonable expectations here, with battles taking absolutely no time at all to load and the new system removing the idea of having to wait for a time bar to fill in favour of fast-forwarding the clock to the next available character. The fights even feel more "alive" than FF12's largely mute party, with characters taunting the enemies during fights or chastising the others for carelessly dying. And having an attack that involves smacking a flying monster in the face with something resembling a basketball is never anything short of hilarious. All this makes it rather a shame that they went for something completely different once again in the sequel.

The Illustrated Guide to Scary RPG Things
What I really like, though, is the throwing out of traditional levelling-up mechanics in favour of the Sphere Grid. Not just the property that it looks absolutely terrifying to anyone watching over your shoulder - it's more the idea of constant visible rewards you get for your efforts. Instead of hammering away at enemies just to see some stats increase a bit, you see each upgrade available to you laid out on a labyrinthine series of paths (not, you may notice, a grid) and always have the encouragement that if you can gain just one extra movement point, you'll be able to buy an upgrade to your attack power or increase your health capacity or get a new ability or four.

I suppose, as demonstrated by how people reacted to Metal Gear Solid 2, one of its biggest failings is making you play as a complete dipstick. Fair enough, the whole point of the game is that you're meant to be as clueless as Tidus as to what's going on, but you get the feeling that you personally would still act less of an idiot about it. Certainly when placed next to characters like Auron and Kimahri, you get the feeling you'd rather be playing as someone useful (or at least with less stupid trousers) instead.