Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Final Fantasy X: Blitzball

I have a confession to make: I love Blitzball. One of the most maligned mini-games in any video game, and I love it to bits. I'll try to explain why it works for me, and why it puts off so many others who've played Final Fantasy X.

For the record, Blitzball is a fictional underwater sport.

Which makes it harder to translate to reality than Quidditch AND Three-Man Squamish.

The frustration I think stems from three places: The randomization that goes on with every action, the monotony that is required if you wish to reap the rewards of playing Blitzball, and the first game anyone ever plays in Final Fantasy X.

Regarding that last one, well... Yeah. It's pretty stupid. See, your introduction to a complicated fictional sports is the Championship Game... Against the toughest team in the league. Before you have any experience with it. It's possible to win that Big Game, but I don't see how anyone could do so on their first try. I didn't know it was possible until Shamus Young mentioned it in passing, and I still have to reset the console two or three times every playthrough to make it happen.

It's like Professor Farnsworth shouting: "Beat those Signoids! Show them they stink at a game they've never played before!". In this case, you are the Signoids going up against the Harlem Globetrotters. I don't understand why anyone at Square-Enix thought it would be a good idea to force everyone to lose, painfully, before they've had any experience with something that could have been a lot of fun.

And the rules are about as easy to understand as "Blurnsball".

No, the tutorial isn't enough. This is like putting your five-year old son into the World Series before he's ever even tried out T-Ball... but everyone else is a roid-raging Major Leaguer. And then everyone boos the kid for not getting a home-run. After an experience like that, of course he's never going to want to go outside and play a game of catch again. You've made him associate an entire sport with a crushing, unfair defeat.

There is some remedial math involved. Your goalie has 20 points in his "Catch" skill. The guy on the other team is going to shoot the ball. He has 18 points in his "Kick" skill. 20-18 should equal 2, which means the Goalie would have enough left to stop the ball.

But in Blitzball, numbers can equal more or less than they appear. And this would be fine if it were somewhere in the 2-3 point range. But the frustration comes from the moments where a guy who can block 17 points of damage is attacked by someone with 5 points in their Attack skill... and then that somehow equals 0, and the attacker wins.

It's too random. It feels like the game is cheating when it's the enemy getting an advantage, and it takes away the thrill of victory when it happens to me, because it doesn't feel like I earned it. It's like the game is playing itself, to the point where it doesn't even need me.

A design philosophy they later used for Final Fantasy XII.

And the last problem, the monotony, stems more from the game's overarching problem of its' optional end-game content than Blitzball itself. FFX is notorious for making the player jump through some pretty ridiculous hoops for the game's best weapons.

EX.: Lulu, one of the magic-users of the group has a doll. That doll gives her huge bonuses in battle. The only way to get this is to stand in an area with a constant thunderstorm and "dodge" 200 bolts of lightning in a row. Fuck up at 199 and you have to start over. And all of them are like this, straddling the line between boring and impossible.

I will never be enough of a virgin to say I've obtained this.

To get Wakka's best weapon, you have to play a lot of Blitzball. And not just play: WIN. And the only way you're going to win any Blitzball games is if you complete a one-time-only mini-game in the story that's really confusing and could also be mistaken for being unbeatable. Because if you do beat it, the main character gets a special Blitzball kick that can override a team's defense and go straight to the Goalie.

A game is fun if you win. It's not fun when you HAVE to win.

But I find Blitzball fun on its' own terms, regardless of the monotony and the randomization. I've never been into sports, and I've always had a hard time understanding the appeal of the yearly Madden or Fifa releases. But I must admit to feeling a certain thrill in overcoming those numbers, in maneuvering my team to get into the perfect position to kick the ball, to "Make a score-point!". The tension of deciding who to put onto the field, and in what position. The agony of choosing who to let go from the team and who to sign on.

A sports-team management sim in a JRPG is like a Virginia Woolfe poem in Call of Duty. It doesn't matter how good it is; it's at odds with its' own audience. And yet I've spent an embarrassing amount of time in FFX just playing Blitzball for its' own sake. I'm probably the only person on Earth who this mini-game was made for. It's the only time when I really understand why sports games sell as well as they do.

They're not cheering; that's just the first time they've exhaled in half an hour.



1 comment:

  1. I'm glad that spiky hair gives them all "I don't know how to drown" powers.