Dec 11 2013 12:00pm

Framing in Gaming: Blitzball and Final Fantasy X

Blitzball Final Fantasy X

Last week, I took a look at framing devices and nested narratives in books, movies, and TV shows. Today, I’m going to switch gears and take a peek at how framing relates to gaming—and specifically to the upcoming HD remaster of the Square-Enix classic, Final Fantasy X.

FFX was a huge success when it hit the Playstation 2 in 2001. As the first Final Fantasy for Sony’s second-generation system, the game represented a major technological leap forward: it featured voice acting, pre-rendered backdrops, real-time cut scenes, and stunning cinematics. It also had a great story, and the most fully-developed world Square-Enix had ever created. It was a watershed moment in videogame history.

Blitzball Final Fantasy XYet for all that, one of the things I remember most about Final Fantasy X was a little mini-game called Blitzball. For the uninitiated, Blitzball is a fast-paced team sport reminiscent of underwater polo, played inside a massive sphere of water. “Blitzers” try to throw a ball past a series of defenders through a triangular hoop, racking up points to win matches and move up in the standings. In Final Fantasy X, you can spend as many hours as you like visiting the Blitzball stadium and mastering the sport—for in-game money, for special items, or simply for a change of pace.

What’s interesting about Blitzball, is that I would never play this game as a standalone title. It’s too simple. One Blitzball match does not vary significantly from the next. Yet I spent more hours playing Blitzball than I did playing FIFA Soccer that year, which is really saying something. The game had me hooked—and the reason has to do with framing.

Final Fantasy X Tidus

When you load up a game like Final Fantasy X, you relocate a piece of yourself into a story world, forgetting your own life so that you can identify with the game’s characters. Since a game like this can take 40-60 hours to play, you inevitably get emotionally invested—and that can be taxing when the story deals with genocide and religious persecution and the end of the world. So when you get an opportunity to take a break and play a little Blitzball, it doesn’t feel like some lesser gaming experience. It’s actually an important part of the experience. A much-needed exhale. Everyone needs a little sporting fun between efforts to save the planet.

Chocobo Racing Golden Saucer Final Fantasy VIILong-time fans of Final Fantasy will remember the Gold Saucer from Final Fantasy 7. Many long hours into the game, you arrive at this massive amusement park, complete with a roller coaster, a playable arcade, and a Chocobo racetrack. The place is so big that it could be the hub for some Nintendo Wii party game—and after weeks of fighting Shinra, it’s an awesome diversion. On its own, you wouldn’t really care about the Gold Saucer. It’s kitchy and the arcade games are retro at best. But as part of a wider story world, it’s a fantastic place to visit. An arcade within a game!

Many games take advantage of the allure of mini-games. Sprawling RPGs use them as a way for players to take a break from their long primary quests. Platformers use mini-games to change up the play style, and have done ever since the days of Super Mario Brothers 3 on the NES. There are mini-games in the Zelda world, in the LEGO series, and even in the aforementioned FIFA games. In every case, these games are intended to change up the gamer’s experience for a little bit and provide some fun within the fun.

Link Legend of ZeldaHere’s the thing. Would you ever run around trying to catch ten chickens in thirty seconds if there wasn’t a heart container at stake? Does the idea of a LEGO Aragorn riding a goat through an obstacle hold any appeal if you’re not trying to earn a mythrill brick that will help you save Middle-earth? It’s not that mini-games aren’t fun—they are. But games, like stories, take on meaning based on how they’re framed. Even the silliest games become fun when they’re set in a world that makes them matter.

Of course, some mini-games take on a life of their own. In the Harry Potter universe, Quidditch is as important as soccer is in real-life England. A sport where the rules themselves are magical is pretty cool, which might explain why it led to both a standalone Quidditch videogame and several real-world high school Quidditch teams—not to mention showing up as a mini-game within other Harry Potter titles.

But perhaps the most interesting development when it comes to games within games is the advent of trophies and achievements. The introduction of these meta-systems for tracking players’ accomplishments within games adds an interesting layer of gamification to the gaming experience: now not only do you have the fun of playing a game, you also get the fun of playing a kind of wrapper game that sticks around even after you’re done playing. In a sense, that’s yet another frame around the gaming experience—a meta-game that surrounds the game proper. (Incidentally, the addition of trophies to Final Fantasy X is one of the most hotly anticipated features of the re-release. Players have grown used to collecting in-game achievenments, and want credit for all the hard work they did the first time around!)

Trophies PlayStation acheivments

Games within games within games... stories within stories within stories. These could be the subjects of a book rather than a couple blog posts, but the take-home is this: context is everything. So am I looking forward to Final Fantasy X HD next March? Sure. But not just for the epic adventure. I also want the trophy that names me Blitzball League Champion. It’s not just that I love the sport. It’s that saving the planet is grueling hard work, and sometimes I just need to let off a little steam.


Final Fantasy X / X-2 HD Remaster is slated for release on PS3 and PS Vita in March 2014.

Brad Kane writes for and about the entertainment industry, focusing on storytelling in movies, TV, games, and more. If you enjoyed this article, you can follow him on Twitter, like Story Worlds on Facebook, or check out his website which archives the Story Worlds series.

1. Brian_E
Am I the only one that positively HATED all the mini-games in the later FF series? 8 had the card game, 10 had blitzball and I think 12 had another card game didn't it?
kevin syers
2. kevsyers
FFX was the very first game that solicited a verbal "WOW" from me during its first cut scene. From that point on, I was hooked. Everything about the game was fascinating. I hope the remastered version is a good as my nostalga.
3. Erin E
"...and several real-world high school Quidditch teams..."

As well as the college teams in the IQA. :)
Chris Nelly
4. Aeryl
I hated Blitzball, I played exactly as much as I needed to move the game forward.
Scott Silver
5. hihosilver28
Agreed. Couldn't stand the mechanics. Truthfully, I didn't like much of X, especially the feeling of being on rails through the story. I think the decision to remove the overworld hurt the feeling of being in a sprawling world for me. Loved the Sphere Grid though. I thought that was a brilliant way of doing leveling.
6. Blend
I thought that the HD Remaster of FFX was supposed to be released on December 31, 2013? I just did a search, and the writer of the article is right, it's been pushed back to March 2014... That makes me a sad panda, I was SOOO looking forward to this one, specially after having played the HD Remaster of Kingdom Hearts. I hope that Kingdom Hearts 2 HD Remaster doesn't take too much longer to come out after FFX!
Jack Flynn
7. JackofMidworld
This article was perfectly timed. I replayed the Mass Effect trilogy (with downloadable content this time) and just played the Citadel DLC this weekend. In it, you and your crew get some well needed R&R - you get an apartment, you throw a party, and the area you're in has an arcade, a casino, and an arena.

The arcade games are like you said silly and fun, and who thinks it'd be fun to play roulette in a video game, but I got sucked into it. I thought the arena game was gonna be boring, since you're fighting the same (simulated) enemies as normal, just on different fields of battle, but you get challenges or requests to complete, plus there are names on the 'High Score' board from NPCs you've dealt with in the past, and beating their scores became a challenge in itself. Lost over an hour to the arena by itself.

And you talked about emotional investment into the characters and how these kinds of diversions give that much-needed exhale? You can invite your crewmates (current crew and ones from previous games that are too busy doing NPC stuff in other parts of the galaxy to actively aid you in the main storyline) over to the apartment to hang out or watch a ball game, or meet them for the weirdest side quests - drinking games, or bailing somebody out of jail - and it has some of the best interaction of the game, possibly because you're not out saving the world. You're just hanging out with characters you've gotten to know throughout the gameplay, and I had a blast!
Sean Dowell
8. qbe_64
I played through FF7 2 or 3 different times while growing up.
First time I didn't bother getting anything outside the main storyline and faced Sephiroth at like level 35-42.
Second time I ran around fighting until I was level 99 with my main crew.
Third time, I got everything imaginable in the game, as well as bred Chocobo's for speed and stamina. (I actually may have never finished that game, I should go check if my memory cards are still in my PS1 in my parents basement.)

If I recall correctly, Chocobo's maxed out at 176 KPH and 999 stamina. There was site dedicated to Chocobo breeding that had the calculation behind why that was as fast as they could get.
Anyways, in that final game, I probably spent 80-100 hours alone on just Chocobo breeding and racing.
Those races got so boring if Teioh wasn't racing, you'd literally have to wait 3-4 minutes for the rest of the chocobos to finish as you moved up the classes.
9. Fuzzy_Dunlop
Nothing will ever replace the Golden Saucer as the best FF side track but Blitzball was a good one. I have very fond memories of my brother and I taking turns at it, if it had been 2 player we may never have stopped.

@7 The Citadel DLC is one of the best DLC's ever, other than the nearly 200 pull ups Vega makes you do. But it made ME3 replayable for me, for wich I am eternally grateful, and if you romance Jack it's perfect.
Chris Nelly
10. Aeryl
@8, I loved the Golden Saucer, but I really only got into the Chocobo racing to get the black one.

Robert Dickinson
11. ChocolateRob
The golden saucer was great fun and I really enjoyed the card game in FFVIII but I hated the card game in FFIX. Blitzball was fairly Meh for me. I am looking forward to FFX HD but I really don't want to do the whole 200 lightning strikes dodge yet again, my eyeballs may just dribble out of my skull.
12. Colin R
Mass Effect 3 so killed any interest I had in Mass Effect that I still have yet to try any of its DLC.

FFVII is close to the pinnacle of minigames, I'd agree--not least because there's not really much payoff to them. They exist solely for fun. I like FFVIII's card game a lot really, but the rules get ridiculous late in the game. Turns it entirely into a luck game rather than a strategy game.
Sky Thibedeau
13. SkylarkThibedeau
I have lost tons of gold pressed latinum on the Dabo Table on Star Trek Online. I think Holographic Leta is programmed with a Siren's song.

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