Final Fantasy X remains one of my favourite games of all time. It certainly has its faults and one of the main reasons I love it is because of nostalgia. One of the reasons Final Fantasy X left such an impression on my childhood and the reason I’ve played it through several times since is Blitzball. The story, the characters and the perfect refinement of turn-based battles are also up there with why I can happily play through this massive JRPG every few years. But every single time, I always invest a lot of time into Blitzball and this is why.
Firstly, what even is Blitzball? It is basically full contact underwater football/rugby. Players are trying to get the ball in the opponent’s goal through throwing, kicking and bashing each other out of the way. Players also have various special moves that make them better at the throwing, kicking and bashing. For lovers of JRPGs, there are also lots of stats and number crunching to tickle your brain. It is almost a fully-fledged game within an already massive, complex game. You also never need to do anything beyond a few story-related games if you don’t want to, so it’s almost entirely optional.
There’s also nothing else quite like it. You certainly have things like Guild Ball or Blood Bowl for the tabletop, which are similar in a lot of ways. However, they are both far more similar to traditional sports and the underwater aspect of Blitzball makes it feel unique. Blood Bowl also has a video game adaption (which I’ve not played) that allows you to build a team, join a league and battle your friends. All while the computer crunches all the numbers and gives you some neat animations of your players crushing your opponent. However, at their heart Guild Ball and Blood Bowl are tabletop games and made with that in mind. This means that not only are they far more complicated with more stats and rules, they are also designed for playing against other people. Blitzball, on the other hand, is not any of those things. The rules are straight forward and relatively simple, there are only a handful of stats and it is designed to be played as a video game against the computer (or PlayStation, or whatever).
Initially, this might not seem like an advantage and while it certainly has obvious drawbacks, in an era of multiplayer (something the industry was heading towards even during Final Fantasy X’s original release), it is refreshing. It also means that the way you play is very different.
Firstly, you have the thematic elements at play. Blitzball is ingrained in the world of Spira. It’s a global sport that is played and known everywhere. Everywhere has a Blitzball team and it’ll come up in incidental conversation with NPCs. It’s beloved and one of the few ways the world comes together for something positive. This means that each match you play is watched by adoring fans and you are bringing a little bit of cheer to the downtrodden and downcast population. So even if you are continuously dominating your opposition, the game is about more than you, it’s about the people watching.
While this is obviously not something you’ll think about in every match, it permeates the surface now and again. One of the reasons for this is how you recruit new players. As your journey, on your summoner’s pilgrimage, many of the NPCs you encounter will also be Blitz players. You might chat with them about the game or something else entirely but by pressing Square, you’ll be able to see their stats, level and which team they play for. If they don’t currently have a team (which many won’t at the start of the game as ‘free agents’ are scattered across Spira), you can add them to your roster.
Alright, we’ve yet to talk much about the game so here we go. Each Blitzball team has two forwards, a middle, two defenders and a goalie. Each role benefits from different stat distributions and players that you encounter will fit better into the various positions. Finding, levelling and trying out different teams is one of the most compelling parts of Blitzball and while a small roster limit means you don’t have too much room to tinker, there’s enough space to have a couple of benchwarmers. You’ll find players who dominate the early game (low levels) but then hit their peak early and others who only shine once you’ve spent the time polishing their skills.
And all of this is also being done by your opponents. A player that you’ve discarded might come back to dominate your team. The more you play with your team, the more you’ll become attached to them, develop their skills, help them learn new ability and perhaps even try out new positions. You’ll also have rivals, top players who can dominate your team or goalies that you struggle to score past. Every time I play Blitzball, I always develop a different team and the evolving narrative the Besiad Aurochs is changed each time. One time, you might dominate the defence with Ropp and another he might be your biggest foe. Each time, though, you’ll learn, adapt and have a varied experience. It’s one of the key reasons I can spend so much time with the game across my many playthroughs of Final Fantasy X.
An aspect of Blitzball I’d never considered before playing it on my Vita, was how long it takes. Each game has a countdown of five minutes per half and even with the timer pausing for a decision like who to pass to and what moves to use, it still clocks in at under 15 minutes per match. This makes it an excellent portable game. You can knock out a game or half on the bus or two in your lunch break. You don’t need to spend the time getting into the story of Final Fantasy X or have to pause halfway through a cutscene. Thanks to the simplicity of Blitzball, even if you stop after a few minutes you can dive right back in and try to get that ball in the goal.
To wrap up, what is the one reason why you should give Blitzball a chance? It’s different. There is nothing else out there with the same thematic or mechanical elements. You’ve got games with a similar strand such as Blood Bowl and Guild Ball but they are standalone experiences more about beating your friends that anything else. When it comes down to it, Blitzball works perfectly with the world of Final Fantasy X like no other mini-game before or possibly after (watch this space for something on Final Fantasy X-2’s Blitzbal experience). If you’ve never played Final Fantasy X or you normally ignore Blitzball, I implore you to give it a chance and it might just surprise you.
Thank you for reading. If you’re a Blitzball fan, it’d be great to know why. If you want some more video game-y stuff why not check out our video on Pokemon Let’s Go’s co-op or if the tabletop is more your scene how about our review of Tulip Bubble.
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