Review by Kreskin
"(Insert joke about this not being the final game in the series)"
With Final Fantasy X, Square ended its highly successful era of Final Fantasy games on the Playstation, which were integral in the series breaking its way into mainstream culture. The company moved on to the Playstation 2, a new medium with seemingly infinite possibilities, and set to work on FFX. While I was late to jump on the PS2 train, I have backtracked to this title and am here to say it has aged very well.
Even so, this game may not be for everyone. The good news is, if you've never played a Final Fantasy, it may still be for you. The game will come more naturally to the experienced, but it walks its own path. It has no story links to any other games (other than its own sequel) so you'll be coming in with a fresh slate, as is usually the case with this series. You'll be treated to a masterpiece of the arts of gaming, both in sound and sight, and you'll get your hands on a new method of RPG character growth coupled with a renovated battle system that drops the real-time effect we've grown so used to.
If you have yet to experience this game, but have been itching to try it, it's more than likely worth its current Greatest Hits price. However, if you have any hesitations, read on and see for sure what you're getting into as I walk you through my personal views.
The first thing I noticed about FFX was the graphics, obviously. Considering the power, or these days, lack thereof, of the PS2, and the fact that developers have only more recently mastered using the hardware, I was impressed. The models had a fair amount of detail, the cutscenes were exciting, and as I inched through the game, I saw more and more that simply amazed me.
The art design here is wonderful. Monsters are varied from savage, to creepy, to mighty, to funny, coming in a wealth of shapes and sizes. Believable drool drips off them mouth of a sandworm that utterly dwarfs my characters. The camera angle adjusts during a battle with the tiny Cactuars so that I can even see the little guys as they flamboyantly hop to escape my attacks.
The heroes are overall well-designed, and I have to admit Tetsuya Nomura really knows what I'm doing. Even though I think he needs to get over his pretense of extravagant fashion designer, I grew to accept the hero, Tidus' design over time. But honestly, just one quick rant: come on already. Shirts are fine, no shirts are fine, but why do the heroes of an epic, genre-defining series have to keep wearing these tiny little half-shirts?! It's, just... ugh. Okay. That's all.
Anyway, there are multiple character models in this game and I'll tell you why. The first set are what you'll normally see, and these are less detailed, especially in the faces. These are for battle and for typical scenes like wandering the world or when your characters are hanging around in a town. These look fine typically, but you may get a nice close shot of them once in awhile and wonder why they look so bland.
This is why, during story scenes, the game swaps in higher-quality models with, as they call it, real time facial expressions. Their mouths move as they talk, but those of you who hate the old Godzilla "mouth moving after they're done talking" thing will probably find this game to be tacky. Nonetheless, the close-up models look great. You can actually relate to their mood based on their expressions.
The best part of these models though, in my opinion, is that they use them frequently and depend less often on CGI cutscenes. It's great to see a game from this company that looks so good for once that they'll tell its story using the actual graphics and not embedded animations.
Hmm, what else. The environments are a sight to behold. Ditching the prerendered look that defined the Playstation era, these environments prove themselves as true 3D when your view of them shifts along with the camera angle. The camera is still fixed, but almost unanimously, the angle you're given is sufficient to tell exactly where you are and what you're doing. Many of the environments feature some type of animation, varying from beautiful wisps of light rising up off of water, to little animals that scurry around in a certain area.
If the game has a fault, graphically, it's simply that it may not be good enough for people who want cutting edge. They may be happier with FFXII if they're still on the PS2, or more likely, they're looking forward to FFXIII already. If you're like me, what matters most is (in a butchering of Gandalf's words,) what a game does with the potential its hardware gives it. This game, for its age, is top-notch for the PS2, and the quality of the design goes beyond mere system power. It's just plain good.
I'll start off by saying I was perfectly satisfied with the sound in the game. With that, though, I could say there was room for improvement, not that I would expect it. For one thing, the voices are inconsistent. This is a big deal when you consider that every word spoken by any major character in this game is voice acted. To be fair, I thought everyone did a decent job, but there were simply problems.
We'll start with Yuna: I honestly have to say I liked her voice, yet I feel it was bound a bit too much into the stereotype of "unexpressive, whispery voice." The VA breaks nicely from this mold when absolutely necessary, such as when Yuna shouts, but otherwise it stays so monotone and depressing that I just feel whoever directed her probably put bizarre expectations on her.
Human beings don't talk that way naturally, so she was obviously asked to use that voice for that character, and honestly, they should have gotten her to do it with a little more moderation. Not to mention, her delivery is just odd sometimes. Her answer will be so rushed sometimes that it sounds like they were trying to make the sound byte as short as possible to conserve disc space.
I could probably go on, but there's no need, I've made my point. You may be asking, in the grand scheme of a game, what do a few oddities in one character's voice matter? Well, let me remind you, this the first RPG I've played where every word the heroine says is voice acted. And as the heroine, Yuna talks a lot. I suspect some people will grow sick of her, between her fatalistic personality and awkward spoken moments.
Tidus, I felt, was voiced acceptably for the lead role, although he does sound whiny at times. If this sounds annoying to you, it probably will be, but it's not too bad overall. A lot of the times he's calm, funny, serious, angry, all sorts of things, and the actor rolls with the role fluidly.
Even NPCs you run into now and then have solid voice acting, employing voices that fit their sometimes one-dimensional personalities. And of course, the game features Auron, whose voice (and character as a whole) is so incredibly awesome, it will stick with you for ages. If everyone were half as cool as Auron, I'd give this game a 10 for sound. And a 10 total. Seriously.
So, that leaves us with, what, music? I almost forgot. Anyone who knows game music knows Nobuo Uematsu, the composer for the Final Fantasy series since day one. Sadly for the series, but good for the rest of the gaming world, Uematsu has branched out and probably won't do many Final Fantasies anymore, but he left an amazing legacy that is by no means shamed in FFX.
For X, Uematsu comes up with more of the same. That may sound bad, but it's not. Musically, this isn't my favorite Fantasy, but it's certainly good. As usual, it covers a range of styles and moods. The battle theme manages not to grow tiresome but is not the most memorable he's ever done. Several tunes actually surprised me as I first heard them, as the melodies played around and finally settled into refreshing tunes. The main theme of the game is a melancholy little piece called "To Zanarkand," although other songs exist that you'll hear at key moments. They do a wonderful job setting the mood and bringing the story to life.
All in all, the music is great, though I won't blow it out of proportion or anything, and the voice acting certainly meets the bar for games, but the question you may ask yourself is whether you WANT an RPG where every character speaks their lines. To be honest, I'm not sure. FFX was designed this way on purpose, and as such it's harder for me to imagine it without them.
Take a look at Dragon Warrior VIII, however, and you'll see voice acting that was added in to the English version only, which I believe may have been triggered by the hype of games like FFX. Whether or not we like it, the trend in gaming is moving toward a movie-like experience complete with voices. Well, I guess that's why we have portables.
Here we have one of the hardest things in the world to score. Final Fantasy X IS story, and yet in a sense I believe it FAILS at story. How this is possible, I'm not sure. For starters, I will say that the ending to this game is not very good. I won't spoil anything, but I'll say that the short ending pales in comparison to the long and elaborate end sequence of a game like FFVI. Still, X is a step up from the literal Hindenburg crash of an ending that is FFVII, but in a game that threw constant voice acting and story elements in your face like X did, I was really hoping for more resolution, more analysis, more anything.
Let's try and dissect the story of FFX and see exactly what it is that bothers me. The story is told almost entirely through dialogue. There are a bit fewer cinema scenes this time around, and they capture moments that can't be put to words, such as large battle scenes or massive disasters. All narration is done by Tidus, who is a decent enough narrator. Almost everything we learn in the game comes from either Tidus' thoughts or from the characters having conversation. Sometimes I felt this hindered their storytelling options, but overall it wasn't a problem.
What I believe may be the biggest weakness of FFX is the fact that the story is almost entirely character-driven. "But isn't that a good thing?" You'd think so. Oh, you would.
Everything that happens seems to hinge on who's doing what. Often, "why" doesn't even matter. What does matter is how other people feel about it. For example, one of the main villains, whom I'm not going to name just to be safe, wanders around doing things seemingly just to live up to the fact that he's not very nice. This of course upsets your characters, especially when he does it to them or to someone they like. I know if you watered down most stories enough, they might sound like this, but I'm really not watering here.
There's even something good to be said for the storytelling. Do we always know someone's motivations in life? No. Criminals will go on crime sprees and it sometimes takes years to uncover their motives. Even so, we can see obvious possibilities, and the game gives us clues like these. This is realistic, in a sense. Even so, a game that lets you figure some things out yourself shouldn't hand you the rest of the details in a neat and repetitive little package. It comes off as condescending to some and confusing to others and just reeks of sloppiness.
By the end of the game, you won't care what faction did what or why. You'll just know that this guy did this, that girl did that, he didn't like his dad. I won't be spoiling anything for you by saying the final villain is a real letdown. There's nothing TO spoil. Yes, it's a twist of sorts, but it's so utterly unexplored and uncompelling that it might as well not have happened. They completely failed to make me care or to answer my questions. One word: letdown.
Yes, there's a central plot. It involves a nightmarish creature called Sin who forces the world into a state of constant fear. The game focuses on how to stop Sin, an ancient process that starts of cliche but, as we learn, has more to it than meets the eye. The first half of the game, roughly, will seem like a generic adventure story focusing on not-quite-so-generic characters. The second half will see a decrease in the game's linearity as sub-quests begin to open up, along with some plot twists and surprises. When I saw these, I was all the more disappointed upon beating the game.
I sort of liked the cast of the game, but some people won't. Only about half of them express emotions very often, and perhaps a bit too often. Wakka was likely my favorite character simply because he's very human, complete with obvious flaws but with a lot of respectable traits and a past that is sad but not dark and brooding. He also makes me laugh and was overpowered in battle, so that helps. And of course, Auron is made of pure awesome.
The story is emotional, sure. It's hard not to be, what with the focus on the characters at all times. I felt that emotion at times, and cared about the characters, yet at others I looked at it and thought "this is pretty and all, but it's so shallow." There is depth, absolutely, if you look for it at the right times. Otherwise, you're shown such a sweet and dolled-up simplicity that it might leave a bad taste in your mouth.
You may ask yourself, as I have, "with the huge budget, elaborate voice acting, drawn-out storyline... how'd they manage to mess it up?" That is a question best left for the ages, I believe.
Now I can go back to praising the game. The gameplay setup of FFX makes a bold move and eliminates real-time combat. This is no mere trip back to the original Final Fantasy, as the number of a character's turns are still decided by their Agility. However, when your turn comes, you have all the time in the world to choose your next action. I like this lower-stress type of play.
It used to be the nature of the series to try and rush you, especially if you played with "Active" mode turned on. In the end, this helped fuel the opinion that beating a Final Fantasy meant holding down the X button, but now, the emphasis is on strategy. This will be great for people not used to RPGs as it will encourage them to explore their options.
The biggest difference from previous Final Fantasies, though is that now you can use all your characters in every battle. You're limited to three at a time, but anytime someone's turn comes up, you can have them swap out for a different ally who can then immediately take action. The strategy of the switch alone can vastly expand the gameplay. You can leave Yuna out of the battle until you need to restore your HP, then swap her in, heal, and replace her once more with a high-damage character until she's needed again.
This is leaps and bounds above the setups for FFVII and VIII, where other than Limit Breaks and some stat differences, everyone was identical. Now, everyone has a purpose, and I found myself swapping all the time.
But even that's not where it ends. Rather than leveling up, you use what's called the Sphere Grid to strengthen your characters. Each "node" on the grid is either blank, raises a stat, or teaches a new move. The characters are all on the same grid, but their starting positions define their growth and their moveset. As you progress in the game, it becomes possible, and eventually easy, to follow a new path and customize each character. Eventually, everyone can learn every move in the game, although this is a vast undertaking that most players won't achieve.
Despite the new system, the gameplay will still feel familiar. Black Magic and White Magic do not differ much from their previous incarnations, other than adding Water as a primary element and bringing in an anti-element spellset to the White Magic circle. Some handy skills exist, but most of them are more nostalgic than innovative, which in this series, is more or less a good thing.
Limit Breaks--my bad, "Overdrives"--are fun to play with, since each character has their own interface. Tidus requires you to perform a quick test of timing to maximize your damage, while Wakka has slot reels to line up a la Tifa, and Auron inputs combos much like Zell or Sabin before him. These are all pretty workable. Once I learned the trick for Wakka's, I excelled at using them, and Auron's are none too difficult once you memorize the Playstation's awkward button names (a task I fortunately accomplished years ago.)
The story scenes may drive players crazy early on, as you feel like you're starved of action for a few hours, but eventually, the game gives you some characters and free reign of yourself. It will relinquish this control periodically, but after awhile you get more than your fill of combat. And I have to say, the combat is pretty fun. This game makes me never want to touch Final Fantasy VIII again. Bosses are challenging but manageable, and you'll feel a sense of accomplishment for using the right characters at the right time, or when your choice of Sphere Grid movement pays off with an effective new move.
As for minigames, there are a few Chocobo-riding modes to take part in, and I have to say I didn't enjoy them much. They're relatively minor and act as a neat diversion, or a good way to kill hours of time if you're bored and intrepid. The true minigame is Blitzball, which, once you get the hang of it, is mind-numbingly easy. After playing a few times, I became utterly invincible at it, and I'm not trying to brag. They throw you no challenges beyond your initial game.
Blitzball is sort of an underwater rugby where your players have stats and skills to use, and level up as they play more games. Stats range from how good they are at tackling, thus getting the ball from enemies, to how well they can pass to another player, to how good they are at shooting a goal or at goalkeeping. Skills, meanwhile, vary from shots, passes or tackles that can poison players, reduce their stats, or put them to sleep (the amusing cure for which is to bean that player with the ball by passing it to them.) You can scout random people throughout the world by pressing Square when you talk to them.
Building a team is a lot of fun, but inevitably Tidus is the most useful player, as he can score all the goals and gets an incredible, pretty much unfair special move. You can kill a ton of hours in this mode, but unless you want to achieve everything or load up on some cool bonuses for Wakka (such as a move rivaling Cloud Strife's Omnislash in power,) you don't need to bother with it.
One of the game's biggest flaws are the puzzle sequences. Square has dabbled with puzzles in the past, and while it's not their forte, you'd think they know a thing or two about them. In this game, the puzzles are downright painful. Don't expect any of the simple but clever scenarios you'd see in a Zelda game. Get ready instead for trial and error. You have to insert special spheres into sockets on walls or pedestals in order to power doors, activate special effects, or uncover secrets.
Unfortunately, there is a limited rhyme or reason by which you must do so. Even when I understood what they wanted me to achieve, I had to guess for awhile as to what went where to get that effect to happen. No part of this was fun or interesting. It was just a pain. It was a good idea, guys, but you totally bombed it. I've done a lot of puzzles in my RPG days and these were simply the worst yet.
What put some serious motor oil icing on this rancid puzzle-cake was how each of these sphere-puzzle areas contains a hidden item. You get what's called a Destruction Sphere which is to be used to blow open a wall, floor or what-have-you in order to get to the treasure. Unfortunately, FFX, which features radar maps for every environment in the entire game, drops said maps for these puzzle rooms only.
The problem this created for me was that I was never sure when I was going to "leave" the puzzle area because there was no map showing how close I was to an exit. So, on more than one instance, I left the area without meaning to -- still holding the Destruction Sphere, and without using it yet. And guess what? Once you leave, you can't go back in there anymore. Even though logic would dictate your characters have to pass back through the area in order to leave, you don't get to control that process, and are stuck not being able to get the treasure.
Well, the puzzles were so devoid of entertainment and the items more or less trivial in the long run, that I just let it go rather than painstakingly reload a save and bumble through a second time for completion's sake. Lo and behold, as I get to the final stretch of the game, you need all those hidden items to unlock something new. It dawned on me that the game would probably let me into the puzzle rooms again to get them, but I absolutely refused to. They are so poorly done that I never want to bother with them again, even though I know all the solutions now.
The one ray of light to this situation is the fact that there are only a few of these puzzle areas in the game and they constitute a small fraction of your playtime. Thank god, because they're terrible.
Puzzles aside, I felt the creativity of the gameplay paves new ground for the FF series. It also spawned various imitators (lookin' at you, there, LOTR: The Third Age) and proves that Square (now with Enix action!) knows what they're doing when it comes to RPGs. Some people may hate this game for reasons such as characters or story, but they'll have a hard time convincing me the gameplay itself is broken.
Much of this game's appeal is in all the things you can do when you're done with the disappointing ending. I must have clocked about 80 hours on it, and I only scratched the surface of trying to beat all the bonus opponents found in the monster arena. There are also monster collections to fill, ultimate weapons to find (and subsequently power up so they aren't worthless,) the Sphere Grid to complete, Blitzball to beat into the ground until it stops giving you new prizes, ultimate Summons to obtain for Yuna, and Al Bhed books to find.
Al Bhed is a language spoken, oddly enough, by the Al Bhed - a hardy lot of mechanically-inclined desert-dwellers. If you look around the game you can find enough translation guides to decipher Al Bhed text in the game (each guide converts one letter of the alphabet, for example, all U's become O's, and D's become T's, so once you get the book for O and T, an Al Bhed saying "du" will say "to.)
You can easily beat the game without a single book, but you can find some secrets through translation. The game allows you to load Al Bhed dictionary data from a previous playthrough, meaning if you start a new game, you can understand Al Bhed from the start, making otherwise indecipherable dialogue accessible to you. This gives players a reason to replay the game, but aside from that, you'll have to wish to see everything again or maybe catch something you missed the first time. Otherwise, the sidequests are the hook.
The main detriment to the replay factor is the fact that the story scenes cannot be skipped whatsoever, a fact many players complain about. While this is a good feature for those who don't want to accidentally miss anything, it will punish those on their tenth playthrough (yes, they're out there) who just want to skip minutes at a time of story sequence. Still, overall this is a relatively replayable game with much to do at the end.
Well, I've certainly gone on for a long time. The requirement was to be over 1750 words, but I think I've doubled it. If you still aren't sure about Final Fantasy X, I'll give you these closing words.
FFX is a game that hardcore players who invest hundreds of hours into completion will probably enjoy, if they get that far. It's also a game that lighter, fluffier gamers who like story and character development will enjoy. However, it fails at some point to strike a perfect balance, and I don't think it will make everyone happy.
It's always mind-boggling for me to try and define WHY a game with great values like graphics and sound will falter so much on its ability to satisfy players. I think sometimes we set radical standards based on previous games we liked. We also see how successful the FF series is and expect our own personal idea of perfection from it, but Square instead tries to meet its own standards and to throw innovation at us, for better or for worse.
As a long-time fan of the series, I can say without hesitation that FFX has a lot of flaws, many small, a few pretty big. I can also say that its strong points are incredible and made me forgive the flaws all the way up to the end. What I can't say is whether you will do the same, but unless what I've said has confirmed the doubts you had all along about this game, I encourage you to give it a try. It's a pretty darn good game and that's enough for me.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/10/07
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