Review by wareagle2k
"Great on it's own merits"
Tidus has everything going for him. He is the star blitzball player of the Zandarkand Abes, he's rich, he's famous, and immensely popular with the ladies. Then one day his whole world is turned upside down. During the biggest blitzball game of the season Sin, a giant ocean dwelling monster, attacks and destroys his Zandarkand and Tidus ends up finding himself 1000 years into the future.
As with other Final Fantasy's the story here is epic and perhaps more so than any other you really feel a sense of urgency and desperation in this world's battle against Sin. There is this misconception that epic RPGs have to have a story that contains loads of stunning developments and plot twists. In reality all you really need is a good premise and even more importantly good execution. That is the case here as the plot is kept simple and easy to follow.
As with any other Final Fantasy games the game play is not just one specific thing, there are many aspects to the game play.
There were several changes made to the battle system this time around, one good and one bad. On the good side you can now change your current party members in mid-battle, it is something that is both more realistic and perhaps a bit less realistic. On one hand you can get all your party members involved in a single battle but on the other the game is still over if your three current party members die. Additionally you can not replace a dead party member with a living one during a battle, though if you could the game would probably be even easier than it already is. Being able to swap party members mid-battle allows you to switch tactics against particular enemies as each character is more adept in one way of attacking than the others are. Wakka, for instance, is most effective against air-born enemies while characters like Tidus and Auron will have a tough time hitting those types of enemies, so being able to swap one of them out for Wakka certainly adds to the tactical aspects of the game. Now the bad, the option for having an active battle system has been removed. The game now runs entirely in wait mode. Additionally, much like in Final Fantasy Tactics, there is now an onscreen list of the battle order which not only tells you when your characters get to go but when the enemy will be getting a turn as well. This takes away any sense of urgency and fear, particularly with the boss battles as since you know exactly when their turn is you can appropriately prepare yourself each time before hand. It unfortunately makes the game significantly easier and the series was already pretty easy.
Sphere grid: 2/10
This game continues the trend of the series in offering a new way to learn abilities and level up your characters. Unfortunately the sphere grid is perhaps one of the weaker ideas implemented in the series. Your characters gain SP, sphere points, through battles which enable them to traverse the grid and upgrade their stats or learn new abilities. The main problem is that every character works on the same grid so by the end of the game they all have the same abilities. The sphere grid is touted to give you the ability to customize your characters as you see fit and that would be true if you could move your characters in any direction you'd like but you can't. Every character has basically one path to follow at the start of the game as the other paths are all blocked by locks thereby funneling you in one direction and unless you are willing to avoid upgrading your character until you acquire some key spheres there is little customization to be done. The sphere grid itself can also be customized. There are items which will delete the contents of a sphere and items which will give a sphere the ability to upgrade specific stats. The only problem is that these sphere grid manipulator items are relatively hard to come by and only the very dedicated will be able to do any vast amount of customization to the sphere grid.
Character design: 8/10
There is only one character in this game which doesn't seem up to the usual standards of the series and unfortunately that's Tidus, the main character. Tidus closely resembles and even looks a little like another annoying character of the series, Zell Dincht from Final Fantasy VIII. And yes, sure Yuna seems like another carbon copy of Tifa from VII, Rinoa from VIII, and Dagger from IX but it works in this game as it had in the previous ones. On a very good note however there is no Cait Sith like character here, by and large they're all likable and you will feel compelled to use them all.
Enemy design: 6/10
The enemy design as a whole is centered around the monster collecting mini-game but you don't get to start playing this until late in the game so up until that point you're left wondering why there is so little variety in the monsters you face. Take flans for instance, you'll face flans in the very beginning of the game and you'll still be facing them nearing the end of the game. Thorough out the game you'll find a variety of different flans, thunder flans, ice flans, etc. but they're still all flans. At first this seems like a significant setback as each new area you go to there are really no new monsters to look forward to facing, they'll all be slight variations of monsters you've seen before but once you hit the monster collecting game you'll understand why and everything will be forgiven.
Another aspect that has been changed significantly from previous versions of the series is the ability to summon forth an Aeon guardian. In this game the summoned Aeon actually fights for you. No longer limited to just one extravagant attack, Aeons now behave much like any other party member with the ability to fight and cast magic. Of course the extravagant attacks are still there but are actually the Aeons Overdrive attack, aka their limit break. Overall the attacks aren't quite as impressive as in previous versions and there are fewer Aeons than in any previous Final Fantasy so if this is an aspect you really look forward to in a Final Fantasy game then this one might disappoint you.
Overworld - 0/10
There is none. I am not really sure why this was changed so drastically. There is no more exploration involved, just a map with a bunch of dots on it. It is definitely missed and makes moving from town to town a pain. Not until the very end of the game is there an easy way to get to one place from another.
Is the weapons and armor system the best ever? Probably not but it is the most customizable ever. Each weapon or armor varies in only how many slots it holds. From there you can put just about any ability you want in those slots. How? Well you can create the abilities by mixing together items you've won or stolen from enemies. There are lots of items to collect and tons of abilities to create and customizing is a lot of fun. There are of course all the abilities we've come to expect there to be in a Final Fantasy game as well some interesting new ones like those that allow your character to the break 9999 HP limit barrier or the 9999 damage given barrier. The only complaint is the rather limited number weapons and armors you're allowed to carry. Later on in the game you'll find yourself constantly having to sell or throw weapons and armors away in order to create space for new additions to your inventory.
The mini-games here are certainly a mixed bag. Starting with the worst is the Chocobo training. Perhaps the worst mini-game ever included in the series, it has you attempting to train your Chocobo by racing it through a pseudo-obstacle course, it is an incredibly frustrating experience. Replacing the card games found in VII and XI is blitzball. Blitzball is the one release the citizens of Spira have from the thought of Sin and everyone loves it. The coolest thing about it is the ability to manage your own team by signing and releasing players you find thorough out the game. The worst part about it is how incredibly unbalanced it is. At first it seems nigh impossible to win a game but it will actually only take 4 or 5 games before you do win one and then after that you won't lose again. It is the imbalance that makes the game a pointless endeavor, sure there are prizes for winning tournaments or seasons but these items won are simply not worth the time investment needed and are more easily acquired through other means. Saving the mini-games as a whole is the incredibly fun monster collecting game. Late in the game you are given the ability to capture monsters and send them to the Monster Arena where once certain quotas are met the man in charge will be able to create new more powerful monsters for you to face. For instance upon collecting one of every flan, a new ultimate flan will become available for you to fight. There are many ultimate monsters available for you to face, each being incredibly challenging and rewarding. This mini-game is probably the most fun aspect of the entire game.
With any RPG controls are never really an issue but what is important is that the menu system is logical and easy to traverse. The Final Fantasy series has always done a very good job in this regard.
The game is visually stunning. The characters and the environments are all colorful and wonderful to view. The fact that there is no over world to wander about it is somewhat disappointing though. It was always enjoyable to search the world for secret locations and just to sightsee but pointing and clicking on a location on a map doesn't quite have the same feel.
And what would a Final Fantasy be without the cinematic sequences? Though there are perhaps fewer sequences in this game than in previous installments the ones that are done as typically longer lasting. Still as wonderful as they appear there is an awkwardness about them. The characters in the cinemas look sometimes significantly different from the in-game versions. This is not really a big issue but it does tend to draw your focus away the purpose of the cinema sequence itself.
The low score for sound is not because of the music per se. From the mini-games to the battles the music is catchy and enjoyable to listen to but the real problem is the voice acting. Nearly every game that incorporates voice acting suffers from the same problem. The most glaring issue is Tidus, when he speaks you become immediately annoyed with him irregardless of what he's saying.
Replay value- 9/10
To do everything in this game it took me over 120 hours, so is replay value truly necessary? Even still, faults and all, this is game you will probably want to play again someday down the line.
Final Score- 9/10
On its own this is an amazing RPG, wonderful graphics, good story, lots of extras, and engaging game play. However when you compare it to other Final Fantasy's it may seem like a step back in some ways. A lot of the changes were hit and miss, removal of the active battle system option for instance really seemed to slow the game pace down but the ability to swap characters in and out of battle was a very welcomed addition. The removal of the overworld also seemed to be a big miss and while most of the mini-games were poor there was one game that more than made up for it. And as with nearly all previous more recent Final Fantasy's the game itself is relatively easy. If RPGs are your thing then this is a must have. If you are a fan of the series then you might find this a tad disappointing. Overall on its own though it is an excellent all around game that could literally keep you busy for hundreds of hours.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 10/18/02, Updated 10/18/02
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