Review by JPtheGreat

"FFX: The Reason I Bought a PS2"

It was a quiet night at a friend's house, and I saw the game Final Fantasy X sitting there. Because I lived in a vacuum at the time, I had never heard of it before (my last FF game being 3/6 on the SNES). Thinking why not, I put the game in the PS2 and selected new game.

The next day, I bought myself a PS2.

FFX is an unbelievable game. It did every single thing right. Graphics: beautiful. Sound: wonderful. Story: exceptional. Characters: incredible. Mini-games: Debatable… okay, so it ALMOST did every single thing right. FFX stood at the pinnacle of video game success for years, and after seeing the new instalment FFXII, I predict that this game will outlast the new. Truly a masterpiece.

Of course, there are flaws, but the flaws are immensely tiny. Here's an analogy: a child cleans his room spotless; his mother comes in, whips out a microscope and says, ‘Aha! It's not clean! I see three dirt atoms!' The flaws are completely insignificant in the big picture. The question becomes, where do I start? Which of the amazing traits do I praise first?

The obvious answer would be graphics. At the time, they were the greatest graphics ever seen -- ever. Warp to the present, where the PS2 is in its death throes, and the graphics are still amazing. Everything that is graphic is amazing: the battles are pure 3D, the backgrounds are rendered exquisitely, the characters have facial expressions, the spells are big and bad, the FMVs … drool.

The FMVs can look like real people. Look at the character's face: it is like a dynamic photograph. Breathtaking. If it weren't for the outlandish costumes, they could pass for real people in a real movie, not just a computer-generated model. And when you combine this with action and dialogue, FFX becomes a cinematic tour-de-force. To say that the PS2 reached its graphic peak with FFX is a hyperbole, but it is very near the truth. I find that the characters look better here than in FFXII, but only in terms of FMV.

Even when not awing us with Full Motion Video, the characters are breathtaking. A Final Fantasy game has never had the characters actually look like people (though FFVIII made a valiant attempt). The result is a set of characters that seem even more real. We see them move, hear them talk, learn their facial expressions … we see them in a way that no other game has had the luxury of pulling off. FFX is the equivalent of a graphical revolution in the video- game industry.

What goes hand in hand with the graphics would be the sound, which comes in two varieties: speech and music. I'll start with speech, because this was the first FF game to feature full voice acting. Disclaimer: anywhere you go, you will find people who hate the voice acting. They will point out that Yuna sound like a dying cow and that the voice actor for Tidus should have his voice-box forcibly removed so that he could spare the world from his cursed voice.

IT WAS SUPPOSED TO SOUND LIKE THAT!

Explanation: there is a scene not to far into the game that has been affectionately called the ‘laughing scene.' Yuna asks Tidus to try and laugh on command, even though a rather depressing event had just occurred for poor Tidus. Tidus, naturally, fails (try laughing on command and making it sound authentic). That was the whole point of the scene: it isn't easy to laugh in the face of death. But some people are so busy looking for Yuna hentai to download that they've completely missed this; they hear the forced laughter, and then their lone brain cell draws the conclusion ‘The voice acting sucks!'

Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is not perfect. Whenever someone has a one-word response, like ‘what' or ‘okay,' it sounds choppy, like a tape-recorder that starts and stops too quickly. That is the worse part of the voice acting. Translation: everything else is golden! All the characters have good voices (which can't be said for FF12). The personality of the characters may not be to everyone's liking, but that doesn't tarnish the objective quality of the voice acting. If the only thing stopping you from buying FFX is a fear of bad voice acting, through that malformed thought out of your head this second.

The music is equally impressive. In fact, the music ranks as one of the all-time best soundtracks to come from Mr Uematsu. What impresses is the considerable variety: from the calm breeze of Besaid Island to the power of ‘Revealed Truth', from the sombre ‘Wandering Flame' to the melancholy ‘Someday the Dream Will End,' the music serves its purpose, and it does so brilliantly. And I have yet to list the three big songs!

‘To Zanarkand' is the first sound you will hear when you select New Game, and it is a moving piano piece that many people have claimed to learn. ‘Suteki Da Ne' is the game's vocal number, a sad love ballad. And, the big one, FFX introduces the Hymn of the Fayth. Hymn of the what? It doesn't matter: it is a small “song” comparative to a Gregorian Chant, and it a) plays an important part of the story; and, b) is awfully nice to listen to. It is a haunting melody, and while you probably won't be downloading it onto your computer anytime soon, you'll enjoy the few times you do hear it.

Actually, you don't need to download anything off the Internet for this game. You see, there is an in-game ‘Sphere Centre' that lets you view previous FMVs and songs. This is incredible: you remember the awesome cut-scene at the beginning of the game? Want to watch it again? No problem! It does cost in-game money, but how is that a problem? It is a nice touch to a game with brilliant graphics and sound.

But do you know what the best part is? The best part is that the graphics and the music aren't the best part! It is the story and gameplay that shrine brightly above all. Now THAT is a refreshing change!

The gameplay is focuses, essentially, on the battle system, which can be a love-it or hate-it affair. The battlesystem is not ATB: no little bar fills up for a command; no, FFX takes the series into a new direction (I suspect the awful rendition of the ATB in FFIX served as a push in the right direction). It is turn-based with a twist: each character, ally and enemy, is slotted in the ‘CTB' chart (Conditional Turn Based). Whoever is listed as 1 goes first, and then 2 follows, and then 3, etc. Now, some actions will boost your speed and thus your attack order, and other will lower your turn. Success and failure depends largely on managing the CTB.

What makes it interesting is that you aren't restricted to the three characters that you start with in battle. On any turn, you can switch out to a reserve member, and the action happens instantly. This is effective because, for most of the game, each character is a ‘class,' such as blackmage, whitemage, thief, etc. So if your party of warriors needs a quick heal, you can sub in your whitemage, heal everyone, sub out and go back to killing. All in all, the CTB relies more on strategy and less on brute force reaction time than previous games.

Sadly, there is a flaw with this: if you know what you are doing, this game is easy, almost pathetically easy. Now, some bosses do provide challenge, but the seasoned pro will have no difficulty. Even the novice will quickly figure out how to win most battles, be it with summoned Aeons or Overdrive hoarding. For a system that revolves so much on strategy, it would be nice to see more challenge.

Two interesting points: one, status effects are now more dangerous than pure damage. If someone hits you for 9999, you can just cast Life and be on with it. But if you are poisoned, you have three turns until you are crippled and near death; if you're White- or blackmage is berserked, your winning chances drop considerably; and if you get confused, you are on a fast-track to the gameover screen. Status effects are always the big threat, for the first time in FF history.

Second, there is no more levelling up. “What?” That's right, no more levelling. Instead, we have the oft imitated, never equalled Sphere Grid. There isn't too much to say about it, really: you win battles and earn ‘Sphere Points.' You use these points to level up your stats. You do this by activating nodes on a giant grid. It may sound complicated, convoluted or just unnecessary, it actually works great. You'll have to take my word for it.

And that leaves us with only the story. There is little I can say that hasn't already been said, and I have no desire of spoiling anything. It is vastly different from previous entries, though, in both presentation and style. And it works like a dream.

Here's a spoiler for the first 20 minutes, the 20 minutes that convinced me to buy a PS2. It starts off with a panorama of a group of people sitting by a fire, and then a blonde hair teen, Tidus, gets up, walks up a small embankment and gazes at what appears to be a ruin of some sort, dazzling with light. Our hero gazes at it, his eyes scanning the horizon, and then says, “Listen to my story. It may be our last chance.”

And now the scene switches to a different time, a different place. It is a futuristic society, where Tidus is a local sports star, and he is off to play blitzball, an underwater version of soccer. But then, as the match heats up, a mysterious force appears, and the city begins to crumble. Tidal waves smash the city and entire buildings are upending and thrown into the sky. Tidus meets Auron, a person who is ‘waiting for him.' Why? What is going on? But there is no time to explain: the mysterious force surrounds them, and a bright light surrounds them. When Tidus awakes, he is cold, in a strange place, alone.

Who is Auron? What was that force? What does it all mean? It is these questions that engage the player, and the game now sweeps you up in an epic adventure. Be prepared to lose 50 hours of your life as you explore the world of Spira.

The last point about FFX may be the most telling: this is a complete Fantasy world. Unlike FF7 or 8, where it is just a string of towns and cities that are loosely connected, everything in FFX fits together. Spira has history, it has culture, it has dreams, it has goals and fears. It is a real, living world, a place you can get lost. It has races beyond that of just human, and they have their own culture as well. And it has Yevon, the religious teaching that spans the globe. Spira is the most complete world in an RPG, and it has only been surpassed by FFXII; but FFX still has the advantage: it is by far the better game.

Now, there are those three dirt atoms that I haven't mentioned. For one, there is no world map, and so exploration is rather limited. Even in dungeons and caves, the path is rather straightforward; you're in no danger of getting lost. This is unfortunate because it is such a complete world and we aren't able to fully explore it. That is the big knock on this game: lack of explorability. But that complaint pales in comparison to the power of the story and the game in general.

This game forced me to buy a PS2. And I did, and I was happy, and when my PS2 died, I went out to buy another one so that I could play this game again. I've played this game more than any other FF, and it is still THE game to own on the PS2. There is no question on my part: a videogame library that does not contain FFX is not a complete videogame library.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 03/15/07


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