Review by bover_87

"Definitely a Final Fantasy to fantasize about"

Final Fantasy X, like VII and VIII, introduced several new ideas into the Final Fantasy canon. Because of this, many people give the game flak for not playing the same as previous titles. Meanwhile, to the new player, some of the game's systems can seem downright confusing at first, as is true of many RPGs. Despite all this, Final Fantasy X is a superb addition to your collection due to its gameplay, storyline soundtrack, and replayability.

In terms of gameplay, many old Final Fantasy staples are back in this game. Veterans of the series will recognize many things in this game--spells, monsters, weapon/armor names, limit-break style attacks, and, perhaps most importantly, random encounters. Random encounters can be either a great blessing, or the bane of your existence--many of the monsters (especially those later in the game) found in random encounters can actually put up quite a fight, which definitely adds to the challenge of the game. For instance, there is a monster in the last dungeon which, when defeated, uses an attack that hits your party for 5000 damage and will probably kill your entire party unless you prepared for it. In my opinion, random encounters are one of this game's major strong points, considering that in many RPGs random encounters seem like they're there simply to give experience, not so much to challenge the player.

Also making a return are summoned monsters. However, summon monsters no longer are summoned, do a powerful attack, then disappear--now they fight in place of your party in battle. The summon monsters, called Aeons, have various abilities they can use, most of which are just like abilities your characters can learn. After a certain point during the game, you'll be able to teach your Aeons abilities by "buying" them with items in your inventory. Aeons also have their own stats, which can be increased either by raising that respective stat for Yuna, or, later in the game, by spending items to raise a particular stat. In battle, Aeons function exactly like a character--they have their own Overdrive gauge (like limit breaks in previous titles) that, when filled, allows the Aeon to do an incredibly powerful attack; they can use any ability they've learned during their turn; and so on. This creates a whole new realm of strategic options to the player, especially since, if an Aeon dies, the party takes over the fight again.

Another major change is that this game completely revamped the battle system from previous games. Surprisingly, Final Fantasy X did away with the ATB (Active Turn Battle, in which battles proceed in semi-real time) battle system used by previous games, and replaced it with CTB (Conditional Turn-based Battle). In the CTB system, time only passes when commands are executed (as opposed to ATB where it passes whenever you are not in a submenu and there are no spell animations occurring). Different move have different recovery speeds, which means that participants in battle can often double-turn one another by using faster attacks. Other attacks delay the user's turn, and since these attacks tend to be more powerful, this can force the player to use weaker attacks to avoid losing turns in some cases. The other major change in the battle system is that characters can now be switched in and out of the party mid-battle. This does make the battle easier, but it also allows the game to utilize a system where each character is strong against specific types of fiends and allows for more depth in battles (bosses often use more powerful attacks to counterbalance this). For example, Auron is great against armored enemies, since his katanas cut right through their armor. But against fast or airborne opponents, Auron usually cannot hit them, so you'll want to switch him for someone with better accuracy in their attacks. Every character has strengths and weaknesses like this (Lulu is good against jelly-like enemies but not agains floating eyes, for instance).

Another of the biggest changes in this installment is that the equipment system has been completely revamped. In most games, equipment simply gives bonuses to stats, especially attack power for weapons and defense for armor. In this game, equipment serves a very different function: it allows characters to have special properties. Each piece of equipment has somewhere between 0 and 4 slots. This slots can be filled with various abilities, which can have effects ranging from raising defense/power to absorbing elemental attacks to blocking statuses to preventing random encounters. For the first half or so of the game, you're limited to what enemies drop and what you can buy in stores. Later, you can add abilities to blank slots of equipment yourself by using items in your inventory to customize pieces of armor or weapons. This gives the player a lot of latitude, since equipment can be custom-designed to fit a certain type of battle, but getting the items you need for the better abilities can be a severe pain (good luck finding Dark Matter, for example).

Probably the most notorious element in Final Fantasy X is the sphere grid. In this game, characters do not power themselves up simply by killing things. Instead, after defeating monsters, characters who participated in the battle are given APs, which, after collecting enough, give your characters Sphere Levels, which can be used to move on the sphere grid. The sphere grid has many nodes. Some of them teach abilities to your characters, but most of them, when activated using the corresponding sphere type, raise the character's stats. This is how characters level: they must move around the sphere grid in order to activate nodes to learn abilities and raise their stats. For most of the game, this is more or less linear and presents few complications; each character has their own area they start in, and most types of spheres needed to activate nodes are plentiful. Later, you'll acquire Key Spheres, which allow to remove locks from the grid and access more areas of the grid, including other characters' "grids." The effect is that each character for the most part has their own set of abilities and attributes, yet they can still be customized to be almost anyway you like once you're far enough into the game. Frankly, the sphere grid is one of my favorite parts of the game, since it's very easy to work with until near the end of the game, when you're free to experiment and raise your characters as you wish.

The storyline of the game is excellent, in keeping with most Final Fantasy games. In the game, Tidus tells his story about how he arrived in Spira and his and Yuna's journey to find a way to defeat Sin, a mysterious, incredibly destructive force. All of the characters are very well developed throughout the game, helping us to understand their personalities and back stories. While the end object is very clear from the beginning of the game, the twists and turns the game takes to get there are not, and really help to add flavor to the game. At many points the party will get sidetracked from their journey, by events ranging from being ambushed by a strong fiend to having to help people do various tasks. These tasks help build the story into a full piece of work rather than simply having it be a long journey from point A to point B. Another thing that's nice about the game's story is that it never really falls into a lull like many RPG stories do. Between the storyline, graphics, and music, the game really stays interesting throughout, not just at the beginning and the end.

The graphics on the game are stunning for its time, a major step up from the PSX Final Fantasy titles. The areas in the game look very crisp and fairly realistic, despite being pre-rendered. Furthermore, the characters' faces look much more realistic than before, and they often make expressions during cutscenes to help display their emotions. The graphics of the game really go hand-in-hand with the storyline to make the characters seem much more like real people and less like polygons on a TV screen. The FMV's reinforce this even further, showing the charcters interact in even greater detail than the in-game scenes do.

In keeping with previous Final Fantasy soundtracks, the music once again greatly surpasses our expectations. The music helps to set the proper mood for both cutscenes and for the areas you will explore, and is great for listening to even aside from the game. The PS2's greater capabilities allow the music to have much more depth and clarity than before, further enhancing the gaming experience. The sound effects are, for the most part, good also. The only problem sound-wise that I see is in some of the voice acting. In general, it's pretty good; however, it makes Tidus sound very immature (even at the end, which does not seem to fit what the story developed his character into) and Yuna's voice can sometimes get annoying as well. But, aside from a few small problems, the sound and music of the game is excellent.

Replayability is a major strong point of the game. The storyline portion of the game isn't all that long (it isn't short, but many of the previous Final Fantasy games, like Final Fantasy VIII, have longer storyline portions), but the game has so many sidequests to do it doesn't really matter. On the file I'm playing as I write this, I've clocked around 135 hours. I would say that about two-thirds of that was strictly sidequests I've been working on at the end of the game. If you want everything, you'll have to do a lot to get it, but that adds to the replay value of the game, considering that you won't be done after 30 hours of doing sidequests. And they have tantalizing rewards, too--they give you many items and pieces of equipment that are very hard (or even impossible) to come by otherwise. The only problem with the sidequests is that some of them are extremely tedious or annoying--racing the Chocobo trainer and getting a time below 00:00.0 is obviously not an easy prospect, and with the setup of the game it's downright annoying. Nevertheless, the sidequests are a significant part of what makes this game so good.

Final Fantasy X is a dazzling addition to any gamer's collection. Even if you're new to Final Fantasy or RPGs in general, Final Fantasy X is an excellent place to start. The game is well worth what you pay for it, and its gameplay, storyline, and replayability make it well worth buying.

Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/03/08

Game Release: Final Fantasy X (Greatest Hits) (US, 12/31/03)

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