Review by King Broccoli
Final Fantasy X reached down a mighty, benevolent hand and pulled a faltering series from the tepid water in which it was drowning. Years of terrible indiscretions were forgotten in an instant, as the epic quest of Tidus and Yuna banished former Final Fantasy failures to the backs of minds everywhere. Earlier instalments of this perennial series had been keen to show off a newfound maturity, bombarding us with hour upon hour of overbearing melodrama, and romances seemingly plucked from the primary school playground. One could only watch in horror, as misshapen protagonists struggled to cope with not only the potent forces threatening to destroy the entire world, but also the monumental conflicts of playing the flute well, and taking a girl to the prom. It was an insidious mixture, juxtaposing teenage histrionics with heroic deeds, and thankfully it's a mixture that has been smashed to smithereens by the sheer gravity of Final Fantasy X's formidable story.
It begins with Tidus, a sports star of some renown in his homeland of Zanarkand. His carefree lifestyle is dealt a serious blow when Zanarkand is ripped apart by a destructive force, and he is whisked inexplicably to an alternate time. It is in this world a world of magnificent, sprawling oceans and luscious tropical islands that Tidus' odyssey begins. This exotic realm of Spira is haunted by a hideous evil, has a culture deeply submerged in archaic rituals and traditions, and is further troubled by a corrupt, seething underbelly of religion. It is this troubled nature of Spira's, its aching need of salvation that sets Final Fantasy X apart from the rest, and makes its completion such a wholly worthwhile task.
Spira is not some peaceful little villa set upon suddenly by evil, and the characters that would dare fight it have not been chosen unwillingly by fate. Tidus has been dropped into the middle of a cycle of perpetual fear, and it makes for some fascinating moments. Each resident of Spira carries the burden of knowing that death could come at any moment, and watching these carefully-crafted individuals toil manfully under the stress, or crumple in a sobbing heap, is an engaging experience. As the demonic Sin traverses the ocean, unleashing his powerful brand of hate and violence on the people of Spira with a chilling purposelessness, there comes an incredible poignancy, the kind that other games just don't have. As friendships form and cities crumble, you will take Tidus and his band of cohorts on a remarkable journey. You will laugh, you might cry, but, most importantly, you'll want to win at all costs. And you won't rest until you do.
A single, overarching theme based around the imminent destruction of an entire planet would be enough to satisfy most gamers, and most games would simply leave it at that. Final Fantasy X goes a step further by playing host to an intriguing array of main characters. These are not your typical lone wolf, jewellery-swapping, ellipsis-using, sullen teenagers we've become accustomed to. Whilst Tidus is essentially the main character, he is but one of many destined to watch over the summoner Yuna as she hones her powers in anticipation of a final face-off with Sin. This insular group will travel the world together, collecting powerful monsters to summon against the unholy force waiting at the journey's end, and confronting the segregation that subsequently arises. From the beginning it is evident that these characters are from different backgrounds, each with a very distinctive personality. And rather than playing up this idea of distinctiveness, and giving us a ragtag bunch of oddballs, the individuality is celebrated and becomes an important issue. That it is an eclectic group - a cross-section of all Spira's races - that takes up the mighty task, only makes the overcoming and such all the more triumphant. Without the subdued optimism of Yuna, the enthusiastic vigour of Wakka, or the timeless, cantankerous knowledge of Auron, Final Fantasy X would not be half as convincing in its execution.
The story is conveyed sublimely. You are given ample opportunity to explore every inch of the world, to run short-panted to the peak of a snowy bluff, or to duck into a glowing cave and explore its luminous rock face. Punctuating this intrepid exploration are the cut-scenes, featuring the same faultless detail in the graphics and backed by an emotive score. These punctuations do not interrupt the flow of the action; rather they create a kind of dynamic storytelling that has you aching for the next chapter. One learns to appreciate the dramatic pauses, for it is indeed a story worth telling and one that can only heighten the action as it stampedes towards its gripping end.
What we've established so far is that Final Fantasy X is an emphatic piece of storytelling, with terrific, layered characters. Such elements can be found in musty old things like books and television shows, so it's imperative that the functions of the game are equally good. Luckily, the tenth Final Fantasy is easily the most accessible and most rewarding of the series. By abandoning the tried and true natures of levelling your characters, and waiting for little bars to fill before fighting during battles, we're left with a far more interactive and malleable system of play. Sphere points accumulate, allowing your characters to slide about a little trait map and power themselves up as they so choose. With this extra freedom comes an extra allowance of tactics and strategy, things that also comes into play during the fight scenes. The idea of sitting about torpidly, waiting for a little green light to flash whilst a tenacious foe hacks and slashes at you, has been made redundant. The predetermined order of attack is displayed onscreen, and each different technique affects this order in a particular way. The introduction of such ideas reduces significantly the passiveness many associate with the RPG experience. Final Fantasy X truly is an interactive masterpiece.
It is near impossible to define the chief strength of Final Fantasy X. One can easily lose themselves to the intricacies of the story and develop a kinship with the people of Spira, yet it is almost unfair to discount the intense pleasure that stems from simply exploring a world and revelling in the seamless mechanics of a perfectly developed game. Then again, the visuals could well be seen as the crowning jewel, dazzling many with the vivacious nature of the female cast and curvaceous nature of the sprawling pastoral wonderland that is Spira. But of course if one fell in with that crowd one would be neglecting the majesty and power of the soundtrack, the music adding incomparable atmosphere to a landscape already soaked in the stuff. Perhaps it's simply best to say that Final Fantasy X is an amalgamation of the best the worlds of games, films, literature and television have to offer. It's an unparalleled experience, the sum of these mighty parts combining to make an even mightier whole. Such is the beauty and grace of this mouth watering, ground breaking, reasonably voice overed creation of a game, it would be a sin to miss out on the experience.
Play it, before the Sin devours you.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 02/24/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy X (Platinum) (AU, 12/31/03)
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