Review by matt91486

"And next in the lineage of Final Fantasy heroes with odd hair, we have Tidus, a 17 year old who has yet to begin puberty"

OPENING STATEMENT
What would a Final Fantasy game be without a hero with some of the most messed up hair to ever appear in a video game? Exactly, we will never know! And what about Square releasing this game a month early! I’m assuming that Square Soft decided that they could sell a couple million extra copies of Final Fantasy X, their magnum opus, by squeezing the release in before Christmas. Here’s the thing: If no one knows that a game is being released early, no one can buy it. It is by pure coincidence that I saw the game lying on a store shelf. I sure as hell was not looking for it, because it wasn’t supposed to be released until the middle of January! OK, now that we have established that Square needs better public relations managers, on to one of the most anticipated games ever.

GAMEPLAY--10
It took me a while to get used to the fact that the Final Fantasy series was no longer using the Active Time Battle System. The entirely new system is rather insignificant in battles against everyday, little characters, but in epic boss battles, it will save your butt many times over. You want to make that character get healed? Simply switch around the order, so that your healer attacks before the enemies. Do you think that the boss is almost dead? Change up the order, so that Yuna, the only character with the powerful summon attacks, goes just before the titanic foe. Then the summon beast, called an Aeon in Final Fantasy X, can duke it out separately from the party, with its own HP and everything. Facing an enemy who desperately needs to be struck with some magic, but your party consists of character’s with a specialty in physical attacks? Switch in your favorite magician, most likely Lulu, by pressing L1. Following that meter will save you many problems in battles that you have faced in earlier games.

What you get from these battles has also changed. Instead of getting experience points, now you receive AP. AP is determined in levels. When you get enough AP for a level-up, you can head to the Sphere Grid to move your character. Your level will return to its previous level after you move. Also, you get grid pieces as spoils of battle. These pieces allow you to strengthen your character, learn new abilities, make them faster, whatever you want. Your character can be entirely different in two different save files of Final Fantasy X if you move them in different directions on the Sphere Grid. This is one of the few innovations in RPGs in recent years, and I just hope that every new role-playing game in development does not steal this system. Currently, using it is a treat, and if other games copy the system, than it will be a chore all over again.

Of course, in between battles and FMVs, you move your character around, navigating dungeons and locating buildings in towns. The streak of games to divert your attention from the flow of the story continues, and Blitzball adds an entirely new dimension to RPGs. Blitzball is essentially its own little sports game, held at any Level Two Save Point. You can participate in leagues, tournaments, exhibitions, most anything that floats your boat. This cross between basketball, water polo, and soccer is actually more polished than many sports games on the market. You may have limited options, but it sure is simplistic fun.

GRAPHICS--9
All I have been hearing about lately is how perfect Final Fantasy X’s graphics are. Yes, the game looks beautiful, but flaws still abound. For one, even in the cutscenes, Final Fantasy X suffers horribly from the PlayStation 2’s lack of anti-aliasing. And, as you could imagine, the regular game looks even worse in that regard. (For those of you who don’t know, anti-aliasing is what keeps round objects looking round, rather than showing that the edges are really shaped like a staircase. The PlayStation 2 is extremely weak in this regard.)

Also, the Blitzball animations seems a little bit choppy. I do not know if this is because this mini-game is set underwater or what, but the character’s seem to skip a bit as they play. Also, speaking of Blitzball once more, tell me why a ball looks more like a dodecahedron than a sphere. There are tons of corners on that thing!

The rest of Final Fantasy X does look as beautiful as they say, however. For one of the first times in video gaming history, character’s have realistic looking faces. (If companies need an example of how not to make faces, simply refer to Madden NFL 2002. Ugh.) Outside of Blitzball the animation is silky smooth, and characters even seem to have nuances to their walks and such. Wakko moves like he knows that he is perfect, and the common person has a little scared flair to their walk, as if they never know when Sin will show up again.

The environments easily surpass the character designs though. The buildings, the explosions, the tropical paradises (especially the tropical paradises) make you feel as if you were right there. And boy did I wish I was on Wakko’s island. Living in Minnesota, any picture of a tropical paradise can make you want to up and move to Hawaii. Anyway, back on topic, even the gloomier and creepier environs look great. The trees even seem to have individual leaves, rather than just a blob of them on each branch. These, or at least the realistic levels, are probably the most lifelike habitats ever featured in a video game.

MUSIC--9
SOUND--10

The music mixes the new with the old, paying homage to Final Fantasy games of the past. In the first dungeon you will hear a remix of the Shinra music from Final Fantasy VII. The battle theme of Final Fantasy VI also makes frequent appearances. Dozens of other songs sounded familiar, I just could not put my finger on which Final Fantasy game they originated in. If you are tired of the same old songs, do not worry. There are plenty of new songs mixed in that you have not heard before, but that fit right in with the tradition of great music in Square Soft RPGs.

Even the sound effects in Final Fantasy X brought about nostalgia. The menu noises have all been lifted from the games in the series that appeared on the original PlayStation, and I would not have it any other way. The sounds in battle are not pilfered from the previous games, but they are done in a way that they sound classic, without compromising the DVD quality sound that should be heard on the PlayStation 2.

And how about those voice actors! The bulk of my experience with dubbed voice actors on the PlayStation 2 has been with Koei games (Dynasty Warriors 3, Kessen II) which were both poorly done, and looked like stereotypical Japanese to English dubs. In Final Fantasy X, the mouths move exactly when the speech occurs, just like it should be. The actors also do a great job expressing the emotion of the story in their voices. Some of the accents may be a tad annoying after a while, but you will soon get used to it and have no problem with Square Soft’s choice of voice actors. Koei could learn a few things from them. (I’m not picking on Koei, as they are some of my all-time favorite game developers, but they need to use better discretion when choosing vocal talent. That is all.)

CONTROL--8
It’s a role-playing game, so the control is not that big of an issue, but a few problems were apparent. Movement of the characters hit occasional snags where a few seconds were needed for the game to respond. It really did not hurt anything, but the added time basically assured that as soon as I started moving again, there would be another random battle. The menus are well thought-out and easy to navigate. The last thing that I will mention in this control section is the Sphere Grid. This menu is surprisingly easy to navigate, for something as large and complex as it is. It takes a few times on the grid to get the hang of getting to a certain space, but you will have it down in no time.

FUN--10
This is a Final Fantasy game, of which there has only been one bad one in the life of the series, the debacle known as Final Fantasy VIII. So, without even reading this section you know there is a ninety percent chance that the game will be fun. I will certainly take those odds, especially when the tenth time around is so enjoyable.

The story in Final Fantasy X is highly reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII, and X seems like the proper evolution of that masterpiece. (VIII and IX went in entirely different directions for the three or four people out there who did not know.) The parallels between the story are numerous, but in no way are they the same. In this tenth escapade, a mysterious being known as Sin has the world in fear, and the power to destroy or alter most anything it chooses. Telling you any more than that will ruin the story, so I apologize for being vague. However, if you have played the seventh fantasy, you can probably begin to determine the similarities. Of course, featuring music and sound effects from that game did not really help separate them very much. It is just nice to see some sort of connection between the games in the series finally, even if it is miniscule.

The other factoid that I can tell you about the story is that Blitzball, the extremely fun and addicting mini-game, plays a central role in Tidus’ connection with the various character that he meets for the first time early on. It seems that Blitzball is quite universal in their world. Even if it did not pertain to the story at all, Blitzball would still be insanely fun. It has equaled the immense enjoyability of Triple Triad (the only redeeming quality to date of Final Fantasy VIII). So do not expect to just play a Blitzball match and be done with this diversion to end all diversions. You will be starting leagues and tournaments, and hunting down people to join your team, before you know it.

CHALLENGE--MEDIUM
To complete Final Fantasy X without mastering its secrets is not difficult at all, assuming that you keep your characters advanced enough on the Sphere Grid that they do not become too weak to fight. That is really what the game comes down to. The puzzles really are not hard to see through at all. If you want to truly master Final Fantasy X, though, completing all of the side-quests and such, then expect some tribulations along the way. Some of those other diversions, besides Blitzball of course, can be quite a pain to complete, and significantly add to the overall difficulty of the game.

REPLAY VALUE--LOW TO MEDIUM
Role-playing games are not purchased for their replay value, which everyone knows. I will tell you this, though. You may feel strangely compelled to max out that Sphere Grid. And if you want to do that, you will be playing Final Fantasy X for a long time. More likely though, Final Fantasy X will be played for the occasional Blitzball match after you beat it. Perhaps you shall even begin another tournament in the post-defeat world. The replay value really depends on how obsessed that you become with the addiction to Final Fantasy X. If you are someone like Viagra Police 121, who is already smitten after only a short while of the game even being released, you may be doing Blitzball up until the hour before Final Fantasy XI is released.

PROS
*Beautiful environments that are more realistic than any seen before.
*The best translation and script of any Final Fantasy game.
*Finally, a new battle system!

CONS
*Anti-aliasing issues abound.
*What’s up with Yuna’s different colored eyes?
*Tidus’ severe case of precocious puberty. (Hey, I’m stretching for cons here people.)

CLOSING STATEMENT
For a game that did almost everything right, Final Fantasy X falls a tad short of being perfection. The story is engaging, the characters compelling, the battle system entertaining, and yet there is the strange feeling that lurks overhead, that the game could have been more. A couple more islands really should have been added, to give Square Soft a chance to tie up a few more of the loose ends in the story. But, alas, this is what we are stuck with, and it is damn good anyway.

OVERALL--9


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/29/01, Updated 12/29/01


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