Review by MGunnm

"Good. Very Good. Moogle dolls sure are cuddly, though..."

Well. Where to begin. I guess you probably already are aware of what the Final Fantasy series is all about, since you're reading this and their have already been seven other games released in America before this one. Conceivably, final fantasy is one of the most famous and easily identifiable gaming labels in the industry. Always, the quests are epic, the graphics a pretty feast, and the characters, well, most of them, unforgettable.

X is no exception. Wow, the big X. That is a long way to have come, with many turns and scrapes along the road, but not any noticible declines in quality. Presentations, characters, and environments may differ from chapter to chapter, but the heart of the adventure has never come closer to perfection than now. Final Fantasy is an ongoing tale, set in a variety of rich worlds, depicting the ongoing struggle between good and evil, the struggles we must all endure, emotional ardure, and how humans, even those seemingly insignifigant, can alter drastically the course of history, even against ridiculous odds.

The Tale
With this newest vignette, you assume the role of Tidus, a celebrity athlete in the technologically advanced city of Zanarkand. He comes from a world riddled with scientific advancement, where humans no longer need to work or toil, for machines now do all the work for us. Spiritualism and religion are all unknown, as everyone just indulges themselves and watches the popular sport of Blitzball. Then, ultimately, humanity is attacked by a strange beast called Sin, a thing of vast destructive power which has a hunger to destroy our beautiful world. Swept away by the mysterious Sin, Tidus is warped to a world antipodal to his home of Zanarkand; Spira, a land of rich color, sacrosant religions, and a people living in terror of the destructive Sin which plagues the land.

Is Sin a punishment sent upon us for crimes committed in the past? Is technology dangerous, a sacriligious force which leads us astray from a path of faith and simple spiritualistic and moral values?

Such issues are addressed, and once again the characters involved must uncover the secrets of their world, as well as reconcile with their pasts, and learn about who and what they are. Where they belong in the world. Big issues like that.

The story, standard Square, lives up to its predecessors, surrpassing some, and stands on it's own very well. This time, the story actually seems to make sense, and has plenty of plot twists and messages about living, society, and psychology that aren't to obstruse or heavy handed.

Yevon is the deity of choice, with priests and acolytes all over Spira. Know now, as is typical of Square, this game goes out of it's way to utterly trash organized religion, and laud a more simplistic belief in nature and the self. God bashing is good, as people always should question their beliefs, and it doesn't go overboard. Plenty of political and racial machinations in the stew as well.

The Setting and Visuals
This world is NOT traditional fantasy (ala Tolkien), but has it's own unique flavors and quirks. Know now, it is very tropics inspired, with lots of water themes, island villages replete with straw huts and tiki's. Everything is bright and colorful, and technology is feared by the general populous, believing it is what is responsible for the appearance of Sin, so guns and machines are not a part of the majority of backdrops. Some cultures, the Al Bhed, still propegate the institution and advancement of technology in the world, but they are mistrusted and even despised by most of the population as heathens.

Multiple races populate Spira other than humans, from the humanoid lions, the Ronso, fierce and proud, to the Guado, in their tree cities and with elfin inspired anatomies. How these races interact with each other and humans is interesting, and is done in such a way that it seems very fluid.

Each city is different, and each inhabitant unique, with lot's of oddly tailored clothes, bright jewlery, and myriad colors which often clash. In fact, most of the population seems to have raided multiple bargain bins at disreputable department stores, with mismatched clothes and tacky jewlery. It's a riot.

It has Chocobo Knights! Can't go wrong with that. And even though the character movements are a bit robotic when not in battle, everything is still attractive, imaginative, and beautiful to the naked eye, although I'm sure they could have done a better job on applying shading to the environments.

The FMV's, while cinematic in quality, are few and far between, and don't seem to be as awe inspiring as they used to be. There are a few gems, mostly depict scenes which do not need a cinematic introduction.

Now, I will say that while I love the voices, the lip synchronization is horrendous! I can recall maybe once when the lip movements matched the spoken dialogue. This is my only major gripe with this otherwise splendid game. It's as bad as the lip synching in Xenogears, and that was the worst ever!

Game Mechanics
It's FF. What did you think it would be like? The arduous Active Time bar is omitted, thank the Aeons, and now battles are much speedier and more thetrical. Each boss battle is a fight for survival, and indeed are among the toughest of any prevous FF game, but each one is almost like a little movie scene, with elaborate attacks, dynamic camera shots, and smart dialogue between the characters while in battle.

You can disable the long summoning effects at last, so you won't be able to get up and bake cookies while you wait for them to arrive. The summonings, called Aeons, are like individual characters, in the sense that they have HP, skills, spells, and can level up along with their summoner.

Levels are GONE! No more level 99. Instead, there is a clever and versatile implementation called a sphere grid, which basically is like a big stone circuit board that is full of ability nodes, like HP +200, or Strength +4, which enhance the characters performance, or Fire and Steal, which teach them new spells and skills. What's more, is that by using Sphere Keys to unblock new passages, you can literally learn talents your character was never meant to have! Even though each character has their own path and prefered skill set, you can refute it pretty early, and instead make your fighter a magic user, or a thief! It is so versatile and interesting, I wish other games had incorporated it before now. It seems tricky at first, but you'll love and appreciate it too, for it offers supreme customization unheard of in any other rendition before it. Your characters are in your hands.

While you can only have three characters in battle, you can freely switch between active and inactive party members. This is outrageously cool, seeing how one party member might be totally ineffective against your foe, you can just make them go away while you bring in someone more worthwhile to deal with the problem. No character is useless, and at some point in the game will prove to be indespensible.

Too many random battles though make the game play like an old SNES RPG. It suffers from Breath of Fire Syndrome, where every third step is a battle. Later on, this is most worrisome, as each encounter becomes uber challenging, each monster a mini boss that can wipe out a party nearlt instantanously.

This game is hard, the first hard FF since, well, ever. I think it's great that you now have to really struggle for victory rather than breezing through the challenges, but to many it can be frustrating to the point of tears. Some bosses can wipe out your party instantly later on, and you might find yourself winning mostly through luck in some of them, hoping to hell that the boss doesn't unleash a sequence of super attacks to which you cannot possibly persevere against. So have hanky nearbye, a pillow to beat on, and be warned; challenge lurks nigh!

The world map is also extracted. Boo, say many? Well, consider this fact. The overworld was simply a device to make the world seem larger, a medium to take characters from one place to another. While it works to accomplish this, it diminishes the fecundity of the world, by making the little chibi heroes walk miles with each step, as well as grossly compacting cities, which are almost as small as the characters. The overworld (world map) was always also a great place to fight when not in a dungeon.

Square decided to take a new approach to the unrealistic if familiar world map, by actually sculpting the wilderness and paths between cities you would take to get to a destination. These paths are long, and full of battles. It does the same thing as the world map; takes the party from one place to another, and still provides plenty of opportunity to level up. Many do not like this approach, my friends included. But myself, I see little difference between this method and the traditional one, except this way the world seems more believable, which is never a bad thing.

The Score
Musically, the game is satisfying, with no amount of songs seeming less than suitable for the situation in which they are presented. Not once did I cringe, wince, or find myself wishing I could stab my ear drums with a sharpened pencil tip. FF Eight had the absolute worst, shrill, and sibilant sound track to date, so compared to that this is Beethoven. There are a few heavy rock songs, complete with gutteral vocals, and some of the dramatic music is very gritty. This is not surprising considering two other composers, who worked on Dewprism and the Saga series, were added to the roster besides Squares resident, indefatigible virtuoso, Nobeu Uematsu, who I think needs to hang up his quill and retire. It sounds different than any FF game to date, refreshing and innovative.

The voice acting was great. I still hate the lip synching, but this is exactly what the game needed to complete it's strive for realism. Each voice is perfect for the character to which it was given, and the actors do well to add inflection and emotion to the speech when necessary. The voices take some getting used to, for at first I loathed them, but then I realized just how well suited they were to the world, and each character. It makes each scene so much more rivetting. Now, if they could just make them move with more grace, like Metal Gear Solid 2 which mastered that art, then this game would be next to flawless.

Extra Rhumination
I love this game. I love everything about it. It truely feels like a fourth generation game, like true progress has at last been made to this category of entertainment. Square has always pioneered and cultivated new concepts, taking many diverse elements and embodying them into a flowing, harmonious form, and this is a pinnacle of that skill and principle.

But I didn't like it at first. In fact, I hated this game when I first played it. It was just so different from any other FF before it, I thought I had been betrayed. The music stunk. The voices irked. This wasn't the FF I grew up with, nor was it even remotely similar to what my ideas of fantasy entail. But that's a wonderful thing. Do not doubt, this game is fantasy, and unlike anything you've played before. But give it some time before judging it harshly. I'm so glad I did, because it has now become one of the greatest, most immersive adventures of my life!

This is a must own game for the PS2. It is very long, over 40 hours, and that is if you do nothing else but run through the main game. Together, with the extras this game provides, you could easily spend 100+ hours just tweaking your party, or playing Blitzball, or finding secrets. There is Chocobo Racing, monster training, Blitzball, which I hated at first but realized it can be quite fun indeed. Packed with secrets and entertainment, and a well written script, this story unfolds in such a satisfying and enjoyable way, you won't soon forget this journey, and you'll take a part of Spira with you.

Ratings
Graphics- 9
Sound- 9
Characters- 10
Story- 10
Extras- 10
Replay- 8

Pros
Innovative, fast paced battle system.

Masterful dialogue and eerily suitable voice acting.

Immersive music, with no noticablely bad tracks.

A massive game with a smooth storyline rife with intrigue (typical Square cliches forgiven!).

Disabling Aeon cinematics is something they should have added from Seven and on.

A new type of world map system which makes the world seem much more believable.

Great characters who seem very real, with friendships and prejudices which are very well conveyed.

Cameos from previous games popular creatures such as Moogles, Moombas, Cait Sith, Cactrots, and the Magus Sisters from FF II (IV in Japan)

Lot's of Secrets and Easter Eggs.

Cons
It has a main character named Seymour (stupid name!).

The game is excrutiatingly hard at times.

Lack of shading in the backgrounds and characters make the graphics seem too plastic.

Overdrives are too unbalanced, some characters possessing Overdrives so powerful the other characters seem worthless.

Weapon upgrade system is overblown and tedious, requiring vast amounts of rare items just to add a single worthless ability to a piece of equipment.

Horrid, horrid, horrid lip movement which is not synchronous with the spoken dialogue. For shame!

Overall-
9

Wonderful game with forgivable flaws. Not perfect, but what is, this game is best described as good. Very good.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/30/01, Updated 12/30/01


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