Review by Shirow

"Every story must have an ending"

Like any gaming freak who owns a PlayStation 2, I eagerly awaited Final Fantasy X and even went as far as playing the Japanese version as soon as it came out just to know what to expect. After going through a 40-hour game without understanding what was going on and easily beating it, it was time to break my teeth on the North American version. While I immensely enjoyed both, I was still puzzled. Sure, the game was great and long but it was also extremely lacking in challenge. Thankfully, the International version, although I still don't see what makes it so ''International'', managed to quench my thirst while bringing forward all the excitement held in the original version.

The question however still comes to mind. Are SquareSoft doomed to release a second version of a game to make it challenging enough ? Final Fantasy VII which ,coincidentally enough, was the first PSX installment, had the Weapons added after its Japanese release too. Aside from this masochist-happy change, FFX International however has several new features, some of them very obvious while most of these are trivial. Among the most blatant ones is an additional Sphere Grid which is supposedly more customizable than the older one.

New optional bosses also await you here and are in fact cheap versions of your own Aeons. These are so tough to defeat some may very likely give up -which I did at one point- but the rewards make this quest worthwhile. In-game increments too have been changed to make the whole game more challenging. Of course, there are also various other extras and Square's self-promotion completing the package but FFX International is a worthy buy, whether you have played the initial release or not.

The plot revolves around Tidus, a Blitzball player, who is thrown 1,000 years into the future by a big, black and ugly blob mysteriously called Sin. As the hero meets up with allies and battles against a lot of fiends, he learns more about what happened during all those years and is forced to go on because, as Auron would say, ''every story has an ending''. FFX however delivers a hugely interesting plot with several twists that will more likely keep you hooked. However, Square also couldn't abandon its bad habits and had yet again to hamper everything with a love relationship between two characters which bore me to death.

Other than that, there is also the fact that, out of the 7 characters, half is unnecessary. The story focuses too much on only a few characters and thus leaves out the rest who seem devoid of personality. This is a shame because, had Square taken the time to delve more into what they think and give them more attention, they would have contributed to make a top-notch cast. Instead, Rikku, Kimahri and Auron appear as mere filler. Auron is somewhat saved by the fact that he is in a way the real narrator -don't let Tidus's countless flashbacks fool you, the whole plot is unveiled by Auron as he recalls what happened since Braska last defeated Sin- and he looks really cool too.

Speaking of how characters look, Tidus resembles more a punk than anything else with his weird clothes while Lulu appears suitably dressed to become a High Summoner. The others are quite passable too but Auron is simply superb with his pose which is derived from the typical guardians' outfit in Ancient History. Of course, that may also be due to the fact that he wears glasses and his dubbing doesn't come off as horrible thanks to his outfit. Oh yeah, Lulu has big breasts too but that's probably because I'm horny.

The power of the PS2 is fully exploited to make this game memorable. Lush backgrounds abound with delicate details such as Auron slowly taking his fighting pose in Luca to face a lame foe. Close-ups of each characters are also plentiful just to make you realize how good this game is as far as graphics are concerned. These close-ups are also overdone though and I grew tired of seeing Yuna shake her head after twenty hours of playing this game. Things nevertheless look good, extremely good.

Even monsters are fine with the most notable bosses having a nice but sometimes weird look. Well, I suppose that's what they're referred to as bosses in the first place. The whole game brims with wonderful effects. Cinematics offer amazing textures and get rid of those annoying ''blocks'' but they take some time to load though as you're suddenly left to stare at a black screen for about three seconds. Characters are strikingly realistic expect Kimahri but that's probably because he isn't even human. They sometimes move around weirdly though as shown by how Tidus lets his anger loose -he appears to be stamping on an invisible insect instead-.

The music is a blend between the traditional melancholic themes that are so important to any Final Fantasy and other more atmospheric ones which would have been unheard of before. For example, when you first discover Zanarkand, a heavy rock track plays on in the background and it gains in intensity when the match starts. While they also pop up from time to time, the game however returns to its roots with more melodramatic music which convey the setting of the game and this fight for survival that has become the group's objective. And it's a good thing that the battle theme was changed too, this new one beats the older decrepit lullaby by miles !

As a reminder of this ''new'' PS2 era, Square finally went ahead and implemented voice-acting in this latest Final Fantasy with mixed results. Less important characters actually benefit from better voice-acting than the main ones. The only exceptions to this are Auron and Kimahri but that last example exists solely due to the fact that the poor Ronso doesn't talk a lot as he suffers from the A.S.S. -Astounding Squall Syndrome-. Tidus never quite manages to convince because the inflexions and moods are not appropriately performed while Rikku and Wakka are just bloody annoying. Lulu is actually pretty good too but I was more impressed with her breasts.

It's a pity the playable characters couldn't be better as they are the ones you will be following throughout this epic adventure. On the other hand, the non-playable characters do come off better. Jecht is the first example that springs to mind and Seymour's voice-acting superbly suits his contradicting personality. Oh yeah, the Al Bhed accent is pitiful but I'm not sure if that is really supposed to be an accent. SquareSoft would have done better leaving this aspect of the game out. Bad dubbing is an ever-lasting problem but since it's new and in regards to the other strengths of the game, this flaw may be ignored. However, things get extremely confusing by the end. Tidus sounds happy when he should be sad while Lulu suddenly thinks she is Cloud ans starts to freak out.

The most notable change compared to previous installments is that the tedious chore -watch out for poor oxymorons- known as levelling up have at last been abolished. Well, not completely but Square have at last dared to change this aspect of RPG's. Instead of fighting extensively to get Experience Points, you now build your characters' stats through the Sphere Grid. FFX International comes with a new Sphere Grid but you can revert to the initial one if you wish. Here, you collects spheres and these are used to gain abilities or to increase stats of each character. There are several spheres and different abilities you can assign to any character.

The other nice thing about the Sphere Grid is that a character is no longer confined to a certain role in battles. While Lulu obviously starts as the almighty Black Mage, you can have her become stronger if you know where to head to on the aforementioned grid. Similarly, Yuna can be both a White Mage and a Black Mage while Tidus can become excellent in every aspect if you precisely know what you are doing. You however need to unlock certain parts of the grid first as these are blocked but the required Sphere Locks abound by the end of the game and do not pose any problem at all.

The Limit Brakes -FFVII- also make a welcome return and are known as Overdrives here. Similarly to how you would do with Cloud's Omnislash, you can now store these special techniques for future use. Surprisingly, Aeons -or Summons- also have their own Overdrive techniques. Square however relied on older systems since Tidus's techniques are inspired from Cloud and Squall, Auron shares Zell's system and so on and so forth. Aeons, for the most, are earned by solving puzzles are temples. Moreover, you now control these just as you would control any character. They have their own additional attacks along with new options. All in all, FFX manages to convince with several welcome innovations.

The world map is now smaller, thus limiting your movements. Your next location is pointed out by a red arrow such that you cannot really get lost in this linear game. Further exploration never springs to mind until you get the airship -gift from the popular Cid of course- but even then, you can go to a certain location just by inputting the correct coordinates. Most side-quests can hence be done only near the end of the game where the time has also come for you to build up your characters if you haven't done so yet. While the search of the Ultimate Weapons is time-consuming, it is nevertheless pretty easy. FFX International sports an incredible Dark Aeons quest which demands ruthless customizing and a strong party. In any case, Square were very inspired when they summed these up.

As usual, older mini-games are also included such as the chocobos. BlitzBall games, which seemingly replace the card games of the previous titles, are annoying for the most but are essential if you plan to use Wakka a lot. While FFX is a pretty linear game, it does become a real world as you approach the ending -you don't have to travel from town to town yourself during the early stages-. However, in spite of this late correction, it must be said that FFX is also a bit disappointing in terms of replay value as it is nowhere close to the huge worlds that the four titles released before it are.

While the replay value still remains to be questioned, everything else is solid though…Okay, maybe not Lulu's breasts. FFX is also exceptionally easy to comprehend thanks to its extensive tutorial system where even battles are explained through Wakka shouting at you and Lulu thrusting her chest forward. The impressive graphics and soundtrack more than make this a great game while several welcome innovations combine to make this a memorable experience. Not perfect, but great. What else is new ?

~ Score : 8 ~
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All allusions to Lulu's breasts are bouncy coincidences !


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/12/02, Updated 11/09/02


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