Review by !.ACA.!

"A + … Beautiful."

Beautiful.

Over ten years have passed since Square unveiled the original Final Fantasy. And during that time, gamers have experienced some amazing moments with the Final Fantasy series. With the release of the magical Final Fantasy VI in 1994, the series began to dominate the RPG market, paving the way for a game that would launch the RPG genre into unconceivable popularity.

In September of 1997, Square unleashed the first three-dimensional Final Fantasy game, Final Fantasy VII. Building on the popularity of the Sony PlayStation and the Final Fantasy series together, Final Fantasy VII helped bring the RPG genre into the American mainstream household. Soon, many companies would try their hand at the RPG genre, but few others would succeed as Square has. Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX soon followed off of Final Fantasy VII’s success. With each game, Square pushed the limits of the PlayStation, creating some of the finest graphics on the system.

Final Fantasy X continues suit with breathtaking graphics. No other game has ever created graphics up to Final Fantasy X’s realism, and most games never even enter the same ballpark.

You’ll first notice that the world around you is immersive. While controlling Tidus, the main character, you’ll feel like you are actually in his shoes. When Tidus enters a wet cavern, for example, you’ll feel his chill. And when he’s on the beautiful beaches of Besaid Island, you’ll feel like you’re on a tropical resort, absorbing the sun. The colors are vibrant and every object is greatly detailed.

Each character has a very unique and fulfilled look about him or her. Auron, for example, is a wandering fatherly figure who provides deep insight into any problem at hand. One look at him and you will realize his attire directly reflects this demeanor. Yuna, the soft-spoken summoner, is conservatively dressed as one might expect a training religious figure to be. Wakka is dressed in what appears to be very native attire, suited perfectly for the warm climate he lives in. The wild and cheerful Rikku is dressed in unbelievably short shorts and a skintight top.

Summoned monsters are also even more beautiful than ever. The usual suspects—Ifrit, Shiva, and Bahamut—return, but they are joined by a handful of new faces as well. The amount of detail on Ifrit’s fiery body is spectacular. And the always lovely Shiva returns looking better than ever. The other summons, or aeons as they’re now called, also look great, but it’s always a treat for the die-hard Final Fantasy fans to see the graphical progression of the familiar summons.

Each aeon has a gorgeous summoning sequence, but, for the first time in Final Fantasy history, these summoning sequences can be set to long or short. This seemingly meaningless feature was long overdue in the series. Final Fantasy IX touched on it, but Final Fantasy X masters the art. Veteran Final Fantasy fans will undoubtedly rejoice upon noticing this feature to shorten summon sequences.

Final Fantasy X features a wide assortment of enemies, too, but you’ll notice that many are simply palette swaps of previous enemies. That’s not really a problem, though, because there are so many different enemies to palette swap from. And in keeping with the Final Fantasy tradition, bosses are very well drawn and very plentiful.

When you’re not actually controlling Tidus, you’re probably watching a full motion video (FMV) of events. The concept of FMVs isn’t new to the Final Fantasy series or RPGs, but never has a full motion video looked so real. Within the game’s first fifteen minutes, you’re treated to one of the most remarkable sequences in video game history, set to lyrical heavy metal music. Each FMV is absolutely amazing. Many FMVs stick out, but one particular FMV where Yuna is wearing a white dress is astoundingly realistic. Another FMV reuniting with Rikku will surely please many of the male gamers, as it certainly pleases Tidus. Throughout the game there are over thirty full motion videos to enjoy.

Final Fantasy X’s graphics are undeniably unmatched in every aspect, but the music is also another strongpoint that most games will never equal.

Nobuo Uematsu, in addition to a few other composers, create some of the best Final Fantasy music the series has ever had. Nobuo Uematsu is a musical mastermind, but the addition of some new faces into the scene really helps. “Suteki Da Ne,” the game’s lyrical love song, performed by Japanese pop star Rikki, is very well composed and performed. Final Fantasy fans undoubtedly remember other Final Fantasy masterpieces such as “Aeris’s Theme” or “Eyes On Me,” and there are many tracks that are up to par with these works. “To Zanarkand” is a simple yet emotional piece. And the various temple hymns set the mod perfectly to impress the religious feel on the gamer. Moreover, when Tidus visits a snowy mountain, the “People of the North Pole” track perfectly sets the mood for a winterous trek. Likewise, in the warm Besaid Island, the tropical music fits perfectly.

After much deliberation, Square also decided to implement voice acting into Final Fantasy X. Faced with the task of releasing the game to both Japanese and English speaking audiences, Square now needed to do more than translate text on the screen. In past games, Japanese to English translations often come off as unprofessional (such as the All Your Base phenomena). But thankfully, Square does an incredible job of bringing the Japanese to English text in quite well. And the English voice acting is also mostly stellar.

Tidus’s voice acting, done by James Arnold Taylor (who, like many of the voices actors, has only a brief history in this field), works out moderately well, all things considered. His voice can be too high and whiny at times, but that seems to fit his character. The lines of Hedy Burress, Yuna’s voice actor, are probably the game’s biggest fault in the voice acting department. Her dialog is very broken, slow, and uninteresting through most of the game. Luckily, the supporting cast does a remarkable job of picking up the slack. Auron’s voice acting, done by Matt McKenzie of the Final Fantasy movie, is probably the game’s best voice acting. Second to him, though is Tara Strong playing the voice of Rikku. Her experience in the world of cartoons such as The Powerpuff Girls pays off big, considering Rikku’s chirpy dialog and matching demeanor. Wakka, who sounds as if he’s spent a considerable amount of time in Jamaica, has some very strong voice acting. Kimahri and Lulu’s voice acting is nearly perfect.

Some of the game’s best voice acting is actually away from the game’s main characters. Many non-playable characters do a great job of conveying their lines, which is great; instead of avoiding bad dialog, you are actually interested in talking to the non-playable characters. The non-playable characters often contribute to the story, so it’s a good idea to check them out as often as possible. Many questions you’ll be asking yourself are often answered by a non-playable character.

Final Fantasy X’s story is always going to be debated as fiercely as each of the Final Fantasy storylines are. Final Fantasy X’s storyline is quite interesting during the fifty hours or so it should take most gamers to complete the game in. You’ll play the role of Tidus, the star blitzball player on the Zanarkand Abes, a popular team in the area. Blitzball is a mix of underwater soccer, rugby, and water polo. As the star, you’re quite the ladies’ man (as evidenced by the opening minutes of the game). But also as the star, you have quite a name to live up to. Your father was one of the best blitzers the game has ever seen, and you’re under constant comparison with him.

Blitzball seemingly links all walks of life together and all times together, much as the modern day Olympics tries to do. As the plot unfolds, you’ll add characters to your party and interact with familiar things, such as chocobos. A chocobo, for the unenlightened, is a giant yellow bird that has provided the basis of travel in Final Fantasy since the early 1990s.

Final Fantasy X drops the world map (Final Fantasy IX fans had to see this coming) in favor of a more fluid movement process through the game. While the lack of the world map is surely going to annoy some hardcore RPG players, it is a nice refreshing pace. The lack of a world map clears up some of the ambiguity found in many RPGs. You can still control an airship, and you can still choose your destinations, but the twist is slightly different without having a true world map to explore.

As a Final Fantasy game, gamers expect near perfect production values. Final Fantasy X doesn’t disappoint. The menu is great, allowing instant access to anything you need without spending too much time in the menu. A complaint of past Final Fantasy games is that the menu took too much time. Any painstaking time setting Espers or junctioning Guardian Forces is gone. The menu is actually fun to use now, and it becomes very useful later on in the game.

The standard system of HP and MP is still in place, but the idea of leveling up has changed quite a bit. Instead of simply leveling up, your characters will earn Sphere Levels. These Sphere Levels are then applied to a Sphere Grid. The Sphere Grid can almost be compared to a giant Monopoly board or something similar.

The Sphere Grid takes Final Fantasy X into a new direction, giving your characters almost full command over their destiny. Each character will start on a different location of the giant board, and every path is interconnected. For example, Lulu begins on the Black Mage section of the Sphere Grid. This section of the Grid contains many Magic stat increasing nodes; typical of black mages, this section contains very few HP increasing nodes. By spending your newly acquire Sphere Levels, you can move space by space on the Grid, activating various nodes to increase your statistics. Because Lulu spends most of the game on the Black Mage section, you’ll notice that her Magic will be very powerful but her HP will be significantly lower than most other characters. This can be remedied by traveling to another section of the Grid that contains more HP nodes.

Also along the Sphere Grid are abilities and magic attacks to learn. Many abilities from previous Final Fantasy games return; many of the new abilities introduced in Final Fantasy IX actually make a reappearance. The magic system, although simplified to four main elements, still contains more than enough spells. The Fire, Fira, Firaga naming system returns, with many of the spells you’d all expect, such as Thunder and Blizzard; Water is now a core element. Ultima, Holy, Cure, and the rest of the typical Final Fantasy spells are all here, too. Unique abilities such as Armor Break also show up.

The magic system, as mentioned before, is now simplified to the four elements of Fire, Blizzard, Thunder, and Water. This helps take away some of the guesswork you’ve grown accustomed to throughout the days of previous Final Fantasy games. Also removing some of the guesswork is the new and vastly improved battle system.

The new and improved battle system drops the stagnant Active Time Battles and replaces it with a turn-based system. This allows for quicker and more exciting battles. In the corner of the screen you’ll see a bar indicating the turn order for the next handful of turns. It eliminates any guesswork of who’s turn it is at any particular time. Of course, using spells such as Haste will change the indicator accordingly. Additionally, every attack has an associated “recoil time.” Using an item in battle results in much less recoil than using a magic spell does. The higher your Speed stat, the less recoil you take, consequently letting you attack quicker.

Also, Final Fantasy X introduces one of the greatest RPG gameplay and storytelling innovations in recent history: the active swap system. Any time during battle, you can swap an active character out for an inactive character, at no loss of turns. So if your team is Tidus, Auron, and Kimahri, and you need a white mage to heal you, simply swap one of them out for Yuna. After Yuna’s healing duty is done, switch your fighter back in. This adds unbelievable depth to the game, offering many more options and unique outcomes of every battle. This also makes gaining Sphere Levels easier; a character must simply participate in one attack to gain his equal share of Sphere Levels from the battle.

As a storytelling technique, this is almost invaluable. Instead of concentrating the story on simply three characters, the game can concentrate the story on all of your characters, because each one of them is always with you. Character development is made much easier and more believable since every character is always around the main character. Auron can always contribute his insightful dialog, because the game doesn’t need to worry about whether he is in your party or not. Final Fantasy IX picked up on this by allowing four characters in one party, but Final Fantasy X really puts it together flawlessly.

The new reworked battle system helps cut down on the annoyance of random encounters. The encounters are still present, but you’ll spend less time moaning about them because the battles are actually quite fun.

Summoning has also evolved. Almost based entirely off of Final Fantasy IX’s idea of limited summoning (only certain characters had the ability to summon), Yuna is the only character with powers to summon. Again, like Final Fantasy IX, this ties directly into the storyline. Yuna will spend the game traveling the world of Spira, acquiring new aeons/summons on her pilgrimage.

Once Yuna decides to summon an aeon, it becomes a playable character. Your own party steps back, and the summoned aeon steps forward to do the fighting. Each aeon has unique attacks and can learn magic spells and special abilities. And like your main characters, every aeon has a devastating Overdrive attack.

Overdrive attacks are derived from the Final Fantasy VII Limit Break system. As you take damage, your Overdrive gauge fills. Once filled, you can unleash a unique Overdrive attack. The Overdrive system also borrows from other Final Fantasy games, such as Final Fantasy IX, in that each character has a unique style of Overdrive. Kimahri’s Overdrive allows him to use Blue Magic; Lulu’s Overdrive allows her to cast multiple Black Magic spells by rotating the right analog stick. Auron’s Overdrives are reminiscent of Sabin’s Blitz Inputs (Final Fantasy VI) or Zell’s Desperation Attacks (Final Fantasy VIII); you need to input a button combination to pull them off. Other characters each handle the Overdrive system differently.

Final Fantasy X is very deep, and many of its best points are hidden and best left untold until you discover them yourself. There are too many side quests and hidden secrets to list, but many of them are varied and quite fun. The main diversion from the game is Blitzball. You can actually play the sport as a very fun minigame. With some improvements, Blitzball could easily stand as its own game. And while it’s still far from perfect, it’s the best Final Fantasy minigame in the series.

Playing blitzball is an RPG experience in itself. You gain traditional levels, stats, and techniques. Another exciting point is that you can also draft players to your team and sign them to contacts. Some players are inherently better than others, so it’s wise to take a look at a player’s ability before putting too much effort or money into him. One Blitzer, Datto, is extremely fast. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone as fast as him, so he’s most likely worth an investment.

It might be easy to overlook the very intricate and profound storyline of Final Fantasy X by all the substance around it. But Final Fantasy X’s true beauty falls on its touching characters and emotional cutscenes. Every time a Final Fantasy game is released, it will undoubtedly be compared to previous Final Fantasy games and other RPGs. So where does Final Fantasy X stack up? It’s hard to call. But one thing is certain; Final Fantasy X is easily the most enjoyable RPG in existence. Some could consider Final Fantasy X “too linear” or “too easy,” but that is not a fair analysis. Only after experience the game can you understand why Final Fantasy X contends for one of the best games of all time.

Simply beautiful.

A + … Presentation
Great load times, menus, translations. Final Fantasy X is testament to why Square remains supreme.

A + … Graphics
The best graphics to date. Enough said.

A + … Audio
A beautiful musical score with some very good voice acting. Some character voices could be improved, but the stellar performances of other characters overshadow any real problems with the voice acting.

A + … Gameplay
Final Fantasy has been rebuilt from the ground up. It works perfectly.

A + … Value
A long quest that only gets longer with every side quest.

A + … FINAL GRADE


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 12/15/02, Updated 12/15/02


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