Review by MalachiX
"The Best RPG on the PS2"
Few would argue that there is something special about the Final Fantasy games. The series has been going strong for more than 10 years now and the anticipation that comes with each new chapter is of a magnitude usually reserved for Nintendo’s elite. Final Fantasy X came at a time when this reviewer was wondering whether Square still possessed the magic of old. It would be the first chapter not produced by the series’ creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and Square’s first PS2 efforts were not exactly encouraging. After logging nearly 70 hours into this little gem, I can safely say that FFX has restored my faith in Square and RPGs in general. It manages to be fresh and innovative while somehow retaining everything that I love about the series (with the possible exception of a world map).
The Final Fantasy series has a long tradition of epic storylines and well-developed characters and FFX is no exception. Final Fantasy X starts with the entire party gathered around a fire. Tidus, the game’s protagonist, goes off on his own and stares out at the ocean. “This is my story,” he says and begins to recant the game’s plot. This is the first time that such a narrative style has been seen in a Final Fantasy game and it works surprisingly well. Tidus’s tale begins with a game of blitzball, an underwater game that is somewhere between hockey, basketball, and soccer. Tidus lives in a futuristic city called Zanarkand and is it’s star blitzball player. Just as the game gets under way, a huge organic life form attacks the city and destroys the stadium. During the attack, Tidus runs into his mentor, a sword wielding badass named Auron, who tells him that the creature is known as Sin. The attack continues and Tidus appears to be sucked into Sin and then blacks out. When Tidus awakes, he finds himself in a new world known as Spira. The people of this world are also plagued by the creature Sin but tell Tidus that it destroyed Zanarkand over 1000 years ago. The only way that the people know how to combat Sin is by having a summoner perform the grand summon which defeats it for a short time known as the calm. Tidus embarks on a quest with the young summoner Yuna to destroy Sin and hopefully find his way home.
Saying anymore could ruin what is one of the best RPG plots I’ve hear in a while. FFX’s plot, while not quite as complex as those seen in FFVII or Xenogears, manages to be more powerful. Rather than focus on countless mysteries and plot twists, FFX prefers to engage the player emotionally as few other titles have. The game deals with such ideas as rebelling against authority and refusal to give into fate. There characters start out by trusting the gospel of Yevon, the rulers and religious leaders of Spira, but come to realize that the order is corrupt. The game also has perhaps the most somber tone I’ve seen in the series. The people of Spira live their lives knowing that, no matter how many times it is defeated, Sin will come back and reek havoc once more. By making this story a bit simpler than some other Square titles, they have managed to make it far more moving. That’s not to say that FFX doesn’t have it’s share of surprises but it seems as though Square decided it was time to take the series in a different, and in many ways, more mature direction.
The only real flaw of the story is that it peters out in the last two hours. Despite the wonderfully emotional ending, the finale seems somewhat unsatisfying. Certain questions are left unanswered and parts of the back-story aren’t sufficiently explained. The game also follows the recent trend of Final Fantasy games having surprise bosses that seem to come out of no-where. This is especially disappointing in FFX since the second to last boss fight is spectacular and the last feels incredibly anti-climactic.
The characters manage to be just as special if not more so. Each character feels completely unique and receives a surprising amount of development. Wakka is one of the friendliest characters in the game but he also blindly follows Yevon and is quite a racist as well. Through the game we see him give these things up and grow as a person. The biggest change can be seen in Tidus who begins the story as a naive and rather self-centered athlete but comes to acknowledge the enormity of his quest and is willing to give his life for it. FFX also happens to be the first Final Fantasy to have voice acting and, I must say, that it has turned out far better than I could have hoped for. While there are some awkward moments and a few translation problems, the voices fit the characters perfectly and really help them feel more real than any Final Fantasy to date. Voice acting also allows for things that simply wouldn’t have worked in previous Square RPGs. The games narration, for instance, wouldn’t have been effective if Tidus didn’t sound significantly more mature than the seeming airhead we see at the beginning of the game. If there is a major complaint about the voices however, it is in the lip-synching. Though the dialogue is in English, the characters’ mouths still move in Japanese and it simply doesn’t look natural.
Perhaps the biggest shake up that FFX brings is the battle system. To begin with, Square has finally decided to ditch the ATB bar that was introduced in FFIV. The players can now see the orders that each character will attack and this vastly adds to the strategy. Players can now substitute character in and out of battle at will. Like many of FFX’s innovations, I was skeptical of this at first but have found it works wonders. Not only does this mean that leveling up is made easier, it also ensures that every member of your party can serve a purpose.
For a long time, there has been a debate raging among Final Fantasy fans concerning the how the battle system should be handled. Some fans want a battle system where every character is unique and has their own skills such as in FFIV or FFVI. Others like to have the ability to customize their characters as in FFV or FFVII. FFX manages to be the best of both worlds. Each character progresses on what is called the Sphere grid. The grid contains stat upgrades as well as new abilities and types of magic. When the game begins, the characters are restricted to their own portion of the grid meaning they must first learn a their own basic set of skills. As the game progresses however, the characters can branch off into other parts of the grid and swap places. Because of their separate weapons, each character has certain advantages and disadvantages against different monsters. This system allows for nearly limitless customization but not at the cost of character individuality. Very impressive indeed. One cool little tidbit is that characters now speak during battle. They might say something before killing an enemy or cheer each other on. This can get a bit tedious as time goes on but it’s a cool addition nevertheless.
One thing that will no doubt upset Square fans about FFX is the lack of a world map. Instead of traveling in the traditional way, players simply go from one location to the next with no exploration. Late in the game, the player gets an airship and has the option to re-visit any previous areas in order to go on mini quests. While it’s a big frustrating, this new system really isn’t that big of a change as one might think. The Final Fantasy series has always been an incredibly linear one. It can be said in fact that FFX doesn’t destroy the freedom of previous installments but just the illusion of freedom.
The mini games in FFX are a mixed bag. On the one hand, Blitzball is incredibly deep and could function as a stand-alone product in itself. You can recruit people from all over Spira to play on your team and your players gain experience and learn new techniques as the game continues. Unfortunately, while Blitzball is a blast, the rest of the minigames and miniquests are surprisingly tedious. I’m talking about stuff like capturing every freaking monster in the game or spending two hours trying to dodge 500 consecutive lightning bolts. Every RPG has one miniquest that takes hours to complete and the player thanks God when it’s done. In FFX, each miniquests is like this.
Graphically, FFX is one of the most impressive games on the PS2. The worlds are lush with detailed textures and high polygon counts. Each character has two polygon models. One model is used during gameplay and another is used for in game cut scenes. The cut scene models look simply amazing and have, without a doubt, the most detailed faces I’ve seen on videogame characters. This also happens to be the first fully 3D Final Fantasy. This choice is defiantly for the best. Square RPGs have always had highly cinematic aspirations and the move to 3D gives Square a totally free camera that they gleefully place wherever they want. This is the closest Square has come to fusing their RPGs with major motion pictures and it is often quite a sight to behold. I don’t even think I need to mention that the pre-rendered FMVs, as usual, look incredible.
Musically, FFX is somewhat a departure for the series. Composer Nobuo Uematsu now shares the stage with two other composers and the result is one of the most varied sound tracks I’ve seen in a Square game. Thankfully, while the music may break some new territory for the company, it’s still up to the incredibly high standards they have always had. I never thought I’d hear heavy metal in a Square game but I sure like it.
Final Fantasy X manages to simply do everything right. It combines nearly all the best aspects of previous Final Fantasy games while managing to redefine the series and bring it into the next generation. Not only is it easily the best RPG on the PS2 but it may well be the greatest chapter in the series and the greatest RPG ever created.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 12/27/02, Updated 12/27/02
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