Review by VCBlue

"Super spher-ific."

You're Tidus, the star player of the Zanarkand Abes blitzball team. One day, a terrifying creature named Sin appears and smashes across your city while you kick a blitzball into the sky - and as it gets closer and closer, you try to escape. You run across the futuristic highways of your city, and meet a man named Auron who tells you that your ''story'' has just begun. Your... story? Before anything else occurs, Auron throws you into Sin - and as you open your eyes, you wake up in a world called Spira. Join Yuna, a summoner destined to defeat this ''Sin'' once and for all - and find out about the whereabouts of your ''lost'' home, apparently destroyed for 1000 years now. Join the many companions that will help you fight this ''Sin'', and help save the world in its entirety. This is Final Fantasy X - the combination of superb graphics, a powerful score by Nobuo Uematsu, and an incredible battle system - the perfect mix for an near ''perfect'' game.

What's notable in X is that the battle system is a complete change from previous Final Fantasy games. Introduce yourself to the ''Sphere Grid'', one that replaces the old system of ''leveling up''. The idea is that instead of just gaining levels, you gain experience points that result in quicker level ups, giving you something called Sphere Levels. The idea is that the Sphere Grid is actually a large 2-D board with circular spaces that your character can move from and to. By gaining Sphere Levels, you'll be able to move from space to space (one S.Level per space move), in a board game sort of manner. The majority of spaces in the game are filled with various features - for example, a space that increases Strength by 3, or an ability space that teaches you Fira. In fact, the entire game's battle system is based on this Sphere Grid - all magic spells are learnt on the Grid. What if you don't use the Grid? You'll be a static character equivalent to ''Level 1'' on the leveling system. This was a very addictive system, in my opinion - Sphere Levels are gained easily, and the complexion of having to choose different paths on the Grid makes it all even more ''creative'', or ''customizable''. This is further complicated by the fact that there's only *one* Sphere Grid - that means all the characters have a certain starting location on the Grid - but it also means that once a character moves to the end of his/her area on the Grid, he/she can enter the next character's. It allows for a very customizable character, something that adds to the depth of creating a unique party. Oh, but before I forget, you can only learn new abilities or increase stats by using certain ''spheres'' dropped by enemies - Ability Spheres, or Power Spheres, for example. Luckily, this never becomes an issue in the game - almost *every* enemy you fight will normally drop 2 to 5 of each type of sphere available. Keeping in mind that there aren't a lot of sphere types, the idea of using Spheres becomes not a problem at all - and, because of the low demand for them, becomes almost useless. Though it can't really hurt though.

The actual ''battles'' in the game work very much like past Final Fantasy games - by utilizing the random battle system! In these battles, you control a party of three characters, who fight in a turn-based format. The difference, however, lies in the fact that you can view a ''queue'' of character and monster turns in the top right-corner of the screen. What this means is that you can tell *when* the next monster will attack, giving you a chance to completely plan and think your actions! This in my opinion was a definite positive, especially since Square had abandoned the Active Time battle system. The game also allows you to switch characters in battle - by pressing L1, you'll get a list of the characters available to switch, and they'll pop in immediately. It sounds tedious, doesn't it? It isn't - the switch is quick, and quick enough that you'll be able to do it every battle. Every battle, in fact - because in order for a character to gain *any* experience at all, they need to participate at least once in the battle. Then, at the end of the battle, each character will gain an equal amount of experience. This was a positive, I suppose - at some points, it seems like you need to pop in the weak character for a turn, but at most times each character will have a unique ability to contribute. Also, this ''equal experience'' factor helps the fact that there are too many characters to train - seven, in fact. It would be almost *too* time-consuming to train characters if they gained little experience for only one turn of participation.

In terms of the actual ''moves'' in battle, there's quite a bit - Attack, Special, Ability, White and Black Magic, as well as the Item command. In fact, there's almost too much - but onto the features, first. ''Special'' features a list of abilities specific to that character, ''Ability'' is a list of abilities all characters can probably acquire on their side of the Sphere Grid - and White and Black Magic are self-explanatory spells (White dealing mainly with healing, Black dealing with hurting). The problem arises, however, because of how most of the abilities in the game are almost useless - there really is no separation between ''Special'' abilities and standard abilities, because of the usefulness of each spell. ''Pray'', Yuna's special ability, heals all characters a mere 100 to 150 HP throughout the game, an ability that becomes very useless at about the halfway point of the game. ''Focus'' and ''Reflex'' are spells of Lulu, the black mage, that increase ''Magic'' and ''Magic Defense'' for the party. But they too have almost no use - Yuna and Lulu are the only magic casters for the most part, and the increase in Magic isn't anything significant. And ''Magic Defense''? Almost every difficult enemy in this game will use their own abilities - and no, they can't be shielded by a boost in Magic Defense. Which is to say, overall, that other than abilities such as ''Steal'' and ''Lancet'', there really is no use for a lot of the abilities in the game.

Nevertheless, the battle system is a ''smashingly'' good one. One last feature in this battle system is the ''Overdrive'' mode, one that will remind many of the ''Limit Breaks'' and ''Desperation'' attacks of past FF games. By filling up a certain bar to the max (determined by various ''Overdrive'' modes - getting hit, for example), you'll be able to perform a special move. Many players of past FF games will remember ''Enemy Skills'' - well, by using Kimahri's ''Lancet'' ability on certain enemies, you'll be able to learn their abilities! Speaking of which, these very abilities are then used in his ''special attack'' (Overdrive). Other Overdrives in the game add quite the level of creativity - Rikku's, for example, allows you to mix any two items in your inventory for a truly bizarre attack! And it's interesting that at the same time, these creative Overdrives mean a lot to the overall strategy in the game - Rikku's Mix can be effective against the super-bosses in the game if you combine two ultra-rare items together, for example. Overall, the battle system and Overdrives in X stand out as perhaps the best, in my opinion, of the entire series - and that's saying a lot (positively).

Yuna, the summoner, must defeat Sin - and in order to do so, she must pray at every temple in Spira before obtaining the final ''Aeon''. Many of you may be familiar with Aeons - remember GFs, Espers, or ''summons''? In X, Yuna can summon Aeons during battles, and in this game the Aeon is given HP and MP, not to mention the fact that you have complete control over the Aeon's moves! Whenever she summons an Aeon, your three characters pull back and the Aeon steps forth - each one with its own unique Overdrive, its own ''Special'' ability, as well as the ability to perform White and Black Magic. From a Final Fantasy perspective, it was almost ''incredible'' just to be able to control these Aeons. But overall, after the first time or so, it's almost never necessary to use Aeons - it's very tedious to call them, considering the time taken to summon them. Even when the Aeon's ''entrance'' mode is set to ''Short'', it still takes a considerable amount of time for them to enter the scene. This made it very annoying at times, and makes it almost useless to use Aeons, considering many attacks can already be performed before an Aeon arrives (saving more time).

What's interesting is how Square tries to make up for what seems incredibly linear - it's true that Yuna only has to enter a set number of temples before eventually obtaining the ''Final Aeon''. But one of the things Square does to make up for this is the inclusion of the ''Cloister of Trials'' - a puzzle that the gamer must solve before completing a temple (and gaining the next Aeon). In my opinion, this ''puzzle'' set *was* in fact, quite difficult - having been an experienced gamer, I thought many of the puzzles would be ''dumbed'' down to the point that everyone would be able to solve them - but in fact, the variety of pushing blocks and putting spheres in certain places was quite difficult - almost too difficult at times! Overall, it gives me the impression that Square wanted to impress the gamer in almost every way - and it does so quite nicely with these puzzles.

But perhaps the largest ''mini-game'' available in X that I haven't mentioned yet is Blitzball. Imagine controlling a team of players in a water sphere, playing a game of water polo with the offensive/defensive strategies of soccer. Blitzball resembles this combination of sports - the idea is to score more goals than the opponent's team, while utilizing many strategies as well. The idea of entering the opponent's defense and scoring is complicated by the concept of encounters - when you run into an enemy player, you have a choice of breaking through, or to take a hit that'll hopefully leave the opponent still while you swim past him/her. This game is highly based on mathematics - stats determine whether you score a goal or not, and whether you'll be able to break through the opponent or not - is your ''tackle'' ability stat less than the opponent's ''blocking'' stat? Pass the ball if you have a high passing stat, so you don't have to be crushed by a big blocker. Blitzball is arguably the largest Final Fantasy mini-game ever, and that is due to this very large and strategic concept. The problem arises, however, because there truly is no gain from playing blitzball in the game. Remember past FF mini-games? FFVIII, for example, had a card game in which rare cards could later be transformed into various rare items (including the famous ''Holy War'' item that granted temporary invincibility to your party). Blitzball tournaments throughout the game give small items that can be obtained very easily - and in such a way, you can very well complete the game without having to play blitzball at all. I don't, however, have a gripe about blitzball's gameplay - in fact, that's an understatement. Blitzball is an incredibly addictive game that truly defines itself well enough as a ''game'' within a ''game''.

RPG fans will be pleased to see that FFX has a variety of side-quests available. Back are side-quest dungeons featuring secret bosses, a new chocobo racing game, as well as a ''Monster Arena'' side-quest that allows you to catch monsters, eventually leading to monster ''creations'' that include some of the super-bosses of the game! In terms of replayability, this game survives because of its vast variety of side-quests. Most of these side-quests are incredibly hard to perform, and require a lot of time to complete. But in my opinion, that's exactly what makes this game extremely replayable - to the point that more time was spent doing sidequests than on playing the game beginning to end.

Unlike previous Final Fantasy games, X is the first to have in-game voiceovers. And in my opinion, they were done well, for the most part. You can understand the character's voices, as the voices fit their corresponding character quite well - which is to say, of course, that X was a very ''cinematic'' feel overall. The graphics in this series continue to impress - it's three-dimensional, the characters and their faces are extremely detailed - my only gripe is with their facial expressions. At some times, the voices don't match the movement of the character's mouths. In terms of the images that X presents, it's a fresh and imaginative wonder. Zanarkand's bright lights fill up the city as Tidus runs on the highway - you can see the colorful, futuristic airship as it flies by Luca, the large blitzball city you just walked by - and dropped your jaws at. The graphics in X are highly impressive, and in my opinion stands as a class example to all second-generation PS2 games.

If you've been a fan of Nobuo Uematsu's genius works of music, you're probably wondering - how does the *music* in X fare? Quite beautifully - the sounds definitely ''fit the scene'' in this game. You can hear the soft piano sounds of ''To Zanarkand'' as the game's characters sit across the fireplace in the introduction, or the optimistic sounds of ''Sprouting'' after having traveled so far in your journey. Or how about the heavy metal clashes of ''Other World'', a track that definitely sets the theme for blitzball? The music in X is notably different from past FF games - but nevertheless, it stands as one of the game's many strong factors.

For the last Final Fantasy project Hironobu Sakaguchi will work on, Final Fantasy X is certainly a way to leave the series - with an impressively designed battle system, an intriguing plot, almost revolutionary graphics, all while the genius sounds of Nobuo's work plays. How about a classic ''Victory Fanfare''?


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/31/03


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