Review by BigCj34

"No matter what hardware, Square sets the RPG benchmark once more for PS2."

Final Fantasy originated on the Famicom Disk system (think NES CD) in 1987. Square was a small company then and needed a golden classic if they were to survive. The president, Hironubu Sakaguchi, thought about an idea for a story telling epic RPG. It was a gamble. If it failed, it would be their Final Fantasy. Clearly, it was a success, duh, and Square became one of the most prolific developers in the world. Many more Final Fantasy games spawned out, Final Fantasy VII set the benchmark for PlayStation, followed by the prolific VIII and IX. FFX was the first PS2 Final Fantasy, it reached the UK in 2002.

A few years ago, I wouldn't have touched Final Fantasy with a barge-pole. Then I got recommended it by friends and I decided to try it FFVIII myself, and I thought it was really good (check out my review of it). Final Fantasy is not to everyone's taste, but you should try it by all means.

Final Fantasy has always been renowned for its story lines, and here it's no exception. The story is centralised on Tidus, who lives in the city of Zanarkand, a metropolis city, and is the star player of a world class blitzball team, the Zanarkand Abes. In the middle of playing a game, a tidal wave crashes through the city from the evil Sin. An old friend, Auron, disappeared the year before, and he came back to take Tidus through a portal, away from the crumbling city of Zanarkand. Auron leads him to Sin, taking him to 1000 years in the future as it would seem. Tidus ends up in the world Spira, a place of weep and sorrow from Sin, and a world capable of hi tech technology but not often used from destruction. Every dozen years he would cause chaos around the world, and pilgrims would go on a quest to defeat Sin. However, Sin would always come back, one person would have to be sacrificed at the end of a pilgrimage to be the next Sin. It ends up in a cycle, a spiral, hence Spira. Tidus is a dream in Spira, he is dreamed of by the fayth (spirits), and if the fayth stop dreaming, Tidus would be no more in Spira. After swimming through underwater ruins, Tidus ends up on an Al-Bhed ship, taken care of by Rikku. Tidus then ends up walking to Besaid Island, where he ends up meeting Wakka. Wakka leads him to Yuna, who has just learned the ancient art of Aeon summoning, and they set off on the same pilgrimage as many people have done before, with a twist…so Tidus can get back to his Zanarkand.

The story is indeed confusing and it unfolds as the game progresses, which makes the story so good. Instead of getting a cutscene of some dude wanting to take over the world so you go do loads of missions, then you see some crappy ending. This story is different, even if it does get boring at some times. The other special thing about the story is that it has been made so atmospheric. Square have even managed give a very cult feel in the game, religion, etc. The music hits the spot even if it isn't quite as good as some previous titles. Square have definitely made some hard work in the story and the atmosphere, but it just doesn't really make you that excited to be honest. It feels a bit boring sometimes, it gets repeatetive. It doesn't quite have that cinematic value as off Final Fantasy VIII, that had many twists and new things along. The story is indeed clever and well thought out, but it just isn't delivered too well.

When you play the game for the first time, it would be a slap in the face if you've just played earlier versions of FF. Not only do you get greeted with stunning graphics, but characters actually speak for the first time ever, and you get greeted with a sphere grid.

Moving on, the game, importantly, has a fantastic battle system. Sometimes it feels straightforward, but then it does dig deep down and it's a lot more flexible than you think, which can only be a good thing. Throughout the game, you aren't instantly greeted with attributes, junctioning, customising, but you steadily get shown that throughout the game. For example, Tidus just fights with his sword, then you will encounter Lulu, a black mage, and you learn how to do magic tricks, etc. The special thing about the game is that each character has a different role. Lulu specialises in black magic, Yuna is in charge of healing spells and Aeon summoning, Tidus is a quick hitter while Auron is a heavy hard-hitter, etc. This, inevitably means that you have to use all your characters throughout the game. Instead of having the same party of three gaining levels while the rest are neglected with level 20, etc. you have to use all your characters.

As I said, you have to use characters, and that's easily done in battle, as you can switch characters in battle by hitting L1, you're still only allowed 3 out at once. Weapons and armour can easily be changed in battle as well. If you want to use magic spells, you get a certain amount of MP, magic points. Each magic trick costs a certain amount of MP.

The ATB gauge has been scrapped in favour of the Conditional Turn Based battle. On Final Fantasy VIII, you could get attacked whilst you were selecting your move. Now you can take as long as you want! There are factors which affect characters turn orders, for example, if you have more agility, you get more turns than the enemy, but if you've been the victim of Slow you have less turns. In battle you also have the Sensor ability, so you don't have to keep Scanning an enemy. You will need Sensor equipped on a weapon to do see an enemies status. Some enemies can be immune to Sensor. As I said before you can summon. Only Yuna can summon aeon's, and this time you can decide what moves your aeon's can use. They start off with an attack move and a special move, but they can be customised later in the game if you want to teach them techniques.

If your character meets the conditions, they can use an overdrive. You usually have to do something to get the best results, for example you have to press a combination of buttons in a given time for Auron or line up a set of reels for Wakka's. Your overdrive charges if you get hit or something else, and when it reaches to max you can use it. You can change the mode so it charges when you attack the enemy or something.

Instead of leveling up, there is a quirky feature called the Sphere Grid. I personally thought it was a great feature, because you can customise it to your own use. If you got some exp in a battle, you get a Sphere Level. You can use it to move on your grid. If you had 5 sphere levels you could move 5 places on the grid. Each place you move to is called a node. Many nodes can be activated with a sphere, giving you an increase in stats or giving you an ability. There are 4 types of spheres, plus the rare fortune sphere for luck stats. Each character has their own area on the sphere grid, so Lulu has mainly magic stats, and Auron's is strength. Kimahri has only a small sphere grid, so he's an all rounder, so you can make him a mage, or a strong fighter. You can have characters move to other people's sections of the sphere grid, but that makes all the characters the same. You can put in your own strength spheres, etc. if you want to customise it yourself.

Aside from the battle system, the game always has some puzzles and challenges throughout the game. In every temple, you receive a new aeon by having done the Clositer of Trials, which involves using and placing the appropriate spheres in the right places. There are many side quests to do, but only really when you get the airship. Most of them are keys to getting the Celestial Weapons, like having to get a certain time in a chocobo race, or collecting a certain number of butterflies in a time limit. There isn't much on chocobo's this time round. In the Calm Lands and Mi'ihen Highroad you can ride a chocobo, and do some courses in the Calm Lands, but that doesn't account to much. The Monster Arena is also available, you have to capture monsters in the game and you can unlock new, really challenging ones.

Perhaps the most time-consuming mini-game you'll find is Blitzball. There is a long tutorial but it's not long before you get the grips. Basically, it's a team game of 6 players, one is a goal keeper. It's more like a trading card game than a sport. Players have attributes, like shooting, endurance, passing, etc. If a player was encountered by another player, and he chose to shoot, if his shooting was highe than his blocking, he would shoot without suceeding. His shooting would be decreased by his blocking, and it reduces while moving towards goal. If his remaining SH was higher than the keepers catching, he would score, otherwise the keeper would catch it. You can equip techniques, like Venom Pass, and the like. All over Spira, you can recruit new Blitzball players, pressing square reveals if they play Blitzball or not. Once you get to grips with the game, it can become quite an addictive game you'll want to play every time you play the game. It can be accessed at every Save Sphere after you play your first game. It does get a bit tedious and boring, but when players get better it does become more of a challenge!

Soi is this game perfect? Well, no. First off, there is no world map making it a very linear game to play. All you're doing is going from Besaid to Zanarkand (the Spira Zanarkand is a ruin). Obviously you do stop at many towns and places, but only after 80 hours of play the game becomes more accessible, once you get the airship. You can find new places by the airship as well as visiting old ones, but there isn't the joy of doing side quests when you want, it's just a case of doing all the story bit, then doing all the side quests, then beating Sin.

The way the characters are presented is a bit flimsy. Only two characters really change. Tidus is an immature character that doesn't have time to wait, and Yuna is a quiet, naïve person. They grow in confidence. The rest stay the same. All the characters seem to be just common stereotypes, for example Wakka seems to be a typical black guy, as he doesn't speak very good English. Rikku is a typical American cheerleader, Lulu's very gothic in style, etc. Their personalities just all stay the same.

Last of all, the random battles can be a chore. Yes, you do have to do them to level up, but if you're looking around trying to find an item and you get loads of random battles, it does get annoying. Fortunately you can get a No Encounters ability for weapons.

Visually, this game is stunning. I've never seen anything like it. The facial emotions are absolutely amazing. All you would need to do is just watch a cut-scene and see how true to life it is. The game is more cinematic than ever, as close-ups on the face can be done easily, and not having to risk what it would be like seeing a pixel map of Squall or someone. However, the lip-synching isn't done well at all, that could've easily been changed. There has been so much thought put into the game's graphics. For example, you're walking through Besaid to get to the beach. The lighting effects have been done superbly, the grass blows swiftly through the wind, and you hear the brisk of waterfalls. Even in temples, so much thought has been put in. As I said before, the game feels quite religious, but so many patterns and effects, make this game a work of art. What's more, there are even better looking FMV's, that are true to life as usual. Before some would say that the FMV's are awesome (3 lines of description later) and the in game graphics are okay, just a bit pixelated. The only problems are that the animation gets a bit shaky, a close up on Tidus's face and it shakes a bit. Also the pre-rendered backgrounds, which we would marvel at on FFVIII, VII, etc., now seem a bit ugly when there is now moving backgrounds. The hardware of PS2 really has added a dimension to FFX, setting a benchmark for other RPG's.

Final Fantasy X has a pretty good soundtrack. In a game, the music really does set the mood to play, for suspense, etc. Here it is quite well done. The battle music is good although it can get boring at times. The music isn't quite as good as it could've been in some parts (boss music) and that the music doesn't really make you emotional, but otherwise it's well done.

For he first time ever characters speak, well the main characters do anyway. As I said before, the game has more close ups to faces, but the voice acting adds the real cinematic value. In fact you don't really need the FMV's to express emotions and scenes, as the in-game graphics are good enough for sequences themselves. The voices are full of expression, but the problem is the timing, which is poor. Lets say that Auron calmly says one of his words of wisdom, Tidus or Rikku splurts out with one of their “what if's.” Instead of that being in the middle, it takes a second for them to speak. It may not sound bad, but it really doesn't feel very film like.

For the life span, I'll give you 3 guesses. You guessed yet? Well you probably guessed that it's absolutely massive. If you absolutely cut every corner as possible, and not do any sidequests, it'll take you 30 hours, like someone I know. Why does he? Because he says the story is important. If you do do some sidequests now and then but don't plan to go too hardcore it'll take you 100 hours. If you do everything it'll take you over 200 hours! Just like I did, almost.

Summary

Graphics Absolutely stunning, feels really atmospheric and amazing light effects. Fantastic facial emotions, but close ups get a bit shaky. 10/10
Sound Very good music and voice acting even if badly timed. 8/10
Gameplay Very good battle system and very flexible. Sphere grid is original, but it's too linear. 9/10
Length If you perservere, it could take up to a year. For an average Joe you'll get glued for a few months. 10/10

A fantastic first PS2 Final Fantasy setting standards again. The story line is well thought out but unfortunately it hasn't been delivered as well as it could, making parts a bit boring. However, fantastic graphics, great soundtrack and a flexible, easy to learn battle system make this a must for any Final Fantasy fan.

Score 9/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/07/05


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