Review by edwardcc7

"A landmark for storytelling in video games"

This "game" perhaps has closer kinship to works of fantasy fiction literature than it does to the popular conception of what a video game is supposed to be. This is not Mario or Tetris. Final Fantasy X is a story, first and foremost. Browse through any number of other reviews (and I realize that I am merely adding to a long list of them), and you will find that the attitude of the reviewer towards the entire game most strongly correlates with the reviewer's taste for the story. This is in spite of the fact that Final Fantasy X sports a more strategic combat system than any previous Final Fantasy game other than FF Tactics. This is in spite of the fact that the graphics are timelessly superb. This is in spite of the groundbreaking character advancement and customization system. Go to the YouTube website and look up Final Fantasy X - people aren't sharing videos of the gameplay, they're sharing music videos depicting the characters and the most nostalgic story sequences. This is a game in which the interaction of the player with the game world - the gameplay - is merely a complex diversion that makes each chapter of the story more rewarding simply because the player must apply some work to get there.

So let's get down to business:

STORY - 10
The story isn't for everyone, and some people even hate it, but on its own merits, the story of Final Fantasy X deserves a notable place in any list of outstanding, teen-oriented, fantasy fiction literature. The main character and champion "blitzball" player, Tidus, finds himself transported one thousand years into the future to a mysterious land called Spira after he encounters the city-destroying creature known as "Sin." Yes, "Sin," among many other very obvious religious references, such as the "pilgrimage" that is the game's pretext for having you travel from one "temple" to another, or such as "Yevon" to whom the people of Spira address their prayers, or such as the summoner Yuna who sends the spirits of the dead to their final resting place, and the list goes on. Anyone who enjoys analyzing complex and philosophical symbolism in literature will find plenty of food for thought in this game.

The brilliant religion-based symbolism of the story serves as the foundation, the basis on which the plot slowly develops. Through the first half of the game or more, the player might suspect that the game will conclude with some sort of metaphorical glorification of Christianity. But this story is much more original, complex, and surprising than that. Final Fantasy X ultimately belongs among the works of religious criticism and is generally more profound and provocative than all but a few of the innumerable literary endorsements for any religion. Those who are familiar with these trends in literature know that this is a very lofty compliment. If video games were popular or at least better-known among professional theologists or even literary scholars, then this game would be denounced as blasphemous from every corner of the world. On a bookshelf, such a story would receive its notoriety - favorable and unfavorable - for its daring radicalism. It is all the more astonishing to find such a story in a video game.

However, most of the key metaphors for religion in the story, even the most blatantly obvious ones, go completely unnoticed by the typical gamer who plays games in the same way that most people watch television: with brain turned off. Also, you must actually finish or come very close to finishing the game in order to learn the most compelling elements of the story, and many gamers will not have the time or even the determination to do so. But even these unfortunate gamers, for the most part, cannot avoid being seduced by the mystery of the plot or the charm of the characters. Granted, the dialogue between the characters is quite amateurish in comparison to most novels, let alone most made-for-TV movies, but it is just adequate enough not to detract much from the overall quality of the story. The sense of unraveling a great mystery in a high fantasy setting is fully immersing and entertaining even to those who do not notice or choose to ignore the deeper symbolism. While most of the characters derive their charm from fairly static cliches, each of the playable characters is given just enough background story to avoid being one-dimensional, and the most prominent characters undergo significant transformations. The relationship between Tidus and his father, and the resolution of their relationship, is both moving and provocative. The fantastic surprises in the plot are much more enjoyable than the typical "bad guys turning out to be good" and "good guys turning out to be bad" surprises. With only two big exceptions - metaphorical exceptions of great significance - the list of "good guys" and "bad guys" is actually about as predictable as possible. Most fans of this game absolutely love the characters, with Tidus receiving the most criticism mainly due to the voice acting in the English version. Unlike most fans, I personally did not become attached to any of the characters and yet this did not prevent me from thoroughly enjoying the story.

In substantially fewer words, Final Fantasy X is a landmark for storytelling in video games. The story is much, much deeper than it needs to be. There are numerous flaws and shortcomings that could be mentioned, but doing so would be superfluous. The game will cost you fifty hours of your life, but if you're accustomed to reading long novels, then you know that fifty hours invested in a good story is worthwhile work.

Combine one of the most strategic battle systems of all the Final Fantasy games with the near-complete absence of anything resembling "exploration," and you get an extremely one-sided gameplay experience compared to most RPG's. It must be noted, however, that the "one side" of the gameplay is done well enough to make it outshine numerous other games that attempt to do more and yet fall short on all fronts.

The random battles are much better than the standard attack-heal-attack-heal pattern of most other RPG's (ahem, Dragon Quest VIII). The player must effectively account for the strengths and weaknesses of both allies and enemies, and doing so requires making use of a wide variety of abilities. Many of these skills are old news to veterans of the series, but in this game, unlike many others, nearly every skill is consistently useful or necessary. Character turns in battle are predetermined by the relative quickness of the characters and the turn order is displayed on the battle screen, granting the player clear advance knowledge of the turn order for every ally and enemy. The player's battle party can have only three characters at a time, but the other characters can be swapped into battle individually without losing a turn, and this swapping feature adds another layer of strategy.

Character advancement is much more involved, and initially much more confusing, than the traditional leveling system. By taking a turn in battle, characters earn "AP" that eventually increases their "sphere level" which determines the number of "nodes" that they can "travel" to advance their position on an attribute-enhancing "sphere grid." To "activate" a "node," the player must use a "sphere" that corresponds to the type of attribute that the "node" will enhance. Understand? Believe it or not, this system actually starts to feel like second nature after awhile. "Activating" the various enhancements yourself, rather than watching the typical, automatic enhancements that occur is most RPG's, makes these enhancements feel more significant, but this is truly complexity for the sake of complexity.

And the combined complexity of the battle system and the "sphere grid" are absolutely necessary to compensate for the extraordinary lack of exploration! There is no getting lost, no navigation skills required, and even very few decisions regarding simple questions like, "should I go left or right?" There is no real "overworld map" to explore, none of the standard dungeons with numerous rooms and hallways and stairways. With the exception of boss battles and story scenes, the entire game works like this: (1) Move your party directly from point A to point B, engaging in random battles along the way, (2) solve a little puzzle in a temple, (3) repeat the process. The act of deliberately moving the party from one temple to another could be completely removed from this game without having the slightest impact on the gameplay; the game designers could have opted to program an animation of the party running through the scenery with random battles interspersed. This is not inherently a "flaw," but it is an aspect of the game that makes the interactive experience more one-sided than a number of RPG's.

I dislike reviews that talk about graphics. You're on the internet, go look at a picture.

In my opinion, Final Fantasy VI, VII, and VIII set the standard for video game soundtracks, and this game can't deliver the same relevance in the music department. The voice acting, while good for a video game, is laughable to anyone who hears it under the impression that you're just watching a TV show. But, again, you're on the internet, download some free video with sound and make up your own mind.

I like this category because I like to know how much game time I can happily derive from my purchase. Some games have lots of replay value, some have none, some games take fifty hours to finish, some take five. I doubt that most people would be willing to play through this fifty-hour game more than once. Twice was more than enough for me. But fifty hours of entertainment, a solid portion of which requires active, strategic participation, is great value, especially considering the great story. While Final Fantasy X can't really compete with the games that drain months off your life, this is undeniably a superb quantity of gaming for the dollar.

There are only two things keeping this game from having an overall perfect score. First, the actual gameplay is quite limited. In the enthusiasm of learning the next chapter of the story, the gameplay can sometimes feel like an unwanted obstacle, however well designed. Second, the outstanding qualities of the game immediately raise the possibility that all video games can be so much better. If a game can deliver a story of this quality, then why can't a game deliver a story with the depth of a Shakespearian tragedy? Why can't a gamer have the ability to participate more actively and meaningfully in such a great story, even within a fixed plot? AND how do all of these monsters come out of nowhere?

Final Fantasy X is an excellent piece of work. Any gamer with an interest in fantasy fiction should play it, and any reader of fantasy fiction with an interest in games should play it. I must admit that I didn't feel very strongly for the game until I had played through a substantial portion of it and gained a better sense of its underlying depth. Others will find themselves swept up in the mystery right away and loving it from the start. Some will have no appreciation for the game at all. But this game has a great deal to appreciate. If nothing else, it shines a bright light on the potential of what games can be in the future.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/05/06

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