Review by _Spin_Cycle_

"A Beautiful, Masterful, Underrated RPG."

Final Fantasy X...this game was a landmark in my gaming career. It marked the moment that I decided I was going to go "next-gen" and pick up a PlayStation 2 from my local game retailer. It marked the moment that I began to mature in my gaming habits, looking for a great story and excellent music rather than for remote humor or massive gore. It also marked the moment in time where I, a regular RPG fan, became blissful in knowing that Squaresoft had succeeded again, and would continue to succeed for many years to come.

Unfortunately, that last part wasn't exactly true. Since Square merged with Enix, things haven't been the same. The magic that once graced most every Squaresoft title just isn't there in Square Enix games. Regardless, Final Fantasy X was an extremely pleasant awakening for me as a gamer.

The next-generation scene was questionable: the PlayStation 2 had started its career by boasting unbelievable graphical capabilities, and, although we later learned that the Gamecube had the faster processor, every gamer began to focus on graphics a little more than they had before. Games on the Gamecube simply didn't seem to match up, again, before we knew much about specs. Plus, the PS2 pressed media attention by adding the DVD/CD feature to the console, making it a true home entertainment system. It was a confusing time to be a gamer. You had to know what was important to you: graphics, tons of gimmicks, new features, or standard, classic gameplay.

To me, Final Fantasy X was the lighthouse that guided me, a gamer, to my rightful shoreline.

The graphics in this game are simply breathtaking. Landscapes are lush, battle sequences are speedy and full of choreographic excellence, and in-game effects are incredible to look at. Of course, it wouldn't be a Squaresoft game without incredible FMVs to help tell the story, and this game delivered more than I expected. Water effects were brilliantly done, special effects made the game really feel like a "fantasy" adventure...I could go on and on.

More importantly, the graphics in FFX set the standard for many games to come. Games such as Devil May Cry and Metal Gear Solid 2 were pretty much expected to look either as good as FFX or better, simply because of the standard FFX's beauty set for gamers.

Nobuo Uematsu, over the years as an RPG gamer, had slowly creeped up my list of favorite Japanese composers. Final Fantasy X put Uematsu squarely in first place of that list. The soundtrack is gorgeous. I can't stress this enough. The soundtrack is gorgeous.

Now, I always say this in my reviews during the "Music" section: I am a professional musician, so game music takes a bit longer to settle with me than it would for the average gamer. I like to critique every little note until I can decide whether it fits or whether it doesn't. Final Fantasy X's soundtrack captured me from the very opening of the game with the piano solo "To Zanarkand," which Uematsu later said was "one of his greatest works." The FFX soundtrack slipped past my critical ear and simply let me enjoy it. Everything was perfect. From the opening piano solo to the ending theme, the orchestral arrangements are a perfect example of epic music for an epic game.

Uematsu used some unique ideas in his pieces this time around. He really went all out. After I learned that Uematsu quit his position at Square to start a company, I wondered if Uematsu had known that he was about to leave while he was writing FFX's soundtrack, because it's absolutely his best work. The battle music is so different and unique from his other battle themes. The 6/8 feel works beautifully. The final battle theme is epic, the ending theme is amazing...I just can't get over it. I own three copies of this soundtrack, each one being different editions, and I still listen to it.

Voice acting is cheesy. That's all I have to say on that.

Classic Final Fantasy...with a twist. You are now able to switch party members in-battle, making the game somewhat easier than previous installments in the series. Because of this, I have to subtract half of a point from the final score. I'm also going to mention Blitzball, a new mini-game that acts as an essential part of the plot. Blitzball pretty much has you playing an epic underwater sport with a ball, similar to hockey, soccer, and basketball combined. I personally didn't like Blitzball, so I take off half a point for its mere existence.

As the main character, you will have to use classic RPG exploration to move from landscape to landscape, talking to NPCs, training in random battles, and defeating epic bosses to save the world of Spira. It's just like any RPG you've ever played.

The battle system is somewhat different. Instead of using the ATB meter, you use some sort of window which tells you the turn order in which your characters and the enemy will attack. You can change turn orders by casting spells. For example, casting Haste on a character will make his turn more frequent. Honestly, it's not much different from ATB at all. As I mentioned earlier, you can now change party members in the middle of battles, significantly decreasing the difficulty levels of some battles. Also an interesting note: you now control the classic summon creatures, now called Aeons. You can actually use them as party members after they are summoned, and can select their attacks, etc. They can be taught magic and other abilities as well.

Also of note is the new leveling system, the Sphere Grid. I have heard SO many complaints about the sphere grid, but none of them make sense to me. The grid is intuitive; it combines normal RPG leveling with a whole new level (no pun intended) of freedom, making the possibilities endless. Each character has his or her own set "track" on the giant Sphere Grid, a map of every possible ability/stat increase in the entire game. When a character gains enough experience points, he/she gains a "Sphere Level," which grants you one move across the Sphere Grid. Each ability is placed on a "node," the small orbs which make up the map of the Sphere Grid. Each Sphere Level represents a single node. You can move from node to node gaining abilities per Sphere Level as well as increasing stats such as HP and Strength. This means that when a character has finished his/her track on the Sphere Grid, the tracks of OTHER characters are open for the taking, essentially meaning that each character can learn each other's abilities, making for endless possibilities. For example, Lulu is supposed to be your main Black Mage, but if you don't like that, you can have Yuna learn all of Lulu's attacks/stats on Lulu's Sphere Grid track as well as her own Sphere Grid abilities. It's great because you can eventually break 9999 damage and 9999 HP. The Sphere Grid makes everything a whole lot more intimate, in my opinion.

Storyline: 9/10
Pretty standard, with a few plot twists.

Let's just say that it's as fun as RPG stories can get. Help a pretty girl to save the world from an evil entity by using summon monsters and traveling across vast landscapes with several party members. That's it in a nutshell.

You are Tidus, a Blitzball star from Zanarkand, who gets somehow transported 1000 years into the future. Blitzball is still around, but the city of Zanarkand was destroyed. You learn that the world of Spira is being threatened by an evil entity named Sin, the spawn of all the negativity in one's life (good one, Square). Your job is to help a young Summoner, Yuna, to venture through a pilgrimage as one of her guardians. You'll protect Yuna as she ventures to Zanarkand to sacrifice herself to save Spira and create the next Calm, a roughly 10-year period where Sin doesn't exist, then he is reborn.

Sounds pretty normal? Not quite. You'll learn some identities that aren't exactly what they appear to be. You'll encounter some dead folks, learn truths about your friends and family, and try to reunite with your seemingly-abusive father before it's too late. It's epic, it's wonderfully written, and it's complete with cheesy voice acting!

Replay: 10/10
Since the Sphere Grid is now implemented, possibilities are endless with your characters. Nurture and level them to any degree. Plus, if you like it, Blitzball is always available for play, and you can always seek out each character's Ultimate Weapon. Tons of mini-games, sidequests...everything a good RPG needs.

Brilliant. This game is brilliant. I don't know why it's so underrated and bashed on. I can't figure it out.

The game is a landmark. Play it.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 04/16/07

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