Review by Osafune2

"The Final Fantasy PS2 debut is one of the finest RPGs of all time"

Well, I finally got this game again not long ago, and much like Final Fantasy VIII I had initially dismissed and disliked it back at the release date. I hated the characters and I hated the Sphere Grid and I gave up on it somewhere in Guadosalam, but now I have played it again after experiencing many more RPGs and have grown older and more mature, I have realised how wrong I was. This game is just fantastic, and I love almost everything about it, but it is not without its flaws and it isn't the best Final Fantasy game in my opinion, as nothing touches VII, but it is a fantastic game.

Many gamers were worried by the direction that FFIX took, reverting back to the classic character design, medieval setting and the class system that had been implemented in many older Final Fantasy games, and while I was not worried and loved FFIX, many didn't and eagerly awaited the first Playstation 2 Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy X is a mix of high technology and the medieval, as it takes place in the world of Spira, where the religion of Yevon forbids all use of Machina, or machinery, and consequently the world is not as technologically abundant as Final Fantasies VII and VIII. Spira is a rich and vibrant place and has a different architectural feel than other Final Fantasy worlds, drawing from south Asia and other places outside of Europe as influences on the game world.

The main protagonist of Final Fantasy X is Tidus; he is a young Blitzball superstar of the Zanarkand Abes team. Blitzball is the sport of choice in FFX and takes the place of Triple Triad and Tetra Master. Tidus is from the city of Zanarkand, a huge metropolis full of Machina; after playing in the huge Blitz stadium, there is an attack on the city by an enormous creature, as Tidus flees he meets the mysterious Auron, and the two cut their way through the hordes of monsters. As the city crumbles and the huge creature draws nearer, Auron takes Tidus' hand and the two are drawn right into the Maelstrom created by the gargantuan creature.

Tidus wakes up, in the world of Spira, and he is rescued from an abandoned temple by some people calling themselves the Al Bhed, a lower class, frowned upon race in Spira because they still use Machina. A young woman named Rikku tells Tidus that he has been close to a monster called Sin and that is why he is clueless of Spira and she doesn't believe him that he is from Zanarkand. It turns out that in Spira, Zanarkand was believed to have been destroyed over a thousand years ago by Sin as punishment for the use of Machina, and as punishment for the war that it had caused. Sin attacks the Al Bhed ship and Tidus finds himself on the beaches of Besaid, a Caribbean-esque village. He meets Wakka here, a Blitzball captain who is impressed by Tidus' skills and Tidus begins to fit in.

It is here that Tidus learns that Summoners embark on a Pilgrimage to Zanarkand to earn the Final Aeon that will defeat Sin and he journeys with Summoner Yuna, the daughter of High Summoner Braska, who defeated Sin long ago. On this journey he again encounters Auron, who tells him some shocking truths about Sin and his hated father, Jecht and he begins to form a relationship with Yuna, because she seems to understand him and believe his story about coming from Zanarkand. Unique to the series, this is told as one long flashback, narrated by Tidus and eventually it comes to the present day, where Tidus sits near the ruins of Zanarkand, reminiscing on his journey and the discoveries he has made.

The story in this game is simply fantastic, and as it is a Final Fantasy game, it is not without its twists and shocking revelations are plenty in store. The characters all have a very believable and realistic personality and you will actually grow to like (or perhaps hate) certain characters as the story progresses and you discover more about them. This is aided by a series first for Final Fantasy; voice acting. Every character, villain, important NPC and just a few other random characters have been voice acted.

As you may have heard, the voice acting is at times painful and you wish for silent characters and text, but at other times the voice acting is excellently carried out and certain characters seem better than others. For example, Auron's cold, experienced demeanour really comes across far better with voice acting that it would with just simple text. The main character Tidus starts out brash, arrogant, annoying and clueless to the customs and traditions of Spira and is very headstrong and thinks any problem can easily be solved. By the time you reach Zanarkand in the story, and Tidus has finished with his flashback, he has undergone a definite change and you will find that you have warmed to him greatly, or at least I did. I don't think aspects of character personality and any changes and maturations they underwent could have been illustrated as effectively without voice acting. This being said, the voice acting is dubbed over the character's Japanese facial movements and none of the game has been re-animated, so at times, it is like watching a badly dubbed Japanese martial arts film as their move continues to move after they have finished speaking.

The graphics are absolutely outstanding for the PS2, and even now, towards the end of the PS2's life, it is among the best looking titles on the system. Older instalments in the series used pre-rendered environments, but in Final Fantasy X, everything is in full 3D. It makes Spira seem richer, more colourful and full of life than in other games, also, instead of stationery fixed camera angles, the camera can swoop, zoom and pan around Tidus as you navigate him around the world. Sometimes, in large open areas such as the Calm Lands, you may wish for an adjustable camera, but for most of the time I preferred the fixed angles, it makes for a more cinematic experience.

Another feature that adds to Spira's realism is the exclusion of a world map in which the character sprite is not to scale with the rest of the world. In FFX, each area is seamlessly integrated and there is no world map, everything is always realistic and fully to scale. While it is more realistic, it really detracts from the free-roaming feel of past instalments and it feels more boxed in and linear, and there are no controllable airship flying sequences which I was disappointed to discover.

The character models are the best yet in any Final Fantasy; they are richly detailed and well animated, especially their faces, which now show emotion through facial expressions to add to the new voice acting. As they did with the Playstation, Square seem to be able to get the most out of the new PS2 hardware and it really shows in every aspect of the graphics and animation. The many Full Motion Video sequences in this game are a joy to behold and a real treat to the gamer; they at times resemble an animated film by Pixar or someone. They are amazingly well animated and are often exciting and full of action, simply fantastic. There is a sequence in Macalania Woods with Tidus and Yuna that is simply stunning, moonlight reflects on the water and on Tidus' face and little touches like that, it really is cinematic and helps tell the story tremendously well.

The battle system and character development has had quite a drastic overhaul since the Playstation incarnations, first of all, the ATB (Active Time Battle) that incorporates real time aspects to the essentially turn based system has been scrapped and replaced with the Conditional Turn Based system (CTB.) Basically, this is completely turn based and it has a list of the upcoming turns of each character and the monsters/boss you are fighting so you can apply strategy such as when to heal or attack. Also, you can influence the order of the turns by using spells like Haste or Slow and Abilities such as Delay Attack in order to give you a big advantage. Also, as there is no battle speed to worry about, you can take as long as you want to think over and consider you move carefully in order to win the battle. I actually consider this a better system than the ATB, as there is often more strategy to employ.

Another big feature of the battle system is the ability to switch characters in and out at will, and in doing so, you can enable every character you have to get EXP, or rather AP, but more on that later. It is easy to keep a party that is fully and equally developed rather than three really strong characters and five weak characters. In addition to character levelling, it adds to the strategy, you can freely utilise any skill of any of the characters at any point in the battle to help you win. I think this is absolutely brilliant and I cannot believe it has not been implemented before, the only problem I can think of with this system, is that it does eliminate the challenge somewhat, and FFX is already a relatively simple game.

The battle system is not the only gameplay feature that has been given an overhaul, in a controversial move, EXP and traditional levelling up has been done away with and replaced with the Sphere Grid. After a battle, instead of EXP you receive AP or Ability Points, when you have accumulated a certain amount, your characters receive a Sphere Level. You can then “spend” these on the Sphere Grid. Each character starts in a certain position and has a certain path to go down should they choose, though they can intermingle with other character paths later. Anyway, you use Sphere Levels to move around, to improve your characters; you have to activate nodes using spheres found after battle and in chests etc. You can have Ability Nodes, unlocking abilities such as Black Magic spells, white magic spells, special attacks etc. Power Spheres which unlock Defence, Attack and HP nodes, Mana Spheres which unlock MP, Magic and Magic Defence nodes etc, it is all fairly self-explanatory. So depending on how you want each character to be, you can choose to activate certain nodes and ignore others. Also, to reach the areas of the grid with the better abilities and upgrades, you need Key Spheres to unlock other areas of the Sphere Grid. Though I haven't explained it particularly well, it is a fantastic system that allows for customisation and you have much more choice over how your characters turn out.

In the PAL version, which I am reviewing, you also have the option of the Expert Sphere Grid. Basically, in this version, the characters start closer together and there are no pre-defined paths, so you are free to have Tidus as a white mage, Auron as a black Mage and Yuna as your big hitter if you so wish. I recently played through using all characters as Fighters, only getting Attack, Defence and HP upgrades along with abilities. You may think that weapons would limit your characters, but it is the Sphere Grid that completely governs their capacity in battle so anything is possible. Weapons have abilities such as “HP +10%” but they are not as intrinsic to the character stats as in past games, allowing for more customisation in the Expert Grid.

I absolutely love the Sphere Grid and the new CTB battle system and I find it hard to fault, the Sphere Grid, however good it is, should not become a series staple in my opinion, but like Junctioning, it is an excellent and unique system which helps FFX stand out above other RPGs.

The musical score to FFX is the first in the series to not be solely composed by Nobuo Uematsu, while he did compose most of it; he had assistance with some of it. As gamers have come to expect with the Final Fantasy series, the soundtrack is excellent, memorable tunes aplenty that you will often hum. It has a fantastic piano theme and also a vocal piece heard in the temples throughout the game which is just marvellous and some of the pieces will become classics among the FF songs, standing alongside Aeris' Theme, Eyes on Me and the main theme of FFVI (which is my favourite FF theme, cannot remember the name, sorry.) I have already touched upon the sound in the game earlier, concentrating on the voice acting, but as for sound effects… Umm… Yeah, they're good, they do the job, sound realistic.

Final Fantasy X is quite simply one of the best RPGs I have ever played in my life; it easily ranks alongside Final Fantasy VII and is definitely in my top five games of all time. The story is compelling, it pulls you in and you cannot stop playing until the end, the characters are fleshed out and well developed, the voice acting is a little iffy, but overall satisfactory and helps give emotion and feeling to the characters. The graphics are fantastic and there is very little to fault. It goes without saying that all Final Fantasy fans should pick up this game, and also any fan of console RPGs should play it as well. The problem with this game is the challenge, which, like other Final Fantasies, is minimal, you should cruise through with maybe one or two Game Over screens on a few infamously tough bosses, but other than that the game is a breeze. The game is also very linear due to the integrated world and absence of world map, and there are few instances to partake in sidequests and exploration, Spira doesn't feel as open-ended and as large as other Final Fantasy game worlds. But despite this, the flaws pale in comparison when compared to the many fine features that are included in this brilliant game.

Story – 9/10
Graphics – 10/10
Gameplay – 10/10
Sound – 9/10
Overall – 9/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/04/07

Game Release: Final Fantasy X (EU, 05/24/02)

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