Review by Tenshi No Shi

"Square once again redefines JRPG."

To say that Final Fantasy X was one of the most anticipated Playstation 2 titles would be an understatement. After thrusting the role-playing genre into the mainstream with Final Fantasy VII and then following it up with two best-sellers, everyone was eager to see what Square could do with Sony's new console. So patiently I waited, the news of an early run offsetting the disappointment that the game wasn't going to see a full release until after Christmas. When the day finally came, I wasn't immediately able to enjoy the bliss that is a new Final Fantasy game (Lord of the Rings- Fellowship of the Ring was released theatrically that same day so sacrifices had to be made). That night, as the Square logo faded from the television screen, I began, once again, a journey into a world of fantasy...

In the world of Spira there dwells a terrible creature by the name of Sin who came into existence as punishment for the evils that the various races committed in long-forgotten times. In order to completely eradicated Sin, an ancient, religious ceremony must be performed by a Summoner whose appointed task is to obtain, then unleash, the final Aeon upon the monster that threatens to destroy Spira. In Final Fantasy X you play as Tidus, a young man of some fame (he's the star athlete of a sport called Blitzball) who is suddenly and quite unexpectedly thrown a thousand years into the future. He joins Yuna and her mismatched group of guardians as she treks a much different, nearly ravaged, Spira in her quest to obtain the final Aeon. Naturally Tidus and Yuna form a bond and fall in love with each other, but that is a minor story detail compared to the desperate struggle to preserve the very existence of all life against Sin. Final Fantasy X's tale of "save the world from the ultimate incarnation of evil" may not be new to the franchise, but the unique cast of characters, their troubled histories and a few surprising plot twists keep the game interesting to the very end. Square obviously wants to take the franchise into new directions and adding layers of depth to an otherwise all-too-familiar storyline is a great start.

As with every previous Final Fantasy game in the main series, Final Fantasy X sets a new standard for visual appeal. Naturally the cinema sequences are some of the finest ever created for a video game (and even rivals Hollywood's best efforts), but this should come as new surprise to long-time Square fans who have become accustomed to the RPG giant's high quality digital animation wizardry. The gameplay graphics are equally as impressive- character and beast models are nearly flawless, with detailed, colorful and unique textures seamlessly encasing them to create a union of the most beautiful heroes and monsters the genre has ever seen. It doesn't hurt that the in-game animation is so believably well done either- everyone and everything moving just as they should...or at least the way you think they should considering the fantastical nature of the world. Speaking of worlds, the environments are incredibly rich in both variety and detail, providing a believable backdrop against which the story unfolds. Even three years after its initial release, Final Fantasy X's graphics still manage to hold its own against the latest software titles available on the Playstation 2.

Perhaps the thing that the Final Fantasy franchise is best known for its original, breath-taking symphonic soundtracks. The use of music in any Final Fantasy game can be summed up rather concisely: It's there to tell a story and on that level, the composers have gone far above and beyond in their success. Love 'em or hate 'em, I'm sure everyone agrees that the songs are as deep as they are memorable. Final Fantasy X continues in this tradition, providing a rich tapestry of emotional tunes that are uniquely appropriate for whatever is unfolding on your television. Remixes of familiar favorites are sure to please long-time fans, while the new-school RPG crowd (post-Final Fantasy VII) will dig the theme song. The audio effects are pretty standard fantasy fare; Sword clashes, monster cries, spell's all what you'd expect to hear in an RPG. What might surprise Square fans old and new is the voice acting. That's right, a Final Fantasy game with voice work. For a first-time effort, the dialogue is very well-written, delivered by a believable cast of actors whose show a wide-range of depth for a video game. I'm not saying it's perfect, but it is far better than I ever imagined it would be. If nothing else, Square has certainly set a new audio standard by which all future role-playing games will be compared.

For anyone who has played any of the previous Final Fantasy games, all you need to know is Square has implemented several new gameplay features, including a new summoning system with creatures called Aeons, an overdrive mode for special attacks, a conditional turned-based battle system, stream-lined use of magic and added a sphere grid to replace the standard experience-growth system. The new conditional turned-based battle system is actually not all that unsimilar to the standard battles you've seen in other RPGs, except you have a chart that shows what turn an enemy or character will be ready to perform an action. You can also switch between ready party members on the fly if you need to make use of a certain character's abilities before another one acts. The Overdrive Gauge, which fills up under various battle conditions (that you select), gives you access to special abilities and attacks; an easy and effective way to turn the tide of a battle to your advantage. The redesigned magic system is actually a much more simplified version of previous efforts, categorizing spells into four elemental types, each with a weakness to one of the other types. Each enemy also fits into one of these four elemental arch-types, which means of you attack a creature with a spell of weapon of an element that is its opposite, you'll do much greater damage. Unlike previous Final Fantasy games, the summoning in Final Fantasy X is a little different- When you call forth your Aeon, you use it much like you would a character, issuing commands to perform and even making use of its Overdrive Gauge. This seemingly simple yet radical change makes summoning seem like more than just a powerful spell. Now for those of you who have never experienced a Final Fantasy game (or any console RPG for that matter), all you need to know is you control a party of up to three characters as you travel to various locations, battling all manner of beast and the occasional boss as the plot slowly unfolds and your characters increase in power. These battles are menu-driven, so you don't have direct control over your characters but you do guide their actions. It's actually much simpler than it sounds, so if you fear complexity, don't be afraid to just dive right in.

In reinventing Final Fantasy for the next generation of consoles, Square decided to stream-line a couple of things (much of which I detailed above)- One of the most notable differences between this and previous games in the series is the total absence of a world map for you to move your party about on as you travel from town to town. This may not seem like something worth complaining about (particularly to the younger gaming set) be to many of us who played the original Final Fantasy back in the glory days of 8-bit pixels, this sort of bold move is almost sacrilegious. However, speaking strictly from a designer's point of view, change is a necessary evil to keep a franchise from growing stale, particularly one as long running as this. Do not think for a moment that there isn't enough of the essence that makes a Final Fantasy game what it is present in Final Fantasy X- Chocobos, Moogles (in the form of dolls), Airships, Summons and a guy named Cid have all made their way into the game. About the only truly questionable design choice Square made is the inclusion of a sports mini-game called Blitzball, which is a bizarre cross between soccer and basketball...but played underwater. Blitzball is actually a good game in theory but in practice it fails to captivate your attention since a match plays out based on mathematics rather than skill. As you can imagine Blitzball gets old quick, and the fact that you are forced to play it to get past key events in the game and unlock certain items. Other than that, Final Fantasy X is a very solidly designed game.

It isn't a Final Fantasy game without secrets to be found, so it really shouldn't come as any surprise that Final Fantasy X comes packed with hidden rewards for diligent gamers. The most notable (and most welcome) of these bonuses are a series of side-quests that will net you three additional Aeons for your collection. Naturally, any summoning spells that are tucked away in the dark recesses of a game are powerful ones and well worth the trouble to obtain. Also, as with most other recent entries in the franchise, there are ultimate weapons to unearth for each of your characters; Powerful weapons that will give you a distinct advantage over your enemies (and make the final boss a whole lot easier). There are, of course, a number of other things for you to find (and if you've played any of the previous Final Fantasy games, you probably already have an idea of what awaits), but these are best left to be discovered on your own.

Anyone looking to try the role-playing game genre for the first time will find Final Fantasy X's streamlined interface and easy-to-use leveling system to be a headache-free starting point, veterans of RPGs may be a little turned off by the game's simplicity, but if you give it a chance, you just may find a little depth and a whole lot of story in an otherwise simple package. As for the Final Fantasy fans out there, I'm sure that whether you love it or hate it, Final Fantasy X already has a spot in your collection.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/12/09

Game Release: Final Fantasy X (US, 12/17/01)

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