Review by Exodist
"Excellent story and gameplay held back by a few design issues."
Final Fantasy X is without a doubt my favourite game in the series, and yet, I struggle to give it a 10. Having played the game again recently, it shows some pretty obvious flaws in design and gameplay which hinder an otherwise excellent game. Being the first Final Fantasy game to be released on the Playstation 2, expectations were set high for fans. How did Square achieve these expectations and what made the new technology worth it for the series?
The story in Final Fantasy X is one of the strongest in the entire series. What we have here is a really mature and deep story, held back by some pretty cheesy moments and characters. The setting: Spira, the problem: Sin. In a world where technology and machines ruled life, leaving people all the time in the world to relax and do as they please, Sin was created in order to punish the whole of Spira for letting everything get to how it did. The world of Spira follows the teachings of Yevon, a sort of religion based upon how humans should repent in order to rid Sin, a giant monster which roams Spira destroying towns and murdering hundreds of innocents. The teachings of Yevon say that only when the population of Spira have truly repented will Sin truly disappear, as when he is defeated by summoners, Sin will reappear after a period known as the calm. Thus, Spira is caught in a spiral of death, as although Sin can be defeated, it is only temporary.
On the other hand, the Al Bhed rely on their machina in order to live, and whilst primitive, the Yevon teachings state that machina is the reason Sin has come, creating a huge rift between the followers of Yevon, and the Al Bhed. The story focuses a lot on this rift between science and faith, both shown to have no real effect on ridding the evil that is Sin. As mentioned, there is a temporary solution to defeat Sin: summoners. This is where our cast of characters come in. Yuna, a young summoner, is about to start her pilgrimage, a journey across Spira to collect Aeons, when she meets the mysterious Tidus, a young blitzball player who claims to have come from Zanarkand, a city destroyed a thousand years ago.
Tidus is where our story actually begins as we witness his home, Zanarkand, a futuristic metropolis, is attacked by Sin. Tidus, guided by the mysterious Auron, travels forward in time, toward a dystopian Spira. Here he, after some encounters with the young Al Bhed girl Rikku, meets Yuna. Tidus, being lost and alone and having no real idea of how Spira has changed, is allowed to travel with Yuna and her guardians in hope he meets someone he will know. As mentioned, the cast of characters isn't the best, however they are a likeable bunch. Tidus as a main character is fairly interesting, his in-game character being hyperactive and always wanting to do the good thing, his narration providing a mature and bleak out look on what is really happening. He also has major daddy issues, a driving force of his character through the game. Yuna is, to be honest, pretty generic. She is young, pretty, and wants to defeat Sin. She always wants to help everyone, can't be bad, and well, there just isn't much to her. Her father was a summoner before who, and also the last person to defeat Sin, and so she follows in his foot steps. Thats about it.
Yuna's guardians originally consist of Lulu, Wakka, and Kimahri. Lulu is the typical cold and mature woman of few words who may happen to have a warm side to her, Wakka is a devout Yevon, led by hatred for the Al Bhed, and Kimahri is, well, he's Kimahri. He's like a walking tiger cat thing and speaks very little, but he's protected Yuna since she was a child, so he's along for the ride too. Later Auron, the man from the past who also happened to be a guardian of Yuna's father joins. He is pretty mysterious, you know the type, strong, doesn't speak much, knows much more than he lets on and is pretty wise. Meanwhile our last character is the young and fun loving girl Rikku. A good person, she is quite erratic, always jumping around and being generally excitable, she just kinda joins the team because why not?
The game features a lot of cut-scenes. This actually brings about it one particular design flaw, which may seem small at first but will really only annoy you when you play the game: you can't skip them. The game has a tendency to have long cut-scenes before boss fights which you have to watch over and over, it can be a bit grating, especially against the tough bosses (of which there are plenty). This said, the game does feature a lot of voice acting work for the cut-scenes (more on that later) and the cut-scenes themselves are generally very good. They give the world a lot of depth, this is a massive game world with a ton of history and depth, plenty to hear, plenty to be said and plenty interesting. The characters, although fitting some stereotypes, are still pretty interesting. As said, Tidus has some big daddy issues and it comes into play a lot. There is a lot of maturity and emotion in the story, including some pretty sad moments (such as Operation Mi'hen) and also some pretty shocking moments, such as when Yuna and Tidus decide to laugh together. Scary stuff. On a whole though, the game features some impressive work in the cut-scenes that do a good job of portraying the characters and game world and really help promote the excellent story.
The game plays like most other Final Fantasy games and like any of Japanese RPG. You run around fields, find items and talk to characters, progress, and get into random battles. The battle system isn't ground breaking but is really fun. The system this time goes back to the classic turn based battle system. You use 3 characters of 7 at once, the order of turns is up in the top right (as in, you can see who will take what turn when, including the enemies), and you choose what you want your character to do, and they do it there and then. The interesting element of the system is that you can actually swap characters out. A classic gameplay trait of JRPGs is the party composition, where you choose a few characters out of a larger pool to be your party, typically keeping just a few characters in order to make them the strongest. So how is this stopped from being a gimmick? Well, each character actually has their own use. Through the game, you'll encounter different monsters, but they all adhere to certain types, types which your characters can handle best. For example, there are fast wolves that Tidus counters because he is a faster character. Wakka, who uses a blitzball as his weapon, is strong against flying enemies as his accuracy is high. Here's the thing though. Tidus will actually miss the flying enemy most of the time. There are armoured enemies of which only Auron has hope of dealing any significant damage too. Other characters will just hit the shell, deal low damage, and not much else. The game actually forces you to swap characters because you need to in order to win fights. This is only the start of the genius however.
The game actively encourages this system through the way your characters actually level. Each fight earns you AP. If your character partook in the battle, ie, actually doing something, such as hitting an enemy or even just missing an attack, they earn AP. Anyone who you swapped in, then swapped out, still earns AP. And everyone who earns it, earns the same amount. This means you can bring everyone into battle, take a full turn with each character, and earn the same AP for everyone in your party. Gone are the days of using the same three characters for the whole game (of course, you still can if you wish), you can now use all your characters and level them all equally. Why is this system so good? Because it makes you actively think. Many JRPGs have random battles, and boss fights. Why is a boss fight different? Because you actually have to sit back and think about how to do the fight. Random battles are merely cannon fodder, requiring you to tap the confirm button through each fight until the boss. Instead here, you get to actively change your party as you see your opponents. An armoured enemy, get Auron in, an elemental, get Lulu in. Although some characters follow the traits of well known JRPG classes - Lulu is the black mage, Yuna is the white mage and summoner, Auron the warrior, Rikku is the thief - its more about their own abilities and smaller traits, for example Wakka's high accuracy and ranged attacks, and Tidus' speed, that make them useful, as opposed to being restricted to certain abilities. Granted, Kimahri is a bit of a black sheep in the group as he is just another melee, and although he can learn overdrives (special attacks for each character) from enemies giving him a vast amount of options, he isn't a necessary part of your party.
As we know, Final Fantasy doesn't just mix up the battle system, but also the ability system. How do our characters learn new skills, how do they grow stronger? This time, its the monstrosity known as the sphere grid, and that's praising it. The sphere grid is literally that: a gigantic grid of spheres for your characters to traverse. The grid is made up of tiny nodes. Some nodes are empty, other nodes give certain abilities, others give stats. Your characters move along the grid and activate the nodes. There is no total level, only levels to be earned from AP, allowing your characters to move one space along the grid. For example, Tidus is currently on an empty node. To his left, is a HP node, and to his right, a strength node. You can activate the node you're currently sat on, and any adjacent nodes, in order to improve your character. To do this, you use spheres which you find through the game. A power sphere will allow us to activate the HP node for Tidus, giving him an extra 200HP. A power node also allows us to use the strength node, giving us more strength. This is the same for everything: MP, black magic, white magic, special and skill abilities, other attributes such as defence and magic, everything. Characters all traverse the same one grid, but can all activate each node each, which ultimately means your characters can eventually, with a lot of grinding, venture into other paths and learn abilities other characters may have.
There are two grids to pick from: standard, and expert. The standard grid starts each character in completely different areas and gives them more or less a strict and linear path to follow, and once it finishes, you can move onto other things. This way, each character will learn abilities that are typical to their character, for example Auron learns abilities such as Power and Armour break, to reduce enemy stats, whilst Wakka learns a lot of status inflicting attacks, to ensure your characters are on the right track. Once you finish this path though, you can go wherever. This means that ultimately if you covered the whole grid, one character could have thousands upon thousands of HP and have every ability in the game. The expert grid instead starts everything in the centre, allowing you to choose what path you wish to go on, instead of being forced to do the default path. Despite this, there aren't much differences other than the layout of the grid. At first, the system is slightly complex but ultimately its very easy to get to grips with and really fun. It allows the user a lot of freedom over how they improve their characters and makes it really interesting. There are special nodes that allow you to fill empty slots to gain bonuses, and also other nodes allowing you to learn abilities allies have learned etc. Although the system ultimately means your characters progress as if they'd levelled normally, it puts more control and customisation to the character.
Many of the games flaws are design issues with the game itself. For starters, the game is somewhat linear. There is no world map and you're more or less on one straight path through the game. You go from area to area and there isn't really much incentive or reason to go back. The side quests only really open up at the very end of the game, as does your ability to select where you want to go from a simple list of locations. The locations themselves are fairly linear, offering only small strict and straight paths that you must follow. This said, there is still exploration to be had in a lot of areas and there are still some big areas to explore along with towns giving you some sense of freedom. However the lack of anything extra to do until the end may point some off. This said, what side quests there are, are great and really challenging. The game itself is pretty long, taking me about 40 hours to finish on my second playthrough. The bosses are challenging and the side quests are numerous, you can easily spend around 150-200 hours in the game in order to level everyone up and finish everything.
However, the worst part of the game by far, are the 'cloister of trials'. During Yuna's pilgrimage, she must collect aeons from temples all over Spira. To do so, you must complete the cloister of trials. These are small puzzle segments which basically involve you using spheres to solve puzzles and reach the aeon. These are not fun. Whilst not the hardest things ever, they're designed to slow the pace and offer some thinking in the form of puzzle solving rather than fighting. The thing is though, they're tedious as hell and just not fun. Each one is just really boring, annoying and you just spend the whole time wishing you just got the aeon instantly instead. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I hated these parts the most and could honestly live without these being in the game.
The graphics are now showing their age but were obviously pretty great for their time. The character models in the game are much more realistic than before and also very ambitious. That is to say, the characters have much more features than before. Lulu's dress is home to a complex labyrinth of belts (who knows why, she teases a bit of leg though) and a massive (and I mean massive) bust. Yuna's dress has a pattern on it, Tidus is wearing god knows what and Wakka has a hair style typical of any RPG. The game splits between 3 modes of graphics quality which is one thing I particularly noticed as of late. For example, the normal graphics in field are pretty low, the character models are much lower quality. In cut-scenes, they're much improved and actually look pretty great, there's no block hands and there's facial animation and everything. The CGI is of course the third level which looks fairly impressive, however I felt the characters in the CGI changed a lot, for example the cast look really Asian in the CGI which doesn't come across very well in-game I felt. This is only a minor complaint though, as the game is host to technically great graphics and design. Home to some pretty characters (Rikku anyone?), great monster design, and a truly great looking game world, Final Fantasy X proudly shows us what the PS2 could do way back then in 2001.
The sound design is, as usual, excellent. Long time Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu wins again with a wonderful set of songs for the game from a great battle theme, boss theme and a wonderful main theme (as heard in the opening scene before the main menu). The main attraction of the game however, is the voice acting, a first for the series at this point. Its mixed, to say the least. Tidus kinda sounds about right, but there are some weird dips in quality of voice acting. Yuna is particularly wooden, providing just a voice and not much emotion through the whole game (there is some but its quite erratic). I enjoyed Wakka's voice acting, and also Aurons, and some other characters. The bad guy sounds suitably evil, but as said, the quality can change quite a lot. This of course doesn't help with some pretty cheesy moments and dialogue, but that much is to be expected from a JRPG.
Final Fantasy X brought the series into the PS2 generation with great graphics and voice acting. It showed the power of the PS2, and also showed us the kind of game that could be created using the system. Providing us with an interesting and strategic battle system, along with a genuinely challenging game (not based on grinding, but on actual boss strategy) and a unique and great character development system, Final Fantasy X is mostly win win. The linearity holds it back, along with some annoying sections in the game, specifically the cloister of trials, but what we have here is a massive game with plenty to see and do, and one that deserves the attention of any fan of the genre.
Score: 9/10 - Very Nearly Perfect
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/13/12
Game Release: Final Fantasy X (EU, 05/24/02)
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