Review by BBigwig

"Not too hot, not too cold-- it's juuuust right."

Final Fantasy X Review

When Final Fantasy VII was released, it was a watershed event both because it marked the FF series’ triumphant leap into Next-Gen gaming, and because for many players it introduced them to the deep and satisfying world of RPG video gaming. Unfortunately, these days the FF games have become a yearly event, and as a result, each one seems to be treated with less fanfare than the one before. Critiquing the new FF games has become like talking about a football team—an exercise in habit, since we are fully aware that the next year will wipe the slate clean and give us something entirely new to talk about.

It’s too bad, too, because Final Fantasy X is certainly the best game in the series since FFVII, but because of the regularity of new FF releases, it will probably never achieve that level of popularity and fan frenzy. Flaws in the eighth and ninth series installments turned away many players and subsequently divided FF fandom into two camps—those who approved of the realistic, hyper-innovative direction that FFVIII took, and those who prefer the classic feel and playing style of FFIX. Maybe, just maybe, FFX can be the game to bring them back together.

If FFVIII was a turn in a wild and brazen new direction for the series, then it must be equally true that FFIX was an equally overzealous jerk back in the opposite direction (though from all accounts, that was its intention). With FFX, producer Hironobu Sakaguchi and the rest of the team seem to have found an equilibrium. A large amount of fresh talent has been brought into the series as well, and it can certainly make the claim of being the most visually unique FF ever. Because of all this, I found myself completely and totally happy with an FF game for the first time since Cloud Strife picked up a Buster Sword.

Story is generally agreed upon to be the most essential element of a role-playing game, and I’m happy to say that for the first time in a long time, Square has given us an FF yarn that is wholly unique, and does not feel borrowed or patterned from any of its predecessors. FFVIII was heavily derivative of FFVII in the story department, and IX seemed to eager to please fans of early FF games. FFX, however, gives us something entirely new. For one thing, the villain of the game, a monstrous creature named Sin that ravages the islands of Spira, is a unique sort of threat—nothing like the fish-out-of water revenge seekers of FFVII and IX, nor the all-powerful masters of magic of VI and VIII.

If it bears any similarity to previous FFs, it must be acknowledged that X’s story once again revolves around the summoning of monsters. I do hope for future games that we see this element of the FF mythos reduced somewhat. Until FFVIII, summons were mostly just powerful spells, but since the Guardian Forces of VIII, the creators seem to be compelled to include them as an essential part of every plot.

If this weakness can be overlooked, FFX will be seen as one of the best stories in the series. It revolves around a young man named Tidus who is taken from his home, a technologically advanced city named Zanarkand, into the world of Spira. Spira is plagued by a ravaging sea monster known as Sin, whose path of destruction keeps the people living in fear. Their only hope are the summoners, devoted students of the Yevon religion who travel on pilgrimages to gather enough power to temporarily defeat Sin. Tidus becomes guardian for a young summoner named Yuna, and, along with her other guardians, sets out on a journey to help Yuna free Spira from Sin.

Needless to say, plot twists abound in this game, and some are truly shocking. Characters are carefully fleshed out with backgrounds of their own that make you truly care about them. While I could not tell you any background of FFVIII’s Selphie or Irvine, or FFIX’s Amarant, I experienced much of the back stories of every major character in FFX and came to understand them very well. All said, FFX’s storyline is the first to truly satisfy me in a long time.

I tend to skip going into detail about the graphics of any FF game, since they are inevitably top-notch, and any attempt to describe them beyond that results only in hyperbole. Briefly, there is more to look at than ever before in this FF, with fully 3-D environments that succeed in matching the beauty of the still frames of the PS1 games. Character designs are beautiful and appropriate to the visual feel of the game. FMVs seem to be less prominent overall, but that may simply be because of the overwhelming power of the in-game graphics.

The locale of FFX is said to be inspired by a certain region of Japan. I don’t know much about Japanese geography or sociology, so I can’t say if the designers have succeeded in that regard. However, I will say that FFX has a uniquely tropical feel to it, and does not seemed to be patterned after any particular time period or genre of fiction that I am aware of. For the first time, it seems that the world of FFX is an entirely original one, a reality completely separated from our own, and also one entirely believable.

The realm of sound is probably that in which FFX differs the most from other installments in the series. In addition to dialogue, which is now almost entirely spoken by voice actors, two new composers have been added to the music team. The results are largely positive in both of these areas.

Sad as it may be to say, the legendary Nobuo Uematsu, long-time composer for the FF series, had been running thin of late. Neither the soundtrack of FFVIII or IX remotely compared to that of FFVII, despite beautiful lyrical themes and a few memorable tracks. I believe Square recognized this and brought some fresh talent to add new life to the music of Final Fantasy. No offense to Uematsu, whose contributions to FF have been nothing less than extraordinary, but a time does come when new blood is needed.

FFX’s music still does not reach the level of earlier games such as VI or VII, but it represents a definite improvement over more recent efforts. This time, two lyrical themes—the heavy metal “Otherworld” and the gentle “Isn’t it Wonderful”—set the tone for the level to which the game’s music varies. Light, bouncy themes reminiscent of the equally tropical Chrono Cross are present, as are spunky rock tunes that ring true for the world of blitzball. More prominent are the soft, often somber pieces that reflect the sadness of the world of Spira in FFX, and choral arrangements used to convey the religious and spiritual undertones of the story.

For the first FF to feature spoken dialogue, the producers have made a valiant effort. Many cringed at the thought of American voice actors attempting to give life to once-mute Final Fantasy characters, but they have succeeded most admirably. Almost all of the voice actors are top-notch and the voices are most appropriate for their characters. Sadly, the voice actor of Yuna is probably the least talented of the bunch. However, that weak point in the cast is compensated for by the excellent voices of Wakka, Auron, and even Tidus, whose voice could have easily been overdone to become irritating and whiny, but was wisely kept under control.

If the story, graphics and sound combine to bring FFX to life more beautifully than any previous game, then the gameplay has a difficult task of measuring up to do. Thankfully, it succeeds, combining enough new elements with tried-and-true formats to give us an enjoyable new battle system and lots of fun features. Lately, Squaresoft has seemed over-eager to break the old rule of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” FFVIII in particular threw almost every established norm of the series out the window, changing the money, battle, weapon, leveling, and magic systems all at once—mostly to poor results. FFX has side-stepped that mistake by changing some things, but keeping the same feel that most of the series has had.

Levelling up now involves gaining Sphere Levels for each character. Instead of the traditional, straightforward leveling involved in most RPGs, you must now apply your Sphere Levels to the Sphere Board—a massive map of abilities and attributes that your characters move along, much like a game board. As you move, your attributes increase individually when you activate nodes on the board. One node may raise your HP 200 points, and the next may increase your agility or teach you a new special technique.

With the concept of the Sphere Board, FFX has successfully combined the process of leveling up with the opportunity for character customization that players crave. At first, characters move in a relatively pre-determined line on the board. But in later stages of the game, characters can begin branching out into each other’s respective sections. The thief, Rikku, for example, can also be developed into a black magic user if the player chooses to move her into Lulu’s section of the board. You can make Tidus a healer, teach Wakka status magic, and so on. For the truly ambitious, it is possible for every character to learn every technique in the game.

Other changes also help to make battle refreshing and innovative. The long-used Active Time battle system has been replaced with a turn-based system. Some people may meet this change with skepticism, but the change is only logical in light of the new ability to switch party members during battle. For the first time, the party members available to the player may be rotated into battle automatically now, eliminating much of the frustration that comes with leveling up.

Customization also comes in the form of weapons and armor. You can now add attributes to your weapons and armor using items to make them more powerful or have a certain effect. Yuna’s summons, now called Aeons, can also be taught new abilities by refining items. Speaking of summons, in FFX they have become fully controllable characters during battle—a welcome change from watching the same attack animations over and over in a passive fashion.

All of these changes help to make this game quite innovative. Still, the big draws of the FF series have returned as well. A plethora of mini-games culminates with the huge game of Blitzball, the underwater sport played in Spira. Blitzball is such a large mini-game that it could easily be repackaged and sold as a game unto itself. Chocobo training has returned, and you can also catch butterflies, dodge lightning, and participate in many other mini-games. There are also a number of in-depth side quests to accomplish, special items to collect and secrets to find.

Final Fantasy X incorporates everything that has made the series great. It neither changes so much as to make the game unrecognizable, nor does it stagnate and turn a blind eye to any innovation. With a great story, one of the best in the series, top-rate graphics, sound, and voice-acting, FFX leaves players with a great experience, and probably the best in a long time.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 01/06/02, Updated 01/06/02

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