"Finally a Fantasy that Disappoints..."

Alas, it seems that Square finally managed to do the impossible: physically create a videogame that shares more in common with a cinematic movie rather than any kind of interactive experience. Final Fantasy X is, as far as I'm concerned, the single most disappointing entry in the long standing Final Fantasy series. While I do like Enix and the Dragon Quest series, I've always given the Final Fantasy games more than a fair chance in my book. And for the most part, they earn such a spot assuming the gamer can accept the progression Square gradually employes with each new game. Unfortunately,, we have Final Fantasy X…a product which seemingly takes more away from the series than adds.

Before I even begin to comment on the game, I will state it right now: Final Fantasy X looks wonderful. Even now, almost two years after the Japanese game's release, the game still looks fantastic. The characters are wonderfully detailed, well animated, colorful, etc. The same can be said about the world they inhabit. More over, for the first time ever in a Final Fantasy game (if not any game), the characters actually have facial animation and thus are no longer simply mute creations with words coming out of who knows where. Additionally, each area of the world has a distinctive feel to it, be it tropical island, religious temple, or even ruined city. The FMV present in the game is eclipsed only by perhaps Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and is truly awe inspiring. At no point does the gamer ever doubt Square's skills with animation. Still though, there is no question that the game looks great, rather that the game itself is great.

The control is, as with previous games in the series, excellent. The characters move around the 3-D realms with grace and ease, and battles move just as smoothly. Substituting characters while in battle takes no more than a few simple button presses as does basically anything. (More on this later perhaps). Rumble feedback is quite well established and on various levels. A hard smash or explosion will obviously have a much larger end result on the player's hands than a small poke.

The only good thing I will say about the battles (as everything else in pertinence will come later) is that Square finally discovered that players might like to control their super creatures (i.e. summon monsters) rather than watch a movie of varying length whereby the monster wreaks havoc upon those it's called to attack. In Final Fantasy X, calling a summon monster (called an Aeon in the game's world) results in a directly player controlled event. Summoned monsters can level up, and even have their own limit breaks. Truly a nice touch if not one that the series has needed since the advent of the battle intermission…I mean animations that became time eaters with the transition to the CD based game format. (Seriously, did anyone actually like watching the 2 minute long GF summon of ‘Eden' in Final Fantasy VIII?)

Final Fantasy X contains a variety of mini games, all of which can be fun depending on the individual player's willingness to devote time towards them. The physics and logic defying game of Blitzball, while first proving to be quite a complex sports game, becomes quite enjoyable once you get the hang of it. Blitzball, the national sport of choice in Spira, is basically a game of underwater soccer/football. As with most any sport, there exist forward, offensive, defensive, and goaltending positions, in this case one person serving as forward, two for offensive, two for defensive, and one for goaltending. The game has a somewhat complicated nature behind it: Each character has HP which basically dictates their agility, as well as various other statistics which represent their shot strength and such. Players can equip various Blitzball skills, such as Venom Strike (which adds a HP decreasing poison to a ball kick), to add to their prowess. Said skills can be acquired usually by stealing them from other players or winning them in Blitzball tournaments, however there is an odd one or two that can be obtained during the normal flow of the game. Allowing each player on your team to come into contact with the ball earns them Exp and thus facilitates leveling up (completely separate from the normal game) Scoring a goal is hardly as easy as one might think despite the characters existing in a world without muscle spasms or sportsmanship rules of conduct (look: the game takes place entirely UNDERwater, so any kind of logic is already out the window). When shooting a goal, the distance in which the Blitzball must travel and therefore the water resistance itself is factored in, as well as the opposing goal tender's agility and ball catching prowess. At various times during the game you can recruit new players for your team, of differing abilities and races (for example, the humanoid like wolf race of the Ronso tribe) thus those who apply truly feel as if they not only get to play a new sport, but micromanage it also. Heck, the recruits even require a salary, so perhaps the game is not as surreal as it seems. I must admit that I found Blitzball more fun than the actual game Square decided to “throw in” with it, however in the end could never figure out how Tidus could be such a sports hero in his homeland and then suddenly regress into a beginner upon entering Spira…

Sadly this is where the positive aspects of Final Fantasy X end. And yes, I am aware that I've missed some key points that a review should contain. Obviously they are to follow the “good” for a reason (namely they are anything but).

Perhaps the greatest (if not downright fatal) flaw of Final Fantasy X is that with all it's graphical spender and plot and character development, Square seemingly forgot that the player was suppose to take part in some of the experience. While FFX is no Xenosaga, it is hardly a Dragon Quest either. Indeed there is an almost limitless amount of times throughout the course of X that the player will be forced to sit idly as the characters chatter, complain, argue, or conference with each other. There is *so* much talking and *so* many cut scenes in fact, that the player truly becomes confused as to if he or she is actually trying to move towards an end goal, or to simply guide the characters to the next story point. The addition of voice acting in truth does not help this situation one bit, as instead of simply reading the text interactions, players must literally sit through them and listen as the characters speak each word, infused with often questionable choices of “talent” to bring them to life. Of course Square wanted to make it easy on the player: there is no need to push anything during these frequent conversations. Rather than go through the trouble of involving the player even to a menial task, Square has implemented an auto text system whereby the text automatically “advances” itself as the characters speak rather than requiring the push of a button. Thus it can truly be said that during times of conversation, all the player needs to do is put down the controller and watch the events transpire. The problem's frequency is only worsened by the fact that just about everyone in the game speaks, be it villain, hero, or even NPC. As a result, conversing in a town is no longer a quick process, rather a long drawn out one as you must wait for the character to drone out their text rather than read it at your leisure. Yes, while you can “skip” text, it can only be done after ALL of it appears on the screen at once. Of course since you can't adjust the text speed the quick minded reader may very well guess what the problem is.

Adding to the problems that plague the game is the simply and honest fact that you are walking down a tunnel. Final Fantasy X is seemingly the most linear game ever to come out of Squaresoft, and this factor seriously hurts the overall enjoyment of the title. Because of Square's desire to make the game seem more realistic, there is no longer an overworld map to traverse. Rather, the game is one seamless entity where the player travels from one location to the next, often going in the never-ending chain of town, overworld, “dungeon”, town, etc. In truth this was a horrible decision. Whereas previous Final Fantasy games at least gave the illusion of non linearity in their expansive traversable overworlds, Final Fantasy X's clear cut and non deviating path of start to finish ruins any sense whatsoever of having freedom. Some towns literally have a front entrance and rear exit, that's how straight forward they are. Even the terrain itself can not escape from this glaring fault: Despite the areas being rather large and expansive, a simply look at the optional in-game mini map will show the observant player that the areas themselves are little more than straight lines with some curves thrown in. “Optional areas” of the maps are limited to nothing more than miniscule offshoots of the main road (or the “Yellow Brick Road” if you like) which always result in dead ends. Even the airship is a joke when you finally obtain it, as you can only visit places you've been to (save for 4 or so “new areas” that you can find using a grid based scanning system) and via choosing from a list no less. What do you expect however when the game leaves over 80% of the world unexplored, apparently to be revealed in the forthcoming Final Fantasy X-2 (a game which even the most casual reader should be able to conclude I feel is a terrible idea). Is it too much to ask for a less linear product? How is it that games like Chrono Cross can be somewhat linear and yet still have a solid plot and yet such is beyond that which the Final Fantasy series can accomplish? Why is it that Square must constantly save its GOOD ideas for games it puts the least effort into and instead rehashes everything else for its mainstay releases?

Another poor aspect of Final Fantasy X is the battle system. While the new changes to it are in fact quite welcomed, the game essentially degraded into a evolved build of Pokemon more than anything else. Employing an Agility based “Command Bar” (similar to the Grandia series'), the battles are no longer active time based. Instead, each character can take as much time as they wish to take action, however the actions themselves may affect when the character's next turn arises. Casting a high level spell may set the character back several “turns” whereas using an item may afford the character to next act after just one. While this is all well and good, the game literally forces the player to involve each character in each battle, if they want to level up that is (more on that shortly). That's right, instead of allowing players to settle on a few characters and work primarily with them, Final Fantasy X imposes an actual requirement for all party members to participate in battle. This boils down to nothing short of playing a glorified game of Pokemon; “Ok, let's have Tidus come into battle. Great, now he will get counted. Ok, not substitute him for Wakka. Ok, next…”. Battles last almost three times as long as they should at times simple because you will need to substitute each character in.

This of course leads to the next problem, the “character advancement” system employed in the game, the Sphere Board. Gone is the battle reward of Experience Points from FFX, instead replaced with SP, skill points if you will. Enter the sphere board, a massive connect-the-dots map that lets the player learn new abilities, powers, and stats. In fact, the sphere board is the *only* way to learn new abilities, powers, and stats as there are no levels whatsoever. Character development is based entirely upon the player's decision and thus can create even more of a problem than misuse of the Draw/Junction system of Final Fantasy VIII. Should the player make a mistake in choosing which path to guide each character along on the sphere board, they may very well end up with Tidus (the main character) as a white magic specialist despite the fact that in truth, he's suppose to be the better fighter. This is all well and good for those who wish to control every aspect of their character's growth, but to those that do not have enough foresight to see “the path” or to those who simply don't care at all, this presents a problem. Through abuse of the Sphere Board it is entirely possible to alter the balance between the game's battles and create a super party of sorts. While the game seeks to prevent this via the use of Sphere Locks (areas of the board that are blocked by locks of varying levels and which ultimately lead to the ultimate abilities), there is nothing to prevent someone from spending hours killing monsters, accumulating SP, and moving through vast portions of the Sphere Board without any problems whatsoever. While they may not be able to learn the crème de la crème, there is nothing to stop a diligent gamer from having a mid-game party as early as the first few hours (that would take quite a LOT of time, but can in practice be done).

The next problem with Final Fantasy X is that despite Square's suppose desire to produce a smoother game, it hardly appears to be acting on said motivations. A problem that has plagued the Final Fantasy series from day one, X features random battles…and LOTS of them at that. Final Fantasy X has more random battles than any RPG in recent years, at least any I can recall. This makes traversing the already limited landscapes more of a chore than anything else, as the player must constantly contend with wave after wave of monsters, NONE of which they can ever see! It's apparent that Square has not progressed beyond the decades old formula of using random encounters; it is unwelcomed in Final Fantasy X and I can only hope that XII fixes things, since there is little hope of X's sequel X2 being any different. (Well, perhaps I should say different in pertinence to this department. The game is already so “different” as to be an enigma in and of itself).

Moving along the trail of tears, we come to the plot of Final Fantasy X. While a detailed discussion of said element will ruin the game, a casual overlook of it can be accounted for. Tidus, a star Blitzball player in his home city of Zanarkand suddenly finds himself in a strange world called Spria after an evil entity known as “Sin” ravages his own. Tidus soon leans that Zanarkand is now the holy land of a religious cult known as Yevon, and that he is apparently 1000 years in the future. Thus begins a tale of horribly predictable events, blatantly copied “plot twists”, and uninspired scenarios that serve to make Final Fantasy X the mediocre experience it is. It seems as if Square literally decided to put a bunch of ideas into a pot and experiment with the collage. While some of the efforts work to satisfaction (such as the amusing dichotomy between the technophobic Yevon religious sect and the machine friendly Al Bhed tribe) others are just contrived beyond belief and have repercussions that can be assumed many hours before they actually transpire. It is safe to say that Square isn't deviating from familiar territory with Final Fantasy X, and in this case it's a bad thing indeed. Had Square simply tried some new plot elements that haven't been seen in previous Final Fantasy games (or dozens of other RPGs for that matter), perhaps the game's story and characters would seem “new” or even “fresh”. As it stands however, they're generic cookie cutter fodder and are hardly worth remembering, especially when you consider the next disastrous factor…

Final Fantasy X features, in my honest opinion, some of the poorest voice acting ever recorded for a videogame. In considering this opinion, it is essential for the reader to differentiate between two key factors: that of pleasant sounding voices, and that of quality voice acting. Far too often people will hear something that sounds appealing (friendly to the ear if you will) and write it off as good when in truth, such may be far from the truth. While some will argue that both key factors are met to satisfaction in FFX, I beg to differ. As this review is not based on the imported game, I am not going to start discussing the Japanese voice talent, however let me simply state that I am literate in Japanese, and I feel the Japanese voices are vastly superior in every way possible to the American/English counterparts. With that said, the English voice acting truly leaves a LOT to be desired. Tidus' voice ranges from a determined young man whose heart is in the right place to a confused little child who knows not what to do or where to go. The trouble is that these kinds of variations rarely occur in the places they are suppose to. James Arnold Taylor, the English voice of Tidus, truly makes the production sound more like a B rated movie with forced lines and questionable intonation rather than the vocalizations of an epic quest's protagonist. The same can be said for Yuna's (the heroine) voice actress Hedy Buress who seemingly bursts into tears and then regains composure in mere seconds, as well as the entire remainder of the cast. Other voice oddities include the questionable Lord Seymour who apparently made a brief stay in the country of England, and especially the amicable Wakka who apparently believes he lives in the Caribbean Islands. In truth, Wakka's voice is quite possibly the most annoying, if not most offensive voice in the entire game. Wakka could not be portrayed as a more generic stereotype if Square tried: In an attempt to give him a tropical flavor, Wakka for whatever reason speaks using phrases such as “brudda”, “ya man”, and other sorts of idiosyncrasies. Whereas the Japanese character's accent being that of an Okinawan dialect proved to be fitting and indeed pleasant to listen to, Wakka's English voice is piercing to the ears, far from politically correct, and just downright annoying. In truth I can not imagine a more offensive character in the entire Final Fantasy series other than Final Fantasy VII's Barret whom Square tried to offer as a means of suggesting that all African-Americans must speak in Ebonics. One of the largest problems with the voice acting is that it's painfully forced, a problem Square publicly acknowledged in interviews. Citing the fact that the characters move their mouths as the reason, it therefore was “obvious” that the only “solution” to the problem was to try and script the lines so that the character's dialogue met with the appropriate facial movements. Apparently the concept of doing something “dramatic” like changing said facial movements was far beyond the “small and limited” technological capabilities a tiny company like Square can accomplish. (This is meant to be sarcasm. What I mean to say, in the event you can not figure it out, is that Square was just too lazy to spend time and retool the mouth movements and instead just put the problem on the voice actors).

Dungeons are a joke beyond jokes and completely undermine anything the Final Fantasy series brought to the RPG genre. Instead of creative caverns and perilous paths, the developers of X sought it best to subject the player to a series of pointless and elementary puzzle solving games. Most “dungeons” consist of little more than entering a shrine, reaching a dead end, and finding the correct orb to open the door to the next area. While I will give the designers some credit in that there are a few puzzles that require some thought, the overall premise is beyond lame, especially since there are *NO MONSTERS* in these locations. It's as if the way to implement non overworld areas into the game came up as a total blank with the game's staff and the only ‘logical' conclusion was to design a simplistic series of puzzles that would stop the player from walking directly to the end of the game.

I know what you're thinking: there is *more* to complain about? Yes, there is. Final Fantasy X, while being a completely 3-D game, features a 100% uncontrollable camera. For the life of me, I can not conceive as to why Square spent so much time making such beautiful environments when the player can't even explore them. Aside from being limited to the YBR (Yellow Brick Road, remember I discussed it earlier), X *further* limits the players to the user-unfriendly camera which often cuts off any sight of optional offshoots from the straight line path you have to traverse. Of course with the mini auto-map on the screen this argument becomes non existent, but then you have a map showing you EXACTLY where to go leaving no intelligence whatsoever called for on the player's part. Add this all to the simple fact that the camera STILL has view issues (a real shock considering you can't even control it) and you have quite a dilemma.

Moving on with the list of complaints about Final Fantasy X, for whatever reason, Square decided to re-release the game in Japan not more than a month after the American release, only (as is common with Square; see Kingdom Hearts Final Mix and Final Fantasy 7 International) with major fixes to the game. Final Fantasy X International (as it's known) features a new end boss, new bosses in general, a 100% player based Sphere Board progression system as well as various other bonuses. Even more perplexing is the fact that International allows the player to choose between Japanese and English text (the voices are all in English), thus providing true confusion as to why the game never saw a release in America. In fact, it's just plain illogical as to why Square didn't wait an additional month and release International as the American version to begin with.

But it's not over yet; notice there is one key aspect of this game I did not mention: it's music. As disappointing as it may be, Final Fantasy X's original soundtrack hardly lives up to the previously unrivaled quality that befitted the series in the past. There could, in truth, be any number of factors that caused this to occur:

1)Nobuo Uematsu is burnt out, especially from composing 180-something tracks for Final Fantasy IX (as well as having composed the music for every FF game before it).
2) The new composers Square hired to help out did not manage to bring much to the table.
3) The game's scenario called for different sounding music than that of the previous games.
4) Far too much focus is placed on the game's theme song and subsequent need to have its music appear in just about every other piece albeit slightly altered or remixed.

There are any number of other reasons, but I offer these as some of the more plausible ones. In the end however, the result is a soundtrack that pales in comparison to previous entries in the Final Fantasy series, or even other releases by Square for that matter. Those tracks that are good are far and few, and many of them actually rely on heavy sampling of pieces from past FF games at that! Quite possibly the most surprising aspect of the score however, is that I found myself liking the OTHER two composer's tracks far more than I liked Uematsu's! Considering that Mr. Uematsu did even less work for Final Fantasy XI, perhaps his reign as series composer has finally ended. (I don't believe Square has yet said who is composing the score to X2).

It is truly saddening to think that Final Fantasy X has gained such a loyal following. While people are free to choose that which they like, the truth of the matter is that such support only encourages Square to keep doing that which yields the best results, regardless of what the consequences are. While games like Kingdom Hearts may still have the “magic” that Square once possessed, I fear that from this point on, the Final Fantasy series will be viewed by Square as the mass-based product that it feels it needs to appeal to the public, thus doing whatever will gain the most attention (usually eye candy). While the Playstation One Final Fantasy games may have been quite graphical, they were however, still quite deep and an experience nonetheless. Final Fantasy X on the other hand, is hardly near the level of said three releases, and thus I truly wonder what will happen in the days to come…I already play Final Fantasy XI and it's hardly a Final Fantasy game (Final Fantasy Online would have been a much better title), I can only imagine about what FFXII will be like. At the moment however, Final Fantasy X-2 is set to release in Japan in less than a month. The mere fact that Square decided to make a sequel to a game like Final Fantasy X is hardly good news if you ask me…here's hoping that the new Square/Enix merger actually has some positive results (like Square borrowing a few concepts from the Dragon Quest series, such as player interaction and quality development time among other things apparently forgotten over the years).

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 02/22/03, Updated 03/20/06

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