Review by ABlaster
"An unforgettable experience with lots of personality"
Before the western RPG genre became such a big deal, developers were often focusing on the more linear and story based fantasy experience. Final Fantasy was born in 1987, and defined what would later be known as the JRPG. Ingenious storyteller minds such as Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu comes to mind. They would spellbind gamers with one fantasy after another for several decades to come, and decided to publish what can be called their Final Fantasy in the year of 2001. The contribution proved to become one of the most anticipated and popular titles in the genre of RPG.
The widely popular Final Fantasy X sold 8 million copies worldwide, and is to date only surpassed by the seventh installment in the series. It was the first to include and exclude several elements in the series, and will always be remembered as an impressing and unforgettable experience by its fans. In this review, I'll try to cover most of the reasons why it became such a big hit, and why the obtaining of a copy is easily worth your hard-earned money.
As far as the story goes
Tidus is a 17-year-old rising Blitzball player from Zanarkand, a gigantic technological city that never sleeps, sharing lots of semblance to Midgard, for those familiar with the FFVII-universe. Tidus is extremely cheerful and illuminates self-confidence from the first time you see him, but has built up a hateful relationship to his own father, who ran away ten years ago. One day, while Tidus were out playing an important game of Blitzball, an enormous and mysterious creature arrived to Zanarkand, annihilating everything in its sight.
While being lucky enough to survive the attack, Tidus gets mysteriously transported a thousand years into the future, and into the land of Spira. While trying to find his way back home, he comes across a bunch of people, all with their individual stories to tell. They all set out on a pilgrimage for Zanarkand as the goal, a journey where Tidus must learn about Spira's teachings, the truth about his father and even more about himself.
This is only my poor attempt at an introduction to a truly deep and deliberate storyline. The contents of the story itself, and the way they're presented, really should be appreciated the way Square intended. Due to the introduction of voice acting and facial expressions, Square was truly successful at creating a living, emotional and individual cast without overdoing their characteristics, thus resulting in clearer, more realistic personalities, which are easy to identify with. Though the voice-overs aren't without flaws (James Arnold Taylor has proved to do so much better elsewhere) it's still a very nice addition to the series, and without a doubt an enhanced way of telling a story.
About the visuals
During their respective eras, each of the Final Fantasy titles have always been amongst the very top when it comes to the visual presentation. And surely FFX was no exception. Not surprisingly, FFX offers a wide variety in its surroundings, presenting locations leaping from an exotic island with palm trees and beaches, icy mountains with snow caves and to a magical and wayward forest (just mentioning a few examples). It was also the first in the series to fully utilize the use of 3D models in all of its environments (as opposed to the pre-rendered ones), making the characters and surroundings melt together in a much more suitable mixture. Though the camera is fixed, giving the player a feeling of less freedom, the level of in-game detail more than makes up for it, and is as exceptional as we've gradually learned to expect from Square.
But where the visuals really shine are through the full motion videos used as an excellent tool for telling the story. Although the characters might diverse a bit from their in-game models (looking a bit more Asian-like in their GCI-editions), the cinematic sequences was definitely jaw-dropping for its time, and is without a doubt something to talk about even today.
All in all, FFX offers some very tasteful eye candy right there, and has unarguably some of the best visuals offered by the PS2, and shouldn't be hard to enjoy for gamers of the last generation.
How it sounds
When it comes to the sound effects, there really isn't that much to say, other than that they're flawless, and make the world much more alive altogether. And I've already mentioned the voice-overs which are mostly great. But what about the musical score itself?
If you've done some research on FFX before entering my review (i.e. YouTubing it for instance), then you've probably heard a thing or two about its soundtrack. While not being entirely on his own, it is certainly not hard to hear that Uematsu has had an important role in the musical production. Being considered by many the biggest name amongst video game composers, he once again proved to the public why that is. While the battle melody and the main theme are some of the best in the series, most of the tunes appearing are truly well-written and fitting for their environments.
While it might not be the best musical score Uematsu has been able to conjure, it's definitely one of his most varied ones, leaping from the heavy metal genre to classical piano and beautiful vocals reflecting the Okinawan atmospheres. Speaking of which, the song 'Suteki da Ne' was actually at the top spot in several radio channels in Japan, which should say a lot.
How the game plays
Starting with a somewhat obvious flaw to many; every Final Fantasy game published had offered the infamous overworld map (or just world map') as a connecting-bridge for most towns and dungeons, later becoming a standard element for the RPG genre. Up until FFX that is. By omitting the overworld map, Square had (disappointingly to many fans) created their most linear experience yet. Square had simply removed a few mandatory exploring possibilities and choices which some fans had gotten used to appreciate. That big an issue isn't it though, as the game provides no lesser side quests and contents than the previous games, but it's important to mention nonetheless.
The RPG-system introduced in FFX is by many considered the best in the series. The Sphere Grid predetermines a part of the roles your characters must act during battle, but offers a prospect to customize and upgrade them as you see fit, for later. By using Sphere Levels (obtained from defeating foes), the player can choose to move his characters a set amount of spaces on a grid while donating spheres in order to upgrade strength, HP or learn them new abilities (amongst other possibilities). Although it might sound complicated from my explanation, it really isn't.
To many gamers' frustration, Square did keep the random battles, as FFX seems to have been the final in the series to include them. I must say though, that they're not as annoying as in most games that use them. Mainly because you rarely get disoriented, and that the battles themselves are as fun and exciting as they are.
Putting the ATB system from several FFs on the shelf, we're back to the basics in X. Meaning that your characters no longer have to take action based on a countdown, but that you have all the time in the world to plan your strategies before making a decision. You can choose from attacking, using magic, item usage etc. Oh, and to summon of course.
While only one of your characters has the ability to summon creatures (called Aeons in FFX), Square has unarguably put a lot more thought into each of them in X. Though not being as many as in most of the previous games, the player will for the first time take full control over each individual summon during battle, deciding whether to perform attacks, use magic or even unleashing a super attack (called overdrive) if the time is right (amongst other possibilities). The player will also have the opportunity to enhance and customize the aeons a bit later on.
The overdrives used by your characters can be used only when their overdrive gauge is filled. How it fills depends on what kind of overdrive-mode you've chosen for that particular character (it varies from healing, killing to even taking damage). The overdrives themselves can often be enhanced if the player executes a tiny mini-game within a time-limit first.
Another cool part which I'd like to mention, is the how the characters interact with each other during battle, giving you a comical relief or sometimes a short and user-friendly tutorial, making the battles feel a lot more interesting at times.
What else can be done?
Putting combat aside, X offers a lot more to do besides, keeping most players occupied for a long time. You'll come across a number of puzzle based mini-dungeons (the Cloister of Trials) during your play-through, which offer a great deal of deliberate and challenging puzzles, a bit like the temple system from the Zelda-series. Although they're not nearly as massive or well designed as the above mentioned, it's still a very nice addition to the gameplay, and is always followed by a big reward.
There are several mini-games accessible also, and one of them might just be described as too huge to be called mini at all. Blitzball is a sports game in its own right, presented as a mix between dodgeball and handball, played underwater. You'll have the opportunity to hire players from all over Spira for your team, and enhance them during matches and tournaments. It might not be as exiting to play as the developers intended (being a sports game based too heavily around RPG mechanics), but it's without a doubt the biggest and most impressing mini-game I've ever seen.
There's also a series of Chocobo Racing games, a butterfly game and a mini-game where you'll have to avoid being struck by lightning, just to mention a few. What they all have in common is that they offer great challenge, superb rewards and lots of fun (though a few rewards can be a pain to obtain).
When it comes to additional secrets and side quests aside from the main storyline and the ones I just mentioned, there are tons of them. Leaping from monster catching (not for self-usage like in Pokémon of course, but for fighting purposes later on) to trade sequences and optional boss fights. The International and European versions has even more to offer, so get a hold on one of those if possible.
While the main storyline should take approximately 60-or-so hours to overcome, the game itself obviously has a lot more to offer. Counting all the secrets, side-quests and extras, I'd say you have a good couple of hundred hours waiting for you, which is a lot by any standards, especially when it comes to single-player experiences. And thus trying out new routes on the Sphere Grid and random battles being more fun than annoying, not to mention the great storyline, it's not unlikely that you'll be playing through more than once (being an exception from the genre).
I'd easily recommend giving it a shot. Final Fantasy X has demonstrated excellent storytelling, a superb musical score, and a polished combat system, as well as introducing numerous original mechanics to the genre and offering a cast with lots of personality. If you're into quality gaming, then FFX is for you.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 09/04/03, Updated 04/05/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy X (EU, 05/24/02)
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