Review by Auron255

Reviewed: 05/28/04

Squaresoft'ts triumphant debut in the next wave of consoles...

Final Fantasy is revered as being one the best selling, and most popular video game franchises to date. Its gameplay is usually top notch, and the graphical appeal is matched by none. Every Final Fantasy fan has their personal favourite in the on going series, and each installment has its own cult following, and the tenth iteration is no exception. Final Fantasy X is quite possibly the best game released in 2001. The dawn of the Ps2 has brought several imitators along for the ride, but no single company has mastered the art of the RPG like Squaresoft has. Not only is it the first Final Fantasy on the Ps2, it’s possibly one of the first Final Fantasy games to move away from leveling system, and all the other "norm" aspects of RPGs, and moved into something so new and unique, that all other games pale in comparison to this wonderfully etched work of art. The kinks have been fine tuned, and the characters have been fleshed out beyond words. If for no other reason, you should pick this game up just to witness high the production values.

The game's story begins simple. Life is simple, life is good. Not 1 hour into the game, you're thrown into a vat of confusion and distortion as you must learn to decipher just what the heck is going on. The world is plagued by the monstrosity known as Sin, created out of the fear, hatred and war embedded into man. You are Tidus, the young, fun loving, Blitzball player, who is somehow involved in the convoluted plot twist that throws him 1000 years into the future, where he meets Yuna the Summoner, who is on pilgrimage to do battle with Sin, and bring forth the Calm (a period without Sin). Yuna is accompanied by her guardians; Wakka the Blitzball player extraordinaire, Lulu the mystical mage, and Kimarhi the blue haired beast, known as a Ronso. Together, you set out on a long voyage to meet and pray to the fayth, to earn their assistance in obtaining the final aeon, which will be used to destroy Sin. As far as the plot goes, twisted fathers, ancient guardians, undead villains, and the potential destruction of Spira via Sin's massive overwhelming power, this game will have you glued to your seat. This game becomes so addicting that you could easily throw away 10 to 12 hours just playing this game in one sitting.

The game itself is fantastic. This is the first Final Fantasy to employ fully 3-D environments, with little to no prerendered backgrounds. I must say, it works out beautifully. The game presents such an encapsulating feel, its hard to put into words. To match these perfectly upgraded environments, the character models have been upped in the polygon department, and brilliant facial expressions and character motion capture have increased one hundred fold. There are probably more polygons per character in this game, then there would have been in the entire cast of characters from any other Final Fantasy rendition on the PSX. With the revamped graphics, comes an even more stunning attention to detail. The shading, colouring, lighting, blurring, shine, glimmer and wave motion is just absolutely astounding. Perhaps these aren't THE best graphics to grace the Ps2 console, but is definitely a treat, since this game is released so early on the Ps2's life cycle, its palpable to think about what will happen in the future of the Ps2 and Final Fantasy, and how their roads will cross paths once again. There is one thing that is for certain though: Square has always been the master of creating engaging and gorgeous full motion video sequences, and this game is definitely no exception. These are THE best FMV cut-scenes seen to date. They beat out every game on every platform, and the attention to the subtle detail is great. Whether it be the flutter of a single strand of hair, or the ambient environmental sounds, it's almost as if you're watching a full length motion picture.

Accompanying these fantastic visuals, is the introduction of superb voice actors to replace the copious amounts of text boxes that protrude from the character heads in the previous FF games. Even though some prefer the text-base dialogue, the addition of voices is a welcome one, as it blows a breath of fresh air into the soon to dull long winded read-a-thons that were present in past installments (not that they are bad, it’s just good to see change). Note though, that not every single NPC character speak to will have a voice, and the dialogue is displayed through sub titles, all the main characters, and characters crucial to the storyline, are voiced with interesting detail. The other audio department, music, is again, raised to new heights with Final Fantasy X.

Nobuo Uematsu has once again taken the helm of the FF soundtrack, and mixed some fairly decent tracks, to match every mood, and accommodate every character and locale. With well over 40 orchestrated tracks to accompany this game, it makes even some of the greatest arranged symphonies look down in shame. Some of the more catchy songs include Suteki Da Ne, which is strung together with excellent vocals, and the Zanarkand theme song, are some of more memorable jingles in the Final Fantasy series. Once again, Nobuo has hit a grand slam, it hopefully it won't stop here.

Final Fantasy X incorporates new gameplay mechanics into the battle system. Now, its possible to change the characters in your party, on the fly, mid battle. There are a total of 7 playable characters in your party, and switching them up is probably the most significant addition to the over all tactical change and mechanical change in the battle system. Each character has their own role to play in each battle, and learning how to effectively use each characters designed role is what will allow you to master the strategical elements in this game. The main character Tidus is a basic warrior type hero, with no real power-house qualities, but a hefty supply of support magic and basic attacks. Yuna is your white mage/summoner. Her white magic abilities are priceless in the early stages of the game, and her nul-spells are fundamentally useful against strong magic user type enemies. Her best attribute is her summon ability. Even though, all the characters can learn white magic and every other type of ability, summon is exclusive to Yuna, but more on that later. Wakka is equipped with a blitzball for a weapon, and his special abilities allow him to power it up with status inflicting damage qualities. These become especially useful if you want to silence a fast magic user, or the blind a heavy hitter. His arsenal of abilities increases as the game goes on, but his status attacks are definitely the most appreciated early on the game. Lulu is your typical mage. She plays on the enemies elemental weaknesses, and exploits them. Casting thundara onto a strong water type enemy will dispatch them in no time. Her focus ability allows her to increase the strength of her magic, for the sacrifice of waiting one full to turn to cast a spell. Kimarhi is a strong attacker, but his main area of expertise is learning the enemy’s special abilities, which he can redirect using his Ronso Rage overdrive. Auron is probably the strongest fighter you have early on, and his Break attacks are what make him an intricate part of battle strategy. If an enemy has incredibly high defense, Auron should attack with his Armour Break technique, which significantly lowers the enemy’s defense, which allows light attackers like Tidus, to deal twice as much damage. Last but not least, is the adorable Rikku. A thief by nature, Rikku's abilities are an enigma, as using them requires a bit of trial and error. Her steal and mug abilities will allow you to steal items from the enemy, and her ability to throw gil at the enemy, and her luck enhancing skills are somewhat useful. In the end, each characters designed roles play on 1/7 of the strategy needed to defeat the biggest bosses, so utilizing all 7 characters are crucial in the success of your battles.

Speaking of battles, the level up system is no more. The enemies no longer wield any experience, and the party does not gain levels, well not in the sense previously illustrated in other Final Fantasy games. Character growth is determined by the characters movement on the Sphere Grid, a labyrinthine game board, with nodes that when activated, increase a characters stats. The stats are common place RPG material, with strength, HP, MP, magic, defense, magic defense, luck, etc. The only way a character can move along the sphere grid is to gain sphere levels, which are gained after obtaining enough AP from fighting random encounters. Once a character gains a sphere level, he/she can move along the sphere grid one node. Using special activation spheres, you can activate the node, thusly increasing that characters respective stat. It's new, it's innovative, and it's definitely something we needed in the long history of the exp/lvl system of Final Fantasy past.

The ATB is also no more, and is replaced by the CTB, which stands for Controlled Turn Based battle system. Each character has a set pattern of turns which they are allowed to take, in a predesigned sequence, displayed to the right of the screen during battle. Casting spells like Haste and Slow will increase and decrease the number of turns the given character is allowed to take and when they can take them. The same applies to the enemies, as you can see when an enemy is going to get an attack in, since they are also displayed in the CTB queue to the right on the screen. This plays an intricate role in the commanding strategy involved in the battle system. You must make your moves accordingly before the enemy gets to take his/her turn, so it again, amplifies the emphasis on strategy in battle.

The two final, and possibly most interesting aspects of the battle system is the return of character specific special moves and the summons. Each character has their own Overdrive gauge, which when full, allows the character pull off an extra powerful attack, often capable of defeating the enemy, or severely damaging it and causing some helpful status illness. The gauge can be filled in many different ways, depending on what you have your "Overdrive Mode" set to. If it is set to Stoic, the gauge will increase when you take damage of any kind. If it is set to something like Solo, the gauge will fill each turn when the character is alone in battle. Also, setting it to Daredevil, will allow you to increase the Overdrive gauge, so long as you keep your character weak and near death. This is but one more thing that adds to the immersiveness of the battle system and character growth. Each characters attacks are special and unique to them. Tidus uses his Swordplay technique which lets him plow through enemies with extremely powerful sword attacks. Wakka's allows him to charge his blitzball with elemental or status inflicting power, and can allow him to target one or all of the enemies on the field. These are just examples, as you'll have to play the game to see just what the other special abilities are, and how to use them.

Last, but certainly the best aspect, is the ability to summon Aeons in Final Fantasy X. The way of past Final Fantasy games, was to call upon the summon monster for a quick swift attack, which inevitably cost vast amounts of MP, but the results were devastating. This time around, the aeons are full fledged characters, with their own Overdrives, their own stats, and their own list of commands. Once Yuna summons an aeon though, all the characters leave the field, and the aeon stays and fights the enemy mano-a-mano. The summon sequence is something to behold in itself, as each aeon has their very own call animation, and each time it's all awe inspiring, and it's clear that Square went all out in this endeavour. Even though the Summon monsters have the same vulnerabilities as the normal cast of characters, their overdrive attacks and ability to cast elemental magic make up for it.

Final Fantasy X's battle system, is quite possibly the grey poupon of RPG mustard, and requires the employment of a coup of sorts. This game has it all, and Squaresoft decided to go full tilt in the first Ps2 Final Fantasy. Something to marvel at, this game's battle system, will be talked about for generations to come.

Even though this game doesn't offer much in terms of unlockables, it gives you secrets out the wazoo, and gives em' to you in spades. With the ability to take on uncountable side quests, some of which taking up to and over 10 hours of game time, and a horde of secret weapons, aeons and goodies, this game offers so much to the gamer looking for so much more than just a story and few good characters.

Rent or buy, this game deserves every RPG fan's attention, and this game should be heralded as one of the greatest moments in gaming this generation of console gaming. Anything less than 10 would be unfair to the amount of effort that went into making this game, and it no doubt payed off.

The best character progression system to date, combined with mind blowing graphics and an amazing audience appeal, FFX will be the personal favourite of many, and another cat in the bag for Squaresoft.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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