Review by nintendosega

Reviewed: 06/10/04 | Updated: 08/13/10

My favorite Final Fantasy so far: the perfect fusion of compelling gameplay and some of the most memorable characters I've ever encountered

I wasn't a huge RPG fan when I played Final Fantasy 10. My very first RPGs were the charming (but thoroughly under-developed) Evolution games on the Dreamcast. Final Fantasy 10 was a game that I went into with no idea what to expect or what awaited me. What I got was an incredibly moving journey filled with some of the best characters, the best music, the most believable world, and some of the best visuals I'd ever see in a game. In a way it probably wasn't a good thing that the game that *truly* got me into RPG's was this game, because no RPG I've played since has managed to even come close to capturing Final Fantasy 10's magic.

I'll start with the visuals, which are an incredible example of both fantastic tech and art direction. While you'll occasionally come across a somewhat bland-looking area (Mushroom Rock Road, The Al Bhed's Home) the vast majority of Final Fantasy 10's environments are all brimming with life and energy. When I first stepped out onto the Mi'ihen Highroad, for example, I was so fully engulfed in this world that I took a moment just to stand there and stare at the environment; I felt like I was venturing through the countryside. Final Fantasy 10, through great sound direction, art direction, and music, allows the game's environments to pull you in. Is the game medieval, is it futuristic? I can't even tell, but this fusion of many different styles is consistent throughout even though no two locations come close to looking alike. It creates a very distinctive visual atmosphere that's very inviting.

Transition from real time cutscenes to FMVs is often fairly seamless, and whether watching an in-game cutscene (off lip sync and strange character animations aside) or an FMV, it always looks great and gets the story across. Which is great, because there's a lot of story to tell.

The story is where Fantasy 10 really delivers. It begins when Tidus, a sports player in Zanarkand, (a futuristic city) is captured by a strange creature who transports him to another world, (named Spira) 1,000 years into the future. Into a world haunted by Sin, an ever-present being who once ended a war but now punishes humanity by forever remaining a source of chaos and destruction. In this strange new world, Tidus encounters Yuna, a summoner, and her guardians. A summoner's job is to defeat Sin. Even knowing that it's only temporary, and knowing that a little later (whether it be 2 years or 10 years later,) Sin would always come back, the summoners and their guardians brave the tough pilgrimage across Spira to defeat Sin and temporarily bring peace to this troubled world. To do this, the summoner must pray to the Fayth at different temples, acquiring Aeons, (summons) to eventually reach the City of the Dead to receive the Final Aeon, which would then defeat Sin.

Aside from the jaw-dropping opening scenes, the basic scenario may not feel particularly groundbreaking to long-time RPG fans at first, but as it progresses it evolves into something so different and so complex and mystical (in a good way) that it ends up feeling entirely original, some conventions aside. It seems to have everything; exciting action, high stakes, powerful moments, likable and layered characters, and some nice surprises. The game places a huge amount of weight on the story, going as far to limit exploration of this world to focus more on the storytelling. Fans of the explorable overworlds from past Final Fantasy games may need a little bit of time to adjust to Final Fantasy 10's more linear structure, but for this game and the story they wanted to tell and world they wanted to set up, it was the right decision.

The characters (almost all of them) are believable, complete with likable personalities and surprising depth, not to mention their own uses in combat. What's great about this game is that Tidus is an outsider to this world. He has no idea what he's doing, and doesn't know anything about Spira. So as the characters are explaining what's going on, or even when you arrive at a strange new location, not only is Tidus surprised and amazed at what he's seeing, but I, (the gamer) was too. Seeing the Moonflow, which is a river that divides Spira into two, and the Shoopuf, (an elephant-like creature who carries you across it,) is an amazing sight, and it's fun to see Tidus just as amazed as I was. Spira always has something different and surprising right around the corner. Never have I played an RPG with such a well-realized world.

The characters are the main focus in the storyline. They get so much dialogue together and it's all so well thought out and well-paced that you begin to feel them bonding as the game progresses. This is what Final Fantasy 10 absolutely perfects, and it's what I think will keep gamers coming back for many additional playthroughs. There are hidden paths, hidden emotions, and subtle nuances to these characters that are gradually (and often very carefully) revealed to the gamer. They have secrets, they have thoughts that they may be afraid to have, or pretend they don't have. They all have their own reasons for being on this journey and whenever big events happen, the action never overshadows the characters: there's always a motivation for the party to be doing what its doing. It's this focus on the characters that enables Final Fantasy 10 to present some truly moving scenes that will stick with you long after the game's conclusion. Though the ending's amazing and one of the best and most powerful I've seen in any medium, there are also many other subtle, quiet, and impactful scenes throughout Final Fantasy 10 that hit me the same way every time I've played through the game. Scenes such as the one that takes place on the Farplane, (the place in Spira where the spirits of the dead are sent) drew me in so much that I forgot I was even holding a controller. The despair and sadness captured after Operation Mi'ihen is another eerie and absorbing moment. Final Fantasy 10's loaded with scenes like these, and they add so much weight to the story.

The character cast is very strong, and one could theoretically spend hours analyzing their motives and decisions they make in any given scene. Though they're all likable, Tidus and Auron are the characters who resonated the most with me. Tidus, the immature outsider to this world who realizes he must grow up very quickly, changes the most over the course of the game, and his narration (the game's told in semi-flashback) adds even more dramatic weight to the story. Auron, though, is what most people will remember Final Fantasy 10 by. He's a fallen warrior-type character with such a complex past and present and so many emotions...all of which he keeps hidden behind a badass attitude. But when he does confide in Tidus (they go back, having both lived in Zanarkand,) it makes the character much, MUCH more than your typical "badass character." He's one of the best characters in the series and gets even better as the game progresses. If I had to pick a character who embodies all the themes of Final Fantasy 10, everything from love to sacrifice, Auron is unquestionably that character.

But he's not the only great character. Almost everyone has their moment to shine. Lulu and Wakka have a whole backstory together as well, along with Wakka's dead brother Chappu, that's never front-and-center in the storyline, just available in the background through bits of dialogue. Still, (and maybe because of it,) it's very memorable and pretty powerful. Yuna, the main female lead, manages to be a lot stronger than the female leads in many games of the genre, and though at times her dialogue's a bit oddly-written (as is Tidus's,) it's not a particularly big problem and shouldn't feel too weird to most people who play Japanese games.

Final Fantasy 10 features a very well-told story in an incredibly inviting world with, in my opinion, the best and most likable cast of characters I've ever seen in a video game, or any medium for that matter. It all builds up to a stunning ending and it's a journey that I'm pretty sure fans will want to take again and again.

Gameplay wise, FF10 yet again nails it. They've discarded the ATB system, this time taking on a much more traditional turn based approach. It allows battles to proceed a lot quicker than they would have back when you had to wait for your turn, and the various character and monster types add strategy to the proceedings.

You use a new invention called the Sphere Grid to level up. It isn't as much a level up system as a 'power up' system. You don't gain a level, but you get stronger in a certain area. Like a board game, you move to each space, and get benefits. Some examples; Raises strength 4 points, Raises Max HP by 200 points, Raises Agility by 2 get the idea. The idea was a good one, and it offers plenty of customization, yet doesn't make characters identical, which was the problem with Materia and Junctioning in FF7 and FF8. Characters have a set path at the beginning of the game, and you must follow it to a point. If you chose to venture off to someone else's sphere path after that point, that's your choice. You can basically do whatever you want on this sphere grid, and it's a fun, creative way to level up.

Its not totally without its faults, and at times I found myself either over-leveled or under-leveled, and if you desperately need one stat (such as strength) to be leveled up for a boss, you'll have to wait until you get to it on the grid, which may take time depending on where you are. So when leveling up for a boss, your HP may increase, as will your agility, etc. but what you really need is too far away to get to without hours of leveling up. That's really the biggest problem I have with the Sphere Grid. Other than that, its a great idea and is definitely better than the Junction System from part 8. Also, this game uses a unique (to the series) character-switch ability, where you can switch a character out of battle at any time, and chose to have another character replace him/her. A good idea, since many enemies can only be damaged by certain people. Unfortunately, you'll end up using some characters more than others. For example, I rarely used Lulu over the course of the game, so, by the end of the game, she was weak from lack of EXP. But there's one battle near the end where she's basically required. I had to spend a lot of time leveling her up as a result. I found myself having to call my allies into battles to do unnecessary moves just to ensure that everyone stayed leveled up, which is likely not how the developers planned for us to play the game. But just using characters when needed doesn't feel very effective in getting everyone EXP evenly. Also, throughout the game, you'll be required to complete certain puzzles in order to proceed. These thankfully take place in areas with no battles and they manage to be challenging without being too difficult, (possible exception of the last two) but they still feel a bit out of place and don't fit in too well with the game's world.

Overall, I think that and the small leveling up issues are really the only flaws in the game's gameplay. Oh, and the mini-game Blitzball, which is a lot cooler to watch than to play, though luckily you're only required to play it once...but that aside, Final Fantasy 10' s both fun to play and fun to watch during story sequences. Outstanding job on the part of the developers.

The sound's great. The voice acting is somewhat mixed at times, as in almost any game translated from Japanese, but overall I'm very satisfied with it. Tidus's voice, (while not always the best actor) definitely gets the character's personality down, and, some odd moments aside, fits very naturally into the role. Same goes for Yuna. Wakka, Lulu, Khimari, and Rikku also sound good, Wakka's voice actor, in particular, creates a unique accent that complements the character to a T. The real standout, though, is Auron; not only is he the best character, but his actor delivers a layered, almost perfect performance that captures all of Auron perfectly. Overall, though the actors had to deal with a bad lip sync and some odd lines, they do a very good job of giving personalities to these characters that greatly enhance them, rather than ruin them. The first Final Fantasy with voice acting is a huge success in this category, as possibly the biggest gamble of the series yet pays off excellently.

Musically, this is the best of the FF games I've played, and, the Shenmue series aside, probably the best music I've ever heard in a game. When you can remember a game's soundtrack years after playing it, you know that it was well done. The music adds a lot of emotion to the game, and, basically, stands out on its own. Video game music is often overlooked, but Final Fantasy 10, like all Final Fantasy games, proves that music can be a major factor in the quality of a game.

Final Fantasy 10 is one of the best video games I've ever played. It features great graphics, great characters, terrific music, a good leveling up system, a new, (better) battle system, as well as a very well-realized world, with many cool things to see and do, not to mention a show-stopping plot. It would be the RPG that, for better or worse, I'd end up judging all future RPGs by; one of the defining games of the genre. Obviously I feel that it's a must-own for any RPG fan, and definitely any Final Fantasy fan. Even if you aren't really into RPGs, though, Final Fantasy 10 proves to be a great place to start, with its engaging story and characters, and easy-to-learn battle system, both of which carry this game well from start to finish.

Note: (8/12/10) I'm always cautious about giving a game a 10/10 score, because I always stop and think to myself that, "well, okay, here's one area it could have been slightly better," and then I shy away from the 10. Though I originally gave Final Fantasy 10 a 9/10 score, it's become clear that, almost 10 years later, I don't think there's ever going to be another RPG that will give me the same feeling this game did. Even now, after all these years, I discover new things in the characterization each time I play. I still get the same sense of amazement from traveling through Spira. I still am moved by the incredible soundtrack and the way the game makes you feel like you're right there on this journey with these characters. In light of all this, I look back and think about the tiny flaws that kept me, at the time, from awarding Final Fantasy 10 with a top score. They just don't seem to mean much. Final Fantasy 10 (especially the way the RPG genre has been going lately) may be the last time I ever enjoy an RPG as much (and for as many years) as I have with this game, and for this, I think it deserves the 10/10 score. I hope that one day Final Fantasy stops trying to be something it's not, and that it returns to the RPG genre. For now, though, Final Fantasy 10 has more than earned its place in the small group of my all-time favorite video games.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Product Release: Final Fantasy X (US, 12/17/01)

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