Review by Halron2

"'...Never forget them'"

For the first time in a long time, I wasn't really excited about the release of a new Final Fantasy when the tenth game in the series was about to be released. At the time, Square was at a low point after having released a series of killer games, much of their then recent output being quite disappointing. Obviously, the fact that Final Fantasy IX had been the weakest of the series for the Playstation had an enormous influence in my low expectation about the game. When I finally got a hold on the game and played it, I was surprised, to say the least. It kept me playing incessantly through long and late hours and, after beating the game, it was clear to me that this game was a welcome and refreshing entry in the most famous RPG series of all.

With Final Fantasy X, you play as Tidus, a young and famous player of a sport called blitzball in his futuristic city of Zanarkand. Right in the beginning of the story, his city is attacked and destroyed by a huge creature named Sin. After the attack, Tidus finds himself in a different world called Spira and finds out that his city was apparently destroyed a thousand years ago. While trying to find out what exactly happened to him and everything he knew, he joins an aspiring summoner named Yuna and her guardians, who must complete a pilgrimage in order to be able to destroy Spira's eternal burden, Sin.

Sounds complex? Well, it gets worse. Final Fantasy X marks a return of the series to intricate and weird concepts of story and setting. Unlike Final Fantasy VII, the story is kinda easy to understand as you play along, but try explaining it to your mother to see if she gets it. The interesting fact in the narrative of this game is that, unlike the previous games, the elements that explain the ‘truth' are presented right when you start playing, actually in the first image of the game. What happens is that, as you play it through, these elements are connected to each other to clear its mysteries, and this time around the game doesn't throw excuses at you when they want to explain something.

The cast is a strong point in Final Fantasy X. Although some characters tend to get on your nerves sometimes, all of them have interesting concepts and issues to deal with, except may for Rikku, which is not much more than the ‘cute girl' kind of character (like Yuffie and Selphie). And while these issues and their resolution may be predictable in some cases (for example, Wakka's prejudice), in general they are well solved and dealt with in a more sensitive fashion than we normally see in games. On the other hand, while the game adds at least one new great character for the series (Auron), it is seriously lacking in the bad guy department. Once again the main villain is obvious from the first moment he appears and is in desperate need of charisma and interesting ideas.

While Spira, the setting of Final Fantasy X, may seem kinda uninspiring at first, it is actually the central element of the game. Unlike previous games of the series (specially VII and VIII), this one doesn't revolve around the main character(s), and doesn't reflect the state of mind of these characters. Instead, the whole Spira dilemma is the central issue of the game and I must say it is one hell of a concept. While it does borrow from a current trend of dealing with the perception of reality (along the lines of the Matrix concept, and others recent films as well), the package is well represented and still manages to impress and surprise. I don't want to give away to much, but it is clear that the key element in this game is finding out what the hell Spira, Sin and Zanarkand are all about.

The narrative side of the game isn't without problems, though. Many of its cut-scenes are kinda awkward and some of them seem to add absolutely nothing in regard to the story's development. The obvious romance between the two main characters, while pictured in an interesting manner (because they seem to know it could never be fulfilled - and from a certain point on, they actually do know that), still manages to be corny and pretty ridiculous, resulting in one of the most pathetic sequences I've seen in gaming, the now mandatory ‘love is in the air scene', with sappy pop tune and all.

In terms of gameplay, the game takes a quite bold move and gets rid of many staples of not only the Final Fantasy tradition, but of the whole RPG tradition. The most obvious change is the fact that the characters don't gain levels. Instead, we have the sphere grid system, which represents the characters on a pretty vast game-like board. Upon acquiring SPs, the characters may spend one of these to move one unit on the board. The different locations on the board offer different kinds of abilities or status improvements for the characters, and to gain them, the characters must spend spheres (items gained from enemies). Also, there are spheres to unlock blocked passages on the board or activating empty nodes (so they'll give bonuses to the characters). A strange concept that works wonderfully, much to my surprise. One of the most interesting consequences of this new system is that you don't really notice the evolution of your characters, even if they are getting more and more powerful.

Combat is also different from the Final Fantasy tradition. Gone is the active time battle system and, instead, we have turn-based combat. There is also a timeline that works like Final Fantasy Tactics, where you can see the order of characters' and enemies' actions and, then, predict they moves and plan yours, which obviously adds a hint of strategy into the game. The most striking change, however, is the possibility of changing characters in the middle of combat. Whenever you want you may replace a character from one in the reserve and do so without losing you turn, which also adds to the strategy element, while making your life a lot easier. It must also be said that summons, while a major part of the game's story, don't really offer much help. The summoned beasts fight like characters, only alone. Their really powerful attacks are only activated when in Overdrive mode (the Final Fantasy X word for Limit). Although they have their use, like unleashing these really powerful attacks and taking hits instead of the main characters, it is a limited use.

Another classic element of RPGs that is eliminated from this game is the world map. In Final Fantasy X you'll be, for the most part, following a set path (which is just one of the many elements that reinforce the feeling that Square are making their games more and more cinematic) and only in the end of the game do you have a relative freedom of exploration and even then it is limited. This exploration is made with an airship, but, instead of flying across the world, you must input coordinates which may or may not reveal new places to be visited. As far as minigames are concerned, fortunately the game doesn't rely on them much, offering only one, the blitzball game. You are only forced to play it once (and you don't even have to win), which is a good thing, since a turn-based sport game isn't really my main idea of fun. Anyway, it isn't really a complicated game and an interesting proposition, even if not that well executed.

A good thing about Final Fantasy X is the fact that you actually have to think to play it through. I mean, this isn't really a hard game, neither does it have intricate puzzles and the like, but many of this game's battles require a minor amount of planning, thinking and strategy, which is always welcome. It still remains quite easy and can be beaten with almost no ‘game overs' the first time through, but just the fact that mashing the attack button won't take you to its ending is deserving of reward. On the other hand, Final Fantasy X is a pretty short game, and can be beaten the first time through in about thirty hours, significantly less than the previous titles.

Everybody has to agree that the Final Fantasy games are spectacular when it comes to graphics and X is no exception. The game brings back the more ‘realistic' characters of game VIII, instead of the more cartoony from IX. All of the characters are done to perfection and most of them have impressive and striking designs, so that you'll never forget them from the moment you set your eyes on them. The supporting cast is also pretty interesting in terms of design and the only character which disappoints is Seymour, the bad guy, since his design, while creative, isn't really that effective. What impresses me the most, however, is the fact that, even not using the pre-rendered backgrounds used in games from VII to IX, the world of Spira isn't less beautifully constructed than its predecessors. Definitely, Spira is another marvellous world to be explored, full of interesting places and visuals. And the use of the moving ‘camera' also reveals new dynamics for the series.

On the other hand, while everybody sure does agree that one of the series' main trademarks is the quality of its music, this game doesn't really excell in that area. The game marks the first time when Nobuo Uematsu, composer of all previous games' music, works with other composers in a game of the series, which obviously generates a shift in style, even if small. That decision, however, proves to be a very good one, since fellow writers Junya Nakano and Masashi Hamauzu are the ones who really shine here. Most of the more interesting music in Final Fantasy X was written by these two, or rearranged by them from Uematsu's melodies. And what about the work of the master? While he gets a number of good tracks (for instance, the battle theme or the tune from Besaid), he actually does worse than in the previous game, for in that title he managed to write some excellent pieces. Here, his best are still sub-par when compared to his past work, up to Final Fantasy VIII. While the soundtrack isn't really annoying or anything, it just doesn't excite you like the past Final Fantasy music did, which is a shame.

Then there's the voice acting. Well, following the more and more movie-like Final Fantasies, it isn't really shocking the developers would go for voice acting. And, while the acting isn't really that bad, it doesn't reank high enough to justify it's use. I mean, some scenes in this game are completely ruined by the not that professional acting, specially the one when Tidus finds out Yuna must die to destroy Sin. Actually, all of the more dramatic moments lose much of their impact because of inappropriate use of this resource. Also surprising is the fact that Tidus himself has a really annoying voice, as well as some other key characters, such as Wakka and Seymour. It should also be noted that the cut-scenes get pretty awkward, since the voice sometimes doesn't flow naturally at all, which kills the whole ‘cinematic' experience.

All in all, Final Fantasy X is a pretty impressive game, one of those that will have a lasting effect on the many who played it. While the gameplay is a bit far from the series' tradition, it still shines and flows really naturally. With a strong cast and one of the most interesting premises of recent RPGs, the game becomes a true gem in the much loved series. The end of this game, with Yuna's speech and last line - ‘...never forget them' – is a truly striking moment. One of the best, definitely.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 07/03/04

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