Review by tollbooth

"The Master of Grand Illusion."

For Gamers the world over there is usually one RPG that stands alone. Abreast with the greatest games of all time, this RPG towers over the competition. Fanboys amd non-Fanboys alike agree that it is the best. That in reality, there really is no other that can stack up to its glory. That game, is Final Fantasy VII.

Since the infamous VII we have seen Square's creations come and go with somewhat murky reception. The Fanboy-Squareboys all agreed that each was better than all other games, but none were hailed as the so-called "Second Coming." That is, until Final Fantasy X burst onto the scene.

With the arrival of Ten, the Squareboys lined up in droves, right along side us more skeptical Gamers, to buy their advanced copy. I decided to wait a few years for mine. I figured that after the smoke cleared, I'd be able to get to the meat of the game's worth. Was it a fortune in adventure, or just more fool's gold like we saw with Final Fantasy IX?

I was excited to get down to the nitty-gritty. Most Final Fantasy fans can agree that they look forward to the immense sprawling worlds that are theirs to explore. I was no different. I was drooling over the prospect of sinking a hundred plus hours of my holiday free time into yet another great Square game. How could I go around? What- with all the fanfare surrounding Ten's release. And after playing games like Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy VIII I had no reason to to believe otherwise.

And even after logging a good seventy hours into Ten I still do not believe that I was totally mislead by the Squareboys. But, there is still a nagging feeling inside. Every time I pull up the load menu I start feeling just a little let down. The further I progress, the more hours I put in, the more I feel as though I waisted my time. Now that I'm ready to battle the final boss, I absolutely feel like I have waisted my time.

However, it is hard to put my finger on just what it was I did not like about Ten. Maybe it was the fact that it played more like an interactive movie then a game. At first the long cut scenes were a welcome showcase of the PlayStation 2's power, but gradually they just got boring. Maybe it was the fact that the storyline was just not that inspired. It was better than anything Hollywood has put out lately, but it still lacked a little something. A big something if it's going to be compared to VII. And while Square tried to put in a few fireworks, most of the characters seemed a little dry to me: moldy stereotypes like Cid, the anxious flying-ship captain who seemed more like a hick then a real leader. Kind of like a can of Coors Lite you find buried behind your garage-- at first it's exciting, but once you actually give it a try..... bleh!

The story is not the basic good versus evil fare we see so much of these days. It actually is pretty deep and engrossing. I found myself wanting to get to the next cut scene jus tto keep things moving. But later, it got to be that the cut scenes were all the story had going for it. They are candy for the eyes. There is no doubt about that. You'll be impressed with the graphics during some of the CG sequences.

But to be fair, I harp way too much on the story. It really is a good story. Full of twists and turns. Each new point offering new information and devastating revelations. And you do start to care about the characters, even though some of the voice acting is downright awful.

The story is deep and well written, but I think Square has been concentrating far too much on deep and well written stories and CG sequences, and not enough on actual gameplay mechanics. After their dismal attempt on the Silver Screen with The Spirits Within, they should of realized that that kind of business is exactly the kind we could do without.

Something that bothered me about the cut scenes to no end was the fact that they were too frequent and unavoidable. Unlike its predecessors, Ten does not have a huge-sprawling world to explore. There is the illusion of a huge world, but none of the real depth that its forefathers could boast. You, more or less, progress on a linear track, running through Spira on a point A to point B jaunt from beginning to end. Every time you reach a new point you are given a little space to "explore." (And I use the term "explore" in the looses sense.) You get excited for a taste of the Final Fantasy you remember and you dive into a door or onto a new screen only to be bombarded with a cut scene that is really nothing more than an unwelcome guest.

So you brave this cut scene, which nine times out of ten is boring, only to find that you can not return from whence you came. Suddenly the promise of exploration has become yet another one of the confining experiences that plagues this game like herpes does a prostitute. Later in the game, you'll get the infamous Final Fantasy airship, and will be granted the opportunity to explore Spira once again, but I have a feeling that your desire to do so will have past.

The linear aspect of the game, which is by far the most disappointing element, at times is not as linear as you might imagine. However, it is characterized by Ten's map issues. In the beginning you acquire a map. The world map is, of course, a staple in the whole Final Fantasy fantasy. You get your map and you open it up and think, wow, there is so much to do, so little time. But, when you try to move your cursor, you find that you can not. Most times I had to check a FAQ to figure out where the heck I was. The environments are not labeled and as it turns out, the map is darn near useless as a broken chair. Square just seemed to give you a map for good measure. A face saving tactic that seems almost pointless in hindsight.

Toward the end of the game you gain access to the famed airship of Final Fantasy lore. All Squareboy and Regular gamers alike know about the airship. It is what makes the Final Fantasy games so great. Being able to explore the world and countless sidequests the way they should be-- on a stiff wind. Unfortunately, the airship is by no means what it once was, so don't get too excited. You no longer control a little ship that rockets across the world map. Now you are given a menu from which you can access a Search command or bring up a list of possible destinations.

You can pick a destination to your hearts content but if you dive into a sidequest you'll probably be more disappointed then not. Like other Final Fantasy epics, Ten does not hold back with its sidequests. They are many and rich in rewards. However, most are downright inane and dumb. While the predeceasing games offered real quests where you saved folks or battled optional bosses, this game has you dodging butterflies and thunderbolts-- activities that take up much of your hard-earned free time. And while they do offer up huge rewards like Celestial Weapons, they do not seem hardly worth the rage and frustration you'll feel after mashing the X button enough times to reach 198 dodge thunderbolts, only to be struck down one shy of the goal: 200.

But, there are optional bosses that put up a good fight. The Omega Ruins and the Monster Arena are two optional areas that you can spend a good deal of time in. The Monster Arena for one, you could easily spend 40 or so hours plugging away in. And the rewards are rich, plenty of items and gil and even a Celestial Weapon are at stake. The great thing is, is that the Keeper will send you all throughout Spira, seeking Fiends for which he makes new bosses for you to battle. The Monster Arena is an optional sidequest that actually adds to the depth of the game and gives you a reason to revisit past lands.

Not every sidequest is filled with childish idiocy. Like all good Final Fantasy games, Ten is no different in your ability to summon Demi-gods to perform powerful attacks. As a matter of fact, Ten revolves around this very theme. Only your Demi-gods are now called Aeons and you can power them up until your heart's content. Being able to strengthen or grant them abilities is one area in which Ten shines. The great sidequests come in the form of extra Aeons. In addition to your standard storyline Aoens, you can go out of your way to get optional Aeons which are powerful.... and Final Fantasy fans will be delighted to see that a few of these babies are very recognizable from games past.

To continue with the Aeon's leveling up ability, I should probably mention the Sphere Grid. Spheres come in a few varieties like Power, Speed and Ability, and they are dropped by enemies of acquired through treasure chests all throughout the game. You must use these spheres to level up your Aeons. For instance, Power spheres will help increase attributes like strength and defense. In addition, you may also grant your Aeons additional powers like the spell Fira by using various items like the Light Candles you get from defeating enemies and the steal/mug/bribe functions.

Your spheres can also be used to improve the level of your party's status. The Sphere Grid is the new vehicle for this venture. Set up almost like a board game, you use ability points to move over nodes on the grid. Each node is designated with an attribute such as defense, strength or an ability like Thundara.... some nodes are even empty. It is great how you can choose a path and mold a character how you see fit.

The big drawback is an item called the Key sphere. These Key spheres are exhaustible items that are just like they sound-- keys. You'll encounter nodes that bare the numbers one through four and in order to get past them to milk the goodies beyond, you must have and use of the the Key spheres. The problem is, is that they are few and far between. Finding high level Key spheres like threes and fours is like looking for hot dogs made without lips and eyes. The further you get in the game, the more ability points you'll rack up and the less you'll be able to do with it. Those great spells like Holy and Demi will always be out of reach because they'll be guarded by four level four Key spheres. And to get there spheres, you must find the right enemies and burn all your hard earned gil bribing them-- which, by the way, hardly ever turns out in your favor.

If the Key spheres were more readably available, then the Sphere Grid would have been one of the most innovative status functions that Square has ever come up with. Instead, it just became another frustrating element that promised so much potential and ended up being plain dumb.

You could also customize your armors and weapons as well. This time around you don't have to use your spheres, instead, you use various items dropped and stolen from Fiends. You can make element savvy equipment or status ready equipment, the possibilities are only as limited as you make them, or by the items that you have in stock. This part of the game can take up considerable time and effort. I myself have two or three pages of notes scribbled towards the forging of one weapon or another. If only I would have paid that much attention in school.

The actual gameplay in itself is actually your standard Final Fantasy scheme. Although, they have added trigger commands enabling you to shuffle weapons, armor and even teammates. While it is a noble attempt to keep the game "real" I longed for something more, something like Chrono Cross had going for it. RPG's these days are growing with deeper and deeper combat systems and while the Squareboy purists probably wouldn't have it any other way, I think it's time for Square to add a little more bite into their gameplay.

You more or less travel Spira, casting spells, using weapons and capturing the same enemies. I'd say that excluding the Boss battles, they only actually animated 13 or so different enemies. They may look the same, but they do have different names and powers depending on what area your stomping around in. If you have played any of the PlayStation 1 Final Fantasy adventures, you probably shouldn't look too hard for anything new here. But that's the real rub, isn't it? Squareboys do not really want anything new, and that's why this game just felt stagnant. I think if I can put my finger on anything it is that:

The game was just stagnant. Nothing new. Nothing original. But nothing overtly horrible either.

The music, as always, was pretty darn good. It was subtle when it needed to be and got your heart racing when destruction was afoot. But as mentioned before, some of the voice acting was awful. Like with Yuna for instance. She sounded like the Jim Carey imitation of Cap'n James T. Kirk.... "Must.... save.... Spira."

"Hey Yuna, what do you want on your cheeseburger?"

"Just... cheese... and.... pickle... nothing.... else...."

But for every bad voice-actor, there were two good ones. I particularly enjoyed Wakka, Kihmari and Lulu's parts. Unfortunately, the childish whiny job they did with Tidus is something you have to bare with the entire breadth of the game.

As for the graphics, they are really second to none. And you'll be drawn back to the cut scenes for the eye candy that they are. The detail is amazing at times and I was truly impressed, even after getting the game a few years after it came out. I would have loved to seen it played out on a more powerful machine like the XBOX.

But, when you add it all up and get down to the nitty-gritty, I think you'll agree: something is lacking. I'd like to say I touched on a few of the finer points, but I can't help but think I was a little too rough on the old girl. She really is a decent game, if you can ignore some of the rough parts, like the sidequests-- or lack there of-- or the half developed Sphere Grid idea, or the stagnant. gameplay.

Far from Final Fantasy VII's second coming, Ten does offer a treat to the eyes and the potential of many midnight oil burning nights. Just whether you will feel as though you wasted 100 hours of your life is really up to you and how you feel about your life. I felt like I could've spent my time playing a better RPG, because I really don't get around to investing time into RPG's that often anymore, but I also felt like I should experience this one for myself. Maybe you'll do the same.

But my suggestion to you is that maybe you think about playing something else. Like if you missed the underrated Final Fantasy VIII, and if you missed I through VII, they all stand alone in the crowd. Final Fantasy X was touted to be an epic game of epic proportions. It was only a master of grand illusion, it was like going to Burger King for a steak diner. I won't be fooled again.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 12/09/04

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