"For better or for worse, Final Fantasy X begins the current trend of voice acting and cinematic presentation in RPGs."

Until Final Fantasy X came along, Squaresoft had told their stories in a very traditional sense. Simple text appeared on the screen, and though one could ascertain the style of character from their general look, the final touch on any character was done within one's own mind. As text appears on a screen, the way a character delivers said text is done within the player's own imagination.

It seems that all it took for the RPG trend to shift to voice acting and longer, movie-like scenes was one influential masterpiece from Squaresoft. Final Fantasy X is that masterpiece.

As the game begins, a small campfire is set peacefully ablaze on top of a mountain. Various weapons are strewn together in the ground, and a group of travelers sits around the fire; they seem to be exhausted, in utter awe of their current situation, and on the edge of battle fatigue. One woman, dressed in blue and white, looks especially in despair. A colorfully dressed boy clad in black and yellow soon walks over and puts his hand on her shoulder in an effort to comfort her. A wonderful piano theme plays in the background, and you are eventually treated to a beautiful view of the sunset.

Thus, Final Fantasy X takes off in flashback form. The title screen intro actually takes place near the end of the main story, and you need to get to the bottom of why everyone was so heartbroken in the first place. The game truly begins in a gigantic city called Zanarkand, and you take control of Tidus, the game's main character. In the world around Tidus, the biggest event that ever takes place is the sport of Blitzball. Tidus's father, Jecht, was the best player in the entire league during his prime, and the trait passed on to Tidus as he reached adulthood.

Unfortunately, Tidus's father wasn't exactly the prototypical parental figure. He was a drunkard, as well as mentally abusive. Nothing Tidus ever did was good enough to please Jecht, and Tidus grew up in an environment in which he fely very unwanted by his own parents. This took its toll on him as he matured, and Tidus grew to be a very sensitive man who wears his heart on his sleeve. Tidus's back story is solid and deep, and though this is very typical of a Squaresoft RPG lead character, the style with which the story of Final Fantasy X is presented allows for character development to be explored to a much higher extent than in any Square title of the past.

After some expositionary events, a Blitzball match gets started in Zanarkand, Tidus's home town; but everything goes completely wrong. Zanarkand gets attacked by a gigantic monster entitled Sin, and before long, the largest city in the world is in ruins. Tidus soon joins up with his friend Auron to attempt to repel Sin, but as the two finally manage to approach the creature, the mysterious Auron seems to have a change of heart. He allows Tidus to get sucked into the monster, and within moments Tidus is transported to a world called Spira. Alone and confused, Tidus desperately searches for anything around him that may allow him to survive.

Final Fantasy X follows a rather standard RPG format. The world faces an enormous threat, and an unlikely band of heroes has to stop it. However, Final Fantasy X delivers this story in a very non-standard way. The main character is thrown into a world that he has absolutely no knowledge of, so he essentially knows as much about where he is as you the player do. This allows most people who play the game to not just play, but to experience and to relate. As Tidus gains knowledge of the world around him, so do you. It's a brilliant form of perspective.

Tidus slowly gains his bearing of the world around him, and before long, he starts to meet some people. One such person he comes across is named Wakka, captain of a Blitzball team entitled the Besaid Aurochs. Given that the team's only good player is Wakka, they could desperately use some help. Tidus and Wakka hit it off almost instantly, and things start looking up for everyone.

The party eventually encounters the village of Besaid, and within it, Yuna. The main focal point of Final Fantasy X revolves around Yuna's journey for most of the game. In the World of Spira, which is where Tidus wound up after getting sucked into Sin, the citizens live in constant fear of Sin. Whenever people gather together to celbrate any form of happiness, Sin attacks them and ruins everything. It has turned Spira into a cycle of death, hence why Spira is named what it is. There is a lot of symbolism and underlying motifs in the game, which only add to the brilliant method that Square uses to present the story.

When you first meet Yuna, you see that she has become a summoner. The role of summoners in Spira are simple: they are to go on a pilgrimage to all of the temples across Spira, acquire their summon spirits (Aeons, as the game calls them), and bring them to the ruins of Zanarkand so that they may learn to summon the Final Aeon capable of defeating Sin and bringing The Calm to Spira. It is the role of Yuna's Guardians to safeguard her on her journey, of which you will eventually be a member.

Unfortunately, though this process has happened many times through Spira's history, Sin always returns to plague its people. The followers of Yevon, the main religion in Spira, believe that this cycle exists because the citizens of Spira are to pay for the sin of creating Machina within the world. This leads into a philosophical and religious analysis that goes far deeper than simply accompanying a girl on a pilgrimage. No RPG is complete without a lot of plot twists and a "nothing is truly what it seems" atmosphere, and though it takes a little while for FFX's storyline to become enthralling, it does not disappoint before all is said and done.

The entire idea of a pilgrimage that ultimately is destined to end in Zanarkand comes as even more of a shock to Tidus. He's trying to tell everyone that he's from Zanarkand, yet everyone looks at him like he's insane before telling him that Zanarkand was destroyed 1000 years prior to the time period in which Final Fantasy X's main storyline is taking place. Learning the truth behind everything is fun to see in the game, as is Tidus's brilliant character development.

The way the story is presented is also very unique. Gone are the days where you simply see text on a screen. Final Fantasy X is presented like a movie, with voice acting for nearly every character, and the entire game's story playing out with one scene after another. You can tell that Square put their heart and soul into making the game; they could have easily had the characters simply speaking to one another in fairly monotone voices with little expression, but the designers went all out. The characters have facial expressions, body language, they interact with their surrounding environment, and for the most part, the voice actors do an amazing job fitting the characters they play. The game's scenes literally look like they come from a movie, and though the graphical standards of the scenes aren't necessarily up to the standard set by the most recent RPGs, the trend had to start somewhere; Square did an absolutely fantastic job on the game, and the effort shows.

The one major drawback to this is that characterization is forced upon you. Rather than drawing your own conclusions about what a character's final image would be, the way FFX's story is presented forces it upon you. There is no deciding what you feel the character should be like, and the end result is that an otherwise good character can be ruined for you if you don't feel that their acting ability is strong enough. This is the big complaint that many people have about Tidus and Yuna. Their backgrounds and development are quite good, yet many people cannot see past their personalities or even their voice actors, despite them both fitting the parts quite well. This may not have been the case before cinema style RPGs.

New features are also seen in the gameplay of FFX. The first thing that most players will notice is that the traditional Active Time Bar (ATB) system has been disregarded in favor of turn-based combat. When the party enters a battle, a turn order will appear on the top right corner of the screen. The order that the characters and enemies appear in is the order they attack in; it's as simple as that. You will also have access to your entire party while in battle, which gives a feel of unity among the party you're traveling with rather than RPGs of the past. If Yuna is to have her Guardians around at all times, it would only make sense for them all to be available in battle. Old veterans of the Final Fantasy series will have no trouble adapting to the flow of battle, and it's friendly enough to everyone so that new players can virtually master the system within minutes.

The major con with this new system is that aside from optional bosses, the entire game is very easy, even in the hands of a complete novice. Not only do you have all the time necessary to deal with the enemies that are in front of you, but you can simply exchange a wounded character for a full health character that is sitting on the sidelines. Most enemies and bosses in the game are not nearly challenging enough to overcome this.

Traditional leveling up styles of the past have been done away with as well, and it has been replaced by the Sphere Grid. The Sphere Grid looks intimidating at first, but it's actually very easy to navigate. Each character in your party uses the same Sphere Grid, but they each have a certain section of it to themselves. As you win battles, your characters earn AP. AP allows your characters to move along the various lines of the Sphere Grid, and the more your characters have, the farther they can move. As they move along, there are various stat increases and skills that your characters can learn along their way, and all it takes to do so is to have the necessary sphere needed to unlock whatever sphere you're on. For example, Tidus is sitting on a section of the Sphere Grid labeled Strength +4. By using a Power Sphere, Tidus's Strength stat increases by 4. It's as simple as that, and it works the same way for every node you come across on the Sphere Grid.

For the most part, each character's denoted section of the Sphere Grid is very straightforward and easy to navigate. The trick to the grid is when all of your characters learn everything within their denoted section. When this happens, the next step is to move your characters into other sections of the grid and to teach them the skills and stat increases from the sections that once belonged to other party members. It may sound confusing at first, but it's actually very easy to do, and it gives you a very personal feel when customizing your characters. You can even go the extra mile and not only teach every character every node on the grid, but work to increase every stat on every character to 255. The Sphere Grid, though fairly easy to use, appeals to both the hardcore and casual RPG gamer.

The last major feature that was done away with was the world map. I personally found this disappointing, but given how linear the game is until you get your airship, it's forgivable. There is virtually no backtracking until you get an airship, and once you're on it, you can instantly go to any location on the map.

Of course, no RPG is complete without sidequests and mini games, and FFX has both of these covered. When you have nothing better to do but to kill time, you can go find everyone's ultimate weapon, catch some butterflies, dodge lightning bolts, capture monsters, and of course, play Blitzball. Spira lives, eats, and sleeps Blitzball, and once you get started, you will do the same. Blitzball is arguably the deepest mini game ever created, and it puts even the famous Triple Triad of FF8 fame to shame.

Musically, though most of the score in FFX is rather mellow, it still manages to perfectly set the mood for virtually every occasion through the game. The true beauty of FFX, however, is in its graphics. As I mentioned before, amazing detail was put into the characters during their scenes. But it goes even farther than that. Every detail of virtually every environment is impeccable, and no stone is left unturned. FFX is not only a feast for the mind, but the eyes as well.

Overall, FFX does not have any glaring issues. The story may drag on for a little while, the new features may take some getting used to, the game isn't overly difficult, and you have certain aspects of the characterization thrust upon you, but none of these issues are large enough so as to ruin the total gameplay experience. On the contrary, I would argue that this makes Final Fantasy X friendly to all players. Most people don't play RPGs to frustrate themselves, though there are more than enough things to do in FFX for the hardcore RPG gamer as well. And even if you don't necessarily like RPGs, the influence of Final Fantasy X is undeniable.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/30/05

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