Review by Disco1960
"Mmm... sweet, delicious fantasy."
Entries of the Final Fantasy series have always been memorable classics of one sort or another. Since the beginning, each of the Final Fantasy games were designed to be nothing less than epic quests for a group of heroes to defeat evil and save the world. (I suppose that's the appeal of the whole series, really, as anyone can share in the fantasy of being a hero.) Lately, for better or worse, the games have placed a greater emphasis on telling a complex and engaging story. Final Fantasy X is an ideal example of the direction that the series has been taking; it's larger and it's grander, but it still maintains the same basic qualities that people liked about the ones that came before.
Tidus, a professional blitzball player with a heart of gold, probably isn't the most impressive-looking protagonist of all time. Hailing from the land of Zanarkand, everything appears well for him until one day, when a large and highly unpleasant entity known as Sin appears in the sky and attacks everything in sight. Before he knows it, Tidus finds himself transported to the strange and deceptively peaceful-looking land of Spira, a place constantly at the brink of destruction. As it turns out, Spira is threatened by the very same entity that brought him here in the first place. Eventually, Tidus meets the high summoner Yuna, a young woman with the unenviable task of defeating Sin. Along with a colorful rank of guardians, Tidus joins Yuna on her quest, presumably with the hope of finding a way back home as well. Of course, a journey like this rarely ends up where you'd expect it to.
Tidus and the gang might not look like much upon first glance, but they may prove to be one of the more likable cast of characters in a Final Fantasy game. Much like its immediate predecessors, FFX spends quite a bit of time delving into the stories of the supporting characters; such as Wakka, the noble captain of the blitzball team, or Auron, a mysterious individual who's somehow related to Tidus's father. You've also the curvaceous black mage Lulu, perky techie Rikku, and tragically un-horny Kimahri. With a brave new world and so many great characters to explore, the plot will often have moments and touch themes that resonate with people emotionally. Things like life, love, religion, and all that good stuff. Not to mention how it's bound to be full of surprises.
Until recently, the creation of a Final Fantasy game has been limited by the level of resources available at the time. The original Final Fantasy wasn't very well in a position to impress players with jaw-dropping graphics and a cinematic presentation of story, yet still remains one of the greatest videogame experiences ever. More recent Final Fantasy games didn't have the benefit of voices, yet players could easily forget that they weren't hearing a word being said thanks to the quality of the storytelling. With that having been changed, technically, it's as if the makers of Final Fantasy games had been operating with a hand tied behind their back up until this point. When you think about it, there's almost no way FFX could be anything less than amazing.
As a result of FFX's foundation on a more advanced platform than its predecessors, numerous changes have taken place. Most notably, there are the obvious graphical improvements and the unprecedented inclusion of voice acting that fans will most certainly be pleased about. And the game doesn't just look a little better than the last ones, either; they've taken it to such a level that one would imagine is nearly impossible to surpass. Since in-game characters can talk now, it's more than ever like they are really there when you sit and listen to them. The presence of such significant changes never finds itself jarring the player's experience with the game, although the frequent narrative interludes by Tidus may often bring to mind thoughts of The Wonder Years. You might notice than none of the other characters ever address our intrepid protagonist by his name; deep inside everyone knows why, but nobody's going to say anything.
To assign individual characters their powers and abilities, the game now utilizes what it calls the Sphere Grid, which is basically a large map-like structure that contains all of the powers, abilities, and statistical bonuses a character can gain. When a character gains levels, you take a path along the grid and fill up spheres that relate to particular bonuses rather than simply receiving autonomous upgrades. The Sphere Grid is roughly divided into areas of expertise, such as black magic or thievery; each character starts out at a different point of the Sphere Grid but have the capability to expand outward, thereby allowing each character to remain a degree of individuality, without entirely limiting their potential to function outside of their intended specialty. Typically, the system involved in assigning abilities tends to defy explanation for a good length of time, but the process of using the Sphere Grid is turns out to be fairly intuitive (especially compared to how these things worked in previous games).
Final Fantasy X introduces the option for the player to swap characters in and out of a battle, in response the question of why the others in your party used to always hang back when the boss showed up. You're still limited to three characters on-screen at a time, but this ability makes fighting much more convenient. This reduces a lot of the overdependence that players would have otherwise placed on a single party configuration, and there's always going to be more than one instance where you require the talents of a character who isn't currently walking at the front of the line. It still doesn't make very much sense from a realistic standpoint, but the upside is definitely appreciated.
Occasionally, as you progress through the game, you'll run into a few areas that involve heavy puzzle-solving. Storyline-wise, they're supposedly necessary to complete in order to solicit the services of aeons that Yuna could then call to engage opponents in battle. In reality, the puzzles hardly seem appropriate to the situation; the primary method of solving these is trial and error, and it's hard to imagine how the successful solution of these signifies anyone's qualification to wield the power of the aeons. Most of the time, you'll probably find yourself randomly moving spheres around and sitting in awe when they light up. The issue isn't even that these puzzles are terribly difficult, but that it's doubtful somebody working through these areas is going to get any satisfaction from them. The only real thing driving anyone to figure these out is the perpetual desire to see what comes next. And it's perhaps due to the increased focus on story that some of the gameplay aspects appear dwarfed, in a way; the lesser moments of the game would inevitably feel like a chore or waste of time when the player is more involved in the drama.
Fortunately, Final Fantasy X offers plenty of greater moments to enhance the experience of the journey. The game is chock-full of secrets and sidequests for players to discover and enjoy. You'll have the opportunity to do some wild things, like translate a foreign language and go hunting for large, exotic monsters. Spira's home to an active and flourishing blitzball league, if you can actually manage to figure out how to compete in the sport. All the extra features provide welcome distractions from the journey to save the world. The secrets, like the aeons you never knew existed, are all quite well-hidden, too; so odds are, you won't find everything there is on your initial playthrough unless you're really looking.
Even if you chose not to indulge in any of the extra material, Final Fantasy X is still well worth the price of admission. It's got an enthralling story that'll hold you until the end, and beefy amounts of action like a Final Fantasy game should have. Any thoughts that this game would be disappointing compared to any of its predecessors will be put to rest once you get going here. Everything might look and feel slightly different at first, but the core gameplay elements definitely haven't changed much. Magic, oversized swords, and random encounters ready to wear your party down with their sheer multitude are as present as ever, and you get all of that played to the tunes of a unique and impeccable soundtrack. Just like the other Final Fantasies, the ride is good and lengthy, and when it's over you want more than anything to go through it again.
If you've enjoyed any of the last few games of the series, it's a good bet you're going to like Final Fantasy X. The fantasy's never felt quite so real, and the characters in it have never felt quite so human before. On top of that, Spira is much nicer and prettier than the last world. That automatically makes it more worth saving.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 04/06/05
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