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Final Fantasy X Review

by Jason Venter

Sit back in your chair. Let the screen grow hazy as your mind wanders back through the years, to great moments in Final Fantasy. You must have such moments. Even if you came late to the series--that is, if you joined around the time of Final Fantasy VII or later--you can probably think back to that elevator ride up the side of the Shinra building, or to the day the world cracked, or to the voyage deep into the Temple of Fiends. There have been great moments for many gamers in nearly every Final Fantasy title. Because of this, everyone has come to rightfully expect a great deal out of Final Fantasy X, the last in the series to take its regular form, and I've heard the last to be directed by the franchise's creator.

By now, then, you're probably thinking that Final Fantasy X is going to be a collection of everything that has made the franchise great so far. It will have moogles, chocobos, Cid, and all the other things that mark the franchise. It will have the familiar battle system, the epic storyline, the well-developed characters, and the awesome visual presentation for which the games have always been known. Well, you're almost right. But that game was Final Fantasy IX on the Playstation, and Final Fantasy X marks the first time the franchise has appeared on a newer system. Perhaps because of that, Final Fantasy X is very, very different. It still contains moogles, chocobos, and Cid. It still has the epic storyline and the characters and the visuals. There are also some huge changes, however. And there are smaller changes, as well as the millions of tiny points that detract from the game.

The question of whether or not the game is good, then, must be asked. And the answer, despite the many shortcomings, is a resounding 'yes'. Final Fantasy X is not only a great game, but it is also one of the best the franchise or genre has ever seen.

Trying to decide what the biggest change is for the series takes more hours than I care to devote to the topic. There are several enormous changes, and they each affect the game in profound ways. What it comes down to, though, are five main changes: spoken dialogue, a different approach to the overworld, the revamped battle system, the character development, and blitzball. These five changes to the game affect it in nearly every fashion you might imagine. They are what shape Final Fantasy X into the work of art it truly is. Because of that, this review is going to focus on each change one at a time, instead of taking the approach I might normally choose. Once I've gone through that, I'll make a final attempt to tie everything together for a final conclusion. You're in for a lot of reading if you go through this whole thing, but I hope you'll forgive me when you consider it took me longer to write the danged thing than it will take you to read it. And besides, this is one game that deserves the lengthy explanation. With that said, I shall begin.

Spoken Dialogue

Since the days of the original NES, the Final Fantasy franchise has contained a wide cast of characters willing to talk at length about nearly anything. Ted Woolsey handled the script translations for America for a long time, working through literally thousands of pages of text. Then came the introduction of the FMV, and the Playstation saw awesome videos where dialogue was still captioned, but more often wasn't explained at all. Outside that, characters still spoke in text. The Final Fantasy series encouraged a lot of younger players to learn how to read more effectively.

That's changing, and it's changing right now. Believe it or not, a huge percentage of the game's text is spoken. You'll want to have the volume turned to an audible level. Sure, you can read the subtitles, but you're really robbing yourself of the experience. They gave us voices to listen to, now, and we should respect that.

In case you're wondering, spoken dialogue isn't limited to only the main characters. Nor does every word they speak come out your speakers. However, the vast majority of dialogue does. There are long exchanges between characters, too. An example takes place early in the game. Tidus, the game's main protagonist, hears a conversation between Lulu and Wakka. They are talking about his relationship to Yuna. As he listens, you hear the two people talking. When they're done, you can guide Tidus up to the deck where they wait. Talk to them a few times and the dialogue will be spoken. If you keep talking, they will eventually just say something and you'll not hear a thing, just see the words scroll across the bottom of the screen.

Even when you're in the middle of a mountain trail, you might find someone willing to speak to you, and the dialogue is as likely to come out your speakers as not. So it's really amazing.

Perhaps more interesting than the actual quantity of speech is the quality. For the most part, the voices are quite good. Tidus has the most lines, naturally, and Wakka. I really think the actor for Wakka does a good job. He sounds rather odd, but he's a unique individual. His words don't seem unnatural, and in no time you'll get used to him. Most of the actors and actresses do a really great job, in fact. You come to know the characters by the way they sound when they speak. It's just that sometimes, their lines sound a little corny.

Tidus is probably the best example. There's one place in the game where he's teaching Yuna how to whistle, so his fingers are in his mouth. The actor must have taken the time to actually read lines with his mouth full. The problem is that on-screen, the character's fingers are nowhere near his mouth. So it sounds like he's been to the dentist and is talking around cotton swabs. These instances are very rare, though. More common is a situation where Tidus goes through his lines and says something that sounds clunky. He'll pause for effect or whatever at the wrong places. Spoken dialogue is, I suppose, too interpretive for any voice actor to ever completely satisfy everyone.

Of course, with spoken dialogue, it's important that the characters look real as they talk. Final Fantasy X has incredible graphics. Imagine Skies of Arcadia on the Sega Dreamcast, then double the quality. That's what Final Fantasy X basically looks like. What this means in terms of dialogue is that you can really tell when someone's speech isn't synched. Improperly synched dialogue happens to be extremely common in Final Fantasy X. I would go so far as to say it's more common than dialogue that has been done properly.

The closing verdict on dialogue, then, is that it really is a mixed bag. There are minor annoyances that sometimes detract from the 'perfect' gameplay experience, but they become easy to ignore after a time.

The Overworld

I still remember (though I've not played the title in years) the bridge in the first Final Fantasy game. It appeared after a journey to the Temple of Fiends. Credits rolled, and suddenly there was a larger chunk of the world open to you. Then you got the ship and you could voyage down to the village of the elves, explore the cave, find TNT, and blast your way to a whole new world. Then there was the airship and suddenly it seemed there was hardly a place you couldn't go. Mountains, lakes, caves, and forests all worked together to help create a fantastic world in the mind of the player. The overworld, I call it, and it's a big part of most RPG's. It has been a large part of every Final Fantasy game to date, too, except now for Final Fantasy X.

The overworld in Final Fantasy X is gone, now, replaced by a map. There's no more wandering from town to town, or setting up camp at the base of the mountains for a level-building romp. Just typing this makes a nostalgic tear come to my eye, but I'm afraid it's true. The overworld is really gone.

Okay, so you have to deal with a map. That's doable, right? Right. It really is. When you completely explore one area, the story just kind of works things out so the map appears and you're on your way to the next one. You'll either appear there instantly, or some story will unfold--and maybe a battle--and eventually you'll still wind up at that next area. In the early portions of the game, you don't have much control over where you go. If you want to strengthen your team--something I'll discuss in greater depth later in this review--you will need to wander about in a dungeon looking for fights.

With the overworld gone, it might seem like there would be a terrible lack of balance. After all, Final Fantasy games, like Dragon Warrior titles, have always intrigued me because of the opportunities for exploration. Remember finding that one forest where you could fight the dinosaurs in Final Fantasy VI? No more. But it ends up not mattering. I'm thinking the lack of the overworld was actually a good choice, as it allows the game's developers to focus on the areas they appreciate more fully.

There have been plenty of RPG's to successfully do away with the 'overworld', or at least with random battles between towns and dungeons. Just recall Grandia, Breath of Fire III, or Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete for three fairly recent examples of titles that successfully do that. And Final Fantasy X does it, too. So although I might not like the change to the franchise entirely, it really does work for the game's cohesiveness. If only for that, I'm willing to endure it. Besides, leveling up isn't so awful as you might think as a result.

Turn-based Battles

I mentioned earlier that there has been a change to the battle system, and I wasn't joking. When console RPG's first surfaced, they all employed something known as the turn-based battle system. What this means is that you take turns with the enemies. Each group issues their commands, then watches what happens when units clash. Over time, this was changed. The Final Fantasy series presented a more active form of battle (which other developers promptly copied in slightly altered forms) through which character stats and such affected turn order.

Final Fantasy X sort of combines both the older turn-based battles, and the more active ones adopted around the time of Final Fantasy IV. When you go into a battle, your stats will affect turn order. But when your turn comes, you can take as long as you like to decide what you wish to do. No pressure. While this worked for older games with static images like Dragon Warrior or something, it's rather amusing to see beautifully-animated beasts huffing and puffing while they stare at your party.

One comment people sometimes had with turn-based battles was that they seemed so slow. Well, Final Fantasy X actually makes battles more...active. That's hard to believe, I know, but it's true. Instead of waiting for a gauge to fill, you simply select your course of action and away you go. Battles can take as little as half the time, which is good since battles are still random (that is, Tidus walks about on the map and suddenly the screen shatters to reveal the battlefield).

In addition to the change to turn-based battles, something people might consider a step back, Final Fantasy X introduces what is absolutely the best battle innovation the franchise has ever seen: switching team members. No, it doesn't sound like much, but it profoundly affects not only battles, but the way you develop your characters.

Let me paint a typical scenario. Tidus is walking through a forest, headed for a temple. Suddenly, the battle begins. The screen cuts to Tidus, Yuna, and Wakka. They are facing a group of three creatures: a flying monster, a jelly-shaped slime, and some monster with a dangerous, whip-like tail. It's time for Tidus to attack. You tell him to attack the monster with the tail and he does a dangerous blow to it that kills it instantly. That leaves two monsters with which to contend. Now, Wakka has a ball he throws to attack, so he can easily reach the flying monster. He throws the ball and takes it down. Now there's one monster and your party has used two turns. The monster gets to attack next, though. It strikes with lightning, some good damage to Tidus. At this point, you have an option. Yuna could cast a healing spell to help Tidus out, or she could summon a beat to fight the slime, or she can switch out. She could attack, too, but you've fought this monster before and you know she can't do much damage. Since we're talking about switches, suppose you decide to switch. You press the 'L' button and now comes a list of the fighters in reserve. You pick Lulu and she switches with Yuna. Now Lulu can attack instantly, without waiting. She casts her water spell and the monster is gone.

It's amazing how much of a difference this makes. When you find a new area, monsters are fairly tough, so you take your time defeating them. You put each character into the fight at one point or another, too, as the game encourages switching. And just how does it encourage it? Well, any character who plays a role, even if he just uses an item or casts a healing spell--or even if he swings a sword at a foe but misses--gets experience points. So it pays to have each party member contribute.

Eventually, of course, your group will find themselves facing a boss. If the boss wipes out one party member and you can't revive him or her, then you are down to only 2 open positions for your group. It's interesting to note that if you have 3 dead characters at once, even if 3 more are in reserve, the battle is over and you've lost. In this way, Final Fantasy X manages to keep things from becoming too simple. Neither do things ever become truly frustrating. Even though you have the 3-character party again, you feel almost as if everyone is available. It's nice.

Also nice are the summoning spells. You knew they would be back, and they are. This time, they're called aeons. They come closest to being guardian forces from Final Fantasy VIII, in that they have stats just like a regular party member. The new innovation, though, is that they stick around once summoned. You can only call one at a time, and it will fight for your party until it is vanquished. The aeon has health points, magic points, a list of moves it can use, and even an overdrive.

Ah, yes, the overdrive. I forgot to mention that, but you should have assumed it existed, anyway. When a character deals and/or takes enough damage, he or she has special moves available called overdrives. These are neat because they often require button-pressing events to complete. One character might make you press an odd combination to do full damage. Another might make you rotate an analog stick a few times to build up damage. It goes without saying that you will want the official Playstation 2 controller--or a good fake with analog sticks--to play things properly.

In any event, battles are no longer the groan-fest they once were. I found battles in Final Fantsy X more welcome than they have been in any other title in the franchise. Battles just feel so natural and smooth that even if some players still find them a hassle, they can't complain quite so much as they could before.

Character Development

When I use the term 'character development', you probably think of a character's growth throughout the game in emotional terms. A past example might be Squall's changing feelings regarding Rinoa in Final Fantasy VIII. And although I do mean that, I also mean the nuts and bolts part. That is, the way a character gains strength in battle and a list of magic spells.

Really, the character development system is one of the most interesting parts of Final Fantasy X. In battle, you win not proper experience points, but points that go toward other points. That's a little weird. Imagine that experience points are replaced by items. These items will allow you to modify your character. It's still going to confuse you, but it's the closest to the truth I can get.

Basically, then, you gradually collect these points, which are like fuel. I compare them to fuel because when you go to change your character, it's like you've entered a whole new world. Character growth takes place on a grid. This grid looks like a sphere, to a certain extent, with bubbles connected by lines. You move from bubble to bubble, using items to learn abilties, increase health, strength, and so forth. Each move forward requires one little cell, so you want to progress slowly and make sure that each move you make does the most to strengthen your character. And though you can backtrack, it pays to go in more or less the way the game encourages.

Interestingly enough, the whole grid is one big map. Each character in your party starts in one area or another. So Tidus would start near things that will improve his physical strength, while Lulu or Yuna will be nearer to bubbles that teach magical skills. Any character can go to any part of the sphere, eventually, depending on how you use your points.

I say eventually because there are barriers. You'll see what I mean when you come to a lock and you don't have the item to open it. These items are won in battle or in blitzball tournaments or whatever else, and each lock requires one. Once you've used the key, it's gone for good.

The sphere grid is really, really fascinating, as you might imagine. It's not so astounding as I might make it sound, but mastering it really does take some thought. Not many games have ever given you these kind of options for character growth, and I couldn't be happier.

Besides the nuts and bolts stuff I've described above, though, there's other character growth. From Final Fantasy IV and onward, the franchise has concentrated a great deal of time on helping the player get to know the characters he is controlling. Many critics have suggested that this keeps the series from being truly a 'role-playing' series. Regardless of your thoughts on the matter, Final Fantasy X continues in that same direction. I'm amazed by how well the developers do at helping you get to know the characters. Perhaps it's just that I hear them speak aloud, but I feel as if I know them better than any before. Tidus is friendly without being saintly or annoying, Wakka has a tragic past in which he lost someone and still has had trouble adjusting to it, Lulu is a little bit of an icecube but she's melting, and so forth. Everyone will likely have a favorite character. Though I expect fan fictions to develop from this game at an alarming rate, I no longer can say they seem necessary; the game does such a good job developing things that you hardly need an imagination to enjoy it.


The final main change I mentioned at the start of this review is blitzball. Since Final Fantasy VII, it seems every Final Fantasy title has had some sort of side game to engage players. I especially enjoyed the one in Final Fantasy IX.

For Final Fantasy X, Square tries a slightly different approach. It's still the same, in some ways. You go throughout the world pressing the square button to find other players. But rather than competing, you are recruiting. That's because you want to build the perfect athletic team. The main game here is, after all, blitzball.

Looking to describe blitzball, I find the best thing to which I can accurately compare it is underwater soccer (or football, for the world outside America). Your team members are playing in a huge bubble, totally filled with water. They are apparently able to breath for all eternity without coming up for air. Magic water or something. There are about 6 players on each team. Five are out on the field in a square formation with one at the center, while the sixth serves as the goalie. And the goal is to get the ball in the opposing team's goal. Players can pass, dribble, or shoot. Stats will affect this. You have direct control over your team member that has the ball. If he comes up against opposing team members, he can choose his course of action. Stats make this more strategy than it is action, though there's a little of both.

The whole idea is really quite cool, but the execution is likely to turn off players before it can become rewarding. I went through about an hour's worth of in-game tutorials before I knew what I was doing. Once I knew what I was doing, I still sucked. You only have to play the game once, after which point you can do as you like (there are opportunities to play at any of the games abundant save points). When I played that first game, I soon just wished it would end. I didn't score a single goal. Then later I played some more and still didn't score. Then I lost my best player because I couldn't afford to pay him to sign with me again. So that sucked. But like I said, you can recruit other players to join your team throughout the world.

What makes blitzball so important is that it's an integral part of the story. Tidus is a star player, his dad (an insanely important character) was, and you'll constantly find people who talk about it. So it pays to play, just to see the attraction. I only wish Square had made it easier to get into. Three hours of playing it and I still hadn't scored a single goal. That's just insane. It has depth, too. You can learn moves from opposing teams, your gain blitzball levels, and so forth. But it's all wasted for most players, since they'll have trouble learning and continuing to play.

In Conclusion

Well, then, I've covered the major changes to the game. And they really do affect how much you can enjoy everything else. The main effect of all these changes, though, is that Final Fantasy X is the most movie-like of the series to date. I know that's the word some of you were hoping you wouldn't hear. The franchise has faced numerous criticisms because people don't buy games to watch them; they buy them to play.

However, even though Final Fantasy X at many times feels like a movie (even outside of the FMV, so good are the in-game graphics), there's enough depth to the system that it is insanely playable. It's almost a best of both worlds kind of deal, but not quite.

Since Final Fantasy X is so movie-like, storyline is more important than ever. It's story that I have to say feels a little stale. I guess I'm just jaded. After all, there's a lot going on. Every character has some major stake in things, there's lots of destruction, war, and political alliances. All the intrigue is there. I find myself much more fascinated with events than I was with happenings in Final Fantasy VIII. Yet despite all that, something feels like it's missing. Like I said, I'm probably just jaded. Even so, I found that even when I was at the computer or at work, I wondered what would happen next in the plot.

The real conclusion, then, depends on you. If you loved everything about Final Fantasy VI to the point that no game will ever be good for you again unless it closely follows those principles, Final Fantasy X might be considered a step in the opposite direction. It's cinematic to an extreme. If you think an in-depth storyline doesn't belong in an RPG, you won't like this. If you're indifferent to all that, though, and are just looking for a damn good role-playing game, then Final Fantasy X is an absolute must-have. Not because of but in spite of its flaws, Final Fantasy X is the best RPG we're likely to see on a console for years.

Rating: 92

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