Final Fantasy X Review
Final Fantasy is, to my knowledge, the first RPG series to reach the double digits, in terms of sequels. What began as a game to compete with Enix's Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior in the US) way back in 1987, has become one of the most successful video game franchises of all time, spawning countless merchandise, cartoons, and even a failed attempt at a feature film. Now, Final Fantasy has reached the next generation game consoles. After the last three games took the Playstation by storm, Final Fantasy X finds its way to the Playstation 2. In a way, this game is also the last of its kind. Starting with Final Fantasy XI, Square plans to bring the series on line, and take the franchise in "bold and new directions." So, in a way, this may be the last "traditional" Final Fantasy game. (Unless the on line idea is a complete bust.)
The game's story returns to a more sci-fi theme, after the nostalgic, traditional medieval fantasy setting of Final Fantasy IX. The game begins in in the city of Zanarkand, a large, bustling metropolis thriving with life. The city is home to Tidus, a young, cocky athlete who is the star player on the city's championship Blitzball team, the Zanarkand Abes. Despite his care-free attitude, and his legions of adoring fans, Tidus seems to hold a lot of past pain, mainly surrounding his father, who disappeared ten years ago, and whom Tidus has always hated and resented.
As the game opens, Tidus is in the middle of a furious Blitzball tournament, when suddenly, Zanarkand is attacked by a mysterious demonic force which begins to wipe out the city. Tidus manages to escape, and runs into his friend, Auron, who explains that the creature attacking the city is known as Sin. Tidus and Auron try to make their way through the city, fighting off the various monsters that spawn off of the creature, but in the end, both Tidus and Auron become trapped, and are sucked into Sin itself. When Tidus awakens, he finds himself alone, with Auron nowhere to be found. Not only that, Tidus is in a completely different place that he has never seen before. From the information he is able to gather from people, Tidus discovers that it is 1,000 years from the day Sin attacked Zanarkand, and that his former city home is now considered a sacred place. Cities are much more primitive and simple these days, and do not rely heavily on machines and technology, as people believe cities dependent on technology attracts Sin.
Eventually, Tidus meets up with a young summoner girl named Yuna, and her loyal Guardians that have been sworn to protect her. She is on a journey to defeat Sin, and Tidus becomes wrapped up in Yuna's quest. Oddly enough, Tidus eventually discovers that Yuna is familiar with his father, Jecht. What is the connection between Jecht and this group of noble Guardians? Just what is Sin anyway, and how did it come to be? And how will Tidus find a way back to his home and his own time?
This story unfolds in a very cinematic way. In fact, there were many times when I felt I was participating in a CGI animated movie, rather than playing a video game. The game includes over 5 hours of voice dialogue, and countless CGI cinematic sequences that help move the story along. In fact, some people have (rightfully) complained that sometimes, it feels like you watch the game more than you play it. There is no world map in this game, the storyline leads you from place to place, which gives the game a very linear feel that some people may not enjoy. Sure, there are some side quests later in the game, but for the most part, you are under the story's control, as it drags you along from place to place. It would have been nice if you had a bit of control over the game's story. Maybe you would have to make choices at different times, and the choice you made affected the outcome of the story, and there could be multiple endings or something.
Fortunately, you don't spend all your time watching the story unfold. When you do get to play, the game holds true to Final Fantasy traditions, as well as some new features to keep the series fresh. As is always the case with Final Fantasy, you encounter random battles as you make your way through dungeons. However, there have been some changes. For one, you are once again limited to only three characters fighting at once, instead of four, like in FF IX. You can switch characters at any time with a press of the L1 button on the controller, and it's recommended you do so, so every character in your party gets a chance to fight. Your characters will not be rewarded any Ability Points (more on that later) if they do not actually participate in battle, so in order to keep your party fairly balanced, it's recommended to try to have every character fight at least once in each battle.
That's not the only change in the battle system, however. As mentioned earlier, Yuna, the female lead, is a summoner, so she can, of course, summon giant monsters, called Aeons, to lend a hand in battle. That idea may be nothing new, however this time, when Yuna summons an Aeon, the monster becomes a part of the battle, and you get to control it. It gets its own Hit Points, and its own unique skills and attacks. Another major change to the game's battle system is the fact that the battles are now turn based. No longer will the monsters you're fighting be able to attack you while you are making decisions for your party. There is a handy chart at the top of the screen that shows the order that the characters (both your party, and the monsters) will get to move, so you can plan out your strategy in battle this way.
However, the biggest change in this game would have to be how you power up your characters. No longer do your characters gain levels, like in just about every RPG, and experience points are now a thing of the past. This game uses the new Ability Sphere Grid feature. It may seem complex and a bit intimidating at first, but it's quite simple to use. When you successfully win a battle, you gain Ability Points (AP). When you've gained enough AP, your characters will gain an Ability Level. When you feel your level the characters is high enough, you go to the menu screen, and select Sphere Grid. You are then presented with a giant stone tablet with various spaces placed about it. It kind of looks like a complex board game. Anyway, each space on the Grid represents a different ability or spell, or a stat power up for your character. (Such as extra Hit Points, more resistance to magic attacks, etc.) You must move the cursor that represents your character across the board to the skill, or stat power up that you desire. The number of spaces you can move is determined by your Ability Level at the present time. So, if Tidus is at Level 5, he can move a maximum of 5 spaces on his Grid. When you land on a space that has an ability or stat power up you desire, you accept it. You must then use a specific sphere in order to activate the ability that you are either standing on, or adjacent to. (There are numerous spheres, such as Power, Ability, Speed and Mana. You must use one of them in order to activate the ability you desire. You can find these spheres in treasure chests, or by winning battles.)
The Sphere Grid may sound complex, and I may not have given the best explanation of it, but it's really not that hard to figure out, and the game gives you an easy to use step-by-step tutorial the first time you have to use the system. The Sphere Grid system allows you to customize your characters anyway you want. If you want Tidus to be a physical powerhouse, and Yuna to be a powerful white mage, you can make it so. You can decide what spells and skills you want your characters to have.
Final Fantasy has usually always been known for its beautiful graphics, and this game is no exception. Square really took advantage of the extra power of the PS2, making this easily one of the best looking games on the system. The game is entirely 3D, and extremely detailed. From the futuristic metropolis of Zanarkand, to the quiet, laid back beach atmosphere of Besaid Island, the world of Final Fantasy X is diverse, and comes to life. The forests and jungles you visit are vibrant and colorful, with realistic-looking waterfalls cascading in the background. The character sprites for your party are large and detailed, with very smooth animation. I'm personally not a big fan of the game's character design (Tidus looks too much like a blonde beach bum), but they are faithfully represented in their character sprites.
The sound does not disappoint either. Long-time Final Fantasy composer, Nobuo Uematsu, has this time been assisted by two other composers new to the series, Junya Nakano and Masashi Sugawara, who also contributed tracks to the game's soundtrack. The mixture of music styles of these different composers gives the soundtrack a vast and varied feel that seems to work. Even a few classic tunes from past Final Fantasy games found their way into the soundtrack. (The classic "Prelude" track which has appeared in almost every FF game gets a nice techno update that's featured early in the game.)
However, the big news in the sound department is voice, as this is the first game in the series to feature actual voiced dialogue. I have to admit, I was very nervous about this, as most acting in video games leaves me cringing. However, I have to admit Square actually did a decent job with the game's dubbing. Square used some professional American voice actors for the game, including Tara Strong (Powerpuff Girls), Debbie Derryberry (Tenchi Muyo dub, Taz-Mania, and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius), and Cree Summer (Tiny Toons, Rugrats, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire). Some of the voices kind of worried me at first (Tidus sounds a bit wimpy at times, but he's nowhere near as bad as I thought he'd be.), but I grew to like them as the game went on. In fact, this is probably the first game where the English dubbing did not annoy me in any way. (Even the best dubbed games had at least one character who made me grind my teeth in annoyance.) The only fault I can find with the dubbing is that sometimes the lip-synching seems a bit off.
So, what are this game's faults that prevent it from reaching the heights of past Final Fantasy games? Well, as mentioned earlier, my main problem with it is that the game is too linear. You are literally forced along with the story, and never really have any other real choice. Another minor fault I can find is that the text that is displayed whenever a character is talking is kind of small. It's no big deal when it's accompanied by spoken dialogue, but when you're talking to nameless people in towns, and it's text only, it can sometimes be a bit of a strain on the eyes.
Overall, however, this is still the first true RPG epic for the Playstation 2, and it's just the thing people need to wash out the bad taste of past games like Emphemeral Fantasia, Orphan and Summoner. Square's first RPG for the Playstation 2 is a winner, and is sure to be one of the system's big sellers. Just be prepared to not have as much control over the quest as you might like.
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