|Final Fantasy X - Review|
The Most Fun You've Had With One Of These Things In Years
| Battle System
| Replay Value
| Time to Complete
FFX has its work cut out for it in North America. Final Fantasy isn't quite as unsullied a name as it was during the last console transition, and the latest game in the series contains what are, for more than a few fans, unfortunate reminders of the series' missteps in the past. The often-reviled proportional characters and the "pretty boy" hero from FF8 make their return, and even more controversial elements are introduced: the overworld map has now been done away with in favor of a more flowing world plan along the lines of Secret of Mana. Clearly defined transitions have been done away with, and adjacent areas now flow into each other. The addition of voices is perhaps the prickliest point with long-time fans of the series, as the nearly unilaterally regrettable inclusion of this "feature" in other series has left a bad taste in the mouths of gamers.
I admit, I was among the skeptical at first. From the hilariously phallic description of Tidus, the main character's, sword ("it is soft at first, but then fills with liquid to become hard"... I wonder why this feature was left out of the final build...) to the seemingly palette-swapped characters from the past installments (Tidus-Squall, Yuna-Rinoa/Tifa/Garnet, Rikku-Quistis), it seemed as though it was even more redundant than the ninth game.
And then the previews on Square's Playonline.com were released. The music is what grabbed me the most: the track "Wandering Flame" was playing as the background to still-frames of CGs from the game. The demurely muted oboe solo was stunningly real: finally a Final Fantasy able to connect to the gamer without being hampered by MIDI. The brief glimpses of the game seemed to capture the moments I enjoyed most in the series up until that point, and the voice acting didn't seem too meddlesome; Japanese voice acting, being in a language not native to me, has never carried the same possibilities of putridness that English voice actors seem to have the potential for. With horrid images of the dub flashing through my mind, I decided to put the import on pre-order, and borrowed an import PS2 from a local game shop.
|Slightly less suggestive than Sakaguchi had hoped.|| |
Despite its initial appearances, FFX in fact deviates further than ever from the series, but thankfully, this works entirely for its benefit. Everything from the battle system to the graphics have undergone massive renovation, with Square turning to borrow elements from RPGs released by other companies more than ever before. Panzer Dragoon Saga in particular seemed to provide quite a bit inspiration: more than a few monster designs, including the first and one of the last bosses, seemed to be lifted almost directly from that game. Grandia's battle system, similarly, has been incorporated with the classic pre-ATB battle scheme to produce, in my opinion, the strongest game system that the series has ever seen.
As the first Final Fantasy on the PS2, the first noticeable difference is, of course, a marked leap in the quality of the graphics. The main characters are exquisitely modeled, with the finest details in the clothing rendered with polygons, not simple texture maps. Tidus' muscles seem slightly painted on at points, but that's being more than nitpicky. For the record, I wasn't too fond of FF8's character design, but this game strikes a perfect balance between being proportional and having personality to the characters, superior in my mind to either FF8 or 9's design scheme. The supporting townspeople don't fare quite as well as the main characters in terms of detail, understandably, but serve their purpose adequately. The monsters and summons, on the other hand, are fantastic. They've been animated in every last aspect of their model, and have rounded, flowing designs. Landscapes range from merely great to the point where they rival the pre-rendered screens from the PSX installments (incidentally, pre-rendered screens are used sparingly here as well). The sight of some of the more complicated scenes moving in full 3D is truly magical.
The voices, in the original Japanese, are a mostly welcome addition, though not without drawbacks. They truly do create a level of empathy unmatched in previous installments. Tidus in particular, whom I was prepared to loathe, proved to be the only happy-go-lucky character in an RPG that I didn't want to throttle (although his introductory scene had my blood rising). Instead, he turned into the most likeable hero that the series has yet to produce. The delivery of a few lines toward the end nailed his character for me... while I hold no great hopes for his American rendition, I hope that he at least doesn't drown the character in "Poochie"-style attitude. The main drawback of these voices is the fixed-length that they entail. Certain scenes before particularly hard bosses can drag out over five minutes, recalling other RPGs with voice-acting that give you that "Oh my God, I'm going to bash this system in with my head if I have to sit through this again" feeling.
The battle system is where the game really comes into its own: this is, without a doubt, the most pure fun you'll have with a battle system since FF6. Personally speaking, I haven't ever enjoyed battles in this series as much as I did with this game. On a seemingly superficial level, the battles have been noticeably sped up. Loading time before battles, something hugely important to me in terms of frustration levels, has been nearly disposed of, and is entirely unnoticeable. The 2 seconds of transition, without a black screen, until it pops up the command prompt makes a gigantic difference in playability. Battles don't have time to build up a "oh no, not again", but instead just pop up. The back and forth attacking has also been sped up considerably, so that subsequent attacks overlap in animations similar to Suikoden II. The magic spells, even Ultima and Holy, have been slimmed down to near FF6-levels, and the summons have the long-awaited option to view in "Short" mode. The system itself has done away with the Active Time Battle, which has been around since FF4, in favor of a turn system bearing resemblance to Grandia's. Enemies and allies have a fixed schedule on which they will attack based on their speed, which you can view in the corner of the screen. As your characters' turns pop up, you give them a command, which they will immediately execute. Certain attacks, again calling Grandia to mind, have the ability to rearrange this order, and greatly affect the outcome in the end. Apparent complexity has been done away with, as the number of spells and summons has been greatly decreased, but in turn the remaining ones have had their unique qualities strengthened. Poison now hits for a huge amount of damage, seemingly about 1/3 of your max HP, which introduces it as an actual component of battle, not the annoyance to be dealt with after the fact, as it was in nearly every other FF.
Anti-elemental magic makes a welcome return from the NES days, and is one of the many components that encourage the player to actually stop and think instead of hitting "Fight" the whole time. Characters may be swapped mid-battle in one of the best ideas to ever hit FF: this combination allows the characters to be even more specialized in their roles than usual, and gives you a chance to build up a personal connection with every last member of your party, not just the few who you choose as your favorite group. The battle system, however, is not without its drawbacks. Instead of sharing a pool of experience points, anyone who participates in the battle receives a fixed amount. This means that in every single battle, swapping becomes so important that it verges on necessity: it is essentially free exp to swap a useless character in, get a small hit, and then retreat with them. You're perfectly able to ignore this and deal with characters that are slower to level up, but this problem might have been better dealt with by doling out a fixed amount of exp for every battle. There is also the necessity of saving up all your summons' berserk attacks before boss encounters, which is fun enough when you blast the boss, but feels a bit like cheating at points. As you progress, however, the summons' comparative lack of speed plays enough of a factor to counteract this.
|If this doesn't make you forget about the PS1 FFs...|| |
The sphere system does deserve mention. After numerous failed attempts at balancing customizability with individuality of the characters, Square finally achieved success here. Characters are placed at various parts along a giant game board, which concentrates various strengths of character, such as magical offense or attack power, along with certain spells, at various parts along it. By moving the token representing your character around, and using items to draw abilities and spells out of the board, you are able to guide your character all you please; if you really want Tidus to be great at casting black magic, it is possible, but it is much more simple to allow the characters to draw on their natural strengths as given by their initial position on the board.
The menu system is thought out well enough. It isn't spectacular, however, and there are certain glaring omissions (such as a weapon sort button, which makes management a near impossibility towards the end). Additionally, menu colors have been distorted to a level of pastel previously unattainable even by maliciously tweaking the RGB values in the config screens, and have been unfortunately locked at those values without any option to change them.
Which leads us to the story. FFX has been hailed by the foreign press as having a spectacular one, but I felt that it turned to pathos a few times. Perhaps this point was simply hammered home to me more than in previous FFs due to the inclusion of voice acting, but there were points where I was wondering where the burning orphanage is. I suppose that the real issue is that the overall arch of the plot gave some fantastic opportunities for more subtle character shading, but skipped over them in favor of "feeling sorry" for certain characters and monologues detailing how awful but necessary certain situations are. The characters are accordingly without quite the amount of depth they deserve. I'll give the creators points for dispensing with the gigantic back-stories for each individual character being thrust onto the main stage, instead attempting to integrate the personalities into the main story more fully, and demonstrate characteristics in the present tense instead of the hackneyed "I let somebody down a long time ago" being applied to everyone (although this device does make its appearance). The problem is that this puts even more stress on the quality of the writing, which although miles beyond most RPGs, including previous FFs, still falls short of its potential in certain places. It is truly a shame, because this group is easily the most likeable bunch yet in the series, and there was a chance to make a revolutionary jump in terms of writing maturity.
This certainly doesn't take away from the feel of the game, however, which is nearly beyond compare. The combination of the missing overworld and the emphasis on a small group of heroes (with voices!) creates a much more personal atmosphere than previous games in the series. While the epic scope isn't quite there, the individual involvement in the story easily replaces it. The game never drags, and you care for your party far more than most other RPGs out there.
|Anti-elemental magics make a welcome return.|| |
My main issue with FFX would have to be that it seems more like an extremely strong lead-up to a game with a much more diverse feel to it. The extremely linear gameplay was desperately in need of a non-linear counter-balance toward the end: for most of the game, there is literally one path alone to walk. To make things worse, in the map that is superimposed by default, and is necessary to navigate certain areas, there is a giant red beacon reminding you of which direction you have to travel. Eventually you can break through to less linear sections through careful exploration and the opening up of Nagi's Hill, which forms its own little overworld as you progress. However, had a little more effort been devoted to how the world opens up to you toward the middle of the game, which has traditionally been strongly handled with Final Fantasies, this game might have elevated itself beyond even FF6 in my esteem (although, on second thought, Ultros would have had to make a guest appearance). As the non-linear section stands, it gets progressively more entertaining as you discover all that you missed the first time through. The mini-games make leveling up that much more addictive, and if only I had unlimited time with the system, I know that I would still be strengthening my characters.
As it stands however, it is without a doubt within the top 3 titles in the series, perhaps sharing second place with FF7. Despite its linearity, it is without a doubt the most polished of the series, and the most fun I've had with one since FF6. It might have to sit a while in my head before I can make a final decision, but I know that spending +$200 Canadian on one game is hard to justify, and in this case, I managed to. Final Fantasy is fun again.