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One Man's Taboo is Another Man's Way of Life
By: Noj Airk
Today we stand upon a monument of a decision that has to be made whenever a game is made, from here on out. The option from the birth of the technology has usually been to go with game, but a few pioneers came out, and stuck out as the ones to go with games’ potential in entertainment value. While Final Fantasy VII incorporated huge, revolutionary moments that shook both the gaming and movie industries, what sticks out in people’s minds commonly, at the same time, as a cinematic gaming revolution was the release of Capcom’s Resident Evil 2, released shortly after. What made these two a kind of their own was the intensity of emotion and mood created by visually appeasing plot twists, nice detailed background stories, and characters having more detailed action sequences. However, these two were different in a significant way as well; Final Fantasy VII was the long, artistic epic with built-up emotions, while Resident Evil 2 concentrated the cinematic power, by making the plot twists closer together, and adding full speech dialogue, while both maintained the gameplay they should.
Being a college film major, it gives me great pleasure to announce that with the birth of the new-generation of technology, the unique strengths of both styles have been combined into one huge, intensely cinematic gaming experience! Now that I’ve gotten all my hyper energy of the new genre out of the way, I can still honestly say that this game, as a game, stands well on it’s own feet.
The game starts out in the main hero: Tidus’ home Zanarkand, a city of high technological advancement, and people who’re laid back and enjoy life. During the sequence of scenes, you get psyched up and engage in a game of Blitzball (a 3-D soccer played in a sphere of water), when suddenly the game is interrupted by an attack on the city by…something. In one of the most cinematically stunning sequence of events, you attempt to flee with a mysterious man named Auron, and at the end, you are sucked in by this indescribable force/being called “Sin”. Later, you find yourself waking up in some ancient ruins in the middle of the ocean. So ends easily the most intense opening sequence in gaming history, and for the first time in a few years, this Final Fantasy holds up its momentum.
One good aspect to this sequence and the next hour is not just because it introduces you to just about all the characters you will be travelling with, but it also cleanly provides keen opportunities to experiment with the new interface and battle system. The battle system is the first one you play around with. The changes to the battle system might seem small, but the enhancements are actually quite high in count. One is that the limit breaks, back to the way they were in FF7, are more puzzle-based to change how effective the attack when executed. The ATB is gone, replaced with a more controlled system, where the turns arrive based on the speed of the hero or monster. And finally, the biggest change by far is that while only up to three combatants are present at one time, these characters are interchangeable during the battle itself. It’s the more organized-feeling battle system, for a more advanced Final Fantasy.
Soon later, within the next hour, you learn the major importance’s of the interface, which is just as clean, if not cleaner, than the battle system. One big change is that save points now restore all of one’s stats, and like all since FF7, effects such as poison and zombie wear off immediately once the battle that caused them has been won. Another change is that traditional leveling up has been abolished for this entry almost completely. Rather than gaining stat enhancements in waves like before, until you reach the highest number, you instead gain levels and use them as a single move upon something called the “Sphere Grid”, where multiple spheres are setup to enhance the character in multiple, specific ways. The ability to share stat enhancements with your party members is a nice touch, and so is the fact that it looks like a bunch of crop circles carved into stone. And a final touch, each piece of equipment isn’t based on particular stats, but rather it holds enhancements over the characters’ existing stats, such as “Strength + 5%”, or “HP + 10%”, or aspects such as “Counterattack”.
While original is the Sphere Grid, there are a few aspects that just seem enhanced over previous versions of the same things. One is that these equipment stats/characteristics can be customized in a familiar feeling way that crosses the customizing and enhancement interfaces of FF8 and Parasite Eve. Another is a couple of ways to enhance the powers of Aeons (summoned monsters), which is somewhat reminiscent to the horrendous Junction System from FF8, only now take away the word horrendous. The whole interface however, despite a few familiarities, feels quite unique, and only have two limitations from what I can see: that the analog doesn’t allow perfectly smooth circular movement, and the shop interface is still a few notches below that of Star Ocean: The Second Story. However, those are far from enough for me to pull the highest score down?
The real winner of the game isn’t the gameplay however, or the graphics, but the storyline. To me, Final Fantasy has always meant two things: plot and music. However, in the previous two installments to the series, both seemed to mark a decline in the series’ magnificence. However, the recent semi-engaging plots have proved to be but a shadow rather than a sign of the beginning of the end for the series, since the plot to this game is more on scale, in terms of size, character and originality, with any of the greatest FF’s before it. I explained the opening sequence already, and as you can guess, it is designed specifically for jolting your interests, take you by surprise, and create a load of questions that you’ll soon want answered. Luckily, the game is choked full with events like this, each becoming more and more understandable, yet not declining in the player’s interests. People don’t seem to know this fact very often, a fact that this game proves: a scene answering those questions can truly be as interesting and entertaining as those that raise them.
One thing that really impressed me with the story is the fact that all the subplots seem like they were actually written before the plot of the game itself was. One trouble that I had with FF7 and Xenogears is that it seemed many times that the subplots were written later as to explain a certain aspect or event within the story. This isn’t the case in Final Fantasy X, where the writers clearly thought out the story out first; told a different way, so that all these problems could be avoided. The technique: have the main character just as oblivious as the player with world he interacts with, and have the way the world works be how much of the questions can be resolved. Simple little trick, but highly effective, and also good at preventing from the occasional problem of these subplots being later contradicted (like in the Terminator movies).
The characters are, for the most part, as deep and interesting as the story; and easily as likable, and for once in a long time, it applies to all of them. While whiney, I can see that Tidus acts almost identically to how many of us would, and Auron is far and away one of the coolest characters in the history of storytelling. The main reason is because the dialogue was written all down and translated, and like the better RPG’s, it would seem like someone went over all of it to make it sound good in English, keeping the actual screenplay quality high.
Adding more depth to the characters and the story is the final addition of voice acting. Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to a fully voiced Final Fantasy, but it worked perfectly; save Yuna’s poorly acted out voice, that is. The characters all have very distinct voices, so even if you can’t see the screen, you can easily tell who’s talking, and what emotion they’re expressing. With about ten straight hours of voicework, one would guess that it would all eventually falter, but even the single-line voice actors for the most part have it all down perfectly. Apart from Yuna’s staggering, the only complaints I have about the voicework are that Tidus occasionally speaks a narrative line too quickly (obviously due to the graphic-time limitation), and Quinton Flynn was cast too small-time. Along with some great voice acting, the sound effects, along with all of the battle cries, sound phenomenal. Crisp, sharp, and sound great in my new surround sound!
I never thought I would see a day where I would ever review a Final Fantasy’s sounds before its music. However, the day has somehow arrived. However, this is both good and bad. It’s good because for once the sounds are on par with the mind-blowing musical score…yet bad, because the mind-blowing musical score, well, just isn’t so mind-blowing. Don’t get me wrong. I thought this game had easily the series’ best musical score since FF7 (except for Tactics), and the synth has been turned up a bit. However, thinking back to FF9, the music in the series can be very poorly written, and the synth levels need to be boosted far more than just a bit. Sad enough as it is to say, some of the music is simply not good enough for me to enjoy, and most of the actual synthetic-ness of it is swallowed up by the surround sound, where the outdated-ness of its technology is very obvious, and almost painful. However, still, the musical score came out fine, with it being as large in selection as any other, full of various styles, containing two great songs, and quite literally the greatest central melody I’ve ever heard in any game.
For the series, just like with each first entry to every Final Fantasy trilogy, the whole way it’s done is overhauled, after several years of only miniscule changes. For those who feel that Final Fantasy games are enjoyable and clever, but not overly inventive, should try this game. Final Fantasy VII was cinematically formulaic at times, but since it was so mind-blowing apart from those little problems, all was fine; here, there is no following of traditional story or cinematic formulas that everyone sees every day. In my eyes, this game isn’t just original because it has a purely original storyline or amazing art direction, but because like the more proud entries of the series, this game doesn’t try to be anything else that the programmers admire. If you think this game is unoriginal, than just wait until Legend of Dragoon II or something like it comes out.
It’s amazing that there’re people who say that that the Dreamcast RPG’s, such as Evolution and Grandia II are look better than this; I say that that remark is ludicrous, and many professional critics would agree. Even over a year later, this is still in many ways the best looking console RPG, and one of the best looking console games altogether. The colors are extremely vibrant, the locations huge, the polygons high in count, and the artistic value by far the best of any game this side of the best Castlevania titles. Additionally, the character models are colorful, original, and have sometimes-phenomenal facial detail, and the battle sequences are in the same graphical polish as the rest, with some really amazing SFX thrown in.
However, as before, what easily blows us all away is the mind-blowing FMV. Carrying with the eighth entries, each character, except for the main character, has their own introduction FMV, some of which, like Kimahri’s and Auron’s, are full of energy and adrenaline, while others remain a more passive, as if for a better look at them. The reason why the FMV is so incredible is because the amount of material and action going on is much more than that of any other game FMV I’ve seen, and contain some of the most beautiful locations and original ideas in the history of CGI. One that truly blows me away is one entitled “Metropolis”, where Seymour shows the party a holographic reconstruction of the dead city of Zanarkand. What gets me about is the way how the movement and lighting works: the characters are clearly superimposed over the background, like a bluescreen, yet the images projected behind and around them reflect on them perfectly. When a game can stump a film major as to filming technique, it’s more than worthy of notation!
It’s really the FMV, and the non-FMV, for me, which give games replay value. To me, saying that a Final Fantasy or Resident Evil has no replay value is like saying: “Yeah, I just saw that Star Wars movie, and man it was awesome, but I know I’m never watching that movie again.” If a game is emotional, reliving the emotion is more of a reason to play than silly side quests, IMO.
Overall, it is my humble opinion that the breath of life is more than restored in the greatest series by far, as this is quite possibly the greatest entry of all. I don’t even own this game, yet I’m currently on my fifth time through! With a phenomenal plot, tight control and breathtaking visuals, Final Fantasy X has, after almost five years, reclaimed the thrown for the Final Fantasy’s, and I know I couldn’t be happier.
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