Final Fantasy X - Review

The End?

By: Red Raven

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 7
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 6
   Originality 9
   Plot 6
   Localization 6
   Replay Value 2
   Visuals 10
   Difficulty Unbalanced
   Time to Complete

40-50 hours


Title Screen

   Many of us proclaimed that Final Fantasy 9 should be the game that ends this venerable series; I instead must nominate this particular iteration. Made by everyone's favorite RPG company, Squaresoft has really outdone themselves this time, in terms of graphics, character interaction, and innovation. Once you have played and beat this game, it will be hard to go back to "normal" games, especially the older games in this series.

   One of the biggest changes to the series since its conception would have to be the battle system innovations. Gone forever is the omnipresent ATB gauge, which all too frequently changed an otherwise strategic boss battle into a frenzied button-smasher. FFX opts to go instead to fully turn-based combat, which right away adds a degree of strategy to all battles. For the gamer's convenience, a CTB (conditional turn-based battle) window is displayed in the upper-right portion of the screen. This window has the characters' portraits, along with the enemies', to let you know whose turn is coming up. But what is quite possibly the best innovation idea by far would have to be the player's ability to substitute other members of the party in at any given moment during battle. If Tidus is running low on HP, for example, on his turn you could simply have Wakka replace him, and what's more, Wakka can then act immediately. After playing with this feature for many hours, it's hard to imagine that we aren't allowed to do this earlier.

Enemies come in 4 flavors: flying, magic, armored, and quick.
Enemies come in 4 flavors: flying, magic, armored, and quick.  

   That's not to say the battle system as a whole is perfect, as a few persistent flaws dampen any high score such a system could get. It seems that Square felt the need to penalize the player for being able to switch party members by tripling the harm status effects cause. Poison, berserk, and confusion are now all capable of sending you to the Game Over screen by themselves, if not treated at once. This very annoying occurrence could be just the consequence of a very unbalanced difficulty; it is very difficult in the beginning and insanely so at the end, with the middle being relatively easy. Or, it could simply be the result of a 200% increase in the random encounter rate. While FFX does sport a way to earn a "No Encounter" ability, it is highly unlikely that a player will figure it out on the first play-through, leading many of a gamer continuously using Flee, lest they fight the same three enemies 30 times in a row.

   Outside of battle, you will find yourself quite busy. Square has thrown out all experience points and levels, again innovating with something completely new: The Sphere Grid. The characters earn AP at the end of battle, with which they might go up in "sphere levels". Each sphere level allows that character to move one slot in the sphere grid. Each slot, or "node" is connected to two others by a little bar, and movement costs a sphere level. Some nodes are only passable once the player has found certain "keys", so while some freedom exists, characters are more often led along the paths typical to their gender than not. In addition to all this new interface stuff, weapons and armor no longer have an attack or defense power (all such increase in stats are handled by the Sphere Grid). Weapons and armor can however be given abilities such as Strength +10% and elemental affinities, among many others, by combining items that the player finds after fighting numerous encounters, ala FF8. Everything remains fairly intuitive, and takes a max time of forty minutes or so to master.

   Many people have worried about the repercussion of adding voices to a FF game, but their anxiety was for vain: it is excellent. In fact, between the awesome characterization that the party members receive and the voices, I'd have to say that this was one of the best plots a point. In much the same way that FF8 featured a cast that made an otherwise mediocre storyline stellar, so too does FFX fall to the same fate. Not only is the plot completely linear and for the most part predictable, there are also the annoying "plot holes" -- situations in the story that are never resolved or explained further than when they are were initially brought up. The general blandness of the story mixed with great characters leaves one with a sort of disappointed feeling; Square came so close to having a truly legendary game on their hands. Overall however, the cast will more than likely be able to pull any RPGamer through to the end.

Cloud and Tifa reincarnated
Cloud and Tifa reincarnated  

   The legendary music of the Final Fantasy series makes a more or less emphatic return, complete with an enlarged cast of composers. Thankfully the number of songs featured in the game has been scaled down from the gargantuan number from FF9; the songs as a whole seem to fit with their location a little bit better than normal. While only a select few have the memorable quality exhibited by other pieces in the series, overall the music is flowing and pleasing to the ears. Regretfully however, once again Square has relied on one particular battle piece to carry the player through the enormous number of random encounters; that particular song can thusly become quite grating. Nothing we haven't seen before.

   There is no denying the fact that FFX is pretty. Very pretty. The characters themselves get the deluxe polygon treatment, complete with varying--and believable--facial animations. Environments are rendered in such a degree of depth and life that it puts the flat and barely animated CG stills of past titles to shame. Dungeons are indeed three-dimensional, but movement is limited in a sort of Crash Bandicoot fashion: the player may move along a "trail" and the camera follows along on scripted path. Beautiful visuals, if somewhat predictable considering this is a PS2 title. What pulled the visual score over the top however had to be the FMV sequences; Square has the market for computer graphics decidedly cornered.

   While the before-mentioned characterization and competent voice acting made up for most the game's other flaws, FFX remains a game that I have no intention or desire to play twice. That is not to say that Squaresoft does not try to grab the player again; there are more than enough secret dungeons, additional aeons, and hidden items for the intrepid gamer to discover. However, for myself, I do not get enjoyment out of trying to look for stuff that was hidden in such a manner as to be impossible to be found without a strategy guide of some sort the first time through. For that reason, and a general dislike of the endgame overall, I have chosen to give Square's latest Final Fantasy iteration only one play-through. Your mileage may vary.

   The verdict for this magnum opus should however, be obvious: you need to play this game. The debate about whether this game is the best in series is very questionable, but no one can argue that FFX deserves any less than a serious consideration. If Square could have spent a little more time making the story less linear and more interesting while lowering the encounter rate by about half, then this game would surely have been in the running for the best game ever. And while it is more than likely that the litany of Final Fantasies is going to continue for quite some time, to me at least, Final Fantasy X will remain the perfect ending to the 15-year series.

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