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Final Fantasy X - Review

Iconic Series Lives Up To Its Hype

By: Paul Koehler


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 7
   Interface 6
   Music/Sound 7
   Originality 7
   Plot 8
   Localization 6
   Replay Value 7
   Visuals 10
   Difficulty Easy
   Time to Complete

50-70 Hours

 
Overall
9
Criteria

Final Fantasy X

   This could start with an explanation of how a fledging software developer became one of the largest console game developers in the world, but that story's been told enough. Squaresoft and their trademark Final Fantasy series have progressed from an 8-bit game competing with Dragon Warrior to the Sony PlayStation 2 console, with the series' latest installment - Final Fantasy X. However, since crossing into the realm of "pop culture", it's hard to see major criticism of Squaresoft games in general (save a few exceptions...like The Bouncer). Fortunately for its flagship series, almost three years of effort have been put to good use, and despite some flaws, the game holds up to its reputation.

   Working to the Final Fantasy series' benefit was the leap from the PlayStation to the PlayStation 2 console. Not only that, the leap in visual quality from Final Fantasy IX to this title made it all the more impressive. There is a slight difference between the FMV scenes and the regular gameplay...but it is just that: only slight. Gone are the abysmally long load times. For a first-generation effort on the console, it should be interesting to see what other developers will push out of it.

   Unlike many recent games, Final Fantasy X does not turn out to be a long movie. Plenty of gameplay is to be found, and FFX is complete with one of the most addictive RPG mini-games to date: Blitzball. It's almost addictive to a fault: it's possible for players to completely ignore the plot while playing through many seasons of blitzball, and access to it is available at many save points. The game also introduces the concept of the "sphere grid", used for leveling the characters. A major change from previous titles, it provides players the ability to level up their characters my moving across nodes on a huge map, with nodes having features like "HP +200" or "Holy". Some of the most rare items in the game are spheres that enable the characters to warp across the grid to get certain power-ups or abilities. Unfortunately, the most notable thing left out of the game is the world map.


In-Game Plot
Preparing for a Ceremony  

   The designers had their reasons. It is true that the whole story revolves around a pilgrimage, and the world of Spira is one without advanced technology. Nevertheless, the change is missed, and some of the side-quests near the end of the game involve a substantial amount of globetrotting. While the story is solid, the characters and the way they interact are what set this title apart. A lot of this was due to the voice acting. It's not the best effort in a video game, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance was a little better. Nevertheless, credit should go out to John DiMaggio (Bender from FOX's Futurama) for his great voice acting with Wakka. Some of the other actors weren't as good, and others came pretty close to stereotypical anime dubs. It was the overall amount of voice acting, made possible by the DVD format, that helped give distinct personalities to the characters. From Lulu, the controlled mage, to Auron, the confident warrior - each character had its distinct personality, and it was made evident in the battles.

   Gone is the real-time ATB system, and in its place stands a slightly modified turn-based engine, now referred to as the Conditional Turn-Based Battle System (CTB). While turn-based battle systems are anything but unique, two things helped this implementation. Central to the battle system is the ability to switch between characters in battle without affecting the turn order. However, the CTB really shines with its battle animations and their relatively short length. Summoned monsters, now referred to as aeons, have their prerequisite battle sequences, but those can be drastically shortened within the status menu. The speed of the battles is a vast improvement over previous titles in the series - in this case, shorter is better.


Blitzball!
Don't worry, you'll have plenty of chances to blitz...  

   This was not the case with the localization process. With a relatively large dialogue to go through, and most of it done by voice actors as well, no major flaws were present. A major portion that was not localized was the music, especially the ending theme - Suteki da Ne by Japanese vocalist Rikki. It's just as well that the music remained untouched. Head composer Nobuo Uematsu was expected to perform on a high standard - and he did. However, this is the first Final Fantasy title where he did not do all of the compositions; two other composers aided him with the soundtrack. Compared to previous Final Fantasy efforts, there have been more memorable tracks - but this title adds a few to the list.

   RPGamers who want to discover all the side-quests in Final Fantasy X have a few options: each of the characters have a legendary weapon to attain and enhance. In addition, there is a large monster arena, hidden aeons to acquire, an appearance by the Omega Weapon, and of course, Blitzball. That and the immense sphere grid will provide gamers a chance to build their Tidus into a one-man army, if they so desire. One time through the game, taking anywhere from 50 to 70 hours, is usually enough.

With the franchise's icon status, it is no surprise that the Final Fantasy series comes under harsher criticism with every title it releases. For the relief of Squaresoft, recovering from a financial loss after last year's movie, and most importantly, for the relief of gamers…Final Fantasy X is hands-down the best RPG for the PlayStation 2, and as such is the current standard. At the very least, it was a thoroughly enjoyable game. This hype is worth buying into.




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