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Final Fantasy X - Review

Ten For Ten

By: Andrew Long


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 9
   Interface 9
   Music/Sound 8
   Originality 9
   Plot 8
   Localization 7
   Replay Value 9
   Visuals 10
   Difficulty Sketchy
   Time to Complete

40-90 hours

 
Overall
ten
Criteria

Title Screen
 

   There are many reasons not to give Final Fantasy X a perfect score. For starters, it's been released early on in the PlayStation 2's development cycle, which means that nobody really has any idea what the little black box is capable of churning out. Then there's the criticism that's been leveled at the Final Fantasy series in recent years, with cries of repetitiveness and lack of solid gameplay ranking among the most noteworthy of the complaints. More specifically, some of the voice acting is truly atrocious, the battle system can seem unbalanced at times, and the game is both unchallenging and highly linear. All of these are very valid objections; however, there's just something about this game that makes it feel like a stunning achievement. With addictive gameplay, visuals the likes of which no RPG has ever contained, a wealth of sidequests and mini-games,a soundtrack of unparalleled scope and beauty, and a wonderfully constructed world and fantastic storyline, there is also every reason to give this game a ten.

   Zanarkand is the city that never sleeps, and that's where Final Fantasy X starts out. Players assume the role of Tidus, a star player of the country's most cherished sport, Blitzball. To the sounds of some truly wretched butt-rock, Tidus' life is turned upside down by the sudden arrival of Sin, a big, bad something that likes to swim around killing things for fun and profit. Suddenly transported to Spira, a beautiful land with a tragic history, Tidus is the proverbial fish out of water; in fact, he washes ashore after floating about underwater unconscious for a few days. Discovering that Blitzball is the national sport in Spira, and that Zanarkand got trashed 1000 years ago, Tidus cuts his losses and journeys with Yuna, a participant in Spira's other pastime: summoning aeons. With this integration of summoning into the story, it would have been easy to churn out another poorly-wrought battle system as in Final Fantasy VIII, but evidently, someone at Square played a bit of Grandia II, because the battle system is anything but reliant on the usual crowd of Ifrit, Shiva et al.

    Aeons are powerful, but players who rely on them will end up toasted pretty quickly, because most bosses have the ability to wipe them out with one hit. As a result, it's better to use your characters to advantage, and this is facilitated by a system which allows any three characters to fight at once. As an added bonus, players can also swap characters in and out, which allows for everyone to gain experience in every battle. This is generally a good idea, because each character has an ability that is useful in dispatching a certain sort of enemy, as is unabashedly shouted at every opportunity during early fights. Monsters so defeated tend to yield Overkill (bonus) experience, which adds to the incentive to be selectively murderous. This achieves two things: one, no character is extraneous, as has been the case in recent titles, and two, players are rewarded for utilizing different characters in battle with a higher experience yield. Later on, though, attacks become powerful enough to abandon this paint-by-numbers style of battling, and as often as not, the challenge becomes not killing the enemies, but rather keeping them alive long enough so that everyone can get a piece of the action.

   Another wrinkle is thrown into the battle system when players can capture monsters in order to fight them in a coliseum-style setup. Characters can also rob, copy, and maim monsters as they see fit, in keeping with series tradition. Limit Breaks return in the form of Overdrive attacks, which can be powered in a variety of ways. It's worth noting that summons also slowly build Overdrive attacks too; often, their regular attacks are only slightly more powerful than those of characters. With this variety of motivations and possibilities for battle, fighting never gets too boring, and the battle system succeeds remarkably at staying fresh over the course of the game, which, if players opt to engage in the sidequests, is a very long time. That, more than anything, is testament to its strength, and the CTB is a fitting, and timely, replacement for the age-worn ATB system that has served the series over the past eight years.

   Also testament to the battle system's strength is its interaction with the game's interface. The Sphere Grid system is the absolute best system to appear in a Final Fantasy game... well, ever. Replacing experience with Ability Points, which in turn accumulate towards SP(Sphere Point) levels, players use Sphere Levels to navigate the grid, which contains nodes that are activated by various spheres. There are a number of different types of spheres; some allow movement, some remove Locks, and others activate nodes. Spheres can be used in other ways as well; they can increase the strength of Yuna's Aeons or give battle oriented bonuses to characters. Items can also be used to teach the Aeons abilities, and to customize equipment, so as in a number of recent Square titles, throwing things away becomes highly unappealing.

The true beauty of the Sphere Grid, though, is that Square has at last uncovered a means with which to silence critics of games where characters are either too well-defined in their roles, or alternately, not well-defined enough. That is because the grid allows players to customize to their hearts' content. Want Yuna to be a classic white mage? Connect the dots; a route is set up to achieve just that. On the other hand, Yuna, along with every other character, also possesses the ability to become virtually anything on the board, so players who like their white mages to deal heaps of physical damage too will be satisfied by the possibility of beefing up such weaker characters. This is somewhat restricted early on in the game through the use of Locks, which restrict access to certain areas on the grid, but by the middle of the game, characters can basically become whatever the player wants them to be.

On a more aesthetic note, Square has somehow managed to use the colours purple, violet, yellow, and sky blue in such a way that they aren't vomit-inducing. The game's menu system is standard Final Fantasy fare, and very easy to navigate. Text and other on-screen information is also displayed very unobtrusively, and the game's fully 3D environments come with a handy map in case players get lost. The only real problem with the interface is a couple of niggling issues with some of the minigames; wading through screens trying to get to play Blitzball, for instance, can be a bit of a pain.

FIRE BEATS WATER! Hmm... Perhaps I shouldn't make references that only people who saw commercials during the eighties will understand
Lulu would achieve scandalous notoriety during her stormy marriage to Captain Obvious  

   Blitzball sure sounds great, though, as does virtually everything else in Final Fantasy X. From atmospheric sound effects to superb samples in battle and out of it, the immersiveness of Final Fantasy X has been ratcheted up tenfold by its beautiful sound. On top of this, Nobuo Uematsu and collaborators Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano have turned out a nearly seamless soundtrack, with clear instrumentation and compelling melodies. In particular, the title theme, which is interwoven throughout the game, and Suteki Da Ne (save for the vocal version, which is horribly blighted by the wretched scoopiness of Rikki's singing voice, combined with slightly excessive epic grandeur) are fantastic pieces.

On the other hand, the voice acting is a mixed bag. Strangely, the supporting characters are voiced by actors who seem to have actual talent; Wakka is given life by the same person who plays Bender on Futurama, and each of the other supporting characters, right down to the irritatingly superior Belgamine, are at least believably done. Of particular note are Seymour and Auron; the former is played with excellent inflection and convincingness (except when freaking out before battles) and the latter, whether by virtue of the fact that his mouth is never visible or through actual talent, is similarly well-voiced. Also of note, lamentably, are the actors who played Tidus and Yuna. Square also borrowed from Futurama when it was looking to bring its blond poster boy to life, but they nabbed the actor who voiced Yancey, Fry's erstwhile brother, and he quite simply stinks at what he does. Tidus is supposed to be impulsive and energetic, but most of his lines end up sounding stupid and childish. Yuna is quite the opposite, and for all the wrong reasons. The actor certainly manages to portray her timid, uncertain nature, but that's only because she hardly puts any emotion into her character's lines at all. Compounding the problem is the fact that at various points, her speech samples seem to cut out abruptly, particularly in battle sequences, where one learned to dread it whenever Yuna directed a fatuous expression at her Aeons, a sign that spoke louder than words that one of her hideous voice samples was about to take place. This still, however, doesn't even come close to the putridness of Tidus' frequent monologues, which sound rather like nightmarish parodies on The Wonder Years voiceovers, and offer up even sappier morals to boot.

Incidentally, Yuna doesn't have the monopoly on lousy battle cries; Tidus' cheerful "See Ya!" and Wakka's "Booyah!" in particular are enough to draw into question why this particular concept has ever survived as long as it has. Yes, people like to make witty remarks, but chances are that making them in the presence of enraged monsters unlikely to understand them is a useless expenditure of energy. Then again, videogames don't really have to take reality into account, and in the end, these shortcomings do not detract fatally from the superb soundtrack and excellent sound sampling. There is also the fact that most of the actors, at least, show that voice acting in video games is making some progress; as such, Final Fantasy X's sound and music verge on top-notch.    Spira is a world unto itself, and the Sphere Grid system is unparalleled in its integration and effectiveness. These two facts alone make Final Fantasy X a departure from many of the previous titles in the Final Fantasy series, and the game, while retaining some tried-and-true elements, does strike out on its own. The minigames are original, the setting unique, and the story different. Overall, there's not much more to be said than that; Final Fantasy X is quite an original game.

   As Spira is a world unto itself, so too are the characters a product of that world, and the story flows very smoothly as a result. The events occur very plausibly, and most of the characters receive extensive development. Oddly, the only character really neglected in this regard is Yuna, and as she is central to the game's plot, it doesn't matter very much, because she develops a character of her own through the events in the story. This is definitely a refreshing change from Final Fantasy IX, where characters were paper-thin and interacted as though they were mechanical pieces in a very boring puzzle. Spira feels like a real world, with real pain, and as a result, the characters are very easy to feel for. About the only downside here is how transparent Hironobu Sakaguchi's involvement is; his mother died, so everything in Final Fantasy X is sad. This extends to various elements of the game, such as its general treatment of death and dying, the cheerful-yet-gloomy nature of Spira, and the cloying, morbidly trite moral lessons that crop up virtually every time there's a cutscene. A Hironobu Sakaguchi Lesson For Life usually begins with a ham-handed setup, and ends with a brassily-delivered sincerity that makes it almost impossible not to cry in disgust. It's all well and good to include themes in a game, but is there really a need for little cutscenes with such profound messages as "Work together and you can accomplish anything!" or "Racism Is Bad"?

   At least it's easy to understand this moralizing. The translation effort put forth by Square is adequate, if not fantastic. The complaint here is once again the voice acting; somehow, the actor who plays Tidus can take a perfectly innocuous line and make it profoundly embarrassing to watch, particularly if someone else is in the room at the time. Having to explain away this dialogue is much easier when it's in text form, and the introduction of voice acting on a wide scale that has been made possible by the latest generation of consoles should be a good enough reason to hire writers with enough talent to make the dialogue bearable. Still, compared with the standard that currently exists in videogame translation, this localization is more than adequate, in both technicality and execution. It's just a standard in need of updating.


Smashy, smashy
When your TV just screams "Replace me!"  

   With the customizability of the Sphere Grid comes a lot of possibility for replay, and that's surprising in a game as linear as Final Fantasy X is. Despite its lack of multiple endings or divergent paths in terms of the story, the fact of the matter is that the gameplay goes a long way towards making up for it. Sidequests such as capturing, not to mention defeating, the creatures of the Monster Arena, are a monumental task, and if that isn't enough, there's also Blitzball, which is an entertaining, if easy to master, minigame. On the whole, Final Fantasy X has both the quality and the quantity of gameplay to ensure that gamers will be able to go through it again and again.

If the gameplay isn't enough reason to replay Final Fantasy X, then the visuals certainly are. With rich environments and stunning image quality, Final Fantasy X is by far the best-looking RPG ever. Period. The attention to detail is quite simply unreachable by any preceding game, and Square will have a long way to go outdoing itself with this one. Texture quality is second-to-none, many FMV sequences look almost real, and a wide array of visual effects are used to their best extent everywhere in the game, from summons to spell effects to little things, like transparency effects used to make hair look more dynamic on many characters. Not a single area in the game feels dull or sterile, and there is always something going on in the background. Even the interface is stylish, and the artistic design that went into the planning of Spira is impeccable. Further superlatives would only be redundant; Final Fantasy X just looks great.


I AM the Lizard Queen!
"Ohhh... I can see the muuusic!"  

It's actually rather hard to say how difficult Final Fantasy X is to play, though. On the one hand, it has rightly been said that it's possible to go through the first several hours of the game without taking damage. On the other hand, some bosses are a pain to beat, and status effects are truly worth avoiding. Confusion, in particular, is a real irritation to get rid of, and poison packs a potent punch which makes it well worth using antidotes, or at least having Yuna cast Esuna (like that one? You can also cast Fira on Spira). The minigames also tend to require a combination of skill and FAQs to master, and woe betide the under-levelled character who steps into the Monster Arena expecting to do anything but die instantly. Still, this doesn't reconcile with the fact that the final boss can be killed in one hit, so defining the difficulty of this game is really rather... well, difficult.

This grey area aside, Final Fantasy X is a true masterpiece of gaming. For its time, there is no other title that can parallel it, and right now, it stands at the pinnacle of RPGdom. Future games may come along to knock it from its perch, but as it stands, there is little else out there to rival its balance of story and gameplay, its richly constructed world, its variety of minigames, stunning graphics, and beautiful sound. Even gamers biased against the Final Fantasy series should be able to have some fun with this one, because it's quite simply one of the best titles Square has ever put out.



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