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The Final Fantasy series has always brought gaming to another level in terms of enhancements and story-telling. The first game in the franchise released for the PlayStation 2 is no exception. It was created to make an impression on the players with the new hardware, and it stands up to all expectations. Players are introduced to Tidus, a jock, and his futuristic hometown of Zanarkand. An unknown enemy appears, Sin, destroying Tidus's world and sending him spiraling 1000 years into the future. Trying to cope in a new world, he befriends a summoner named Yuna and her guardians on a journey to rid the world of Sin. Sin has plagued the land for the past 1000 years, a consequence for those who used machina religiously. The feel of the game and characters will make an impression that will last for quite a while. Although it has its downfalls, it is one of the best RPGs out there, and a nice addition to the series.
The ATB system is nixed for this installment. In its place, the Character Turn Battle system makes its debut for a more strategic battle. Characters' portraits, on-screen monsters and bosses will each have their own slot appear in the right-hand corner of the screen. When selecting an action, the proceeding slots will shift to show the outcome of future turns. This time around, characters have certain abilities that make each one more suitable against an enemy than the others. This is all because of the Sphere Grid; a massive board with paths for each character based on their individual battle styles. Instead of normal leveling up, AP is awarded after battle that increases each character's sphere level. Characters maneuver about the grids by moving spaces equal to their present sphere level. Nodes are present along the paths that increase attributes, grant abilities, and lock away some of the other sections. Each character is pretty much stuck with their advantages and disadvantages until much later in the game when they can move onto other players' paths by using key spheres. For example, break techniques are only available to Auron, and elemental attack magic is only used by Lulu for the majority of the game.
Overdrives are the new limit breaks in this installment. By filling up the Overdrive meter characters are able to unleash new skills, or in Yuna's case, summoning a beast with a full Overdrive gauge. Ever since Final Fantasy III was released in Japan, summoning has always been a big part of the series. Summons, or Aeons, play a major part of the story and, thus the battle system as well. Instead of the usual summon animation, damage, then disappearance, Aeons are called by Yuna to replace the current party. After their introduction animations, Aeons can be controlled just like regular characters. Each has a normal attack, unique attack, and Overdrive. Unique attacks are a combination of normal attacks with special attributes. For example, Bahamut's Impulse skill attacks all enemies, while Valefor's Sonic Wing delays the target's actions. The Overdrives, though, are the beast's super attacks, like Shiva's Diamond Dust, but with their respective elemental damage.
Uematsu returns as music composer for Final Fantasy X along with Junya Nakano and Masashi Hamauzu. Right from the begining, players are treated to a beautiful piano piece entitled "To Zanarkand." Uematsu even gets into some rock and roll with "Otherworld" performed during the opening FMV. The character themes also fit each individual's personality, as do the location tracks. The main theme song, "Suteki da ne?" is sung by Okinawan folksinger Rikki. It is truly a beautiful piece that is so moving it doesn't need an English dub. The only downfalls are the battle themes, which did not urge me to fight monsters, and that some of the more well made tracks are only played once during the game. This would normally count against the game, but players are able to buy tracks used throughout the game at a theater in Luca later on. Also due to the shift in hardware, characters have actual voices. There has been a lot of disgust over the Yuna and Tidus's English voice actors, Hedy Burress and James Arnold Taylor, but I found no real complaint in their performances. Tidus is your average happy-go-lucky jock with a sarcastic undertone that some people say makes him sound whiny. I didn't find this to be true; I found his voice very fitting for a naive, smart-mouthed teenager. Yuna sounds very feminine; she has a voice that's soft yet strong, caring, and full of passion. Yuna's personality was captured very well, and was not too quiet or shy for my hearing. Sometimes, the dubbing doesn't match the mouth movements, especially at one scene with Tidus and Yuna at the Farplane, but I have heard this happens in the Japanese version too. Not a big deal, really. Also, during battles, characters also have a slight chance to say witty remarks to their teammates or the annihilated foes. Another spiffy feature is the ability to talk before using a technique. Of course this only happens the first time you use it, but it adds to the experience.
Final Fantasy X pushes the graphics to the limit in this game. The FMVs are simply beautiful, as are the real-time facial movements in-game. My only complaints are minor. The most noticeable of annoyances are acccessory changing from in-game to FMV. Yuna's earrings are a gripe. Her top bead on her long earring is blue criss-crossed with white in the game, but FMV and official art wise, it's green criss-crossed with purple. Her back earrings are also completely changed in the transition as well. "Clipping" occcurs when a solid object passes through another solid object. Yuna's sleeves and Lulu's hair are prime examples of this event. Opening mouths also have a tendency to incorporate some of the background around the edges when someone is talking. However, the pros definitetly outweigh the cons. Like with music, players can visit Luca and buy movies of any FMV they witnessed so far in their progress. The locations themselves are completely 3D, with players able to tread by them as solid objects. Enemy models have some pallete swaps, but the physical bodies are also tweaked to provide a more unique appearance.
In terms of challenge, it's very diverse. Some battles, especially the coliseum fights, are insane even if you use overdrives. The mini-games are wickedly hard if you want to gain and powerup your ultimate weapons. Racing a chocobo while avoiding blitzballs and gulls is one task required to obtain a very powerful item later on in the game, and dodging 200 consecutive lightning bolts to receive another powerful item is no walk in the park either. Blitzball is another one of these mini-games, and thankfully you're only forced to play it once. Each temple also has a puzzle, a "Cloister", that players must navigate in order to proceed to other parts of the shrine.
This game is insanely long. Even without finding all the extras, it's worth a good 50 hours. Each character's ultimate weapon can be powered up twice, but obtaining the actual items necessary to do so takes a long time. Even 80 or so hours in, I still have not completed everything.
Localization was done really well in this game. Humor from Western civilization is present in an Asian-inspired world. For example, on the way to another temple, Tidus mispronounces it as "Macarena" and follows up with an "aiye!" when corrected. The translation was near perfect, with the only mistranslation coming from a NPC who says something along the lines of, "when I grow up, I want to be a blitzball." The actual menu screen is pretty self-explanatory. It is easy to navigate, and the colors are not hard on the eyes either. Tutorials are mainly an in-battle occurence, but they are easy to understand. Players may not understand the sphere grid at first, but over time it becomes easier.
FFX turns to religion as the main villain like FF Tactics and Xenogears did before it. However, there are so many twists that take place that there is basically no one left to trust. The world map has been taken out in a sense, as the playing field is essentially the map. The idea of "Sin" and the "Final Summoning" are quite interesting, esspecially figuring out the relationship of everything in the game.
The story itself sounds pretty overused at first, but it's very moving and dramatic. However, it seems a little linear as players must follow a set path. In all, I enjoyed the story tremendously. Character interaction and development was very strong, and I experienced emotion regarding the current mood. There was just something about the journey that got me hooked. Maybe it was because everything flowed together beautifully, or maybe it was deep and moving?
FFX is a great game, and right now it's available as a Greatest Hits title. Renting is an idea, but expect to pull a couple all nighters in order to finish it before its due date. Even after beating it, it's fun to play the game again and customize the characters another way. The graphics, music, and story are superb, but the ending leaves some unanswered questions lingering. Thankfully, many questions are resolved in its sequel, Final Fantasy X-2.
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