" Final Fantasy X is the exact product of what everyone said it would be. The visual entourage that dazzles and delights rarely lets up. The game upon full completion reaches far into triple digits according to the game's hourglass. Furthermore, this installment of Square's all but worshipped franchise really does throw caution to the winds in more ways than one. To be brief, Final Fantasy X is almost everything Square said it would be. Sadly, this doesn't mean that it is jus..."
Final Fantasy X is the exact product of what everyone said it would be. The visual entourage that dazzles and delights rarely lets up. The game upon full completion reaches far into triple digits according to the game's hourglass. Furthermore, this installment of Square's all but worshipped franchise really does throw caution to the winds in more ways than one. To be brief, Final Fantasy X is almost everything Square said it would be. Sadly, this doesn't mean that it is justified in bearing the Final Fantasy family crest.
Tidus, a seventeen year old blitzball hero in his home town of Zanarkand, is mysteriously transported to a world 1,000 years into the future. Forget that these new surroundings resemble overuse of the rewind button rather than being futuristic, for in the millennia Tidus skipped, technological advancements were all but abandoned in favor of religion. To be more specific, the religion of Yevon. In fact, according to this Yevon belief, the world's overreliance on technology is responsible for the periodical attacks by a deity known simply as Sin. The attacks are only temporarily stanched thanks to the rise of various summoners who hold this monster at bay. Tidus meets up with one of these summoners by the name of Yuna, and after a bond being formed between the two that is about as predictable as daytime soap operas, he joins her and her companions on their journey to defeat this monstrosity, if only temporarily.
Those companions that I speak of are actually what make Final Fantasy X quite a passable and actually enjoyable experience. While Tidus's insecurity stemming from realizing his own strong ties to Sin and Yuna's almost childish demeanor that heavily contrasts that brave summoner image don't make any good first impressions, the remaining five party members form a group of adventurers that I'd confidently call well rounded and provocative. This isn't to say that all seven of our heroes and heroines are constantly swapping compliments, heroic catch phrases, and high fives, which perhaps is their greatest asset. The buoyant Wakka will make his views on religion and racial differences well known regardless of whether his audience would be offended by them, and Auron frequently forgets to tell the party about things that they probably should know about. On top of this display of human emotions and flaws, the cast all clearly exhibit many differing traits that gives any gamer a touch of every flavor in their FFX stew. Kimahri lives for nothing but loyalty to his summoning master, and Lulu's overly conservative and hawklike babysitting of Yuna sometimes make her seem hostile and ill mannered. The aforementioned boisterous Wakka and ''bad ass'' Auron combine with the innocent, and yes amazingly cute Rikku to close out our company of seven.
However, it is not in the story nor the characters where FFX breaks most of the Final Fantasy tradition, stepping on the broken shards as it stamps out its own legacy. It is the ''game'' part of the game that accomplishes that feat, and if change is something you were looking forward to, you shouldn't walk away disappointed. That being said, you'll find that some of these good intentions have gone badly wrong, the sphere grid being one of them. Long beloved leveling up and gaining of experience is for all practical purposes tossed out. Instead characters will gain S levels (presumably S is for sphere). When you gain these levels, a character is free to use them to move about this game board of sorts. Scattered around the board are various abilities and statistical upgrades, and upon coming to rest on one of these slots, a character may learn that skill or retrieve the stat boosters. The contents of a slot on the grid are retrieved by using other spheres which are found as items or plunder from defeated enemies. A strength sphere is necessary to pull out a strength bonus, while an ability sphere is needed to teach someone the Thundara spell. Because everyone resides on the same board, anyone can theoretically concentrate on any branch of development. Characters are placed innately on the area of the grid that suits them best (Lulu is wrapped in clusters of primary black magic spells, whereas Auron has strength bonuses littered around him waiting to be devoured), but once the preliminary movements are out of the way, any character can choose to set off on any path they desire. Your final party may feature Tidus as its prominent user of black magic and with Auron a skilled healer and not a complaint or discrepancy be raised by FFX itself.
All in all, the sphere grid, like many of Final Fantasy X's flaws, is actually a good and certainly intriguing idea with one or two key chinks that cripple it fatally. In this case, the drawback is that the sphere grid can easily be manipulated after a short time. Locks are placed around it keeping you out of the powerful abilities too early, but aside from the spheres that retrieve a slot's goodies, other items are placed around Spira to use the grid to your advantage. A prime example would be the Ultima spell. Once Lulu or one of your other delegates has reeled in the attack, you can use six black magic spheres (not exactly rare items) to immediately transfer Ultima to the rest of the party. Just like that, with only having one person actually earn the spell, your entire party can blast seemlessly through enemy after enemy, only needing to make sure they will have enough MP. Certain shortcuts like this one aren't exactly impossible to find and exploit, meaning your characters will jump out in front of what is already a pretty gentle difficulty curve.
Another brilliant facet of FFX with one mortal wound is the battle system. Instead of sticking with their active turn based battle system which has been implored since FFIV, Square decided to go strictly turn based. To compensate for this, the game isn't hesitant to allow faster enemies to pelt you with round after round of attacks, and agility stats and spells such as haste, slow, and stop prove even more useful. A small window lists the order in which characters will be able to act, and this cue constantly shifts and changes with respect to status affects and spells on both party members and opposition. Seems like good fun, right? It is until you put into account the other huge change to the battle system. Anything and everything is fair game, meaning all seven party members are ready, willing, and able. Should you find that one of the three on screen characters is insufficient for your needs, you can feel free to push L 1 and make a substitution without thought. The error of this system is that the newly instated character gets to act just as the character that was taken out would have. The turn isn't lost, which means essentially any of the seven characters can be used in any turn at any time. While this seems somewhat realistic, it means that any monster's weakness is exploitable without losing a turn. Monsters resistant to magic can just be shredded by Auron's powerful physical attacks, and a heavily armored foe would be quick to fall under Lulu's barrage of offensive magic.
The realistic approach to the battle system doesn't conclude with all seven party members being fully functional at all times either. Should Yuna envoke her summoning capabilities and bring one of the game's eight summons (or aeons) into combat, the entire party will recede into the shadows. The summoned beast will take center stage, engaging with enemies blow for blow until they are either defeated or dismissed by Yuna, both of which would mean the party returning to finish the battle. This system proves to achieve its potential though, as summons can not only be used to inflict damage, but they can be summoned into battle as powerful attacks are unleashed. This way, the summoned creature would take the force of the blow, and although their use is about depleted at that point, none of your more important characters will feel the punishment. A good example of not only tactful, strategic gameplay, but this face of FFX'S mechanics is one that was actually done right. Kinda depresses me seeing that the rest seemed to fall away in just one or two crucial areas.
Even exploration provides little safe haven for the rest of FFX'S battle and skillbuilding related shortcomings. The concept of nonlinear gameplay is taken to a whole new level, particularly for the moderately open Final Fantasy series. Large forests and vast mountain ranges will deceive you into thinking you're in for Exploration Fest but to my dismay, camouflaged, clear cut paths lead you more in the right direction than I would care to have assisting me. Partner this with an arrow right on the screen pointing you in the right direction, and you'll have little choice but to follow the game's lead aside from straying into a corner or cranny to raid a treasure chest. Even the traditional FF airship isn't accessible until the game is practically completed, leaving all of the exploring and sidequests for you to do in one huge chunk just before undertaking the final dungeon. Granted, these sidequests are of the sort that will turn your characters into demigods, so perhaps their inclusion at the end is to ensure that the other 90% of the game isn't further simplified by you taking away five digit HP damage with typical slashes of your sword.
This isn't to say the deception Final Fantasy X throws at you isn't well masked. Environments are excellently represented, from lush grasses to calm, lazy lakes. True, the Playstation 2's antialiusing issues aren't entirely put to rest, even with Squaresoft's amazing graphical prowess, but it is more than offset by the superb artistic side of the visuals as well as the jaw dropping spell affects. Of course, the summoning of Yuna's aeons deserve their own mention; these lengthy entrances are so drawn out and spectacular that the player is given the option of shortening them in the configuration menu.
The Leap from one composer to three is something I still haven't fully decided on. Final Fantasy has always been littered with a hefty number of epic battle themes and emotional compositions. This time, things have changed. The more atmospheric songs are what one should note about FFX, the peaceful guitar of most town themes being my personal favorites. Still, I found the battle theme to be a touch bland, and the pitiful attempt at heavy metal hidden not so well inside FFX is mindjarring to any fan of either traditional game music or hard rock itself.
Final Fantasy X did practically everything it said it would. All assurances were delivered in full and without question. So in a way, I can't criticize Squaresoft for not meeting my understandably high expectations. Nonetheless, it is the standards set by bearing the name of ''Final Fantasy'' that FFX fails in reaching. We find ourselves with a more than interesting story and a cast of main characters that, aside from the hero and heroine themselves, are above satisfactory. The battle system and sphere grid are both brilliant but are disarmed by well aimed blows that bring such excellent concepts quickly to their knees. All that considered, if you're willing to cope with a very unrelenting path, deal with an almost frustratingly simple quest, and live with a game that all things considered just isn't as good as its name may imply, I firmly recommend you to Final Fantasy X. I myself was able to overlook these flaws in order to appreciate the tale set before me. On the other hand though, those who get their fancy tickled by exploration and daunting challenges would be advised to approach with caution.
Featured community review by jdog (December 21, 2003)
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