"FFX's gameplay, though, has some truly significant differences from its predecessors. The most drastic change is that you can swap characters in and out during battle simply by pressing the R1 button. This is extremely helpful because it keeps you from getting jacked in boss fights because you brought the ninja instead of the black mage."
I have to admit, I was none too thrilled by what I heard about Final Fantasy X. Voice acting? Please. And what I had heard the battle system sounded like a terrible nightmare of Final Fantasy VIII revisited. But still, Final Fantasy is Final Fantasy, and like always, the magical name of the series was enough to induce me to buy the game.
Much to my surprise, I was thoroughly impressed.
The characters in Final Fantasy X are an intriguing mix. You have Auron, the tough ''get it done'' warrior who's already been there and seen all of this. There's Lulu, the black mage nursing a broken heart under the cool exterior. Tidus, the clueless and somewhat clumsy hero, is accompanied by the obligatory ''funny guy'' Wakka, who nurses a deep hatred for the Al Bhed race. This proves a problem when a young Al Bhed by the name of Rikku joins the party. And of course, there is Yuna, the determined summoner around whom the majority of the plot revolves. Each character is given small quirks--Wakka's virulent dislike of the Al Bhed, Rikku's fear of thunder, etc.--that make them stand out and seem real. The stunning graphics of FFX make it easy to see the minute details about each character--their body language, the colour of their eyes, the expressions on their faces. It's a far cry from the adorable little sprites of Final Fantasy IV. And the voice acting does even more to enhance characterization, but I'll talk more about that later.
The plot in Final Fantasy X is more or less the usual. Save the world from the great evil. Blah blah blah. It's given a fresh new twist, however, through several details. For one thing, the ''great evil'' is named Sin, and while it's depicted as a large whale-like creature, it's generally understood to be a force. For another, this is not a ragtag group of heroes banding together from necessity. As a summoner, Yuna knows it is her sacred duty to Yevon (the god of Spira) to summon the Final Aeon and defeat Sin. So, she goes on a summoner's pilgrimage to obtain this aeon. The other party members go with her as her guardians; it is their job to protect her and ensure that she lives long enough to GET the Final Aeon. Unlike Final Fantasy IV, for example, you know exactly who your enemy is from the start, AND you know that you have to fight it to save your world from the terrible destruction that it wreaks. There are interesting side-plots and a pretty big red herring (or annoyance depending on how you look at him) thrown out there to keep you interested while the main plot gently winds around to its conclusion.
The music in Final Fantasy X is excellent. I was none too pleased when I found out that Nobuo Uematsu, genius at large and sole composer for the FF series until now, was going to have help with the soundtrack. But I ended up truly enjoying the music. It ranges from delicate, nostalgic piano solos to grinding metal to soft folk songs. It doesn't rate up there with, say, Final Fantasy IX for me, but it's still great and I can't wait till I have enough money to get my mucky paws on the OST. Even more importantly, it doesn't SOUND like three different men created the soundtrack. The various tracks blend smoothly and flow together as naturally as any FF soundtrack done only by Uematsu, and that was a huge plus.
Graphics. Ah, graphics, sadly one of the biggest factors in RPGs today. I'm going to take a moment to point out that Final Fantasy VI with its cheesy 16-bit graphics and tiny sprites is STILL my favourite game, bar none. Graphics do not a game make, in my firm opinion. However, most people disagree with me, and though it's shallow to judge a game by its polygons, I suppose I must in all fairness discuss it here. The graphics in Final Fantasy X are simply beautiful. The characters really come alive through them. At times it's hard to make a distinction between in-game graphics and FMV. As for the FMVs, they're absolutely stunning. Water flows and glints like any body of water you'd expect to see. The snowdrifts at Lake Macalania look real. The flames in Kilika Temple almost seem to crackle and beg for you to roast marshmallows in them. Light flickers in the temples and the world is 3D in a way that far eclipses Final Fantasy IX. This can get annoying, too, because unlike The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time where you could rotate the camera if you got stuck in a blind corner, FFX has a fixed camera angle. This occasionally makes it difficult or annoying to navigate the game, when you can't find that door or you keep walking in and out of the door by mistake because you can't see where you're going.
Now we get down to the gameplay. True to the series' history, FFX includes mini-games and chocobos. The mini games are for the most part fun. The chocobo race is a royal pain, especially when trying to acquire Tidus' ultimate weapon. I spent three hours at it and nearly threw the controller across the room before I gave up. FFX's gameplay, though, has some truly significant differences from its predecessors. The most drastic change is that you can swap characters in and out during battle simply by pressing the R1 button. This is extremely helpful because it keeps you from getting jacked in boss fights because you brought the ninja instead of the black mage. Also, there are certain types of enemies that only one character has the right stats to kill. The swap makes it very easy. Since only the party members who actively participate in a battle--attacking or guarding, not standing there and not getting a turn--gain AP, you can make sure that EVERYONE gains AP from a boss fight by swapping characters in and out. Speaking of AP, that's another change. You no longer have a distinction between Experience Points and Ability Points. You simply get AP and gain a level. Then you can move forward one node, or backwards ten, on the Sphere Grid. What's the point of this, you ask? Well, mostly that the Sphere Grid is how you gain stats and abilities. Each node has an effect that can be activated by applying the correct type of Sphere. Such Spheres are gained in battle when your enemies drop them. So, you would use a Power Sphere to activate an HP node, and the character in question would gain 200 HP to his/her max. Sound complicated? It really isn't. It took me perhaps five minutes to get the hang of the sphere grid.
Another intriguing aspect of FFX is the customization of weapons. Enemies drop weapons and armour constantly. This equipment comes with abilities already attached. The ''Sensor'' ability tells you a targeted enemy's weakness, HP, and status if any. Waterstrike causes you to use a water-elemental attack. And, using items in your inventory, you can add abilities to the weapons and armour. Fighting in an area with lots of nasty status effects? Equip an armour that has Darkproof, Zombieproof and Confuseproof. You'll be fine. Fighting in an area full of water monsters? Thunderstrike on your weapon is the answer. Like the Sphere Grid, the weapon system doesn't take long to master.
There's one problem with the gameplay, however. In FFX, Square has chosen to do away with the tradition of the World Map. You move from place to place sometimes by the plot ''teleporting'' you there, as has occasionally been the case in other FF games, and sometimes by traversing a highroad. When you get the airship, you select a location you wish to go to and are dumped down at a predetermined Save Sphere. This can be a real pain in the butt when you get dumped at the opposite end of the area from where you want to be. Not a huge blot on the game, but it can be annoying.
And now we come to the voice acting. I freely admit I shuddered in horror when I heard about it. My initial fear was that we would end up with voice acting as crappy as your average dubbed anime. Fortunately, I was wrong. I had, of course, forgotten Square's careful attention to localization. The voice acting is beautifully done and really adds to the characterization. Lulu's voice is cool and collected, but pleasant to listen to. Wakka's almost Caribbean acccent helps you to envision this tall goofy guy with a kind heart. Admittedly, Tidus sounds like he's lacking a few key male bits, but then again, that rather suits the character. Rikku sounds bright and peppy, while Auron has a deep gravelly voice that really does wonders for the mental image I make of his character. A factor that really could have destroyed the game has instead enhanced it beautifully. There are some screw-ups, of course: the facial modelling was not re-done for the English release, so the spoken words don't sync with the facial movements. Occasionally the timing is off too, with the voice actor finishing well before the character's mouth stops moving. Overall, though, I thought it was really well done.
Lastly I'd like to say a word about theme. It's become tradition for FF games to have themes. In Final Fantasy IV it was honour, while FF9 addressed identity and FF8 expressed the theme of love. In Final Fantasy X it's religion. Or, more accurately, it's a brilliant study of what happens when a newcomer arrives and jostles the comfortable, accepted faith in a world not his own. The people of Spira believe that Sin is a punishment for their transgressions, and that when they have prayed enough, had enough faith in Yevon, and atoned enough it will disappear. Tidus, not being from Spira, doesn't understand this and questions it constantly. This leads the people to question what they've always believed, and results in the land of Spira falling into turmoil. Yet nowhere does the game take the tone of ''preachy'' or ''holier than thou.'' It's simply a very well done story with a beautifully intertwined theme.
I suppose I'd better shut up now and provide you with the scores, huh?
Staff review by Lassarina Aoibhell (July 12, 2002)
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