Final Fantasy X Review
Probably the most anticipated Final Fantasy game ever, Final Fantasy X has finally witnessed the light of day in Japan. Mesmerizing even the toughest of critics in Japan, FFX was graced with perfect and near perfect reviews by almost every single notable publication, be it online or print. Square had been working on the project ever since 1999 when Playstation 2 hardware was not only first revealed, but first developed. Reported was that Square had been the very first 3rd party who received a PS2 dev-kit, and by the looks of things that seems to be quite obvious. Let's travel back in time, shall we? The Final Fantasy series originated on the Famicom Entertainment System, better known as the Nintendo. Square was nobody back in the days, just a new comer into the world of gaming. Hoping to defy the traditional pen & paper RPG styling, Square released Final Fantasy. A wondrous quest that tossed gamers into the world of knights and mages. The sequel wasn't really a traditional sequel, but in the vein of the FF series what FF title really was? So the Final Fantasy saga propelled until it reached a milestone on the SNES with FFIV, which in entity is Final Fantasy II (in Japan). FFIV remains as my more favorite RPG because it was the first to use harsh language and to feature characters of such immense depth. Then SNES owners were treated to even more FF goodness, as Final Fantasy began to sweep America of its shoes.
Encountering woe after woe with Final Fantasy V, Square decided to halt the US release of Final Fantasy V all the way until the PSX release of FF Anthology. So Square leaps to Final Fantasy VI, the game had featured awesome gameplay, and a genuine soundtrack! But perhaps the one Final Fantasy title that began a slew of inspiration was Final Fantasy VII. No doubt about it, Final Fantasy VII was the largest milestone in the series' venerable history, featuring, an immersive, cinematic experience, which featured a heart touching story of death, betrayal and romance. No other RPG had a story as gripping as Final Fantasy VII's. Influencing later titles such as The Legend of Dragoon, FFVII is arguably the one RPG that changed the face of RPGs, as we know it. On top of that FFVII has been voted -by general consensus- as the best of the series, although not too far behind was Final Fantasy VI. Now put this into thought, that was two years ago when Final Fantasy VIII made its debut in the US, and since then Final Fantasy IX and X (in Japan at least) have seen releases. And if that poll were to exist today, I think we'd have a different show of hands.
Only in the middle of its second generation, the Playstation 2 has already seen visually mind-boggling titles such as The Bouncer, Zone of the Enders, Metal Gear Solid 2 demo, Star Wars: Starfighter, and of course the incomparable Gran Turismo 3. Although, it would be only weeks that another game would be released, that defined the visual integrity of the aforementioned. Boasting visual aspects that would make even the most bitter fanboy rise in sheer delight! Final Fantasy X is one of those games that can brighten up any day with its bright and vivid colors. Its visuals feed the eye with tons of eye-candy, as Square has done a tremendous job of turning FFX into the best looking videogame thus far. With the powerhouse technology at Square's hands, a first ever inclusion into the series has been implemented, voice acting and lip-synching to go along with it. The lip-synching looks almost as good as a perfectly translated anime-manga series. On occasion a little miss-timing is present, but nevertheless the overall presentation of the mouth to speech coordination is excellent.
Far exceeding my initial expectations, FFX has blown me away with its monstrous level designs, the immense -and may I add real-time- backgrounds, and of course the tearfully beautiful CG work. With the medium format being DVD based, CG compression shown off in the game is like nothing you've ever seen before. When viewing these gorgeous strands of animation in motion, you'd swear the same techniques were used to create FFX's CGs, as was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The level of exuberant detail is like no other, the way every single strand of hair moves independently (just like the movie), the way the clothes wave in a cool breeze, and the way the facial detail is so defined you can notice fine things like pores. Final Fantasy X has marvelous CGs, no-doubt about it, but when one isn't running, Square utilizes real-time and produces a real-time sequence via in-game engine. The CG and in-game sequences substitute seamlessly, absolutely no loading time in between, it's spectacular. At times it's hard to distinguish real-time from CG, that's how defined the in-game engine is! Now following an all new 'yellowbrick' road, Square has finally cast real-time environments, a first for the series. Every little environmental detail shines in FFX. Be it pottery or a building, Final Fantasy X is filled with a deluge of triumphantly done textures, the vast magnitude of the detail is simply phenomenal.
It's tough to compare the characters of Final Fantasy X to the characters of Metal Gear Solid 2. After all both games have already been nodded as single-handedly the two best looking PS2 games thus far. While Metal Gear Solid 2 is without a doubt a gorgeous title with excellent character detail, it lacks slightly in terms of variation. Final Fantasy characters have always been known for their artistic designs, characters such as Kain, Cecil, Cloud, Sephiroth and Zidane conferred their respective 'fantasy' with their unique appearance. Zidane wore a pirate-esque outfit, and had a tail. Sephiroth had a very dark demeanor, and with one look at his eyes it becomes painfully apparent. He -Sephiroth- wears a long black trench coat, and carries a curved-tip sword. Character inspiration has always been a force in Final Fantasy games, thanks to legendary anime artists such as Yoshitaka Amano and Tetsuya Nomura. And Final Fantasy X is no exception. Boasting some of the liveliest characters in an FF to date, each has excellent clothing detail. In addition to that, the characters boast a spirit of realism. They stand out amongst every other game character, and they have a glow to them, that almost shouts: "I'm 'this' close to actually breathing your air." Creepy, but true nevertheless. The amount of polygons each character features, eclipses anything you've seen in the past. Take Auron for example, he is a middle-aged man, and his outward appearance shows it. He's detailed with some facial wrinkle-age, and a 5 o'clock shadow. In-fact, I'd say he's possibly the most detailed character in the whole game. It's stunning really. It's hard to imagine how any other future title, on any console can compete with Final Fantasy X. It is bar-none, hands down, the best looking game to see release on any platform.
You'd think because it's an import title, I wouldn't understand didly squat of the game, right? Wrong! Being provided with countless translation and strategy guides, I am truly experiencing the wonder of Final Fantasy X. In case anybody is wondering, my translation guide is roughly 80-pages long. It summarizes many of the game's events into a defined and well written story. Let me save myself the trouble and assure you readers out there, I'm fully aware of what's going on in most of the scenes. Final Fantasy X stars, Tidus, a cheerful 17-year old, who is also quite the athlete. Following in the footsteps of his now deceased father, Tidus is Spira's most popular Blitzball player, he's a very optimistic character, and doesn't tend to be a "Cloud" or "Squall" that much. Yuna, perhaps the basis of the game, is the daughter of a legendary summoner, by the name of Blaska. Her main goal is to defeat "Sin," which is the game's primary villain. But in order to do so, she, with the help of Wakka, Lulu and Kimahri, must find many various summons, such as Shiva and Ifrit. The focus of FFX, as I've mentioned, lies in Tidus and Yuna.
Perhaps I should describe the mind boggling intro of Final Fantasy X. [Intro Spoilers ahead] Well for starters this one lasts longer than the usual, as it is approximately 10 minutes long, counting the few steps you'll be taking in between a new cut-scene or CG. The game starts off with Tidus entering into an area full of young males, and teenage girls, who are all asking for his autograph, this is where you enter Tidus' name. After that, you will maneuver Tidus through a pack of fans and what looks to be the media. By now if you can't tell Tidus is the best at what he does, and is considered an idol. His alley is Blitzball, a 'free-water' based game, in which players are kept in a large sphere of water (remember this is Final Fantasy, anything goes) and there is a Blitzball being tossed and thrown all around. By 'free-water' I mean water that is distinctly different than what human kind has used for millions of year, the water in FFX can be breathed in, and requires less muscle to swim through, thus the definition of 'free-water.' So as this game of Blitzball progresses, the scene changes to a mysterious character, who is later known as Auron. Over Auron's shoulder, and in the distance, a huge wave of water is slowly building and coming quickly towards Tidus, and his surroundings. This is also some kind of hovering whirlpool that eats everything in its path, as Tidus later finds out.
So Auron meets up with you and you begin fighting off a deluge of enemies, one by one, and then a huge explosion occurs which causes to break the road high above surface, and now Tidus is hanging on for his life. Yelling at Auron to help him, Auron stands there silently, then reaching in, grabbing Tidus by his collar, and holding him with one arm telling him his only escape was through the disastrous whirlpool. Suddenly Tidus is sucked in by the hovering whirlpool, and finds himself on a ruin. Now it is up to you to make it through the ruin, which shouldn't take long, and finally encounter life, but these folks aren't friendly, as they quickly enslave you.
Supporting FFX characters include, Wakka, who is the captain of his Blitzball team. Lulu, almost like Yuna's big sister, Lulu presents a dark image, but is very warm. Kimahri, Yuna's sworn protector if you will, wherever Yuna goes, he does too. Auron, thought to have defeated "Sin" with high-summoner Blaska, Auron had faced a ten-year disappearance after his encounter with this deadly spirit. He looks after Tidus, even though Tidus doesn't always appreciate his company because he feels he is far too strict to be around. Nevertheless, Auron is a wise 35-year old man, and later on in the game he helps Tidus, Yuna and everybody else through various tough times. Auron plays a key-role in FFX. Possibly the "Yuffie" of the game, as mentioned in the story description, Rikku captures Tidus in a cave, which he had entered prior to finding himself stranded in the middle of nowhere. I personally don't like her too much, and thankfully she isn't much of tie-in with the game.
Job system, materia, junctions, synthesizing...Every Final Fantasy game is created with the thought of originality, as was FFVII when Square decided to create materia, which 'til this day still remains as my favorite gameplay aspect of the series. Materia was something very simple, and yet collecting it became strangely addictive. Pushing yourself further and further into the game, trying to create a breed of Chocobo's that when bred, give birth to a Gold Chocobo. Using the Gold Chocobo so you can obtain the Knights of the Round materia, is an example of great lengths that gamers, such as me, would go through in order to procure the most prized -and powerful- materia in the whole game. So now it's Final Fantasy X, you'd think what else could Square come up with? Ever heard of the 'Sphere System?' I didn't think so. In FFX, there is a large board that divides into seven exclusive areas, for the seven characters, all with various pathways. The Sphere System looks complicated on paper, but is a very easy concept to grasp. With the seven large portions of the board broken up for each character, there is an assortment of roads that have upgrade steps all over them. There are seven different looking (not seven available) upgrade steps. Here's the breakdown:
- Yellow step: Luck up, speed up, evade up or Hit% up
- Red: Physical or Magic attack up
- Green: HP or MP
- Blue: Physical or Magic attack up
- Purple: Gain new ability!
- Black: Empty
- Star: Secret ability
Instead of leveling up from experience points, your characters will receive S. Lv, which is short for Sphere Level, of course. The higher the S. Lv per character, the further you can explore his/her Sphere territory, and learn new abilities. But learning costs at a price, so say you want to learn the ability -purple- 'Flee.' You would have to highlight that ability (that is if you have enough levels to see it), and look at the S. Lv bar to the left. If it says S. Lv-6, and you currently are at S. Lv 10, you will have to give 4 levels in order to gain the ability. Never fear though, it may sound like a tough task, but getting additional S. Lvs isn't too tough. I'm almost confident that I've managed to confuse about half of the people reading this. But take my word on it, the Sphere System is very user friendly, and is possibly the most imaginative utensil in an FF game. Use it wisely and you will be greatly rewarded with awesome abilities, spells, and what not.
With primary character, Yuna being a 17-year old summoner, you'd better believe there are summons to be seen. There are summons that include: the propitious Ifrit and Shiva, along with two new comers, Valfarre and Ixeon. Final Fantasy X is one hell of a breath of fresh air. While purchasing upgrade items such as weapons and various armor related merchandise is still done in stores, there is room for customization. With a gained ability and the correct weapon, a character can make his/her weapon of choice enhanced or modified for better results. Like limit-breaks, FFX features Overdrives. Which are a huge attack on the enemy or can be used to fully heal an ally. What's more is that like FFIV, FFX features a job system as well, so characters such as Lulu (un-traditional Black Mage), Yuna (summoner), Kimahri (can cast blue magic, and has ability to use "Jump"), Auron (deadly swordsman), Tidus (doesn't have many unique talents, but also good with sword), Wakka (uses blue magic also guardian of Yuna), and Rikku (thief) have their own distinct abilities.
Much like FFVIII's G.F.s, FFX also requires you to take care of your Aeons (the summoned beasts). When an Aeon is cast, he/she will replace the whole crew on ground, and only the summoner will be present to control the Aeon. The Aeon is just like an ordinary character, it has a menu of attacks to choose from, and even has its own Overdrive attack. There are eight Aeons to be found including, Shiva, Ifrit, Anima, Bahamut, Valfarre, Mega's Three Sisters, Ixeon and Yoshimbo. Final Fantasy X is deep, quite possibly the deepest of the series. But I'm not quite done. Another first in the series is the ability to switch party members during the battle, for a more tactic-esque scenario. So whenever a summon is needed and your party doesn't consist of Yuna, and say it is Lulu's turn to attack, you can press the L1 button, select Yuna and instantaneously Lulu and Yuna interchange places, a great tactic if I do say so myself.
And finally the battle system, I've explained substitutions, and now there needs to be evaluation on the battle system, which was created by Tsuchiro Tsuchida (battle designer for Front Mission series). The drop bar to the right of the battle screen shows the rotation of order, in which the characters attack. You can increase your turns to attack, by casting haste, which will then double or triple your attack turn in one round. This method of battle is called Count Time Battle (CTB). While I guarantee I'm missing something in this review, it's safe to say that I've covered a lot, if not almost all of the ground on Final Fantasy X. And for the record, yes there are Chocobo's, and yes there is a guy named Cid. He is Rikku's father.
Featuring a musical score like no other Final Fantasy game, Nobuo Uematsu returns to FFX and delivers with some incredibly prodigious tunes that are sure to stream in your head for years to come. Much like Zelda: A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy VII, and Chrono Trigger, the tunes of FFX are cheerful and quite compelling. Sounding more orchestrated then ever, the musical score of Final Fantasy X is a huge nudge up, to help that perfect ten for the sound category. But what sets the standards in this category is the better than perfect voice acting. Amazingly timed responses create this cinematic feel to the game, and if you want to keep it traditional RPG, Square has inserted the ability to turn off the voices, so you can put your imagination to use. The voice-acting fits perfectly with the characters, and I'd say that Square sure knows how to pick well suited voices, The Bouncer being the perfect example. The voice acting, the clarity and the soundtrack can't get much better than this.
The control in Final Fantasy X have remained generally the same as the previous PSOne titles, although the analog sensitivity has now been made more precise, so there are more speeds of walking and running. The controls are never confusing, Square has done a tremendous job of keeping the controls simple, and at the same time granting each button many different executions. For beginners there is a map on the top of the screen, which shows a red arrow. Following that red arrow will lead you to the correct area in order for you to keep your progression time lower. But of course with that featured turned on, you are only making the game linear, which is a no-no to many hardcore FF fans. Final Fantasy X's controls are no problem, the menus, as they have always been, are easy to use, so is just about everything else.
What can I say to conclude this review, that hasn't been said already? Other than that Final Fantasy X is possibly the most engrossing FFX title since Final Fantasy VI or VII. Or maybe how this is by far the best-looking videogame, with visuals that are unlikely to be seen in future -other- RPGs. Or maybe, that Final Fantasy X is possibly my favorite Final Fantasy title since VI/VII. In my honest to god opinion, it's all of the above. Graphics aside, Final Fantasy X is to date, the best Final Fantasy game. It's amazingly deep (as this preposterously long review suggests), and offers an amazing 40-50 hour experience. Look for Final Fantasy X's stateside release this February 2002.
8/7/2001 Arnold Katayev