I was never too hopeful about Final Fantasy X, Squaresoft's first foray into the PS2 RPG market. Most "highly awaited" games on the console have been rather underwhelming, leaving me with the feeling that if given more time, a deeper game could have been created by the developers. After playing it though, I'd have to say FFX defies that commonality. It is a much longer, much deeper game than anything else PS2 has seen to date, and probably the best game on the console too.
FFX's lead hero is a lot more like Zidane from FFIX than the angst-buried soldiers from both 8 and 7. He has spirit, a sense of a humor, and can much-better communicate with his allies. Though it leaves his personality a bit trite, I found him to be a lot easier to relate to than the aforementioned heroes of VIII and VII. As it plays out, he is swept up from a Blitzball game in cheery Zanarkand to Spira by Sin, who attacks Zanarkand in the middle of a game.
At Spira, Tidus meets Rikku of the Al Bhed on a ship. From there, he ventures with the party all about Spira searching for clues as to why Sin brought him to Spira, how to get home, and elements of the plot relating to his past and his father.
I won't go into any more detail about the story than just scraping the surface, as this game would be much better experienced if you go in without much pre-told info.
Overall I'd say the story is excellent and consistent. The more linear style of gameplay that excludes the World Map completely allows FFX to flow better from story segment to dungeon to encounter, etc. The story has hardly any lapses and remains interesting from the moment Tidus' narration of the plot begins, to the moment you reach the last battle. Although the characters' personalities are just thrust into your face at the beginning and hardly develop over time, the fantastic storyline more than made up for that.
Moving on to gameplay, FFX is much different from previous iterations. The tried, tested and true Active Time Battle interface has been scrapped in favor of a speedier turn-based system. Summons are now called Aeons and actually become playable fighters instead of hitting the enemy with one attack and leaving. Magic is used in much the same way, as is basic weapon fighting, though again the battles are much faster.
One major innovation is the introduction of the Sphere Grid system. Experience you earn from battles no longer increases a character's permanent level rank, but instead increases an S.Level rank. Moving around on the Grid requires a certain rank, and the higher the number the more freedom you have in moving. The Grid is basically where you can increase HP, learn new spells, increase other attributes etc. This is similar to the class system of FFV, but is a bit more in-depth and lacks summons (only Yuna can summon in FFX).
From a gameplay standpoint, I found FFX to be slightly less engrossing than past games in the series. The lack of a World Map renders the title incredibly linear and, in my eyes, devoid of Replay Value. The mini-games aren't that great either, besides the monster hunting in the Calm Lands. Despite a noticeable absence of replayability, Final Fantasy X is still fun the first time through and feels like a much more original and unique experience.
Though I've never been one to praise a game based on it's visuals, I must give credit where credit is due. This game looks unbelievable. The color scheme is bright and even if a bit powdery, is easy on the eyes. The character models are mostly free from seams and animate smoothly. Heck, even the battles look impressive with well-detailed enemies and attacks. Characters also have realistic facial animations in FFX, which are quite impressive. Lastly, the CG movies are of course outstanding. These are by far the most detailed CG movies in a Squaresoft game yet.
Nobou Uematsu's musical score is lacking this time around. The only noteworthy themes are against one of the last bosses and the regular battle music. Other than this, most music pieces in the game lack emotion and are, quite frankly, boring. Nobou has lost his touch, and I hope for the series' sake that in FFXII Mitsuda does the score.
In case anyone was worrying about the voiceovers, you can stop biting your nails as the English voice actors are almost perfect. Only Rikku and occasionally Tidus became annoying, but considering this is Square's first foray into voice actors for an FF game, a few hiccups are expected. As for the sound effects, they're well done as usual, showcasing Square's aural talent just as well as past FFs did.
I wasn't expecting FFX to be anything great, but having played it I'd have to say it's the second best Final Fantasy game ever made. The new battle engine, Sphere Grid system, and a remarkable presentation make this a much fresher experience than past games. If you're like me and haven't been too impressed with PS2 titles up till now (both RPG and non-RPG), try FFX. You may just come away as impressed as I did.