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Final Fantasy X

Publisher: Square Developer: Square
Reviewer: Tenchi-no-Ryu Released: 12/19/01
Gameplay: 92% Control: 90%
Graphics: 98% Sound/Music: 96%
Story: 95% Overall: 97%


In the beginning Yevon created the earth, and this earth was without form, and void;
Its darkness was upon the face of the deep.

Thus did the spirit of Yevon move upon the face of the water,
And Yevon said, let there be light, and there was light.
And Yevon saw this light, and that it was good.

And Yevon divided the light from the darkness, and Yevon called this light: Life,
And the darkness: Death, and it was so.

And Yevon said, let there be firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it be solitary.
Sacred amongst the deep, cradled by waves and blessed by wind, and it was so.

And Yevon called this firmament Spira, and the gathering of its waters, its Sea.
And Yevon saw Spira and its Sea and was pleased.
And Yevon said, let this firmament and its waters be governed,
By the Light and the Darkness, and it was so.

Thus did the spirit of Yevon moved upon the face of Spira.
And Yevon said, let us make Man in mine own image and after our likeness,
And let them have dominion o'er the fish of the Sea, o'er the fowl of the air,
And o'er every creeping thing that crepeth over Spira.

And Yevon blessed them, and said unto them,
Be fruitful and multiply, for you have dominion o'er Spira.
And Yevon gave them dominion o'er the Light and the Life, and Yevon was pleased.

Thus did the spirit of Yevon move upon the face of the Sea.
And Yevon saw Man, and Man was the Light, and thus divided the Darkness from Man.
And Yevon called this Darkness: Sin, and it was so.

And Yevon spoke unto Sin, be earnest and steadfast, for you have dominion o'er Man,
And Yevon gave Sin dominion o'er Life and Death, and Yevon was pleased.

And thus the spirit of Yevon returned to his place on the Farplane,
And in the dreams of Man: Yevon slept,
Leaving dominion o'er Light and Darkness tended.
This was the first Cycle.

When Square released Final Fantasy in 1986, who would have suspected that their simple 8-bit RPG would become a dynasty that would continue redefining the genre over a decade and propel gaming into the lime-light. This once miniscule developer, headed by the now legendary Hironubu Sakaguchi, has become an industry juggernaut and exclusive partner to the largest software developer in the world. Final Fantasy would emerge as Square's flagship series, spawning almost a dozen incarnations that would sell over 30 million copies worldwide. Merging memorable characters, involving quests, riveting music, and captivating visuals, the Final Fantasy series is known as THE penultimate saga for RPGfans.

Throughout the series' evolution, Final Fantasy has captured the imagination and pocketbook of gamers the world-over and can easily be considered the benchmark by which all other console RPG's are measured. The latest incarnation of the series stands poised to not only continue this phenomenal legacy but transform the entire genre beyond imagination. In development for 3 years, the FINAL FANTASY X PROJECT is the series premier on Sony's wünderkind, and was ranked as the second most anticipated title for the console after Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Not too shabby for an RPG, eh?

Semantics aside, Final Fantasy X has had the gaming public salivating like Pavlovian canines for months. Does the game meet the overwhelming expectations the media has ingrained into each and every one of us? Is Final Fantasy X the Second Coming of the RPG Messiah on the PlayStation 2, or is it just another hackneyed pulpit-biter?

Graphics: 98%

Can a tapestry of binary beauty bewilder and beguile?

Final Fantasy X strips you of all preconceptions you may have had about the PlayStation 2's visual prowess and beats you with an aluminum bat until you swear you've seen the light. Ravishingly rendered in real-time, the world of Final Fantasy X exudes a sense of style, depth, and imagination that creates an image that is not only organic but also visually stunning. The artists of Square have captured the essence of otherworldly architecture and landscape in gilded polygons. From the great plains of the Calm Lands to the breathtaking view of a ruined Zanarkand, Final Fantasy X portrays vistas of such startling beauty that one would be moved to tears.

When designing the living world of Spira, Square had created cultures and civilizations, ruined and thriving, sculpted in grand digital fashion and impressively animated in real-time. From the grand cathedral of Bévelle, seat of the Priesthood of Yevon, to the submerged ruins of a Machina city, these edifices of different eras are recreated side-by-side. While contrasting, these civilizations are stylistically bound, and the evidence of their cultural artistic evolution is tangible.

The architecture of the modern cultures of Spira is notably diverse, from the steam-punk fortress of the Al-Bhed 'Home' to the arboreal Guado conclave of Guadosalam. The temples, shops and dwellings of these ethnicities are refreshingly original and comprehensively unique. The sculptures of Lady Yunalesca and Lord Zaeon that are carved into an alcove of each Cloister of Trials, is a brilliant example of the structural beauty found throughout the game. There are influences of Mayan, European, Okinawan, Arabic and Egyptian architecture spun throughout the lands of Spira making the realm of Final Fantasy X a beautiful paradigm of our own world.

While most of the world of Final Fantasy X is rendered in gloriously dynamic real-time polygons, there are a few areas that are static backdrops. Shops, homes, even the innards of the Al-Bhed airship are pre-rendered environs ala Final Fantasy VII-IX. While it may seem odd to have a fully scalable and rotateable environment with intermittent static backgrounds, the quality of the real-time overworld is frighteningly akin to animated SGI. Therefore, the static pre-rendered backdrops do not clash with the dynamic landscape.

Thankfully, the camera in Final Fantasy X is fixed, scaling and rotating as the scene unfolds, lending to an even greater cinematic quality of the environs. This stylistic choice negates the unfortunate consequences of polygon pop-up or tearing that are common with user-controlled cinematography.

The environmental effects in Final Fantasy X breathe uncanny life into Spira. Each realm is accentuated with phenomenal detail; the waterways around the jungles of Kilika flow and shimmer, the snowfall of Mt. Gagazet is blindingly dense, and the perpetual lightening storm of the Thunder Plains is frightful. In temples and homes, the gentle ebb of torches splash against walls in colorful displays of light. Even the steam from a character's breath in the frozen expanse of Lake Macalania richens the atmosphere of an already breathtaking game.

The characters that inhabit the world of Spira are crafted in luscious polygons and animated with life-like detail. The non-player characters that populate the world of Final Fantasy X are as diverse as they are numerous. Gone are the days of reused character models… what a pity. Not only is each inhabitant unique, they are fully proportional and are steadfast examples of their heritage. While the non-human races are visually different, the diversity amongst the standard humanoids is astounding. Each is emblazoned in the garb, skin-tone and facial features indicative of its homeland. This impressive feat significantly enhances the range and scope of Final Fantasy X.

Plebeians aside, the central players in Final Fantasy X are blessed with an overabundance of style and presence. With character designs by the infamous Tetsuya Nomura (FFVII, FFVIII, Parasite Eve), Final Fantasy X overflows with some of the most original characters ever inked. His visions of Spira's saviors are kept in trust, their polygon counterparts, dead-ringers for Nomura's hand drawn illustrations. From Auron's scarred visage to the wingéd mane of Seymour's hair, the power of the PlayStation 2 and Square's artists is a force to be reckoned with.

While impressively designed, each central character in Final Fantasy X needed to be rendered twice. With the bulk of real-time cinematics, there was a need to create incredibly detailed character renditions for storytelling, besides the already impressive gameplay models. These pairs are used interchangeably throughout the game, and while noticeably different, the variation in detail does nothing to detract from the experience. Unfortunately, the cinematic models of the characters could use a touch of edge anti-aliasing. Though not quite noticeable through composite video on an average television, the jaggies rear their ugly head when played via component video on a high resolution screen.

The fiends that inhibit Spira are just as original as the main protagonists. These creatures are amazingly diverse, frightfully rendered, and extremely numerous. Though the beasts of hill-and-dale are creatively impressive, the monstrous "boss" entities are jaw-dropping. Their sheer size and organic detail is inherently whimper-inducing. Your first encounter with such a beast is the aquatic fiend named Geosgaeno, an experience that is simply terrifying. Throughout the course of the game, you will be pitted against fiends of even greater strength and size. I was constantly amazed at the beauty and scale of these particular fiends as I progressed on my journey.

To push the envelope further, the character animation of human and fiend is spectacular. The townsfolk go about their daily chores without hiccup as your party travels through village and metropolis. In melee, your adventurers strike with awesome fluidity, and monsters attack with unbridled ferocity and speed. While not a blistering 60 fps, the frame rate of Final Fantasy X is a remarkably consistent 30 fps. Though there are rare pauses in combat while the game loads a long summon sequence, there are no drops in frame rate with regard to increasing on-screen activity.

Despite these accolades, there is but one blemish on this otherwise flawless face. While the combat and field-map animations appear to be motion-captured, many of the real-time cinematics are not. This leads to some over-exaggeration of gestures in many of the story-driven sequences which can be distracting. This may seem nit-picky, but this is a noticeable failing and a perplexing issue in light of an otherwise seminal effort.

SGI cinematics are a mainstay of Square's recent productions, and Final Fantasy X is of no exception. These pre-rendered sequences eschew high production quality and Hollywood-caliber cinematography. Thanks to the power of DVD, these short films are full-screen, crystal clear and ludicrously awe-inspiring.

Despite a very minute and almost whimsical failing, the graphical prowess displayed in Final Fantasy X surpasses every assumption about the limitations of the PlayStation 2's hardware. Merging overwhelming beauty with technical wizardry, the visual appeal of Final Fantasy X is earthshaking. The artists at Square have created a living world with Spira; a realm overflowing with creatures and culture, and mesmerizing in its grandeur.

Sound: 96%

"Can you hear it? The siren song from an otherworld…"

For a project as large as Final Fantasy X, there needed to be a score that was not only diverse but original. With only one composer behind the series' nine other incarnations, it was time for a different approach. Nobuo Uematsu returns to the field with his token tunes in tow, but this time, he is not alone. Both Masashi Hamauzu (SaGa Frontier) and Junya Nakano (Threads of Fate) contribute their talents to the soundtrack. The result is a Final Fantasy with a musical score unlike any ever composed before.

While many of the classic themes are still present, there are newer, more ambitious tracks throughout. The instrumental accompaniment is a pleasing medley of piano, brass, strings and percussion. As diverse as the world it portrays, the score of Final Fantasy X can only be described as universal. There is not a single moment in the story that is not accompanied and accentuated perfectly. The drama is naturally embraced by the music, flowing effortlessly through your senses.

From simple island melodies to religious anthems of soaring refrain, this compilation of music is Final Fantasy at its best. There are many upbeat and sometimes silly tunes ala "Brass de Chocobo" and there are stirring anthems of human emotion such as "The Hymn of the Fayth". What would a next generation Final Fantasy be without a theme song? Yet again, we are not disappointed, "Suteki da ne (Isn't it Wonderful?)" is a very pleasant and uplifting melody sung by RIKKI, a renowned Okinawan songstress. In a serious departure from the norm, the song "Otherworld" is a hybrid Rämmstein-Megadeth sounding heavy-metal track arranged by Uematsu himself.

Final Fantasy X is a milestone as the first in the series to be fully voiced. While the Japanese release was graced with numerous seiyuu, Squaresoft's localization would be a challenge indeed. With several hours of dialog, there was little room for error in this crucial aspect of storytelling. American RPG fans would wait in terrified apprehension as the final selection of actors was disclosed. Drawing from a pool of seasoned television, film, and animation voice talent, the cast was finally assembled. The result is storytelling unlike anything ever imagined.

While some of the voices take a little getting used to, most of the characters are instantly believable, and notably realistic. While the level of acting never reaches the lofty heights of Kris Zimmerman's direction of Metal Gear Solid 2, Final Fantasy X comes pretty damn close. The acting choices for all of the central players are impeccable. Tidus is the typical jock: upbeat, boisterous, but a little thick at times, while Auron is the wizened veteran: cool, collected, and intense.

Since the release of the demo in the Winter Playstation Jam-Pack, there has been a great deal of belly-aching over Tidus' voice. I was one of those critics, but I can safely say that one must play the game to realize that James Arnold Taylor portrays Tidus exactly as he behaves in the game: excitable, young and impetuous. Taylor is also the narrator: an older and more mature Tidus. Over the course of the adventure, the asinine youth eventually grows into that stout orator. The maturity of his character is an experience that could have only been possible with the right voice talent, and that is self-evident.

The vocal performances of the brotherly Wakka and the frigid Lulu are astounding. If a quality cast wasn't enough to impress, each character is exclusively voiced without awkward moments of text-laden silence. I cannot express the significance of this toward character development and the progression of the plot.

The world of Spira is brought to gentle life with the ambient effects of waves cresting upon the shore, the cry of seagulls in flight, and the crackle of tiki torch flames. The general sound effects are clear and crisp, but we would expect nothing less.

Unfortunately, Final Fantasy X does not support Dolby 5.1, despite rumors of the cinemas being recorded in true surround sound. Though audiophiles may be disappointed, this in no way impacts the quality of the audio if you have a decent receiver and speakers. As always, I recommend nothing less than a pair of 80 watt speakers and a subwoofer when playing Final Fantasy X. The acoustic range is lost on something as pedestrian as standard television speakers. The crackle of Thundaga and the cataclysmic explosions of Anima unleashed must be given their full potential, regardless of irate neighbors

With the talents of not one, but three acclaimed composers, Final Fantasy X has been graced with an awesome array of melodies. The world of Spira is blessed with gentle ballads of cheer, anthems of fierce refrain, and songs of new hope. This tale is told like no other, with the voices of man, woman and child creating a world, an experience, beyond your wildest imagination.

Story: 95%

"This is your story…"

While Square has been known to weave tales of legendary emotion, espousing the fundamentals of humanity with extraordinary courage, can they do it a tenth time? The drama that unfolds in Final Fantasy X is rife with mystery, self-discovery and personal growth. It is the story of an individual, yet it is a telling of friendship and family, of love and loss, hopelessness and faith. For the first time in a very long time, Square creates a tale that truly embraces the meaning of being human: the fear, the elation, all of the sublime contradictions of being that make people so wonderfully unique.

When Tidus, star blitzball player for the Zanarkand Abes, prepares for another tournament, he never suspected that the evening would leave him a stranger in a strange land. During his blitzball match, an enormous aquatic entity attacks his city. The ocean metropolis of Zanarkand is torn asunder by the onslaught. Tidus manages to escape the crumbling stadium, only to find his old guardian, Auron waiting patiently for him by the entrance. Without much thought, Tidus follows the commanding figure into the city, and into even more danger.

While running after the inhumanly swift swordsman, Tidus encounters a strange boy in a moment of suspended time. The hooded child smiles at the bewildered athlete and tells him not to cry, and in an instant, time resumes and the boy is gone.

Hurtling though panicked pedestrians, Tidus finally manages to catch his quarry. "We called it Sin", Auron professes to a winded Tidus, staring transfixed at the globe of seawater that seemed to taunt them from above. With a glance at the heaving teen, Auron rushes toward the sphere and the malignancy within. More confused than frightened, Tidus follows suit. The buildings around them burn and sink while creatures borne from Sin begin to attack the city.

Within moments, the swift duo is attacked. Tidus feebly attempts to flail at the creatures to no avail. The fiends have no intention of being shooed away. Auron pulls a hooked blade from beneath his robes and hands the gleaming steel to Tidus, proclaiming it "a gift from Jecht." "My old man?" a confused Tidus responds. Without time for words, the two engage the throng of mutants in fierce combat.

Fighting their way through the monstrous menagerie, Tidus finds himself, Auron and the torn city of Zanarkand suddenly being sucked into a pulsating vortex of flesh that had formed from the attacking aerial globe. With a scream, Tidus' world fades to white noise.

After a surreal experience within Sin, Tidus awakens on a slab of sunken stone in the dark seas of an ancient ruined city. After being captured by a contingent of Al-Bhed divers, he would come to find that in this strange world of Spira, the creature known as Sin exists as an omnipresent destroyer of life. Before long, Tidus discovers that his home, the futuristic metropolis of Zanarkand was destroyed by Sin 1,000 years ago. Tidus is warned that the ruin of Zanarkand is a holy place. Should he reveal his origin, he will most likely be thought mad, or worse, a heretic.

Out of time and out of place, Tidus follows the winds of fate that eventually lead him to Besaid Island and his destiny. There he befriends a native islander, and resident blitzball captain: Wakka. Much to Tidus' chagrin, after a millennium, blitzball has become the most popular sport in Spira. Impressed by Tidus' blitzball prowess, and concerned about his "amnesia," Wakka agrees to take Tidus' to Luca: site of the Spira Blitzball Tournament. Surely there, someone will recognize Tidus; a player of his caliber must have a bevy of fans. Smiling weakly, Tidus' accepts Wakka's invitation in return for playing on his team during the tournament.

In Besaid Village, Tidus learns more about the world of Spira, its history and its people. He learns of Spira's summoners: a blesséd order of priests who wield the power to defeat Sin. This might comes from the magic of the Final Summoning, an ability that is given to one chosen as High Summoner. Hopeful acolytes undergo a pilgrimage to the ruins of Zanarkand, obtaining the blessing of the Fayth at each of the six temples of Yevon along the way.

The apprentice summoner of Besaid village is a beautiful young woman named Yuna, who also happens to be the daughter of the last High Summoner. Tidus also learns of Guardians, warriors who protect the summoner along the pilgrimage. He soon learns that Yuna's Guardians are numerous: the frigidly beautiful black mage Lulu, the silent lion warrior Khimari, even the easy-going blitzball player Wakka.

Tidus joins up with this motley crew, at first to find the answers to his displacement, but soon becomes a Guardian himself. Together, these globe trotters will venture across the face of Spira, collecting even more members on their journey for the Final Summoning. Tidus and co. will encounter friends of questionable origin and a fiend within their own faith before the story completely unfolds.

Final Fantasy X is high adventure at its best, with enough questions and twists to keep players dead-bolted until the finale. As friendships form and faith falters, love springs anew: bringing hope where there was only fear. Though the adventure begins as Tidus' story, it quickly evolves into something much richer and far more profound.

Squaresoft did an impeccable job of localizing the dialog of Final Fantasy X. The spoken dialog is superbly scripted and the text is free of grammatical errors and misspellings. Though some of the spoken dialog is obviously ad-lib, the storyline is fluid in both speech and typeface.

If there is one point that detracts from this grand tale, it is the conclusion. After the game's climax in the ruins of Zanarkand, the storyline takes a nosedive, introducing elements that were not only unnecessary, but laughably ludicrous and needlessly metaphysical. The final antagonist, which seemed initially awesome, was followed by a creature so totally ancillary that it served as poor filler for an otherwise stellar experience.

The lack of foreshadowing for the true finale and a painfully bittersweet resolution to the tale was infuriating. Why does Square do this to us? In a repeat of the whole Ultimecia debacle of FFVIII (don't get me started on FFIX), Final Fantasy X didn't have the good sense to end the game at a logical conclusion. The need to extent the game another two hours was a poor excuse for such a slipshod wrap-up. RPG fans will have to endure the feast-to-famen of the closing hours of Final Fantasy X. Though the melancholy ending was disappointing, those with patience will find a light of hope after the final credits roll.

Another glaring issue that seems to be habitual for Final Fantasy was the need to take a perfectly amiable protagonist and give him some horrifying secret that not only throws the story into disarray, but is so ludicrous and out of context that it pollutes the remaining hours of the game.

Despite these glaring errors in storytelling judgment during crucial points of the game, I would be remiss to discount what remains one of the finest pieces of drama ever scripted. Were the tale any less stellar, these issues would have ruined all plot integrity the game might have had, but thankfully, Final Fantasy X does an impeccable job of weaving an engrossing adventure 95% of the time.

Gameplay: 92%

"Got sphere?"

Final Fantasy has always been a gameplay pioneer for console role-playing games, and this tenth installment is of no exception. Final Fantasy X is a dramatic change from the norm, having undergone a significant overhaul from the other games in the series. In a move that will no doubt infuriate fans, Square discarded the vaunted ATB (Active Time Battle) system for a classic turn-based approach.

When revamping the combat formula, Square turned to Tochira Tsuchida of Front Mission fame for help. Tsuchida took the turn-based approach and gave it a twist. While the ATB timer is gone, it has been replaced by a graphic representation of character initiative. Tsuchida-san looked at the previous character classes throughout the history of the series, and realized that in order to capitalize on each character's potential; they must be exclusively unique in combat. He then crafted each adventurer to be effective against different species and classes of fiends. He even integrated the longstanding rule of elemental magic: creatures of specific magical properties would receive magnificent damage from spells or weapons of an opposing attribute, while native spells were either curative or ineffectual. Therefore, not only would the characters be specialized, but mastery of elemental attributes was the key to success.

With a roster of several combatants and only a trio allowed into melee, how could such combat dynamics be implemented effectively? To solve this problem, Tsuchida-san began to work his magic, implementing and streamlining the player interface. Firstly, characters may be cycled into and out of melee with the touch of a button and without sacrificing their combat turn. This was essential to using all of the party effectively. He went even further, restricting the accumulation of ability points to those who contributed to combat. Players would have to learn to fight as team, utilizing everyone's strengths and abilities.

Even though party dynamics are strictly enforced, this adds a new dimension to a scheme that was painfully analog in execution. With time, players will find themselves using characters interchangeably without feeling their hands forced.

The Limit Break returns to Final Fantasy X in the form of Overdrives; flashy special techniques that are can only be performed when a character has taken a substantial amount of punishment. Successfully performing an Overdrive requires some manual dexterity, as Tidus, Auron, and Wakka's specials require excellent hand-eye coordination to execute.

Thankfully, as characters spend more time in melee they will eventually learn to modify their methods for reaching Overdrive. For example, you may learn the Overdrive method called "Warrior", which allows your meter to fill when you do damage to an enemy. "Healer" allows your Overdrive meter to fill when that character uses curative magic or items on another member of the party. The more you fight, the more methods become available. This allows even further specialization of your characters, as you set your Overdrive methods based upon the roles of each party member.

In regards to the vagaries of elemental enemies and the numerous status ailments in tow, you may change weapons and equipment during combat, but such actions will cost the player their turn in melee. Though it never hurts to plan ahead, this is a welcome feature for those of us too absentminded to equip flame weapons while crossing frozen tundra.

The dramatic overhaul of the combat system of Final Fantasy X was refreshing; having evolved from simplistic and overly mundane actions into an enjoyable mélange of strategic ventures.

Unfortunately, Final Fantasy X does not depart from the evil of random encounters. From field-map to dungeon, you will be constantly besieged by invisible enemies as you trot down seemingly barren hallways. While the encounter rate is tolerable, the fact that random encounters still exist in a game as refined as Final Fantasy X leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Another addition to the mechanics of Final Fantasy X is the introduction of the Sphere System. Forfeiting the time-honored tradition of experience points, characters who participate in combat win ability points. As ability points are accumulated, a character's sphere level increases. Sphere levels may then be spent on the Sphere Grid, which grants that character a single move on a vast network of interconnected nodes imbedded into a massive mandala. While a few of these nodes are void, the vast majority of them contain statistical improvements, new spells and abilities. By using specialized spheres, the player may activate the node they inhabit or any adjacent ones, gaining that ability. These spheres come in many forms and are common spoils from combat. There are even more unique spheres that allow you to perform amazing feats such as warping to any node on the grid, transforming an empty node into an attribute, or even unlocking sealed sections of the mandala. These powerful spheres are usually obtained from rare fiends or hidden treasure chests but are well worth the investment.

The brilliance of this system becomes apparent when a character obtains enough sphere levels to venture into other portions of the Sphere Grid that are intrinsic to other characters. You may then customize your party in ways never before possible. You may then begin to multi-class your party. You may teach Tidus black magic, or teach Wakka how to steal. The possibilities are only limited by your sphere level and your imagination.

The ability to choose your statistical growth is also an awesome way to overcome some of the character's initial failings. The open-ended approach and limitless potential inherent in the Sphere Grid makes even random combat a rewarding experience.

Summoning is a pivotal aspect of Final Fantasy X, and these summoned creatures are no longer window dressing but actual characters in your party. Known as Aeons, these creatures of legend are your most powerful tool against the fiends of Spira. Aeons exhibit the more common traits and abilities of the other characters. They may even level-up, but their evolution isn't based on the Sphere Grid system per se. Their strength is directly proportional to Yuna's statistical development.

When Aeons are summoned into combat, they take the place of all members and fight as any player character would until they are slain or dismissed by Yuna. Aeons may even perform Overdrive attacks, though they cannot alter their method of accumulation. Later in the game you will be able to increase the statistics of your Aeon or teach them spells and abilities by spending rare items.

In a series departure, the planetary wandering that was such a large part of the Final Fantasy experience has been removed entirely. Yuna's pilgrimage is a straight tour through the interconnected regions of Spira. Even more disheartening is the lack of a true airship. The Al-Bhed aircraft serves as little more than a map warp to any location you've previously visited. Dreams of flying over a real-time Spira overworld are dashed as players sheepishly pick a destination on a world map and are instantly zipped to their location. Boo!

What would Final Fantasy be without an eclectic assortment on mini-games? In Spira, the sport of blitzball is the central distraction. The game can be described as a totally submerged water polo meets rugby. Though completely ancillary, playing in the Blitzball League is vital should you wish to unlock Wakka's potential.

The actual execution of blitzball is turn based: passes, shots, and blocks are all executed via controlled menus. The players on your team even accumulate experience, which is awarded during half-time. As your players gain in experience you may learn special blocks, passes, or shots to be assigned during halftime. You may also learn signature moves of star players during the game if you're fast on the trigger. Later in the game, you may even recruit new players for your team, signing them up for a season and paying their wages.

Now I know what you're thinking, and I agree wholeheartedly. Who the hell stuck Madden in my RPG?!

As interesting as blitzball may sound, the actual execution of this mini-game is abysmal. The AI of the every opposing team is flawless, your initial team is comprised of out-of-shape fat farmers, and the control is damnably frustrating. The first blitzball match you ever play is against the Luca Goers: the best team in Spira. Not only is this an extremely unpleasant experience as your team is throttled in short order, you will vow to never again participate in such an evil sport. While blitzball improves significantly with practice and complete replacement of your first stringers, few RPG fans will have the patience or the heart to continue with the exercise.

Overall, Final Fantasy X stays true to many elements of previous episodes in the series, but by reinventing the combat system and character development, Square managed to meld limitless customization with engrossing strategic melee for a thoroughly enjoyable experience. While the omission of the overworld and classic airship piloting were hard to accept, these were small complaints in light of such fantastic advancements in gameplay. And, while totally optional, the level of complexity in blitzball is admirable, though it may not be everyone's cup of tea.

Control: 90%

"Are you sure you can fly this thing old man?"

With all of the gameplay enhancements found in Final Fantasy X, there was a need to restructure how information was to be shared with the player. Final Fantasy X's designers have succeeded yet again, bringing forth an amazingly simple, yet intuitive graphical user interface. During combat, the slim overhead panel provides information in news-bulletin fashion about the targeted monster. The right side of the screen houses the combat order display, while the party information and action menu are nestled at the bottom. When switching characters during combat, a simple graphic display pops up on the left and is instantly collapsible with the release of a button. The entire interface is smooth, brightly colored and easy on the eyes.

Even more information can be garnered using the Sensor ability, which provides a simple at-a-glance window that displays color-coded information about enemy vulnerabilities. The amount of on-screen information available to the player during combat is staggering, but is so stylistically integrated into the GUI that the data is unobtrusive and visually appealing.

Combat control is fast and responsive, even with the absence of the ATB system. For the first time in years, Final Fantasy fans can peruse their items and spells without fear of unceremonious thwacking. Interchanging characters takes seconds and has no impact upon the speed and flow of combat. While the summoning of Aeons is usually a breathtaking affair, you have the option of shortening their grandiose entrances and cinematic overdrives for brevity's sake. Controlling Tidus around the world of Spira is simple enough, breaking into a quick jaunt with a nudge of the sometimes overly sensitive analog stick. As much as I love the Dual Shock 2, I wouldn't recommend using the analog stick to navigate the menu or the Sphere grid, as the sensitivity can make maneuvering haphazard. The standard cross-pad does a wonderful job of menus, but its no replacement for the analog stick when maneuvering in the outside world.

Final Fantasy X uses the vibration features of the controller with boisterous aplomb. Spells rumble, blades hum and blows buffet with respectable force throughout the game. First time players may wonder why there is a lack of vibration during the first hour of the game, and this is because the vibration function is not set to default, so players must set this option manually when they are finally able to access the status menu.

While the control of the game-proper is excellent, manipulation during the copious mini-games throughout the world of Final Fantasy X leaves a great deal to be desired. While blitzball is an interesting concept, it may be too frustrating for the average gamer to participate in. You may manually control the ball-handler, though the game allows for AI control, and with good reason: the arena is small and misleading, forcing you to navigate using the small radar map at the bottom of the screen. The confines of the arena and the proportions of the arena map make maneuvering a severe headache. I honestly couldn't stand blitzball's awkward control and vicious oppositional AI. Gamers with infinite patience may find some redeeming quality in this distraction.

Also of ill-repute are the Chocobo Races, hands-down the most damnably clumsy mini-game ever conceived. You initially wrangle with an unruly Chocobo to prove your worth as a trainer. This is simplistic enough, but as you progress through the various Chocobo Challenges, you realize the control hasn't changed. This makes the final race as an established trainer awkward and frequently frustrating. Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to ride that unresponsive mule-of-a-fowl to the finish line, attempting to weave past birds and tagging time balloons, in hopes of getting an acceptable finishing time.

Should you choose to pursue the items necessary for unlocking the power of Celestial Weapons, the Chocobo Race is where you can kiss your sanity goodbye. Gamers who dare to unlock the power of Tidus' legendary blade Caladbolg, must finish this race with the perfect time of 0:00:00. Needless to say, Square's programmers took evil delight in giving you the reins of an inebriated Chocobo.

When all is said and done, Final Fantasy X does an impeccable job of placing substantial control into the hands of the gamer while supplying an almost endless influx of information in a way that is not only easily absorbed but pleasantly delivered. Manipulation throughout the game proper is a joy, and the vibration functions of the Dual Shock 2 are as sweet as ever, but control during the ancillary aspects of Final Fantasy X are unfathomably wretched. Thankfully, these petulant blemishes can be side-stepped completely, preserving the sanctity of an otherwise fantastic game. Those eager to dig for the secrets contained within the world of Spira will have to wrangle with the greatest fiend of all, themselves.

Overall: 97%

Suteki da Ne (Isn't it Wonderful?)

What can be said about Final Fantasy X? As an heir to an almost immaculate dynasty, this latest foray into adventure had much to prove. As the series pioneer on the PlayStation 2, Final Fantasy X needed to be revolutionary. In order to break the shackles of an already established saga, the creators would redefine almost every aspect of a tried and true formula. From the decision to fully voice the characters, to retooling every aspect of gameplay, Square was taking a gamble that could propel the series into a new era of popularity, or doom them to an abyss of failure.

With this being Hironobu Sakaguchi's last Final Fantasy as executive producer, there was even more apprehension. Could a single game honor the legacy that he had established over a decade? Could Final Fantasy X prove, once and for all, that gaming is an art form, not just a diversion? Can a videogame stir the hearts of millions of gamers across the globe? All of these questions spun about in my head as I thought in retrospect, until it was as clear as Crystal.

The answer was yes.

Final Fantasy X manages to succeed against all odds; redefining not only the series, but the genre and gaming as a whole. By merging unbelievable beauty with intrinsic human emotion, a truly magnificent experience was created. Though, it is with a heavy heart that I witness this glorious rebirth of this legendary saga. Despite the melancholy of his departure, Sakaguchi-sama's last gift to his fans may be the most incredibly memorable adventure we may have ever had.

Tenchi-no-Ryu

Let's get ready to rumble!

Simply beautiful...







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