A tale of a battle between a gigantic and nearly invincible evil know only as "Sin" and the revered and powerful chosen ones called Summoners. The reoccuring conflict has reared its ugly head over centuries in the world of Final Fantasy X, and so aside from taxes, death seems to be the only sure thing in life in Spira. As the first installment of the Final Fantasy series on this platform, Square has gotten off to a decent start in taking advantage of PS2 power.
The story opens and lands you in the role of Tidus, Star Blitzball player of the Zanarkand Abes. Zanarkand is a massive and shiny techno-city where its citizens live in luxury and, like many RPG beginning cities, are blissfully unaware that their home is about to get burnt, nuked, eaten, etc. etc. Durring a stadium-packed game of Blitzball, the great evil known as Sin forces its way into the city and begins thrashing everything within sight, including said Blitzball arena. The game is soon called due to unnecessary destruction of...well, just about everything. Tidus' friend and sword (mmm...swords) wielding ally Auron arrives to clear a path for their escape, only to soon be swallowed by the massive H2O based monster himself.
Our hero then awakens in, not his suddenly real estate de-valued city, but in the cold and murky surroundings of an old ruined temple. After a few near-fatal encounters with the local sea life, Tidus is greeted by more trouble inside, but is rescued/captured by a group of people armed with spearguns and gasmasks who apparently don't like overpaid athletes. Soon afterwards, Tidus is swept up in a series of events that lands him in the party of the up-and-coming summoner Yuna and her guardians on a quest to destroy Sin inself.
Final Fantasy X has taken a different route in the trail of turn-based battles. Instead of waiting for your player's action meter to reach its peak before performing a move, this new system has made battle movments more organized. Characters now have the order of turns of friend and foe alike displayied on a window on the screen, allowing players to foresee not only when they're one turn away from a monster's next move, but to also inform the player if he/she has enough time to use a sequence of moves to assure victory. You can even scroll down the list to see turns way ahead of time.
What could be considered the best part of the new battle system is that your characters work as a real team would. Unlike any others in the FF series, players can now call in any other member into battle at any time to replace another. This new way of fighting is invaluable considering the different breeds of monsters in Spira. "Fiends," as they are refered to, can be seriously damaged only by a certain character or weapon. For example, Wakka's high-flying blitzball has a better chance against airborn foes then Aouron's piercing swords which stop armored fiends dead in their tracks. Battles could turn real ugly real fast if you were unable to call in the appropriate team members to combat random enemies. This sadly makes 95% of the random battles embarrassingly easy, resulting in many monsters falling over as easily as a 90 pound lightweight hitting the floor after a six pack. In fact, most encounters were over with before any characters could get a chance to be attacked.
Keeping with the tradition since FFVI, charactors still possess the abilty to unleash a can of individual and home grown whoop-ass when damaged enough. But this time around, other "conditions" can be met and obtained to trigger an "Overdrive" attack. These new standards range from the classic taking of one too many slaps to the head, to healing other party members to juice up your meter. Many overdrives require proper timing to trigger and use effectively. For example, Lulu's Magic Fury requires you to rotate the analong stick. The more rotations you accomplish, the more powerful the overdrive attack will be. And Wakka's overdrives operate on a slot machine type menu. Try to time your button mashing to charge his blitzball with elemental or multi-enemy striking power.
Summoning monsters, or "Aeons" as they are called, takes a totally new and strangly satisfying twist. Instead of calling out an Aeon to perform a single attack and leap away, they now replace the party during the battle and give you complete control over them. The Aeons summoned by Yuna dwarf the regular party in terms of power. Some Aeons include Valefor, a non-elemental bird-like ally, and old favorites such as Shiva the Ice Queen or the Dragon King himself, Bahamut. They even come packed with killer overdrives (even beasts of power can take only so much crap). But like the regular party members, Aeons are capable of making ridiculously short work of ANY foe. Most bosses will be vaporized after two or three overdrives unleashed by multiple Aeons. Aeons are also upgradable. Once the option is gained, an Aeon can learn new spells or boost its statistics from the party menu.
Veteran players of the Final Fantasy series will remember the slight changes in the weapons system in recent FF installments, but this new arrangement of sharp and pointy objects is quite different. First off, each character can only wield a specific class of weapon or armor. For example, Kimahri is limited to spear weapons, while Rikku can only fight with claw weapons. And the variety of each weapon or armor class isn't as high as one might expect. Each weapon and armor piece is complete with a varying number of filled or empty slots to custumize it. At a certain time in the game, you're able to fill empty slots with a wide list of extra options, provided your have the items to create it with. Some can increase the attack power of a weapon or even add immunities or reaction abilities such as Resist Silence or Auto Potion to your armor. Some additions add visual effects in battle; for example, adding Fire Strike to an empty slot in a sword Tidus is using will cause the blade to constantly emit flames from itself during battle. Unforunatly, this option comes later in the game than one would like and some of the more useful abilites can cost a very great deal of time and money to obtain materials required to activate them.
Don't expect to get experience points (just like mom used to earn) after winning a battle. Players instead earn AP points to invest in the new Sphere Grid system. This new system is a wide grid that is accessed from the menu screen that resembles a collection of spirals that connect to each other with straight lines at varying points. All the spirals and lines have little circles, or "nodes," that represent character abilities and various status enhancements such as Agility, Strength, Magic Defense, etc. etc. Characters who participated in a fight gain AP, and enough AP leads to an AP level. These allow the characters to move along the grid to increase their power. A single AP level will allow a character to move forward to the next node or back 4 nodes. This new system can be a double edged sword. With the ability and a healthy amount of time, you can create a truly unstoppable team, each possessing the highly-valued skills of some of their comrades. But on the other hand, it takes some planning ahead to fully utilize the system and a mistake can prove costly. Also, the grid is populated with completly empty nodes and locks to which the fillers or keys are in short supply for the majority of the game and can cost some lengthy and annoying backtracking.
As for the control schematic, these follow the Final Fantasy tradition almost perfectly. The standard "X confirm, O cancel" button setup makes most gameplay second nature to any veteran of the series, and altered features like the Overdrives add some nice interaction to the battles. In fact, the only sour spot would be in Blitzball. Being vital to the storyline and one of the main minigames available, you would have expected the folks at Square to have made sure this aquatic nightmare would work, but don't hold your breath. You can only control one character at a time, leaving advanced techniques and plays up to the idiotic AI. Also, the opposing teams are a whole lot better than you are right from the get-go, and while you do level up over time, so do the enemies. If it were necessary to play to finish the game, I would have been screwed, but you only need to go through all this to get a few secrets. Oh, and the airship joyriding we all know and love has been replaced with a simplified destination selection menu. I am not a happy NES character. It's no fun cruising for chicks and swords in a teleporter.
It's crystal clear (no pun intended) that Square focused great effort in Final Fantasy X's graphics. With fantastic and plentiful FMV cut scenes and stunning overall graphics, I can honestly say that as of date, I have yet to see FFX's equal in visual performance. A Final Fantasy first and different plus is the theater in the city of Luca that allows you to play back any FMV sequence you have witnessed for a price. My only small gripe is that of the people in the world of Spira, Only the main characters recived A+ attention when it came to their appearance. Take, for example, Spira's one and only goth chick and black mage extrodinare Lulu. Softly gleaming red eyes, detailed black clothing arrayed with belts, an extrodinarily huge soft set of... dolls! Yeah, her set of dolls she carries around as magic enchancing weapons! ...yeah, that's it. But your every day joe or even frequent NPC's faces and bodies look flat and nowhere near as detailed as the curves and colors of the starring cast. While this is understandable, the graphical gap kinda sticks out. But besides that, Final Fantasy X's visuals, whether it be FMV, traveling through fluid 3D backrounds, or fighting detailed monters, are top notch. One may even feel deprived if they simply blinked.
Another one of the serious famous qualities is its music. Not to dissapoint, Final Fantasy X's musical score is nearly as impressive as its graphics. Music ranging from proper backround melodies when characters bond or suffer heartbreak, or when a giant boned demomic fish decides it's going to wrap your party in seaweed and eat them raw. And like the FMVs, Music is replayable at the Luca theater for your pleasure. What have we learned so far folks? Options are GOOD! Pleasently enough the sound track is currently being sold in many of the same game stores that sell Final Fantasy X. This is also the first in the series to use voice acting. The quality of the VA to my suprise hits exceptional levels in an industy where most VA sounds worse then Excalibur across a chalk board. Some characters even have appropriate accents such as Wakka, whose island "Hey mon" style of speech adds to the game's overall enjoyment.
As far as Final Fantasy storylines go, it's kind of average overall. For one thing, Square has dredged up the old corrupt church plot line they've used three times already. Another iffy point would be that I felt (and this is a bad thing) that I was being lectured and taken on a tour for most of the game instead of having an adventure. There were a few surprises here and there, but the way that some character or another knew exactly what was going on or exactly what to do next at all times turned the drama sour. Even with the build up of several enjoyable dramatic or action-packed scences, the ending is very tame and anti-climatic. Still, the characters were a refreshing change from the latest FF's. Instead of an irritating monkey boy or an angst-ridden teenager, Final Fantasy X's hero Tidus is far more realistic and has a more cheerful mood than we're used to. The other characters also manage quite well with a good number of quirks that help them develop at a comfortable pace. With the exception of the fact that much of the dialogue is just Tidus yelling out, "What's that?!?" you'll wind up with a decent RPG storyline with a mature mood.
There you have it. The flood gates are open and the Final Fantasy series lets loose another blockbuster. With a fair amount of new good and very disappointing additions, its warring, blitzball scoring, and not too boring. This game is worth looking at.