The fabled Final Fantasy series has always been a huge seller for Square. No matter the quality of game, rest assured, with the Final Fantasy name slapped on the game, it would easily sell millions and millions of copies across the world. However, Square does anything but that; every new Final Fantasy title attempts to set a mark in the RPG genre, and Final Fantasy X does just that. In many ways, the tenth installment of this classic series is just as revolutionary as the seventh, which introduced RPGs as a mainstream in America.
Final Fantasy X follows the story of Tidus, a young blitzball player for the Zanarkand Abes. Tidus is removed from his ordinary life in Zanarkand, and is somehow shot 1,000 years into the future (so it seems). The only constant between Tidus’ homeland and this new foreign world is the presence of Sin; a being that brings only pain, sorrow and destruction to the people of the world. Tidus accompanies Yuna, a young summoner, on her quest to destroy Sin and bring peace to the world once more.
The plot revolves around the development of Tidus for the most part; after all, he narrates most of the story. Though seemingly straightforward for a large portion of the game, the plot unravels in a slow but steady pace that builds an increasing amount of suspense and plot revelations. The amazing character interaction only benefits the story, which proves to be one of the most balanced plots in a Final Fantasy title thus far. The combination of excellent fantasy storytelling and moral values seems to have a very real application to the world today; this factor made it much more “real”.
The characters are even more outstanding than the plot. Thanks to the excellent voice acting, the characters in Final Fantasy X seem the most real out of any of the previous games. This new aspect definitely breathes a true sense of life into the cast, which is graced by both excellent character design and development. Tetsuya Nomura returns as the lead character designer, and his influence is definitely obvious; however, one interesting aspect of his design for FFX was the distinct racial feature of the characters; they have a most obvious Japanese look to them, which was refreshing to see. The other areas of Nomura’s design are just as interesting and original; the main character wears a sports team uniform!
The character development is just as good. There is a considerable amount of development to each of the main cast members, and it’s woven into the story seamlessly and never expressed awkwardly in an out-of-place scene. Through well-scripted lines, the characters express themselves in a very real manner, and their decisions and justifications could never be clearer. This factor is what helps make the cast so memorable; their personalities shine through the excellent script.
The only noticeable annoyance was the somewhat mediocre dubbing job; every so often it was blatantly obvious that the lines delivered were not originally intended for the polygonal character models; this alone is more of detraction here than it is graphically. It just seemed to lessen the ability of FFX to draw me in as if it were real, which the rest of the game does so well. However, that is a minor gripe in an otherwise impeccable area of the game.
Nobuo Uematsu returns to score Final Fantasy X, but this time he has the help of two more composers. The result is a soundtrack even more diverse than FFVII or FFVIII, and that’s definitely an incredible feat. One of the most impressive songs is one you wouldn’t expect in a fantasy RPG, much less a Final Fantasy title; “Otherworld” is a hard metal piece accompanied by a gruffy vocalist, something you’d expect to hear on a local hard rock radio station, but implemented in FFX with such exactness that you can’t help but hum the simple guitar riff.
There is a fair share of excellent town pieces, from soothing jazz-influenced songs to techno-influenced pieces, such as one of the final battle pieces, which is one of Uematsu’s best songs ever. The music ranges from classical to rock to jazz to techno; there’s something for everyone, and the vocal piece “Suteki da ne” is a welcome addition to the newer tradition of including a vocal piece in each Final Fantasy. The three composers mesh brilliantly to deliver one of the best RPG soundtracks of all time.
The sound itself is just as good. The sound effects were recorded with the highest of quality, with a multitude of different sounds to accompany regular RPG gameplay. The voice acting itself is the shining point. Recorded in hi-fi, they are clear, crisp, and thankfully the actors do a very good job in delivering the lines. There are some instances where a noticeable drop in quality is apparent, but these times are few and far between, and the overall amount of spoken dialogue more than makes up for it. I can only hope that future Final Fantasy titles include such well-written and spoken dialogue.
The graphics are stunning. I’m not going to spend much time praising them; just by looking at screenshots you can tell what a graphical achievement FFX is. The world is fully polygonal, and the textures are amazing. Characters move fluidly, albeit not as realistically as those in Metal Gear Solid 2 (it seems that there are still some “Resident Evil” style exaggerated hand movements), and the backgrounds and landscape designs are breathtaking. Cinematics are even more beautiful.
The problems I noticed, aside from the exaggerated body movements, were the lack of anti-aliasing and the occasional low-quality texture job on someone’s hair or something of the like. That’s about it.
The battle system is completely revamped. No longer is there an ATB bar, but instead FFX has a set turn-based system that relies more on strategy and brains than quick decisions. Though basic commands stay the same, gamers can freely swap any character in their party in and out of battle, which is a necessary factor. Certain enemies can only be defeated with a certain style of fighting or weapon, so such tactics are necessary and add a new twist to the system, forcing the gamer to use mostly every character, thus distributing experience nearly equally.
However, “experience” is now a broader term to describe a whole new character ability system in FFX called the Sphere Grid. This grid is made up of hundreds of nodes, some containing abilities like HP +200 or Strength +4. By winning battles, characters gain AP levels; each AP level allows the character to move one space on the grid. Initially, the grid is rather linear, allowing only one main path for each character, but it gradually branches out and allows for full customization. This is reminiscent of the Materia system in FFVII but much more balanced (unless you play for 120 hours and max everyone out completely on the grid).
So, what’s my only gripe with an otherwise fun and refreshing battle system? It’s the inclusion of damned random battles. Must I still endure these annoyances? I honestly feel there could have been some other way to deal with the battling; such a stale idea was rendered obsolete on the PlayStation.
This Final Fantasy is the most linear of them all; not till the very end of the game does the gamer have any choice in where to go. Seeing as this is a console RPG, I have no problem with such a linear path; it only furthers the story in concrete, solid steps with no room for large gaps or deviations. There are plenty of secrets, and there are quite a few mini-games and quests too keep gamers playing. A straight play through might only take about 45 hours, but gaining many of the good abilities, summons and final weapons could take a gamer upwards of 85 hours.
The control is near flawless; since the camera is computer controlled, there is no way of moving it around, but that is almost never necessary: I only noticed a handful of annoying camera positions. Otherwise it’s usually giving a breathtaking panoramic view or an artistic angle.
Final Fantasy X is a gaming achievement that everyone should at least try. Square has done a wonderful job in localizing this title, and its revolutionary style will surely incite some change in the RPG genre in the years to come. Kudos, Square…you’ve created yet another masterpiece.