*Note: My spellings for characters and places may be different from the "Official" romanized versions, mainly due to my personal preferences.
I guess that this is my farewell review for RPGFan which is, ironically, months AFTER I've resigned from the staff position. I'd like to thank everyone who's read any of my other reviews and actually thought that I gave a fairly honest opinion on a game. While I never got much e-mail, I suppose most of my reviews were for games too obscure for anyone to make any comments on it.
Anyway, I decided to break down and pick up FFX 3 days after it was released to put my import PS2 to good use. While FFX was definitely not in my top buying list for the PS2, after seeing the very favorable review from various Japanese magazines and receiving my paycheck earlier that week, I was in a buying mood, to say the least.
There were a number of reasons why I was hesitant about buying FFX. First of all, the fact that Square announced FFX-XII in advance and seemingly working on all of them at the same time gave me the feeling that FFX would be a sub-par FF game due to the fact that Square would be dividing its staff to work on it. Second was the art. Starting with pretty-boy Tidus all the way down to general art style, FFX felt like it would be FFVIII re-dux...which is something I'd really rather not have. But I'm glad that I picked the game up regardless, since FFX turned out be the most fun I've had from a FF game in a long, long time.
FFX starts off in the futuristic city of Zanarkand, where everyone parties well into the night and watches their favorite sport, Blitzball. What is Blitzball? Blitzball is a hybrid of Soccer and Football rolled into one, a 6v6 (5 players + goalie) team sport where full contact is allowed and is played within a sphere that is filled with water. Our hero Tidus (curiously pronounced Tidaa) is the star player of the Zanarkand Aves, just like his father Jekt was until he mysteriously disappeared while away at sea.
While Tidus is busy playing Blitzball in the stadium, he sees a huge tidal waves serving in to consume Zanarkand, closely follow by a huge monster. As Tidus tries to run away from the chaos with his friend Aaron, he is sucked into the air, which then puts him into a world that is completely unlike his own. When he tries asking the natives as to his whereabouts, he is not only told that he's in a world called Spira, but that Zanarkand was destroyed over 1000 years ago by an evil force known as "Sin" (It's never clear as to if shin is supposed to be the English word sin or another way of saying shin (god). It's mostly likely supposed to be both at the same time. I'll use Sin since that seems to the general consensus.) .
Did Tidus somehow travel in time? Or was he poisoned when he got too close to Sin, which effected his memory? Or perhaps something else altogether? As Tidus asks more about the world of Spira, he finds that most of the world follows the religious sect known as Ebon, which claims that Sin was heaven's punishment on man for relying too much on machines. In the battle against Sin, the Ebon counts on Summoners who must travel the world in search of the ability to Ultimate-summon, which is the only known method for defeating Sin. When Tidus hears that the final destination of all Summoners is the ruins of the Zanarkand, he signs up to be a Summoner's guard who'll protect the Summoner in this dangerous journey. And so begins Tidus's journey...
FFX features voice acting for many characters, playable and non. While not all of the dialogue is voiced, most of the event dialogue is and it really helps in getting a feel for the character. Each of the characters have their own personality and feel differently from each other, avoiding the 'faceless warrior' feeling I got in FFVIII where every character aside from the main two was only added in to make battles more interesting. A lot of FFX's charm has to do with its characters and how they react with each other. All of the characters stay in character throughout the game, and given how some of them are of complete opposite personalities, it's really interesting to see how they react differently to each situation that arises.
The voice acting is very competent, though the voices that each character has is very predictable if you think about the personality of the character. The veteran guard Aaron has a very serious tone all the time while the main character Tidus is always optimistic in the face of danger, just like you'd expect an ace player of a sports team to be. There are a number of scenes in FFX that wouldn't have been possible without the use of voice acting and I hope that this change to FF will be a permanent one. Of course, the quick pace of the dialogue may cause problems for people who aren't competent in Japanese...but why pay 8800 yen for a game if you can't understand the language?
As the basic premise suggests, the world of Spira is a mix of technology and fantasy, with much more emphasis put on traditional settings. These settings make full use of the PS2's power, with breathtaking visuals that put most other RPGs to shame. While they're not so detailed to the point that you can't tell the difference between in-game cinematics and traditional movie scenes, they're still far better than any previous RPG. The locations and objects are all well detailed, in addition to all characters and monsters.
This detail makes the shortcuts Square took at times all the more evident, though. While it doesn't happen often, there are times when the developers skimmed out on putting textures to a number of things, such as walls, pots, etc. They're usually off to the side so not everyone will pick them out but they are present. It's a very minor matter, so it's doubtful that anyone will make a big deal out of it.
The other major thing about the game world is there really is no overworld to speak of. Instead of an overworld linking major areas of the game, you are instead forced on a linear path from one area to another, with saves only allowed at designated save points. As you travel through the world, you'll see a map laying out the path that you're traveling on your way to Zanarkand. You will be able to travel freely in the world after you reach a certain point of the game, however.
Aside from that, everything is as expected of an FF game. Beautiful summon spells, cool-looking Over Drive attacks (think Limit Breaks from FFVII) good looking spells, a couple of mini-games, some secrets, and finally, nicely designed characters and enemies. However, the summons, Over Drives, and even spells work differently from previous FF games.
Instead of a normal level up system used in 99% of all RPGs, FF instead uses a novel new way called the Sphere System. It's a pretty intuitive system that's a lot easier to show than to explain, but I'll try anyway. Instead of gaining experience points, you gain ability points each time you win a battle, which in turn increases your Sphere level. You can use your spheres to move your character on a huge board that resembles a board game. Each spot on this board houses either a stat boost modifier, a new ability, or even spells.
As characters move on the board, they can activate the spots that they're standing on or next to by using spheres that they pick up by winning battles. You'll use a Power Sphere to activate spots like HP+200 and Attack +4 while Ability Spheres are used to activate things like the spell Ultima and an ability like Steal.
While all the characters moves on the same board, they're blocked by Sphere locks that block your passage... which you can unlock if you have the proper items to do so. All characters will end up specializing in certain skills if you play through the game without using most of the Sphere Locks, but if you do use them you can alter each character's advancement and make them specialize in different things. Your healer can double as your master thief, and your warrior can cast spells on the side. Or, if you're satisfied with each character being significantly different from each other, you can just keep your characters on their original path on the Sphere board.
Even Over Drive attacks are a lot more customizable than before. The Over Drive attacks in FFX work very similar in fashion to Limit Breaks from FFVII. Normally, each character will be able to perform his or her Over Drive attack once they sustain a certain level of damage and fill up their battle bar. However, the game allows you to change what exactly fills up the battle bar as you fight more battles. Instead of the bar increasing when they sustain damage, you can alter it to fill up whenever your characters deal damage, or when they defeat an enemy, or even when they heal their allies. With up to 8 choices per character, you can decide how each character will fill up their battle bar with ease to best support their battle style.
The summons spells in FFX function differently as well. Your Summoner can summon a various number of creatures but instead of them leaving the map after doing one attack, they function just like any other character. The special attacks that people are used to seeing from old favorites like Shiva's Diamond Dust and Bahamut's Mega Flare appear as...you guessed it, their Over Drive attacks. For those who wish to teach their summoned creatures magic, you can do so by a special command, which will allow summon creatures to learn skills and magic as long as you have items to 'pay' for it.
While summoning creatures no longer eat up MP to cast, each summoned creature can be killed, which then means that you have to wait a certain number of battles before they'll recover enough to summon them again. While this act of free summoning may make people feel that the Summoner will be able to overpower any enemy monster in the game, this isn't the case. Not only do the summoned monsters do comparable damage to their human counterparts aside from their Over Drive attack, they're much slower, which means that you'll get attacked 2-3 times for each time you attack.
The regular battles should be familiar to anyone who's played a FF game before. However, they finally decided to kill the active time battles, where you could be attacked while deciding what to do when it's your character's turn. Instead they went back to using the 'active-wait' system found in older FF games, where time stops until you have made your decision, which I'm personally thankful for. Also, the number of characters in your party has been reduced to three, with free swapping of characters during the battle, although 'fallen' characters cannot be switched out.
This free swapping is a godsend and an enigma at the same time. While it's good that you can switch characters in and out at any time and not be penalized for it, the level up system has been changed so that ONLY the characters which have participated in battle in someway gain in ability points, which causes some problems. For example, unless you decide to have your healer specialize in other things as well, you'll probably keep her outside battles, saving her healing spells until the battle is over. But you can't do this or your healer will stay weak forever. So what you're forced to do is to keep switching characters in and out so that all the characters in your party participate in the battle in some form...which makes the battles drag on a bit longer than I've preferred. However, the game's difficulty level has been raised to the point where it's nigh impossible to make an invincible party of three take on everyone so it really can't be helped.
In addition to these changes comes MUCH more scripted battles. Almost all of the boss battles and even some regular battles are scripted in some way, which means more interactivity for us. This ranges from special battle commands that can only be used during that battle, to making use of items in your surroundings (like in Anachronox), to even talking to the enemy during battle. All these things help make the battles more interesting and fun overall.
The main mini-game in FFX is Blitzball, although there is a Chocobo racing game present as well. Blitzball is like Vagrant Story in that it's a combination of real time and turn-based play. Movement is done in real time (which you can leave to the computer to do or do it yourself) while all actions are performed in a typical turn based system.
The rules and game mechanics are well thought out, but there are two fundamental things about it that makes it a game not really worth too much of your time. The biggest flaw of the game is that, although the game is a team game, you're only allowed limited control over your teammates. The auto-movement feature is completely useless, which means that you have to choose manual controls and try to score with your players...but you can only control the character who currently has the ball and you only have 3 formations to choose from...not nearly enough to lay any plans you want to.
The second problem is that there is a few seconds delay when you try to do an action, which means that by the time the game reacts to the fact that you want to shoot, you probably have to get past 2-3 defenders before you hit the goal. While Tidus can get past this with ease if you play your cards right, any other character is as good as dead. There's a good novelty factor in the game but I don't see people really getting addicted to it after trying it 4-5 times.
Not only has FFX done away from the traditional level up system, they've gotten rid of the traditional equipment system as well. Instead of weapons and accessories (the only two things you're allowed to equip) giving you stat increases in addition to an occasional skill, they ONLY give you various abilities, anywhere from 1-4 per item. Of course, some of these abilities could be things like Physical Attack +3% or HP +10%, but most of them are regular abilities, which have no stat modifying capabilities at all. This means that you'll end up equipping your characters depending on the type of enemies you think you'll face instead of relying on the attack boost a weapon gives to defeat enemies. You can also modify the weapons you have to have certain abilities once you have a character who is proficient in machinery use, provided that your weapons and armor have empty ability slots.
The music in FFX is quite good as well, including the image song "Suteki da ne" in the middle of the game. While it's hard for me to pick out a song that is especially good, the sound track is quite solid when the entire track is taken into account and matches very well to the mood of the game.
The control is the only place where I have some complaints. Not only is it a bit difficult at times to correctly choose which sphere you want to move to, due to the spherical structure of the board, there are also problems with the fact that the camera angle isn't changeable during movement. While I understand that this is necessary in order to have cinematic movement of the screen while the characters are walking, the sudden change of direction can make it tough to figure out which way you're going at times.
The game does provide a mini-map which is with you at all times to help you, but you end up getting confused anyway, since south on the map cold very well be north east on your screen. Also, the screen is sometimes so cluttered with objects that it's hard to tell which way to go without consulting the mini-map, which I view as a minus. In fact, I was once stuck inside a dungeon for 40 minutes because I didn't see a passageway until I took a good look at the mini-map, which also happened to be cluttered at the time due to the complex structure of the dungeon. Thankfully, this doesn't happen often.
When you view FFX overall, though, you see that the newest installment of the FF series is a revolutionary change from its predecessors, much like how FFVII was over IV-VI. While the advancement of FFX over FFIX isn't as large, there is no denying that the changes to the FF formula make it a very original experience.
While people who have complained of the more recent FF games feeling like interactive movies will have a field day on picking on FFX, I think that all PS2 owners who like RPGs owe it to themselves to try the game, even the players who were unimpressed with VII-IX. Who knows, maybe the new formula will win you over! Let's just hope that the English translation and dub come out decently...
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