My Review- Final Fantasy X (PS2)
Final Fantasy X marked a change in the Final Fantasy series. It was the first installment to not be directed by series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, who left Square halfway through X’s development. It was also the first fully 3D installment (without prerendered backgrounds), and also the first to have voice acting. Despite this, Final Fantasy X managed to not only evolve it’s series, but also to preserve what makes Final Fantasy great- wondrous storytelling and solid RPG gameplay.
Listen to my story. This may be our last chance.
With those words, Final Fantasy X begins it’s epic tale. From the ruins of an ancient city, the protagonist, Tidus, narrates the events that make up his story, beginning with the destruction of his home, the city of Zanarkand. Tidus is a star sports player, but he lives in the shadow of his father, Jecht, who abandoned him at a young age and towards whom Tidus feels bitter resentment. On the night of Tidus’ big game, an aquatic monster named Sin attacks Zanarkand. Tidus and his childhood guardian, the stoic swordsman Auron, fight their way through Sin’s spawn, only to be sucked through a portal in Sin’s shell as the city is destroyed. When Tidus awakens, he finds himself 1000 years into the future, in a land called Spira. Spira is a land terrorized by Sin, and its people, worshippers of a diety known as Yevon, send Summoners, essentially high priests of Yevon, to attempt to destroy Sin and bring peace to the land. Tidus becomes the Guardian of a summoner named Yuna, and hopes to travel with her in order to find his way back home. Along the way, he and Yuna will grow closer as they attempt to save Spira from the terror of Sin. However, both of them know something the other doesn’t. For Tidus, Sin is Jecht, the spirit of his father trapped in monstrous form. Fighting Sin means confronting his father. And for Yuna, she knows that her journey will end in death, for defeating Sin means the sacrifice of the Summoner’s life. And indeed, even if she could destroy Sin, it reappears every ten years…
Final Fantasy X admittedly has a very strange premise. However, the out-there concepts of the story are grounded in well-crafted characterization. The story never gets too confusing or bogged down, and thanks to strong writing and likeable characters, you’ll be on board with the story through its many twists and turns. Final Fantasy X also is one of the few games to treat romance with a degree of respect. Tidus and Yuna’s evolving relationship is never overdone or hyper sexualized- their one kiss contains more emotional weight than a thousand fake Bioware ‘romance’ scenes. The little snippets of conversation between the two go a long way to making these characters believable, but the rest of the cast is just as strong- Final Fantasy X has no ancillary characters in its main cast. In particular, Auron is possibly one of the best side characters in Final Fantasy history.
Ultimatly, Final Fantasy X is one of the best tales in a series known for great stories. From it’s haunting beginning to it’s bittersweet ending, this is Square at it’s finest.
One of the changes introduced to FFX was actually more of a return to form- the game eschews the active-time battles of it’s predecessors in favor of the traditional turn-based model used in the first three Final Fantasies (kind of crapping on my hook for this review). You have three characters at a time in battle, and a turn count on the side of the screen shows who will attack next. Characters can switch out for other characters at anytime and not lose a turn, so if you really need to switch things up, you aren’t penalized for it. All characters that take an action in battle gain experience from it, which leads us to Final Fantasy X’s biggest new addition.
The Sphere Grid is FFX’s leveling system. In addition to experience earned in battle, characters earn ‘spheres’. When a character earns enough experience, they gain a ‘sphere level’. For ever Sphere level a character has, they can move one node on the Sphere Grid, and spend the spheres on unlocking the attributes or abilities on each node. For instance, a Power Sphere can increase HP, Defense, or Strength. All seven characters are on the same Sphere Grid, and by using special ‘Key Spheres’, they can move into other character’s sections and learn the same skills as other characters. Therefore, while characters start out highly specialized, they are capable of being customized however the player chooses. Because of a relatively steady difficulty curve, though, one rarely needs to grind to advance their characters normally, and the right degree of strategy ensures that you’ll emerge victorious. However, if you want to max everyone out, you’ll need to work.
One of the biggest complaints leveled against the recent Final Fantasy XIII was its excessive linearity. I can safely say that, after playing both games, in this regard FFs XIII and X are pretty much exactly the same. Final Fantasy X features a boatload of optional content should you wish to deviate from the main path, although most of it cannot be accessed until late in the game. Until then, every map is pretty much a straight line from point A to point B with a few treasure chests peppered across at regular intervals. Like XIII, this doesn’t ever get in the way of the gameplay, and in fact it helps move things along. There is a rather formidable random encounter rate, though, but in traditional RPGs that comes with the territory. There are also a few puzzles, and while most of them are fun, there is one that is almost impossible to solve without either a walkthrough or hours of free time, so be warned. Really, the gameplay in FFX contains several minor changes built around a core of familiarity, and it isn’t hard to find this familiarity once you get into the swing of things.
If there is one certainty in the games industry it is that Square doesn’t skimp on a game’s production. Final Fantasy X’s graphics may no longer be cutting edge, but they are more than adequate, and many of the areas still look beautiful. Frequent CG clips interspersed throughout also look great and help to flesh out the game’s most dramatic moments. The fixed camera is a bit annoying, though. Musically, series composer Nobuo Uematsu teamed up with two other composers, Masashi Hamazau (who did the soundtracks for SaGa Frontier 2, and more recently FFXIII) and Junya Nakano. FFX’s soundtrack is great, and nearly every track stands out and is worth listening to. Even the stranger tracks, such as the hard-rocking Otherworld or the trippy Fight With Seymour are incredibly once you get used to them. Special mention goes to Sudeka da ne (Isn’t It Wonderful?), the theme that plays for Tidus and Yuna. The only flaw in the sound, unfortunately, is the voice work. Granted, it is Square’s first fully voiced game, but several characters have annoying or poorly done voices. This is mostly saved by the writing, which places Final Fantasy X above some of Square’s vocal disasters like The 3rd Birthday or Unlimited SaGa, but a little more effort would have been nice from some of the actors. Still, they sound right when they need to be. Tidus, in particular, becomes less annoying the more his character grows.
Final Fantasy X seems to prove that, in the right hands, a series can live on even when its original creator moves on. With this game, Square took full control of the Final Fantasy series, and did so by creating one of its best installments. A great story with strong characters, combined with fun and intuitive gameplay and a gorgeous presentation make this one of the series’ best. Even hit-or-miss voice acting barely diminished this otherwise fantastic game.