Final Fantasy X
Reviewed by Minna Kim Mazza
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2002-12-20 PS2 RPG T (Teen) Square Enix

I'm departing from my usual PC strategy game review to focus on my newest addiction, Final Fantasy X for Playstation 2. The Playstation 2 is an addiction in itself, with the eye-popping graphics of all the new games. Final Fantasy X is no exception at all from the moment you start the game.

My exposure to the Final Fantasy series consisted of Final Fantasy II and III for SNES, which are actually Final Fantasy IV and VI in the entire series released in Japan. (Side note: Squaresoft has recently re-released IV and VI for Playstation with new CGI animated movies, but the rest of the game is essentially intact.) The foundation of the game is single-player RPG, where you guide your character through an underlying story which generally pits Good against Evil, with Evil becoming stronger and Good trying to retaliate before Evil takes over the world. Intertwined in this battle are themes of isolation, abandonment, dysfunctional families, and of course romance. For the most part, Squaresoft does a decent job with the story, giving it enough twists and turns to make it interesting and unpredictable, and possibly frustrating to the gamer.

The story of Final Fantasy X revolves around your main character, Tidus, a young blitzball star (more on "blitzball" later) whose hometown of Zanarkand gets ravaged by a destructive force called Sin, and then is somehow transported to a strange land, apparently 1000 years into the future where hardly anyone has heard of Zanarkand, and those who have get very nervous. Tidus is rescued by a girl named Rikku who speaks a strange language he's never heard before, only to be swept up again and onto a beach where he meets Wakka, also a blitzball player (apparently blitzball is still around after 1000 years), who welcomes Tidus into his town despite the people's objections. He also meets Yuna, who is a young summoner, on a pilgrimage to defeat Sin. They are also accompanied by Lulu and Kimhari, who are guardians of Yuna. Then there is Auron, a mysterious dark man who took care of Tidus when Tidus' father disappeared long ago. All eventually accompany Yuna on her quest to defeat Sin, which involves acquiring entities called Aeons that are summoned by Yuna in battle, similar to the Guardian Forces in Final Fantasy VIII and Espers in Final Fantasy VI, but only Yuna can use them.

Confused yet? Thus is the nature of Final Fantasy storylines!

So it has been a long time since I played a Final Fantasy game. I recently borrowed Final Fantasy VII and VIII for Playstation, to run on my Playstation 2. Final Fantasy VII seems fairly similar to II and III in most aspects, though I lost interest when I started playing VIII at the same time. The eighth installment of this "final" fantasy impressed me with the CGI and the fact that my characters actually seemed life-size... not like the pint-sized twerps I am used to seeing. What was unique about the Final Fantasy series of games was the real time battle, where your characters do an action but then have recovery time, as do the monsters you fight, causing one to hit the "pause" button a lot to strategize. Also there was a lot of running around trying to level up your characters to the point of indestructibility. However, VIII discouraged this by allowing monsters to level up as your characters level up, in some ways making it more difficult as your characters gain levels, plus there was a level cap of 100 and a hit-point cap of 9999, as well as a damage cap of 9999 (but that's for one attack only, and some characters have ... er nevermind, that's VIII and we're reviewing X now).

Did I mention the stunning graphics? Although X gives a much less of a cinematic feel, the appearance of the characters and scenery stays constant throughout game play and storyline. In VIII you had your bitmapped characters for a majority of the time, but for key scenes you were able to watch a visually complex CG movie, where your characters look more realistic and actually have facial expressions. But X does away with this by seamlessly intertwining these story-scenes with your game play. The only times I notice a more film-like appearance is for large-scale scenes which include the large buildings and such. But those scenes with just the characters talking are pretty much what you see all during the game. The movements are also more fluid, but remind me so much of those other new single-player adventure games out for PS2 and similar systems.

Don't forget the biggest change in the presentation - voiceovers! You can even turn the subtitles off, but I recommend leaving them in. Also not every single random NPC has a voiceover, as one might expect. It adds a new dimension to Final Fantasy never seen (or heard) before. The voices are good enough, with a few exceptions. I absolutely hate listening to Tidus talk, because he sounds like a whiny teenager (though, I suppose he is). Yuna sounds too much like a ditz at times also. The most disconcerting thing about the voiceovers is the mismatch of lip movement to the words, which is because the game was originally in Japanese, and I understand that they wouldn't want to go make the whole game over again in English just to match lip movements. In general they do a decent job trying to do so, but sometimes sentence rhythm is compromised, making some of the conversations sound a bit unnatural and forced.

Squaresoft has made changes to the magic, attack, and character building systems for each new Final Fantasy game, but Final Fantasy X is remarkably different from all the rest. The main difference is the real time battle mode is gone, and in its place is something more turn-based. The battle interface in general is completely different. The most noticeable difference in the interface is the abundance of color, which is also prevalent in the game backgrounds and characters. In the upper right corner of the screen during battle, there is a list of turn order for three characters that are fighting, and also includes monster turn order. Also, you are able to switch your characters in and out during the battle, which is completely new in Final Fantasy X (in past titles, this was only possible usually in the final boss fights). The animation of characters switching in and out is cute - the departing character runs away, and the arriving character says some cheesy line ("miss me?") and is able to take action immediately. You can also switch your equipment during battle, in case you encounter a monster that is weak to a certain element, and you have a weapon that inflicts magic damage of that element. That takes an extra turn, however. This battle system allows you to really strategize, because there is much more to think about without the time constraints. There still is an element of recovery time required for a character to take action again, and you will see this in the switching of battle turn order. As you fight more monsters, you figure out that certain characters are stronger at fighting certain monsters, which allows you to fight more effectively.

Yuna's Aeons make her more interesting to play, as her attack power is pretty much useless. However, when summoning an Aeon, all other characters bow out of the fight while the Aeon is in play. The Aeon can be dismissed and your characters can come back into play if the Aeon is ineffective, or if it is hurting for hit-points. I think this balances the battle especially when fighting multiple monsters. The other nice thing is that you can set an option to not see the full animation when summoning an Aeon... you only see it the first time, and then afterwards they are shortened. It's more a personal preference than anything, since time limit isn't a factor during a turn.

Those who are familiar with Final Fantasy battle will remember the Limit Break, which allows a character to do a special attack. In previous versions, the Limit Break was available when hit-points were low, or enough time has gone by, or other similar requirements. In Final Fantasy X, it is called Overdrive, and is initially available after the character has been hit enough to fill up the Overdrive bar which is always visible during battle under the character stats. As the game progresses, there are different "Overdrive modes" that you can learn, which provide different criteria for the Overdrive bar to fill up. For example, you can set your Overdrive mode to increase as you cast spells. This gives another dimension to Overdrive and another element of strategy.

The other major change to Final Fantasy is the introduction of the Sphere Grid, which is an elaborate system where your characters learn new abilities, gain hit points, magic points, and build up stats like accuracy and defense. It also requires a good amount of planning, as it's not a linear gain like gaining experience points. You still do gain experience points, but they actually contribute to "sphere levels," which is the foundation of what you need to move around the sphere grid. When defeating monsters, you obtain different spheres that fit into the different attribute nodes. Your characters, depending on their strengths, begin in a position of the grid where the attributes are geared towards their strengths. For example, Lulu is a black-magic caster, so as you move around the grid from her starting point, there are more magic-related attributes and spells to learn closer to her starting point. Eventually you will be able to move characters into other parts of the grid through the use of spheres that unlock to new sections of the grid. But obviously this is not until much, much later in the game.

If the Sphere Grid intimidates you at first, don't worry too much, because it is configured to help you figure out where you can move and what spheres you can use where. A nice touch is the ability to change the camera view on the grid, so you can zoom in and out, and pan left and right to view other parts of the grid. But I'm warning you, it's quite elaborate looking and might scare the novice player away!

Weapons and armor are also back, but work as enhancements rather than building up your defense or attack power (the spheres are used for that). Instead, weapons and armor add slightly to attributes, or have special abilities like fire brand, magic resistance, etc. Tidus' fire brand sword is nice to look at, with small flames dancing around the blade.

Another aspect of game play that is different from other Final Fantasy games is the linear nature of the story. You really don't have an opportunity to explore different parts of the world whenever you want. There are a few side quests, but not nearly as many as in the past. There are plenty of secrets, but they are usually contained within the area you are currently searching. A map superimposed on the top of the screen clearly marks your path and destination. Save spheres, in addition to allowing you to save the game, also heal your party completely. And after a while, you will also be able to play a game of blitzball at a save sphere, which is a nice side excursion, similar to the Triple Triad card game in VIII, and can win you some nice items (some of which are rare) if you win games. Your blitzball team sucks when you first have the ability to play blitzball, but if you talk to people in the towns, you might find some better players.

Overall, Final Fantasy X is a completely different game from its predecessors, and takes some getting used to if you are more familiar with the "old" way of playing Final Fantasy games. The lettering is a bit smaller than you may be used to seeing, but for good reason, as there can be a lot of information on the screen at once. There are few complete strategy guides out there right now, except for the official guide, which is a great resource, but isn't quite as detailed in the walkthrough as one might expect. It does contain a huge pull-out chart of Rikku's Overdrive, which involves mixing different items to create different effects. The story and character development is much more prominent in Final Fantasy X than in past games, which may or may not be a good thing depending on what you are looking for. It also seems that the story takes up more time from game play, but it is mostly because of the seamless integration of the storyline that may make it seem that you're seeing more story than battle. Trust me, there is quite a bit of battle in this game! This game really tests your strategy skills, which is why it is top notch in my book right now.