FINAL FANTASY: a series that has been refined to near perfection over the years. With each consecutive console jump for the saga, the games have been changed to play better. When FINAL FANTASY IV first hit the Super Nintendo it introduced Active-Time Battle, a system that remained intact for six of the titles. The first Playstation FF game, FINAL FANTASY VII, brought the world to 3-D. FINAL FANTASY X looks to do the same with many renovations to the aging formula.
The game tells the story of Tidus, a young star blitzball player whose home city of Zanarkand is destroyed by an evil force called "Sin." Tidus somehow finds himself 1000 years in the future, and becomes part of a guardian force surrounding the young summoner Yuna. This group must escort Yuna on her pilgrimage to different temples in order to learn the different summoning spells. Ultimately, she will reach the final temple in the ruins of Zanarkand that will allow her to cast the final summoning to defeat Sin.
Typical storyline, right? So what's been changed? First of all, the battle system has been renovated. It is now the Conditional Turn Battle system; essentially it goes forward and figures out what Active Time Battle would have done and then lists the order of actions. This allows you to sub characters in and out of battle with no penalties, and take your time in choosing attacks. It works really well and sometimes switching in and out characters becomes a giant chess match in order to beat stronger bosses. Another new innovation is that summons take the place of the party and fight. For the most part, the summon monsters are good shields as they replace the party and then do a significant amount of damage with their overdrive attack (read: limit break). Another cool concept is multiple ways of filling the overdrive gauge; for instance, one mode allows you to let it fill as you inflict damage rather than when it is inflicted on you.
Another major change is the experience system. Experience points are gone - you now just get ability points. After a certain amount of these points, you get a sphere level. Each sphere level you gain can be used to move one space you haven't crossed, or four spaces you have, on the sphere board. The sphere board is a giant visual representation of every ability (spells, special attacks, moves, etc.) in the game as well as strength, defensive, and HP boosts. As you move around the board you spend certain spheres, earned in battle and found in treasure chests, to activate the nodes on the board giving the activating character new abilities. There are also locks on the board that need key spheres, so some abilities (such as spells like Ultima or Holy) require a little more than just lots of experience. I found the new experience system works very well and it makes for very customizable characters (and by the design of the board, promotes each character staying true to their path).
More changes: the weapon and armor systems are significantly different. You still equip a weapon and a piece of armor, but it doesn't directly affect your strength or defense unless it has that ability in it. Some weapons will come with a natural "Strength +5%" but it is also possible to add those abilities by sacrificing items or spheres later in the game. It's really hard to grasp which weapons are needed and I usually kept with my strength modifying weapons rather than elemental ones.
Other notable changes: The overworld is gone, you now go straight from place to place and use a map to direct you where to go next. This poses some problems for hardcore RPG fans as it makes the game much more linear in nature. However, it allows the game to be enjoyed by anyone without the possibility of not knowing where to go next. Things loosen up near the end, but you won't be able to do as much exploring as before. There is now a full voice-over that is done well enough to make it suitable. The only time I was annoyed by it was during the scenes where it got comedic; the laughing seemed too forced.
All the elements of FINAL FANTASY are in X. A great story, dynamic characters you care about, fantastic battles and incredible spell sequences. While for the first few hours I played with some disgust for what had happened, the game began to show its true colors and become heir to a great name. At first glance, it doesn't seem anything like the Hallmark RPG series, but it is.
The game is gorgeous. The CG sequences are absolutely beautiful; they aren't quite as good as what you saw in THE SPIRITS WITHIN, but they're fantastic nonetheless. In-game characters are comprised of enough polygons to truly convey emotion and almost fool you into thinking they are real. The backgrounds also look great but sometimes get a little muddy. The detail level also falls during battles, but that is understandable. The summoning sequences are incredibly colorful and fluid, rivaling the CG sequences for jaw-dropping effect.
The music has been electronically orchestrated (perhaps one of the few things remaining from the old games). Unfortunately the music, while good, is still in the same slump that it has been since FINAL FANTASY VII. Some of the music draws out emotion, but not nearly to the extent of the masterpiece that was FINAL FANTASY VI. The voice-over is well done and I actually did appreciate it most of the time. It has some rough spots, but for the most part I was pleasantly surprised.
FINAL FANTASY X has taken the series to new levels in what may be its last offline game. It's a worthy addition to the line, and rivals FINAL FANTASY VII for the best game in the post-SNES era.
Platform: Playstation 2
ESBR Rating: T
Suggested Retail Price: $49.99
Fun Factor: A
Reviewer's Wild Card: A