sunnuntai 21. marraskuuta 2010

REVIEW - Final Fantasy X (2001)

Genre(s): RPG
Released: 2001
Available on: PS2
Developer(s): Square
Publisher(s): Square, Sony Computer Entertainment
Players: 1

During the development of the great Final Fantasy IX, another monster was already on its way despite people's beliefs of the last game for the PlayStation to be the very last game in the whole Final Fantasy series. This "other game" was called Final Fantasy X, and not only was it the tenth game in the series, it was anticipated to be such an audiovisual breakthrough that it could have been called "X" instead of "ten" anyway. Hironobu Sakaguchi, who was no more than an executive producer for the game, was very concerned of his beloved brainchild taking a turn on the new PlayStation 2 with voiceover work, and many other practical changes that defied standards some of which were set by the first game way back in 1987. The writers and designers pressed on despite some extra difficulties they were sure to spawn for American translators, and in terms of gameplay, they boldly went where Final Fantasy had kinda been before, but in ways they were sure to piss off some long-time fans of the stalwart series. I hated the game when it came out, but when I finally bought it just because I had no other game in mind to get for my then-new PS2, I fell in love with it since I saw past the small, quite irrelevant nuisances that had plagued my mind since when I first started the game. Granted, the story isn't perfectly crafted throughout, but it basically takes the vintage Final Fantasy storytelling to a one-off direction I like very much in style. The game introduces some of the greatest characters in the franchise, and incorporates some really complex, cool ideas - most of which are influenced by features in the earlier games - that make it last as a game. It looks more than a bit commercial and polished to the hilt, once again the biggest minigame takes up a whole lot more space that it's due for, but make no mistake about it: as a whole experience, Final Fantasy X is one of the most essential games in the series.

Sins of the father or something like that

James Arnold Taylor : Tidus
Hedy Burress : Yuna
John DiMaggio : Wakka / Kimahri Ronso
Paula Tiso : Lulu
Matt McKenzie : Auron
Tara Strong : Rikku
Alex Fernandez : Maester Seymour Guado
Gregg Berger : Jecht
Andy Philpot : Lord Braska
Michael McShane : Cid

Auron watches as Zanarkand gets blown to shit.
He knows what's happening and why. Will he
tell you? Unlikely.
Tidus is a young athlete, a Blitzball player competing in his verbally abusive father Jecht's constant shadow even ten years after his death. On the night of Jecht's memorial tournament, Tidus' home city of Zanarkand is completely destroyed by a mysterious force majeure called Sin. Devoured by Sin himself, Tidus regains consciousness one thousand years in the future, and through a string of events, he ends up joining forces with a deeply religious group of people guarding the life of a young summoner on her pilgrimage to the ruins Tidus once knew as his home, Zanarkand. As his allies march to rid the world of the now dominant Sin, Tidus learns the ways of the new world and the reasons to why he was chosen by Sin - and at the same time, he finds himself falling in forbidden love with the young woman he's sworn to protect.

Until now, I have begun every Final Fantasy review with a lengthy story and character analysis... and, I'll make no exception with Final Fantasy X. Every time Final Fantasy has moved over to a new platform, the first game has been some sort of a reboot of the franchise, and again, Final Fantasy X is no exception. Gone is an evil empire, be it a mega-corporation, a literal empire or whatever form it once took... that's how it seems in the beginning, at least. Many classic Final Fantasy themes take a whole new form in this game. At first the plot seems very simple and the world is at peace - there's just a demonic force beyond human control plaguing the land, and even the most sinister groups in the world are definitely against it instead of on its side. Our hero is kind of just like in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sure, there are assholes, lots of 'em - but none of them really want to piss on your mission, as no one is a fan of Sin. They just want to test or bully you for one reason or another. This is probably why most bosses and enemies during the first half of the game are simply monsters created by Sin's indefinite appetite for destruction.

However, all of the game is not this simple; ever since storytelling became the series' forte, have you seen a simple Final Fantasy game? There are many strong themes in the game that might've been considered more or less taboo in the days of old: man against machine, daddy issues, racism, and on the forefront, the most sensitive theme of them all, religion vs. anti-religion. At times it feels like the writers tried to squeeze in a little more than they could chew, and as always, some perhaps minor but crucial elements of the storyline are lost in translation. Let's say it takes you 70 hours to beat the game; you'll perfectly understand the first 40, but as the tempo picks up and all information really starts to overflow as too many loose ends are taken care of at once - and some are totally ignored - I bet you'll find yourself watching the credits with your mouth open and wondering what the fuck just happened. The ending is beautiful, for sure - one of the best endings I've ever seen in a video game - but when you finally decide to go at the game again, you'll pick up lots of stuff from the very beginning that was never fully explained. The writers clearly wanted to create a mystery, a series of mysteries, but they forgot that every mystery should have a solution. And before you ask, no - the sequel wasn't a collective solution, either.

I guess we pissed off the wrong ancient fiend.
Yevon's teachings are this game's Christianity, and just about every storyline thread involves Yevon in one way or another. The storyboard designers did a fine job in capturing the essence of religion in general: it has its benefits when it comes to unity among people, but it isn't the answer to everything and frankly, most restrictions and rules that religion creates are completely against common sense. Some Christian and perhaps other religious groups have apparently criticized the game for degrading and making fun of them, turning young players into atheists, and making believe everyone who has faith in some higher power is at some level of insanity or even evil. Personally, I don't see any point to the accusations; I think all religious subjects in the game are handled with unbiased dignity. In my view, there's a clear line between Yevon and people whose insanity spawns from something completely other than their religious standpoints. Well, everyone sees things in different ways - isn't that what religion is all about?

The cast of playable characters is once again a very impressive lot; some of my major problems with them doesn't stem from what they are like in person. It's the voice cast that leaks, but more about that and the reasons why an experienced cast like this fails to deliver a seamless show, later. Since Final Fantasy X was developed at the same time as its predecessor, I can't help finding some probably unintentional likenesses between the characters in these two games. Tidus is very much like Zidane, even his development as a character is similar, only Tidus' basic personality never changes. He's kind of reckless, confused and easily irritated, but always an optimistic ladies' man. Once quickly settling in his new home, he retains his positive nature, and he doesn't take too much of a slide when discovering some horrible truths about the world around him, either, unlike Zidane whose personality changed completely for a moment after he found out the truth of his origin. A nice change, but on the other hand, a small hint of Tidus' dark side would've made him a little less annoying, perhaps. Yuna... well, Yuna's a great character. A classic case of the shy, sensitive, but extremely talented mage, who toughens up like cement over time. At some points, she's a little oversensitive. There's this extremely obnoxious rival of hers called Dona, who appears for the first time a couple of hours into the game, to make fun of Yuna and her supposed "need" for a whole group of guardians, whereas she has just one (literally) dumb muscle to follow her around. Yuna politely responds with something like "Lady Dona, I ask of you... please leave us at peace.", while she SHOULD say "Fuck off, bitch! I'm off to save your ass from Sin!" Most of the time, it seems like Yuna doesn't quite understand how much her mission means to other people, or her remarkable talent passed on to her by her father. She just swallows up all the shit poured down her blouse by disrespectful douches like Dona, who would probably shit herself just standing next to the most unimpressive Sinspawn. Final Fantasy games have long been known for their constantly tough female characters...

...So we have Lulu to balance out Yuna's sensitivity and continuous failures to stand up for herself. Lulu is an amazing combination of one of the greatest cleavages ever seen on a female video game character (Tifa beware!), ice cold attitude and some deadly black magic. Unlike many of her male peers in previous games, Lulu has a few soft spots, and she's not really quite as tough as she makes believe, she's simply in denial. Well, at least she's not like Squall in Final Fantasy VIII; she doesn't say "Get the hell away from me" and then think to herself "Please don't go...", she usually at least thinks to mean what she says, she's just not quite at terms with her soft side. She's a fascinating character. However, the best character of the game takes the same kind of cold demeanor a little further - that's Auron. He knows just about everything, but rarely says it. He talks a lot, but mostly in riddles. He intentionally causes a heap of trouble to the whole group, but only if he knows it to be to their ultimate advantage. He never explains these incidents, he lets the consequences explain things for him. Kind of like Jack Bauer. Or Jack Sparrow. Plus, he's a monster with a sword. Auron might just damn well be my favourite character in the whole Final Fantasy series, right after my obvious choice of Cloud Strife - and the mystery surrounding this embittered middle-aged man revered as a legend among all guardians is one of the main reasons why the story is so fascinating, no matter how many holes get punched into it. And as to how Auron's mystery slowly unfolds... it's beautiful, just beautiful.

BLITZBALL. One of the most horrible minigames
ever. Thankfully (and unfortunately) it's featured
in one of the greatest games ever.
Rikku borders on being annoying. She clearly follows the path laid out by obnoxious teen characters such as Yuffie and Selphie, but the one thing that saves her and makes her a delightful character in my view is the main theme of racism that is most evident in the case of her and her kind. She's one of the Al Bhed, who speak in a different language and can be considered terrorists, blasphemers, even satanists to some extent - since their objective is to stop summoners from fighting Sin at any cost. However, the Al Bhed's true purposes are completely different from what people think they are, they are a misunderstood race. Rikku is a fascinating character in her own way. She has those moments which make you think of your bare hands squeezed around her neck, but a fair share of good moments, too. Plus, she's hot. Seriously hot. Another representative of a different race is Kimahri, who is one of the Ronso tribe - strange humanoid mixtures of lions and unicorns. Kimahri turns out to be another very good character, but his personal trait of not being very communicative naturally leaves him aside. Sometimes it seems he shows up in different scenes only to remind the players of his existence.

Last we have Wakka, who's brought on as a very central character but I decided to leave him last since he's really the weakest link of the cast in my view. He's simply not interesting, and his neverending, annoying babble about the rules and regulations set by Yevon, his little brother, Blitzball, the Al Bhed and their unholy machina really gets on one's nerves sooner or later - he even speaks in an exotic accent that drives the nail even deeper right off the bat. There's not even a quest that strictly involves him, counting out the infamous Blitzball tournament for now, most of the time he's just Tidus' sidekick, even while Tidus himself is not the best lead character we've seen in the series. The only thing Wakka's good at as far as the dialogue is concerned is cracking cheap jokes on enemies as well as the rest of the group.

Cid makes a vintage appearance as a tough talking, but warmhearted master engineer of the Al Bhed, who I don't want to spoil too much. This is one of my favourite Cids in the series, possibly second only to his counterpart in Final Fantasy VII. After being found in just about every corner in Final Fantasy IX, moogles take a well-deserved vacation from the fray, but Lulu uses some moogle dolls as her weapons. Chocobos show up as battle steeds, and of course, according to tradition, there's a chocobo sidequest, which involves training and finally racing your very own chocobo. Not quite as tedious or time consuming as in Final Fantasy VII, I can tell you. Instead it takes about 30 minutes of your precious time.

Like in many Final Fantasy games, the final boss isn't necessarily who you think it is. It has always been somewhat of a problem for the developers to really sink the prime evil in - they have managed to do better, and worse. The first case I've heard an actual group of fans criticizing a Final Fantasy game because of this problem was in Final Fantasy IX. Yeah, bringing in Necron during the last two minutes of the game was kind of a "WTF?" moment, but I kind of expected something like that after Zemus and Ultimecia. Final Fantasy IX was a tribute in both good and bad, so it figured. Besides, Kuja still remained the main villain-to-hero in my books. Well, in Final Fantasy X the potential main villain's a little too obvious from the very beginning, so some kind of complications are definitely expected, and they will come, in large numbers. You will most definitely have to fight Sin, but it is not the end, I can tell you that much. Seymour is a character who you'll know to be a villain from the very first time you see him, even if he's sold as the golden boy of the people and even temporarily joins the party at one point. He has that sinister gayness Kuja made popular, that villainous look in his eyes, and of course, long hair, blue instead of silver though. He's an obvious creep... yet still not necessarily the big cheese.

I guess I'll mention a couple of more things concerning the characters before I really start reviewing the game. Most of the game, and most means well over a half of it in this case, is a flashback; it's no spoiler, since the very first cutscene makes it very clear. The characters you see in that opening scene are your playable characters, and you'll net them all in, or at least meet them during the first two hours of gameplay. No surprise characters well over 30 hours into the game. First, this game is thematically more about (unlikely) companionship and problems within groups than any other Final Fantasy game, and second, rounding out the party in the beginning of the game gives everyone a fair share of development, in terms of both gameplay and characterization.

Last, I've done this in just about every review even if it wasn't necessary, but I'll still do it anyway: I'll talk about the classes. I'll go into the specifics of character development and customization later, but the bottom line is that all of the characters in Final Fantasy X are able to learn any spell or ability, like in Final Fantasy VI and VIII. However, they do have specific classes; more correctly, almost everyone is a combination of several traditional RPG classes. There's an Expert Mode in the international version of the game that removes even this restriction, but even after beating the game twice, I prefer Standard Mode for many reasons. More about that later, as well. Tidus is a combination of a Warrior and a Time Mage, an obscure class returning from the days of Final Fantasy V, this time to stay. Yuna is a White Mage, and more prominently, a Summoner. Kimahri is a strange, but functional combination of a Dragoon and a Blue Mage. Rikku has the basic traits of three different classes: Thief, Ninja and Chemist. Auron and Lulu are the only two characters who have only one class, Samurai and Black Mage, respectively. Oh yeah, and Wakka? He doesn't have a class at all, at least not a traditional one. Further proof of filling in a gap for a sidekick. All of the characters' special talents are so unique, that I'll have to go deeper into them once I get into gameplay. We're in for a long review... as if it hasn't been one already.

Which way to the ladies' locker room?
The graphics looked incredible when the game came out, and technically speaking, the game still looks good. The vast 3D environments create a whole new feel to the game and I like the way the cutscenes are seamlessly tied in to the game itself, most of them even feature dialogue. In-game NPC's look retarded up close, and some of the playable characters look very different than their FMV counterparts. Simply put, in the game the guys look Western and in the cutscenes, Eastern, as they're supposed to, seeing that this is more of a Japanese game than any other Final Fantasy; a lot of the central themes and settings are influenced by Asian culture and folklore. So the graphics are OK, we have to keep in mind that the game was one of the first truly major PS2 titles, and it's huge in size. Again, you're in for about 70 hours of gameplay at the least - if you decide to go for full completion, you're in for many, many tens of hours more. There are a lot of sidequests and superbosses to be conquered, even if the game seems more linear than a one-way street at first and throughout the pilgrimage chapter. The thing that bothers me the most about the game's look is the commercial overtone. It's not really a graphical thing, it's a choice by the developers. The awful title screen features the name of the game not once, not twice, but three times, and an address for the game's official website, as well as a logo. This, and the overtly polished style of some graphical key features make the game look like promotional material, or a lengthy technical demo from time to time.

A well-known fact is that Final Fantasy X was the first game in the series NOT composed by Nobuo Uematsu alone, due to the ridiculously large soundtrack he was asked to complete while he was still working on Final Fantasy IX and Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies. Many key pieces such as the prominent theme "Zanarkand" and the death metal (you read right) maelstrom "Otherworld" are of Uematsu's creation, and songs he went on to record with The Black Mages, but a lot of the music is written by Masashi Hamauzu, who previously worked on the spin-off game Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon, and Junya Nakano, who previously worked on the Front Mission series. No wonder the soundtrack is a mixed bag. There are some really, really awful techno and electro tunes that don't fit the bill at all. Not quite as horrid as the whole wretched thing they call the "soundtrack" of the sequel Final Fantasy X-2, but it gets pretty low from time to time. Still, there's lots of good stuff to be found. Not necessarily classic, but at least true to the franchise at hand. "Suteki Da Ne" is the vocalized track (read: promotional hit single in Japan) this time around, and like the title implies, it's sung in Japanese. Nothing really wrong with it, actually. I like it more than "Eyes on Me", but it's not quite as inspired as "Melodies of Life". It shows up at a good point, though. Besides "Zanarkand", "Hymn of the Fayth" is another oft-recurring theme in the game; it has become very popular through the years, and it almost equals to the classic Final Fantasy victory fanfare in the sense that it's a song that you inexplicably find yourself humming while cleaning the house and stuff like that. And yeah, it has lyrics too. Even eight years after the game's European release, I'm still working on memorizing them, even if they're in Japanese as well. If you haven't figured it out already, I can't understand Japanese for shit.

Translation used to be a huge problem in the North American localization of Final Fantasy up until the seventh game. Now it's adapting the essence and form of the Japanese script and dialogue to English, and apparently, it's hard. The American voice actors were forced to speak in a rhythm and tone just about only the Japanese can to match the Japanese lip sync to some extent, and create official pronounciations for words that have been there for ages in text - Chocobo is a prime example - and they ended up sounding quite damn horrible. It's not just these things, but the NPC's sound just as retarded as their facial expressions look. A huge bulk of the voiceover work sounds forced, irritating and totally uninspired. It sounds like people were literally dragged from the street to record some random parts. Well, the main cast is a group of some renown in these circles. James Arnold Taylor, John DiMaggio (BENDER!!!) and Paula Tiso all have central roles, but that doesn't automatically mean they all do a great job. Even Bender - who actually voices both Wakka and Kimahri - fucks up, but perhaps he's just got the wrong characters to interpret. Matt McKenzie, who does Auron's voice, is most definitely the one to listen here, but I have come to the conclusion that since Auron usually talks softly and slowly, and most of the time his lips are hidden behind his large collar, McKenzie didn't have the same difficulties with the aforementioned rhythm/tone stuff as most of the cast. Same goes for Gregg Berger, who usually speaks from afar and/or with his back turned to the player; he does a great job as Jecht, another absolutely fantastic character. Oh yeah, one more thing on the downside. Why in the hell do most of the people in this game laugh and sigh so fucking much? Here's especially looking at Yuna and Tidus, and their infamous "LOL scene" (literally) quite near the beginning of the game. The game doesn't really shine when it comes to voiceover work, but this one scene is an epitome of bad voice acting... and a bad idea from the writers, at that. Ghastly!

So far, from an audiovisual angle, Final Fantasy X hasn't quite proven to be the game that it was promised to be. However, the gameplay's magnificent and there are so many unique details and features that bring the game victory. Like I said, I hated the game first, and still the first two or three hours aren't too impressive, they're actually quite damn dull on subsequent playthroughs. What I'll do differently this time, is that I will go over the events of the first few hours - in the most non-spoiling way possible - to provide some sort of a feel on how much Final Fantasy X differs from its predecessors; those persistent bastards still saying every Final Fantasy game is the same ol' shit can go fuck themselves, since that's as far from the truth as can be. I will introduce some key features of the game on the go, try to keep up with me.

First up, you get to choose a sort of a difficulty level, which is a definitely a first for the series. Like I said earlier, it's not only a difficulty level, but a fun level as well. In this game, most of your party's development happens on a board called Sphere Grid. You see, in this game, there are no experience points. It's kind of like in the Famicom classic Final Fantasy II, then, but this time, the development of each member is all up to you outside of the battle, whereas in Final Fantasy II you were kinda forced to just fight on and see what happened to your characters in terms of perks and traits. You gain AP instead of EXP this time around, and you use the AP to advance on the Sphere Grid. So, the difficulty level only concerns the structure of the Sphere Grid. The Standard Grid - the only choice in my opinion - is built logically for each character and the class(es) they are in. Simply advancing on the board, maybe taking a few sidesteps when allowed, will allow you to create the most balanced party possible and max out their stats. To gain different abilities and perks such as HP+, you need AP to be able to advance on the board, as well as different kinds of spheres to activate ability nodes on the board. These spheres are also gained mostly from battles. After a member of your group has finished his or her own course on the board, in other words, gained all of his or her own abilities, it is advisable to open the locks on the board with special Key Spheres and go circling around some other character's Grid section. After finishing a character's own course, you are perfectly free to develop that character in any way you wish; the basics should be fine and balanced by that point, so you can't fuck anything up too bad. The Sphere Grid is fun to use, and the way EXP and AP are melted into one in this game is quite clever. It doesn't really change anything, you'll still be leveling up as always, only the perks that come with leveling up are up to you to decide.

The Expert Grid, which was not in the original Japanese version of the game, takes away all boundaries. The natural course for each character remains, but at times, you'll find yourself forcefully steered off the path you have to take to teach your characters all of their own abilities first. It's not actually difficult to use Expert Grid, even if you're a first timer, but you have to know what you're doing and not just take every branch you see. It's confusing rather than really difficult to use. AP flows in less numbers, too. There are dozens of empty nodes, and like I said, it keeps steering you wrong all the time. Of course it may be just me, but I want logical development for each character. The fun of complete character customization from the beginning definitely comes second to practical gameplay in my view. Just use the Standard Grid. It's time consuming just figuring out which way to go after each step in this mess.

Just look at that cleavage. Praise be to Yevon.
We start by controlling Tidus for a short while in a wide, complete 3D environment with the camera fixed on the character. The first thing you'll notice is that there's a minimap available to you at all times, which is handy in the soon-to-be huge environments. Then we are given the option to name Tidus - which seems kind of odd in a game that has voiceover work. As it soon turns out, no one ever mentions Tidus by name in spoken dialogue; he's always referred to as "young man", "him", "the star player of the Abes", or whatnot. We get a huge dose of the bad voiceover work right off the bat. I really don't know and don't want to know where they got the additional cast from. The NPC's sound fucking terrible. OK, so after a scene, we're "free" to roam the fancy streets of Zanarkand. As it turns out, there's only one straight, one-way street for us to walk along. It is notable that we can't do anything but walk, run or talk to the text-only NPC's at this point; the menu can't be opened. Almost everything in this game has a short or long tutorial, every single piece of action. Usually, they show up in certain situations, like in previous games. If you want more information, there are also tutorial panels for you to inspect later on in the game, and there's also information on some constantly needed features in the main menu, once you have access to it. The game would be murder to the brains if everything was laid out right from the start. It gets really, really complex, which is the exact reason for the incredible length of this review; there's so much important stuff to say that becomes crucial later on in the game. The rhythm this game sinks all the stuff in to the player is extremely comfortable. Sure, having such a narrow variety of features at your disposal in the beginning may make the first few hours feel dull, but you'll be thankful for the tutorial rhythm in the end, believe me.

After the ill-fated Blitzball game - which, thankfully, is only a cutscene instead of a stupid minigame that it soon becomes - Tidus meets Auron in the crowd. The moment this guy makes his entrance, we know that he's phenomenal. Soon after that, the first battle takes place. Jumping ahead a bit - the battles at this point could be from any Final Fantasy game aside from the different Time Battle system - once there are more than three members in your group, you will notice that the battles have changed, drastically. OK, so first of all, Conditional Time Battle replaces Active Time Battle that has been there since Final Fantasy IV, which is a huge change to die-hard fans; casual fans probably won't see much difference. The main difference between the two systems is that all of the characters on the screen including the enemies are put in order, usually from fastest to slowest, and they attack in that order. There is no time bar, and sometimes it might even be that if Tidus, for example, has a higher speed stat than Wakka, he can execute two commands before Wakka even gets a turn. It's a little hard to explain, but you'll get the idea by playing the game. What's perhaps even more notable in terms of gameplay is that everyone gets a fair turn; you can take all the time you want to plan your attack without having to flip through your potential dozens of abilities while getting your ass kicked the whole time. If you're a pro you can even check the turn order and carefully plan ahead up until the next round of commands. I like this system a lot, and although hearing about this system might make you think "ah, so the game is a fuckin' breeze", believe me when I say it's not as easy as it seems. It has some really tough spots. Not to mention sidequests, I'll get to them later.

One difference that each player will most definitely realize is that you can and must change the party at any time, DURING BATTLE. There are many groups of enemies especially in the beginning of the game made up of grounded animals, Flans and flying enemies. Animals are Tidus' specialty, Flans pretty much beg for getting their formless asses blown away by Lulu's black magic, and flying enemies succumb the easiest to long range attacks, which are cheapest to execute by using Wakka. In the between, you might need Kimahri to suck in some Blue Magic with his Lancet ability, and Yuna's assistance in white magic and perhaps even some summoning action. Moreover, every member of the group (note: group, not party) gets AP as long as they execute at least one action in battle, so you should just keep circulating them in each battle. This is another one-off renovation I like a lot; not all people do, because it's against tradition and the effective development of your whole group requires constant character switching in even the most unpractical moments, or battles some characters have absolutely no use in. I understand these feelings, but I think the ends justify the means. I almost forgot, that by finding the exact weak spot in each enemy and taking advantage of it in each battle usually results in an Overkill, which is a traditional Critical attack, but succeeding in an Overkill grants more AP after battle, so it really has use this time around. Get three or four Overkills in one battle and just watch the AP flow. This time, you also get AP from boss fights, and you can Overkill bosses too.

Aboard the airship with no name.
Before I go on with what happens next, let's take a look how the characters behave in battle, and a few new key features. I think it's pointless to go over any standard class-specific abilities, you must know how they basically work if you've ever played a Final Fantasy game before. Overdrives and Aeons, however, are a whole different story. Well, neither one of them is a new feature. Overdrive is the new name for Limit Break, and Aeons are this game's equivalent to Espers, Eidolons, Summons, whatever you previously knew them as. How these things work is something totally different, I would even go as far as to say mindblowing. Each character has his or her own series of Overdrives. Yeah, so what's new? Each character's way to execute an Overdrive is completely, radically different from each other. Most of them are like mini-mini-minigames, while Rikku's Overdrive is Mix, in which the player is given complete freedom to mix any two items found in the inventory and see the exciting result. Yuna's Overdrive is a more powerful Aeon attack than usual, and Kimahri uses Blue Magic in his Overdrive state. Overdrives can finally, again, be carried over from battle to battle and used at any time the player so wishes. It doesn't end there. This time, you can do absolutely anything while avoiding to use the Overdrive, since there are three different menus in battle. One's reserved for Overdrives and Trigger Commands (just a minute), one is the standard menu and in one menu, the classic ability to change weapons and armour on the go returns after last seen in Final Fantasy VI. Wait, there's more. There are Overdrive modes, which can be learned in battle, by meeting certain accumulative criteria for each character. This means taking damage isn't the only way to fill the Overdrive meter. For example, if you use Tidus to attack a lot, you'll gain Warrior for him, which enables him to gather up Overdrive energy whenever he damages an enemy. If you heal a lot of allies by using Yuna, you'll gain Healer, which means Yuna will gain Overdrive energy each time she heals an ally. You can switch Overdrive modes at any time in the field. Cool, huh?

The Trigger Command is a cool little feature that takes advantage of the new cinematic 3D style of the battles by adding in interactive environments. For example, if an enemy is just too big or strong for you to take on like a gentleman, there's usually some sort of gadget nearby you can use to your advantage. Doing something else during a battle than taking the enemy head-on requires a Trigger Command. It also applies to talking to enemies during battle, from which you'll usually gain some sort of a temporary perk. Just choose Trigger Command whenever it appears, and there should be some sort of a verb, like "Use *background item*" or "Talk" available to you. It's always to your definite advantage.

Last, for now, although it skips ahead a lot from where we left off in the story, the Aeons. When you first played Final Fantasy VII and saw the first 3D incarnations of Ifrit and Shiva, did you ever think it would be cool to control their actions yourself? Well, now you can. Whenever you use Yuna to call an Aeon, that Aeon actually replaces the party and you have full control over him or her. The Aeons have their very own battle menus and HP/MP, as well as their own Overdrives. In the case of the classic ones the Overdrives are the special attacks they had in the earlier games; Ifrit has Hellfire, Shiva has Diamond Dust and so on. In addition, they have another medium special attack that doesn't require MP. As you probably guessed already, you can use the Aeons as long as they stay alive, or until you decide to dismiss them manually. This game ditches most tradition, as there are very few returning creatures from earlier games, actually just one alongside Ifrit and Shiva. There are some cool new summons, and as per usual, some really weird but extremely powerful shit usually obtained through some surreal sidequesting.

Back to the story. So, Auron and Tidus beat up some Sinspawn, and Tidus ultimately ends up unconscious while Zanarkand literally falls to pieces. When Tidus comes to, we find ourselves in the middle of an ocean. There are some pieces of ruins here and there, and we have to swim and navigate to find a stone bridge for Tidus to cross by foot. From the looks of it, swimming's going to be a big part of the game, but it really isn't. There's a lot of swimming in the beginning of the game and there are a few lengthier sequences later on, but aside from a couple of bosses and a few treasure chests hidden beneath the surface, the only purpose of these sequences is to get from one point to another in a quite linear fashion. Which is good, since the swimming controls really aren't too good and even in your complete party there are only three people you can use in underwater sequences. I'm not really sure why the developers bothered with the swimming.

From these very ruins, you will find the first Al Bhed primer. One of the "whoa" moments on the first playthrough is the realization that to really understand the Al Bhed, and the ancient messages they have scribbled on walls all around the world, you need to learn their language one letter at a time. There are a few Al Bhed characters that speak perfectly fine English, those being the most important characters you need to converse with during the game, of course, but most of the lesser NPC's babble in a strange language that kind of sounds like English, but it isn't English. Every one of our 26 alphabets equals to one Al Bhed letter, and you need to find all of the primers to read their dialogue and their cryptic messages in full English. Fun, but tedious on subsequent playthroughs? Nuh-uh; the dictionary takes up a minimal portion of the PS2 memory card in itself and you can load it on subsequent playthroughs without having to find each letter again by using an orb that is found in a few places around the world, including these ruins we are in. Now that's good thinking by the developers, and some fine use of the technology at hand.

After perhaps the most tedious boss fight you can't win *slash* short fetchquest sequence *slash* cutscene combination, we find ourselves on a ship where no one likes us. Sometime later, Sin attacks again, and we're in a whole different place where we were before. The sun is shining, the people are nice (and, there ARE some people), and we can visit a shop for the first time. As you probably noticed before, in this game you don't need Tents to recover your HP/MP at save points, all your stats are recovered automatically when you reach one. Being able to equip weapons and armour is still a breath away, but maybe I should skip a little, to have this review done at some time.

Will these two lovebirds finally be able to get
it on? Stay tuned.
So, there are no accessories, and there's a reason for that. After a certain point in the storyline, you'll be able to customize your weapons and armour with different stat boosts, status immunities, effects and so on, by using different items and loot you find on the field or treasure chests in battle (!), steal from enemies or gain as rewards. I can't even begin to explain how complex and ultimately cool this feature turns out towards the end of the game, when you, among everything else, have access to the most powerful custom effect in the game, which as you might have guessed, is called "Ribbon". Every time you get a new item used for remodelling, a potential effect turns up on the Customize list in the main menu. You should check it every once in a while to see what kind of monster you can turn your pathetic sword or armguard into. Aeons' abilities can also be modified, this feature is introduced a bit earlier in fact, but I must say I don't know much about it. You use the same items to teach the Aeons abilities that are available to members of your group. I've never seen any point in using this, and I have beaten this game, as well as two superbosses. I guess it's just there for show, or for highly clever buffers, the kind of bastards that write walkthroughs for GameFAQs who sometimes make even the most simplistic boss fights sound like strategist's nightmares.

The weapon and armour system has two sides to it that I don't like. The fact that most equipment can be customized and therefore remodelled to whole new pieces takes away from the joy of getting a new weapon or piece of armour that was always present in Final Fantasy VII and IX, above all other games. All of the equipment bear the same basic strength, the perks are just different. Also, you get so much fine equipment just by fighting regular enemies instead of really having to work for new toys. What's worst is that there's an inventory limit for weapons and armour. It's not as bad as the inventory limit for mana in Final Fantasy VIII, but it will get on your nerves in many ways towards the end of the game since you'll gain more and more equipment from those everyday fights.

Adding up to the difficulty of the game is a series of puzzle-ridden catacombs called the Cloisters of Trials. Almost every major location in the game has one, at least nearby; it's part of Yuna's pilgrimage, and these Cloisters must be passed to advance in the game, as well as gain a new Aeon for Yuna to abuse. Three secret Aeons are gained differently, but this is the main way. Cloisters are located in the sacred Temples of Yevon. Most of them are basically beaten after a lengthy period of the good old trial and error, but they get pretty difficult as the player is prompted to find a hidden treasure in each of them. For the record, I don't think I've ever found the treasure in the Bevelle Temple without a walkthrough; I probably could, but the Cloister itself is quite damn difficult (or just confusing) and time consuming. You will either love or hate the Cloisters. Let's just say they're not my favourite parts of the game, but I guess Square had to do something to keep up the general difficulty level set by the last two games.

Well, that's about it, actually. I don't want to spoil the story any further, and all of the most essential stuff has been explained. Let's take a look at the world and the prominent minigame before we go. Final Fantasy X is the first game in the whole series that doesn't have a world map for you to roam around freely. You advance in a linear fashion for a good part of the game. Each time you get a new destination, a world map and your mandatory route are shown in the style of the Indiana Jones movies. However, fans of airships luckily haven't been forgotten and once you gain a ship, you'll be able to navigate a stationary world map and travel anywhere you please, be it a location you've already visited during Yuna's pilgrimage or a potential place to do some sidequesting; of course, you can also try your luck against Sin and all that comes with it any time you wish. The game gives the player just the right amount of freedom he/she needs, at the exact right time; your stats should be perfectly fine to take on anything by that time. The sidequests range from the usual superbosses and cool crusades for rare stuff, to extremely cool monster hunting, to admittedly frustrating "look what I did!" type of wankery. A perfect example would be the infamous Thunder Plains sidequest for Lulu's Celestial Weapon; you need to dodge 200 bolts of lightning in a row to gain access to it. If you haven't played the game, it's kind of hard to explain, but you'll definitely see what everyone's rant is all about once you witness it yourself.

So, last we have Blitzball. Blitz, blitz, blitz. I guess having yet another incarnation of a card game would've been in the way of Square's evolution, but creating Blitzball was one of the worst mistakes ever. Seriously, I would've rather been without a minigame at all. What's worse than the game itself is the way the storyboard designers made the sport such an important part of the plot, and botched some really good scenes with images of that damn ball like it was some kind of a sacred relic. Blitzball is kind of like water polo meets soccer, only a bit more gay. I don't want to go to any specifics, but basically, it's like playing a really retarded and uncontrollable EA Sports game in a Final Fantasy setting. There's a bit of manager simulation as well, as you are given the chance to improve your players' stats, their abilities and your roster in general. New players are hired by approaching NPC's and pressing the Square button, just like challenging them to a card game in the past. Blitzball can be played any time via save points. I know there are people out there to whom this all sounds so damn cool, and some who sincerely enjoy the game, but to me, that one game in the storyline is perfectly enough. Here's a spoiler: the only true purpose of playing Blitzball is gaining Wakka's Celestial Weapon. That's not reason enough for me to bear this abomination of a minigame. I'd go back to Tetra Master any day.

One doesn't just walk into Zanarkand.
The Standard and Expert Grids don't have much difference in terms of general difficulty, at least not in my view. For a casual, but level-headed player, the game is admittedly easy. The storyline features a couple of really tough bosses, but you can definitely prepare for their most devastating attacks with minimal effort in excessive level farming and some smart equipment customization. Once you learn all there is to the advanced features of CTB, you can definitely learn to use the system to your further advantage even in the toughest situations. Even if you don't, the final boss is a pushover. He is such a pushover that it kind of pains me to see this game come to one of the most beautiful conclusions ever witnessed in video game history. Well... in turn we have some of the most difficult sidequests in the whole series. I'm not talking about the simply frustrating ones - there are some really TOUGH sidequests to be conquered. Ultima and Omega are back, admittedly easier than ever, but still hard as steel. Shinryu is also back, perhaps not as vicious as in Final Fantasy V but a hundred times more difficult than his Nova Dragon incarnation in the previous game. After pissing off some wrong people, you will have the option to face a "dark" version of your every Aeon - and you must face some if you wish to revisit some locations. As if kicking these guys' asses wasn't enough, you will afterwards have to deal with Penance, this game's Ozma. You will definitely need some good luck and determination if you're aiming to finish this game to one hundred per cent. Don't let the ease of the main route fool you.

The pros of Final Fantasy X definitely overshadow the cons, and beyond. The game is always fun to play. Screw Blitzball, rape the bad voiceovers, fuck Wakka; this game is the closest to a masterpiece the series has come besides VI and VII. It has so many threads of customization that it's always fascinating to try out some new strategy. To me, at least, the game is one Final Fantasy title in which I have never felt some sort of a routine coming on, after the first 20 hours it's always like a new, different, fascinating game, like "so what shall we try next?". Being able to finally conquer some of the most difficult sidequests eight years since I first played the game - I have beaten about 75-80% of the game - ...there doesn't exist much stuff that's more rewarding. Final Fantasy X is an excellent game... and unfortunately, the last truly essential, traditional Final Fantasy game.

Graphics : 8.8
Sound : 7.8
Playability : 9.7
Challenge : 9.0
Overall : 9.5


GameRankings: 91.84%

The first Final Fantasy game to spawn a direct sequel.

The last Final Fantasy game released with series creator, executive producer Hironobu Sakaguchi on Square's payroll. He worked on the sequel Final Fantasy X-2 in the same capacity, but left Square before its release, right after the company merged with Enix.

A large part of the dialogue was recorded without the voiceover actors even seeing footage of the game. They recorded most of the dialogue based on Japanese voice samples.

The first game since 1990's Final Fantasy III in which the playable characters don't have last names. "Ronso" is the name of Kimahri's tribe, not his last name per se.

The battle against Overdrive Sin and Yu Yevon is very reminiscent of the battle against Lavos and Lavos Core in Chrono Trigger

Tidus and Wakka make cameo appearances in the introductory level of Kingdom Hearts. Yuna and Rikku make their own in the middle of Kingdom Hearts II, as mischeavous fairies, but this appearance refers strictly to their very different roles in the sequel Final Fantasy X-2. Auron even becomes a temporary member of the party in the Colosseum stage in Kingdom Hearts II.

Tidus and Jecht are rivals in Square Enix's all-star anniversary game Dissidia - Final Fantasy, released on the PSP in 2008.

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