Review: Final Fantasy X
Note: This is the tenth of a multi-part series featuring reviews of Final Fantasy games.
Forging a New Path for Final Fantasy
Perhaps a more pessimistic line would be "the Final Fantasy that killed the series", although that's not something I agree with. Why would I even bring that up, you ask? Well, Final Fantasy X, the first Final Fantasy to be released for the PlayStation 2, brings with it several new mechanics, conventions and storytelling methods that previous Final Fantasy games did not - or could not - use, but the series does use multiple times in later releases.
Its not so much what Final Fantasy X does, but what the game no longer does. This is the first Final Fantasy to not have a score solely composed by Nobuo Uematsu. This is the first Final Fantasy since Final Fantasy III to not use the Active Time Battle system. Its the first Final Fantasy to not use a standard overworld map. A lot of things people liked about Final Fantasies IV through IX are not present in X, nor are they present in games after X, which may be the cause of some of the ire towards this game in particular, being the first to discard many of the series' then-patented features.
One can debate about the quality of the later games, the ones that use many of the features Final Fantasy X first introduced, but for now we're looking solely at the quality of Final Fantasy X, not its legacy. Once you look just at Final Fantasy X on its own, disregarding the past, disregarding the future, one should find an excellent game to play.
The End of the Overworld
One of notable "ends" I mentioned earlier was the elimination of the overworld - the map encompassing the game's entire world featuring every locale the player could visit at one point or another. Instead, Final Fantasy X's world map takes the players in basically one single direction: north with a couple of offshoots here and there. For the first time in Final Fantasy, most areas the player goes through is rendered in full 3D. Without an overworld, players simply exit one area to go to the next area - every area is connected to one another in this way. Paths that wouldn't need to exit in older games, such as the Calm Roads or the path north of Luca, become sprawling areas of their own, full of side-quests and scenarios of their own.
When the player acquires their airship, obviously there isn't an overworld for the airship to fly through anymore. Instead, players can simply choose a destination from the menu and be instantly transported to a save spot in that area. It sort of ruins the feeling of adventure via the airship, but it's a minor gripe.
The Best Battle System in the Series
Yes, I mean that. Final Fantasy X ditches the Active Time Battle system present in the previous six Final Fantasy games and instead introduced the "Conditional Turn-Based Battle" system, or CTB for short. CTB sets up a graphic in the upper-right corner of the screen to detail turn order - this order is influenced by the speed of each character and enemy. Certain actions cause a player to lose or gain speed, affecting turn order but creating a lot of strategy in the process. Its a very fun system to work with, and its too bad it doesn't come back in any other Final Fantasy game.
Final Fantasy X also allow characters to switch in and out of battle at will. This makes all seven playable characters usable at once (well, not so much Kimarhi but that's a separate problem). Each character also has access to Limit Breaks, which work like Final Fantasy VII at first (get damaged, then get your Limit Break; though the game allows you to choose a different condition to acquire Limit Breaks later on), and also like Final Fantasy VIII (enter in commands in a limited time to make the Limit Break stronger). Like Final Fantasy VII, most character can upgrade or improve their Limit Break as the game progresses.
One character, Yuna, has an ability all to herself: the summon ability. She can summon a creature, known in this game as Aeons, and the Aeon will take the party's place in battle until it either wins, loses or is withdrawn. It, too, has a Limit Break feature and when its full the Aeon will have access to its ultimate attack, dealing tons of damage.
Every character starts off with a different set of abilities at first, but the game allows for tons of customization (especially later on) with its method of growth: the Sphere Grid. Traditional leveling up is once again gone: instead player gain experience which gives them "sphere levels", which they can then spend to traverse their sphere grids. The grid itself features multiple spaces to allow players to either learn new spells or abilities, or to increase their stats by a certain amount, just so long as they have an item with which to use on the space to acquire its ability or stats.
Every character is on the same sphere grid, but just in different spots. The grid is locked in several key places preventing characters from crossing over to different areas of the grid, at first. However, these locks can be broken with key items that allow the character to move into another character's portion of the sphere grid. At the game'e end, this can allow every character to become near-unstoppable if they have the chance to run through multiple character's grid sections, but it also means that every character has access to every other character's abilities and spells - save for Yuna's summon command which is unique to her.
In all, it makes for a very fun gameplay experience unlike any before it. Fighting with and developing each and every character is one of Final Fantasy X's biggest strengths.
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster (PS3) on Amazon
Final Fantasy X, like the three before it, includes plenty of minigames to enjoy. The biggest minigame the game features is the in-game world's favorite sport: Blitzball, a game where people basically play a handball/rugby mixup within an orb of water which they have no problem breathing in.
The game introduces you to Blitzball early on as you're forced to enter a Blitzball tournament. Each person in the minigame has their own set of stats that makes them best suited for a specific position, but also these stats affect how well they can defend against an attacker, how well an attack can either break through defenses or shoot, and how well a goalkeeper can defend against shots. Players can also learn trick shots or other abilities to aid them.
Still, the action basically boils down to you swimming around and either confronting the ball carrier or, as the ball carrier, using a set of menus to either defend, break the defenses, pass or shoot. The complexities of Blitzball put off many people but once you learn the game (and acquire members for your team who are actually pretty decent), the game can be a lot of fun.
As mentioned, Final Fantasy X features plenty of minigames. There's a chocobo racing game, a sidequest where you need to dodge the lightning in the Thunder Plains 200 consecutive times, a butterfly-catching minigame that's much harder than it should be, and a battle arena. A lot of these are necessary to complete in order to acquire Sigils, which unlocks characters' ultimate weapons to their maximum potential. Wakka's Sigil requires playing a TON of Blitzball - it doesn't even become available as a Blitzball league prize until you've played enough Blitzball to unlock all of Wakka's overdrives! So, if you don't like minigames, the idea of needing to play them to improve your equipment really must not sit well with you.
Some Things Don't Work Well with New Technology
Final Fantasy X's story on its own isn't too bad: a young man's town is destroyed by strange monsters and he himself is swept away to lands unknown, where he eventually learns of a young summoner whose mission is to seal away a demonic beast known as Sin and decides to accompany her on her journey.
The game features plenty of character development as the group learns about the secrets of the world and the true nature of Sin. Wakka, for instance, starts out as a devout follower of his faith but as he learns the truths behind his religion, his newfound doubts cause him to reconsider his path and beliefs. Tidus, an outsider to this world, often questions the roles and customs of it and challenges why things have to be as they are.
Its a moderately well-written story. The problem starts, though, with the game's presentation of the story. Remember that this is the first Final Fantasy for the PlayStation 2. Like how Final Fantasy VII was the first Final Fantasy for the PlayStation and it suffered from low-quality graphics as a result, Final Fantasy X has trouble telling its story on its new platform. This infamous scene from the game basically tells it all:
A Fine Moment of Storytelling
The game features lots of dialogue between characters that, when presented as static text in boxes, one wouldn't even think twice of questioning, but as fully voiced cutscene dialogues, it is very tough to sit through without wincing or cringing out of embarrassment. Its not even a matter of "poor English dubbing", the Japanese audio isn't any better. The original version of the game does not allow for cutscene skipping either (the International and HD Remaster versions do), so those playing the game, way back when, couldn't do anything to stop this madness other than leave the room.
The quality of these cutscenes really bog down the game's plot, especially when it attempts to develop the romance between Tidus and Yuna. Again, the game's overall plot is fine, if it were presented in an older style it'd probably receive top marks, but its presentation leaves a lot to be desired.
Where to Play Final Fantasy X (Outside of Japan)
Final Fantasy X
PAL regions received the version "Final Fantasy X International" which includes extra bosses and a different, optional sphere grid
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster
Comes with Internationl version bonuses, as well as Final Fantasy X-2; music was also remixed
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster
Same as PS3 version with slightly downgraded graphics; Final Fantasy X-2 HD does not come on disc
Graphics (by PS2 standards)
3/5 (main game)
Like Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VII before it, Final Fantasy X was the first Final Fantasy played by a lot of people and as a result there are a lot of people nowadays who look upon Final Fantasy X fondly, disregarding its few missteps.
Those missteps are indeed few and far between. The game's biggest problems come from its dialogue and cutscenes, and for some the minigames can be a hassle as well. Regardless, Final Fantasy X's many strengths, from its top-notch combat to its impressive audio, make it among the best games in the series. If you want to talk about things this game has brought about that later Final Fantasy games emulate, the "good gameplay, poor story" formula would be that, though Final Fantasy X's story isn't bad in of itself.
Yes, it is also sad that Final Fantasy X does away with so many series staples, hardly any of which have made a return since, but one's opinion of Final Fantasy X as a game should not be swayed by its impact or legacy. By itself, Final Fantasy X is a game deserving of its recognition and fame.