Final Fantasy X is a shining jewel in the long-running series.
Final Fantasy is, without a doubt, the most prestigious series in gaming. So, it’s no big surprise that Final Fantasy X was the most anticipated title worldwide when announced. The PS2 had its share of Japanese turn-based RPGs, but it came into its own with the release of FFX. With all of the hype surrounding it, could FFX possibly deliver an engaging, beautiful, and fun RPG? It should come as no surprise to anyone that it did. FFX is the pinnacle of the Final Fantasy franchise, and can stand tall on the shoulders of its great predecessors.
You start this particular story in the shoes of Tidus, an irrepressibly perky Blitzball star. While getting ready for a game, he finds that his city of Zanarkand is under attack by enemies unknown. The next thing he knows, he's washed up on a beach on the world of Spira. This kicks off his journey to uncover exactly what's happened, and to stop the beast Sin which plagues Spira. Tidus begins to understand what he's involved in, and questions how he can stop Sin once and for all when so many others have failed. While FFX does fall into the cliched RPG "young boy gets swept up in an adventure to save the world" plot, Final Fantasy X tells it well. Throughout the game, you'll pick up an interesting array of characters to join your party and set off to save the world. Ultimately, you're a bit of a motley crew, but one that gels and can work together. The story has a few surprises, and the ending is one of the best that I've seen in some time. However, the story is pretty linear, as is the story in most Final Fantasies, and there’s no world map to run around. You’ll find that you pretty much just move in a straight line from one locale to the next. Some open-endedness would have been nice.
The visuals in Final Fantasy X are a cut above just about every game made for the PS2 and complement the story well. Some Final Fantasies, like VII and VIII, have had dull and muted colors, but FFX is vibrant and lush. The world of Spira has a lot of lush jungles and bright characters, which shows through in every place you go and every person you meet. The characters are all realistically proportioned, and the same character model is used for cutscenes, traipsing about the map, and combat. That little touch brings a bit of cohesion to each of the different aspects of the game. The main party is all animated nicely, and I found that a lot of personality showed through in how their bodies moved when talking.
FFX's sound quality matches the high standard set by the visuals. FFX is the first game in the series that provides voice over for the main cast, and the voice acting is really good throughout. Yuna's delivery is a bit flat, but the rest of the crew lends a unique voice that really matches the characters. Wakka is my personal favorite, as he's voiced by the same actor that did Bender on Futurama. The score is on par with other RPGs as well. It's mostly sweeping orchestral themes, but there's a few tender songs as Yuna and Tidus begin to get closer. The sound effects are also well done, and combat effects like attacks and magic have a good amount of punch to them.
Combat in Final Fantasy X is as good as the rest of the game. The series' trademark Active Battle Timer has been scrapped, and battles are 100% turn-based. While this move may be surprising, it enhances combat dramatically. First, battles are much faster, since you do not need to wait for the Active Timer to fill before choosing an action. Also, you can apply a lot more strategy, as you're able to swap out characters on the fly to give you the right attacks against your enemies. For example, if you face off against flying creatures, you can swap in Yakka who is better able to hit flying enemies. Alternatively, you can bring in Lulu for a couple of turns to whittle down the health of a boss that's weak against certain magic. The double-edged sword of this system is that battles do get easy as you progress. Since you're always in a position to swap in the best matchup against your enemy, you'll be able to wipe out most baddies easily. The Limit Break system also makes a comeback, though it's called the Overdrive system. The Overdrive bar can fill up in different ways, such as by attacking, by taking damage, by casting healing spells, or by defeating an enemy. Once the bar is full, the character can unleash one of their Overdrive attacks. The neat twist on this attack is that it starts a character-specific minigame to pull off the attack. For instance, you'll need to spin the analog stick to power up Lulu's Overdrive, play slots to fire off Wakka's Overdrive attack, and hit a certain button series with Auron’s Overdrive.
Another change to the combat system surrounds the beasts that Yuna can summon. Summons used to be nothing more than a very powerful spell that you unleashed against your enemies. In FFX, a summoned monster basically acts like another party member. When Yuna summons one into battle, the party steps out and the summon takes over. There's about a dozen or so summons, each with their own magic, special skills, and Overdrive bar. By the end of the game, the summons are ridiculously overpowered, and their ultimate attacks can take out the strongest of enemies.
Post-battle, you'll acquire experience, but it takes a different form in FFX. Rather than just leveling up, your characters' skills and abilities are all represented on the Sphere Grid. This board contains nodes and links which you activate with the spheres you collect from enemies, quests, and treasure chests. Each node has different abilities, such as giving you HP, spells like Fira, skills like Steal, or stat boosts. The experience you gain from battles goes towards points that allow you to move across the board from node to node. This system gives you a lot of options for customizing each character. Want to make Yuna a White Mage/Thief? Want to make Rikku a heavy-damage dealing Fighter? Using the Sphere Grid, you'll be able to. Each character is able to level up certain skills more easily than others, but putting in the work will allow you to make any character whatever you want them to be.
Minigames have become a staple of the Final Fantasy series, and FFX is no different. The big minigame this time is Blitzball, the major sport of Spira. Blitzball is a combination of soccer and water polo, where teams of six move through an underwater arena, trying to shoot the ball into the opponents goal. After each game, your characters level up and you can win prizes by beating your opponent. Blitzball is pretty simplistic, but it does provide a good distraction from the main quest. Like combat, your team will become powerful quickly, making Blitzball really easy to win.
Overall, Final Fantasy X doesn't push the conventions of Square-Enix's long running series, but it's a shining example of how good an RPG can be when it’s executed well. FFX is absolutely gorgeous, has a very touching story, and keeps the action fun throughout. Final Fantasy X can be recommended to most gamers willing to put in the time it takes to finish the story and is one of the few RPGs that can be played repeatedly without it getting old.