A Landmark. With Small Warts.
I originally saw FFX back when it came out in 2001. I never played through it completely myself, rather, I had just seen a friend play through good portions of it. Having finally played it cover to cover myself, I understand now what an achievement it was for its time, and what the couple of gripes were.
FFX is an absolute pillar of modern RPG graphics and presentation. When it came out, there hadn't been anything like this on consoles. The character models, environments, cutscenes, and CGI were all a full notch over anything else that had been done before, and still stand among the best on the console, despite coming out early in the cycle. Up until this point, games had required imagination to flesh out the characters and environments. For better or worse, imagination was no longer required; these places and people looked real, and that was a really big deal at the time.
The story itself is very good, very high level stuff. It is told through a highly focused, driven narrative. I really enjoyed the story and presentation. The cutscenes were great, well done, and well animated. The VA was very solid, with some small issues. Auron is a badass character. Really badass. Tidus is pretty whiny, but whininess and androgyny are just part of the deal when you're dealing with a mainstream JRPG. The story was intensely linear. Intensely. Quite intense. For me, that was okay. It was a design choice, consciously made, that allowed writers, developers, and artists to make it is great as possible for what is was. Some kind of sidequesting or something would've been nice, or backtracking, or really anything optional throughout the story. I understand what they were going for, but I also understand how some people might've been pissed that a game with a Final Fantasy name had no overworld or anything to do besides follow the red arrow.
The battle system was very solid if not amazing. It's a fast turn based system featuring three characters against the enemy and allows no time loss substitution. Summons are a new concept; rather than be a powerful attack as mostly utilized in previous entries, they now swap out the party for an aeon and let you mix up the fight a bit. These were mostly unnecessary, but ultimately interesting.
The downside of the battle system was the sphere grid. Imagine: leveling is gone from a JRPG! Instead, you're awarded points and can distribute these across skills and attributes to craft a diverse team the way you want, not just follow the scripted leveling and skills. That's not what this is; the sphere grid is everything mundane and linear about fixed character leveling, except you have to manually go in and go through a process to raise the skills every time, instead of having it done for you in the background. Granted, it's not entirely linear; you can bounce around to other areas of the grid periodically or unlock little special areas in the grid. This is a strong desire to mix it up and try something different that went awry. Not terribly, just a good bit awry.
The music of FFX is high level Nubuo Uematsu. This is not his greatest or necessarily the greatest VGM, but it's a very solid part of a great game. Everything is very solidly orchestrated, catchy, and appropriate to the easygoing, low tech world. On two notable occasions Uematsu gets on some drugs and channels his inner Rammstein. These were alright and conveyed some appropriate situational intensity, but some epicness a la FFVI would've been sufficient.
Overall: Excellent. There were definitely some opportunities for improvement here and there, but FFX is definitely a pillar game. The oddities and utter lack of side content during the main game bring this down a star for me, but I still loved it. Even Blitzball, a terrible minigame by most any standard, was for some reason mildly interesting to me. FFX of course has its spinoff game, but there should be a prequel or other spinoff where Auron goes around being awesome and saying awesome things to giant monsters. I realize that he appeared in Kingdom Hearts 2. That doesn't count, asshole.