A Marvel in RPG History
Final Fantasy X is the tenth instalment of Square's highly regarded RPG series and it was the first to be released on the Playstation 2. As with every new game of the franchise, FFX features a completely new setting, story and cast of characters.
Main protagonist of the game is Tidus, star player of the blitzball team Zanarkand Apes, who sees his world destroyed by a giant tidal wave that seems to swallow the whole city of Zanarkand. Trying to escape, he teams up with his mentor Auron, who has been Tidus' only father figure ever since his old man Jecht disappeared several years ago. The follwing fights against a giant monster serves as a tutorial into the basics of the combat system, which is completely turn-based. However, your actions and stats affect the queue in which actions are taken. Whether you attack normally, use magic, special abilities or items can lead to additional hits before the enemy can make his move and makes battles very strategic. Tidus and Auron fight hard against the offspring of the being Auron calls "Sin", but are ultimately swallowed and literally washed away.
The world of Spira is equally terrorized by Sin, mankind's punishment for a war that destroyed the city of Zanarkand a thousand years ago. It is the task of the summoners to head on a pilgrimage to all the temples of Spira to prove worthy of the final aeon, a being so powerful it can destroy "Sin" and bring the Calm, a short period of peace until Sin is reborn. The young lady Yuna is the daughter of the last summoner to defeat "Sin" ten years ago and was about to leave the isle of Besaid with her guardians Lulu and Wakka when a young stranger is swept up, who claims to be from the city that laid in ruins for a thousand years. That man is of course Tidus who suddenly finds himself in a land unknown but joins the summoner on her journey that will lead them to the ruins of Zanarkand. Along the way, he grows closer to his companions, finds new allies and will discover the truth about Sin, Zanarkand and his very own existence.
As with all the Final Fantasy games, the gameplay is very story-driven and consists of not just the straight travels from temple to temple as you would expect. Many interesting and tragical things happen during your travels and force you to take unexpected paths. You will often encounter random battles and boss battles which take place in arenas designed to fit the theme of the location you're currently in. One main difference between FFX's combat system and that of previous instalments of the series is the fact that you can exchange party members during battle. This is necessary because of the game's level up system called the sphere grid, a giant board with several hundred connected nodes. Characters start at different positions on that board and can move from node to node by using AP gained after battles. These nodes increase different stats of a character like HP, MP, Attack, Defence, Agility, Magic, etc as soon as they are unlocked by that character using corresponding spheres found in battle or treasure chests. Due to the positioning of these stat nodes, some characters will naturally strike with more force while casually miss more agile enemies. Another good example is Lulu, whose natural path follows several nodes with black magic spells and will therefore be needed to defeat foes with high defence but weakness against elemental damage. In time (and long grinding), all characters can get equally powerful at everything, but this will take you far beyond the story.
Yuna is the character that stands out as she is the only one able to summon the many aeons achieved throughout the game (up to 10, although the Magus Sisters always fight together as a trio). After an impressive summoning sequence, the complete party will leave the battlefield and the aeon will fight alone. You can assign various commands and in time, teach them new ones. When an aeon dies or is told to retreat manually, the battle continues with your normal party. The game clocks in at about 40 hours for the story, but FFX features many additional side quests that can easily push the game to 150 hours and more. The international version of the game (released in PAL regions and re-released in Japan) features even more content in the dark aeons and the sheer unkillable Penance with its 12'000'000 HP (yes, that's a lot).
Graphically, FFX was one of the best-looking games of its release year and still holds up excellently, especially considering the PS2's weaker hardware compared to other current-gen consoles. Everything is rendered in full 3D as opposed to the PSOne's Final Fantasy games (let alone earlier episodes of the franchise). Locations range rom island settings, to enchanted forests, wide plains, large cities, mountain trails and of course, the ruins of Zanarkand. Characters are very detailed, although the less important characters fall somewhat flat compared to the main characters. There are also several levels of rendering detail depending on the scenes and close up shots of the lower poly-count models look a bit outdated nowadays.
Additionally, FFX again features some of the best CG sequences seen in video gaming, used to make several scenes especially memorable.
FFX is also the first game of the series to feature voice acting and does a fairly good job at it. Although some people don't like some of the voices used, they match the characters and make them very expressive and emotional. The musical score of the game is at very high level and can easily compete with its predecessors (which are always considered among the best). All the background songs create an excellent atmosphere and are beautiful to listen to outside of the game as well. The song contributed by Nobuo Uematsu and performed by Japanese singer Rikki called "Suteki Da Ne" stands out the most and is actually played from start to end during an escpecially touching CG sequence in the middle of the game.
With a current save game at 170 hours after several finished story-replays, Final Fantasy X is easily the PS2 game I spent the most time with and not a single second feels wasted. That said, it's one of the most impressive RPGs of its console generation and well worth a try.