It is agonizingly difficult for me to review a game such as this. Final Fantasy X simply defies easy summary, analysis, and categorization. Actually, scratch that: it nullifies the dictionary and invalidates the thesaurus. Honestly, a game like this needs to be experienced, no matter your stance on Square, turn based combat, or even role playing games in general. You can stop right there if you so desire, since chances are, I won't be able to convince you any further over the length of this self-indulgent review.
Sheesh. Where to begin? Final Fantasy X is a turn-based role playing game developed by Squaresoft for the PlayStation 2. Square have of course shaped a name for themselves as the connoisseurs of the role playing genre over the last couple of decades, and Final Fantasy X is a glittering textbook example of Square's craftmanship. Every element of excellence that defines the franchise is present here, from the memorable, emotionally charged storyline to the unfathomably impressive soundtrack; from the ostentatious art direction to the immaculate turn-based battle system.
Final Fantasy X tells the story of Tidus, a youthful, energetic soul dressed in utterly bizarre clothing, and his troupe of companions, including Auron, a stony-faced, mysterious sword fighter, Yuna, a fragile, beautiful summoner, Wakka, a friendly yet somewhat irritating blitzball player, Lulu, a controlled, businesslike magic user, Rikku, an overly hyperactive and almost intolerable teenager, and the completely emotionless Kimahri, who has little useful role in both the storyline and the overall gameplay. The characters are obviously very distinctive, and although the latter two are reasonably annoying for their own reasons, Final Fantasy X definitely features one of the finest character casts in video game history.
These seven adventurers are the individuals that you will become acquainted with over the course of the game's rather expansive 40-hour quest, and by the end of the game, you'll probably have a certain attachment to at least three of them. The game is set in the troubled world of Spira, and follows a rather traditional basic plotline of "only these seven people can save the world from devastation". However, the game's storyline features several brilliant twists and turns, interesting one-liners, and character development, resulting in a largely amazing work of fiction that is clearly head and shoulders above what you will find in almost every other video game. The game's conclusion is poignant and unforgettable, simultaneously providing a large sense of closure and an amazing amount of emotional climax. I daresay that regardless of how sensitive you are, there is a high chance that you will cry at the end of this game. I know I did.
The world of Spira is fairly varied and expansive, cleverly disguising the fact that Final Fantasy X is actually surprisingly linear. There is not much backtracking at all to be done in this game, and not much backtracking is even possible until things get slightly less claustrophobic near the end of the game. Nevertheless the game is so compelling that you'll never feel the urge to backtrack; a more common craving is to continue on, just to the next cutscene, or the next boss battle, anything to discover more about the storyline.
The battles in this game are of course turn-based, and the battle system is fine-tuned to a point where there's hard to find fault with any element of it. As per usual, your three characters will stand in a line facing a line of enemies, and you'll simply attack each other in a variety of ways until you win or lose. Of course, there are interesting factors thrown in for an extra level of intensity and strategy; magic, overdrives (an incredibly powerful special attack that is hard to come by) and aeons, which are basically best described as giant Pokemon that Yuna summon during battle. The series probably has the greatest turn-based battle systems in the world of video games, and if I'm not mistaken, Final Fantasy X is a perfect example of that.
There are no glaring flaws in this game; however, there are several small elements of the game that I feel the need to address. Just to nitpick, you know? First off, Final Fantasy X has an excruciatingly slow and confusing beginning, which initially put me off. Thankfully I gained enough motivation to continue forward through the treacle of the opening and into the wide expanse of brilliance that dominates the other 37 hours of the game, although I'm betting a few players will have just abandoned this game right there.
Another personal infuriation of mine was the sometimes gruelling difficulty of the game. It's not horrendously challenging, but sometimes I felt the game was being plain unfair. Maybe it's because I'm not a hardcore RPG player, but I find it extremely annoying when three extremely fast enemies Ambush me (so that they all attack first) and make my entire party confused, resulting in my party killing each other before I even get a turn of play. The boss battles in the game, however, are pleasantly challenging when you figure out a solid strategy, and beating each successive boss fills you with such a sense of euphoria and accomplishment that it's hard to believe you were ever angry at them in the first place.
The puzzle elements in the game aren't quite as fulfilling as I would have liked them to be, either. Yuna's pilgrimage through Spira requires her to visit a series of temples, each with their own puzzle inside. These puzzles are quite redundant and irritating, since they all revolve around putting spheres into corresponding holes, which is personally not my idea of fun. The first time around it might have been quite enjoyable, but in the end it just seems somewhat uninspired and trite. I'm fairly sure the brains at Square could have done better in this department.
Although, yes, I'm just nitpicking.
Anyway, Square do an exceptional job on the visual and aural side of things. Final Fantasy showcases some of the most inspired art direction I have ever seen in a video game. Spira is genuinely beautiful, even on the PlayStation 2 in 2008. The environments have a certain magical elegance about them that few other developers know how to bring to life. On top of that, the characters are extremely distinguished, and although their fashion sense is probably questionable, they are still undeniably some of the coolest heroes I've ever laid eyes on. The cutscenes in the game, too, are absolutely jaw-dropping. They are few and far between, but when the CGI cutscenes come around, they are really something special, particularly towards the end of the game.
And, inevitably, Nobuo Uematsu and friends deliver on the soundtrack. Nobuo's renown and prestige within the videogaming world in regard to audio and music is incontestible, and Final Fantasy X is a shining beacon of his brilliance. The game is absolutely bursting with some of the most consistently creative tunes I have ever heard, not just in the gaming world, but in absolutely any entertainment medium. I'm sure that years from now I will look back on this soundtrack and receive such a fragrant scent of nostalgia that I'll simply have to play this game again, just because of the merits of its music. The theme song of the game has one of the most beautiful melodies I have ever heard, and there are countless other infectious original pieces peppering the game. Even the battle theme, which grates in almost every single role playing game (since you hear it about a thousand times) doesn't seem to get old; a feat that not even Pokemon can boast of.
The voice overs in the game seem to be a cause for concern for many people, but not for me. I found the voice overs to really fit the character designs, and although there were several instances of bad dialogue, that's mainly because of the script and the translation from Japanese, not because of the voice actors themselves. There's plenty of talent in the acting here.
And with that... I guess I have overcome the agonizing difficulty of reviewing a game such as this, although I am not sure if I have even came close to doing this game justice. This game is, bluntly, a work of art. It's a masterwork. It's absolutely miles above 95% of every other game I've ever played in terms of storytelling, art direction, and musical score, and that in itself makes for an unbelievably compelling experience, despite the fact that the game occasionally stumbles in other areas. I wholeheartedly recommend this transcendental masterpiece of a game, if only so you can sit there on your bed at 3am, controller abandoned on the floor, tears flowing freely down your face, credits rolling, with the realization that you have just finished one of the greatest experiences videogaming has to offer.