Delightful storytelling coupled with a thoughtful battle system.
Have you ever wanted to play a role-playing game that was so linear it was almost free of hang-ups all together, but still managed to support an entertaining balance of cutscenes and gameplay? If so, you’ll applaud Final Fantasy X for doing what it does, which is simply cutting loose a bunch of dead weight that usually appears in games of its type as convoluted and ultimately boring fetch quests that draw away from the narrative. Because of this choice, the game lacks some difficulty but the story flows seamlessly from one area to the next. In addition to this, the slick production values and relatively dynamic characters create a blend of video game entertainment that really pushes for the suspension of your disbelief.
Final Fantasy X chooses to forego the route of the silent protagonist and puts the player in control of a relatively chatty one instead. He has certainly earned the right to act that way, though. One might have some questions after being suddenly and inexplicably torn from the high life as a star athlete in a world filled with futuristic bright lights and industry and transported, by some mysterious gargantuan beast, into its strange counterpart where people live their lives in ramshackle hut fishing towns cowering in fear of that very same monster. Despite the circumstances being stacked against him, our protagonist finds a temporary home among some charitable people who happen to be on a religious pilgrimage to defeat this oppressive creature – Sin. A few hours into the game, a cornucopia of things about the world of Spira, why our main character is there and the people he is traveling with remain unexplained. As the game continues, things gradually become clearer and the plot unravels at an addictive pace until the perhaps unwanted credits roll. Aside from the main storyline, FFX deals with things like love, loss, religion and racism. These themes neither heavy nor symbolic, but are, nonetheless, present and help fill out the characters.
The game’s graphical aesthetics could be described as cheery. Final Fantasy X is not afraid to use color. The areas traversed on the journey don’t push any boundaries, but the tropical islands, snowy peaks and dune-y deserts look smart and like they belong together in a cohesive universe. The same applies to most of the encountered enemies, with the occasional interesting standout. The important characters are each unique in design (as well as in battle, but that’ll be discussed later) and the presence “real-time facial expressions” is appreciated. Of course, the pre-rendered videos look stunning and altogether, it looks artistically as well as technically impressive for an early PlayStation 2 title. Musically present are what one would expect from a Japanese RPG: lush, cinematic pieces with some rockin’ battle music and emotional piano. Once again, these might not be found mind-blowing, but quite satisfactory. Rising above the music is the strong voice acting. Although voice acting in video games has come quite a distance since 2001 and it would be ridiculous compare FFX to the latest Grand Theft Auto or Metal Gear, the performances given for this game are fairly believable and help carry the storytelling.
Exploring the map is standard fair. There are areas to be traveled and the player moves around in a third person perspective talking to people and doin’ stuff. There is a mini-map in the top right with directions that streamline the overworld process. Inside some of Final Fantasy X’s dungeon areas are puzzles, which involve the movement of spheres from one sphere-shaped slot to another. Focus on these puzzles is just enough so that they are a memorable part of the game, but never boring. The game provides an interesting take on the traditional turn-based battle system. All of the characters have an important role that they grow into as they acquire more exclusive techniques and any party member can be switched out for a different one at the beginning of their turn without penalty. Every character having their own useful (and often near essential) abilities and the player having a way to realistically apply them with on-the-fly swapping add flavor to the mundane loop of button presses that makes up an average battle system in an RPG and certainly keep in line with the game’s motif of avoiding filler. FFX abolishes waiting for any attack meters to fill up in lieu of a turn order list placed on the right of the screen. It tells the player, plain and simple, who (friend or foe) attacks when. This order can, of course, be altered by choices made or magic used. The game’s way of awarding experience attempts to stray from convention. All stats and techniques are gained by use of the Sphere Grid: a track with alternate paths. Spheres (items) and sphere levels (experience) are acquired through battle and are used to move along said track and to improve characters as progression is made. It’s slightly more open-ended than a typical experience system and, like the battle system, gives more choices to the player. Gear, which is less exciting and a smaller part of the game, offers customization as well in the form of extra modifiers that can be added.
Final Fantasy X knows what it is and places partitions between its gameplay types. Walking around the overworld is directed with few inhibitions, puzzles are limited to dungeons and areas with enemies are clearly defined. If you don’t mind a lot of handholding where it doesn’t affect the experience and a lot of choice where it does, FFX might be suited for your enjoyment. If it suits your enjoyment, then suit up and enjoy a solid 30 excellent, eventful hours of role-playing, perhaps even more if you dabble in sidequests or the fictional, underwater sport of Blitzball.