Game Description: Final Fantasy X is the first title in this landmark RPG series to be released for the PlayStation2. The main characters are Tidus, a star of blitzball (a hugely popular sport in the Final Fantasy universe), and Yuna, who has learned the art of summoning and controlling aeons, powerful spirits of yore. These two people of different backgrounds must work together as they journey through the world of Spira. This installment of Final Fantasy has a distinctly Asian influence, bringing a fresh feel to the characters, music, settings, and story. Features include voice-overs for the first time in the series (utilizing the Facial Motion System), high-polygon, motion-captured player characters designed by Tetsuya Nomura, and a camera that automatically adjusts its perspective to correspond with the movements of the characters—a feature now possible because the game is largely polygonal.
Religion, nowadays, seems more like a state of mind than a way of life. If given the choice between worshiping a holy figure and a television set, the latter will be my answer. While this may seem incredibly cynical, it might also represent the mainstream attitude. This gives a good idea of why this subject is so under exploited in the gaming industry. Yet one developer in particular, Squaresoft, saw potential where no one else could and incorporated the idea of religion into their flagship title for Playstation 2, Final Fantasy X (FFX). However, this game does not present religion under its best image. Instead, it casts some of its most negative aspects under the spotlight, as would guests of the "Ricky Lake Show," washing their dirty laundry in public. To add to this already volatile situation, FFX contrasts this aspect of religion with a protagonist who sees no use in any form of belief. By "digging up the dirt" concerning religion and clashing it against modern day mentality, Squaresoft offers one of its most appealing and addictive stories ever in a Final Fantasy game.
FFXs main plot deals with Tidus, who has been hurled a thousand years into the future and seeks to understand what has happened to his homeland, which now seems to lie in ruins. On his quest he joins Yuna, a young summoner who must go on a pilgrimage to acquire the help of what could be described as spirits, known in this game as "fayths." With their assistance, she hopes to rid the world of Sin, a mysterious entity that leaves nothing but death and destruction in its wake. What is truly amazing is how this games story reflects a satirical view of our societys understanding of religion during Renaissance and medieval times. From the clergys intentional prevention of technological and scientific advances to the corruption that could be found at the root of the religious order (without forgetting the crusaders, whose every act—whether moral or immoral—was justified in the name of their beliefs), FFX gives us an idea of how a person with a 21st century mentality would view a world dominated by religion. The Al-Bhed, one of FFXs many diverse races, prefer to put their trust in technology rather than "Yevon," the deity upon whom the whole religious order is founded. For this reason, the rest of society despises them, accusing them of leading a sacrilegious way of life and usually using them as scapegoats for anything that goes wrong in the world. "Youre either with us or against us" as the saying goes.
This game offers everything expected to be associated with religion. Maesters, also known as priests; warrior monks, designed to look more like firefighters than anything else; and sacred temples, created in full 3-D environments (as are most areas in the game), are but examples of these elements. While this is a good effort at truly pushing the series into the third dimension, two features seem to have been neglected—the first being a function or button that would allow the player to control the camera. Frustration can arise easily in areas where this same camera presents itself in awkward angles, making it very difficult to make heads or tails of the surroundings. The other is the use of a first-person view. While not being essential to the game itself, it would still have added to the realism to be able to contemplate the 3-D world from Tiduss point of view.
The gameplay remains true to the Final Fantasy formula, offering players the traditional turn based battle system (where every character and enemy waits for their turn in order to perform an action), and players can choose from a large arsenal of spells and weapons, each bearing unique properties. However, most features involved now seem to revolve around the games main theme. For example, through the use of a system called the "Sphere Grid," characters can increase their strengths, learn magic and acquire special abilities to be used in battles such as a sleep attack or, believe or not, an ability called "Pray". Certain weapons now possess names with theological significance, such as the Nirvana, Judgement or Apocalypse. Another religious reference can be found in summons, who are creatures a characters can call upon for help in a battle, which are now viewed as sacred spirits, on a holy mission to help their summoner defeat Sin.
Sound has also been influenced by religion. The theme heard in the interior of sacred temples throughout the land can only be described as some sort of religious hymn, similar to a Gregorian chant in a church, tailor made for the game. The first full-motion video in the game also offers something unheard of in a Final Fantasy title—a metal-style song. Unfortunately, it is the only song of the sort in the game even though there is still more than enough to be impressed with when listening to all the themes FFX has.
Many would qualify FFX as being flawless. Personally, I dont believe any game can bear that quality. Flaws are part of every game and we either learn to gradually accept them or we reject the game they are part of altogether. Squaresofts newest addition to its Final Fantasy line is no exception. Newcomers to the role-playing (RPG) genre might easily shy away from this title, as its beginning will tend to leave the player feeling like Tidus, lost and disoriented. However, the most annoying aspect of this game can be summed up in a classic line often said by parents at the beginning of long road trips: "You better go now before we leave because were not stopping until we get there". Ladies and gentlemen, this game is as linear as they get. The earlier titles allowed for exploration most of the time but FFX forces the player to stay on the right path until the very end. Only then is he given the choice to proceed to the final showdown or take the time to explore. Of course, once you get to that point, theres plenty of exploring to do; items to acquire and side quests to complete but much of this could have been introduced earlier in the game. This title also removed the traditional world map over which the character could walk and instead replaces it with a single image where coordinates designate locations. Unless you can decipher the passwords that give the exact coordinates, finding secret locations on the map has now become similar to playing darts blindfolded. While I welcome most of the new features found in the game, this new style for the world map proves that not every change is for the best.
FFX is a game that should be viewed as a pioneer. Not only is it the first Final Fantasy title to be created for the Playstation 2, but it dares to offer something most games would not: a story built around an unconventional theme. Granted, some aspects should be reworked for the next sequel (mainly the camera system). However, concerning the story, Squaresoft shows one its strong points once again, drawing the player using something which, ironically enough, doesnt seem to be anyones focus of attention anymore. If researched correctly, religion can represent a vast resource of inspiration and knowledge. The research was obviously done for FFX, as religious references from around the world can be found throughout the adventure, whether it be the Crusades from Medieval times or the Churchs determination to have Galileo refute his radically new scientific theories to name a few. With any luck, this game could be an icebreaker, paving the way for other titles to take advantage of this much under-exploited theme.
When I heard the inevitable announcement of FFX, I expected yet another entry into the Final Fantasy series; more of the same, with a few tweaks to the magic/battle/level system and a different story. It has worked in the past, so I remained optimistic. Now that I've played it, I can say I was right—FFX is more of the same. No surprises here. But I think I've grown tired of the predictable formula. There isn't another genre so full of clones and uninspired rehashes than the role-playing game, and the Final Fantasy series has finally lost its status as the exception.
FFX does have some good points, mainly its extremely solid art direction created by some of the industry's top talent. This is Squaresoft after all. Even games I didn't enjoy from the software developer have production values that go above and beyond the average game. Square does not skimp when it comes to the look of their games, and all the creative minds that work there should be applauded—the main reason why I couldn't bring myself to score the game any lower.
Besides the graphics, what really seperates FFX from any other entry in the Final Fantasy world? Admittedly, not much. And therein lies the real problem with the Final Fantasy series as a whole—it's become akin to beating a dead horse. It's starting to remind me of the Friday the 13th movies. Sure, the movies were great slasher fun when I was a kid, and the few afterwards still held my interest, but things basically got old and I never saw any of them past Part 3. Does the presence of new protaganists and new locations magically make the next movie in the series feel original? The average consumer of entertainment constantly seeks out new and unique experiences to stimulate the imagination and bring a little excitement into their lives, which is why those later Friday the 13th movies bombed and why the Final Fantasy series is starting to lose its luster.
As far as the religious message in FFX, it's handled with kid-safe gloves (I'm sure one reason for this was to avoid the game being branded with that 'M' on the case). The absolute intolerance of others that was present in History's darker times of religious fervor does not exist in FFX. Yevon shares elements with and drew inspiration from...an underwater polo game? Definitely not the makings of controversy. Sure, the Al Bhed are viewed as heathens by the followers of Yevon, but that doesn't stop the faithful from travelling with the heretics. Nor does it stop the Al Bhed from entering Yevon's sacred temples. Tolerance is liberally spread throughout the world of Spira, without a hint of the blind hate and senseless murder that made times such as the Middle Ages infamous.
I also think there are quite a few role-playing games that have already dealt with the subject of religion, some are even past Final Fantasy titles. Xenogears, Grandia II and Final Fantasy Tactics, just to name a few. I do agree with Jon that religion is a great subject matter on which to build a deep, thought provoking game, but even after playing FFX, I have yet to see any video game really tackle religion with the seriousness the topic demands. I can not share in the sentiment that FFX is a "pioneer" of the subject matter.
Even though FFX fell victim to the series' worst traits--predictability, lack of innovation, random battles—its absolute worst fault, and a first for the series, is something Jon already talked about; the absence of a world map. What made Final Fantasy games so great in the past was the sense of adventure and the exploration possibilities that the world map afforded to the player. Now that it's gone, FFX is simply transformed into a mundane linear quest. I fail to see the logic in ommiting this important part to these games.
Over all, FFX was a huge let down and reminded me that the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is not always true. Considering that Square is creating the next installation of the series to be playable online only, maybe FFX truly represents the final Fantasy. Call me a heretic, but I won't be sad to see it go.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood, Violence
Parents should know that although this game contains nothing that would make it inappropriate for children, the content is still aimed at a teen audience. Aside from a few provocative character designs, the title appears to be relatively clean.
Final Fantasy fans will definitely want to get their hands on this title. The combination of next-generation video game technology with an incredible story and redesigned gameplay gives us one of Squaresofts best games in the series.
Newcomers to the RPG genre might shy away from it however, seeing as how the beginning seems to alienate the player instead of drawing him in. Having voice acting in the game probably explains why the language has been cleaned up in comparison with other Final Fantasy titles. With this game, Squaresoft has created a masterpiece that deserves a look from anyone who owns a Playstation 2.
Unfortunately for Gamecube/Xbox owners, Final Fantasy X can only be found, at the moment, on the Playstation 2.
HIGH The point in the story about four-fifths of the way through, wherein the characters all abandon their misguided faith and fight for what's right instead.
LOW Having to level up for three hours in order to defeat the final boss.
WTF The rock track "Other World" that plays during the final boss fight. Very strange for a fantasy game.
My experience with Final Fantasy X (FFX) has been a long and baffling one. Here is a game that tells an undeniably wonderful story, features a battle system that is fun and intelligent, and that manages to suck you in and involve you in a way that only the best games can. And yet, at the end of the day, I must say, I was disappointed. Frustrating design decisions and rubbish side quests leave FFX seeming like a rough, dented gem and a game that, while great, never quite delivers on the perfection it promises.
I’ve only played one other Final Fantasy, that being FFVI, and from what I can tell, the franchise didn’t change very much in the nine years between the two releases. A mysterious and magical female character, a gang of unlikely heroes teaming up to beat evil, swathes of random battles to tick you off time and time again… been there, done that! However, whilst the core concepts remain for FFX, it seems that for this installment the actual RPG gameplay has taken a major backseat to the narrative, the latter standing as the biggest and best aspect of the game’s makeup.
So, why don’t we chat about that first? The plotline focuses on a blond teenager by the name of Tidus, who finds himself inexplicably transported to the mysterious fantasy world of Spira, with no clue of how he arrived or what to do next. Slowly, Tidus makes his acquaintance with those who will soon become the members of his party: Yuna, a summoner on a quest to rid Spira of a destructive monster, Wakka, Yuna’s bodyguard and all around nice guy, Lulu, a dismissive black mage, and other equally endearing characters. Tidus sets out with this ragtag group of pilgrims, pledging to serve and protect Yuna on her quest, whilst trying to solve the mystery of his arrival in Spira and find a way back home in the meantime.
OK, so it might sound like typical fantasy wankery when written in a game review, but the fact of the matter is that this tale is one you absolutely need to experience. Compelling, emotional and well-paced (well, until a certain point), featuring a cast of characters that manage to rise above being meagre avatars and become real friends, it’s clear that substantial time and effort have gone into the narrative’s creation and execution. There are a variety of little storytelling tricks used to pull the player in, such as voiceovers, flashbacks and flashforwards, and though these would seem quite jarring and amateurish in a film (a flashback is always accompanied by a fade to white and a ‘woosh’ sound, for example), in FFX, these techniques come across as genuine attempts to inject some subtlety and expositional panache into a medium which rarely experiments with either.
That said, the story possesses a few expositional hiccups, some minor, some major. Occasionally characters react strangely to situations, speaking dialogue that doesn't really work in conjunction with the current event, or responding to a situation in a totally unbelievable manner. Darn Japanese translation, eh? Also, there are a few intriguing questions raised that are never satisfactorily answered. The game also chooses to throw a whole new villain and a significant character development into the mix right before the end, with no build up and woefully inadequate explanations. Perhaps the nerds on gamefaqs.com/ffx were able to piece together enough of the sporadic explanatory dialogue to figure out what the hell was going on, but for me, these developments didn’t make a wink of sense come the ending. Such niggles do sour the experience a teensy bit, but nevertheless the story remains the game’s shining beacon, and is something that I don’t think I’ll be forgetting any time soon.
Being an RPG, the crux of FFX’s gameplay comes from smacking down baddies in self-contained battle screens, all to a repetitious battle theme. Are the battles any fun this time around? Yes. Very. Squaresoft, probably taking dares from other drunken Japanese businessmen at the time, decided to implement a turn-based battle system for FFX, and the result is a set-up that finally gives you the time to take a break and analyse your options, in order to formulate the best possible strategy for your battle. While the pace is a teensy bit slower now, the turn-based system is still a much better alternative to the Active-Time Battles of old, which invariably forced me to go straight for the strongest attack every turn because I just had no time to consider any other strategies. And besides, the battles are always great fun, and this is the most important thing (after keeping yourself alive and breathing, of course).
Not as fun, however, is the random nature of these battles. Whilst not a deal-breaker, the use of random battles in FFX occasionally make it seriously unpleasant to play. OK, so most of the time the developers skilfully manage to balance its random battle sections with cut-scenes or other such enjoyable rewards, but there are occasions when the game takes the former too far. Every three hours or so, it puts its foot down and firmly tells you, “Now it is time for random battles. You are to trek across a big expansive area, enduring the aforementioned random battles, with no savepoints until you reach the end. We hope you like hearing Uematsu’s battle theme 50 times. GO.”
I got serious headaches from these sections of the game, because I kept playing for well over what my body could endure, hanging on for a savepoint that simply wouldn’t come. I will never forget the instance where, having valiantly fought over a dozen random battles and found all of the area’s items (forcing me to take more steps and thus fight more random battles) for about forty minutes, I died. My zen abilities allowed to control any external outbursts, but, deep inside, I was absolutely furious. The hell if I was going to play this game anymore! All Squaresoft needed to do was add just one more savepoint in these expansive sections, and such nonsense would never had to have been endured. A shame.
In the end, I did continue playing the game, despite my frustration. I think one of the reasons why I did, and something which is worth mentioning, was the fantastic and mesmerising world the game offered me. I don’t know bully about world design or character design or what have you, but FFX’s Spira is a wonderfully realised fantasy location, packed with natural wonders, magical spirits and towns brimming with life. The colours, the scenery, the sparkles, the music…it all adds up to a living, breathing world that just seems like such a feast for the senses. For me, it’s nice to know that, inside my little FFX: International Edition game disc, lies the amazing world of Spira.
With regards to length, make no mistake, FFX is BIG. The main game took me roughly 50 hours to finish, and beyond that, there are a ton of things to do after having slayed the final boss. Unfortunately, there is little incentive for any normal player to actually do any of them. Why? Anecdote time! In order to acquire one of the secret summons available in the endgame, I was told me I needed to solve a puzzle in every one of the game's temples that I’d visited thus far. Fair enough. Only problem is that these temples are guarded by almost sexually difficult Dark Summons, that have insane amounts of HP and inflict 99,999 damage with every hit. Apparently, in order to beat these horrors of unfair game design, I needed to acquire every character’s secret weapon, but the rub is that, strangely enough, the only way to get these weapons is to defeat the Dark Summons! The endgame portion of FFX demands dedication but simply isn’t any fun, so only obsessive maniacs will be bothered enough to persist.
So, there are strong goods, and strong bads, and my enjoyment of FFX during the last few weeks depended on precisely which of the two categories I was exposed to at any given time. My opinions were flip-flopping all over the place, but, in the end, I have accepted that the game has acted as a dear friend to me for over a month, and a hated enemy for only several sporadic days. Overall, the goodness comes out on top, and Final Fantasy X will stand out in my memory as an epic, touching masterpiece, hindered, but never stopped, by its various design issues and flaws.
–By Ronnen Leizerovitz
Disclosures: Final Fantasy X: International Edition, a version available only in PAL territories and Japan, was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the PS2. Approximately 55 hours of play was devoted to the main quest and side-missions.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and violence. Though the ESRB claims that FFX features "blood," from what I have seen, there is almost no blood in game at all. That said, there are some moments that are very intense and dark in tone, and these may be scary for younger children.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The game offers subtitles for every word of dialogue and there are no major instances where sound influences the ability to play the game.