Final Fantasy X
by Sony Computer Entertainment
The Final Fantasy series is without a doubt the finest series in computer/video game history. Unusually for a series, the story of each episode has no connection with the other episodes. The connecting factor between the self-contained episodes are its gameplay elements such as it's battle system, the mini-games and characters that somehow appear in these different worlds such as the Chocobos. However with Final Fantasy X a few modifications have been made and miraculously they actually improve the series.
You play as Tidus, a Blitzball player from Zanarkand. Whilst playing a Blitzball game your world comes under attack. Mass destruction ensues and through the help of Auron, Tidus is plucked from Zanarkand and placed in the world of Spira. Spira isn't without it's problems and is continually under attack from an evil entity that goes by the name of Sin. No matter where you go in Spira there is no escape from the grip of Sin and various huge battles with Sinspawn, the offshoots of Sin, await you.
Of course being a Final Fantasy game the story line is a lot more complex and the main aim of getting Tidus back to Zanarkand is just a small part of the story. As well as helping to fight Sin in Spira, Tidus is also alarmed when the summoner, Yuna, tells him of her father's guardian, Jecht. To Tidus the description of Jecht sounds just like his father who is also called Jecht. Yuna describes the appearance of Jecht and some of his Blitzball moves and it leaves Tidus almost certain that the Jecht that Yuna describes is indeed his father. However as far as Tidus knows his father died ten years before his coming to Spira. To make matters more confusing the natives of Spira reckon that Zanarkand was destroyed over a thousand years ago. It is fair to say that the story line has it's fair share of twists and turns and at no point does the game ever become predictable.
If you've played any of the previous Final Fantasy games then you'll be accustomed to the Active Time Battle (ATB) system. For Final Fantasy X this has been replaced by a more straight forward turn-based system. This is a minor change but one that I personally find a good one. For those coming to the Final Fantasy series for the first time, it is less confusing than the ATB system. Another new feature to the battles is Overdrive. At the beginning the Overdrive gauge fills up when your character takes damage. When the gauge is full then the Overdrive option becomes available. Pressing the left button on the directional pad will allow you to use these special, more powerful attacks.
Despite the amount of characters that are in your party you will only be able to take 3 into battle at any one time. The good news is that you can switch the characters in and out of battle at any time, by the use of the L1 button. This adds a strategical depth to the combat and you'll need to choose the right character for the right enemy. Wakka is strong against flying enemies whilst Tidus is good against ground based, non-magical enemies. If you have a elemental enemy then it is a good idea to use Lulu's appropriate elemental attack. Yuna can summon Aeons such as Valefor and Shiva. These Aeons are incredibly powerful beasts that can fight on your behalf. If one of your characters has an appropriate weapon then you will also see an auto ability sensor on screen that tells you what elements the enemy is weak or resistant to. There is also a CTB window onscreen during battles. This simply tells you the order of attack, who is attacking and in what order, for me this could have been left out as it doesn't really serve any purpose except for the fact that you could argue that it helps you to decide if it is right to put your character on defensive stance, by use of the triangle button, because it enables you to see which enemy could be attacking him/her.
For those of you who are new to the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy X is definitely the best one to buy as a first title. Having played FFVII, FFVIII and FFIX I can honestly say that this is the best one as an introduction to the series. Everything in the game is explained in great detail and made crystal clear. When you go in to battle all the subtleties are explained. Some of the enemies are element based and you are advised of what attacks to use. For those old hands amongst you, you can turn off this help in the options menu.
Final Fantasy X is more linear than its prequels. The prequels were far more open in that you could go where you wanted when you wanted, for the most part anyway. In Final Fantasy X you are forced to follow the story in strict order. A radar is onscreen and a red triangle highlights where you should be moving too. This may sound a bit restrictive but in actual fact it gives the game a lot more direction and keeps the story flowing. This linearity will also appeal to beginners because it offers little chance to get lost.
The established levelling-up method has also be done away with. A sphere grid system is in it's place and thankfully it works rather well. After a battle you are awarded points and when you've accumulated enough you be able to move on the grid. The sphere grid is collection of nodes that are connected by a specific path. Most of the nodes have abilities that can be learned, when used. To use a node you have to activate it. Activation is done with the use of a particular sphere. The types of sphere are Power Sphere, Mana Sphere, Speed Sphere and Ability Sphere. The spheres are usually collected after each battle. The grid for each character is unique to them and allows them to develop according to their strengths.
Visually Final Fantasy stands alone on the PS2. No other game on the PS2 looks this good. The quality of the graphics is simply amazing and way, way superior to the PSone Final Fantasy titles. The highest compliment I can pay to the graphics is that on numerous occasions I didn't realise when the cutscene had finished and it was only after a few seconds that I realised that I could move Tidus. Squaresoft managed to squeeze every last drop out of the PSone Final Fantasy titles and it looks as if they are going to push the PS2 every bit as hard. The boss battles are truly a sight to behold. Squaresoft continue to show that the hardware a game runs on is only half the story. The developers have to be up to the job as well and what Squaresoft have achieved with Final Fantasy X is the benchmark for quality irrespective of what format, PC or console, you are talking about.
Another first for Final Fantasy X is the use of speech for the main characters. When I first read about this new feature I was a little concerned that it would spell the end of the series' superb subtitled dialogue. Thankfully the subtitles remain and are on by default but the presentation of them isn't as good as it was in the prequels. In the prequels the text was a decent size and was usually placed inside a blue dialogue box which made the text very easy to read. In Final Fantasy X however we see the text size decrease, which is strange because the text in the Japanese version is bigger and easier to read, and the text is simply placed over the graphics. There are a couple of problems with this. I reviewed the game on a 20" TV and for me sitting 5ft away they were a little too small. That's not to say that I couldn't read the text but simply that I found it awkward at times. For those of you with bigger TVs this may not be a problem though. Occasionally, because of the text being simply over the graphics it was awkward to see some of the words. In the PS2 version of Deus Ex the text is only slightly larger but because they have placed it against a black background it is far easier to read and this is what should have been done with this game. In the prequels the text required a button press to continue the dialogue. Here though most of the conversations are free flowing because of the speech and on the odd occasion it moved along just a little too quick to comfortably keep up. A better solution would have been an option to have turned off the speech and kept the static nature of the prequels text.
Final Fantasy X is definitely the best game on the PS2 and if you don't own the console it is the best reason you could have for purchasing one. There are a couple of niggles over the presentation of the text but when everything is taken into account I think it is fair to say that what we have here is the game of 2002 and I for one don't think any other title will surpass it.
Overall Game Rating: 9.6/10 Final Fantasy X brings the illustrious series to the PS2 in style. Squaresoft changed a few ingredients in their magical gameplay formula but they have enhanced the experience. This looks like a certainty for a game of the year award.
Deaf Gamers comment: Thankfully, despite the introduction of speech to the series, the subtitles have remained. The size of the text could be improved though and it needs to be placed on a coloured background to increase the clarity.