For Hironobu Sakaguchi, the Final Fantasy series was meant to be his last project to work on in the gaming industry before he retired. The immense popularity of the game meant he continued to work on games, more specifically, he continued the final fantasy to what it is today. At Final Fantasy X, you can expect some major changes and upgrades going from the Famicom (NES) to the Sony Playstation and now Playstation 2.
Let's start the ball rolling with me discussing the two main characters of the game, obviously a very important aspect to make the game believable and of course, fun. The main character, Tidus is an athletic, blond-haired, young adult. He is the star player for the Zanarkand Abes, in the sport of blitzball (more about blitzball later). While playing through Final Fantasy X you will undoubtedly notice how much character Tidus has, but sometimes he can seem to be a bit too immature. Some of the funnier moments of the game come from the characters saying certain things that do not seem to fit in with the game all, Tidus provides many of these moments.
The character the story is based around, Yuna is a calm young woman who is very strong in the mind and honest. Yuna is very self-determined and is set out to do a job; she won't let anything stop her while on her journey. Yuna has learnt the art of summoning 'Aeons', although is very quiet and subtle about it all. Other members of your party are: Wakka a blitzball extraordinaire, Lulu a dark mage, Kimahri Ronso a Ronso tribe warrior, Auron the expert swordsman, and Rikku the young sneaky one of the group.
Much has changed from the previous Final Fantasies, such as the levelling system and the abilities of each person. Let's start with the levelling-up system, called the 'sphere grid.' The sphere grid consists of hundreds of 'nodes' which you navigate around by using sphere levels after defeating the enemies. Each character starts on a different part of this board and by gaining sphere levels they can move around, raising stats, learning magic and gaining abilities. I found that the sphere grid was actually a very pleasant way of doing the levelling as you don't have to go on the hunt for material as in Final Fantasy VII or spend hours drawing from enemies in Final Fantasy VIII. All the abilities are right there on the sphere grid and it is up to you to collect enough sphere levels to reach them. While this may sound basic at first, add in 'locked nodes' that you need to find certain key spheres for and specialised spheres that can turn empty nodes into stat nodes, it becomes a lot more complex and strategic. A big improvement from some of the older ways of levelling-up.
With the sphere grid is the battle system. The sphere grid now lets certain characters have specific styles of fighting and different abilities, for example, Lulu specialises in the dark arts of magic therefore her stats reflect that with high MP and low physical attacks. This way of specialisation in different areas is taken even further when you learn that only some characters can do specific things, mainly Yuna as she is the only one in the party that can perform summons, although this is explained in the ever-confusing storyline. Next, the overdrives, FFX's granddaddy of all attacks, each character has specific Overdrives as they do abilities. Again, Lulu has a magic based Overdrive and Tidus's Overdrive is based on sword attacks. But it does not stop at different attacks; FFX takes a leap into the future and has completely different ways of successfully pulling these Overdrives off, for Lulu's Overdrive you must rotate the right analog stick around as much as possible, the more you rotate it the more attacks she will do. For Auron's Overdrive you must punch in a certain combination and for Wakkaï¿½s you have to try and line up a slot machine type device.
Now, if all these changes aren't enough for you, you're in luck. On top of all this comes the joy of being able to change party members mid-battle, and with only having three people in a battle at once this is a very helpful tool. Picture this, you are in the middle of a battle with Tidus, Auron and Wakka, three guys who do strong physical attacks yet cannot heal themselves, so switch one of the guys out and bring in Yuna and bring the guys back to full life all in one turn. Of course, it all doesn't stop there, it's also now possible to change your weapons and armour in the middle of a hectic fight. This comes in handy when you suddenly realise that youï¿½re fighting a fire monster with ice-protecting armour on.
Keeping with the Final Fantasy tradition, are the aeons (Summons, GF's, Eidolons, whatever you want to call them). Making there casual appearance are such aeons as Ifrit the aeon engulfed in eternal flame and Shiva the ice-cold bikini clad woman. The aeons take on a life of their own in FFX, almost acting as completely separate characters from the main battle team. The aeons, which only come to Yuna's call, will grow stronger as she grows stronger and develop a strong bond between the two. As you defeat certain opponents Abilities and Attributes sections for the aeons will open up, allowing you to spend either spheres or items in order to teach them abilities or raise the aeons' strength. Now that the aeons can learn abilities such as 'Cure' they become a very helpful part of the battling system.
Mini games. Yes, there are back, and back in force. Blitzball is the biggest mini game by far; it is an underwater sport played in a sphere type enclosure and combines basketball, rugby and soccer. While very hard to explain to someone with no clue of what you are talking about, it provides hours of fun going through tournaments, leagues and doing basic exhibition matches. All throughout the world of Spira are blitzball players, young and old. Some much better than others, and it is your job as team manager to scout the talent and include them into the team. This sort of freedom not only gives you thousands of possibilities for your team but also keeps the game of blitzball fresh. You gain experience points as you play to level up your player's stats. Players can learn special abilities through 'marking' opposing players on other teams and learning the abilities when the opposed uses it. While blitzball is the main mini game, chocobos again make their appearance and are available a wee while into the game for racing in a variety of types of races.
Onto the actual story of the game, which being a RPG plays a huge part in whether the game is successful or not. The story takes place in a mythical world called Spira. Final Fantasy X takes on the familiar plot of an evil threatening the world and it is up to the main characters to stop it. The evil in this case is called Sin and it plagues Spira. Yuna, the summoner who must defeat Sin travels with the main character, Tidus, and other guardians who go from one side of Spira to the other, in the quest of peace. The story is very cliche but still can provide hours upon hours of entertainment. A love interest is part of the story, as always is the case in the Final Fantasy games. The relationship is between the main characters, Tidus and Yuna, very predictable. The graphics play a huge part in the storyline making you feel that you are actually there and really helps the plot become more interesting and fresh, but more about the graphics later. The story has some twists and turns as to be expected and provides minor different routes depending on actions you take.
Quite simply, the graphics for Final Fantasy X are the best ever seen in a Final Fantasy game. While this may not be surprising, due to the huge leap from Playstation, FFX beats many a game in the graphics department. The first scene we see when cracking open a game of Final Fantasy X is the beautiful blitzball scene, one of the best examples of how visually stunning a game can be. When you gain control of Tidus for the first time, everything feels and looks smooth, no more ugly backgrounds that are dull and lifeless. The camera pans down and away from Tidus, revealing much more surroundings, all the while you are controlling Tidus and all is animated smoothly. Much of the first hour of the game is movie, a chance to see what this game (and system) can do.
The quality of the main characters is just astounding; a lot of work was put in by character designer Tetsuya Nomura. From the largest piece of clothing to the smallest necklace or design, all are crisp and clear. The FMV scenes really show of the characters though, Yuna looks so pure and innocent, and Tidus while always has a scary smile on his face, is animated very well. In FMV scenes where some wind is present the characters hair and clothes will frail in the wind, giving you the total feeling of immersion. In the battles, the characters keep up with the high level of detail, and all battle animations seem to be pulled of smoothly.
Keeping with the theme of characters, is the high quality of work put into the monsters and aeons. As with the characters, the aeons are also laden with clear designs. All the aeons have their own grand entrance, which thank-god can be shortened to save us from sitting through the 5 minute marathon each time we need to use them, in addition to the entrances, the aeon's overdrives look impressive also. Let's stay on the topic of battles and see how the monsters score. There are definitely hundreds of different monsters to battle, most of which are original, only a few seem to not want to change (fire flan, ice flan, thunder flan, etc). From blood-thirsty wolfs to massive iron machines, FFX seems to have them all covered.
All past Final Fantasy games have been well known for the quality of sound present for the era they were in. Final Fantasy X is no different, battle themes to soft melodies that reflect love, hate and tragedy. A highlight of the sound experience is that nothing seems to be too far off, all reflect the settings. Final Fantasy X is the first in the series to include spoken dialogue, something that gave the game a whole new dimension in terms of character development. And believe it or not, aside from a few minor mistakes the lip sync isn't too bad.
Another first in the sound department is that some of the music actually has words. The hardish-rock song 'Otherworld' is a pleasant treat to start the game with. Another song is that of 'Suteki Da Ne', a Japanese love song used in one of the most moving parts of the game. Very Impressive. Within the battles, sound effects are all pretty much spot-on also, with different weapons making diverse sounds. Characters will also make witty comments when they join in the fight half way through, or when they are about to totally destroy the monster, sometimes a little too witty though.