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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Role-Playing

 

Publisher

Square

 

Developer

Square

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

December 2001

 

 

- Excellent character progression system

- Nice, new battle system

- Exceptionally good graphics

- Good music and sound

- Respectable voice acting

 

 

- Disjointed, poorly delivered story

- Some very annoying characters

- Whenever difficulty strikes just level-up, you won't be needing any of that tactics nonsense around here

- No sense of exploration

 

 

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Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (PC) Review

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Final Fantasy X

Score: 8/10

 

This is the first time I actually feel that the best word to describe a Final Fantasy game is "odd". Not odd like the creepy guy who sits across from you on the bus that you try oh so hard not to make eye contact with, but odd in how it is far from perfect, yet still amazingly fun. On the one hand players will be beaten over the head with some of the best graphics on the Playstation 2, and be treated to completely refined battle and character progression systems, all going a long way to bring vast improvements to the series. On the other hand players will have to sit through a heavy handed, all together weak story, weak characterization of the cast,  and a lack of any sense of exploration.

 

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Excuse me for a moment now, because I shall be kicking it into full-on rant mode for the next couple of paragraphs, but it really is a disappointment, the story in Final Fantasy X. While the plots of past titles were certainly by no means Shakespeare, they did have an entertaining comic book sensibility. The premise starts off well enough with the summoner Yuna going off on a pilgrimage so that she can become strong enough to fight off Sin, an outrageously strong beast roaming the world 

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of Spira, laying waste to cities, causing everyone to live in fear. Joining her are six guardians who act as bodyguards to her. First there is Tidus, the lead protagonist, who was ripped from 1,000 years in the past, next we have Wakka and Lulu who have been training all their lives to be guardians and have known Yuna since she was a child, after this we have Kimahri, a beastly Ronso who doesn't say much, Auron, a guardian to Yuna's summoner father, and Rikku, a member of the technologically advance Al Bhed civilization, an ensemble cast if ever there was one, but dripping with poor characterization and possessing more than a few archetypes. The story moves along at a decent pace, but the plot twists just don't move smoothly. The whole "relationship" between Yuna and Tidus is very forced, often when new information comes to the party that has a serious impact on their quest it hardly phases them, they simply accept it, and some parts of the plot, mostly at the end of the game, you can see coming from a mile away. Now it's not so bad as to insult my intelligence, but the ham-fisted delivery of the story is frustrating. I kept expecting things to get ironed out as I neared completing the game, but I saw the "The End" on the screen and sadly that never happened. What would have gone a very long way in helping make this a little more tolerable would have been if there wasn't a cutscene every 30 minutes or so, it just brought too much story line, continuously reminding me of how weak and disjointed it is.

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Oh, but that's not the end of my rant on this game's narrative, no sir! There are some big, big problems I have with some of the characters in Final Fantasy X so I'll get down to it. Right off the top, Yuna seems to bend over backwards to find new and exciting ways to irritate me to no end. First she has got to be the most amazingly naive person ever, EVER! She trusts in everyone entirely too much, and is completely driven by a blind sense of obligation, and all of this results in her getting the party into a lot of trouble time and time again. If it wasn't for her guardians she would have been dead a long time ago, yet they keep saving her. After several hours of playing the game I was hoping beyond hope that I could find a way to just have her killed and take the guardians and have them kill Sin on their own. The game's story even says that Summoners need to pass a test before they go on their pilgrimage, so my question is how could someone as amazingly incompetent as Yuna have become one? Ugh, she is easily one of the most annoying characters ever in a video game. Coming in a close second we have Rikku. Now thankfully she is only a tertiary character, so you don't have to deal with her too often, but I swear, if I ever have to hear her asinine, "You know..." once more I think I may just go insane. This girl doesn't serve much use in the party, she contributes nothing to the party's conversations, to put it bluntly she doesn't need to be in the game. Nobody would miss her. This girl is only really here to introduce the Al Bhed related parts of the story into the game, but we don't even need her as a character, yet there she is subjecting us to her inane prattle. Equally unneeded is Kimahri. While I'm all for the strong silent type, this guy is a real let down. Early on in the game you get the sense that this lion-like beast will be one hell of a bad ass, but he hardly says a word, and the further you get in the game the less you need to use him. Again, why is he here? To add the bit in the story about the Ronsos? I think so. This guy is a very stale, all around filler character. On the other side of the coin, the rest of the party is actually quite likeable. Tidus, for the most part, is a very energetic character. While he may do a little too many disturbing hand gestures for no good reason in his soliloquies, he's still largely a cheery chap who plays off of everyone else quite well. Most notably is his interaction with Wakka, as they horse around in an almost brotherly way. Wakka himself is easy to accept as well, he's easy going, takes time to smell the roses, and just brings a fun loving calm to the cast, despite his imposing, brawny stature. Adding a moodier counterbalance to all of this are Auron and Lulu. While Auron just does a good job of being the bad ass (maybe even better than Solid Snake in MGS), it's Lulu that comes off extremely well with her generally negative attitude. Usually when you have a brooding character they turn out all whiny, and grumpy, and that's about it. With Lulu, she comes off as genuinely being in a foul mood, which later turns into a general unwillingness to put up with crap (other than Yuna's stupidity of course). But after balancing out the idiosyncrasies of the members of the party, the ones who are actually likeable go a long way to helping forget about the irritating characters. 

And now that I've gotten my seething rant out of the way I can talk about the stuff I do like about the game, first and foremost being the way that characters  level-up. It isn't just about getting experience points and every so often you'll have accumulated enough to get all your stats raised at once. Instead a Sphere Grid is used and as characters gain experience in time they will gain Sphere Levels which can be spent to move along the grid so when you land on a new circle there will often be an attribute there that can be opened up with the appropriate Sphere (you earn spheres from fallen monsters in battle). At first you're pretty much stuck on a set path as you traverse the grid, but with time it opens up and you can go just about anywhere you want. But the real draw is that it gives a real sense of progression, far more than what is traditionally found. Instead of wandering around for an hour trying to level-up and only going up a few levels, in this game characters will go up sphere levels very rapidly, but only be able to up one or two stats at a time, be it hit points, defense, strength, or learning a new spell. Granted this is largely smoke and mirrors to make the normally tedious leveling-up process disappear, but it gets the job done. Don't be surprised if you see something similar show up in other RPGs, not necessarily a sphere grid, but at least incremental, but frequent level-ups. This isn't the only way to enhance your party either, as weapon and armor customization will play a part in improving a character's performance to a lesser degree as they can have status immunities, or strength and magic enhancements, among other things, added to their equipment which will prove very important in battle.

 

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Battles too have received an overhaul in how they're played out now. Taking a note from the battle systems of Grandia, the battles here in Final Fantasy X are based on time more than ever. Each character and monster has a place in the order of attack shown on a bar on the right-hand side of the screen. It develops an appreciation of speed in combat and makes you realize the importance of hitting the monsters hard before they hit you. There are some attacks that, if properly executed, will push enemies back in the battle order, but what would have been particularly nice would have been if just a normal, but extremely powerful, attack could send the monsters back in the order instead. On top of all this is the ability to swap characters during a battle, not just in between them.  This has to be one of the most helpful things to ever hit a Final Fantasy game, it's just so nice to know you can call up a mage when you come up against an elemental beast or other such magic-sensitive baddie.  What really struck me for a loop was that status ailments actually play a strong role in battles, far more than any other Final Fantasy. Getting poisoned or turned to stoned in past games was mildly annoying, but here these things can mean certain doom if not handled correctly. Zombie, poison, and confusion can really do a number on your party, throw in berserk and you might as well hit reset, because your party is likely toast. Now that's what I call status ailments, delivering a rich, full-bodied blend of pain, not the "Mommy! Mommy! I have an owwie!" wimpy, whiny pain that darkness, poison and the like usually inflict. Also overdrive attacks are in the game once again, but the interesting thing here is that there are multiple ways to increase the overdrive meter that characters will learn as the party progresses, such as through healing others, hitting enemies or being hit by enemies, killing enemies, et cetera. Pulling off the moves varies from person to person too, some just have to be told and they'll act, others need to hit a point on a meter correctly, or match symbols like in a slot machine, or pull off button combos under a time limit in order to get the best effect out of their attack. About the only one I didn't like dealing with was Lulu's Fury overdrive, which allows her to cast a spell multiple times at no magic cost. What bothered me was that you needed to rotate one of the analogue sticks as fast as you can for the best result. The way I was going I was worried that I'd break my controller I was spinning it so fast. My only qualm is that when things do get tough, the answer is always leveling-up. I hit a boss near the end of the game that was mopping the floor with my party, so I said, "The hell with this!", leveled-up my party six ways to Sunday and they obliterated it. Unfortunately my characters were so strong that all I needed were Auron, Wakka, and Tidus as they all had 8,000+ hit points, inflicted 9,999 hit points per attack, could cast group Haste, and had an ability to hit quickly (called Quick Hit) that enabled them to do several attacks per turn. With tanks like this I bowled over the end boss of the game in two and a half turns. That just cheapened the whole experience for me. I thought bosses were supposed to be tough, yet my party makes minced meat of them. The only way I could have made the game harder would be to not level up, but why should it fall upon me, the player, to bring about the challenge? That's the developer's job, not mine.

The other part of battles everyone loves, though, would be the magic and summoning. There aren't as many spells as in the past, but this works out to be an advantage as it cuts down the clutter of piles of absolutely useless magic that you'll never use but wind up getting anyway. Instead a lot of the magic is based on Aristotelian elements for the most part, being comprised of Fire, Water, Lightning, and Ice in the game. They all have a pecking order, and cancel each other out if used properly. It's understanding and acting on this system that is most emphasized in using spells, at least in terms of black magic. For white magic things are more conventional with curative, protective, and status enhancing spells being the order of the day. Then there's the other faction in the Final Fantasy magic system, the summonings. Players will eventually be able to collect a little over a half dozen of these beasts in their travels, using them for the usual assortment of incredibly powerful attacks, and can even customize and enhance the creatures' stats eventually in the game. In the past Square has given us long, drawn out animations for when an animal is initially summoned. They still do and don't exist here, as there is an option to shorten them, but unless you accidentally stumble across it you'll miss it.  There's no mention of it in the manual, and all you get in the configuration screen is "Aeons" with the choice of default and short, no mention of it being to control the animation, just an incredibly vague sub-category.  I didn't even notice it until someone pointed it out to me it was so non-assuming.


Now this slaying evil beasties business is all fine and dandy, but we need areas to do it in, and this is the other true weakness of Final Fantasy X. First off, there is no 
overworld in the game, it's just one area connected to the next, that's it. There aren't even dungeons in the game, they're just paths that you have to follow. Save for a couple of areas near the end of the game there is almost no regions in Final Fantasy X that can truly be explored, there is no sense of discovery, wonder, or curiosity, players are simply led by the nose through the entire game destroying any sense of exploration, an absolute key quality of a role-playing game. I know Final Fantasy titles have never been a bastion for non-linear play, but this is completely ludicrous. Bigger, more fleshed out dungeons that actually need to be learned, and searched out thoroughly are greatly needed. I want to be relieved to see the light of the exit of the dungeon, feeling safe after being hounded by all manner of beast in the dank depths my party is about to leave behind them, but that is not here in this game.

Oh, by the way, did you know that the game has really good graphics? Yup, it sure does. The visuals are right up there at the head of the line in terms of what has been presented on the PS2 to this date, even the in-game stuff is right up there, sometimes even putting to shame some of the CG work of other titles on the system. But it is the CG cutscenes that are where the visuals really look good here, often bordering on photo realism. What is most important in the visuals, however, is the design, the look of the characters, the look of the monsters, and the look of the environments. These are all done very well, each character looks very distinguished with details that separate them in terms of personality just as much as their demeanor, monsters are typically over the top with plenty of little quirks so that at least a few will stay in players' memory for some time, but it is the levels that are most magnificent. The "sets" have all the wonder and grandeur one would expect from a fantasy film, they're big, they're magical, and they're a sight to be seen.

Right up there with the visuals, the sound is equally good. Sound effects, be they the wooshy-swooshy sounds of magic being cast, or more subtle, ambient environmental noises like footsteps or water drops, are all of exceptional quality. The music too is quite well done, far better than that of the last couple of Final Fantasy titles, though still not as good as the sixth installment in the series. While there are a couple of tracks that just felt wrong, like a metal track dripping with "Hot Guitar Licks" like something out of a Super Hits from the '80s extravaganza, and an uninspired tune for the random battles, most of the soundtrack is very well done, with some surprisingly good instrumentation compared to that of older games in the series. One thing that seemed extremely odd is that there was no pronounced sign of the arpeggiated harp piece that is the unofficial theme of the Final Fantasy games, it didn't pop up once, yet the victory tune and chocobo song make an appearance. Very strange.

Also in the audio are voice actors. For the first time in a Final Fantasy game there are actors actually handling the dialogue, and for the most part they did a good job. The acting itself is decent, but what sometimes hurt it is that some of the lines the actors have to say are so corny that you can't help but cringe. Helping add some weight to the bullpen of voices in the game are a number of accomplished actors who have done a lot of work adding their voicing to video games in the past, such as the Baldur's Gate games, but the most notable of the lot would have to be Rikku, whose voice was handled by Tara Strong (Bubbles of the Powerpuff girls) and Wakka, whose voice was done by John DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama). All in all, the voices are more than adequate in this game. In rough, questionable moments, it's not the acting that is poor, but the script.

 

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This leaves us with a few little details that must be discussed in the game. First off there is the mini-game of Final Fantasy X, called Blitzball. Essentially it is underwater water polo with special attacks and an RPG sensibility. I won't get into the details as to how to play the game because it's too long and convoluted to talk about here. What's important is whether or not the sport is fun, and for the most part it is. After going through the tutorial and playing a few exhibition games it's not hard to get the hang of the game and start enjoying it. While not the most complicated game, it does have enough tension to provide a nice break from the quest itself, and is a necessity if you want Wakka to learn new overdrive attacks. Second are optional quests to get super powerful weapons and such for the game. The problem here is that the only thing these quests will challenge is your patience, as most of them are simply time consuming to complete. These are here for the cream of the Final Fantasy diehard crop, all others need not apply.  Lastly I should address the puzzle solving, which has a very strong presence in this game.  Almost exclusively spatial in nature, these things can be somewhat frustrating unless you take a deep breath and sit down to take a good hard look at where everything is and understand how it all works.  The puzzles in the game are by no means pushovers unlike other RPGs, they're in multiple rooms with a number of devices being needed to operate them.  They really remind me of some of the stuff in the Myst games, only not as complicated.

Despite all of my ranting and raving this is still a very fun game. The overhaul to the battle system and the way the characters progress are a real breath of fresh air to the series, and the visuals and sound are all grade A goodness, but I can't overlook my absolute seething hatred of the storyline and certain characters in the game, it is just too poor and they are too annoying to let it pass. This plus the ease of the game through leveling-up and the utter lack of any exploration just leave too much of a bad taste in my mouth to give the game a higher score. At the end of the day this is a good RPG, but it's not that good.

- Mr. Nash

 

(January 20, 2002)

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