Final Fantasy X Gets It Together
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I HATE FINAL FANTASY!
I HATE FINAL FANTASY!
I (expletive deleted) HATE FINAL FANTASY!!!!!!!!
Ever since dealing with Sephiroth and his repeated 10-minute long Super Nova attacks, I swore off anything related to the Final Fantasy series. As if seeing commercial spots showing poorly animated FMV wasn't enough, the crappy characters used in following episodes made me sick to my stomach. Do we really need another Leonardo Di-Crap-rio imposer, or another big headed freak that doesn't do anything but point?
Don't even get me started on that Orko lookalike. I don't care if his name is Vivi or whatever, to me he will always remind me of the Jar Jar Binks of the He-Man series.
And don't get me started on the combat system either. I hate having to enter a command, and wait for virtually MINUTES for my character to do his move, only to end up being butchered with some cheap attack (Super Nova strikes again). At least when I play the excellent Grandia 2, I can tell in advance when my characters will make their move, and plan any possible strategies that the FF series would never let me do.
In addition, do we need to sit through hour after hour of said FMV with characters who stand around like retards, blink and point incessantly without any verbal expression whatsoever? Why can't speech ever be used?
Early shots of Final Fantasy X, which I first saw (from a great distance) at E3 didn't truly convince me that the series' past anomalies would finally be rescinded. Full voice, a smooth graphic engine, and an impressive story were not enough to fully convince me to give the FF series another chance.
But that changed a week before FFX's release. A demo DVD was shipped to me, and FFX was on the disc. I figured "What the hell," and popped the disc into my PS2. After watching the amazing (for a change) opening clip, I was surprised with hearing voice for once. No more text balloons filling up the screen (except for some minor subtitles), and actual spoken dialogue lead the way to a combat system which, although laid out to FFs of the past, felt new and to my opinion, vastly improved. Now when I entered a command, it was performed instantaneously, instead of having to wait forever for the execution (or slaughter of my character).
I was more convinced, and eventually ended up picking up my own copy. From here I became more involved with all the characters. At first seeing (and hearing) the whininess of the lead character Tidus, I at first thought he was going to be another FF lead wuss. But I also remember that opening clip, exposing his skills as an expert Blitzball (a cross between water polo and soccer) player, and the subsequent attack by the lead foe, a mysterious aquatic force known only as "Sin," and was more impressed, but still had doubts.
Until I witnessed the badness that is Auron. Why is it that Auron reminds me of Hugh Jackman performing Wolverine? Maybe it was his cold, puzzling demeaner, or was it because he is able to cleave through any foe without a hitch. But then again, it might be the mystery he exhibits when he drags Tidus inside of Sin, and leads him towards the future.
It is in the future (1000 years to be exact) that Tidus finds himself abandoned in the ocean, and swims himself towards an abandoned temple, where after making fire and setting up camp (tribute to Survivor perhaps?), he is attacked by a group of mechanically skilled nomads. These "Al Bhed," as they are called, speak in a language initially incomprehensible to Tidus, but their leader, a girl named Rikku (who almost looks like Christina Aguilera without the sluttish makeup) enlists Tidus to work on their ship, but loses him when Sin attacks.
Once again, Tidus is lost on another island, But fortunately, this island (located near the main land of Spira) is inhabited. Even better, he finds that the inhabitants are skilled Blitzball players. Their leader, Wakka, befriends Tidus and offers to make him a member of their team, who has yet to win a game, and has caused Wakka to consider retirement.
Here we also meet the rest of the characters, the most important being a lady summoner named Yuna set on a pilgrimage to obtain the Final Summon which would hopefully defeat Sin once and for all. She will be joined by two fellow guardians, a wolf-like hunter named Khimari, and a female sorceress named Lulu (who has the strangest attire I have ever seen, a black dress riddled with belts that make her look like a dominatrix). Eventually, Yuna entrusts Tidus and offers him to become a fellow guardian in her journey.
In fact, the pilgrimage part of the game did remind me a bit of Grandia 2, where Elise went on her journey to end Valmar's reign, thus I was instantly hooked into it. And fortunately, in FFX's case, the overworld map from before has been removed, which made it easier for me to figure out where to go. Also, when I got into combat I had absolutely no trouble getting my characters into battle.
One thing I always HATED about the series was I had to keep using all my characters in order to bring their levels up. This means that I had to take a battle, then go to the menu, and change the party's order to bring them up, which got way too tedious. That has been changed in FFX, as characters can now be tagged in an out of battle instantly, and that new character can immediately perform his/her move. What is even better is that if a character does something simple like using an item, they will get their share of the experience (or in this case, Ability Points). Also, the new tag feature allowed me to use everyone's' special ability when needed: Tidus' well rounded attacks, Wakka's skill against flying foes, Auron's high strength, piercing and sensor capability, Khimari's learning special attacks from foes, Lulu's dark magic and Yuna's white magic and aeon summoning.
Level building is now gone as well, as characters now use their ability points to obtain space moves on what is called the Sphere Grid. Here, characters will place spheres obtained from battles to build up HP and MP, learn new attacks/magic, increase strength, agility, luck, magic power, etc. It makes upgrading your character to the skills you want much easier to perform, and it is a definite breath of fresh air.
As I said before, I hated the look of the combat engine from the previous series and the fact it only ran about 10 frames per second on the PS1. Here it finally runs at a decent 30 FPS with features added (motion blur, particle effects, etc), but still there are some elements of spell overkill which have plagued the series since VII. Aeon summoning and attacks can be shortened, which does help, but the other attacks can still drone on.
Nonetheless, all the environments in the game are rendered beautifully, be it Tidus' home of Zanarkand, the capital city of Beville, or the beautiful Calm Plains. Each of the characters are also rendered well, but I did notice some minor trembling when close up, as well as their mouths don't sync to their dialogue as well either.
As for the dialogue, this proves beyond a shadow of a doubt why the FF series needed to have spoken dialogue all along. While Tidus might sound a little whiny during the game, he sounds perfect during narration, as does Yuna, Auron, and Lulu, but I was immediately impressed with the voice talents of Wakka. His Rastafarian/Mexican hybrid dialect fits the character perfectly, and enhances the humor that he exhibits. On the other hand, cover your ears when you hear the voice of another summoner named Seymour. Trust me, he just doesn't sound right, and that's all I can say without mentioning something controversial.
But of course, this is Final Fantasy, and I do have several beefs that need to be addressed. For some reason, puzzle elements have now been added to the game, specifically in areas called the Cloister of Trials, where spheres have to be moved and rearranged to gain access. They are just out of place with the rest of the game, and could have been handled better.
And also, later in the game, the cheap attacks come back. I remember one battle where the opponent immediately cast a spell named Photon Wings, which either confused my party, or killed them off instantly. And if that didn't kill me, the resulting Total Annihilation did. It started to get frustrating for me, but nowhere near as bad as FFVII.
Nonetheless, FFX is quite a surprise for me. I still am not going to be converted to Squaresoft, but I did get a good story for the 30+ hours I have spent playing. It will never obtain the same level of greatness I experienced with Grandia 2, but Final Fantasy X is still good enough to warrant a 4 Gem rating. I'm sure that when FFXI goes online, that my online allies will help bring my character up, similar to Diablo. Oh, the potential of online play is just too great to imagine. Ten is good, but with online play, eleven is sure to shine.
Todd Hargosh is GiN's Product Testing Manager. He enjoys any game that gets his adrenaline pumping. Todd can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.