Saturday, March 6, 2010

Final Fantasy X

The first Final Fantasy on PlayStation 2 proves a timeless classic almost a decade later.

Platform: PlayStation 2
Published by: Square/Square Electronic Arts (US)
Developed by: Square
Genre: RPG
Players: 1
US Release Date: December 18, 2001
ESRB Rating: Teen - Blood, Violence

Story: Final Fantasy X, much like its predecessors, does not follow any pre-existing storyline established by the series. Instead, the tenth installment follows a teen sports star named Tidus (let the pronunciation war begin!), who is ripped away from his life of luxury by a mysterious creature known as Sin, and into the distant future in the world of Spira. There, he becomes the guardian to a summoner named Yuna, who is on an ancient quest to find the aeons and defeat Sin to bring peace to Spira. If you think that's confusing, then you're in for a trip: the story continues to branch and twist, but never totally leaves the player behind, instead explaining each plot development or at least dangling hints in front of their nose. Final Fantasy X boasts a great, fully-fleshed-out cast of characters as well; I had a tough time letting most of them go when I beat the game. It also includes one of THE BEST love stories in RPG history - don't think you're too "manly" to acknowledge love; it makes you look like a massive douche. Once you start along the path to Zanarkand, it will be very, very hard to stop. Final Fantasy X's story ranks among my favorite of the series.

If you thought Tidus and Yuna's love story was "gay," then you are an insecure, dumb, little penis.

Graphics: Though dated by today's standards, Final Fantasy X's visuals rank among the most beautiful and detailed on the system: environments are large, lush, and vibrant; characters' facial expressions and body language convey natural emotions during scenes of dialogue; menus are bright and easy to manage. Square's cutscenes are leaps and bounds ahead of the competition in this installment, bringing a level of hyper-realism to the characters and displaying some really gorgeous water effects. When viewing this game for the first time, it's crazy to try to imagine the visuals getting even better as the series progresses.

Sound/Music: Series composer/musical genius Nobuo Uematsu returns, with the help of Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano, to deliver another Oscar-worthy score. The music is appropriately epic, triumphant, and sad, adding unspoken emotion to each and every moment of the Final Fantasy X experience. Sound effects are typical RPG fare, with one major addition: Final Fantasy's first attempt at voice acting. While the entire game isn't fully voiced (come on, let's not get totally banana-crazy here), every major section fits in at least a few lines of spoken dialogue. I personally found it a welcome addition and almost flawlessly-executed (with the exception of the infamous "laughing" scene). I'm glad Square stuck with the idea after this game.

Gameplay: Final Fantasy X makes some big changes to leveling up - in fact, forget what you already know about leveling up (for the most part...unless you've already played Final Fantasy XII or Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga). Enter the Sphere Grid: hated by some, loved by many, I rank this among my favorite character development systems to date. Sure, you still collect XP to some degree, but instead of a random stat generator boosting your parameters and giving you skills at preset levels, you get a little more freedom in your characters' development. Each time your character acquires the required amount of XP, you get to move to a "node" of the sphere grid (assuming you have the proper sphere in possession). In the beginning of the game, each node contains a different character-specific skill or build statistic; as the game progresses, however, each character gains access to the skills and parameter builds of all the other characters. You want your mages to be able to lay a beat-down with their staffs? Done. Tired of your warrior/tank being slow as a constipated turtle taking a dump? With enough time, effort, and patience, you can have that dude casting fireballs 23849757 times a turn (OK, maybe nothing THAT crazy). Confusing as hell to read, I know - this is more reason to check out Final Fantasy X and (possibly) fall in love with the Sphere Grid.

This installment of Final Fantasy follows the turn-based combat of yesteryear, back before the ATB system made its debut on our battle screens. However, Final Fantasy X places heavy emphasis on strategy, maybe more so than any previous incarnation; especially during battles later in the game, it becomes frequently necessary to swap out teammates to find the party that will be most effective against an enemy. These less action-centric battles may not appeal to all, but I found it satisfying that the slower pace of combat was balanced with a myriad of strategic options that felt both refreshing and rewarding.

Final Fantasy X boasts some truly epic boss fights. This dude is just a small-fry compared to the size of some.

Overall: What else is there to say that I haven't already said? Great graphics, great music, some pretty decent voice acting, and a rich, deep battle and level up system come together to form one killer package. Final Fantasy X ranks not only among my favorite Final Fantasy games, not only among my favorite RPGs, but among my favorite games of ALL TIME. It's a game I'm inclined to replay enough that the case never gets dusty. If you for whatever reason missed out when it was first released (or the 9 following years), you shouldn't have to pay more than a cool 20 bones to play what I consider a gaming landmark and masterpiece. Hats go way, way, waaaay off to Square for this one. And seriously...don't be afraid to cry, or at least fall in love with some of the characters.

Score (out of 10): 10

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