PS2 Review: Final Fantasy X. Yuna and Tidus tell a love story like no other

Beautiful Yuna Dance
Square. What comes to your mind when you hear that word? Is it merely a shape? Or memories of epic storylines filled to the brim with drama, plot twists and romance as you try to save a world that’s on the brink of ultimate annihilation?

Final Fantasy XFor any fan of role-playing games, the very name of Final Fantasy developer SquareSoft (Now known as Square Enix, or simply “Square“) fills fans the world over with countless magical memories of the many wonderful worlds, universes and stories that this amazing developer has been able to consistently pump out for two decades.

Square fans are an extremely devoted bunch that froth at the mouth for practically every new project Square Enix comes up with. And with good reason. As Final Fantasy X demonstrates, it doesn’t look like Square’s quality of gaming will ever cease to be great.

Final Fantasy X Logo

System: Playstation 2
Also On: None
Genre: RPG
Released: Jap: July 19, 2001 – NA: Dec. 20, 2001 – AU: May 17, 2002 – EU: May 29, 2002
Save: Memory Card – 59MB+
Players: 1
Developer: Squaresoft
Publisher: Square Enix
Origin: Japan
Rating: Teen for: Blood & Violence

Final Fantasy X (shorted to “FFX” or “FF10”) was released in 2002 and was the first game in the Final Fantasy series to be released on Sony’s then new and very powerful (at the time) Playstation 2 console. The previous three games in the Final Fantasy series had set unprecedented benchmarks in storytelling, graphics, music, character development, and had established much lauded RPG battle systems, of which each game brought new changes to the table but kept the same overall system.

This however had started to wear a bit thin by the final chapter in the Final Fantasy series on Sony’s original Playstation console, Final Fantasy IX. Each game in the franchise has had a self-contained story though, which keeps the franchise going full-steam and brings many new ideas to the table with each installment, helping the series feel fresh in more ways than one.

Final Fantasy X is no different. And while it may have seemed that Square couldn’t possibly top the beauty of Final Fantasy IX, Square has succeeded with flying colors like no one’s business, creating a game that, believe it or not, evokes even MORE emotion from the player than any previous games in the series could ever hope for.

The reason is because Final Fantasy X is the first game in the series where the characters actually speak audibly. There is still LOTS of text, but all the main characters, and many minor characters, speak out loud (always with subtitles), which gives the game an entirely new dynamic never before felt and lets you connect with the wonderful characters on whole new levels. It truly adds more impact than anyone would at first think it would, and it’s only the first of many new additions to FFX that not only separate it from past installments and give the game it’s own unique identity, but that also manage to reinvigorate the series, making it feel completely fresh yet similar enough to keep Final Fantasy traditions alive and give the devoted fans that air of familiarity.

The game’s storyline focuses on main character Tidus (pronounced “Tee-dus”, although it’s never actually spoken aloud in the game), who is a star player in a very unique underwater sport called Blitzball, which is played in a huge sphere of water at stadiums throughout the land.

Blitzball is kind of like an underwater mix between soccer and football. During the opening movie scene in the game (which is one heck of an opener) the stadium is attacked by a mysterious entity known as “Sin“.

And thus Tidus is swooped up in a grand tale that will consume at least 40 hours of your life, and probably much longer. Soon after the attack (after Titus has met up with a mysterious character named Auron and is sucked into “Sin”) he will wake up in a strange world, and from then on meet up with many characters who, like with any good RPG, you will learn a lot more about and grow to love.

Final Fantasy X has what are, in my opinion, some of the best characters yet; you will come to really feel for them, especially the main characters Tidus and Yuna, whom the story is primarily focused on.

Once you meet up with Yuna, the storyline will start to branch out and that’s where you’ll find the bulk of the gameplay. Yuna is a Summoner, and is tasked with traveling to temples throughout the land of Spira. Once at the temple she will go and pray to the god (called the “Fayth” here) who will grant her the ability to Summon massive creatures called Aeons to help fight and defeat Sin.

Aeons will be familiar to anyone who has played the previous Final Fantasy games, especially the last few installments (VII, VIII & IX). The attacks of these Aeon creatures, just like in the previous games (where they were called different names ranging from simply “Summons” to “Guardian Forces”) are some of the highlights of the game; certainly of the battle system.

The storyline is very deep and very involved, and you won’t understand it all until the end, which is good because it keeps you guessing and enthralled as you continue to find out more about what the heck is going on.

Summoned beasts, of which there will be many familiar characters like Shiva & Ifrit, take on a greater role in FFX as once they are summoned they actually take the place of your group and you then control the Summoned character via the turn-based menus. You can choose to attack, use magic, use a special attack and, eventually, perform an “Overdrive“, special unique attacks that are grand in scale and extremely damaging to the enemy. These can be performed once their gauge fills up (Just like Limit Breaks and such in previous games).

Overdrive’s are the attacks that you’ve been waiting to see, and all of them are extremely cool and oh-so satisfying to use. Most of them don’t seem to be as long as in previous FF’s (with a couple exceptions), although you can shorten them nonetheless in the options menu.

The battle system in FFX has been given a huge facelift and is completely different from the previous installments. Normally in FF games, your characters gain “Experience Points” after battles that accumulate and eventually “level up” your character. When a character levels up, their stats for attack, defense, speed, magic, etc. increase, thus making them stronger and more efficient.

In Final Fantasy X the standard has been tipped on its head. Instead of leveling up normally, you gain “Sphere Levels” with experience from battles. The Sphere Levels can be used on what is called the “Sphere Grid“. This is where you will spend a large part of your time customizing your characters.

The Sphere Grid is like a big game board, and you move your characters around it. Each character starts on a different position on the board, and around them are many different kinds of spaces, these spaces can be activated by using different types of spheres (most of which you collect from battles) which give you whatever that space represents, from stat increases to special abilities to white and black magic.

You can zoom in and out on the board, and thus you can plan ahead to move your characters on whatever track you wish, so that they can learn whatever abilities and upgrade whatever stats you desire. Certain Abilities in the game are blocked out by locks, but as you play you’ll eventually earn spheres to break the locks, so if you battle enough, you can theoretically have your characters learn any ability you desire on the board with no limits.

In addition, you’ll earn special spheres that have unique properties, such as teleporting you to any previously activated sphere, or letting you learn any black or white magic previously learned by an ally, etc. This Sphere Board system is really unique and makes battling in FFX fun, as you’ll want to keep fighting so that you can get to the board and level up your characters how you see fit, instead of all the abilities being pre-determined as in most other RPGs.

The battle system itself has also changed. The previous three FF games all used what was called an “Active Time Battle” system. The fighting was turn-based (meaning you would take a turn, then the enemy would take a turn, rinse and repeat), and every character had a bar that once filled, would allow you to attack, cast magic, summon a monster or whatever else.

In Final Fantasy X, the fighting is still turn based, but the ATB has been completely done away with, and instead, turns are simply laid out, and the moves that you choose to use can effect how frequently your turn comes up. You can see the turns of your enemies and each of your characters, as well as how your next move effects the turn-rate via a bar in the upper right of the battle screen. So this adds some strategy to the fights as you want to maximize your turns for better effectiveness.

Also, in previous games you could only control three or four characters in battle at once. In FFX, only three characters can be out at once, but you can swap any of your other characters in at any time with no penalty. This mixes things up by allowing you to attack with the right character for the situation. You can also freely swap equipment, weapons and armor mid-battle. Amazingly, this doesn’t make the game easier as would be assumed.

Weapons and armor also take on a different role in FFX. In previous games they would usually increase your stats and sometimes add new abilities. Here stats aren’t increased, but instead each one has unique innate abilities that effect battle (such as making you immune to fire attacks or letting you cut the MP cost of magic in half, etc.). Later on in the game you can even customize them with abilities that you want (each weapon or armor has a number of slots that dictates how many abilities you can add) depending on how many of certain items you have collected by defeating or stealing them from enemies, or finding the items in chests, etc. Some of the best abilities in the game (Like No Encounters) can only be attained by customizing your equipment, so don’t over look it!.

While the battle system has made many welcome changes that add a lot of depth to the game, it is still similar enough so that veterans of the series will catch on really fast and it’s arguably even easier to understand than some of the more complex systems in Final Fantasy VII & VIII, that could be confusing at times. So Final Fantasy X is a good place to start for newcomers to the franchise who have never played a previous FF game.

That being said, if you didn’t like the previous games in the series, Final Fantasy X likely will not change your opinion, especially as far as the battle system is concerned. Battles are still frequent and stand by the old Japanese RPG convention of switching to a separate battle screen for the fights, not giving you any leeway to avoid battles (though this should be expected going into the game).

Of course, you don’t exactly play an RPG for the battles. You may enjoy the battle system, but you stay for the story. And what a story it is! Final Fantasy X easily stands up to and possibly exceeds the storyline of any of the previous FF games in this humble reviewer’s opinion. Although it’ll of course differ depending on your tastes, but ten’s storyline is highly satisfying and emotionally charged from beginning to end. And it all culminates in what I consider one of the greatest endings to any game ever. You’ll be hard pressed to not get teary-eyed at some point along the way while playing through this grand tale, and as previously stated, you’ll probably wind up liking every main character in the game. I did.

Graphically, while the in-game graphics look a bit outdated by now, the game is still mighty fine and will hardly get a complaint as far as in-game graphics are considered. The CG movie scenes however are a massive tour-de force, with some of the most impressive and memorable Final Fantasy scenes ever. Not only are they really mind-blowingly cool at a lot of parts, but FFX has some of the best romantic and just flat-out beautiful scenes ever pressed to a game disc. Some scenes will likely stick with you as great memories long after the game has been finished and is collecting dust on your shelf or sold away (shame on you if you sell it though. Shame!)

The music in Final Fantasy X is great and perfectly fitting, as has always been the case with Final Fantasy games and Mr. Nobuo Uematsu’s great soundtracks. And thankfully, the voice acting is about as spot-on as could be hoped for. It’s far from perfect, but it’s not annoying or unfitting as in many other games. Each character’s voice fits just about perfectly and once you’ve played with that voice, you will not be able to imagine any other voice coming out of the character. Square deserves props for getting it so right the first time (Unlike some other companies *cough* Sega *cough*), as bad voice acting, especially in an RPG, is something that could have seriously ruined the experience; thankfully it simply adds to the emotion and uniqueness of each character in the tale.

Final Fantasy X is a long game, longer than the previous games in the series. My only real wish is that there were more mini-games and side-quests available, particularly in the early portions. You will find some but they don’t crop up until the later parts of the game. Although you will encounter many of these puzzle places called the “Cloister of Trials”. These have you inserting certain “glyphs” (colored orbs) into slots that you will encounter. Inserting a particular glyph into a particular slot will cause something to happen, and if done right you will open up a new path. The goal is to get through the Trial by opening up the right path by finding and inserting the correct glyphs, however every Trial has one hidden treasure chest that contains an extremely rare item, so you will want to try and find that before using the last glyph on the exit, cause once the trail is complete you cannot re-enter. So it’s useful to save before you do. These are fun (although they may seem confusing at first) and they get much harder and longer as you progress in the game. But early on they really are the closest thing to a mini-game that you will come across.

Most of the mini-games in the game though are pretty good. Like you will find one mini-game where you have to dodge an extremely high number of lightning bolts. You stand in a field of lightning, and just as the bolt is about to come down you gotta press the X button to dodge it. Now do it 200 consecutive times (and it’s impossible to cheat) and your home free! I actually did this one and I’m very proud of it. A few of the other mini-games aren’t as good, but there’s a fair mix of them in the game.

Side-quest wise, the major one (outside of Blitzball) involves capturing enemies. This is one of the coolest side-quests and sort of similar to the Bounty Hunting in FFXII. Except here, you gotta purchase a capturing weapon for a character (it’s different for each one) and then you gotta deal the final blow with the capture weapon. Then you go to the Monster Training Facility and that monster will be unlocked for you to fight whenever you want, and you will get to keep the items it drops when defeated without actually losing health or having to worry about dying (if a monster kills you you simply go back to the monster select screen with no penalty).

In addition, capturing all the monsters in a certain zone (you are given a handy list of which monsters you have or haven’t captured in each area in the game) or capturing a particular number of the same monster will allow the owner to create new, very powerful monsters to fight. Beating them will of course net you rare and useful items and equipment. This is a very cool side-quest that can take up a good chunk of time to complete and it’s fun to try and “Catch Them All”.

The main mini-game though is Blitzball, which you can optionally play after taking part in a tournament at save points, and it basically replaces the card games seen in Final Fantasy’s VIII & IX. Which is all well and good, but outside of Blitzball there aren’t many mini-games and most of them aren’t even playable until the very end of the game.

I never did get into Blitzball, whose rules aren’t clear in the least and where, once again, Square goes out on it’s “learn by trial and error with no real help” (besides a tutorial which seems helpful until you actually play the game) type deal like it did with the previous card games, which just dampens the experience and makes it even harder to get into. It does have cool features though, and basically has you recruiting members across the land by asking them to join, and then growing them with experience as you win games and learn new moves.

Luckily Blitzball is 100% optional (after said tournament), so it doesn’t matter much whether you play it or not. You won’t miss out on anything important to the storyline by not playing it, although you will earn Wakka’s best weapon if you do manage to master it, and it’s the only way to get it. You will also earn other special items, so there is certainly incentive to learn and play for those completists out there.

One very cool and really unique feature in FFX is the “Al Bhed Primers”, which are magazines you’ll find lying about that gradually reveal letters in the mysterious Al Bhed language that’s spoken to you by a group of outcast humans at many points throughout the entire game. The more primers you find the better you’ll be able to understand the language, and the primers can be saved if you re-play the game. So you can replay it once beaten and be able to understand everything that is spoken to you by the Al Bhed, which you couldn’t understand previously since you didn’t have the primers. It’s a pretty cool feature.

But outside of that, there aren’t a whole lot of reasons to replay the game once you’ve beaten it, except of course to relive the awesome movie scenes, storyline and romantic moments (and great gameplay, of course). But unlike in the previous games, there is no world map in FFX, so there’s not much exploring going on; it’s definitely the most linear game in the series. Luckily the environments are well made and the lack of a world-map eliminates the problem of frequent back-tracking that many games fall into.

However, when all is said and done, FFX is easily what I consider to be one of Square’s best games ever. I loved almost every minute of playing through the game, and I amazingly spent more time playing it than any previous FF game (about 170 total hours by the end), which is quite a feat considering that I’ve spent over 100 hours with every previous modern FF game as well.

The storyline and character development in Final Fantasy X is outstanding. I love how the characters really develop over the course of the game. And unlike most other RPGs, in FFX you meet every character early on, so they are all with you throughout the course of the game, and you won’t meet any new ones that join your party. While this may seem disappointing at first, what it really allows is for the characters to develop more fully, as they will all experience major “life-changing” events and it’s awesome to watch the characters, particularly Titus and Yuna, evolve as events shape their viewpoints. A great example is the campfire in the opening scene of the game when you first turn it on . . . you think you know what it means by the scenery and the emotion and deep stillness of each character, but once you reach a certain point you will forever be effected by that opening scene, as you really come to understand what is going through each characters head. It’s sooo DEEP, on an emotional level unlike that in any other RPG I’ve played.

Final Fantasy X is also narrated, although it doesn’t come into play as much as I hoped it would, you will occasionally here the story being told by an older, wiser Titus, and this is an incredible feature that I wish more games would pursue. It just adds yet another level to the storytelling in the game, and rises it above and beyond most video games stories.

Final Fantasy X plays the romance card more so than any previous game in the series (which is saying something as romance is a key aspect of all later Final Fantasy titles), and due to the great voice acting, the incredible graphics, the mind-blowing movie scenes, the likeable characters and the extensive character customization, and the extremely satisfying ending, FFX has shot into my top 10 games of all time list.

I Will Follow You Into the Dark AMV (MAJOR SPOILERS! Only watch if you’ve beaten the game)

If you are in any way a fan of the previous modern Final Fantasy games (VII, VIII, IX or XII), or even if you’ve never tried a FF game or an RPG before, you owe it to yourself to check out Final Fantasy X. To me it just proves, even more, how effective the video game medium can be in telling a story and getting you emotionally attached to the characters, and does it just as well as any book or movie. Of course, those other poor mediums don’t give you the luxury of obliterating giant boss monsters with your customized character by Summoning an unstoppable beast that performs the very mind-blowing attack you select. Bwa ha ha ha hah. 🙂

As good as RPG’s come in my humble opinion. The new battle system is excellent, the sphere grid is the best leveling up system ever (better than FFXII’s IMO), the battles are fun, I love ALL the characters (I can’t say this about any other FF), and the storyline is very good. And on top of that, this game has hands-down the most romantic scenes and THE best ending ever. You WILL cry. A must-own.

Graphics – 9.0
The movie scenes are incredible, while the in-game graphics are very satisfying, though it depends on the environment, some are better looking than others. While it’s an early PS2 game, it doesn’t look bad at all.

Sounds & Music – 9.0
The soundtrack, as you would expect is excellent. While the voice acting is better than expected for an RPG and the sound effects are just as good. Ah very nice audio experience.

Ingenuity – 9.5
Final Fantasy X re-built the RPG franchise from the ground up. Stripped of a world map and the ATB gauge, the game is ultimately better off with the new systems in place. From the board-game like Sphere Grid that lets you level up to your liking, to the voice acting which was a first to the series, to being able to swap any character in your party in and out in battles at will, FFX made you re-think Final Fantasy, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

Presentation – 9.0

A great battle transition, a very nice menu screen, great music and sound effects, and a very easy to use Sphere Grid all add up to an outstanding presentation.

Replay Value – 7.0
The game is awesome enough on it’s own to make you want to replay it, but honestly, the only real reason to replay it is for the Al Bhed Primers, and then only the very hardcore will want to replay it for that reason. While there are a few mini-games and some very cool side-quests (one includes capturing beasts from every part of the game with special “capture” weapons that are different for each character) they don’t add up to enough to make you want to replay the from scratch. But if you do get into it you will be kept playing for a LONG time. But mini-game wise, there is not nearly as many as in Final Fantasy IX.