Final Fantasy X
Review by Jen September 2002
Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy is arguably the most successful game franchise ever, not to mention serving as the genesis of the turn-based console RPG. Besides the Final Fantasy games proper, there have been offshoots such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Chocobo Racing, and even a feature film. The next Final Fantasy, slated for launch later this year, is scheduled for online-only play. Besides the millions of units sold, the series boasts probably the most fervent fans of any video game in history.
I played most if not all of the original Game Boy version of Final Fantasy Legend back when it was first available, hard on the heels of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda, which I had loved and which opened my eyes to the world of video games outside the arcade and led me to seek out other “questing” games. I remember being dismayed by the turn-based battles that popped up seemingly out of nowhere in that early Final Fantasy; in Zelda you could see the beasties before you fought them in real time.
Now, older, wiser … okay, more carpal-tunnelly … I am no longer very adept at action. Besides, the intervening years of playing point-and-click adventures almost exclusively have shown me that electronic fun can be had without the hack-and-slash, and now if I must have combat in my games, I vastly prefer turn-based over real-time. And since I have recently fallen in love with my PS2 as a gaming platform, I thought I’d revisit the Final Fantasy series with this latest incarnation.
The game opens with a young Zanarkand Abes blitzball star, Tidus, running into the stadium and being waylaid by his adoring fans, one of whom is rather spectral in appearance. Tidus signs a few autographs and promises to return after the game and give some kids some pointers, and he turns to enter the arena. The blitzball game begins. Tidus executes a particularly well-timed move and as he is suspended in midair, he spies a giant ball of water hovering in the sky. Threw off his timing something fierce … Death and destruction are rained down upon the city of Zanarkand, people are fleeing for their lives or paralyzed with fear, Titus joins the stampede … and is stopped by the no-longer-phantasmagorical ghost child. And thus it begins.
All during this opening sequence, we learn that Tidus’s dead father was the Pele of blitzball (blitzball is kind of like soccer but played in a giant sphere filled with water; somehow the players are able either to breathe under water or just hold their breath a really long time) and not such a nice guy. Tidus is torn between his own struggle to live up to his father’s sports greatness and his utter distaste for his “old man.”
As Tidus runs to escape the fate that is befalling Zanarkand, he is stopped by the enigmatic Auron, an old friend of Tidus’s father. Auron, a man of few words, looks up at the thing in the sky and remarks, “We called it Sin.” After a few basic learn-the-controls battles, Tidus and Auron and half of what remains of Zanarkand are sucked into the now-swirling-vortex that was once the hovering water ball and Tidus finds himself alone, stranded on the sunken ancient ruins of a once-great city.
As we progress, we learn that Tidus has been dropped a thousand years into the future. The people of this time remember the Zanarkand Abes … as the stuff of legend. “Sin” is a force of destruction in the form of a gargantuan being that lives in the ocean and periodically surfaces long enough to lay waste to coastal towns. The sorrowful island peoples of this age build and rebuild their small towns, all centered around temples to Yevon, their god.
A few people are called to serve as Summoners. These harness the power of the fayth, which are the ever-dreaming souls of the dead, by entering Yevon’s temples and completing a set of trials that result in a bonding with an Aeon. Aeons are powerful magic creatures that may be called upon by their Summoners as the Summoners embark on pilgrimages to the ancient ruins of Zanarkand, where one Summoner must obtain and call forth a final Aeon to do battle with Sin and quiet it for another couple of decades. Ultimately Sin arises again and a new batch of Summoners sets off on the pilgrimage to buy a few more years of peace for Spira, the land in which they live …
Early in the game, Tidus lands on the shore of one of these island towns and coincidentally happens upon the practice session of a blitzball team. He shows them a couple of moves and is befriended by the team captain, Wakka. Wakka takes him to the town of Besaid and introduces him around. Turns out the Besaid blitzball team is about to travel to another town to play in an annual blitzball tournament, which they lose year after year. Here too Tidus meets Yuna, a Summoner fresh from obtaining her first Aeon and Tidus’s love interest, Lulu, Yuna’s older sister and a powerful sorceress, and Kimahri, Yuna’s Ronso (another race of people with cat faces and unicorn horns) guardian. These become Tidus’s first permanent party members.
The course of Yuna’s pilgrimage just happens to coincide with the voyage to the blitzball tournament, and thus the game begins. The party is beset by misfortune, besieged by monsters at every step, and yet bound by adversity they become stronger and better able to meet the increasingly more difficult challenges that face them as they journey ever onward to the final confrontation with Sin.
When the party arrives at Kilika, the next town after Besaid, Tidus is forced to actually play blitzball. Luckily, it doesn’t matter if his team wins or loses, and after the first forced game, blitzball becomes a minigame. Needless to say, I never played it again, and blitzball became an increasingly distant and finally forgotten factor in the game, aside from the fact of Wakka’s weapon being, you guessed it, a blitzball.
There are two main categories of gameplay in Final Fantasy X, monster battles and the temple trials whereby Yuna gains new Aeons. These Aeons are powerful in battle and can be summoned by Yuna when and if she gets a turn to fight. The temple trials are puzzles. I did five or six different temples in my game, and these were by far the most enjoyable part of the game for me. As an example, in the first temple at Besaid, you are presented with two or three different spheres that each have different powers. You may carry them but you can only hold one at a time. You have to place them in the correct locations and manipulate the environment a little based on what happens with the spheres, and you are rewarded with entry to the chamber of the fayth, where Yuna gains a new Aeon.
Aside from the temple trials, the rest of the game goes like this: monster battle, take a few steps, monster battle times five, walk some more, monster battle times twenty, cutscene, boss battle, boss battle, cutscene … and on and on. You occasionally will find treasure chests containing items that will heal you or make you stronger, or you can gain these things in battle, or you may buy them from merchants you encounter with the money you earned by fighting the fiends.
About halfway through the game, the regular monster battles suddenly became as difficult as the boss battles had been previously and the boss battles became nearly impossible for me. I quit the game for a few weeks, then I got a Game Shark, a device that allows the use of cheat codes for PS2 games, and loaded myself up with cheats. Unfortunately there was no god mode, so while I was able to make my party very strong and eliminate the random battles altogether, I still had to use my wits to formulate strategies for the boss fights. And there were boss fights ad infinitum …
Monsters come in two varieties: regular and boss. Really, their physical appearance is varied and somewhat interesting, and some of them are human or pseudo-human. The early monsters have elemental characteristics where you can cast spells of the opposing element and do major damage, but later in the game the monsters are all immune to practically everything, and you just have to wear them down or summon Aeons. However, if you let one of your Aeons die during battle, it has to sit out for some number of battles, five or ten, before you can summon that particular Aeon again. Many of the Aeons can cast their own black magic on themselves and restore their strength.
Ultimately your party grows to a total of seven members, each with different strengths and weaknesses. For most battles, you can choose three participants from among the seven, but occasionally one or more party members will be removed; for instance, Yuna will be kidnaped once or twice and then she and her Aeons are unavailable; also, only three party members can swim and so they are the ones to fight all underwater battles. In most cases, though, you can switch characters at will even in the midst of a battle to give your party the best advantage.
After some number of attack turns, your character will build up an “overdrive,” which, if executed properly, can deal double or triple the damage of an ordinary attack. Use of some of characters’ overdrives requires you to complete a little arcade thing; for example, to use Lulu’s overdrive, you must rotate the right analog stick as many times and as quickly as you can; the higher you move the gauge by doing this, the more powerful your attack. Others, such as the Aeons and Kimahri, can just use their overdrives “out of the box,” so to speak, with nothing required of the player beyond selecting the action.
As your party gains experience, the members gain “sphere levels.” This enables them to move about the “sphere grid” (shown in one of the screenshots to the right) and collect new abilities, more health points, more agility points, more mana points, or what have you. Each can move one step for each sphere level and activate the adjacent nodes if the party has the appropriate type of sphere to use on that node. (The party shares inventory but each has his or her own weapons and armor.) The spheres are gained like any other inventory item, as battle booty or by finding them on your journey.
Final Fantasy X just wasn’t very fun for me. The graphics and music are both first-rate, five-star material all the way, by far the finest I’ve ever seen or heard in any video game. There was a decent story, doled out in periodic cutscenes between the battles. The voice acting was very well-done, and amazingly enough there were full voices throughout for all but the most insignificant NPCs. The game ran without a hitch, even with umpteen million cheats enabled.
The main characters, however, were all pretty one-dimensional. Tidus came across as shallow and immature, constantly saying “whoa” or using other similar “dude”-type surfer boy slang exclamations, and it was hard to attribute to him the deeper emotions and personal growth he was supposed to be experiencing. Yuna rarely cracked a smile and when she did it was not believable. Neither was the purported love between the two very convincing, even by the end of the game. Both were trying to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, Yuna from a position of love and admiration and Tidus in a quest for one-upmanship, and yet their periodic displays of feeling were not persuasive. Perhaps the pacing was too slow; even with the Game Shark it took me well over 60 hours to play through, and of that I’d estimate maybe an hour and a half was actually devoted to story via cutscenes and another hour and a half to the aforementioned temple trials. The rest was just battles, battles, and more battles, on top of battles.
I am giving Final Fantasy X a thumb up mainly due to the high production values throughoutit really is an extraordinarily beautiful piece of work. For me, though, it missed the mark. I got bored with it about halfway through, and finishing it became a distasteful chore. So a thumb up but not recommended to anyone who doesn’t absolutely love difficult turn-based fighting … because that’s really about all you’re going to get out of this game.
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