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FFX: The Second Opinion

 

Classic or re-run? It is entirely up to the gamer.

Ah, the Final Fantasy series. There is probably no other RPG series that has as much popularity or history. From humble beginnings on the Nintendo Entertainment System, all the way to the nextgen consoles and even the PC, the series has gone a long way indeed. But one question lingers in everyone's mind except maybe the hardcore FF fans; Is the series losing its edge? Many called FF8 a complete disaster, because it wasn't true to its history. Gone were the memorable and dynamic characters, well crafted story lines, and most of all, entertainment. One can help but question the future of the series. Luckily, FF9 wasn't as bad, Square tried to reconnect with its past and ended up with a great game. Does the same go for FFX?

The story, like FF8, involves a romance between two characters (Square, leave the love stories to books or real life, please). Tidus, a whiny athlete with a traumatic childhood is transported to the land of Spira by a glob of sparkly mess that the citizens of Zanarkand simply refer to as Sin. There, he finds himself in the hands of the Al Bhed, a reclusive bunch of tech lovers, that is until Sin finds him again. This is when the adventure officially begins. Wakka, the local blitzball coach, finds Tidus at the beach and he offers to take him in until Tidus can find his way around. Then Tidus eventually meets Yuna, a high summoner, and immediately develops feelings for her. Haven't we heard this story before? Much of the story revolves around the summoner's pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is for the summoner to collect Aeons (summons) and train at the same time for the eventual showdown with Sin. There are a few story twists, but nothing out of the ordinary. Many characters join you along the way, from the introverted swordsman Auron, all the way to the perky Al Bhed cutie, Rikku.

Gameplay is much like the previous games in the series, with a few exceptions. Leveling up is an entirely new experience in FFX. Numerical levels are now obsolete, as they mean absolutely nothing when measuring a character's skill. The Sphere Grid, a huge board full of small spheres that hold various improvements and abilities, replaces the old method of advancement. It is hard to explain using words; Once a character has gained, lets say, five levels, they may move five spheres on the grid. Each sphere can be activated (since they hold good stuff) by using a corresponding item. Improvements in strength, defense, etc are activated by a Strength sphere. Mana spheres activate magic related stats, Ability spheres activate just that, and Fortune spheres activate luck improvements. I'm sure it sounds complicated, and it is. The only way to learn it well is to practice using it. This method of character advancement is actually very creative. In this way, you can tune your characters in the way you want. Fighters can boost their strength and spell casters can improve their magic skills. When it comes to mini games, FFX does not take the cake. The only real minigame you get is blitzball, which is a mix of soccer, rugby, and football. You can sign players and level up as you play. It's very entertaining, but it can be difficult to learn. Combat is done just like in the previous games, only three party members are allowed in a battle, but you can switch members on the fly, without penalty. This can be very useful since some battles may require the use everyone's skills. One new addition to the battle screen is a bar that shows the order of action. It shows the portrait of each person in the order that they will have their turn. This comes in handy when you need to time your healing spells and such. There are fewer summons this time around, but they are much more powerful and nothing less than creative. From the incredibly greedy Youjimbo, to the horrid Anima, all of the summons have their own personalities and strengths.

The main problem with FFX's gameplay is the lack of gameplay. Much of the beginning (and most of the game, for that matter) is cutscenes. In another nod to change and innovation, Square has killed off the overworld map in FFX. Players will no longer travel all over the world, but now simply follow a linear set of events (marked by a mini-map), making FFX probably the shallowest Final Fantasy game ever, next to FF8. I was continually bored into submission by cutscene after cutscene and unimaginative bosses. Let me end this paragraph by saying that FFX probably has the WORST endgame boss than any other game I've played. Even the monsters in the monster arena offer more of a challenge.

While the story is an uncreative mess, fortunately, the graphics are far from disappointing. PS2 owners need not look elsewhere for a game to show off the power of their system. FFX sports incredibly high poly counts and beautifully crafted models. Eyebrows, eyeballs, and even Wakka's stubble shave are visible. This game truly matches CG video. But, of course, this kind of detail comes with a hefty price. The models are rendered in two ways, a low and high detail mode. Only during dialogue or cutscene are the characters modeled in high detail mode. In battle or short conversations, models are in low detail mode. Not a big loss since a good amount of the game is spent blabbing or acting. Maybe this was part of the developer's plan? FFX also strays from its previous incarnations by converting the backdrops to full 3D. Pre-rendered scenes are no longer used, the entire world is in 3D. This is both good and bad in many ways. Characters now feel like they're in the world, unlike in previous FFs, where they seemed as if they actors on a stage backdrop. But when all characters are on screen at once, the graphics engine starts to choke from the sheer amount of polygons it has to render. The camera also suffers from many problems. It is no longer in a fixed position, it often swings as the character moves around. This can be very annoying, since the camera can't catch up sometimes and you have to stop moving in order to see yourself. Playing blitzball or the chocobo training minigames often become frustrating since you can't see where you're going because of the camera. Summoning Aeons is a whole new experience in FFX as well. The summoning cutscenes are now much shorter (and can be made even shorter), but still inspiring to watch.

One of the things that the Final Fantasy series is known for is its brilliant music. Unfortunately, FFX's soundtrack failed to amaze me. There are a few songs that are decent, such as the remixed Final Fantasy theme and the Hymn of The Fayth, but most of the soundtrack is indeed disappointing, it fails to inspire like the previous games did. In-game sound effects are usual fare, but again, Square has added something radically new to the FF series. FFX is the first in the series' history to have seiyuus (voice actors). The voice acting is mediocre and not even close to impressive.

When it comes right down do it, FFX is both a beginning and an end to the illustrious series. The formula that has made the games so successful over the past several years is being dumped, or assimilated, rather, in order to make the series more innovative. Maybe it's just me, I am a fan of nostalgia, but there is no doubt that some of the choices that Square made with FFX were completely unnecessary. As a hardcore FF fan, FFX isn't exactly what I was looking for, I wanted an RPG, not a soap opera.

Highs: Beautiful graphics, innovative, high production values

Lows: Linear gameplay, story's been done to death, can be boring

Verdict: 83%

Bottom Line: It's still Final Fantasy, but with radical changes. Some may welcome them, some may not, but times change and this particular reviewer isn't happy about it.