Title :Final Fantasy X
Platforms :Sony PlayStation 2
Publisher :Square Electronic Arts L.L.C.
ESRB Rating :Teen
Game Rating :9.0
Review by :Ken Gagne

A year can no longer pass without a new Final Fantasy game. Square's tenth installment in this role-playing game (RPG) series is the first for the PlayStation 2, and is a remarkable maiden voyage on this new platform. 

The story is as plain as good versus evil, with only a few surprises tossed in. The cast of heroes is comprised mostly of sexually repressed, yet likable, teenagers with such nonsense names as Wakka and Lulu. The main character, Tidus, is a stranger in a strange land who's kept mainly in the dark, as is the audience. What we do know is that there's a destructive force of nature called Sin that's just asking to be vanquished, so pick up your sword and do your daring duty! 

In many ways, FFX is unlike any of its predecessors. For one, it's the first Final Fantasy to feature spoken dialogue. The cast has no recognizable voice actors, but they perform admirably — a solid first effort from Square, one that helps put FFX on a cinematic level comparable with the Final Fantasy Movie. 

Even more impressive, and what FFX will be best remembered for, is the game's graphics. Square has seemingly mastered the 128-bit platform in their first attempt. The game switches seamlessly between real-time animation and pre-rendered video sequences. Both are of higher quality than anything any previous Final Fantasy has offered, presenting more detail, more lifelike characters, and smoother animation than ever before seen. Even the battles' automatic camera work increases the dramatic feel of the game. 

Graphical expositions are popular for advancing the game's plot, in which the player has no control. Such storytelling results in a strictly linear gameplay experience. There is little opportunity for exploration, and no "world map" from which to choose a destination; such choices are not a part of FFX. Tidus and his party are railroaded from one battlefield to the next, with gamers going along for the ride. 

Unlike Dragon Warrior, which adheres rigidly to a traditional RPG formula, the Final Fantasy series has become a proving ground for new gameplay elements. For example, in most RPGs, combatants earn experience points for battles won; with enough points, they go up in level, which increases their various statistics. 

In FFX, there are no levels. Instead, characters are moved along paths on a game board known as the Sphere Grid, with each path offering different enhancements. It's an innovative system that gives the player some say in his characters' development. The grid requires constant attention after almost every battle, but attend to this chore and most conflicts will be resolved positively. The grid is also an obtuse measurement of a character's strength; it's more useful to answer "What level am I?" than it is "Where on the Sphere Grid am I?" 

In a further perversion of the RPG formula, FFX's weapons and armor are all equal in their offensive and defensive stats. A character's strength remains unchanged whether he's wearing a loincloth or chain mail, or wielding a baseball bat or a bazooka. If that doesn't make a gamer's blood run cold, I don't know what will. FFX's equipment instead has unique attributes which make them effective in different scenarios or against various foes. Players will need to mix, match, and create the proper gear for any situation. 

All Final Fantasy games feature a diversionary mini-game; in FFX it's Blitzball, a sporting event that boils down to a number comparison between players, reminiscent of a text-based soccer simulation on an old Apple II computer. This simplicity serves to make more apparent how frustratingly difficult it is to win a game of Blitzball. Time spent blitzing is better spent hunting Sin. 

When the first Final Fantasy came out for PlayStation, everyone was too impressed with the technical accomplishments to acknowledge the gameplay flaws. The same is likely to occur here. FFX is a refreshing entry in a familiar series, with much innovation and an amazing presentation. Whether it stands the test of time remains to be seen, but for now, it's a game worth a first impression.

This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 07-Jan-02