ith each passing Final Fantasy release, Square Soft continues to improve upon perfection, not only setting a new standard for role-playing games, but for video games as a whole. Without question, Final Fantasy X is Sakaguchi’s most ambitious project yet, and is a radical departure from the formula we’ve become accustomed to. Tapping into every facet of the PlayStation 2 architecture, the development team has completely revolutionized every aspect within the storytelling. This may sound trivial in the grand scheme of things, but it’s the biggest change the series has ever made. As you well know, in the past, characters would pantomime to text that would flash across the screen. In Final Fantasy X, every character has a synchronized voice, which in turn presents lifelike qualities and the true essence of drama. Much like the transformation to "talkie" films, this enhancement completely alters the face of the Final Fantasy lineage and greatly enhances the overall experience.
As remarkable as the spoken script may be, it actually plays second fiddle to the plot that Yoshinori Kitase and Kazushige Nojima have penned. The storytelling in Final Fantasy has always been somewhat predictable. Kitase and Nojima obviously knew this. They even went to great lengths to trick the player into believing they know what their destiny is. Then, and without warning, everything you know and believe is turned upside down and inside out. To say the very least, this story is a real shocker. It feeds off of your emotions, stabs you in the back, and takes your breath away. Tidus may not be the heroic character you were hoping for, but give him a chance. Indeed, he’s quirky, but by the end of the game, his performance will move you. There are two scenes in particular – and I won’t ruin them for you – that I’ll remember for a lifetime, rivaling the opera sequence in Final Fantasy III and the Sephiroth confrontation in Final Fantasy VII.
On the gameplay end, the complexity of combat harks back to the 32-bit days with a number of ingenious changes on the side. Through tag-team methods, players can freely swap characters on the battlefield to create better strategies. Interestingly, the battles are no longer presented in real-time. You’ll now see a chart that shows when an enemy will attack, and will have all the time in the world to determine what actions must be initiated before then. The aeons (summon beasts) can still be called up to deliver a devastating attack, but now they are very similar to the party members and are equipped with a wide variety of attacks and spells. For those of you who love to customize, the new Sphere Grid completely does away with the standard level/experience system. Moving and activating spheres on a board-game-like surface affects character skills and abilities. If you want a mage to become a knight, you can make it happen. Of course, you’ll also have the ability to change the functionality of your weapons and items.
Square Soft has always been the king of visuals, and Final Fantasy X is no exception. The motion-captured animations bring about a higher level of realism, the intricately detailed environments are teeming with ambient life, and the prerendered cutscenes deliver incredible action sequences. As always, each landscape jumps off the screen as an individual work of art that should be hanging in a gallery.
My only complaint has to do with the structure of the quest. The Final Fantasy games are traditionally linear, but this one redefines the term. You cannot backtrack until later in the game and the overworld has been completely removed. You simply move from location to location via a cursor on a map. I don’t know about you, but I always enjoyed having the freedom to leisurely move about the world, perhaps on the back of a chocobo. You can’t do this anymore. Every environment is completely sectioned off from the others. Sadly, you don’t even get to take control of the airship.
Even if you don’t approve of all the changes that Square Soft has installed, I’m sure you’ll agree that Final Fantasy X is a breakthrough release, a visionary tale, and a masterpiece for the ages.