Pure Bliss... the only way to describe , upon playing the next chapter in Squaresoft epic series. Final Fantasy always have a huge, if rather secretive, followings in Malaysia. Particularly more so when it comes to those living in close quarters where yours truly lives. Maybe its just me, but Final Fantasy players around here tend to rush to the store, collect their copy, and lock themselves for weeks playing the FF series. Not that i didnt do it myself, but that itself presents an inherent disadvantage, unless you are the truly gifted, remarkably lucky or both, collective minds are essential in truly unlocking the secrets and wonders of FFX. After all, two(or more heads) are better than one. Enough with the ramblings, here is yours truly’s impressions/review on the latest of the Final Fantasy saga.
The game starts from the end... or close to the end, through narrations/flashbacks of Tidus, players are brought back to the beginning of the adventure. This style of advancing along the plot does seems refreshing at first, but somehow it also brings about the linearity of the game, since players are "brought" along into the game without any chance of breaking away from the storyline. Until players have reached the part where Tidus ends the narrations/flashbacks, then, and only then the game starts to widen in the area of freedom of choosing one’s way, so to speak. It is because of this fact which brings about major grumbles among old school FF fans, accusing their beloved FF series turning into an interactive movie,with little substance being implemented on the gameplay department. I am somewhat impartial on this, since this style of advancing plots had never been implemented before, but I do feel the pain of pressing the Action button only brings about cutscenes after cutscenes.T he lack of interactions only further proves the point of the game becoming an interactive movie........
Gameplay wise, FFX receives major overhauls in character developments and customizationsand the revamped battle system. Characters no longer level up through the experience system as previous installations, they now roam the Sphere Board to gain abilities or HP/MP advancements. Through 7 different places on the huge Sphere Board, the 7 main characters traverse the board ,redeeming/activating the spheres by exchanging the spheres collected through battles and treasure chests. Advancing on the Sphere Board requires Sphere Levels, which is obtained ala EXP in the game. One Sphere level equates to one Sphere Board movement, therefore,developing characters in the games does take some time and dedication. Further advancement into the more coveted abilities such as powerful spells are hindered by Level Spheres which guards the ability spheres itself. Infringement into another character’s Sphere Board section are only available through keys opening Sphere Locks on the board, but once they are out of the way , it opens up countless customization towards building up your characters, eventually all characters are able to learn each other’s ability to certain extent.Some may choose to develop Tidus as the major fighter, minor spellcaster, while others may want him to acquire Black magic spells from Lulu’s Sphere Board sections and Breaks from Auron’s part.
Flexibility is the key, and the battle engine shows the example of that. Characters are now allowed to tag in via the L1 button, therefore allowing those weakened from battle to tag out, while another enters the fray. Tagging/choosing characters which enters a battle is also crucial in certain circumstances where only certain attacks are the only way to injure the beasts you are fighting. Examples would be creatures invulnerable to close range attacks which makes close range characters like Tidus and Auron (if you choose to develop them through the default path on the Sphereboard). Wakka’s long range blitzball attack, or Lulu’s Magic are necessary in these kinds of situation therefore tagging them in would be a wise tactical move. The battle system goes to the extent that only certain attacks are effective against particular enemies, this is demostrated through the Stats window which tells the status of the current enemy engaged. Of course the summons are back in the game through the only summoner in the party, Yuna... but wrong move or slacking in the development of the summons themselves can prove to be fatal, due to the fact that only certain attacks being effective to certain enemies. Logical/Quick thinking are needed in such situation and the notched-up difficulty also provided engaging and interesting encounters.
Also a new addition thrown into the mix is the Trigger command. The battlegrounds are more interactive in FFX, with characters able to use background elements to effect the outcome of the battle. One particular example would be during the earlier stages where the city of Zanarkand is swarmed with Sin’s minions, and Tidus is overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of his attackers. Instead of hacking through the flood of enemies coming, he hacks away at a battery-pack on a run-downed vehicle, causing explosion, wiping out the field of all the incoming enemies and allowing him to escape with Auron.
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and my, what a sight FFX beholds. Graphic-wise, FFX truly brings about the example of what the next generation RPG should be heading. Lush expansive environments,and the seamless integration between the cutscenes/FMVs and the game graphic engine really brings about the heightened experience of being "in there" in the game. Breathtaking environmental effects such as lapping waves upon seashores and coastal towns, swaying trees, complemented by believable inhabitants and excellent camerawork so astounding, even those jaded gamers bickering on how off-angled cameras would bring about annoyance , they would find hard to complain about it. These are rendered realistically, and rendered in amounts enough to create a fantasy world, yet so familiar in so many ways. Compliments goes to the overworld programmers, because its sometimes hard to discern the difference between the rendered polygonal world and the pre-rendered FMVs.
But FFX is not without its flaws. Once the graphical spleandour settles in, those with sharp eyes, could notice the difference between the characters rendering and the NPC (non-player characters) rendering. Once scene particularly shows the amount of work put into the characters, their details are astounding, while their NPC counterparts lack in detail, so much as their rendering pales in comparison of the main characters. Examples would be on how the main characters would actually be seen talking with their polygonal lips moving, while the NPCs talk with exchange of texture over the lip section, to create the illusion of moving lips. Frequent change of the graphic engines too are somewhat noticable/annoying - take your pick. Or maybe im going too much into details... Battle scenes are good, but the "difference-of-detail effect" is forgivable here, compared to my gripes on the NPC characters, since rendering a fast-moving battle scenes does warrant fast FPS and therefore taking away some detail from the rendering of the characters. Nevertheless, these are minor gripes from someone who nitpicks the game after spending copious amount playing the game, the graphic department had already surpasses anything seen on the RPG market so far, its just there are rooms for improvement.
Audiophiles rejoice!! FFX totally delivers on the audio department.And thanks to collective efforts from 3 different composers (Nobuo Uematsu, Junya Nakano of PS2 novel game "Another Mind" and Masashi Hamauzu of Saga Frontier fame), their collaboration bears fruition of the most wide range of musical tunes ever brought to a FF series. No more looping, similarly sounding music (remember Chrono Cross?), players effectively can relate to the current event transpiring with the music playing in the background. From the rock/metal inspired Blitzball music of "OverWorld" , soothing tunes of the Yevon-Malacania to the religious chantings when players enters the Aeon Temples, there couldnt be a wider variety of game music found in any other recent games comes to mind. Battle scene musics are upbeat as usual, and changes accordingly to the nature of the battle.
But the most noticable breakthrough is the addition of voice-overs for the main characters and some NPCs. This add further the immersion factor of the game, even those linguistically challenged can relate to the emotions conveyed on screen through the excellent voice actings and changing facial expressions. For those with a 5.1 home theather setup, once you’ve advanced further into the game, there are options to replay the entire FMVs encountered in glorious Dolby Digital. Options are also available to replay the game music in the game through the Luca theather feature.Its almost like having your own FFX soundtrack!!
It is stated that FFX linearity is more than to be desired. It is only towards the end that the game starts to open up with the acquisition of the Airship. However, the game does provide with interesting and memorable sidequests/mini-games. The sidequests for the Ultimate Weapons,gathering all the Summons/Aeons, Chocobo Training/Racing, Sabotender minigame, Thunder Plain minigame,and the Blitzball Tournament will provide enjoyable diversion from the grim mission before hand.
So how does all this adds up? From the cinematic point of view, the game excels in immersing the player into the world Square has created. Graphically and aurally, this game has raised the standard RPGs games have to follow in the coming years. But being cinematic has its low side, FFX is the most linear FF game ever introduced into the FF line-up. Its not until towards the end that players are able to explore and diversify. On one hand, it is the most beautifully done, aurally well-presented, superbly told storywise, cinematically immersive and the most polished presented FF in the series, but on the other hand, its linearity and lack on interactions in the earlier sections towards the near end of the game stops it from being the true FF of the next generation.
Former owner and editor in chief of Darkstation.com