Final Fantasy X
It's odd to be talking about Final Fantasy XI so soon after the release of FFX. Remember when we had to wait at least a year or two between sequels? These days, Square's on the ball--both FFX! and FFXII are in the works, and we might even be experiencing the former by year's end.
Change is good, as the many successful tweaks to standard RPG-dom in FFX prove. Will even more change prove to be better? FFXI doesn't simply alter the Final Fantasy formula--it utterly reinvents it. With this game, Square transforms its flagship series into a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). PC gamers spend oodles of money and time on MMORPGs like Everquest, Ultima Online and Asheron's Call. Like these titles, FFXI boasts a persistent world in which a great number of players can talk, fight and quest together.
Plot details remain sketchy, but we've scavenged some character-creation information. In addition to selecting from among multiple races (see sidebar), you'll be able to customize the appearance of your alter ego with clothing and hairstyles. More importantly, you can select a character class for your hero. Old-school Final Fantasy fans will swoon with nostalgia-classes include Fighter, Monk, Thief, White Mage, Red Mage and Black Mage, just like in the original NES game. In addition to your main Job, you can assume a secondary class. That way, your Monk can learn a few white magic spells on the side.
It all sounds quite promising, yet many questions linger. What's the battle system like? Early reports point to a hybrid of the good-ole FF system and something more Everquesty. Will you have to buy a modem and Sony's hard drive? Beta testers in japan need both, but perhaps the final version won't require so much. Will there be a monthly fee to play? Our guess is yes. The most crucial answer we're looking for is a U.S. release date, but Square simply won't give in to our constant threats. Sorry.
Download Final Fantasy X
Young Tidus is a champion Blitzball player (more on this later) who, through the unlucky happenstance of an evil entity called 'Sin,? is blasted 1000 years forward in time. Yuna, is a summoner in this future world where she has been charged with the dubious task of collecting all of the Aeons (Aeons being powerful spirits locked in holy sanctuaries throughout the land) of the land in order to summarily destroy Sin. Auron is the mighty swordsman who travels back and forth through these two times believing that Sin can only be defeated by uniting Tidus and Yuna.
Together with Yuna's guardians, Lulu, the black magic caster, Wakka, the captain of the local Blitzball team and Kimahri the stoic, deadly Man-Beast, Tidus will become engaged in an adventure that he never believed possible. Meeting up with the strange clan called the Al Bhed and the 'hot as a pistol'? Rikku, Tidus' days as a spoiled professional athlete are over.
Final Fantasy X is another epic game in the same vein as the previous nine. But unlike FFIX, FFX goes back to those strange worlds where both technology and sorcery coexist. Huge sprawling cities that are teeming with fantastical devices are coupled with the fact that you are traveling with a woman clutching a doll capable of launching lightning from the heavens. And, as is the tradition, this game has nothing to do with the previous nine. The only constant is the chocobos that seem to breed everywhere in the universe that is Final Fantasy.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Alright, let's get down to the meat of it. When I initially put this game into my PS2, I was a little taken back. The first thing I noticed were the shaky graphics of Tidus' hand in the intro and, well, was I being a little too overcritical? Maybe. But this is the granddaddy of all RPG franchises AND the game that all other RPGs aspire to be on the console systems, so I was a little surprised to see this minor flaw right out of the gate. As I began to play the game several things became apparent to me. One, our primary hero Tidus, is an overly friendly, outgoing, professional athlete who, for some reason, looks like he belongs in a boy-band. I guess I'm used to these angst-ridden, solemn characters who are haunted by some past tragedy. And, although it was nice to see a lead character without the same cliché characteristics, in the beginning I had hoped for a different direction for him. Well, the next thing I found a bit strange is the character Wakka. Wakka is a blitzball player in the future and carries a blitzball as his initial weapon. The part that confused me was whether this is the same blitzball that's used in the actual sport, since in this sport, players kick, throw, and catch this particular ball, without any sort of damage occurring. So why would you carry an object like this into battle? I liken this to carrying a football into combat. Yes, you could throw it at someone and even hurt them if they weren't looking (especially if it hit them in the nose) but can you honestly say that you could kill an animal the size of an antelope with one? I know I couldn't.
I liken Tidus' situation to the 1980 movie Flash Gordon. In that movie Flash is a professional football player (quarterback for the NY Jets) who is thrust into a situation where he must save the Earth from Ming the Merciless. How Flash automatically knew how to use weapons, swordfight, and fly rocket cycles was never explained, but this same kind logic is apparent in Final Fantasy X. Tidus instantly picks up a sword and can wield it with deadly intent. And just like Flash Gordon, this situation is a little hard to grip in the beginning. Having Tidus be a professional athlete certainly explains his physical prowess and speed, but it never answers the combat question. Maybe if Blitzball was a more brutal, combat style sport I could understand, but as it appears to be a cross between water polo and soccer, I had a hard time getting over the natural born killer instinct of Tidus.
Fortunately, about three hours into the game, a sequence occurred that signaled the beginning of the game's real qualities. Up until this part, there was character development and the hints of what could be coming, but after this sequence I started having a vested interest in who these characters were and their plight. In other words, what normally occurs for me earlier in Final Fantasy games finally kicked into full swing about four hours into the game. As it stands now, I see Tidus for what he really is and, thankfully, I have since replaced Wakka's blitzball with throwing orbs more suitable to doling out damage.
Something I wasn't expecting was how the game flows. Typical Final Fantasy RPGs have a free range type exploration mode, such as 'We need to go to the city of Thumscara.'? You and your party would then leave whatever location you were at and be allowed to roam some massive countryside looking for the city of Thumscara. But in FFX, the game completely removes this ability. When you find out you will be traveling to Luca, a small cut-scene pops up reminiscent of those Indiana Jones movies, where it shows the line being drawn from one city to the next. Well, after that you then most likely will watch some more of the game's numerous cut-scenes and, once the cut-scene is finished, you have arrived at your location. It is impossible to get lost in this game since you always seem to be led around by your nose. There is even a pop-up map that appears with a red indicator arrow telling you exactly where to go once you reach the city or other location. It's up to you, if you want to open a door you might see that isn't indicated by the arrow, but for the most part the room will probably just contain a treasure chest and you will have to exit it and continue on your path. I honestly say that I missed the old style of traveling.
The back of the game boasts a newly designed battle system and, while I wouldn't have put it quite in those terms, there are some new aspects to the battle. Like so many other games, combat is turned-based and only three of your party will battle at any one time. The biggest improvement on this tried and true formula is the ability to swap out other characters during combat. Let me explain. Tidus, Yuna and Lulu are drawn into battle against some flying critters. Well, the game indicates that Wakka is the best character for flying opponents, so when Yuna's turn comes up, instead of having her do a regular attack or heal or any number of other functions, I pull the L1 button, which pauses the game and pulls up the listing of all characters not currently in combat. I then select Wakka and Yuna runs off screen and is replaced by Wakka, who doesn't even forfeit a turn. The same move that swaps Wakka into combat also allows me to have him attack right away. I thought this to be a pretty effective way to battle. Plus there's the fact that if certain requirements have been met, a scrolling line of information appears at the top of the screen, informing you of your current opponent's weaknesses.
Some important rules of this new combat addition: if a character dies during combat, you cannot swap him or her out for one of your reserves. If Yuna calls forth one of her Aeons, all characters leave the field of combat as the Aeon then takes over. However, if the Aeon is killed during combat, the team of three that was originally fighting will return in order to continue the battle. I must say, I fully appreciated the complexities and strategy of this added combat function. Should a character go down or die, I simply would swap another character for Yuna who could promptly revive them and then get swapped out of combat once again. Lastly, all characters have original 'special'? abilities called 'overdrives.'? Overdrives can occur only when the overdrive meter has become full during the combat mode. Essentially, every time you attack an enemy, the meter goes up a little bit. Once it has been filled, you can select the 'overdrive'? portion of your combat menu. What happens is the character in overdrive then goes into an elaborate mini cut-scene where said character performs some super attack. Some overdrives are tied in with a small mini-game that must be quickly completed for the overdrive to have maximum effect. An example would be a line with a small ball going back and forth on it. You would need to hit the 'X'? button at the proper moment (in this case when the ball was in the dead center of the line) to get the most out of your overdrive attack.
Another head scratching angle of FFX was the Sphere grid. Each character has this gigantic sphere grid that determines the abilities and strengths of the characters. Each character starts somewhere vastly different on the grid as if indicating no two people are alike. To move around the grid (which really reminded me of a maze) you must acquire ability points (AP), which are received after defeating enemies in battle. Select the Sphere grid from the in-game menu and you can see how many AP each character has. Using spheres that are either found or won in combat, you can move the icon around the grid for each corresponding character and fill in the empty slots with the appropriate sphere. Example: After selecting Tidus for the sphere grid, you look around his immediate area for empty slots of abilities you want him to learn. Since you only have five AP, you can only move as far as five slots. Well, you see that Tidus has the ability to learn how to flee only three slots away. So you move him over and then use one of the many 'ability'? spheres you have acquired to fill in the empty slot. Voila! Tidus can now use the 'flee'? function during combat. There are many types of slots and many types of spheres that will benefit your adventurers as a whole, being careful and selecting wisely will help in battles later in the game.
Finally, on a sour note, there are an absolute ton of cut-scenes in this game. I actually believe I have played the game as much as I have watched it. And although the deep storyline needs to be conveyed, I almost wondered if they couldn't have done it in another way. I remember a time when you played and beat a game like FFX to see the cut-scene ending in all its animated glory. Now, we have cut-scenes after cut-scenes throughout entire 40 hour game.
Final Fantasy features some of the finest graphics ever to grace the PlayStation 2. Water effects are beautiful, as are the bright colors of combat. The massive 'Sin'? is as impressive a monster as you will ever see in a video game. My breath was taken away on more than one occasion. Characters are too pretty, if you know what I mean (no acne or scars). Fiends, as they are called, look appropriately mean and somewhat evil. Boss battles are nothing short of glorious and the attention to detail on the monsters' skins was fabulous. I wish the game didn't have the same cut-scene over and over every time Yuna called forth a Aeon, as the lack of a 'skip'? button started to wear on my nerves. But, all and all, the cities look awesome, the 3D rendering is nothing short of miraculous, and the luxurious locales all prove that the PS2 can hang with the new boys in town.
Holy crap! These characters actually have voices. And pretty good ones too. The accents of Wakka and his fellow islanders is reminiscent of real life Hawaiians. It sounds really good. But my favorite voice was that of Lulu -- she comes off as bitchy and says some really mean things, but damn if she doesn't sound awesome (plus she's good-looking, to boot). Combat noises all sound crisp and clear and the music that chimes in after winning a battle will sound real familiar to those who play the genre a lot. The orchestral accompaniments that pop up throughout the game are all sad and are conveyed really well.
I'll be honest, I was given this game with three days to play before the review was to be written -- I'm nowhere near to being done and thankfully so. I have played and played and played this (now) engaging game with sleep deprivation forcing me to no longer function correctly. My left eye shut down about 17 hours ago and my wife is considering a divorce. Yes, this game slowly creeps under your skin and doesn't let go. At first I thought it wasn't going to be worthy of the Final Fantasy moniker, but after being shown the noble quest these heroes are on, I must, I have to, I will beat this game.