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SummaryCho mon, where deh world map, yah?..
The GoodEver since Final Fantasy series reached the "mainstream", its creators have been paying much attention to visuals and cinematic presentation.
Final Fantasy X is no exception: the first thing you notice when you fire it up are graphics and cutscenes. From a technical viewpoint, the game does to Playstation 2 what Final Fantasy VII did to Playstation - pushes the console to its limits. Not only are the character graphics fabulous - the backgrounds match them fully. Part of them are still pre-rendered, but there are also some very impressive real-time 3D visuals.
CG movies are absolutely gorgeous; while many of them are simply technical "eye candy", some are really memorable thanks to their usage of camera work, visuals, and music. Yuna's wedding, for example, is truly a great piece of CG animation. In short, expect the usual Square artistry and cinematic talent: if you play their games just to see beautiful cutscenes, Final Fantasy X would be perfect for you.
Dramatic storytelling has always been an important component in Final Fantasy games, and Final Fantasy X certainly does not disappoint in this aspect. It delivers a personal, romantic tale with a touch of melancholy and sadness that I'm always ready to appreciate.
The story is told entirely from Tidus' perspective, taking the shape of his memories about the past, with his reflexions and thoughts about what has happened to him. Unlike other Final Fantasies, where heroes come from different parts and join together despite having different motives, Final Fantasy X is fully concentrated on Tidus' personal experience. He is the only stranger, the only outsider, the one who has lost his home forever. There are many plot elements here we've seen many times in previous installments of the series: romantic love, family matters, psychological conflicts, and so on. The narrative also tries to deal with deeper issues, such as religion and its influence on people's lives - though, like most games, it hardly convinces in that aspect.
Spira, the world of Final Fantasy X, has an interesting Asian flavor, superficially resembling South China, or Thailand with a bit of India. The melancholic, "sleepy" and exotic atmosphere of the game is complemented by a lovely musical score, with the piano introduction standing out as one of Nobuo Uematsu's most nostalgically characteristic creations.
The new character growth system is pretty interesting - that is, until you realize that it's just a fancy version of abilities that have been present in the series for a long time. Still, from time to time (actually only near the end of the game) Final Fantasy X does manage to convey a bit of that magical RPG-ing feeling that comes when you train a summoned monster to inflict obscene amount of damage by your own choice.
The BadFor years, Final Fantasy series has been trying to set itself apart from the formulaic, linear structures of its genre brethren. Optional companions, jobs, abilities, hidden areas and monsters - all that distinguished those games from generic Japanese RPGs that told you exactly how they should be played. Alas, Final Fantasy X seems to be the first one in the series that neglects precisely those aspects that made it refreshingly and appealingly different.
Final Fantasy X is too linear. There is no way around it, and it really hurts. It is by far the game's most serious flaw, and it sucks the fun out of it. Lack of a world map and narrow hostile areas means that exploration in the style of earlier Final Fantasies is no longer possible. You follow a pre-determined path for almost the entire game; only before the last dungeon you finally acquire an airship. But you can't physically navigate it; all you can do is select a location from a menu.
Granted, there are still a few optional locations with side quests and optional bosses the series is famous for. But the sensation of exploring the world on your own is sorely missed. Remember how fun it was to drive vehicles and even breed chocobos to uncover more and more of the world map in Final Fantasy VII? Unfortunately, you won't have any of that here. You'll travel from one small town to another in a straight line. Hostile areas connecting those settlements often consist of plain roads without any branches. The only interesting locations are temples where you'll have to solve puzzles to proceed.
Customization is lacking as well. Gone are the rich equipment possibilities of earlier Final Fantasies: all you can do now is have a generic class representative equip one single type of weapon and armor. There is still the relatively free-form character development the series has become known for (i.e. you can eventually have your tank cast black magic or whatever), but this is achieved only through the needlessly complicated ability grid. It feels more artificial - and certainly less expansive - than the convoluted system of Final Fantasy VIII.
The series' trademark active-time combat has been replaced by a vanilla turn-based system. Apparently it was done to make battles more tactical; in reality, they only became more predictable and devoid of challenge. The possibility to replace a character at any time during the battle simply means that you have an overpowered party with a fully healed "bench" preventing you from ever coming close to danger.