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SummaryNext Gen FFVII this ain't
The GoodBack when Sony made better business decisions for their PlayStation brand, they realised that it's not only the hype and technical specs selling a system, it's also carried by a company's most successful game franchises. Just to compare the PS2 and PS3, a fully-fledged Final Fantasy game for the PS3, though announced, is still missing in early 2008, almost two years after the console's release. When FFX hit stores in 2001 it was a mere year after the PS2 had started selling in Japan.
Game designers at Square (which then was "only" Square and not Squareenix yet) realised that they had to take the series to the next level. Graphically they certainly succeeded. Final Fantasy X plays in an oddly anachronistic world that appears to mix sci-fi, elements of the legend of Atlantis and the Bible and contemporary culture, all set before a colourful and lush tropical backdrop. For the first time in the series, the entire game world is rendered in real-time 3D, getting rid of the until then standard overworld map. For their time characters and scenarios were breathtaking in terms of design as well as technically. How much attention was paid to the overall presentation can easily be seen in another first for the series, a voice-over.
Diving into the world of FFX, the experience feels entirely fresh. Its world is interesting, the characters and architecture visually exotic, the cutscenes and overall FX as stunning as players have come to expect from the Final Fantasy franchise, and then some. The story, a religious quest to redeem a world that is flawed in the eyes of the evil opposing it, greatly benefits from the overall oceanic feel.
The BadAlthough visually absolutely stunning in 2001, FFX's gameplay fails to bring as many innovations. Before tactical real-time combat made its debut in FFXII, FFX took a step back and exchanged the then standard ATB system in which characters' turns in battle were determined by a decreasing and refilling time gauge. Battles in FFX are strictly turn-based instead, a feature which hadn't been used in the main series since Final Fantasy III. New elements include being able to exchange characters in-battle and small quicktime events to further empower special abilities, harking back to the team roster and special abilities from FFVI. All this, however, doesn't really make combat a lot more dynamic. If anything it feels even simpler because weary fighters can be exchanged for fresh ones and a sort of ticker on the top of the screen constantly provides players with information on how to best beat the monster they are up against.
The battle system in combination with character development makes the game feel sluggish sometimes. All characters possess only two item slots in which only items from a predetermined class can be placed for each character. Although weapons get customisable later on, very little ever changes about the characters' appearance. Furthermore, the Sphere Grid used to level up characters by spending ability points to move a counter and unlock new abilities or boost old ones appears needlessly cryptic and labyrinthine. One might argue it is little more than a glorified and overcomplicated ability tree.
Stepping away from the series' pre-rendered backgrounds allows for a more immersive feeling while travelling the world. However, this doesn't change anything about the fact that paths are still largely laid out for players to tread. Linearity and formula in general have been and still are a problem of the FF series. This becomes apparent in FFX because gameplay especially in the beginning is often a mere sequence of walking a few steps, fighting a random battle and engaging in one of the many and long-winded talks or cutscenes. While the game certainly gears up later, newcomers will have to muster some patience. As mentioned before, the story is carried by its exotic setting and diverse plot elements - sadly, the characters aren't always that interesting. The hero is an RPG standard, clueless, blade-wielding youngster with daddy issues, his mentor a silent swordsman, his best friend a lovable oaf and his love interest a mild-mannered, staff wielding enchantress. (Or summoner in this case.) The sometimes awkward English dubbing doesn't help much.