The World of Final Fantasy
Final Fantasy X
"Final Fantasy X" was released for Playstation 2 only a year and a half after "Final Fantasy IX" closed the series' appearance for the Playstation console. Just like "Final Fantasy VII" shocked the Playstation users with its visual splendor, "Final Fantasy X" amazed the owners of the new console by being one of the graphically most stunning games of our time.
"Final Fantasy X" is set in a unique world called Spira, which is neither a futuristic world, such as in "Final Fantasy VII", nor a combination of modern and futuristic styles, like in ""Final Fantasy VIII", nor a European medieval fantasy, which is "Final Fantasy IX". Spira has a distinct Asian flavor. The gorgeous, colorful world of Spira, its nature, its inhabitants, the clothes they wear, their believes and religion, their cities and temples - everything bears a great similarity to countries like India or Thailand, and even to ancient Japan. However, there is another side to the setting of "Final Fantasy X" - science fiction. The introduction to the game takes place in a huge futuristic city of Zanarkand, with its tall buildings, flashy neon signs, and anti-gravity kind of sports called blitzball. Also, the civilization of Al Bhed, the outlaws of Spira society, is clearly modern, or even post-modern, and forms a great contrast to the patriarchal feel of the rest of Spira. The setting of "Final Fantasy X" is one of the most original and attractive ones in the series.
The story of "Final Fantasy X" is shown entirely through the perspective of its main hero - a young athlete Tidus, who lives in the futuristic Zanarkand, "a city that never sleeps". One day, a terrible disaster happens, the whole city is being destroyed by a mysterious creature, and Tidus is miraculously teleported a thousand years into the future. He finds himself in Spira, a world depraved of modern civilization known to him, dominated by the strict teachings of the Yevon religion, a bizarre world which can never become his true home. The inhabitants of Spira are being periodically threatened by Sin - a creature, a monster, a nature disaster - a being common people of Spira know nothing or very few about. Sin can be defeated only by a summoner, a person who summons mythical creatures to help him. Yuna is a young, shy summoner, who has to carry the heavy burden of responsibility in front of the people of Spira - she is the one destined to defeat Sin. With Tidus' help, and with the support of her faithful comrades, Yuna decides to dedicate her life to the salvation of her people.
Already this story's initial impact clearly shows the difference between it and earlier Final Fantasies. Mystery surrounds everything in "Final Fantasy X". Instead of an epic there is lyric poetry. Instead of dramatic conflicts there is philosophy. It is much more subtle, intimate, and tranquil than all the earlier Final Fantasies. It contains much more meditation than drama. Its subject is not psychology in the European sense of the word, but rather Chinese serenity or the passionate fatalism of India. It is sad and tragic, but it is not dark. It shows to the player the souls of its characters, but it does not explain anything. Instead of showing conflicts between people, it shows conflicts between human being and the world. Of course, there are some elements in the story of "Final Fantasy X" that are connected to previous Final Fantasies, for example romantic love (although it is presented in a totally different manner than in any other Final Fantasy), sudden plot twists, the figure of Seymour, who is obviously related to Sephiroth of "Final Fantasy VII" and to Kuja of "Final Fantasy IX", and many others, but overall, the story of "Final Fantasy X" is quite a unique experience. It is also the most tragic story of all Final Fantasies ever. Profound sadness and a sence of the inevitable dominates the whole game. Many of its cutscenes are extremely touching, and some are guaranteed to evoke tears by many players. It bears many important messages and ideas, some of them not entirely obvious, and is perhaps the most profound and philosophical story of any Final Fantasy ever.
The characters of "Final Fantasy X" are also very different from the direct and active characters typical for virtually all Final Fantasies. While other characters of Final Fantasy often experience sudden outbursts, act theatrically, and express their opinions openly and clearly, the characters of "Final Fantasy X" are more mysterious and reserved. Of course, Tidus with his charming approach, his sense of humor, and his naive, child-like behavior is a different kind of person, but even being all this, he is still much more thoughtful and innerly melancholic than other Final Fantasy protagonists. The entire story of "Final Fantasy X", with the exception of the final showdown, is actually told by Tidus, so we know very few about the feelings of other characters. While in all Final Fantasies since the fourth game, its heroes came from different places, had different background stories, and were joined together only by force of coincidence, in "Final Fantasy X", the only "outsider" is the main character himself, while all other party members know each other for a long time and appear as a group. For this reason, the story is told in a quiet, lyrical manner, the way Tidus experienced it, shares with the player the impressions of a person who has lost his home and found himself to be a stranger in a totally different world, and reduces all other conflicts and sub-stories not related to Tidus to the minimum. "Final Fantasy X" features the most unusual villains in the history of Final Fantasy and of RPGs in general. For the first time there are no maniacs plotting their evil schemes and planning to dominate the world. It is in fact impossible to say who are the truly evil characters of the game. Even the negative characters of "Final Fantasy X" still seem to be themselves dominated by other forces, and never do they think of such trivialities as conquering or destroying the universe.
The gameplay of "Final Fantasy X" is much more advanced and innovative than that of "Final Fantasy IX", and is spiritually more closely related to the revolutionary system of "Final Fantasy VIII". It introduces plenty of new elements and gimmicks, which, put all together, create quite a different kind of gameplay. The major change that the game underwent was the new character development system. "Final Fantasy X" is the first game of the series since "Final Fantasy II" to abandon the trusted concept of leveling up. Unlike in "Final Fantasy II", the characters don't gain better stats automatically. Instead, their stats have to be increased by the player. After battles, character gain special sphere points and many items called "spheroids". By allocating sphere points and by using the various types of spheroids, the player can upgrade certain stats of the characters. Those stats are all placed on a large map which can be viewed through the main menu. The characters "walk" on this map, stepping on various stat-increasing circles. The amount of steps available is determined by the amount of sphere points gained, and the ability to use a stat-increasing circle depends on having appropriate spheroids. For the most part of the game, all characters advance in a fairly linear way, giving the player few choices between stats, but in the later stages, characters gain rare spheroids that allow them to "jump" all over the huge map, and to upgrade any stat. This makes the party customization much more flexible that it seemed at the beginning of the game, because all characters belong to specific classes (Yuna a summoner/white mage, Rikku a thief, Kimahri a blue mage, Lulu a black mage, etc.), and therefore have fixed strengths and weaknesses. However, after obtaining the special spheroids, it is possible to create a physically strong mage or a fighter who can cure and heal. Another radical change is the elimination of the ATB battle system. All battles are now turn-based, and the player can view the order of the turns ahead - a system that emphasizes startegic planning rather than quick decision. A very interesting addition is the possibility of switching party members while fighting. It is especially useful when encountering an enemy that is weak to a particular type of attack or magic, which can only be used by a certain party member. While most characters have fairly traditional attacks and magic, Yuna possesses a unique ability to summon a monster that will replace the party and fight instead of it until it dies. Monster summons in "Final Fantasy X" are much more than just flashy spells. They are in fact characters, with their own HP and other stats, which can also be upgraded (by upgrading corresponding stats of Yuna). The monsters (called Aeons in the game) can perform special attacks, but cannot heal themselves. The exploration of "Final Fantasy X" is quite linear for the most part, with the world map appearing very late in the game.
Graphically, "Final Fantasy X" is absolutely amazing. The realistically proportioned 3D character models, the breathtaking effects in battles, the wonderful backgrounds (some pre-rendered, some real time 3D), and the movie-like CG animations push the capabilities of Playstation 2 to the limit, the same way Playstation Final Fantasies exploited the capabilities of their console to the full. "Final Fantasy X" is even more cinematic than "Final Fantasy VIII", with a tremendous amount of cut scenes, and full voice overs for main characters. The music, in particularly the opening piano theme (that later appears in various instrumentations), is of the same godlike quality Final Fantasy fans have been used to, with perhaps even more profound lyricism and sublime beauty.
"Final Fantasy X" is an attempt to combine the two previous games of the series into a whole, by creating realistically looking characters and innovative gameplay system on one side, and maintaining character classes and traditional role-playing elements on the other. While it suceeds at that, it remains as original as only a Final Fantasy game can be. Its unique Asian flavor, its wonderful melancholy and sadness, its touching philosophical story, and its gorgeous visuals make it a gem that enchants a player like few other games do. This amazing masterpiece proves once again Square hasn't lost its creativity and talent, and makes the experience of Final Fantasy even more magnificently cinematic and profound than before.
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