6 December 2013

Bringing the Calm to Spira (a Decade Late)

Final Fantasy X was released in 2001 for the PlayStation 2. I was by then a huge fan of the series, but I recall not being entirely impressed by the adverts I saw, with their colourful, sunny imagery (give me doom and gloom, please), and (gasp!) sports themes. Of course I eventually bought the game anyway (not really an option not to), although second hand. I played it about halfway through, and then... it crashed. And it crashed over and over again at the same point. I'm guessing a scratch on the disc was to blame. (I must say, though, I've bought plenty of second hand games over the years, and this is the only one I recall ever having problems with.)

Eventually I bought another copy, when the game had a 'Platinum' re-release and was pretty cheap. But of course then I was deep into other games, and the years dragged on... I actually even played the direct sequel, Final Fantasy X-2, a couple years ago (I'm not sure why I picked that instead of the original back then, I guess I was just in the mood for something new, rather than replaying something I still vaguely remembered from a few years ago). Until this autumn when my PS3 broke down and I decided it was a good opportunity to look back at some neglected PS2 titles.

So I begun again, from the beginning, and last night, with close to 60 hours on the game's clock, I finally beat it. And I enjoyed it a lot.

Going into an in-depth analysis of a decade-old game that fans of the series are likely already familiar with probably wouldn't be very worthwhile, but of course I'll have to briefly write about some main points. In a nutshell, it's no Final Fantasy VII, but the story and characters are reasonably interesting and imaginative. One thing of note is the highly linear nature of the game. Unlike previous titles, there's no 'overworld' to explore between 'dungeons', but a steady progression of environments. This bothered me less than I thought it might, I must say. Close to the end you get the option to visit earlier locations again, but I felt little need to do so.

When the series moved from the SNES to the PS1 it took great leaps in technological advancements, featuring 3D polygon characters and detailed pre-rendered backgrounds. Since this was the first title on the PS2, there were naturally new steps forward. Most obviously 3D environments instead of static backgrounds (although you can't control camera angles yourself) and voice acting. The latter is fairly decent for a game of its age. Judging the graphics more than a decade later would be pretty pointless, but lets just say, even if it looks a mite crude and fuzzy today, I had few complaints.

Music has always been a big part of the Final Fantasy franchise, and the music in FFX was... pretty decent, though perhaps not always quite as memorable as many earlier titles. This marked the first time that Nobuo Uematsu was not the sole composer for the game. There are some nice tunes in there, but some bits were... kinda simple and repetitive, I'm afraid.

When I played FFX-2, I was a little disappointed about how easy the game was. I didn't really get that feeling with this game. It was by no means hard, but I did spend some time occasionally levelling up, and some opponents did need at least a little tactical thinking. Speaking of which, the combat system is pretty heavily geared towards tactics. They removed the real-time element of most 90s titles and made it strictly turn-based, and you can also switch party members on the fly at any time. As you have all the time you need to think about your next move, it's all about which character's abilities work best in the situation. The unfortunate side effect of this is that, because only characters who participate in battles gain experience, the strategy of typical battles becomes less about how to best defeat enemies and more about how to involve as many characters as possible. Which can soon get a little tedious.

And yeah, there's a brand new system for levelling up and many other differences from previous titles that would be pointless to delve into now. But Final Fantasy games have always been unique, each one trying out some vastly different systems and settings. There are enough familiar elements to make it a real Final Fantasy, I think.

And though I said I wouldn't go into it very deeply, this post probably ended up just as long as most of my blog video game reviews... Bottom line, I found Final Fantasy X entertaining enough to play through. Like its predecessors, it's a quality JRPG with many innovations, even if it probably won't quite take the place of certain 90s titles in my heart. There's also an HD re-release coming soon for the PS3, but I was happy enough to play the original (and doubt I'll have any need for the new version in the foreseeable future).

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