Review: Final Fantasy X (Playstation 2)

In this review, we move some spheres in the Playstation 2 game Final Fantasy X. We find out how well this RPG game plays.

This game was released in 2001 and is the tenth instalment of the main series.

We know quite a lot about this series already. We’ve played the original Final Fantasy. That game was OK, but nothing huge. Next up is Final Fantasy II – Soul of Rebirth. That game earned a great score. After that is Final Fantasy III. That game performed OK with us. After that is Final Fantasy IV. That game wound up with a pretty solid score.

Along the way, we tried a spinoff game called Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. That game managed to get a great score.

Moving on, we also tried Final Fantasy V. That game also got a pretty solid score. Next up is Final Fantasy VI. So far, that is the best performing game in the series that we’ve played, earning a massive perfect score here.

Switching things up, Final Fantasy VII took things into the 3d realm. So far, that game wound up being the biggest bomb in the series, failing to impress us in every way. Not giving up on the series, we tried Final Fantasy VIII. Unfortunately, that too was a flop for us. Finally, we tried Final Fantasy IX. That game ended up being barely passable, but did show signs of improvement. So, we thought we’d give the 10th game in the series a try to see if the upward trend continues.

At the start, you play as the character Tidus. Tidus is a blitzball all-star who happens to be greeting fans before the next big game. After signing a few autographs, he sees memories of his father. Given the character past, Tidus is unhappy with every reminder he sees of him. Pushing those memories of his missing father aside, he proceeds to the game.

Part way through the game, a giant monster, known as Sin, appears. The monster proceeds to level the entire city, destroying everything in its path. Tidus manages to grab onto a ledge before the Blitzball stadium drains of water. He manages to escape, meeting Sir Auron along the way. Auron passes Tidus a sword for self-defence purposes. As they make their way along a bridge, various monsters from Sin attack, impeding their path. Eventually, the two make it through, only to realize that the bridge is being swallowed up.

Auron makes it across a major break in the bridge, but Tidus only barely hangs on once again. Tidus shouts to Auron to pull him to safety. Cryptically, Auron agrees. When Tidus is pulled up, him and Auron are swallowed by the giant vortex. Tidus wakes up underwater and swims to what he thinks is safety. Unfortunately, monsters attack. Eventually, Tidus swims into a sunken cavern to escape. On the other side, he finds himself trapped in a frigid dark cavern. He has no idea where he is, but all he can think of is warmth. He sets out to scrounge the mysterious place for supplies.

One of the selling points is that this game manages to do away with experience points. Instead, it replaces it with an AP system. An AP system is points accumulated by taking on enemies. So, it operates pretty much like experience points, only it’s just been rebranded. Also, instead of levels, you gain sphere levels. Sphere levels goes towards your sphere grid – a system used to increase your characters stats.

To advance your character, you need to spend one “sphere level”. While advancement is important, you also need to activate spheres as well. For that, you need things like power, speed, mana, and ability spheres (the four most common ones at least). Blank spheres can be filled with purple spheres, but you won’t be getting those until later in the game. For now, you just skip over them as extra points to cross over. If you are on, say, an HP sphere, you can spend a power sphere activating it. A vast majority of these spheres give you a boost of maximum 200HP. Especially early on in the game, this is well worth the upgrade.

Power spheres can be used on other spheres such as increase in strength and defence as well. Speed spheres, meanwhile, are used to activate agility and evasion spheres on the grid. Mana spheres increase your magic, maximum MP, magic, and magic defence. Finally, ability spheres gives you extra abilities such as new spells, skill attacks, or other special commands. While both the spheres and activation points are less common, many of them are quite useful.

Simple use the “use” command to use a sphere. Use the “move” command to advance to the next sphere. You will encounter branches, so some planning will eventually be needed, but it is relatively straight forward once you get used to this system.

Also along the way are lock spheres. To unlock these, you need the respective key spheres. Level 1 keys unlock level 1 locks. Meanwhile, level 2 keys unlocks level 2 locks. Level 3 and level 4 keys unlock level 3 and level 4 spheres. Unfortunately, you can’t use one level key to unlock another level lock.

While many of the locks hold a few special features, there are other locks that impede overall progress – especially if you want one character to start learning another characters abilities. So, some thinking on when to use these keys is definitely necessary. Skipping over locks along the way is not uncommon on the beginning.

Like previous games, this game offers a host of different items. There is the usual potions and ethers to increase HP and MP. There’s also status ailment cures such as antidote’s and echo screens. Phoenix down returns to revive KO’s characters. There are a few new regular items such as mega Pheonix to revive the whole party and Mega-potion to restore HP to the whole party.

Some items can only be used with the “use” command. This includes grenades and Al Bhed potions. These are combat-only items that can initially only be used by a single character.

Over top if this are special in-battle items that everyone can use. Many of these impact the way combat is going to go. One example is the power distiller. While the item doesn’t affect anyone in-battle, it does impact the outcome. More specifically, it turns all items carried by the enemy into power spheres. These items are generally useful towards the end of the game.

Weapons and armour return, but have been greatly reduced in presence from previous games. Before, you had weapons, body armour, shield, and accessories to help you in battle. This has been reduced down to merely a weapon and a shield. Each weapon and shield is tailored to a particular character and there are no longer any crossovers.

In addition, weapons and armour don’t appear to really contribute directly to a characters offence or defence. Instead, their respective attributes are what’s in focus. Some weapons offer added strength and status ailments on use. Shields, meanwhile, offer various protections such as various wards.

Some items that can be equipped can also be customized (again, not a feature you have until later in the game). You can use items to add a feature to anything that has a blank space.

Battles are generally the same as recent previous battle systems in the series. Previously, there was an active time battle where characters had to wait a certain period of time before they could take a turn. Otherwise, battles are in real time. In this game, the battle system is similar, only players do not have a timer element. Instead, they get turns based on their agility. Also, time pauses whenever players are going through menus, so they do not have to worry about making fast selections any more.

Making a return is the limit break system. As players take damage, a meter will fill up. As with other elements that have been re-branded, this is now known as the Limit Breaks. Once that meter fills up, players can execute a special, and often more damaging, attack. Some overdrive’s require players execute a certain set of button presses or time a certain button press. If the player performs well, the overdrive attack will be especially powerful. If not, the overdrive may not be executed to its full potential.

Another returning feature is a summoning. The summoner of the party, Yuna, can get various summons throughout the game. These summons can temporarily replace the whole party and take all the damage in the process. They can also execute particularly deadly attacks on enemies unique to them. Like your characters, they also have an overdrive where they can execute an especially deadly attack. These summons are known as aeon’s and generally accumulate as players advance through the story. Some are optionally obtained, but a number of them are generally obtained as players advance through the story.

Finally, inn’s are found in this game, but are generally only used to advance the plot. They will restore HP and MP, but simply touching a save point will also restore these stats as well. So, there really is little use of the inns throughout the game.

There are various side quests throughout the game. Many of them are optional, but some of them wind up being very useful for players. One optional element is Blitzball. While players will need to play two rounds to advance the story, the Blitzball games can be played whenever the players want after (if at all).

Blitzball requires players to score on the other teams more often before the time expires. Players will have various stats including stamina and shoot ability. Every move uses points. Math takes over for various actions whenever an opposing team member is involved. Much like battle systems, players will have to continually improve their team’s players to do better in matches. There are even status ailments in these games as well.

Another side quest involves monster hunting. As soon as players make it to the Calm Lands, they have access to an arena. The arena sells special weapons to capture enemies. Each area in the game has a certain number of fiends throughout. Players can capture up to 10 fiends of each type. How many types in a given area depends on the area. Some have as little as three. Other areas can feature 9. The key is making sure the last attack that finishes off a fiend is a strike with any of the “catching” equipment.

If players catch a certain number of different fiends or a certain combination, they’ll unlock super enemies that they can challenge in the arena. In addition to unlocking super-fiends, players can also earn prizes for their efforts as well. Battling fiends in the arena costs money, though, so you need to make sure the money investments are worth it.

There are plenty of other side-missions throughout the game. These are just two examples.

A lot of the positive reviews of this game seem to focus on how innovative and different everything is in this game. For me, a lot of what I see in this game has already been done. For instance, armour and weapon upgrades have been seen in Diablo. Plenty of other Final Fantasy games feature mini-games.

The strongest argument for this game being innovative revolves around the AP and sphere levelling system. While I can’t think of any game that features exactly this feature, previous Final Fantasy games feature job systems that affect stats and stat growth of characters.

I think the only feature that is unique is the ability to swap out characters on the fly during battle. While it is an interesting feature, it largely covers up the limitations of a three party battle system where certain enemies are vulnerable to certain characters. It’s not often you’ll get the right combination and the live-swapping of the characters is a way to more or less patch over that limitation.

While it isn’t all that innovative, the way things are set winds up making this a decent play in the long run. Because there are so many different features being changed around, it means that there is a steep learning curve in the beginning. It takes a bit to get used to, but once you’ve got it figured out, the game does smooth out after a while.

Dungeons are a mixed bag. This game has a long history of having single corridor dungeon’s which makes exploration less than thrilling. This game does feature the occasional dungeon or area with a few added tunnels, but most wind up being “follow hallway to end” dungeon’s. Since some may wonder what I think of as an interestingly complex and immersive dungeon, one example is the dungeon found in Demise – Rise of the Ku’Tan (our review here). By comparison, this game winds up being laughably simple.

The height of the dungeon exploration comes from the various Cloisters. While the dungeon’s themselves aren’t all that complex for the most part, the sphere puzzles do require some thinking. So, I do give props to the game for that – even if a fair bit of it is simply trial and error.

Another thing I noticed is that the game is mostly on auto-pilot for the first bit. Players do get a small amount of freedom after a certain period in the game, but that freedom is mostly shopping, how much grinding to do, and whether or not to investigate a small alcove on the largely linear path.

The game is quite decent in that grinding isn’t absolutely terrible. I didn’t feel like I had to grind for extended periods of time just to survive the next area. At the same time, some optional stuff does often require building up of certain characters. So, some micromanagement is required or else you’ll find yourself grinding for several minutes just to make sure that specific character can survive the battle.

Some of the grinding isn’t bad because it always felt like I was working towards something. So, it wound up being less of a chore for certain parts of the game.

Having said that, there are difficulty spikes to be found in the game. An example is Mt. Gagazet where I did feel like a fair bit of grinding was required for the sake of survival.

Additionally, some bosses have those cheap “auto-kill” moves. One boss in particular has a duel move where the first part turns your character into a zombie. After that, the second half shows the boss casting full life. No real amount of planning ends up stopping it half the time, so you just have to try and recover after as best as you can. I always found these cheap moves annoying because it gives certain fights an artificial difficulty feel.

Generally speaking, this game is a decent one to play all around. On the plus side, there is some interesting edits to the levelling system. The grinding can, at times, feel rewarding because you are improving multiple things at the same time. Also, the Cloister puzzles do offer an interesting challenge. On the negative side, the early learning curve is a bit steep, the game is less about innovation and more about rebranding features, the dungeon’s are typically overly simple, there are cheap attacks that annoy the player, and there are difficulty spikes to be had.

Graphically speaking, this game needs to step up its game given that the series is making a leap from the Playstation 1 to Playstation 2. The effects are decent enough and the models are nicely done. Also, the overall environments work pretty well. A pitfall is that there is a lot of model re-use for different fiends. Still, the graphics are pretty solid overall and work nicely.

As for audio, this is the first game that actually features voice work. Because of this, the game is a little late to the party for voice acting, but it is nice to hear voices finally. The music is pretty decent and the sound effects are also reasonably well done. So, a decent game all around on that front.

Overall, this game represents a much needed improvement over the previous games in the series. It has some interesting levelling systems, some interesting Cloister puzzles, and there are points where the grinding just seems rewarding. The initial learning curve is a bit steep, micromanaging can be a bit much at times, the innovation is a bit thin compared to the layers of feature re-branding it went though, dungeon’s are a bit simple, the difficulty spikes can be a bit annoying, and there are some annoying cheap attacks to be had in the game. The graphics are pretty decent and the audio isn’t bad. So, an overall reasonable entry to the series that makes for a decent play.

Furthest point in game: Beat the game.

General gameplay: 18/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 70%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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