Final Fantasy X began development back in 1999, which was a crazy time for the franchise seeing as Square was also simultaneously working on Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy XI as well as the epic (financial) disaster that was the Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within movie. It's real shame that film wasn't put into development just a couple of years later, after the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies brought the fantasy genre into fashion, as we might have actually gotten a proper Final Fantasy movie out of Square Pictures before it vanished. With Chocobos and Black Mages and everything!
Instead the closest we've got is Advent Children and that's just sad.
Oh and they've also added a website address! Seems a little strange to me to call the official website 'playonline.com' when the game can't be played online, but I'm sure the main focus of the site was probably the new Final Fantasy XI MMO so I can see the sense in it.
Final Fantasy X was the point that the series finally dropped the pre-rendered backgrounds that had served it well for the last four years and jumped to full real-time 3D, utilising the extra polygon pushing power of the PlayStation 2. This also seems to be the point that they decided to add voiced dialogue, as one of the characters has just started narrating!
"This may be our last chance."And that's all he says... then the title appears one final time. So I can confirm that I am indeed playing Final Fantasy X.
Here I'm given direct control of our designated hero for this adventure, a famous blitzball player called Tidus, and I'm allowed to walk about 10 meters down a pier before hitting a dead end. It just won't let me off the screen! I guess I'm going to have to start talking to NPCs until I find the right one to trigger the next part of the plot.
Signing a couple of balls did the job in the end and also started an automatic conversation that revealed that I'm kinda supposed to be playing in a professional blitzball match, like right now.
You know I bet that bastard Jecht even had someone to drive him the stadium back in his day. Or maybe he just drove there himself in a 500 chocobopower twin-turbo supercar. I'm a celebrity dammit; I shouldn't have to walk all the way to work.
Fortunately for the players, breathing seems to be optional for the people on this planet and they're just at home underwater as they are on land. Actually now that I think about it, the characters in Final Fantasy V could do the same thing.
Well this isn't going to end well; the blitzball pitch is going to be flooded!
Look at this guy, he knows you only get one chance to make a first impression so he decided to make his entrance into the game by posing on top of a building and toasting a tsunami with his one good arm while his empty coat sleeve waves dramatically in the wind. Well, it's definitely more impressive than Tidus autographing balls.
Actually, since this is game 10 in the main series, I feel like taking a moment here to look back at all the protagonist introductions I've seen so far:
Auron explains that they're being attacked by a sea creature called Sin, and it's spitting out monsters all over the city. Tidus manages to slip onto his ass while panicking, so Auron hands him a sword and then lifts him back to his feet with it.
The battle system seems at its core to be basically the same as it ever was, which surprises me a little to be honest. When a character's turn comes up I get to select a single command for them, then everyone stands still to let the enemies beat on them for a while until the next turn comes around.
Though after a run of six games, the Active Time Battle timer system has finally been scrapped, so I have all the time in the world to decide my next move. In practice this actually speeds things up as I don't have to wait for a bar to fill up each turn. They've also added a turn order box on the right to let me know who gets to move next, which reorders itself dynamically depending on how long my select action would take to carry out and recover from. Which seems like a huge improvement to me, as it gives me an idea of how the battle's going to play out, letting me plan my next move.
This time though I think I'm going to go with 'attack'.
AND THEN STUFF HAPPENED.
It's so weird seeing a Final Fantasy character swim though, I don't remember ever being able to do that before.
And then a giant fish interrupts us halfway through the fight and Tidus has to escape in an exciting cutscene sequence. Oh well, it's probably for the best anyway; I didn't want to have to play through tedious underwater random battles anyway.
Dark Souls) where he decides that he's going to have to start... a bonfire. Fortunately it's just a plot bonfire, not a Dark Souls respawn bonfire, and there's actually a save point orb here where I can save my game.
It's funny, when I first started playing Final Fantasy games I was frustrated that I wasn't allowed to save any time I felt like, now I'm just grateful that I can activate the save point in the level instead of having to pointlessly open up my menu and select the save option there when I'm standing close. They've broken me down and crushed my fragile spirit.
Anyway, I thought this quest might have led to some gameplay, maybe even a fight or two, but all I had to do was walk up the stairs to grab some bonfire components and then return to the center of the room, where I was rewarded for my participation with a cutscene and a boss encounter.
I gotta say, I am really impressed with how well these actors are able to say this complete gibberish and make it sound like they mean it. It's a bit of a contrast to the NPCs I met in Zanarkand earlier who had English dialogue but sounded absolutely terrible.
This Al Bhed language is actually just English with its alphabet scrambled, so if you substitute in the correct letters you can make sense of what they're saying. There are 'Al Bhed primers' to collect during the game which replace one letter of the alphabet each, so if a player is diligent and persistent enough to grab them all, eventually they can learn what the gun wielding assholes are yelling at them.
Pointless trivia: indie RPG Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden comes with the option to allegedly play the entire game in Al Bhed. Though if you know or care what that is, you probably knew that already.
Oh by the way I should mention that there's no camera controls that I'm aware of. It just does its own thing as I'm walking around.
ANYWAY, MORE STUFF HAPPENS.
Anyway take a glance up there at my minimap for a second, that's a wide open area that is; full of opportunity and possibilities. I think I might have actually washed ashore on the Island of Gameplay.
Fortunately the friendly blitzball players just dismiss Tidus's bragging as the ramblings of a man driven half mad by Sin's toxin and the leader, a guy called Wakka, offers to help him out.
Fortunately there were a few enemies underwater (I can't believe this game has made me desperate for random encounters), so I was able to level up my characters a bit.
The thing is, the grid doesn't just unlock new skills and magic, it affects what attribute points you get as well, giving the player the ability to fine tune every aspect of their character's development. Well, in theory anyway.
But to be honest, I don't really want to make choices here. Because the Sphere Grid is such a pain in the ass to examine that it seems deliberately designed to discourage forward planning. There's no simple way to see at a glance what you're going to get if you choose a different path, just lots of faded cryptic icons.
Again I've been trapped in a tiny area just big enough for me to stretch my legs and chat to a couple of NPCs before the next cutscene starts. I'm trying to keep playing long enough to give the game a proper chance, but it seems like this intro section is going to drag on forever. I'm actually starting to worry that this is it; that this it's all it's going to be like until the end of the game: cutscene, stretch my legs, cutscene, scripted battle, cutscene, stretch my legs, cutscene...
30 SECONDS LATER.
It's not really a puzzle, more like a 'figure out what ball it wants me to put in the slot' trial and error minigame. Man, it seems that everything in this game is about balls or water, or both.
It's not the first dream sequence in the game so far (Tidus gets knocked out a lot), but it's easily the best as it introduces...
This isn't the first Final Fantasy to try exploring the protagonist's childhood and their issues, it's been going on since the SNES era (and was turned up to 11 in Final Fantasy VII), but the voice acting and relatively detailed character models bring a new level of nuance and sophistication to it. It really helps when the characters can emote.
Man, look at that menu; you can barely even tell it's from a Final Fantasy game.
Yuna is travelling to temples around the world on a mysterious pilgrimage you see (well mysterious to Tidus anyway, and only because people assume he must already know), and Tidus is tagging along in the hopes of running into Sin and getting back home, or at least finding a blitzball match he can join in with.
Actually no this is basically just a straight road to the docks with tutorial battles popping up every few steps like land mines.
It's nice that the fights more or less take place on the field now, instead of dragging me off into a separate 3D polygon battle dimension like the PSX games. Though the unfortunate side effect is that it seems even more ridiculous when I run into an invisible enemy trigger, a cool transition effect shatters the screen, and then a line of monsters appears across the road. The more realistic the graphics, the more this stuff stands out as being unrealistic.
You know Wakka, I can forgive Tidus for sticking with his groundbreakingly ridiculous outfit considering that his wardrobe was destroyed by an Eldritch Abomination a thousand years ago, but you have no excuse for going into battle with dressed like that. Man, this would have been the perfect time to introduce visible armour into the series, if just to save the characters from their own fashion sense.
WALK, FIGHT, WALK, FIGHT, WALK, FIGHT LATER.
Yuna reveals that she believes that Tidus actually is a blitzball player from a thousand years in the past, because she had actually met another person from Zanarkand ten years ago: a blitzball player called... Jecht.
I think he takes the news pretty well considering. He doesn't even scream "I HATE HIM!" then run away to cry.
The trouble I'm having here is that the boss is all the way over there in the background, tethered to the boat with a harpoon cable, and my current team aren't so good at hitting things at a distance. Fortunately I can swap out characters mid-fight to bring in Wakka and Lulu without even losing a turn. I'm not generally a fan of huge parties in these kinds of games, but that's a feature that actually kinds of justifies it. This battle system really does seem like a step up for the series.
There's not much point in me describing how the fight played out though (I chose 'attack' a lot).
TWO BOSS FIGHTS IN A ROW LATER.
Well I think I've seen enough of this know to get a good impression of how it'll continue from here, so I'm turning it off now.
Final Fantasy X has got me wondering what exactly it is about the Final Fantasy franchise that appeals to me. Because the game has a reasonable storyline, likeable characters, one of the best battle systems in the series, and incredibly impressive cutscenes; all the ingredients of a good Final Fantasy game, and yet I keep waiting for it to start. I do appreciate story in an RPG, I think the games would seem pretty empty and meaningless without one, but when it comes down to it, Final Fantasy for me is about getting a team together, going exploring, getting stuff done, building up my skills, then dragging my weary crew back to town to spend my coin on rest and shinier swords. You know... playing a game.
This on the other hand is so restrictive so far they might as well have taken out the walking sections out entirely and just had cutscenes and battles. I honestly think that could be an improvement over the game as it is, because so far I've been lucky to make it across a screen or two before hitting another dialogue scene or battle and it just makes me wonder why they bothered letting me walk in the first place.
I think FFX should be judged more on its story than its gameplay, as that seems to be the main focus of the game, and I have to say that it's just not grabbing me. The idea of a famous athlete trapped in a fantasy world sounds like it's straight from a terrible comedy movie, but thankfully it's played pretty straight. It's just laid back to the point where it's sending me to sleep. Honestly I think I'd rather put my Spirits Within DVD on instead.
Also Tidus has dumb looking trousers. No gold star for you!
Well that's what I think about Final Fantasy X anyway, but it's always cool to hear what you think about a game, or what you think about what I thought about a game, or about my site in general.