Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
When I was only 12, I went to the store with my pocket money, to buy a new game for the PS2 which I had received for my birthday. Up to that point, the PS2 failed to invigorate me after the great times I had with my Nintendo 64, which I still played for several hours a day. I stood there, for 45 minutes, looking at the rows of gaming possibilities. I saw Final Fantasy 10 with its boring white cover staring me in the face. Instinctively, I picked it up, and took it to the front counter. It seems my instinct was right that fateful night.
It was an enigma. The only RPG that I had played previously was Pokemon. I inserted the disc into the Playstation 2, and it all started...
I watched the opening scene. Normally, a 12 year old would be wanting some action by this point, but I stared in amazement. The vibrant characters, beautiful environment and soothing music had me hypnotised, and I sat there, for the next 4 hours, experiencing something new, yet so beautiful.
The first thing which struck me was the graphics. So lifelike, yet the story painted a different picture. The Zanarkand Blitzball scene had me in awe, that scene is still my favourite scene from any video game. The lifelike movements of the characters, the water drenched clothes of Tidus, the lights of the evening city, technically brilliant, but also atmospherically inspiring. Another enigma emerged. Was this a Sci-fi universe, or something more sinister? When Tidus was forced to aid a mysterious red caped warrior by the name of Auron, I said to myself; how awesome is he?
Awesome sums up the characterisation in FFX. Every character has a distinct personality, which develops with the great plot. You got the arrogant, naive teenager (with the Final Fantasy spiky hairdo, I might add) by the name of Tidus, a passsive innocent priest, a mysterious and experienced warrior, a quirky thief and many more. Every major character in FFX enhances the plot in a meaningful way, primarily because of their complex and unique personalities.
Your journeys will take you to different locations throughout the war-ravaged world of Spira. And every location looks absolutely stunning. It looked brilliant 4 years ago, it still looks good today. FFX is concrete proof that Graphics are not purely about the amount of pixels used in every object. The Atmosphere, art direction and story all contribute to this element, and that is why the graphics of FFX have aged extremely well.
The excellent atmosphere is enhanced even further by the masterful music. FFX has the best music score of any game, ever. Each tune sums up the mood of the locale and/or story perfectly. It is however, beautiful to listen to, even if not in context. My only gripes with the music is the constantly playing Boss and Random Battle beats, which may get annoying after 50 or so hours of gameplay.
Although voice acting in games wasn't new, very few games had fully spoken dialogue, and FFX was one of the first games to include this. It is generally very good. Not perfect by any means, but it is a lot better than reading text, and it also adds another emotional dimension to the characters and the world they inhabit.
I have spoken a lot on the graphics, audio and story, but what about the gameplay? Once again, FFX exhibits very good gameplay. But it is also it's weakness, if you can call it that. For all of the Spiritual atmosphere and technical brilliance FFX demonstrates, the gameplay doesn't reach those lofty standards. However, the other elements of the game are so good, that it doesn't really matter. This game plays solid, but feels more like a cinematic experience. Random battles, while mechanically excellent, will become repetitive after so many hours. Most random battles resemble the "hit Monster X with element Y or defeat Monster X with Method Y" mechanic. You can have up to 3 characters in combat at any one time, but they can be swapped without any penalty, so most battles are very swift, provided you have been levelling of course. Most of the generic classes are available, namely warriors, mages, thieves etc.
After you defeat a party of enemies, every character involved in that battle still standing receives XP. After a few levels, a Sphere point will be gained, which can be used on the Sphere Grid, a great innovation. Characters don't automatically become stronger, you must use these points on the grid to move onto stat nodes. Once on an empty node, a certain sphere must be used to activate the node, the type depending on the statistic. These points are also used to obtain new moves. You will find as you advance further into the grid some locked pathways, these must be unlocked with special key spheres.
If you want to fully complete this game ,be prepared to sacrifice a lot of time. The main story takes only 30 hours to complete, but the legendary weapon sidequests, and the slaying of some uber powerful bosses will be challenging and time consuming for the most dedicated gamer. The difficulty of the sidequests makes up for the easiness of the main story, and in general provide something for everyone.
Final Fantasy 10 is simply one of the best and most fulfilling games ever created. Its spiritual atmosphere is unmatched. However, the Graphical brilliance, the masterful soundtrack and the complex storyline all contribute to that excellence. Sure the Random Battles become repetitive but you won't really care, everything else tastes so darn good. I can only give my highest praises to this game, it sure changed my gaming landscape for ever.
Graphics A+ Audio A+ Lastability A+ Story A Gameplay A-