I expected a lot from Final Fantasy X, if only because it's Square's first RPG outing on PS2. Within the FF series, every time the jump to a new console was made, it resulted in either better graphics or gameplay, or in this case, both. Although fighting a battle in FFX initially feels like fighting a battle in one of it's predecessors there's been a significant amount of changes to the combat system.
I'm not going to discuss much in the way of plot or characters, because if you're like me, you'll want to discover that part on your own, since the plot is what keeps console RPGs moving.
What's New?Final Fantasy games have always been rather combat-heavy, and leveling up at different times had gotten mind-numbingly boring. In an effort to change that, there are many more options during combat. Characters can be swapped in and out of combat at any time, and they can perform moves as soon as entering the battle, so it's no longer a big deal when you have to fight the weak-against-magic monster and you forgot to include a magic user in the party. In the same way, summons (called Aeons this time around) remain summoned until one dismisses them, replacing the party in battle. When an Aeon's HP drops to zero, the party is brought back into battle, but the Aeon can also be dismissed before that. There's still random battles just like previous games in the series, but it feels like they turned down the frequency of the battles a bit, especially from last year's FF9.
What would be a new Final Fantasy without a new magic system? This time around, it's a little quirky, but it doesn't disappoint. Remember when I mentioned leveling up being boring? Well this time around there's no character levels. Instead, everything is determined by a large sphere grid, that the characters move on using points they accrue by fighting battles. At various points in the grid, characters can lay different types of spheres that enhance them with new abilities, increased character starts, or more max HP/MP. The result is a non-linear system which is more open ended than magic systems of the past, allowing for greater character customization. The trick is to guide a character to the places on the grid that will allow him/her to get the skills desired while using the least amount of sphere levels (which are essentially travel points). Backtracking on the grid is allowed, but is also counterproductive.
Now onto the most fun part of the game: the graphics! With the capability of the PS2 at its disposal, this is easily the best looking ever Final Fantasy title ever, and it's a beautiful world that's been painted. While walking around, the world really comes alive, as trees sway and grass moves as wind goes past. Many of the characters' facial expressions are done in realtime, and while the scenes aren't picture perfect, they are a far cry from the jagged polygonal models on Playstation as well as the two dimensional sprites from the earlier FF titles. The battle sequences look better than ever also, as characters move more fluidly, and enemies do as well. The already stunning realtime animations are augmented by amazing FMV sequences. My only small complaint here is that there's no way to skip the movies entirely. Since it's still my first time playing the game, I haven't wanted to skip anything, but I still feel sorry for the impatient. There is, however, a configuration setting to turn off the extended summoning animations, so there won't be a five minute wait for the huge Aeons enter from space.
Something else FFX features for the first time in a Final Fantasy game: voice acting! Although not every bit of dialogue is dubbed, the voices that are dubbed are done better than I expected. My only complaint is that the lips were synched to the Japanese dialogue, and never resynched during importing. However, that never stopped me from enjoying a Kung Fu movie, and it doesn't stop me from enjoying the game either. Given that the game was released two months earlier than originally planned, I'll let this detail slide.
What's the Same?Although the magic system was overhauled, most of the spells are still the same. There's still three levels of elemental spells, and an Ultima spell, and so on. Also, it wouldn't be much of a Final Fantasy without chocobos, and they are featured yet again.
When Final Fantasy IX was released last year, it featured characters with the traditional Final Fantasy classes, like summoner, white mage, blue mage, etc. I think Squaresoft found that players enjoyed the return to these classes, and decided to continue the trend. Although each character is ultimately customizable into any class, they each start with suggest paths across the sphere grid that resemble one of the classes.