Final Fantasy X Impressions, Media Update
Last week, Sony released the PlayStation 2 Winter 2001 Jampack. Of the games playable, the most important to RPG fans, and probably the biggest title on the disc period, was Square's Final Fantasy X. Following are my impressions of the dual-scenario demo:
As Final Fantasy X begins, the first two things you'll notice is the stunning visuals, as well as the beautiful music. While some say series composer Nobuo Uematsu hasn't been turning out music really on par with his earlier efforts (and after FFIX, who can blame them?), he's back in full force this time around. There's a handful of songs in the game that share the same basic melody, the first of which plays in the intro. A drastic departure from the FMV-fest of recent FF games, FFX's intro is completely real-time, as the game's protagonist Tidus sits around a campfire with a host of friends, seemingly after the adventure is over, or at least at some point during. As the camera pans the scene, credits fade in and out, much like a movie. He then proceeds to tell the player his story, and after a logo fades in on the screen, the scene switches to how Tidus' adventure began.
The next scene is done entirely with FMV; and in traditional Square fashion, it's some of the most visually compelling FMV ever seen, especially on PS2, in DVD quality. The water effects and animation are very nicely done. To sum things up, a large mass of... well, something, appears in the air over the city. As Tidus looks on, it proceeds to fire bolts of energy, destroying parts of the city, including the Blitzball stadium Tidus is in. After the lengthy cinema, you take control of Tidus, leading him through the crowd of people escaping from the ruined stadium. Leaving the area, Tidus notices everything come to a standstill, including the escaping sports fans. Turning around reveals a young boy in a purple robe who merely states, "It begins." As Tidus tries to make sense of what's going on, the boy tells him not to cry, and vanishes. As he disappears, the escapees begin running again. Meeting up with your friend Auron reveals that the entity in the sky is known only as "Sin". As they look on, a large squid-like creature flies right into the side of a building, releasing dozens of smaller bug-like creatures to the bridge Tidus and Auron are standing on. This is where you'll notice one particularly nice feature of FFX: as you engage the bugs in battle, there's no traditional battle transition. A blur effect covers the screen, but you fight the battle right there, ala Chrono Trigger. Sadly, later on in the demo it's back to the usual 'take you to another screen' style.
One of the most prominent things about the new battle system in Final Fantasy X is how fast-paced it is. Your character will run to attack, come back, and immediately another player or enemy turn comes up. The top right area of the screen shows a chart of the turn order, so you know who's turn comes when, for both your party and the enemy. The interface is somewhat similar to FFVIII, with only your party's HP, MP and Overdrive meter onscreen until your turn is up. With highly stylized menus and transparent effects though, it has a much more hi-tech look than VIII. The Overdrive meter is similar to Limit Breaks in FFVII: as you take damage, the bar fills up. When it reaches full, you can perform a special attack. However, for it to be maximum strength, you need to quickly press a certain button combination within a set time limit. This adds a bit more interaction to the battles, and is a welcome update.
After many battles, and a boss fight, you'll see another cinema, which I don't describe to avoid spoiling. There's a second demo as well, which is more focused on exploring and battles, as opposed to an FMV exhibition. In this one, you'll be introduced to switching out party members in battle, and the summoned creatures, known as Aeons this time around. Aeons, incidentally, are probably the most noteworthy feature in this part of the demo. When you summon an Aeon, instead of appearing to attack enemies and vanishing, it actually stays in battle as a playable character. While you don't have control over your party with an Aeon fighting, trust me, you won't need them. Aeons can attack, and use skills just like a regular character. Also like the others, when they take enough damage, they can use an Overdrive attack, which is far stronger than a regular attack. In the demo you're able to summon Valfore (a new creature; a bird with wind powers), and the ever-present ice goddess Shiva. You're also able to sample some of the white and black magic spells. As expected, these all have very stylish and flashy animations associated with them. While early spells aren't really an eye-popping masterpiece, some of the later spells in the game will prove to be.
Correction: Due to changes from the TGS/E3 demo and the Jampack one, it seems Shiva is not available in this demo, as a few readers have pointed out to me. I had thought I was merely missing her, but as it is, only Valfore is available for summoning. My apologies for any confusion.
All in all, the Final Fantasy X demo shows immense promise. With beautiful fantasy settings more lively and detailed than any other RPG today, gorgeous music, and the fast-moving battle system, Square may have another winner on their hands. If the plot is able to keep up and remain interesting, FFX could go down in history as one of the best in the series. But then, only time will tell. I'd highly recommend picking up a copy of the game on December 27 (if that date holds) and finding out yourself.