Platform: Playstation 2
ESRB Rating: T (Blood and Violence)
The venerable Final Fantasy franchise, dating back to the now-archaic SNES, has a history of breaking new ground in the gaming industry. Since the coming of the original Playstation, every single title in the series has proven a sales blockbuster, and a much-beloved favorite of gamers everywhere. Final Fantasy X, the first title in the series developed for the Playstation 2, has done it again.
The game is, in a word, staggering. Beautifully rendered, marvelously scored, and splendidly executed, it promises to set a new, higher standard for console game developers. This installment in the series does everything that its predecessors did well, and then it does them better, while improving all elements that previous versions might not have perfected.
The sound is pretty sweet, too. In a move that I hope becomes more popular with the expanded space available in the DVD format, all major interaction is voice-acted, with optional subtitles. This makes the characters all the more engaging, and the voices carry over into combat sequences, too. Initially, this is to provide players with hints and important information regarding how combat works, and how to spot an enemy's weakness, but as the game progresses, it transitions into reasonably entertaining (and amusing in places) banter between the party members. When added to the body language and facial expressions crafted into the visuals, the characters really take on a life of their own, and distinct personalities that sometimes clash even among friends.
Gameplay elements will be familiar to veterans of the series, though things are tweaked to make them smoother and easier to navigate in the heat of battle. The new Sphere Grid system, used for character advancement, is a novel and brilliant (if a bit daunting at first) method for allowing deep customization of all characters at your command. Summonings (a key element in the FF game series) have been streamlined to cut down on the long cut-away sequences that plagued FF8. And as for staying power, the central storyline requires at least a solid 40 hours of playing time to navigate its labrynthine complexities, and there are enough side quests and optional mini-games to keep this one cranking for 100 hours plus.
In total, Final Fantasy X is, at least for my money, the best Playstation 2 game so far. Rich storyline, deep gameplay mechanics and customization options, beautiful graphics, and a soundtrack I have to own on CD make for the ultimate "killer app" on the PS2.