If Square's Final Fantasy IX was a "return to the series' roots," then Final Fantasy X yanks the series firmly back into the future. Character Designer Tetsuya Nomura (Final Fantasy VII, VIII) has returned, and character models are once more realistically proportioned. The battle system has been completely overhauled by the battle director of the Front Mission series. Field environments and dungeons have been reworked for the PlayStation 2; the earlier generation's prerendered backgrounds have been jettisoned for real-time environments, with dynamic camera angles. And the FMV once again raises the bar for what gamers can expect from a video game. Despite the many changes, Final Fantasy X still looks like a traditional Final Fantasy title and console RPG. Change must come gradually to a series as entrenched as Square's flagship.
Though the design is immediately reminiscent of Final Fantasy VIII, Square has tried to underplay the technical elements of that game. Instead, the title is supposed to have an Okinawan, or traditional Japanese, atmosphere. This design decision has affected everything from the environments and character costumes to the music. The game's vocal theme, "Suteki da Ne" ("Isn't it Beautiful") is sung by Rikki, a traditional Okinawan vocalist. Final Fantasy X seems to combine the realism of Final Fantasy VIII's world and characters with a more fantasy-oriented setting.
The world of Final Fantasy X is covered in water from a great disaster that occurred 1,000 years ago. A malevolent force named "Sin" is infecting the world, manifesting itself as natural disasters. Only the "Ultimate Summon," known to the Ebon summoner tribe, can stop Sin. Like most prerelease information, this initial plot summary undoubtedly hints only at the game's ultimate story and goals. The announced themes of the story are change, travel, and independence.
The story's central character is Tidus, a professional athlete and all-around gregarious guy. Tidus plays blitzball, an aquatic sport that plays like a cross between rugby, soccer, and basketball. Blitzball has teams of six and will be a playable minigame. As Tidus travels around the world, he sees many things he finds strange and unusual and constantly asks, "What's that?" The main female character is Yuna, a member of the Ebon summoner tribe and daughter of the tribe's most famous member, Braska. Growing up in his shadow has left her insecure about her own abilities as a summoner. She also suffers from a rare condition called heterochromia, which means having two different eye colors.
Other announced characters include Wakka, one of Tidus' fellow blitzball players, as well as Kimari, a hulking beast man, who is Yuna's mentor and guardian. Lulu is a noble magician who attacks with her enchanted moogle doll. Not much is known about the sword-wielding Aaron and thong-clad female thief, Ryukku. A magician named Shimode has been revealed, but he is not currently expected to join the party.
With the exception of key FMV sequences, the in-game graphics are now rendered entirely in real time. This doesn't seem to have impacted the environments one bit; screenshots and movies show the game as every bit as lush and detailed as their prerendered counterparts. You, the player, can't control the camera, but the camera is constantly moving and trailing you, as in Skies of Arcadia. A transparent automap helps keep you moving in the right direction. Battles have had their detail similarly increased; everything from magic spells to over-the-top summons have the same excellent level of detail. The game is generally more colorful and ornate than the PS incarnations.
Series composer Nobuo Uematsu is back and composing several songs for the soundtrack, including "Suteki da Ne." The series is also using voice acting for the first time. The Japanese voices for Tidus and Yuna are their motion-capture actors; Square wanted to go with unknowns so that gamers wouldn't identify the characters with any famous voices and instead take them on their own merits.
Toshirou Tsuchida, battle director of the Front Mission series, is revamping the traditional Final Fantasy battle system. The exact extent of the changes is currently unknown, but his background suggests a more strategic bent to encounters. Characters still have the standard HP (hit points) and MP (magic points). Traditional experience points, however, seem to have been done away with completely and replaced by a skill-based system--there is no experience visible in victory screens. Each character has unique, powerful limit breaks. The ATB (active time battle) bars, introduced in Final Fantasy IV, are replaced by a Grandia-style bar that simultaneously tracks the turns of party members and enemies. In a series first, you can be swapped in and out in the middle of battle or called in for a quick attack. Hands-on reports claim that the new battle system plays extremely quickly.
Random encounters are still present and take place on a "battle screen," but most boss encounters will take place on the field map, as in Chrono Trigger or Parasite Eve. Some of the characters' special abilities are already known: Tidus can cast time magic (haste, slow, etc.); Yuna can summon; Wakka can implement status effects (poison, stone, etc.); Lulu casts black magic; Kimari knows blue magic and can jump like a Dragoon. It can be assumed that Ryukku can mug and steal, while Aaron will use different sword techniques.
You can also summon monsters, as in previous games. Instead of casting a spell and then vanishing, however, you can now control summoned beasts. Each creature has its own independent HP and a variety of spells and attacks, including a powerful limit break attack of its own. Summoned creatures will stay and fight in your party's stead for several rounds.
Final Fantasy X is due for release on July 19, 2001 in Japan. The Japanese release will offer gamers their choice of two different versions: a single-disc version for 8,800 yen or a two-disc "high fidelity" version with high resolution FMV and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound for 10,800 yen. It is unknown if the two-disc version will have any additional content. Final Fantasy X will come to the US in early 2002; Square will release either both versions or only the single-disc version in the states.