Square stopped by today to demo the final Japanese build of Final Fantasy X for the PlayStation 2. We were able to spend some time with it and were suitably impressed. The game appears to remain faithful to the level of quality fans have come to expect from a Final Fantasy game, though FFX actually looks to set a new standard and continue to refine the series' gameplay and storytelling elements. Longtime fans of the series may be surprised by some of the developments, but they surely won't be bored.
The first new direction the game heads in is seen--or, rather, not seen--at the very beginning. FFX does not open with a lavish opening CG sequence. Instead, a very short opening sequence using the game's graphics engine gives players their first look at some of the cast. Designed by Tetsuya Nomura, the characters sport modern looks rooted in classic FF style. Tidus, the game's male lead, is a 17-year-old athletic jock type and star player of "blitzball," an underwater game that's best described as aquatic soccer. The other lead character in the game, who has been seen in many of the trailers, is Yuna, a 17-year-old female summoner of impressive power. The other party members include 35-year-old Auron, a mysterious stranger who tells Tidus about the game's primary antagonist, Sin, and gives him his first weapon. Wakka, the 24-year-old captain of Besaid Village's blitzball team, is like a brother to Tidus and serves as one of Yuna's guardians. Lulu, a 23-year-old sorceress, is another of Yuna's guardians, and she carries dolls that she uses in battle. We saw her wield a stuffed moogle and cactroot in separate fights, making us chuckle but not doing much damage to our opponents. Rikku, a 16-year-old native of Al Bhed who is the daughter of perennial FF fixture Cid, uses a variety of weapons, including machines, in her quest to take down Sin. Kimahari Ronso is a 25-year-old beastman who resembles a lion and is yet another of Yuna's guardians. You'll eventually find several more playable characters in the game--many of which Square hasn't revealed. All we know is that FFX will feature at least as many playable characters as FFIX.
Once a new game is started, you're immediately thrown into the role of Tidus as he heads out for a game of blitzball. You encounter some of Tidus' fans on their way to the match and get a feel for his status as jock hero among the locals. You'll also notice the use of voice in the game. While Square first began dabbling in voice work with The Bouncer, FFX is the first FF game to use voice acting.
The city Tidus runs through, Zanarkand, on his way to the stadium is huge and sports organic design touches such massive waterfalls running off buildings. Posters featuring Tidus' father, Jecht--a legendary blitzball player--are visible on the sides of many of the buildings. Once Tidus reaches the stadium, an impressive CG sequence details the blitzball game, which is interrupted by Sin's subsequent attack on the city. The movie preps you for your first fight as players then take control of Tidus as he battles his way through the wreckage of Zanarkand and begins his journey.
When combat begins, players will notice another departure from the FF formula: smooth, almost negligible transitions into combat. The brief warping effect that blacked out the screen as the battlefield loaded in previous games has been removed, and now the battle info is simply overlaid on the screen and combat begins. It's a much quicker process, and it keeps you connected to the action at all times. The actual combat engine offers numerous improvements on the previous games' engines. This time out, an onscreen bar indicates which character is up to attack, and you can also switch party members on the fly during combat. Limit breaks have been replaced by overdrive attacks, and you can perform these special attacks once an onscreen meter has been filled. Unleashing one requires more than just waiting for the meter to fill and selecting it from a menu, though. Once you have settled on an overdrive attack, you must execute a command to initiate it. For example, some overdrive attacks may require charging an additional meter by pushing certain buttons quickly or executing a command sequence during a set time to trigger them. Summon spells are still an option, but they have a new twist: This time, summoned creatures stay on the battlefield until they are recalled, allowing you to make the most of your elemental. Spell cinematics can also be skipped to keep the pace of the battle brisk. Additionally, the camera angles during fights provide a sense of speed and keep the proceedings lively by shifting dynamically.
Following battle, you'll notice yet another difference from previous FFs: You'll no longer receive experience. Instead, you'll gain AP points that will eventually earn "sphere points" when enough are collected. The sphere point system will definitely be a change of pace for RPG fans accustomed to leveling up via experience points. In FFX, you will be able to access a "sphere board" from the main menu and use your available sphere points to move on it. You start out at the beginning of the board and use your points to move forward. Your characters level up when you land on certain spaces--the icon on each space indicates which stat will be boosted on your characters. It takes a bit of practice, but it appears as though it will be possible to have more-well-rounded characters this time out.
While the sphere board can't really be considered a minigame due to the fact that playing it is integral to building up your characters, FFX does keep up the fine tradition of throwing a few fun diversions into the game. It will be possible to play blitzball and find out what all the fuss is about. A comprehensive tutorial is included and should have you swimming and playing like a pro. A chocobo race minigame is also included so you can race the athletic birds. Chocobo can also be used to get around in the game--in some cases, they're essential to unlocking the secrets in the game. In some areas, you'll see chocobo feathers, which is a hint that a secret area only accessible via chocobo is nearby. Another secret you'll unlock as you progress through the game will be the language, Al Bhed. In an interesting twist, you'll find dictionaries that will translate pieces of the language. As you hear Al Bhed spoken, more of it will become clear depending on how many of the dictionaries have been collected. In fact, once you've finished the game, it appears as though it will be possible to use the collected dictionaries to understand early exchanges in the game that had previously been unintelligible.
The game looks to offer at least the amount of depth FF fans are accustomed to and then some. In addition to game-content extras, Square has said FFX will be compatible with the PS2 hard drive in some way (we're assuming it will affect loading in some way). At this point, the only disappointing thing--and it's a big one--is that US players won't be able to get their hands on a localized version of the game until early next year. English voice work is underway, as is the text localization. Square is still undecided as to whether the US version will offer the extra disc featuring interviews with the developer and voice actors, but it is under consideration. Look for a lot more coverage on FFX in the coming weeks as we work our way through our import copies.
For Final Fantasy X media, including a ton of direct-feed movies, check out