First Impression: Final Fantasy X (PS2) ~ Soccer under water.

Wikipedia entry

So, my vacation recently started, and I felt like playing some games I have in my collection for years but haven’t really played. One of these games is Final Fantasy X on the PS2. A game I started playing this year, but I haven’t gotten the time to start really playing this game. I was even afraid in 2019 that I wouldn’t be able to start playing these two games. But now I have a whole summer to play games, and work inside my apartment. So, was it a good idea to pick Final Fantasy 10 to play during this holiday, or should I start looking for another game? Well, let’s find out together in this first impression article if I think it’s worth our time or if we should skip this game for another one. While I invite you, the reader, to leave a comment in the comment section with your thoughts and/or opinions on the game and/or the content of this article. And no, it’s a coincidence that I pick this RPG with fantasy soccer elements on the day that the final of the European Championship is being played. (That little bit would have worked, if only I was able to finish the article on that day.)

Blitz soccer under water

While writing this article, I found out that this game got an remaster way back in 2016. But, when I was able to pick up this game, and it’s sequel for €5 in my local game store second hand… Well, let’s just say I quickly decided to play the originals. Now that I’m admitting things, I think it’s a good thing to also “admit” or rather inform my readers that I haven’t played a lot of games in the Final Fantasy series. If my memory serves me correctly, this is one of the first Final Fantasy games I really started playing in-depth. I have started playing Final Fantasy 7 and other Final Fantasy titles, but for some unknown reason, I didn’t continue playing them.

Anyway, enough introductory rambling. It’s time to explain the (start) of the story of this game. So, this game opens with Tidus, a blitzball player from Zanarkand who is playing in a memorial cup. This memorial cup is to honor his father, a legendary player who went missing 10 years ago. The memorial cup for Jecht (Tidus’ father) has barely started and a big monster attacks the metropolis. Together with Auron, our main character Tidus is swept away. Who is Auron? Well, he is somebody who was looking after Tidus right after his father went missing and Tidus’ mother died.

Now, where is our Tidus swept away to? To Spira. A world where he barely knows the customs and languages. There, Tidus learns that Zanarkand has been destroyed over 1000 years ago by a being named Sin. And not only that, it turns out the Zanarkand is a holy land.

It doesn’t take long before Tidus’ blitzball skills are discovered by the locals and he enters a tournament. There, he meets various characters like the summoner Yuna. Together with her crew, Yuna is taking a pilgrimage to Zanarkand to destroy Sin. And you can bet on it that Tidus’ joins Yuna’s crew since he wants answers.

A lot of this game is voice acted. If you google this game together with “voice acting”, you get a LOT of varied opinions. From it being the worst they ever heard to being good. Personally, I think the voice acting is a bit on the weak side. I think the biggest issue is the pacing and delivery of the lines. Now, what I mean here is that the delivery of the English lines doesn’t always match the actions on screen. For example, there is a scene where you just enter a village, and you get stopped to get the prayer explained. But, there is a strange pause between the “Oh right, hold up” line and the character actually pulling you aside.

Overall, the writing so far is decent. All the unknown customs and languages are as confusing to us players then they are to our main character. If only the English voice acting was a bit more fine-tuned to give the story a bit more impact, a bit more “umphf” you know. Since there are moments that really have great voice acting, but it isn’t consistent, and it feels unpolished and a tad bit rushed.

Now, I could keep talking about the voice acting and story for a while but since I haven’t beaten the game yet, I think I’ll wait to talk about it more in depth for when I have finished this game and/or I have finished the sequel. Since then, I’ll have a way more clear picture on what the whole game and if it’s really that bad that the internet is actually saying. The only thing I want to say for now is that after 5 hours of playing, this game is a tad bit slow on the story side.

It’s battle time

This game is at its core an RPG. You explore the world while you have random battles with enemies to increase your stats. Besides that, you have a whole blitzball game to play as well. Currently, I haven’t played enough of the game to comment too in depth about blitzball. So, I’m going to focus mainly on the RPG gameplay. The battle system in this game your classic turn based affair. So, that means that if you have played RPG’s before, it won’t take you long before you get into this one.

One of the unique mechanics in this game is the Sphere Grid. I could try and explain it but I found that the Final Fantasy wiki has an excellent explanation. So, props to the writer(s) of that section of the wiki since it’s one of the best explanations of this interesting and fun to play with mechanic I was able to find.

At the end of each battle every party member that took at least one full turn earns AP. Characters who are switched out during their first turn, KO’d, or petrified at the end of the battle will not gain AP. If the player defeats the enemy using an aeon, then Yuna will be treated as having taken a turn even if she only summoned.

When enough AP is earned, the character gains a Sphere Level (“S.Lv“). The amount of AP needed to generate Sphere Levels increases progressively until the character has acquired 101 S.LV, after which an additional Sphere Level will always require 22,000 AP. When moving about the Sphere Grid, the character may move one node forward for each S.LV they have. The player does not need to activate a node to pass by it. Regardless of activation, when the player passes a node, a colored band connects their current node to the node they left to mark their path on the grid. Moving across previously connected paths allows the character to move four nodes for every S.LV they have.

Each character’s starting location on the grid indicates their strengths and weaknesses based on the variety of nodes in their section, though the player can choose to take the character down a different path using Key Spheres. The character-specific sections merge at certain points, allowing a character to take another’s path. The character-specific sections are separated by locked nodes, which become empty nodes once opened, allowing free movement. Ultimately, every node on the Sphere Grid may be accessed by every character.

https://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Sphere_Grid

The Sphere Grid makes the combat even more interesting. Something that this game does extremely well is teaching the mechanics and the strategies in battles to the player. It doesn’t overwhelm you with all the mechanics of this game in one go, but it steadily builds up until every mechanic has been covered. While I love RPG’s, I always have a hard time getting into the deeper meta of the game and I barely remember several things like what’s effective against what. Thankfully, in the towns, there is a station where you can re-read every tutorial from the game to refresh your memory. I love touches like these in games since it makes the game more accessible whilst the difficulty doesn’t suffer.

Speaking about difficulty, since you have full control over the Sphere Grid, you can somewhat decide that for yourself. I think this is an excellent idea how to handle difficulty. This way more veteran players can make the game more difficult by not unlocking everything on the grid while for more casual players, the game can become “easier” by unlocking the whole grid.

Something that really surprised me is the fact you can control Tidus via the D-pad. I honestly expected that since this game is on the PS2, only the joystick would move him. But that isn’t the case. You can control him with both. Overall, the controls of this game are quite well done. They are responsive and intuitive. Even when I put the game down for several months in February and picked it back up for this summer vacation, I was able to get the hang of the controls extremely quickly.

Also, the small map/radar helps quite a lot while exploring the area’s you come across. The yellow arrow is you and the red arrow is the next major objective. I’m really curious how that’s going to work when I’m further in the game and I hope it doesn’t take away the joy of trying to find the way to your next location. Since sometimes it’s a lot of fun, getting lost in the RPG world. That’s why I love playing games like Dragon Quest.

A bit stiff

I’m not that picky when it comes to the visuals of a game. I don’t mind if a game hasn’t the best visuals or looks from yesteryear, what matters to me is that the visual presentation is consistent with a nice art style that isn’t too hard on the eyes, fits the theme and atmosphere of game and helps me to pull me into the game. But, there are something’s in this game I want to talk about.

While overall, the visual presentation of this game looks quite good, I do notice some visual hiccups here and there. I honestly can’t tell if that’s because of the composite switch I’m using, my PS2 disc or something else, but I have noticed some visual issues. In one cutscene, you could see how Tidus’ hair is modeled, since it blurred out the background on the empty spots.

Maybe I notice these imperfections more easily since I have been reviewing games for over 11 years now and I might have developed an eye for it. But, there are some things that I really don’t like in terms of animation for this game. For example, I find the somewhat slow run cycle of Tidus so unnatural, it’s honestly almost comical in my opinion. Also, I have seen some strange movements from Yuna during her first cutscenes.

It’s a real shame, since this there is a lot that this game does right in terms of the visual presentation. The battle animations look amazing, and I have seen environments that still hold up in my opinion. But, it’s a bit stiff and rough on some edges. Things that could have been patched out if the game was to release in the modern gaming industry.

Now that I have talked about the visual presentation, I think it’s high time I also talk about the audiovisual presentation. Let’s first talk about the music. The orchestral soundtrack of this game has Final Fantasy written all over it. The classic victory tune and the hints to the original theme in the theme of this game are excellent. When I’m listening to game soundtracks, I rarely skip Final Fantasy soundtracks and this game is one of them. Great soundtrack!

That also goes for the audio in this game. There are a lot of ambient sound effects that pull you more into the atmosphere of the visual design. There were some moments where I felt that some additional sound effects could have helped… like with a silent waterfall. But then again, it might run the excellent sound mixing this game has going on… So yeah.

Now, I want to mention a nitpick. There isn’t a way to quickly skip long animations and/or cutscenes. So, yeah. That’s quite annoying if you are in a rush to get somewhere since you got a game over, and you haven’t manually saved at a save stone in a while. Thankfully, I’m that kind of player who saves at every opportunity I can, just in case…

The final thing I want to touch upon in this first impression is the camera. All in all, the camera in this game is good, but sometimes it doesn’t follow the main player well enough and the main character almost goes off-screen before the camera angle switches. Thankfully, the map helps in these moments, but hey, it could have been better.

Overall, I’m quite happy that I’m giving this game a chance during my summer vacation break. While this game is showing its age in the visual department and that complaint is mostly fixed with the remaster… I do still enjoy playing the original version of the game. The only thing that really bothers me is the mediocre voice acting, which breaks some tension of the story. But, thankfully, it’s great voice practice for me since my folk theater group is restarting after the… let’s just say… the “covid-break”. So, I can try to act it out myself how I would have preformed that line.

While I could have gone more in depth on certain aspects of this game, I’m going to keep that for the review when I have fully beaten this game. I’m really curious if certain opinions are going to change. And with that said, I have said everything I wanted to say about this game for now. I want to thank you so much for reading, and I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another one, but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care!