Square's Final Fantasy series is one of the longest running, most prolific, most critically acclaimed lines of games ever. That means each new installment in the series needs to be exceedingly good--since the company has outdone itself on so many occasions, millions of fans expect each new Final Fantasy to be even better than all its predecessors. Whether they truly end up better is the subject of never-ending debate among Final Fantasy fans, but one thing is certain: Each new Final Fantasy game is a momentous occasion.
It's been crystal clear for months that Final Fantasy X would be no exception. Countless screenshots, movie files, and bits of information have propagated all over the Internet, revealing the game's stunning good looks and much of its back story. Of course, it isn't enough for Final Fantasy X to look good--since it's Square's first role-playing game for the PlayStation 2, it's reasonable to expect Final Fantasy X to improve upon every aspect of the series beyond just the graphics. The good news is that, by and large, that's exactly what it does. Overall, Final Fantasy X is a remarkably well done role-playing game that offers plenty of just about everything that's ever been good about the series. At the same time, it takes the series in interesting new directions and refines many of the series' most important elements, such as the turn-based combat and the character-advancement system. Perhaps even more importantly, Final Fantasy X weaves an engrossing, memorable story filled with a number of great characters. Beyond that, it's a very challenging game that's even longer than most any of its predecessors and is certainly longer than most other PlayStation 2 games. If you've been waiting for the definitive role-playing game for the PlayStation 2, here it is.
Recent games in the Final Fantasy series have followed a tried-and-true formula, and for the most part, Final Fantasy X follows it too. That is, like its predecessors, this isn't a game you can play for a few minutes at a time. Much of the game revolves around epic, drawn-out battles between your party of characters and Final Fantasy X's gigantic, villainous monsters. Much of the game consists of your having to watch lengthy noninteractive story sequences, in which the game's plot gradually unravels in the conversations between Final Fantasy X's protagonists. Much of Final Fantasy X is purely optional--though the game will take you no fewer than 40 hours to complete the first time through, you could easily spend twice as long exploring some of its late-game side quests and searching for suitably rewarding secrets. Not every player will be willing or even prepared to spend this much time with the game, and it's more than likely that not everyone will even be able to finish the game, either. So if you're a hard-core fan of the series and are wondering whether Square is loosening the reigns, dumbing Final Fantasy down to make it accessible to an even broader audience, then rest assured that's definitely not the case.
On the other hand, if you haven't played much Final Fantasy before, then don't feel too intimidated by Final Fantasy X. It's easy to get into and includes plenty of good tutorial information built right into the game. As long as you're ready to commit some time and energy to it, then Final Fantasy X is a perfectly good place for new players to get acquainted with the series. Like all Final Fantasy games, this one's plot is completely unrelated to any of its predecessors, although series fans will appreciate all the subtle references to the previous games.
The visual style of Final Fantasy X most closely resembles that of Final Fantasy VIII for the PlayStation, which was the first game in the series to give its characters a more lifelike appearance instead of a cartoonlike one. The hero of Final Fantasy X is Tidus, a teenager all decked out in decidedly garish clothes and sporting bleached, feathered hair. Unlike many Final Fantasy protagonists, Tidus apparently isn't a shy, stoic youth, but rather an outgoing, cheerful person. You might not take a liking to him right off the bat--he's a jock and can be a bit arrogant--but in time, you'll find him to be suitably endearing and to have the same kind of surprising depth that's characterized past Final Fantasy heroes.