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(NOTE: Newsest additons are at the bottom)

Square's PlayStation 2 RPG roster is presently a slim one, consisting solely of Final Fantasies X through XII. Slowing sales have forced the company, like many others, to trim its release list toonly big-name titles. But an all-Final Fantasy roster doesn't imply there's no variety, as
Final Fantasy X looks to be vastly different from the series' ninth installment.

Final Fantasy X returns to the look of Final Fantasy VIII, with many key project leaders coming from the staff of that title. Character designer Tetsuya Nomura has returned from a one-game absence to lend his realistic style to the game's characters. Final Fantasy X won't have the modern environments of VIII, however; FF X's world reportedly has not reached the industrial era.

Originally intended to be the first testing ground for Square's PlayOnline network, Final Fantasy X has since become an entirely offline game. Players would originally have been able to connect to PlayOnline to receive game hints and information, but hang-ups in building the PlayOnline service forced Square to remove this feature.

Some technological advances remains, however. Final Fantasy X will adopt a polygon-basedworld in place of the pre-rendered backdrops of the past three FFs. The move to full 3-D will allow for much more cinematic story sequences, though actual character movement will still use a fixed camera perspective. (The FF X team felt that a switch to a generic Skies of Arcadia-style "over the shoulder" view would interfere with the much-discussed but poorly-defined "Final Fantasy feel.") The world of Final Fantasy X will also be one continuous area; towns and dungeons will be built right into the world map instead of appearing as mere icons.

FF X's world will also be the first to feature monsters in the flesh. Boss battles will be fought on the same screen in which the player moves around, as in Chrono Trigger and Breath of Fire III. Unfortunately, random battles will still cut to a separate combat screen -- the development team had hoped to have all battles occur on the field map, but wasn't able to implement this feature.

Perhaps the most noteworthy new feature is the controversial use of voice acting for the first time in Final Fantasy history. Nearly every important story scene, as well as many other scenes, will feature voice acting. Characters' facial expressions will also change as they speak, an FF first. Gamers with hearing disabilities or a severe case of technophobia can rest easy, though; not only will subtitles be included, the voices can be turned off entirely.

Nobuo Uematsu will continue his streak with his tenth FF score. The composer has stated that FF X will feature the second-greatest number of tracks in series history. (FF IX still has the most.) Indeed, music looks to be an integral part of FF X. The now-obligatory pop theme song, "Suteki da ne" ("Isn't it Beatiful?"), will be closely associted with FF X's heroine Yuna, just as FF IX's theme "Melodies of Life" was tied to Garnet. Another track, "Song of Prayer", will be featured in a key singing scene. There's even rumors that a rock concert scene will be included. However, FF X will also make more frequent use of silence; not every scene will have background music droning through it.

A number of story details have been revealed, though how they fit together isn't quite clear. Final Fantasy X is set in a post-apocalyptic world -- one thousand years after "a great terror arose from the deep", the world is nearly submerged in water. Now, in the present, a "journey home" across the seas begins, with the heroes apparentlybound for "the kingdom of the sun." Another important aspect to the story is Sin, a malefic force of nature that manifests itself as natural disasters. (While Sin is represented as a ball of fire in the FF X logo, it is not actually a corporeal being.) Sin can only be defeated by the "Ultimate Summon" spell possessed by the summoners from Ebon.

At the center of the adventure is a cheerful sword-slinging youth named Tidus (pronounced "Tida").A star player at the underwater sport Blitzball, Tidus teams up with his staff-wielding love interest Yuna to confront Sin. The daugher of the famous summoner Braska and a summoner herself, Yuna has been haunted by strange dreams as of late. Believing Sin to be the cause, she swears to defeat it, and perhaps emerge from her parents' shadow in the process. Interestingly, Yuna has one blue eye and one green eye, though whether this is important to the game or not remains to be seen. Three other playable characters, none with official romanized names, have also been revealed: Kitt, Hayate, and Tidus' mysterious rival Ryugo. One of these characters -- or another, yet-to-be-named ally -- will wield a Blitzball as a weapon.

Beneath the story runs a unique theme: what composer Nobuo Uematsu describes as an "Okinawan atmosphere." Not only is "Suteki da ne" sung by an Okinawan folk singer, Rikki, FF X will incorporate the Japanese island group's tropical feel and clothing style. Even the character names are influenced by Okinawa: "Yuna" is a type of hibiscus in the Okinawan dialect, while "Tida" is a local word meaning "sun."

Travel will be another key theme to FF X. Tidus comes from a lower caste than Yuna and frequently encounters places and things he's unfamiliar with, prompting him to ask "What's that?" Script writer Kazunari Nojima states that other themes to the game include "change" and

Final Fantasy X promises a new direction in battle systems. Battle director Toshirou Tsuchida is calling on his experience as the director of the Front Mission series to implement a more strategic alternative to the ATB system. Characters will likely be able to move around the battle in some regard, and the "think-on-your-feet" elements of ATB will be reduced. Party members will also not have conventional experience points; instead, some other mechanism will be used to gauge characters' growth from battles.

However, the options available to each character should remain largely the same. Characters will have a traditional MP statistic, summon spells, and single-use Limit Breaks; the several-turn Trance Modes from Final Fantasy IX will not make a return. And while the party will be limited to three heroes at a time, as in FFs VII and VIII, it seems that characters not in the active team will still participate: Heroes not in the current squad can apparently be called in to perform single attacks.

When the party isn't fighting, it can pass the time by playing one of FF X's mini-games: the sport of Blitzball. Described by director Yoshinori Kitase as a mixture of basketball, soccer, and rugby, the underwater sport is played in teams of six. Players pass the ball through the water and score points by getting it into a goal. Tidus and several other party members are avid Blitzball players; the logo for their team can be seen on Tidus' shorts.

Originally due out this spring, Final Fantasy X's Japanese release has been pushed back to July. (A North American release will follow in late November.) Two versions of the game will be available: a standard single-DVD edition and a "high value" two-DVD set with improved FMV and higher-quality sound.

With little pre-release hype, FF X's greatest challenge may be living up to Square's lofty expectations for the title -- the company hopes to sell nearly 3 million copies of the game, a goal that may prove difficult to reach when only just over 6 million PlayStation 2 consoles have been sold. Still, from what's been shown so far, FF X looks to be another worthy member of the Final Fantasy series, and where quality games go, the fans are sure to follow.

New Final Fantasy X world, plot details

World and summon monsters named, plus the plot premise revealed. (Possible spoilers within.)

   In today's press release announcing its Electronic Entertainment Expo roster, Square EA also offered a new look at Final Fantasy X's setting and plot.

   The planet on which Final Fantasy X is set has acquired a name -- "Spira" -- making FF X only the second Final Fantasy in which the game world has an actual name. (Final Fantasy IX's planet was named Gaia.) The FF series' trademark summoned monsters also have their requisite new name: "Aeons."

   New plot details describe the beginning of the story as the traditional destruction of the hero's homeland. Tidus miraculously survives the attack -- it's not clear yet what destroys his homeland -- and awakens in the middle of ruins. He soon meets up with Yuna, who is traveling the world to visit temples and learn how to summon the Aeons, "powerful spirits of yore," so she can destroy the force of nature known as Sin.

   As the pair journey, they learn more about Spira's past. One thousand years ago, Spira was a land of great technological advancement and "spectacular cities." However, Sin suddenly and mysteriously arose and destroyed all civilization. Since then, the people have lived in fear of technology, never knowing when and where Sin will strike next. Predictably, it's up to Tidus and Yuna to break the millennium-old curse.

   Final Fantasy X is due out July 17th in Japan. North American and European releases will follow in early and mid 2002, respectively.

Source: The GIA