When I heard the inevitable announcement of FFX, I expected yet another entry into the Final Fantasy series; more of the same, with a few tweaks to the magic/battle/level system and a different story. It has worked in the past, so I remained optimistic. Now that I've played it, I can say I was right—FFX is more of the same. No surprises here. But I think I've grown tired of the predictable formula. There isn't another genre so full of clones and uninspired rehashes than the role-playing game, and the Final Fantasy series has finally lost its status as the exception.
FFX does have some good points, mainly its extremely solid art direction created by some of the industry's top talent. This is Squaresoft after all. Even games I didn't enjoy from the software developer have production values that go above and beyond the average game. Square does not skimp when it comes to the look of their games, and all the creative minds that work there should be applauded—the main reason why I couldn't bring myself to score the game any lower.
Besides the graphics, what really seperates FFX from any other entry in the Final Fantasy world? Admittedly, not much. And therein lies the real problem with the Final Fantasy series as a whole—it's become akin to beating a dead horse. It's starting to remind me of the Friday the 13th movies. Sure, the movies were great slasher fun when I was a kid, and the few afterwards still held my interest, but things basically got old and I never saw any of them past Part 3. Does the presence of new protaganists and new locations magically make the next movie in the series feel original? The average consumer of entertainment constantly seeks out new and unique experiences to stimulate the imagination and bring a little excitement into their lives, which is why those later Friday the 13th movies bombed and why the Final Fantasy series is starting to lose its luster.
As far as the religious message in FFX, it's handled with kid-safe gloves (I'm sure one reason for this was to avoid the game being branded with that 'M' on the case). The absolute intolerance of others that was present in History's darker times of religious fervor does not exist in FFX. Yevon shares elements with and drew inspiration from...an underwater polo game? Definitely not the makings of controversy. Sure, the Al Bhed are viewed as heathens by the followers of Yevon, but that doesn't stop the faithful from travelling with the heretics. Nor does it stop the Al Bhed from entering Yevon's sacred temples. Tolerance is liberally spread throughout the world of Spira, without a hint of the blind hate and senseless murder that made times such as the Middle Ages infamous.
I also think there are quite a few role-playing games that have already dealt with the subject of religion, some are even past Final Fantasy titles. Xenogears, Grandia II and Final Fantasy Tactics, just to name a few. I do agree with Jon that religion is a great subject matter on which to build a deep, thought provoking game, but even after playing FFX, I have yet to see any video game really tackle religion with the seriousness the topic demands. I can not share in the sentiment that FFX is a "pioneer" of the subject matter.
Even though FFX fell victim to the series' worst traits--predictability, lack of innovation, random battles—its absolute worst fault, and a first for the series, is something Jon already talked about; the absence of a world map. What made Final Fantasy games so great in the past was the sense of adventure and the exploration possibilities that the world map afforded to the player. Now that it's gone, FFX is simply transformed into a mundane linear quest. I fail to see the logic in ommiting this important part to these games.
Over all, FFX was a huge let down and reminded me that the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is not always true. Considering that Square is creating the next installation of the series to be playable online only, maybe FFX truly represents the final Fantasy. Call me a heretic, but I won't be sad to see it go.