Final Fantasy X marks the Final Fantasy series' transition from entirely pre-rendered backdrops to fully three-dimensional areas, achieved with the PlayStation 2's Emotion Engine processor. Although pre-rendered backgrounds are not entirely absent, their use has been restricted to less vibrant locations, such as building interiors. Final Fantasy X is also the first game in the series to feature a wide range of realistic facial expressions, as well as other technological developments in graphical effects achieved, such as variance in lighting and shadow from one section of a character's clothing to the next. Final Fantasy X is also the first in the series to feature voice-over actors.
Final Fantasy X introduces other significant advances in the Final Fantasy series. For instance, because of the implementation of voice-overs, scenes in the game are paced according to the time taken for dialogue to be spoken, whereas previous games in the series incorporated scrolling subtitles. Final Fantasy X features changes in world design, with a focus placed on realism. The gameplay makes a significant departure from past games as well, incorporating several new elements. As of January 20, 2004, the game has sold around 6.6 million units worldwide and was also voted by the readers of the Japanese video game magazine Famitsu to be the greatest video game of all-time.
In line with previous titles in the series, players are given the opportunity to develop and improve their characters by defeating enemies and acquiring items, though the traditional experience point system was replaced by a new system called the "Sphere Grid". The game was initially going to feature online elements, but these were dropped during production, and online multiplayer gaming would not become part of the Final Fantasy series until Final Fantasy XI.
Map director Takayoshi Nakazato has explained that with Final Fantasy X, he wanted to implement a world map concept with a more realistic approach than that of the traditional Final Fantasy game, in-line with the realism afforded by the mechanics of the game's dominant 3D backgrounds, as opposed to that offered by pre-rendered backgrounds (which he refers to as "pseudo 3D environments").
Final Fantasy X introduces the Conditional Turn-Based Battle (CTB) system in place of the series' traditional Active Time Battle (ATB) system, which was originally developed by Hiroyuki Ito and was first used in Final Fantasy IV. The system was developed by battle director Toshiro Tsuchida, who had Final Fantasy IV in mind when developing the CTB system. Whereas the ATB concept features real-time elements, the CTB system is a turn-based format that pauses the battle during each of the player's turns. Thus, the CTB design allows the player to select an action without time pressure. The CTB system also allows characters' and enemies' attributes and actions to affect the number of turns they are allowed and the order in which they occur. A graphical timeline along the upper-right side of the screen details who will be receiving turns next as well as how various actions taken (such as using the Slow spell on an enemy) will affect the subsequent order of turns.
Character-specific special abilities (known as "Limit Breaks" in some other Final Fantasy games) reappear in Final Fantasy X under the name "Overdrives". In this new incarnation of the feature, most of the techniques are interactive, requiring fighting game-style button inputs or precise timing to increase their effectiveness. Furthermore, an "Overdrive meter" was introduced to determine when such an ability could be executed. Through the use of different "Overdrive Modes", the player is allowed to designate what circumstances (such as receiving damage, slaying an enemy, or being the only living character on the field) cause the Overdrive meter to fill.
Final Fantasy X allows the player to control only up to three characters in battle at once, but a "swapping system" allows the player to replace any of them with one of the (eventually) four others waiting on the sidelines. A player may swap one character for another at any time, unless the on-field character has been defeated. Swapping is encouraged by the fact that each character has a specialized application: Yuna has the greatest skill at healing with White Magic and can use summon spells; Rikku is adept at using and stealing items; Tidus can use time-altering magic and accurately strike agile enemies; Wakka can inflict negative status effects and accurately strike flying enemies; Auron can pierce enemies' defenses and has the greatest physical strength; Kimahri can use enemy skills; and Lulu has elemental Black Magic spells suited for use against elementally aligned enemies.
Final Fantasy X introduces an overhaul of the summoning system employed in previous installments of the series. Whereas in previous games a summoned creature would arrive, perform a single action, and then depart, Final Fantasy X's summons (called "aeons") arrive and entirely replace the battle party, fighting in their place until either the enemy has been slain, the aeon itself has been defeated, or the aeon is dismissed by the player. Aeons have their own stats, commands, special attacks, spells, and Overdrives, and in addition to providing powerful attacks, they can be employed as "meat shields" while fighting difficult bosses, as the enemy must first kill any summoned aeon before it can damage the party directly. The player acquires a minimum of five aeons over the course of the game, and three additional aeons can be unlocked by completing various sidequests.
Originally, Final Fantasy X was going to feature wandering enemies visible on the field map, seamless transitions into battles, and the option for players to move around the landscape during enemy encounters. Battle art director Shintaro Takai has explained that it was his intention that battles in Final Fantasy X come across as a natural part of the story and not an independent element. However, due to hardware and system limitations, these ideas were not used until Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XII. Instead, a compromise was made, whereby some transitions from the field screen to battle arenas were made relatively seamless with the implementation of a motion blur effect. The desire for seamless transitions also led to the implementation of the new summoning system seen in the game.
Final Fantasy X's leveling system, the Sphere Grid, was unique in the computer role-playing game genre at the time of its release; however aspects of the approach were adopted by some later titles, for example the "Mantra Grid" in the game Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga. Instead of characters gaining pre-determined statistic bonuses for their attributes after a certain number of battles, each character gains a "sphere level" after collecting enough Ability Points (AP). Sphere levels, in turn, allow players to move around the Sphere Grid, a predetermined grid of several hundred interconnected nodes consisting of various stat and ability bonuses. Items called "spheres" (obtained from defeated enemies, treasure chests, and event prizes) are applied to these nodes, unlocking its function for the selected character. In this way, the playable characters' development resembles a board game.
Producer Yoshinori Kitase has explained that the purpose behind the Sphere Grid is to give players an interactive means of increasing their characters' attributes, such that they will be able to observe the development of those attributes firsthand. The Sphere Grid system also allows players to fully customize characters in contrast to their intended battle roles, such as turning the magician Yuna into a physical powerhouse and the swordsman Auron into a healer. The International and PAL versions of the game include an optional "Expert" version of the Sphere Grid; in these versions, all of the characters start in the middle of the grid and may follow whichever path the player chooses. As a tradeoff, however, the Expert grid has noticeably fewer nodes in total, thus decreasing the total statistic upgrades available during the game.
Although it is predominantly populated by humans, Spira features a variety of races. Among them are the Al Bhed, a technologically advanced but disenfranchised sub-group of humans with distinctive spiral-green eyes and unique language. The Guado are somewhat less human in appearance, with elongated fingers and other subtle differences. They also have a natural propensity for magic and conjuring monsters. Still less human in appearance are the large, lion-like, one-horned Ronso, and the frog-like Hypello.
Spira's wildlife population introduces several new concepts into the series. Although most creatures are drawn from real animals, such as cats, dogs, birds and butterflies, a few fictional species appear, such as the gigantic, amphibious shoopuf and the emu-like chocobo. Both are used primarily for transportation purposes. Most other unusual creatures encountered in Final Fantasy X are fiends.
Spira is very different from the mainly European-style worlds found in previous Final Fantasy games, being much more closely modeled on Southeast Asia, most notably with respect to vegetation, topography, architecture, and names. Nomura has identified the South Pacific, Thailand and Japan as major influences on the cultural and geographic design of Spira, particularly concerning the geographic locations of Besaid and Kilika. He has also said that Spira deviates from the worlds of past Final Fantasy games most notably in the level of detail incorporated, something he has expressed to have made a conscious effort to maintain during the design process. Though a southeast Asian theme is dominant, like other games in the franchise, Final Fantasy X borrows elements from many other cultures, featuring references to demonology, Hindu, Norse, Arabic and other mythologies. Psychology is also represented, with Carl Jung referenced by the aeon Anima.
The most distinctive, basic features of Final Fantasy Xs mythology are pyreflies, luminescent "bundles of life energy" that emerge from the newly-dead and wander the land. If left to their own devices, they usually cluster together and form into fiends, dangerous monsters that take a variety of forms and return to balls of pyreflies when defeated. The vast majority of enemies in Final Fantasy X are fiends. In rare cases, pyreflies maintain enough cohesion and sentience to become unsent, beings that appear human but are actually the lingering remnant of a dead individual with a purpose left unfinished.
One of the tasks of a summoner in Final Fantasy X is to help guide stray pyreflies to their final resting place, a mystical domain guarded by the Guado and known as the Farplane. They do this through a ritual dance known as "the sending". The other chief function of summoners is to summon aeons, fierce magical creatures created when people sacrifice their lives to encase their souls within statues, becoming fayth. Fayth grant summoners the ability to summon their respective aeons, which are described as "dreams of the fayth". Summoners are charged with the duty of defeating Sin, a gigantic monster that has plagued Spira for a thousand years, capable of wiping out entire towns and armies with ease.
Spira's human population is deeply religious and centered around the temples of Yevon, a millennium-old religious organization that has gained enormous influence. The Yevonite temples consider Sin a divine punishment set upon people for their pride in the use of machines (or machina, as they are called in the game), and forbid the use of advanced technology. However, it is eventually revealed that the highest priests, known as the maesters, have become increasingly corrupt and unfaithful to their own doctrine, making use of machina to increase their power.
Summoners go on pilgrimages to gather aeons and increase their powers. They are accompanied by guardians, trained fighters whose duty is to protect the summoners and assist them along the way. The end of the pilgrimage is in the sacred ruined city of Zanarkand, where summoners acquire the Final Aeon, the only known power that can destroy Sin. It is revealed late in Final Fantasy X that the fayth for the Final Aeon is actually created from one who is personally close to a summoner, requiring a guardian of each summoner who defeats Sin to sacrifice his or her life. Additionally, using the Final Aeon against Sin costs the summoner's life as well. However, even this measure is only temporary: after a small period of peace, known as "the Calm", Sin returns, thus requiring the process to start anew.
The primary antagonists of the game are maester Seymour Guado and the other maesters of the Yevon religion, while the rampaging Sin serves as the primary source of conflict. In addition, there is a vast supporting cast of named characters, who—along with the main characters—feature voice talents complementing their principle roles, as well as the myriad incidental characters that have traditionally populated the worlds of Final Fantasy.
Character designer Tetsuya Nomura took particular care in each of the characters' designs. For example, Nomura based Yuna's overall design on Okinawan kimonos. When he learned that the character was to perform the sending dance, he wanted to give her outfit something that would flow. For this reason, the specific style of kimono he chose for her was a furisode, a kimono bearing long sleeves. Additionally, he adorned her dress and necklace with images of the flower also called Yuna (Hibiscus tiliaceus), and her name carries the meaning of "night" in the Okinawan language, a direct contrast with Tidus' Japanese name, Tīda, the Okinawan word for "sun". Nomura has explained that while all these subtle details may be unnecessary, he does not want his designs to be without explanation.
For minor characters, sub-character chief designer Fumi Nakashima's focus was to ensure that characters from different regions and cultures bore distinctive characteristics in their clothing styles, such that they could be quickly and easily identified as members of their respective sub-groups. For example, in her words, the masks and goggles of the Al Bhed give the group a "strange and eccentric" appearance, while the attire of the Ronso lend to them being able to easily engage in battle.
Final Fantasy X begins late in the story, with the main character, Tidus, waiting with his allies outside the ruined city of Zanarkand. From this in medias res beginning, Tidus proceeds to narrate the series of events leading up to his present situation, and this extended flashback sequence spans most of the game's storyline. It begins in an unruined Zanarkand, a high-tech metropolis and Tidus' home city, where he is a renowned star of the fictional underwater sport blitzball. When Zanarkand is suddenly attacked by Sin during a blitzball game, Tidus—along with his long-time mentor, Auron—are sucked into the creature and awakens to find himself alone in the ruins of a deserted temple.
Tidus is then rescued by Al Bhed divers in the area, and one of them, Rikku, tells him that Zanarkand had been destroyed one thousand years earlier. He has little time to dwell on the significance of this news before Sin attacks once again, separating Tidus from the others. He eventually washes up on the tropical island of Besaid, where he meets Wakka, the captain of the Besaid Aurochs, a blitzball team. Impressed by Tidus' blitzball skills, Wakka asks Tidus to join the Aurochs in an upcoming tournament in Luca, suggesting that he may meet someone he knows there.
Tidus is introduced to Yuna, a young summoner who is following in the footsteps of her deceased father, the High Summoner Braska, who temporarily vanquished Sin ten years earlier. Braska's guardians were Auron and Jecht, Tidus's missing father, who had been assumed dead at sea ten years earlier. Tidus also meets Lulu and Kimahri, who, along with Wakka, are to serve as Yuna's guardians, journeying with her on her pilgrimage to the ruins of Zanarkand. There, she plans to acquire the power to summon the "Final Aeon" and use it to defeat Sin.
The party travels by boat to Kilika Island—where Sin is encountered yet again, attacking the boat and decimating most of the town and its villagers, then getting the aeon Ifrit and going to Luca. Fiends attack after the tournament, destroyed by Maester Seymour's aeon, Anima. After the blitzball tournament, the party encounters Auron, who joins them. Not long after, following another encounter with Sin where a crusader fleet is decimated, they acquire the aeon, Ixion and they are joined by Rikku, who is revealed to be Yuna's cousin.
After reaching Guadosalam, Seymour invites Yuna to his manor, proposing. After brief contemplation, Yuna returns, but Seymour has gone to Macalania temple, and the party follow, crossing the Thunder Plains, where Yuna informs the group that she will marry Seymour, but for Spira's happiness, not love. They cross the plains and Macalania woods, but are attacked by Rikku's brother and a machina. After repelling the Al Bhed, Seymour's aide, Tromell, guides Yuna to the temple and the group follow, at the temple seeing a sphere from Jyscal Guado, Seymour's late father. He confesses that Seymour is bitter and insane from lack of paternal love and will kill him. His prophecy has come true and the group defeats Seymour beyond the Cloister of trials, resulting in his death with the aid of the aeon, Shiva. Tromell destroys Jyscal's sphere and after fleeing, they are attacked by Sin again, transporting them to the sandy Bikanel island, where they lose track of Yuna. Rikku guides the group to the Al Bhed Home, which is being attacked by Yevon. It is revealed that the Al Bhed have kidnapped summoners to stop them from dying when the Final Summoning is performed and aboard the airship piloted by Brother and Rikku's father, Cid, Tidus resolves to save her. She has been taken to Bevelle, forced into marriage with the now unsent Seymour.
The group, after receiving the aeon Bahamut, are condemned to the fiend-infested Via Purifico and, after escaping, encounter Seymour again. He kills several guards, converting them into pyreflies to empower himself. After defeating him, Yuna and Tidus share a passionate moment and the next day, cross the Calm Lands and climb Mt Gagazet, home of the Ronso. At the summit they meet Seymour again, who has brutally slaughtered the Ronso. They defeat him once more and go to Zanarkand.
As the player approaches Zanarkand, Tidus learns that he, Jecht, and the Zanarkand they hail from are all "dreams", summoned entities akin to aeons. Their city, Dream Zanarkand, was created one thousand years earlier, when a conflict known as the "Machina War" led to Yevon, Zanarkand's ruler and a powerful summoner, taking desperate measures to preserve its memory. He had his city's surviving people become fayth so that he could use their memories of Zanarkand to create a new city in its image, far removed from the warfare on the Spiran mainland. Sin was also created at this time, given form by Yevon himself to serve as "armor" protecting himself and the fayth. While continuously summoning Dream Zanarkand, Yevon lost his humanity and became known as "Yu Yevon" (or "the Curse of Yevon"), a being existing solely to maintain Dream Zanarkand's existence. Over the next one thousand years, Sin would persistently attack the people of Spira to keep them from gaining the technology to learn of Dream Zanarkand's existence.
Once the player completes Yuna's pilgrimage to Zanarkand—ending Tidus' extended flashback sequence recounting most of the game's events—she and her companions learn from the unsent spirit of Lady Yunalesca—Yevon's daughter and the first summoner to have defeated Sin—that the Final Aeon is created from the spirit of one close to a summoner, and that when Sin is defeated, Yu Yevon's spirit then possesses it, transforming it into a new Sin. Additionally, it is revealed that Auron himself is an Unsent, having been killed by Yunalesca ten years earlier when he confronted her in rage after the deaths of Braska and Jecht. After the party defeats Yunalesca, Yuna and her guardians decide to seek a new way to defeat Sin: one that will permanently destroy him and will not require any sacrifices. Without having acquired the use of a Final Aeon, the party attacks Sin directly using a forbidden machina airship salvaged by the Al Bhed, and enters Sin's shredded body.
Inside Sin, the party battles Seymour, this time sending him, Jecht's imprisoned spirit, and Yu Yevon to the Farplane. Thus, they are able to end Sin's cycle of rebirth forever. Auron dissipates and goes to the Farplane as well, having fulfilled his promise to Jecht and Braska to guard their children. Lastly, the spirits of all the fayth of Spira are freed from their imprisonment, dispersing the aeons, Dream Zanarkand, and Tidus in the process. In a speech to the citizens of Spira, Yuna resolves to help rebuild the world now that it is free of Sin. However, she asks that they never forget the people who have been lost along the way.
After the credits, there is a brief scene with Tidus underwater. He opens his eyes and begins swimming upward, and the screen fades to white. This scene is later explained in Final Fantasy X-2 if certain conditions are met.
As with most other games in the Final Fantasy franchise, the characters and story of Final Fantasy X are distinct from those of its predecessors. Executive producer Hironobu Sakaguchi states that this is to maintain the novelty of each title and to show off his team's true potential. Although he had certain reservations about the transition from 2D to 3D backgrounds, the voice acting, and the transition to real-time story-telling, Sakaguchi believes Final Fantasys success can be attributed to constantly challenging the development team to try new things. For his part, scenario writer Kazushige Nojima has said that with this installment of the series, he was particularly concerned with establishing a connection in the relationship between the player and main character. Thus, he penned the story such that—since both Tidus and the player find themselves in a new world—the player's progress through the world and growing knowledge about it is reflected in Tidus' own developing understanding and narration.
Final Fantasy X also features innovations in the rendering of facial expressions on characters, achieved through motion capture and skeletal animation technology. This technology allowed animators to create realistic lip movements, which were then programmed to match the speech of the game's voice actors.
Battle director Toshiro Tsuchida wanted to do away with the ATB system for Final Fantasy X but Square did not allow him to. A compromise was eventually agreed upon, resulting in the CTB system.
In some respects, however, the inclusion of voice-overs led to additional difficulties. With the game's cutscenes already programmed around the Japanese voice work, Final Fantasy Xs English localization team faced not only the difficulty of establishing English-oriented dialogue, but also the added obstacle of incorporating this modified wording with the previously established rhythm and timing of the characters' lip movements. In his words, lead localization specialist Alexander O. Smith described the process of "fitting natural-sounding English speech into [...] the high-polygon scenes and CG movies" as "something akin to writing four or five movies worth of dialogue entirely in haiku form [and] of course the actors had to act, and act well, within those restraints". To this end, each voice actor was briefed on their character's motivations and feelings for every scene, and also shown various scenes from the game itself.
The game includes three songs with vocalized elements, one of which is the J-pop ballad "Suteki Da Ne". It is sung by Japanese folk singer Ritsuki Nakano, whom the music team contacted while searching for a singer whose music reflected an Okinawan atmosphere. "Suteki Da Ne" is sung in its original Japanese form in both the Japanese and English versions of Final Fantasy X. The song's title translates to "Isn't it Wonderful?" in English, and its lyrics were written by Nojima, while Uematsu composed the instrumentals. Like the ballads from Final Fantasy VIII and IX, "Suteki Da Ne" has an in-game version together with an orchestrated version used as part of the ending theme. The other songs featuring lyrics are the heavy metal opening theme, "Otherworld", sung in English by singer Bill Muir, and the "Hymn of the Fayth", a recurring piece sung using Japanese syllabary.
As part of their reviews, Famitsu and The Play Station expressed particularly favorable responses toward the game's storyline and graphics, as did the UK-based magazine Edge. However, the magazine only gave the game a 6/10, describing it as "Sequential software that labels itself next-gen" without providing a next generation gaming experience, instead repeating "the mistakes ... made on the last version". In this regard, Edge cites the game's battle and character-leveling systems, describing the former as only "fractionally more complex" than was the case in previous installments of the series, and the latter as "[no] more flexible than the straight leveling from previous games". Edge also dealt harsh criticism to the game's English script and voice-overs, regarding the dialogue, "both textual and verbal", as "nauseating". The magazine went on to say that it "renders the pathos comedic, the comedy dead, and ... butchers the whole game". Multimedia website IGN offered extensive praise for the voice actors and the innovations in gameplay, particularly with regard to the revised battle and summon magic system, the option to change party members during battle, and what they felt were more efficient character development and inventory management systems. Offering additional praise for the game's graphics, which they suggested "improves on its predecessors in every area possible", they commented that the game as a whole was "the best-looking game of the series [and] arguably the best-playing as well" at the time of release. GameSpot admired the game's storyline, calling it surprisingly complex, its ending satisfying, and its avoidance of RPG clichés commendable. GamePro magazine agreed, saying that despite an "anticlimactic final battle", the story remained engaging every step of the way.
The advancements in portraying realistic emotions achieved with Final Fantasy X through voice-overs and detailed facial expressions have since become a staple of the series, with its sequel and other subsequent titles—such as Final Fantasy XII and Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII—also featuring this development. Additionally, traversing real-time 3D environments instead of an overworld map has also become a standard of the series, as demonstrated in both Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XII.
The Japanese version of the game included an additional disc titled "The Other Side of Final Fantasy", which included interviews, storyboards, and trailers for Blue Wing Blitz, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, as well as the first footage of Final Fantasy XI.
An international version of the game was released in Japan as "Final Fantasy X International" and in PAL territories under its original title. It features content not available in the original NTSC releases, including battles with dark versions of the game's aeons and an airship fight with the superboss Penance. The Japanese release of Final Fantasy X International also includes a twelve minute video clip bridging the story of Final Fantasy X with that of its sequel, Final Fantasy X-2.
Additionally, the International/PAL release includes a bonus DVD as "Beyond Final Fantasy", a disc including interviews with the game's developers, as well as two of the game's English voice actors, James Arnold Taylor (Tidus) and Hedy Burress (Yuna). Also included are various trailers for Final Fantasy X and Kingdom Hearts, a gallery of concept and promotional art for the game, and a music video of "Suteki Da Ne" performed by Rikki.
In addition to a sequel, Square Enix produced numerous action figures, several versions of the game's soundtrack and various books, including The Art of Final Fantasy X and three Ultimania guides, a series of artbooks/strategy guides published by Square Enix in Japan. They feature original artwork from Final Fantasy X, offer gameplay walkthroughs, expand upon many aspects of the game's storyline and feature several interviews with the game's designers. There are three books in the series: Final Fantasy X Scenario Ultimania, Final Fantasy X Battle Ultimania and Final Fantasy X Ultimania Ω. A similar three-book series was produced for Final Fantasy X-2.
In 2005, a compilation featuring Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 was released in Japan as Final Fantasy X/X-2 Ultimate Box.