It's nice to be surprised by a game that's better than it has any right to be. In the case of Final Fantasy X: Fantasy War, it quite literally has no right to be, because it's a pirate. I first saw a video of this on the now defunct CrashManExe Youtube account, which had a semi-regular series called "pirate rom hunt," which featured a number of wacky pirates from various companies. Final Fantasy X caught my attention by not only looking quite nice (especially in comparison to the side-scrolling Famicom and Game Boy Color pirate games that were featured) but also looking like it would be fun to play.
Having actually played it, now, I wish that Square had actually thought of making a side-scrolling Final Fantasy brawler for the Game Boy Color. This is easily the best of the pirate games that I've played. First off, the graphics are actually quite nice. The animation is surprisingly fluid, the character sprites look more or less like Final Fantasy characters, or at least Final Fantasy characters from before Tetsuya Nomura ruined the series and Square (I'm only bein half-sarcastic here) . The backgrounds are colorful, if not especially creative. I do like the boss stages, in particular. They look like you're running around in space with the big crystal in the background. The enemies are a bit confusing though. Antlion is there, but otherwise, the enemies are a boring bunch of skeletons, goblins, and slimes, with Frankenstein's monster being one of the bosses. The soundtrack, I've been informed, was ripped almost entirely from the GBC remake of SNK's King of Fighters '94. It sounds pretty good. The music in pirate games made by Waixing and Shenzhen can only be described as insidious pain that infects through the ear.
As for the gameplay itself, it's mediocre by the standards of professionally developed titles, but very good for an unlicensed Game Boy Color game. You walk your character to the right and attack the enemies that come onscreen. There's a jump button that you'll never use; pressing on a direction twice will cause your character to run and attacking while running will cause a lunge attack; pressing down-forward like in Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat will get your character to perform a special move. Your character levels up after killing enemies, which will increase his stats, although the only stat that really seems to increase much is the health bar. There's four characters to play as, a fighter, mage, thief and chocobo. I like the fighter best. The chocobo is awful, I think. The game gives unlimited continues, which makes it pretty easy to breeze through if you've got no pride.
All of these features are pretty standard beat-em-up features. If Square had actually made a game like this, they could have added character or even party customizability (multiplayer would be fun) and weapon upgrades to go with it. Given what they put together with Dissidia: Final Fantasy, I could see them incorporating customizable move sets as well. Square Enix should make this game on the DS or PSP in 2d, with wi-fi play. I could actually see it looking not unlike Odin Sphere or Muramasa: The Demon Blade, possibly giving it some solid old-school appeal that Sqare Enix -- in spite of being a company with over twenty years of contributions to video game culture and millions of die hard fans -- usually lacks, even in their most "fan service-y" games. If they don't like the idea of making a new Final Fantasy themed beat-em-up, how about making one with the "Mana" series? Those games have sucked for years now.
But since that will never happen, Final Fantasy X: Fantasy War is a good enough substitute. The GBC cart used to be pretty common on Ebay, but seems to have been snapped up by most of the obscure video game collectors. Most people will experience this game through emulation, which also makes it a free alternative to the game that Square Enix will never bother making (even though they should). Kudos to the developers of this particular pirate game. It's awesome.