FINAL FANTASY X / Squaresoft / PS2
Final Fantasy X has the best story out of any of the Final Fantasy games to date. It has the most fully realized world, fleshed-out and likable characters, and doesn't get up its own ass with wangsty animu garbage like FF7 and FF8 did.
The price you pay for this is that it's also perhaps the most stiflingly linear Final Fantasy game to date. For about 90% of the game you're being dragged basically along a rail with little room for side exploration. Final Fantasy games typically do this, but usually around the midway point you get a boat or airship, and you're left with a lot to keep you busy on the side all the way through to the end. FFX only gives you the airship and freedom to roam the game world literally at the tail end of the game, there's little side-questing and bonus material, and what there is is largely made up of annoyingly difficult mini-games and overpowered super-bosses that require just stupid levels of grindery to even have a chance at. There is one pretty cool bonus game available fairly early, blitzball (an odd fusion of rugby, soccer and water polo), but even that is rendered inaccessible for about the middle 1/3 of the game due to plot events.
Your appreciation is basically going to come down to how much tolerance you have for cinematics and non-interactive portions, because there's plenty. Fortunately, as mentioned, the story and characters are actually quite good. Add in some great background art with fantastic use of color, a really excellent soundtrack, and fairly zippy battles and load times, and it's a pretty good experience provided you can take a hefty dose of story with your game.
In keeping with FF tradition, there's no ties to previous games in the series. This time out we visit the world of Spira, a place that is bummed out by a seemingly invincible beast named Sin who rises from the ocean and smashes up any village that grows beyond a small size or uses a certain level of technology. Summoners, who are able to call magical beasts called Aeons, regularly go on a pilgrimage to all the world's shrines to collect up all the Aeons, and once they do, fight and defeat Sin with them. Temporarily, anyway, since he never seems to stay down for more than 10 years. We see the story through the eyes of Tidus, a blitzball ace who begins the game in a pre-Sin Spira, but for some reason or another gets sucked through time to 1000 years in the future. He'll accompany Yuna and her group, the latest Summoner party to take a crack at putting Sin down for a decade or so of peace and quiet for Spira, while gradually uncovering the mystery of his random teleportation into the future and etc.
We stick with a three-man battle system in this one similar to the Playstation games, but with a few tweaks for the better. You can swap characters in and out of the party at will, and this is a necessary tactic in many battles since certain character types are completely ineffectual against certain monster types. You can also see the upcoming turns for about 7 or 8 turns ahead, and can see them updated in real-time as you use spells like Slow, Haste, etc. This is also the first FF game with voice acting, at least for the major characters and the bigger of the supporting characters. It's not what one would call "great", but at least passable most of the time, and not nearly as bad as the fan complaints you see about it.
There's a couple of other minor niggles - slightly irritating equipment management and a couple of cheap enemies here and there. But the key question of FFX is this - do cutscenes and non-interactive dialogue bug you? They should bug everyone when the story is shit and the characters are douchewads, of course, but how much do they bug you when the story is actually pretty good and the characters are human? If you like games as a storytelling medium, this is one to check out. If an RPG to you has to be open-world and western-style, however, you are definitely in the wrong place.
* Gameplay Video