My Review- Final Fantasy X-2 (PS2)
Since its 2001 release, Final Fantasy X has sort of become the standard by which modern console RPGs are judged. This isn’t very surprising, as it’s an excellent game, as well as an incredibly successful one. Due to this success, Square decided to revisit the land of Spira by making the first direct sequel to any main series FF title. Final Fantasy X-2 also has the distinction of being the first Final Fantasy title to be released by the then newly formed Square Enix. Is X-2 a worthy follow up to it’s lightning-in-a-bottle predecessor?
WARNING- THIS MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT PLAYED OR COMPLETED FINAL FANTASY X.
Final Fantasy X-2 begins two years after the immensely bittersweet ending of FFX. Sin is defeated, the Fayth have vanished, and an Eternal Calm has come to the people of Spira. However, the summoner Yuna’s love, Tidus (the player character from X) had faded from existence, having known that the defeat of Yevon would cost him his life. In the years since, Yuna has become a ‘sphere hunter’, journeying the world to find lost fragments of Spira’s history stored in spheres. Together with Rikku and newcomer Paine, and riding on the airship Celsius, Yuna seeks to unravel the mystery of a sphere she found that appears to feature a still-alive Tidus. Along the way, she deals with rising political tensions between the old followers of Yevon and the newly formed Youth League. At the center of the conflict is Vegnagun, an ancient superweapon with enough power to destroy all of Spira.
Final Fantasy X-2 features an all-female playable cast, and this ‘feminine’ outlook pervades the early parts of the story. The game begins with a horrendously upbeat pop concert, and for the next few hours the game plods along with terrible dialogue, silly characters, and out-of-place sex jokes. The character of Yuna seems to have undergone a change for the worse, her naiveté coming across less as the purity of her original self but more as general ignorance and stupidity, especially considering how many people seem to want to get in her pants. Outside of a few returning characters from X, nothing in the early hours of the game seems even remotely relevant.
Then, something funny happens. At the beginning of chapter 2 (the game has 5 chapters), the game has you make a binary choice between siding with the Youth League or New Yevon. Which side you pick blocks different side quests from completion, but regardless, seeing the political situation in Spira is interesting as it unfolds. It helps that the new characters, Nooj and Baralai, are at least semi-interesting, as is their relationship with Paine. The numerous changes made to the world of Spira are fascinating to anyone well-versed in the land’s lore after X. Things get even better later down the road, when the tragic story of Shuyin and Lenne comes into sharper clarity. Shuyin has very realistic motivations, and despire his desire to destroy the world with Vegnagun, he’s a more sympathetic character than the usual power-hungry maniac we see in other RPGs. As the story progresses, it gets better and better, and by the end X-2 feels like an actual continuation of X’s story. The game’s good ending is also worth getting, as it provides a happy and satisfying ending to Tidus’ story in addition to the main plot.
Final Fantasy X-2 unfortunately spends a few hours being ridiculous, but do not be fooled- the story really does get better later.
Final Fantasy X-2 has another distinction in that it is the first FF game to have a non-linear storyline, as well as giving the player airship access from the beginning. While there are always three or four mandatory missions needed in order to advance the story, more than half of the game’s content is in it’s sidequests- there is something different to do in ever area for every new chapter. This allows the player a great deal of freedom in setting the pace of their game, allowing many opportunities to deviate from the beaten path. One slightly annoying factor is that one of the requirements for the good ending is in an optional part of Chapter 3, with nothing to distinct it from any other sidequest. In addition, it is impossible to 100% the game on one playthrough, due to the choice between Yevon and the Youth League- however, the inclusion of a New Game Plus feature helps to remedy this. On the actual maps, navigation is still on mostly linear maps, but in a change from the original, Yuna can now jump and climb things by using the O button, which often factors into puzzles.
X-2 returns to the Active-time battle system used in FFs IV-IX, abandoning the more conventional system used in X. The new battle system is faster paced and works just as well as it always did. The biggest addition to X-2’s combat is the Dressphere system, which also serves as the game’s character building system. Characters can switch classes whenever they like in battle, choosing from any of the classes in their current Garment Grid, which is accessed with L1. The more a particular class is used by a character, the more ability points are earned in battle and the more skills in that class can be used. Players can also select what abilities their characters will learn next. In addition to the normal Dressphere’s, each of your three characters has a ‘Special Dressphere’ that, once found, can be accessed by Sphere Changing to every Dressphere on your Grid. Like other classes, these Special Dresspheres must be powered up through combat, but they are much more powerful than the usual classes. After battle, characters gain EXP and level up like in most other RPGs, but leveling up also levels up every class a character can use- a level 30 Warrior will still be level 30 when she switches to a Black Mage. This system is actually very similar to the Paradigm System that would be used later in Final Fantasy XIII, but the Dressphere System is more rooted in the series’ tradition- most of the classes are old favorites like Warrior, Thief, White Mage, etc. The new classes include oddballs like Gunner, Songstress, and Lady Luck, while the Dark Knight class is ridiculously overpowered.
It should be noted that FF X-2 has the most minigames of any RPG I’ve played. Some are left over from X (the goddawful ‘Blitzball’), but most of them are new. Very few of the story missions hinge on these minigames, and the majority of them are pretty fun, if simplistic.
Final Fantasy X-2, gameplay-wise, is a fun, traditional RPG with a few unique mechanics that help it stand out. Thanks to the pacing of the game, it never gets boring, and the Dressphere System makes character customization a fun experience.
It’s Square, it looks good. Enough said.
All kidding aside, Final Fantasy X-2 uses the same graphical style as X, with a few improvements. Character models look a bit cleaner, and their mouths move more realistically with their words. The unfortunate downside of X-2’s status as a sequel is that many of the environments, most of the enemies, and several of the bosses are all recycled from X. This isn’t a deal-breaker, but it’s noticeable. It’s worth noting that Vegnagun, despite a similar level of build-up, just isn’t as menacing as Sin was, coming across as more of a Castlevania boss than anything else. The Dressphere Changes are performed with the same visual flair as X’s summons, and tend to look pretty cool, although the game tends to give a bit too much focus on the amount of skin each girl is showing. The new character designs are extravagant, but fun to look at.
The biggest weakness in X-2’s presentation is the music. Nobuo Uematsu played no part in X-2’s scoring outside of a few tracks from X, and the majority of the new music was done by newcomers. The majority of the music- particularly the Gullwing themes aboard the Celsius- are almost painful to listen too, the upbeat themes consistently at odds with the heavier story moments (although keeping in tune with the airheaded early portions of the game). There are a few exceptions, of course- Shuyin’s music, the title screen music, and the ending theme 1000 Words are nice- but while it does have a few good songs, X-2’s soundtrack is considerably lacking. As far as voicework goes, there’s been some improvement since X- the new characters are all competently voiced, and the returning characters do a good job as well (Wakka’s ever-endearing accent comes to mind).
Final Fantasy X-2 is not as good as Final Fantasy X. Then again, it’s difficult to find anything that IS better than FFX. While X-2’s early portions are mind-numbingly stupid and upbeat, when the game finally gets down to business it becomes a pleasurable continuation of X’s story. Fans of FFX will appreciate the return to the land of Spira, and if you’ve played FFX and are looking for a good RPG, X-2 is worth playing. Just try to keep an open mind during the first three hours.