The Final Fantasy series has become a world-wide staple for the Role Playing genre. While the series was always fairly popular in Japan and began in the 1980s, Final Fantasy really kicked off when Square signed on to Sony’s next generation hardware, the Sony Playstation, and produced the killer app we all know now to be Final Fantasy VII.
Final Fantasy is unique for a lot of reasons. It’s a series that’s ongoing, but has no direct relation to previous titles in the series. The only thing that remains from game to game are trademarks and small references, like weapon names, Cid, Chocobos, and Moogles. A Final Fantasy game has also never had a direct sequel, until now.
The sequel to 2001’s Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy X-2, takes place two years after the events in Final Fantasy X. Square attempted to do many new things with X-2, some of which failed, some of which succeeded. Unfortunately, more of the former than the latter.
The first thing you’ll notice about X-2 is it’s .. quite ‘different’, to put it lightly. The game begins with pop star Songstress Yuna singing to a crowd of people in the Luca stadium. Yuna has received an extreme overhaul in physical appearance, now touting some really short shorts, and the rest of the outfit is just as revealing. What’s most important is that she’s really cute now. Yuna’s second hand girl, Rikku, has also received a new makeover, which doesn’t quite achieve the same look - it’s offensive to the eye. The two familiar characters aside, a new, third team mate is introduced to the world of Final Fantasy X-2, Paine. Paine is a mysterious and quiet woman who holds many secrets and doesn’t like to talk about them.
The basis of the ‘story’ in X-2 is a sphere which Yuna finds featuring a character who looks strikingly similar to Tidus. He appears to be in trouble, and Yuna begins a trip with her friends to look for him. She ends up as part of a group of ‘Sphere Hunters’ called the Gullwings, which is comprised of old and new faces alike. The three aforementioned party members, with ship crew like Brother, Buddy, and Shinra. Brother has featured quite the character change in the past two years, and he now appears to be a raving Yuna fanatic, while Buddy’s the more relaxed navigator. Shinra’s the boy genius and brains behind the crew.
Yuna’s Gullwings fly around Spira hunting spheres in order to learn about Spira’s past, and maybe find a clue to learn the location of Tidus. Together with her crew, she’ll meet new enemies and allies alike in the quest for knowledge. It’s a fair enough premise, but the story takes some bad turns, when it’s actually in existence. The story is very weak in X-2 and is definitely not up to FF caliber.
An option sorely needed in Final Fantasy X, the ability to skip cut scenes, is implemented in X-2. However, due to unseen reasoning and probably a lack of rationality, not all cut scenes are skipable. In fact, merely a handful are skipable. Why? No clue. Fortunately due to the low difficulty and lack of story in general, there really isn’t ever a situation in which you’ll get killed by a boss and be forced to watch anything over again.
X-2’s game play is centered around a mission-based system. Player’s are given the world map of Spira in which to travel. Yes, you can go anywhere at any time, unless you’ve trigged a story event, but that’s relatively rare. The game points you in the right direction with “Hot Spots”, which advance the story, while any other area could feature a side-quest that’s not directly related to progression, but can feature additional side-story information. To help with the extreme lack of linearity in Final Fantasy X-2, the game is divided in to Chapters, 5 to be exact. This helps a bit, but not much truly happens until Chapter 3, and by then, you’re almost done.
A new feature in X-2 is the hopping and climbing Yuna can do over the areas she visits. She can now jump off and climb up pre-determined ledges. While that may not sound as exciting as free-form jumping, it’s truly not bad. It adds a bit of spice to the drab running that you’re used to seeing in RPG.
While a lot of things are new in X-2, one thing Square did was recycle a lot of the previous enemies from Final Fantasy X (as if the recycling wasn’t bad enough in X alone). There are a lot of new monsters, but at the same time you’ll often feel like you’ve been there and done that due to the rehashing. However.. What you’re fighting isn’t so important as how you’re fighting them, and Square has made serious revisions to the battle system in X-2.
The turn-based system of Final Fantasy X is gone, and returns the old ATB (Active Time Battle) system which has been used from Final Fantasy IV through IX. You’ll quickly find that this isn’t the ATB of old, it’s new, fast, and definitely fresh. X-2’s ATB is as close as you get to ‘real time’ combat while remaining in the realm of turn based. Like previous ATB systems, characters each have a time meter which must fill before they can take turn. What’s different here is that when you give a character a command, they immediately execute it, regardless of actions by other characters. What does this mean? You can have three characters attack one after the other, in essence, at the same time. They’re not restricted by a “wait for your turn” style game play. Square has implemented a ‘chain’ system with this in mind. If you make a consecutive hit with an additional character (magical or physical), then a ‘chain’ is started. Doesn’t sound too tough, right? Well, it’s not, so long as you’re dealing with melee combat only. When characters are given commands to cast spells, use abilities, or use items, there is a wait timer induced. Timing these can be critical to success, or a quicker end to the battle, as the additional damage from a chain attack is significant.
Each Final Fantasy title finds its own quasi-unique way to deal with the learning of magic and abilities, and X-2 is no different. In Final Fantasy X-2, Yuna and co find dress spheres in various places that allow them to, in essence, play dress up. Characters can change mid-battle in to different outfits, bestowing different abilities on them. A lot of the classics are here, you have your Blue Mage (in the form of a ‘Gun Mage’), Thief, Black Mage, White Mage, with some new ones, like Gunner, and so forth.
Each job class has its own set of abilities. White Mages have White Magic. Warriors have familiar abilities like “Armor Break” and so forth. Players can arrange the amount of optional dresses on a Garment Grid. The Spheres set on the Garment Grid are what dictate which job your character can change to in battle. Some Garment Grids have special abilities, allowing you to cast certain spells, or give bonuses to stats. To learn new abilities, you must flag that ability as the one you are currently learning, then you will gain AP in battle (by defeating monsters) which goes toward that ability. It’s a simple system, and similar to FF IX’s. Also similar to older Final Fantasies is the return of XP, rather than the use of the Sphere Grid. Another interesting note is that Gil is even more worthless in this game than Final Fantasy X, continuing the trend of making currency less and less important in each new installment of the game.
Unfortunately, it does have a downfall. Let’s say you wanted Yuna to be your White Mage, Rikku your Thief, and Paine the Warrior (as the primary job classes for said characters). Sounds good, but.. You must be that class in order to learn abilities. This is where the game’s lack of difficulty comes in to play. X-2 has such a low difficulty that White Magic isn’t even useful until way over the halfway point in the game. White Mages also -can’t attack-. In essence, you have a useless Yuna standing by while the other characters deal out damage. You may say “Fine - don’t be a White Mage?“ Great, but what happened to character diversity? This leads to another fundamental flaw with the dress system; there is no need for differentiation in classes within your party. Later boss fights aside, there is no need to be anything other than a pack of 3 Warriors (or Dark Knights later on).
Being a sequel (and by default, releasing after the initial title), you’d expect some graphical upgrades, especially after 2 years. This isn’t particularly true on the whole. CG looks as good as ever, but not much better than it did 2 years ago. Many areas are reused and new areas often feature bland textures (caves, etc). The amount of new areas which the team visits in the game is staggeringly low, and X-2 often relies on visiting a lot of the same areas that are old news to the target audience. But, everything’s not all bad here, definitely not. Character animations for the main trio have been upped and character models have received detail tune-ups, most notably Yuna. It’s truly fantastic to see what they’ve done with Yuna - she looks so much more alive and free spirited. She’s always moving, and full of energy, not unlike a proton. This adds to her personality and character to create a more believable and lovable Yuna.
While some of the graphics may have been reused, the music is definitely new and fresh. Noriko Matsueda and Takahito Eguchi, the team responsible for the Bouncer, were brought on board for the Final Fantasy X-2 Project, and what a wonderful choice it was. X-2’s music takes a brand new direction for Final Fantasy, and suits the tone of the game all too well. The music is light hearted and uplifting, and most importantly, fantastically good!
Characters making a return from Final Fantasy X are accompanied by their respective voice actors, and the job they do is even better than their performance in the previous title. Newcomers such as Baralai, leader of New Yevon, and Gippal, leader of the machine faction, have fantastic voice actors that don’t falter even for a moment. Line delivery is top notch - and Yuna’s voice actor couldn’t have done a better job helping bring the character to a new level.
Mini games.. Where to start? Final Fantasy X-2 single handedly features the most mini-games in any Final Fantasy, and probably any RPG to date. There are too many to count, and too many of them are bad. Fortunately, none of these are required to progress through the game, and that’s a good thing, because some of them don’t even feel like they fit (Gunner’s Gauntlet is a prime example).
With all the mini-games and side missions, there’s plenty to do, if you’re willing to do it. That happens to be a good thing, since the game is very short. An average first play through resulting in 50-80% completion will land you somewhere around 15-20 hours, depending on the player. Which places X-2 the shortest FF since FF IV. Fortunately, X-2 features a “New Game Plus” feature to help you get that 100% (Another first for the Final Fantasy series - and hopefully not the last).
Final Fantasy X-2 has made some notable improvements to the Final Fantasy series, but has also broken away in many, many ways. Quite a few too many, in my opinion. It’s a good game, and some people are going to like it a whole lot - but the more story-centric FF fans won’t find a lot to love here.
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