Sequels to titles in the Final Fantasy main-line series used to be non-existent, so when a direct sequel to Final Fantasy X on the Playstation 2 was announced there was no small amount of interest from players at the time. I personally picked up ‘Unlimited Saga’ largely for the bonus disc with the ‘linking’ short animation they included with that game. To say that people were intrigued with what could happen AFTER the world had been saved was putting it mildly.
Today of course Square Enix are pillaging their back catalogue like crazy. Want a run and gun sequel to Final Fantasy VII starring Vincent? You got it. Want to see what Cecil and Rosa’s child would look like after they got married at the end of Final Fantasy IV? Why not. Pretty soon they’ll be throwing everybody together into a fighter like Marvel vs Capcom . . . oh wait. Actually it’s not that bad, but there have been some stinkers (Lightning Returns!). Final Fantasy X-2 started the whole trend of returning to these established worlds. Its biggest sin however may be in undoing what to many was a perfect ending in FFX, a balance of bitter-sweet melancholy that touched on themes of hope, regret, love and fatherhood.
Visually the game runs on a modified version of the graphics engine designed for Final Fantasy X and re-ruses a lot of assets including monsters, locations and characters models. It’s not all re-used materials though and a great many new assets have been created solely for this title. The overriding themes of this title are ‘change’. The world has changed in small ways and the layouts of locations are different but the biggest change has been to government and the characters you’ll meet. Some have taken radical new looks to mirror their new steps in life and Yuna, the lead character who spent much of FFX wearing a Kimono now sports a short skirt and a pair of pistols ala Lara Croft. Her changes are the most evident and although Rikku also brings a new outfit to the table it feels like less of a jump for her character. Menus are redone entirely and work very nicely, and the three main characters get to enjoy a Final Fantasy V style job change system called ‘Dress Spheres’ which adds a new mechanic to the game as well as altering their visual outfits. The real let-down is that not all of the world is available to explore, with some areas seeming to go on further (and in X they did) but ending abruptly because the game says so. This dislocation between what returning players want and can do is at the heart of why some locations feel wrong. There’s some great details in the outfits and new character designs however and everything seems to have a lighter tone in general.
Sound is actually quite impressive, possibly because Square learned from the mistakes they made creating the already impressive FFX and because many of the characters are already being voiced by experienced cast. Yuna’s actress sounds good and you buy into her emotional journey, although her use of ‘weak’ swearwords at times feels like a way to keep the rating down and ignore a more mature tone. Music is either new or remixed and the balance feels about right so that you never feel like assets have just been rushed back into the title, with new elements of the battle system also incorporating their own distinctive sound effects.
The story is simple, although it does require a knowledge going into this title of the events in FFX. Yuna and her Guardians saved the world and broke the cycle of Sin and Yevon. Now in what is known as an ‘Eternal Calm’ she’s struggling to find out who she is without a mission or death sentence hanging over her head. With her cousin Rikku joining her from the original title and their new-found emo friend Paine the three of them form YRP, a treasure hunting team. Their objective is to find and help intergrade technology once lost back into the world with the help of the Al Bhed, who have based their entire culture around this premise. As the game opens we see Yuna holding a J-Pop concert and dancing around on stage to the song ‘Real Emotion’ before events transpire to make it evident that this Yuna is a fraud pretending to be her using a ‘Dress Sphere’ and ‘Garment Grid’ which will become a major element of the titles system. They bust her and soon after discover a strange sphere containing video of what looks to be Tidus alive in the past screaming about how he has to get out of jail and protect the Summoner. The prospect of his still being alive sends the team on a globetrotting adventure that puts them in the path of an ancient weapon. It’s not Shakespeare but it serves to keep events rolling along at a fast pace and is relative fun to experience. The story is plotted a little too much like an anime at times however, with a team of recurring stooge villains and even a ‘girls in hot springs’ moment. Ultimately the story exists as a catalyst to get Yuna to her happy ending with Tidus, undoing the sour note in the tail end of FFX’s finale.
Gameplay is actually fantastic in this title, hands down one of the best uses of the ATB system ever committed to a game in fact. Although only three characters go into combat at any one time, the ability to stall and chain together attacks for bonus damage makes for a great tactic. The dress sphere system is also extremely well implemented. Each character can take as many spheres into battle as they can fit into their garmet grid. Garment grids essentially being a card with circular slots and a different arrangement of shape on them for the spheres to be placed into. At any point the spheres can be switched, making the character change job mid-battle in a way many players wished they could when playing Final Fantasy III and V. Link all your spheres in the shape presented on the card and you can trigger the ultimate dress sphere for that character, replacing your team mates with one massive outfit that is overpowered to an extreme. These look amazing and in Rikku’s case harks back to the Magitek Armour last seen in Final Fantasy VI. The trouble is you have to make the trade between if you want to take lots of spheres into battle with you for maximum flexability, or as few as possible to facilitate the charging of these moves. Each outfit is levelled to reveal new spells and skills unique to that class and it all comes together to form one amazing battle system. Otherwise the game only changes things up by adding an ‘action button’ to locations, usually jump and triggerable only when close to something that puts that action into context. It does make negotiating areas more interesting but feels underused as a gameplay device on the whole. Blitzball is back but relegated to a management simulation for a team that feels a little unrewarding, and mini-games are scattered throughout the locations of the world for you to discover. Racing against the clock in a shooting gallery style run and gun and solving math puzzles on the fly stick in the mind as interesting concepts not fully fleshed out in the manner of pervious series mini-games.
Overall X-2 isn’t a bad package, but it does make the major mistake of forcing you to make choices that affect the games overall score, meaning that in order to get the ‘good’ ending some people will have to play the game 2-3 times. Graphically is looks nice and in terms of battle-system it’s possibly the best I’ve seen in any Final Fantasy title, but the story and breezy tone let it down, especially after the dizzying highs of Final Fantasy X. Luckily X and X-2 are packaged together for the new HD remakes so grabbing one guarantees you access to the other.