Review: Final Fantasy X-2 (PS2)

Final Fantasy X-2
Genre: Traditional RPG
Platform: Playstation 2
ESRB Rating: Teen (Suggestive Themes, Violence)
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 11/18/03
Official Home Page: FFX-2 @ Square Enix USA

In 1987, a Japanese man by the name of Hironobu Sakaguchi was given the task of saving the failing company known as Square. He had one chance to complete his mission. He could make one game that would either save or doom the company. It was do or die. Since this was his final chance to save the company, he called the game Final Fantasy. And the rest is history.

Over the years, there have been two series that have been synonymous with the RPG genre: Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. The latter isn’t known quite as well in the USA, but it’s the more popular of the two in Japan. But here in the states, virtually everyone, gamer or not, knows about Final Fantasy. And what an odd turn of events led Enix to buy out Squaresoft, making Square Enix the übermensch of RPG producers, where the house of Final Fantasy married the house of Dragon Quest. That aside, this company has the two most well known RPG series in existence.

In the 16 years since the creation of Final Fantasy, the series has evolved. What started out as a simple quest to collect 4 crystals (which were originally orbs) has become so much more. Every title is different from the previous one. Few things remain the same in one game to the next, but there are several things that have found their way into most of the games, such as airships, chocobos, moogles, and of course, Cid. But one thing that has never been done is a direct sequel. Granted, there was the alleged direct sequel to Final Fantasy VI that was reportedly almost complete when it was canned, but it was likely a hoax to begin with. But now, Square Enix is delivering their first next generation title under their new company name. This is the first direct sequel in Final Fantasy history. Does it live up to its expectations?

FFX-2 Logo

Story
It’s been two years since the events in Final Fantasy X. Sin was defeated, and Yuna thought she had lost Tidus for good in the process. So she tries to move on with her life. But not all is peaceful in the land of Spira. Two factions have risen from the ashes of what crumbled: New Yevon and the Youth League. New Yevon is a group that wants to rebuild the church of Yevon despite the events that led to its downfall to begin with, and the Youth League wants to stay as far away from that path, choosing rather to learn from the past and build a new future.

In the midst of this, Yuna has been unwittingly turned into a bona fide superstar. People all over Spira look to her like she is a celebrity. In fact, the opening CG animation in the game is of a Yuna concert where the Luca stadium is filled to capacity. Because of her popularity, every group wants her to join their cause. But she has no intention of joining any other group than the Gullwings, which consist of our heroines: Yuna, Rikku and Paine, or YRP for short. In addition, the support team for the Gullwings is comprised of several Al Bhed members, like Rikku’s brother Brother, who is madly in love with Yuna and serves as the pilot of the Celsius, the airship of the Gullwings; Buddy, Brother’s best friend and the navigator of the Celsius; and Shinra, a boy genius who developed the Dressphere system, which I’ll get in to later. The group was formed to hunt for spheres for profit, though Yuna is actually after something else entirely. She is actually hunting for her love, who she believes is being held against his will based on a sphere that was found by Kimahri. So she travels with the Gullwings as an excuse to find Tidus, or at least more information on his whereabouts.

While this game can certainly be played without prior knowledge of Final Fantasy X, it makes the experience much more enjoyable if you know all the backstory beforehand. This game makes FFX a better game, because it makes you appreciate the characters you knew in that, and is almost sad because there are some you CAN’T meet. All the surviving characters from FFX return in FFX-2, and you get to see how their lives have moved on after the events in the previous game. And all the areas have changed as well, which makes it so you don’t see the same exact place as before. And truly, my favorite part about the story is the lightheartedness. The tone isn’t as grim, even when things get really bad, and the way the three main characters play off of each other is done really well. Rikku is the wacky over the top type, while Paine is the deadpan stick-in-the-mud type, and Yuna is stuck in the middle. Some of the dialogue and acting, while overly goofy, is still hilarious in nature. The funniest thing to me was when Rikku and Paine were talking about how many Respect Points Rikku had left. It was a very funny scene, to say the least.

So while I found the story in FFX to be lacking, they definitely improved with this game. The tone is never really serious, and the game is more fun because of the humor. It almost seems as if they wanted to spoof themselves, and the result is a fun adventure through the world of Spira. Oh, and they did a great job on the dialogue as well.
Rating: 8.5

Graphics
Yuna
If you’ve played FFX, you pretty much know what to expect here. But they didn’t rest on their laurels at all. There are some minor improvements to what we saw in FFX, believe it or not. The graphics themselves are about the same in quality, but it’s how they used the engine that is an improvement. For one thing, the main characters have a different design than they did before. Both have a more carefree and less innocent appearance, and Rikku looks a little, umm, slutty. Still, they both appear a little more grown up, and the designs are good nonetheless.

But that’s not the only outfit they wear! Throughout the game, you will collect Dresspheres, which is the job system in this game (and will be covered in detail in the Control section), and for each job the person is, they have a different outfit. Not only that, but each of the different characters has a completely different outfit from the others. They did an amazing job with some of these outfits, and really gave the characters some color and style.

But that’s not all that has changed. They’ve also improved the enemies as well. While mostly unchanged, it does seem as if they went back and added detail to some of the enemy textures, and made them look even better. And there are some new enemies that are huge and incredibly cool looking. They also changed the places you visit dramatically as well. Kilika was ravaged by Sin in FFX, but in this title, it has been rebuilt and looks very different. There are some places that haven’t changed much, like Besaid, but they look as good as ever anyway. I have to admit, I didn’t think they would improve upon the already great graphics from FFX, but they managed to pull it off with flying colors.
Rating: 9.0

Sound
This was one area that I had big issues with in FFX. To put it simply, I had serious issues with the voice acting at times, with Yuna in particular. In fact, I was horrified when I heard that Hedy Burgess would be returning to voice Yuna, because to be quite honest, her performance in FFX was simply awful, and made me absolutely hate the character. Well, as surprising as it is, her acting has improved since FFX. Her voice itself isn’t great, but she seems to put more emotion into it, and her delivery is vastly improved. No more sounding like William Shatner in this one. I guess she realized that since it’s a game, she doesn’t need to try to mimic the lip flaps, which weren’t meant to be in sync anyway.

The voices of all the other characters from FFX have returned as well, and another somewhat annoying voice, Rikku, played by Tara Strong, actually fits better with the game this time around. And Paine, a new character, is voiced perfectly by Gwendoline Yeo. The character is very deadpan, and Yeo pulls that aspect off brilliantly, while still maintaining a small layer of silliness underneath.

The other aspect of sound, the music, is done wonderfully. Nobuo Uematsu, the man who has been doing the music for the main Final Fantasy games since the beginning, is not in this game at all. The music instead is done by Noriko Matsueda and Takahito Eguchi, and they do a simply wonderful job. The tone is unlike any I’ve heard before. No music is reused from FFX, and it certainly gives the game a more upbeat mood in the process. Some of the songs sound very jazzy, some electronica, and others more tribal in nature. There is a lot of variation here, and the soundtrack is certainly wonderful. One odd thing to note is that they broke tradition again by not including the standard FF ending battle theme, but that is just another reason why this title is not to be considered as a core FF game.
Rating: 9.0

Control
Rikku
The actual control aspect of this title doesn’t get any easier. They go with the standard (and most comfortable, for me) control scheme found in RPGs. X is used to accept a selection or talk to someone, O is cancel, Triangle brings up the menu, and Square is used to talk to people for different reasons, like asking them certain things for a mission. This is my personal favorite scheme, and if an RPG doesn’t have this by default, I usually change it because it’s so comfortable to me.

Since the Gullwings are sphere hunters, the game is mainly about getting spheres, and to do so, you must complete missions. Granted, many missions don’t give you spheres, but you still have to do them anyway if you want to complete 100% of the game. From the beginning of the game, you can go basically anywhere in the world, since you have your trusty airship. Almost every location has a mission, a side quest, a mini-game or a scene, so there’s never a lack of something to do. To go somewhere, you simply talk to Buddy, the navigator, and he’ll give you information on your destination, and any storyline missions will show up as hot spots. There are 5 Chapters to the story, and each one brings new scenes and missions to the table, as well as refilling treasure chests. So there is a plenty to do in the game before, and after, it ends.

Battles are very different from those found in FFX. They went back to the ATB battle system, where it is real time instead of turn based. And it is a true real time battle system, because characters and enemies will attack simultaneously, making it to where you need to be quick on your toes. You can set the system so that it will wait on you while you make menu choices, but other than that, everything happens at the same time and it may seem very chaotic at first. But despite that, it makes many battles go by VERY quickly, which some may consider a bad thing, but I personally like it.

As any long time Final Fantasy player knows, each Final Fantasy game (since probably V) has some sort of hook, something relatively unique about the gameplay. FFVI had Espers, FFVII had Materia, FFVIII had Guardian Forces, and FFX had the Sphere Grid. FFX-2 has what are called Dresspheres, which is essentially a job system, but done unlike any I’ve ever seen before. Basically, as the game progresses, you will pick up more and more Dresspheres, or jobs, which can be used on any characters. The way they work is that you place the Dresspheres on Garment Grids (also obtained during the game) and during battle, you can switch to any sphere that is adjacent to the current sphere you are using on the grid. The coolest thing is how you can do this during battle. If your current job doesn’t suit the battle at hand, simply switch to another one during battle. Beware though, the Garment Grids can only hold a certain amount of spheres, so it’s a good idea to have a well-balanced variety of spheres on garment grids. As is expected, as you use your abilities in battle, you gain AP to the learning of more abilities. One of the most interesting things is that certain jobs, like the White/Black Mage and Songstress don’t have any sort of physical attacks. The Mages can ONLY use their particular magic types and the Songstress can ONLY sing, which to me, adds not only a bit of reality to it, but also a bit of uniqueness.

There are many other differences from FFX as well, like the fact that you can actually gain experience levels. Also, you do not do any summoning, but each of the main characters can get a special Dressphere that allows you to transform into a different being that is more powerful that normal. They really did an excellent job here, by not only making everything different, but also by making everything excellent.
Rating: 9.5

Replayability
Though on your first time through, you may see everything the game has to offer, you still won’t see everything, because there are actually multiple endings. There is a normal ending, a good ending, and a perfect ending. To get the different endings, you have to do certain things, and to get the perfect ending, you have to complete 100% of the game, which is only possible by playing it a second time through. See, there’s a certain event that you have to choose a side, and whichever side you choose makes the other side hate you, and changes the story dramatically. So once you win the first time, you can choose the New Game+ option and start a new game (keeping your items from the first time around) and go choose the other side. Now personally, I’ve always loved games with the New Game+ feature, because you can kick ass at the start of the game, which is always fun.
Rating: 8.0

Balance
Paine
This game is different from the norm, because you can go everywhere at the very beginning of the game, and that being said, there are some areas with enemies that can kill you very quickly. Despite that, the location selection screen gives you a very handy indicator of how difficult an area is, so if you do all the easy ones first, you’ll level up enough to be able to take on the harder ones. Though unorthodox, it works very well, and is much more realistic than the standard formula of “enemies just so happen to get stronger as you progress.”
Rating: 8.0

Originality
This game is very unique in many ways. Not only do you have the Dressphere system, which is a new way of looking at the standard job system formula, but you also have the whole game itself as an example. Though the story is somewhat linear in nature, you can choose the missions and sidequests in any order. And how about the fact that you have a group of three ladies at your command? So just the fact that we have a direct sequel to a game, with the same world and characters, yet the game itself is such a departure, which in and of itself is very original.
Rating: 9.0

Addictiveness
This game is hella fun. I just want to get that out of the way. This game is for all of you who want something completely different. Yea, you fight and kick monster ass and all, but this game is basically all mini-games and sidequests. Seriously. The missions themselves all feel like sidequests, and there are a ton more minigames than I’ve ever seen in any game. Some may consider that to be a negative, but it fits in so well with the lighthearted and silly tone of the game. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention that Blitzball makes a return in this one, though in a different format. You coach the team, rather than control the characters. Games are much, much faster, and make more sense.
Rating: 9.5

Appeal Factor
This game is one that would appeal to quite a few people. It’s rated Teen, so parents shouldn’t object to it. And anyone who likes Final Fantasy would go for the game. Plus they have the added bonus of the all girl main characters, which will bring in the boys for the skimpy costumes, and bring in the girls for the grrrl power aspect. Despite those pluses, it’s still an RPG and won’t bring in many non-RPG fans.
Rating: 8.0

Miscellaneous
YRP
When I first heard about this game, I thought it was a good idea. Maybe then, they could fix the mistakes from the previous game. When they released the first picture of Yuna in her new outfit with the guns, I started to get excited, because it could potentially turn my least favorite of all the Final Fantasy characters into something good. When they started releasing more and more art and screens, my excitement started to wane. Then it hit a new low when I rented Unlimited SaGa and saw the trailer. I thought the game was geared towards the Britney Spears and N’Sync crowds. Boy, was I glad when I got to play the game. I was happy to see that my initial excitement and anticipation was worth it, and the game turned out to be every bit as good as I hoped it would be. It was not only a continuation from the story, but also a complete departure from everything about FFX. And every complaint I had about the previous game (the voice acting, linearity, overuse of cut scenes, the ending) was corrected, and I was very happy to say that I didn’t hate the game. In fact, I’m happy to say that I love it.
Rating: 9.0

Ratings Summary

Story: 8.5
Graphics: 9.0
Sound: 9.0
Control: 9.5
Replayability: 8.0
Balance: 8.0
Originality: 9.0
Addictiveness: 9.5
Appeal Factor: 8.0
Miscellaneous: 9.0

Average: 8.75

Short Attention Span Summary
I had fully expected to hate this game going in, but I was glad that I didn’t. This game is a fun and unique return to the world of Spira, and what a great return it was. Final Fantasy X-2 is a definite must-buy for Final Fantasy lovers, and a definite rent for those who have been disenfranchised with the series lately, as I have been. In fact, it’s a fun journey for all RPG fans, and I’d highly suggest it to anyone who loves the genre.