I realize that it has been about a month already since Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster has come out for the PlayStation 3 as well as Vita and everyone who had been contemplating purchasing it has likely already done so. However, I’m hoping that with the hundreds of hours I’ve invested in both this release and the originals that I can give a more comprehensive understanding of what to expect. And man, was there a lot of content to get through.
But let’s start at the beginning. Final Fantasy X is likely to be the primary focus of anyone looking to invest in this collection, even though it’s now thirteen years old at this point. Despite that, it has aged remarkably well, with only a few aspects that provide aggravation for the modern gamer. The story wears the religion trope proudly, composed of elements that have been seen many times before in the RPG space, including Tales of Symphonia, Grandia II, and many others. Still, its bleak world will pull you in and its well rounded cast will hopefully present a few favorites before the adventure concludes.
The nature of your quest also gives a good excuse for its linearity, a trait that didn’t go over so well by the time Final Fantasy XIII came around. An evil entity known as Sin has appeared that wreaks havoc upon the world of Spira and can only be destroyed by summoners who undergo a pilgrimage to all of the temples and learn the Final Aeon (with Aeons being this game’s version of summons). As Tidus, a star Blitzball player on the Zanarkand Abes, you stumble into one such summoner named Yuna. Now you must not only destroy Sin, but also find a way back to your home said to have been destroyed a thousand years prior. Oh, and contend with a few daddy issues along the way.
I enjoyed it when I played it over a decade ago, and I still enjoy it today. The tale is still incredibly depressing even when knowing what comes after, and the game doesn’t hit you over the head with its terminology, instead drip feeding it to you when Tidus asks about it. After all, he knows as little about the world he’s in as you do. It all culminates in a very sad, yet satisfying conclusion; one that never ceases to leave an impact every time I see it.
Compared to its predecessors, Final Fantasy X returns a standard turn-based format, completely abandoning the active time battle system it had utilized since FFIV. It also dropped a standard leveling system in favor of the Sphere Grid system, which earning AP will allow you to move spaces across a large grid and unlock individual stat boosts (a far more complicated version of the one used in FFXIII). This time around, you can opt to use the expert sphere grid from the start which affords far more customization from your characters, though it can simultaneously leave you in a bad way if you don’t plan appropriately. One unfortunate requirement that I wish was dropped, is the fact that the only way your characters can earn AP is to have them participate in battle. Now, you can freely cycle them out mid-combat so it’s certainly possible to have each one participate in every fight you get into. But with seven main characters, every fight takes twice as long to complete if you choose to level them up evenly. Since each character has specific enemy types they’re effective against, just leaving some of them in the dust isn’t even a reasonable solution.
And that’s not all. Final Fantasy X has some of the worst minigames to ever grace a FF game, most of which are required to obtain the best gear for each character. I know some people swear by Blitzball (I personally hate it), but even putting that aside, you have such gems as Chocobo racing to contribute to non-stop hair tearing. Imagine if you will, riding a chocobo against another across an open field having to collect balloons and dodge dive-bombing birds, all while steering an intoxicated bird that knows nothing about turning on a dime, and you have that experience in a nutshell. Oh, and balloon placement is randomized, so you even on a good run you could wind up screwed. And don’t get me started on the two hundred lightning strike dodges.
As a side note, don’t forget to save often. You can’t skip cutscenes after all.
Since FFX is based upon the International version, there’s some additional post-game content to look forward to. The biggest of which is the addition of the Dark Aeons, enemies that take on the forms of Yuna’s summons, only much, much harder. If you manage to defeat those, along comes Penance who comes prepared with millions of HP. Defeat him and you’ll get an item telling everyone how awesome you are (as well as a trophy). It’s a definite FFX experience for the hardcore.
Moving on, Final Fantasy X: Eternal Calm is a short cutscene bridging the gap between FFX and FFX-2 talking about what the characters have been up to in the two years following the first game. It shows how Yuna and Rikku first set about joining the Gullwings, and how they came across the sphere depicting a certain someone. It’s not mind-blowing stuff, but it at least ties together the experience a bit if you jump from one game to the next.
Final Fantasy X-2 (pronounced ten-two and not ex-two or twelve) is everything that FFX is not. While it takes place in the same world, it’s far more lighthearted by comparison. Rather than a dreary trek across a hopeless world, it’s a Charlie’s Angels-esque adventure full of fanservice and Jpop. Heck, it even opens with Yuna singing and dancing in concert.
This time, Yuna and Rikku are joined by newcomer Paine on a quest to hunt spheres from the past in a land where summoners are no longer needed. The world is virtually unchanged from the first game, with many key landmarks looking exactly as they did previously, though some hide new secrets and others present the opportunity to see what everyone has been up to. Events unfold in a far less linear fashion as well. There are genuinely serious moments as well as some rather touching sequences, though the bulk of it is pretty cheesy. Some characters, such as Brother, have completely taken the shackles off of their annoying behavior and become flat out obnoxious, leading me to wonder how I ever tolerated some of this the first time around.
Combat resorts back to the classic FF method of active time battles, as well as a variation of the job system. But this time, there’s a twist. The traditional jobs are now known as Dresspheres and are applied to a sphere grid that is equipped to each girl in your party. They can freely change Dresspheres in battle as the situation calls for it and sometimes the act of switching itself will enhances their stats or grant new abilities depending on the grid equipped. A standard leveling system has been re-established and all AP is good for now is improving the abilities of the Dresspheres that are equipped.
Final Fantasy X-2 isn’t without quirks of its own, however. Multiple endings can be obtained based on the level of story completion measured with a percentage on your save file. Some scenes are rather minute and it’s not always obvious when they contribute to your total since it doesn’t keep track of decimals for you. It’s also incredibly easy to miss if you’re not following a guide, with such details such as shaking a person’s hand or having a moogle heal you within the opening moments of the game completely sealing your fate for later on. Luckily, a new game plus mode lets you carry your current story percentage and any Dresspheres acquired into a subsequent playthrough, but it doesn’t make it any less of a nuisance to attain. And the minigames suck just as bad.
Since this game is also based upon the International release, there’s new content to be found here as well, including new Dresspheres. In addition, a monster capturing mechanic similar to Final Fantasy XIII-2 is now present. Rather than randomly adding creatures to your roster whenever you fight them though, traps can be setup anywhere in the world that when checked will insert them into your party. They can then be used as standard party members, or even entered into battle tournaments to fight and strengthen them up. However, they can’t be directly controlled in combat. The only input you have as the player as to their behavior is encouraging them to be more or less aggressive. That’s it. As a result, I rarely used this new feature of the game as the monsters became more of a liability rather than a useful asset.
Final Fantasy X-2: Last Mission is new to North America and while it does take place three months after the conclusion of FFX-2, is not a standard RPG. Rather, it’s a roguelike complete with limited inventory space, randomized dungeons, and the penalty of starting back at level one upon failure. The entire dungeon is eighty floors in length and every ten you are rewarded with a short cutscene filling you in on the latest Spira news since the last game’s conclusion. Every five floors the elevator is locked down, requiring you to fulfill some arbitrary requirement before opening it up to you, though the game gives you zero hints on how to do that. It usually requires some combination of killing enemies, firing blanks, or throwing/dropping items. I’ve seen combinations of up to five or six of these too, making internet research practically a requirement for advancement. At least there isn’t much that actually happens, so skipping this game entirely isn’t a huge loss if you don’t have the patience for it.
Finally, there’s an audio drama that plays during the compilation credits lasting approximately thirty minutes. I can’t say much on my thoughts about it without spoiling the major developments, but let’s just say it heavily implies a followup, which as of this writing there are no plans for. It also takes an avenue towards this non-existent sequel that I don’t particularly agree with, which leads me to regard this as some non-canonical fanfiction that can be safely ignored.
Despite the additional content that’s being seen for the first time outside Japan, this is no lazy port. Many of the character models have been reworked with additional details and facial animations that didn’t exist previously in the original PS2 release. What this means is that their hands no longer look like mittens and their eye movements are far more believable. This is just on the main characters though, so many of the NPC’s look far more lifeless by comparison. Despite the odd contrast, you’ll rarely notice the discrepancy since your main characters take up the majority of the screen time.
The soundtrack has also undergone an overhaul. I’ve stated many times before how much I love the compositions of Nobuo Uematsu and the remixed tracks presented here further enhance the songs I’ve already grown to enjoy. The ones you end up hearing the most, particularly the battle themes, have additional instruments added in and don’t at all detract from the spirit of the original tune. It’s quite the aural treat, even for FFX-2. The voice dubbing doesn’t appear to have been redone at all, so the infamous laughing scene sounds just as awkward as it always had (though still not nearly as bad as everyone says it is). And you can definitely hear the difference in confidence of Hedy Burress between the two games. Part of that, of course, is Yuna evolving as a character, but you can tell she really owns the part the second time around.
If you didn’t pull the trigger on the collector’s edition, you can pick one up here for twice the MSRP of the standard edition. The lithographs that you get with it are certainly nice, as is the the artbook, even though it’s attached the game case. I found it odd that they shipped the soundtrack on a bluray disc, but the accompanied video is certainly nice if you choose to experience it that way. The choice of track selection was a bit perplexing though, as there are about a million variations of the Hymn of the Fayth while there are some FFX-2 tracks left off, but it’s solid nonetheless.
It’s like this: if you take nothing else away from my mountain of text, then at least walk away with the knowledge that this is an excellent compilation as far as HD remasters go. Both the visuals and audio have been improved immensely and the additional content should please FF fans. If you are in any way partial to the original releases, then you need to own this.
Short Attention Span Summary
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster brings together the International Editions of both of these games, adds some additional story content, and polishes both the visuals and the audio. It truly puts other HD re-releases to shame. The downside, of course, is that the actual gameplay mechanics are virtually untouched, so if you didn’t like these games before, there isn’t anything here that will sway you now. That said, if you played and enjoyed them a decade ago, they still hold up well today, quirks and all. This collection alone is proof enough that a Final Fantasy XII HD Remaster needs to happen. Oh, and based upon the International release, of course.