Reviewed: December 16, 2003
Released: November 18, 2003
Final Fantasy X-2, from newly amalgamated game developer(s) Square Enix, is the first-ever direct sequel to a Final Fantasy title, sporting a new class system, dynamic, fast-paced combat and non-linear gameplay. Despite all the hype over Final Fantasy XI, this game is the one that more people seem to be focusing on, perhaps because it is a first in so many ways.
X-2 features a huge story, which takes place in FFX's world of Spira, a couple of years after the events in the first game. With old friends and new characters alike to be seen in abundance, X-2 picks up where FFX left off and runs with its subject matter for all it's worth. And just what is it worth? Read on...
The part and parcel of all Final Fantasy games is, first and foremost, the story. I for one was worried that with such a wonderful tale having been told already in Final Fantasy X, X-2 would end up being a hodgepodge of vignettes showing Yuna, Rikku and Paine ("the new girl") running around and seeing how things had changed. Thankfully, X-2 surpasses its role as a sequel and boasts a sweeping story worthy of any of its non-sequel cousins. The mood is decidedly lighter, but there are currents running deep beneath the surface of the story and a lot of mysterious connections between events that kept me fascinated the whole way through.
In the two years since the brave, kind, summoner, Yuna and her group of guardians defeated Spira's greatest enemy, the being known as "Sin," people the world over have begun to learn how to live their lives for some reason other than fighting it. Yuna herself has returned to Besaid, the island village where she was raised from a young age by some of her later-to-be guardians. Then, out of the blue, one of them returns from his ancestral home to Besaid with a movie sphere. The person in the sphere looks like a certain blitzball player... And as it just so happens, her friend Rikku hunts spheres for a living. Yuna joins Rikku and sets out with the intent of learning more about the person in the sphere, and there we have the basic premise for X-2 (my apologies to those of you who haven't played the first game, but really, why should you be so interested in this one if you haven't played FFX first? Go rent it and come back later!).
One of the hugest departures X-2 has made from the norm is being a mission-based, open-ended game. While this sounds like a bad idea at first (given the story-driven nature of all Final Fantasy titles), before long it becomes apparent that the folks at Square Enix have spun another masterpiece, managing to let players go wherever they feel like in the world of Spira right from the get-go while at the same time spinning a complex, well-paced tale of mystery, thrills and romance. By no means do players have to do everything, but there are more optional quests in X-2 than I could shake a stick at. In my opinion, that's a very good thing. I'm still not entirely sure how they pulled the whole thing off so well, but they certainly did.
The game also has a much more modern feel to it than most FF games, with the possible exception of FFVIII. The weird thing is, they do this without making anything look really modern at all. It's all about the contemporary style in the language used and the attitudes conveyed, so stop worrying - it works out beautifully.
Then, of course, there's the small fact that there are three girls in your party, and that's it. No men, animal-things or hidden characters in sight. To those of you who have been getting knots in your stomach over this, calm down. It's not the end of the world if you have to play through a game as three somewhat scantily clad young women, even if it is Final Fantasy. You're the same people who worried about The Wind Waker. Remember how that game turned out? I think I've made my point clear. No moping about the women of X-2 from here on out. They've all got great character development and are deep, complex and capable heroines.
There's a reason that Final Fantasy games are the gold standard for RPGs. Actually, there are lots, but the one I'm thinking of is world creation. And although X-2 didn't have to create its own world, it did have to evolve an existing one far beyond its original confines. It does so admirably. Everything is different, yet it all seems the same as before. Playing this game is like revisiting your favorite memories of an exotic land. Down to the smallest detail, we see just how much Spira's residents have - and haven't - changed since the final death of Sin. The amount of detail in this game is staggering, considering Square Enix whipped it out in a scant one years' time.
"Well, that's nice," I hear you saying. "But what about the good stuff?" I am glad to announce that the customization and combat in Final Fantasy X-2 are the freshest systems I've seen in a very long time. Firstly, the dressphere system. It's just plain a joy to use it. Throughout your journey, you'll occasionally find special spheres that can be used to give your characters a particular class in battle, such as Warrior, Thief or Black Mage. Of course, the harder you look, the more you'll find. The underlying principles of the system are so similar to Final Fantasy V's (a personal favorite) that I almost jumped for joy after having a chance to see it work.
Basically, you can earn points towards learning new abilities for whichever sphere you're using, and gradually accumulate dozens of way-cool powers and spells. All of a character's stats change depending on which sphere is equipped, as well (a Warrior Yuna has more HP than a Black Mage Yuna, as well as higher strength).
Of course, the very best part of this concept is being able to switch between spheres in battle without having to wait! Having trouble with a monster? Just jump over to a class that's better suited to it. The class transitions are awesome to watch, and the number of possible party combinations more than make up for there only being three playable characters in X-2. Lovers of Final Fantasies IV through X will all see at least a bit of fan service in the class designs and abilities as well.
Naturally, there's the all-important battle system itself to consider. When I saw the same old ATB gauges on the back of the box, I groaned. FFX's dynamic turn-based battle system was such a nice change of pace from the overused ATB battle system. I was hoping they would keep it for X-2. I was ready to grumble my way through another endless parade of molasses-slow fights.
Then, of course, I played it. The last time I had to develop such hair trigger reflexes for a Final Fantasy game, the words PlayStation meant nothing and ATB was a brand new invention. Battle is fierce, fast and unforgiving... and man, is it ever a blast to play. No longer does everyone sit there on screen, waiting for their gauge to fill. Monsters and the various classes all have ATB gauges of different lengths, meaning some can attack much more often than others. This staggers the actions and keeps battle flowing naturally. Also, utilizing certain abilities (like using an item or casting a spell) changes the length of the user's gauge yet again. That character must then wait for the new gauge to fill before the action takes effect (kinda like summoning GFs in FFVIII). This keeps you on your toes, especially when, say, Yuna has ten HP left and Paine has to stand there and dig through the item bag to find a potion.
The system is challenging, but it doesn't give the monsters an unfair advantage. However, if you've been weaned on the docile ATB of games like FFIX, you can expect to have at least a couple of “gameover’s” in X-2 fighting regular old non-boss enemies. Once you get the hang of things, every battle feels exciting and organic as you scramble to input commands and keep up with the rhythm of the proverbial war drums. I can honestly say that out of all the Final Fantasy games I've played, X-2 has my favorite combat engine.
Those of you who have played Final Fantasy X know what to expect from X-2. In fact, most of the non-dungeon maps have been recycled from the first game. It sounds cheap at first, but hey, it is the same planet... and no matter how many times I see them, graphics of X-2's caliber take my breath away. Everything is rendered in exquisite detail. Even today, the settings are almost completely unrivaled in any other RPG. The bridge of the airship will also look quite familiar - it used to be Cid's in FFX, so naturally they used the same bridge screen.
The characters that Yuna and her crew revisit all pretty much look the same, too, except for some different clothes and the occasional kid who's gotten a bit older. Of course, the models for the people are just as impressive as those for the locations. They still look remarkable today, especially for an RPG. In fact, I do believe the graphics team at Square Enix has actually made the faces of the characters more expressive than they were before. Watch for Rikku to open her eyes wide, or for Yuna to frown in anger. It looks much more natural than it used to.
Having great graphics is one thing; having unique graphics is entirely another. As in FFX, Spira and its inhabitants are so vibrantly realized one could almost imagine that such a world actually exists. Different cities and races have different styles of clothing and architecture, all unique to their world. Nothing seems recycled from the everyday.
X-2 being a game with over a dozen costumes for each of the main characters, it's no small feat that the costume designers, FF veteran Tetsuya Nomura and the hugely talented Tetsu Tsukamoto, have managed to make them all look fresh. They range from dripping with cool to downright silly looking, but they all brought a smile to my face. Just for future reference, though, I could have done without all the bellbottoms on Paine. Mmmmkay, Square? Really, though, it's just a tiny complaint and a personal one at that.
In battle, the fluidity with which Yuna, Rikku and Paine move is eye-popping. For the first time in the series, the characters aren't confined to a rough line on one side of the battle. They run, jump and somersault all over the battlefield, constantly changing positions. To try to describe what it looks like would only disgrace it. Just go and find the Berserker dressphere to see what I mean.
Of course, a perennial fan favorite since their advent in FFVII, are the CG cutscenes in every Final Fantasy. X-2 doesn't have quite as many as its predecessor (most likely owing to time constraints), but they are all breathtaking. Yuna looks so... real. Like you could walk down a street in Tokyo and see her looking in shop windows. It's uncanny, but it's beautiful, too. Again, to go on about it would just do it an injustice. You'll simply have to see it for yourselves.
There's no Nobuo in X-2! For rabid FF fans like myself, this revelation most likely sends chills throughout the body. Instead of Mr. Uematsu, a pair of composers was brought in to write the game's music. It would seem that Square Enix wanted a generally more contemporary-sounding score, and they've succeeded in creating just that. It's most noticeable on the airship and a few other places, but after I got over my initial fear that I would end up playing Final Fantasy: Charlie's Angels, I realized that I actually like all of the music in X-2. A lot. It may not be by Nobuo, but it's still top of the line. And the truth is, there are plenty of more traditional-style songs in the game as well. It is, after all, a Final Fantasy title - it can't all sound modern. If I had to judge, I'd say X-2's soundtrack is no more or less contemporary than FFVIII's.
There's great, great voice acting in X-2, as well. A BIG thank-you to Square Enix for recruiting the same voice actors for Yuna, Rikku and others. It just wouldn't have sounded right otherwise. Paine, voiced by actress Gwendoline Yeo, has one of my favorite voices in the game (think MTV's Daria, only with a heaping helping of whoop-ass). I can't say too much more without giving out possible spoilers, so I'll just say that I was wholly satisfied with the voice work in X-2.
Sound effects, as in any RPG, are generally limited to the mini-games and battles. A lot of the sound effects fans know and love are here again, which is good. On the whole, combat sounds like it did in FFX, effects-wise. This is fine, since it's supposed to be the same world, but with a new battle system, they still could have used more new sounds. Again, this is a minor quibble and purely a matter of personal preference. I actually found the effects to be very satisfying. I just would have liked to hear some more new ones.
Finally, here it is - The Final Fantasy game that has more replay value than most fighting games! Thanks to the open gameplay, most normal human beings are bound to miss some of the extra missions (there are scores of them) and plenty of the dialogue and treasure chests. There are plenty of other reasons to play through again that I cannot write about since I don't want to spoil anything, but let's just say you'll keep coming back to this title when your other RPG’s are completely played out.
The average player can probably rush through this game in, say, 20 hours, but to explore all that the game has to offer is a task that is hard to attach a time frame to. I would guess most players will get at least 60 hours out of it. That's no small feat for any title. Add to that the fact that many will want to play through it twice or more and we have here a game that will pay itself back in entertainment value a hundred times over. Among traditional RPG’s, X-2's replayability reigns supreme.
Building off of one of the most beloved stories in the history of gaming, Final Fantasy X-2 paints an epic tale while sporting an uncommonly, enjoyably light-hearted approach to much of it. It holds its own not just as a sequel but as a true, full-fledged Final Fantasy title in its own right. The title's revamped combat is the nicest surprise I've received all year and the class-changing system is a blast to use. With spot-on music and voice acting, and the always spectacular graphics of the series, Final Fantasy X-2 is a winner on all counts and the most refreshing RPG experience I've had in a long time.