"Environments are stunning, the main characters look great, and battle animations are even better than I remember."
It seems like it's been 1,000 years since Square Enix said we'd get to see Tidus and Yuna in HD. Fortunately, Square made good on their promise and both the Vita and PS3 versions of Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster launched to much aplomb. The question remains, though: after such a long development time, does this collection do what it needs to do? Unabashedly yes; both PS3 and Vita owners should be happy to add this to their collections, even if there are a smattering of issues in both games.
For those who didn't play FFX or X-2 on PlayStation 2, the rundown is simple: The first game follows Tidus, a Blitzball (think underwater soccer) player who seemingly came from 1,000 years in the past to the world of Spira to fight against Sin, a giant whale-like being that regularly destroys portions of human society. Joining up with the Summoner Yuna, Tidus ultimately discovers exactly what's going on and — you guessed it — tries to save the world. It's a fairly dark journey, but it introduced the modern cinematic RPG in style. Its sequel, taking place years afterward, follows Yuna on her journey after FFX with the Gullwings, an all-girl Sphere Hunter team full of spunk, looking for — you guessed it — spheres that record the history of Spira. It's significantly more light-hearted than its predecessor, but also a little less awkward.
There have been no changes to the story and dialogue in either game — with the exception of the addition of the "International Edition" content for both games, alongside an audio drama — so both games are straight out of the early 2000s. The issues with FFX's story remains — Yuna has terrible dialogue and a fairly wooden voice, Tidus is much too whiny, and Kimahri really doesn't do anything. That being said, while individual characters may not be the strong suit, the overall narrative and storytelling remain strong. While the facial expressions and emotional range of character models may not be impressive today, they still show where the cinematic ambiance of modern RPGs comes from. FFX-2 mirrors its older brother, but loses some significant coherence while gaining some shining individual moments.
While the voice acting is the same as it ever was, the songs have been remastered for this edition. With complete honesty, I can tell you I couldn't tell the difference between the songs here and the ones in my memory. I'm sure that if I listened to them with the originals in the left channel and the new versions in the right that I'd immediately find several changes, but don't expect huge remixes and sweeping changes. That being said, FFX has one of the best OSTs I've ever heard, so getting to hear old favorites in-game again was special. FFX-2's soundtrack, while not quite as strong, still has its moments.
With the aural changes not having much of an impact, it's time to talk about the immediately noticeable difference: the graphics. My primary review platform was the PlayStation Vita, and the game manages to look gorgeous. Environments are stunning, the main characters look great, and battle animations are even better than I remember. That's not to say that there aren't issues, however. As good as Tidus and friends might look, most of the generic NPCs in the game are underwhelming. Their faces are almost completely flat and their faces are inexpressive. While this isn't a widespread issue, it is jarring when they come up in a cutscene. Some of the textures appear painted-on, too; these models don't animate as well as I'd expect, which is quite unfortunate.
I also encountered a couple of framerate dips in FFX-2, though they were few and far between. It's a niggling issue, and only happened when a lot was going on — something that happened more often than in the original game — but it's still annoying. The character models look much better in FFX-2, however, so it's an arguably worthwhile tradeoff.
The International Edition content includes (but isn't limited to) Dark Aeons and superbosses in FFX, a new Sphere grid, a prologue to FFX-2, FFX-2's "Last Mission" rogue-like dungeon crawler, additional garment grids for YRP, and a Creature Creator in FFX-2. The single most convenient addition is a small one, though — tapping on the Vita's touch-screen brings up an auto-heal menu that allows your party to be healed with items or magic at the single touch of a button. In terms of scale, this is nothing, but it makes random encounters that much more bearable.
All of these additions are welcome, and the greatest impact comes from FFX's Expert Sphere Grid. If you're not coming into this as a newbie, I'd easily recommend using the Expert Grid, as there's much more customization available, and characters aren't "stuck" on their default track. Beware, though, as planning is needed — I ended up taking Tidus down a dead-end to the beginning of Yuna's track. He had Cure, but it took several sphere levels to dig myself out of that rabbit hole.
With the customization as strong as ever, does the combat measure up? Yes, undoubtedly it does, in both games. Despite the fact that the battle systems are greatly disparate, both excel at what they do. FFX features a turn-based system where swapping party members to take care of enemy weaknesses is imperative, while FFX-2 returns to the classic Final Fantasy ATB system, with a focus on speed and comboing several characters' attacks together. FFX's methodical combat allows you to take chances with individual characters on the sphere grid (if you've chosen the Expert one) to try and bring out the best in characters without fearing repercussions since sphere levels are always available. FFX-2's Garment Grid system is less customizable, but still augments the battle system so that combat plays out quickly.
So what we've got here is clear — improved versions of two popular Final Fantasy games, but aside from the International changes, what is here to entice veterans to play? The answer is a bonus audio track, Final Fantasy X -Will-, that runs alongside the credits. This audio drama, written by the original scenario writer, Kazushige Nojima, explores activities a year after FFX-2. While I won't spoil it, it hints that Square Enix might just be willing to return to the world of Spira in the future.
While it has plenty of additions, Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster isn't without blemishes. Luckily, they're small and easily ignored. Handheld gamers shouldn't be afraid of an inferior port, either; the Vita versions run incredibly well, though FFX-2 is not provided on a physical cartridge and is instead a large download (3+GB). Final Fantasy X delivered RPGs into the modern cinematic world they now reside in; while it might not be the best or most complete RPG I've ever played, I would be a fool not to recommend this package.