Warning: Being a direct sequel, this review contains unavoidable spoilers of the original Final Fantasy X.
Final Fantasy X-2 is everything you wouldn’t expect from Square. First off, it’s a sequel to a Final Fantasy numbered title — something that’s not happened outside of horrible fan fiction written by fourteen year-old fan boys. It also features a female-dominated cast with a presentation on par with the latest pop music video. This, however, is a work by Square, but turns out to be one of the weakest Final Fantasy titles to date.
Set two years after the events of Final Fantasy X, X-2 chronicles the escapades of Yuna and her adventures as a sphere hunter. Spira, her world, has changed for the better since the successful campaign in FFX and Yuna has spent that time with Rikku, a returning cast member from FFX. Completing the entourage is Paine, a new female sphere hunter that is usually quiet and somber, but has her moments of rowdiness. Sphere hunting is exactly what it sounds like: Yuna and company (affectionately referred to in-game as Y-R-P) attempt to collect memory spheres from dungeons across Spira for fame and money. Yuna’s initial drive to become a Sphere hunter was the discovery of a sphere which apparently had an image of Tidus being held captive in some sort of cell. Is he still alive after the conclusion of Final Fantasy X?
The plot is driven by the gameplay most of the time. The game presents Spira in a totally different light: no longer are people driven by fear of the evil deity Sin. Instead, they live happy, normal lives. Politics play a large role in the sub-plot of FFX-2, and though it serves as an acceptable device to progress Yuna’s quest, it’s only mildly entertaining and not nearly as fleshed out as it could be. Focus remains on the now, as gamers are continually thrust into mission after mission with only immediate goals in mind. The game also features three endings, two of which truly “close” the story of Final Fantasy X. However these endings can only be accessed after a certain amount of the game has been completed, and gamers who do not do this will be left with a bitter taste in their mouths once again. If completed in total, the game does offer resolution, but at the cost of tainting the epic and bold ending of Final Fantasy X. It’s intriguing to see how Spira developed after the years of Sin, but a plot such as that leaves several problems: it formulates an unreasonable antagonist with no substance, and by emphasizing a light-hearted nature with the Y-R-P gang, only further confuses the game by attempting to implement serious plot devices. It’s not a mess, rather feels like a string of random adventures with the singular goal of discovering Tidus’ whereabouts locked in the back of your mind.
FFX-2 features wonderful voice acting (similar to that of FFX), and yet incorporates one of the most horrific game soundtracks in recent years. Most of the original cast returns, their talent welcome aside from a few stale “Yes” and “No” lines. The dialogue is galvanized, lines delivered with appropriate emphasis and at times with amusing exaggeration. Perhaps the most noticeable difference is the life that Yuna’s voice actor has; Yuna has changed since FFX, and the dialogue and delivery reflect that perfectly. Once you’re forced to listen to a musical piece, however, those smiles will turn to winces of pain. Since famed Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu was busy working on Final Fantasy XI: Online, Square Enix employed the talents (or lack thereof) of Noriko Matsueda and Takahito Eguchi, composers of The Bouncer’s score. Since FFX-2 took the series in a completely new direction, one can assume the two composers felt it was appropriate to apply that philosophy to the game’s soundtrack. Sixty-something tracks of mostly jazzy, poppy pieces with heavily synthesized, repetitive percussion is the end result. Perhaps the most atrocious of crimes is the removal of the trademark “Fanfare” theme, which has now been replaced with a generic, Teletubbies-worthy blast of random synthesizer tones supposedly considered “music”. Most of the songs are ambient, with weak melodies that only give off an underpowered feel. The chocobo theme becomes a blast of heavy jazz with six slightly noticeable notes that are from the original theme(s). Now, there’s nothing wrong with jazz or pop music in proper application: in fact, the theme song that plays in the introduction sequences of FFX-2 is a quite catchy J-Pop song (Real Emotion). Despite this example, however, the remainder of the soundtrack remains decidedly mundane, repetitive, lacking any memorable or appropriate melodies that create one of the worst FF soundtracks to date. Even at his worst, Nobuo Uematsu could not produce this noise.
The game play is both completely different and completely the same as its predecessor. FFX-2 features random battles, except these battles happen to be on speed or some other stimulant. In all honesty, random battles rarely last longer than fifteen seconds and gamers will find themselves simply mashing buttons until the later missions. In an effort to incorporate more strategy into the standard console, the trio can chain attacks in a combination attack manner, but rarely does this become important until later in the game or during harder boss battles. The “job” system is also a key function (and selling point) of the game. Certain spheres contain abilities for Yuna, Rikku, and Paine to utilize in battle, such as Black Mage or Gunmage. By selecting this option in battle, party members can change their job class in order to increase effectiveness in battle. Options are near infinite, and it requires a certain degree of proper manipulation during extra missions and harder battles to maximize efficiency. This does freshen up the usual RPG battling progression, but some might complain of the extreme speed at which battles take place, as the ATB system is pushed to its limit. Choices are split-second decisions with little room for error. It at least provides a more exciting, adrenaline-pumping version of the battles found in FFX. Gamers that clamor for a more traditional method of dungeon crawling might be disappointed. Outside of battle, gamers will feel as if they’re playing FFX, except for the inclusion of abilities such as jumping from ledges and climbing (a welcome addition). Yuna seems more agile than any previous Final Fantasy lead character, and dungeons become more of the obstacle mazes they’re supposed to be.
Graphically, FFX-2 is a mirror image of FFX. Since Yuna and the gang re-visit many of the old areas from FFX, it is only inevitable that certain angles and areas will look the same. However, there isn’t even a noticeable jump in polygon count or texture quality. Final Fantasy X was mind blowing with its combination of CG and in-game rendering. FFX-2 is no slouch, but it does little to improve on a two year old game’s engine. Aliasing is still a visible problem, and there is some slowdown in graphically intensive areas. The game is much more colorful than most Final Fantasy titles, with the girls’ outfits exhibiting flamboyant combinations of yellow, purple, green and blue only a judge on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” could love. This gives FFX-2 a decidedly different atmosphere and impression than FFX, with little improvement on the core technical aspects.
Square Enix’s venture into the unknown with a sequel to a numbered Final Fantasy titles proves to be bizarre, intriguing, and at the same time lacking. Though by no means a bad RPG, FFX-2 seems like more of a side story than an actual sequel. The problem is that it’s no side story and is supposed to stand on its own ground without Final Fantasy X. Gamers that obsess over FFX will get the most enjoyment out of FFX-2, and though it can be completely understood, I find it difficult to recommend this title to those who haven’t touched FFX. Music aside, FFX-2 does not flagrantly offend in any area, and is a solid romp for a RPG enthusiast. It’s just disappointing that it’s a Final Fantasy title: we’ve come to expect nothing less than perfection from Square Enix, and this time they can’t deliver fully.