Review Editor’s note: We split the review for Final Fantasy X and X-2 up into separate parts, to give you a more in-depth look into what each title offers in its updated re-release version. Click here for our review on Final Fantasy X-2.
If you’re reading this review, then the chances are you’re someone who really, really loved Final Fantasy X when it released on the PS2 more than ten years ago, and have been waiting for a chance to play it again (if you weren’t one of the early adopters of the PS3 that had full backwards compatibility, like myself). Well, let me make this review incredibly quick for you: it looks gorgeous and play amazingly on the PS Vita, so you should buy it immediately when it releases March 18th.
Wow, that was a short review.
But for everyone else who was on the fence, or for what I imagine are the rare gamers out there who missed the opportunity to play one of the series’ seminal games, please read on and see why the Final Fantasy X portion of the Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster is a must-buy on the PS Vita if you want to save Spira and play Blitzball while on the go.
Let me just get out of the way that while reviewing Final Fantasy X HD, there was certainly more than a little nostalgia driving how much I fondly remembered playing this game the first time and how much I enjoyed playing it again this time. Hearing the progressive metal heavy rock track “Otherworld” by famed series composer Nobuo Uematsu and his band The Black Mages during the opening Blitzball scene in the game brought me immeasurable joy like nothing I’ve felt in a while.
Making my journey through Spira to save the denizens of the world from Sin was like taking a stroll down memory lane, with me trying to remember each line and scene ahead of time as I went through the narrative. And relearning the combat or the ins and out of playing Blitzball was far more of a treat than a task.
But I can also promise readers that this rose-tinted lens did not prevent me from ignoring the flaws of the game, like Tidus’ often unnecessary and boring voiceovers when “looking back” at the story of the game, or how the lip-syncing was never perfected for Western release, or how some of the characters are incredible shallow — watching the Luca Goers mock the Besaid Aurochs was like watching an 80′s or 90′s sports movie where the underdogs will undoubtedly beat the big, dumb, bully jocks with nothing but their solid teamwork and hearts of gold.
But there’s so much more to this game that makes it a true gem, and makes it perfect for newcomers and veterans alike on the PS Vita.
For newcomers to the franchise, Final Fantasy X follows the character of Tidus, a famous Blitzball player who gets transported 1,000 years into the future into the land of Spira by a monster called Sin. This leviathan has been plaguing humanity for hundreds of years, being defeated by the holy and revered summoners and their guardians, only to returns a decade or so later each time to continue its terror.
But during Tidus’ journey with the newly ordained summoner Yuna and her band of warriors, the “facts” about why Sin has been terrorizing Spira — to punish humanity for its hedonism and overuse of machina — begins to be questioned as the party travels on its pilgrimage. Along the way the characters face many threats, meet the various races of Spira, and pick up a slew of skills and abilities for their last dreaded confrontation with Sin for the fate of the future.
Presentation-wise, the game excels on all fronts. In terms of visuals, forget all of the comparison videos between the PS Vita version and the PS3 version. It doesn’t matter how they compare to each other for better or for worse, because the game looks beautiful on Sony’s systems no matter what. Sure, certain in-game models have that inescapable early PS2 design, with some still a little “body” or faces a little flat.
But overall the game looks fantastic, from the vivid, colorful world to the muscles on Wakka’s back. And just like the original release, the CGI cutscenes are still some of the most beautifully detailed ever seen in video games, with already impressive graphics made even more impressive on the Vita and PS3.
And while the lip-syncing isn’t always as accurate as it should be, the voice acting is still as memorable as the first time. Final Fantasy X has such a wonderfully varied and distinctive cast, made all the more memorable by their well developed personalities and their growth through the game.
Tidus, for example, is this cheerful and naive protagonist who also incidentally acts as the voice of reason throughout the game. Every time he questions the purpose of the religious or cultural acts of the game, he helps the player unravel the plot and the sinister implications that begin to rise up the further you go on. Yuna, on the other hand, the innocent and reverent maiden of the game, starts off as the epitome of Spira society, only to begin questioning her journey and how her father, the great High Summoner Lord Braska, died defeating Sin the last time.
And even the other characters in your party have full development through their shared pasts or moments in the game. Kimahri, the team’s stoic but loyal beastly Ronso warrior, has to contend with others of his race as a sort of black sheep, being smaller, weaker and with a broken horn. Wakka, a Blitzball captain who has never brought his team to victory, seems like a naive and overly religious simpleton at first, but hides a deep pain from a personal lost that guides him to be compassionate and more open in his views.
Lulu, who has also shared Wakka’s pain, is a little more colder and harsher than her companions, but only to mask her own grief and to perceive things as directly and clearly as she can. Rikku is perky and quirky, sure, but occasionally astounds others with her lateral thinking. And finally Auron, the mysterious but honored Guardian that helped Lord Braska defeat Sin ten years prior, seems to be hiding some important secrets in an attempt to break the curse and cycle of Sin once and for all.
And this is only mentioning the characters in the player’s party, not the allies and enemies that the team meets along the way. There’s still the priests and followers of Yevon, a religion devoted to piety and seeking forgiveness from Sin; the Crusaders, who hope to rid the world of Sin by any means necessary; the Maester Seymour, an open-minded high priest who has some secrets of his own; and Jecht, Tidus’ father, who disappeared ten years prior in Tidus’ time and seems to have connections to Spira, Auron and Sin.
There’s also the various races and their own differences, from the foreign and much despised machina scavengers the Al Bhed (complete with their own language that players can learn throughout the game); the Guado, keepers of the Farplane, the Afterlife of Spira; the previously mentioned beastly Ronso; the various cities and towns of humans; the wide variety of monsters that populate the game.
Speaking of monsters, Final Fantasy X‘s gameplay is some of the most lauded in the entire series, split between two main components: combat and Blitzball. The former is pure turn-based; but where previous games in the series relied on an active time system that counted up to the player’s next action, X allows players to see the actual list of upcoming turns that can be made by both allies and enemies on the battlefield, which can be manipulated by what actions are made, or with special abilities like Delay Attack, which allows players to delay an enemy’s attack.
What makes combat so engaging in X is its “Switch” mechanic. Each character follows a particular role, congruous to the series long-used job classes. The “Switch” mechanic allows players to swap in and out characters mid-battle according to the enemies they have at hand, making for truly dynamic battles.
For example, Tidus is your typical warrior class (with a few Time Mage elements thrown in), and excels at destroying swift but weak foes. Auron, on the other hand, is more of a knight or samurai class, who excels at defeating slower but more armored foes, and breaking down various defenses. Wakka and his Blitzball throwing ability makes killing flying, hard to reach enemies his specialty, while most magically-based enemies fall under Lulu’s purview and her power of black magic. Rikku is a master of using items and combining them for special use during battle, while Kimahri is the team’s Jack of all Trades blue mage. Finally, Yuna, as the team’s summoner, can both heal her allies with white magic or replace the entire party with a powerful Aeon, which have their own range of abilities, strengths, weaknesses and attacks for the first time in X.
But it’s not just the mechanics that make the game great, it’s the design of the enemies and the encounters. During battle, camera angles switch up dynamically; when one foe is defeated, far off players move up to surround the remaining foes. The game is turn-based, yes, but it distracts players from this with swift action and great presentation.
One early battle against the Sinspawn Geneaux, for example, has players facing off against an armored foe that is highly vulnerable to magic, but has two tentacles that absorb magic. Casting magic with Lulu would only allow the tentacles to absorb her attacks and waste her turn; so switching her out with a physical attacker like Tidus, Auron or Kimahri makes more sense. After destroying the tentacles though, bringing back Lulu to cause some major elemental damage will end the battle very quickly.
There’s also the use of Trigger Commands, which allow the player to interact with a scripted element of the stage to damage enemies; the use of Overdrives, the limit breaks of this game, which allow players to deal major damage or be stored for a later battle; and the variety of weapons and armors that are more ability-based than stat-based, adding particular buffs and debuffs, and which can also be swapped out during battle.
The latter of the two major components of gameplay in X is Blitzball, a game that is one part soccer/American football, one part water sport, and all parts an entirely addicting game. While players will initially be introduced to it little by little for a majorly scripted part of the game, soon players can dive into it (pun intended) at will at any part of the game from any save point (even near the end of the game) and play three types of games.
There’s exhibition matches, which exist solely for players to get used to the controls and to try and learn enemy Blitzers’ techniques; Tournaments to earn experience and prizes; Leagues to learn even greater experience and prizes.
What makes Blitzball so unique is that it is so easily interwoven into the game; not only is it the most enjoyed pastime of the world of Spira, but players can recruit any professional player they come across at any point in the game (as long as they have enough cash for their salary and the player is a free agent), and the games only last for ten minutes, consisting of two five minute halves.
Each player has a list of special abilities they can learn, many of which are as interesting and vicious as combat itself, with techniques that can poison other players, wither their stats, or even put them to sleep. If you’ve never played Final Fantasy X before, then trust me when I say you’ll love Blitzball, and will be wondering why it hasn’t been made into an independently downloadable PSN game yet (are you listening Square Enix?).
And this isn’t mentioning the ability to ride Chocobos who can find special treasure in hard-to-reach places on the map, exploring the Cloister of Trials (temples where Yuna gets her new Aeons) to find hidden treasure (and a chance at unlocking hidden Aeons later in the game), or the various other mini-games and puzzles in the game.
But this is all old territory — what does the Remaster bring to this half of the HD collection and to the Vita?
First, it’s worth mentioning that between the game’s frequent and abundant save points and the Vita’s sleep feature, Final Fantasy X on the Vita is perfect for portable gaming. Saving is extremely fast, and loading is generally short. The only thing that may disrupt the on-the-go feel of handheld gaming is the occasionally long cutscenes, and the mandatory tutorials that can’t be skipped; a questionable choice since many of us are playing this game for at least the second time.
Exclusive to the Vita are a number of quick options, like the Quick Recovery option, and the Aeon mode option. The first of the two allows the player to swipe the screen when not in combat to quickly heal the characters in their party, either using the minimum amount of items in their inventory, or the minimum amount of curative magics their characters possess. The second of the two allows a player to swipe during combat to make summoning animations — notoriously long in the Final Fantasy franchise — either short or default length.
There’s also content that even further connects Final Fantasy X and X-2, like the appearance of the Dark Aeons, and the inclusion of Final Fantasy X: Eternal Calm, which bridges the events between the two games.
The most important option new to North American players, who have never received Final Fantasy X International, is that the Sphere Grid in HD Remaster is based off of this version. The Sphere Grid is the way a player upgrades his or her characters in X, stats, abilities and all. By unlocking spheres during the game and reaching new AP levels, players can progress their characters along a large interwoven web of sphere nodes that all have various unlockable abilities and attributes. Characters start on various spaces of the Grid to match their respective specialties and beginning stats, but by the end of the game can learn the abilities of their allies and expand weaker stats.
The HD Remaster now asks players to choose from the beginning of the game whether to use the Standard Grid of the original game, or the “Expert” Grid introduced in the International edition, with the difference between the two being the latter’s more concise layout and more freedom over character growth. There’s less nodes, but a lot more choice, and characters can still become powerful, varied warriors by the end of the game. Unfortunately the game doesn’t explain this on its own, but thankfully a little research comes with plenty of answers.
But whether you’re a returning fan who loves the burgeoning romance between Yuna and Tidus, the interesting metaphors and commentary the game makes on organized religion, a slavishly devoted Blitzball player, or just an entirely new player to the world of Spira, Final Fantasy X HD Remaster is amazing on the Vita, and deserves to be played. There’s never been a better reason or time to return to Spira than there is now; it’d be a sin to ignore this game.
For more on the game, check out the gallery below, taken exclusively from screenshots on the Vita; for more on the game, check out all of our previously released Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster news, screenshots and trailers; and for the review on the Final Fantasy X-2 half of the HD Remaster with all of its bells and whistles, stay tuned for our review!