Review: Final Fantasy X-2 HD Remaster – A Worthy Companion
Reviews 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.
Much like the two major factions of Final Fantasy X-2‘s plot, X-2 as a game is divided into two major camps of fans: fans who absolutely love X-2, and fans who absolutely abhor it. If you fall into the latter category, then there’s most likely little I can say to convince you otherwise (though I will still make an effort in an upcoming editorial). But if you’re part of the former group or someone who has never played the game before, then you’ll want to read on and see why this HD Remaster is as worthy to play as its HD predecessor.
The world of Final Fantasy X-2 takes place two years after the events of Final Fantasy X. Without spoiling the narrative of the game, let’s just say that by the end of X the great evil of Spira — Sin — is dead, but at the expense of more lives, some close to the character of the summoner Yuna. As shown in the Final Fantasy X half of the HD Remaster with Final Fantasy X: Eternal Calm, Yuna — after having spent her entire life making others happy — is encouraged by Rikku to embark on her own purpose. This is only further encouraged after a mystery sphere is found detailing events from 1,000 years ago, with a very familiar face in it.
All across Spira, various people have taken up the popular but dangerous new task of sphere hunting: that is, tracking down mysterious hidden spheres across Spira that detail Spira’s past or hold special power within. X-2 follows Yuna after she joins the Gullwings, a ragtag group of misfits who travel the world looking for spheres. Along Yuna’s journey, not only will she try to uncover the secret of the mysterious sphere that set her on her path, but she’ll also encounter many of the same characters she met along her first pilgrimage as a summoner, find opposition in the LeBlanc Syndicate, and face a new threat to Spira’s unity with the rival factions of the Youth League and New Yevon.
Visually the game looks nearly identical to its predecessor, though X-2 never quite feels as epic in scope as X does. Still, players will travel along much of the same territory that they traveled during Yuna’s journey in X, with some areas noticeably different in the sequel (Kilika, for example, has been rebuilt after Sin’s attack into a bustling small town seaport, thriving and busy with its new residents). CGI cutscenes look gorgeous, upscaled to look as good as its current peers on the PS3 and PS Vita, though it certainly doesn’t push the limits of the handheld’s capabilities.
But the biggest differences between X and X-2 is the changing of narrative structure and combat. These two components define X-2‘s identity down to its very core, setting it apart from X in just about every way. If you’re new to the game, this is where you’ll find the two games differ the most, and may determine how much you take to it.
Players traveled Spira by foot in a pretty linear narrative fashion for much of Final Fantasy X; nearly from the very beginning X-2 starts with an entirely open approach to exploring the world, with just about every region available to traverse. The game is broken up in Missions players can pick up while exploring cities in Spira through the Gullwings’ ship the Celsius, with the only things defining players’ options being the difficulty rating of a mission and Hotspots. Each Mission has a star rating from one to five that defines the difficulty of the enemies that the team will face. During each of the game’s chapters, various “Hotspots” will pop up that are central to the game’s narrative.
Often these special narrative-driven missions can be done in any order, and players are encouraged to explore other locations first if they’re going to get 100% story completion by finding side stories and character beats. Within missions there are often ways to quickly traverse the environment, including teleportation tiles and other forms of transportation, and players can get back to the Celsius at any time via Save Spheres. The biggest new element to exploring is the new Jump option, which allows Yuna to jump onto the various ledges and platforms in her environment for secret treasures or paths.
As I said above, this adventure is also full of both returning and new characters, including the Gullwings crew. Her fellow teammates on the field consist of cousin and thief Rikku and warrior Paine (who bears a striking resemblance to Lulu in attitude and look, just in leather pants instead of a gothic dress). The extended crew include the team’s sensible navigation expert Buddy, the team’s information hub and child inventor Shinra (no relation to anything involving Final Fantasy VII), and the frantic and hyperactive pilot and “leader” Brother, who’s overprotective crush on Yuna is comedic (and technically incestuous). The game also introduces the aforementioned LeBlanc Syndicate, run by LeBlanc and her cronies Ormi and Logos, whose rivalry with Yuna is for the most part harmless and humorous, and drives the plot when necessary.
Part of the fun is exploring the world of Spira, meeting old and new characters, and seeing how things have changed since the first game. But the other major draw is combat, which relies heavily on the introduction of Dresspheres.
Dresspheres, and their use on Garment Grids, is X-2‘s version of the Final Fantasy series’ infamous Job system. The game allows players to switch classes mid-battle, with a range of stats and abilities from dresspheres like Gunner, Alchemist, Berserker, Dark Knight and even special secret dresspheres much akin to the series’ use of summons. The Songstress, for example, induces stat increasing or damaging buffs and debuffs; the Warrior, much like X‘s character Auron, uses attacks that break down defenses.
Each character has access to each of the same dresspheres (except for their individual special spheres), but certain characters are stronger in certain roles. Yuna usually has stronger magical stats, Paine stronger strength and defenses, and Rikku as sort of a back-up to both. That said, the Warrior dressphere pretty much “belongs” to Paine, and the Thief to Rikku, so that if you have to delegate certain roles, you’re better off keeping those characters in those places.
But even in shared dresspheres, certain characters may have a distinct look or specific abilities. The Thief role gives everyone a sort of Rikku-like look, but the Warrior role gives Yuna a unique armor with the Brotherhood sword Wakka gave Tidus in X. The newly arrived Festivalist role, however, allows Yuna to throw a pair of sandals to determine a random severity of magic (i.e., Fire, Fira, Firaga); Rikku throws fish which sets up chain combos; Paine uses masks which inflict status ailments. With three new dresspheres introduced into this game, there’s even more variety to find when exploring the game’s combat system.
Depending on the skill or abilities an attack or spell may take longer or shorter to charge, which adds depth to team management and tactics when engaging in battles. Many enemies from X have been revamped to be deadlier and more varied in combat, offering a challenge even from simple foes; with this, battles in X-2 have a more urgent feel that makes combats feel fast-paced and lively.
With camera angles that change depending on actions made, characters repositioning themselves, abilities that can be learned during battles and a careful emphasis on teamwork, X-2 offers a more dynamic presentation to enemy encounters than anything that ever came before it in the series, and certainly influenced the later XIII series years later mechanically.
Much like the Vita version of the Final Fantasy X HD Remaster, there’s a few new shortcuts that X-2 brings to the table on the handheld. Once again there’s a “Quick Recovery” option, where swiping across the screen outside of battle allows you to heal the team either with accrued potions or the magic of one of your characters. Like the aeon animations of X, there’s an option in X-2 to shorten the animations during spherechange when the Gullwings transform from dressphere to dressphere (which, while incredibly entertaining, can slow down the fast-paced feel after a while). But the newest content the HD Remaster brings to the table is three new components: the Creature Creator, The Last Mission (which was part of the International version) and X -Will-, an audio drama.
The Creature Creator component is a feature which allows players to set up fiend trap pods across Spira of various sizes to trap a variety of monsters that can be made to fight as an ally in your party (another idea which looks like it later influenced the XIII series withXIII-2‘s Paradigm Pack system). Players can make use of up to eight pods at a time, and there’s even a little encouragement to “catch ’em all” like a certain popular monster-breeding franchise. Players can also nurture and develop them with items to develop new abilities and auto-abilities, and unlearn skills to make rooms for new ones. As they develop, their “Fiend Tale” expands until a secret ending is unlocked, which details the fiend’s full history of what it was before it died as a human, which is an interesting way to explore the world of Spira and the denizens of this setting.
In combat, players can add fiends to their teams according to size; a small fiend can replace one member of the Gullwings’ three-person party, a medium fiend replaces two, and a large fiend will fight on its own. Fiends also fight without direct player control according to their “creature behavior,” which develops as you take them along into battle. New recruits will use commands freely and randomly; the only input players can give are motivation stars which encouragement whether you want them to attack or support. The longer you fight with them the smarter they’ll be, until they can effectively battle with little influence. Creatures can also learn additional abilities by being attacked, be trained in a private “Fiend Arena,” and players can even add other human characters to their team like Brother and Tidus, depending on conditions or secret methods.
Once the main narrative of X-2 is complete, The Last Mission offers a small follow up to the story, with more of that “YRP!” energy and a simple premise that gets the girls back together. This standalone feature is a completely different type of game, and completely unrelated to X-2 in presentation and combat, far more of a rogue-like dungeon-crawler than a fast-paced turn-based RPG.
Here players will move a tile at a time, attacking enemies and finding items while ascending the floors of the mysterious Iutycyr Tower. Players can only use one character at a time but can switch out, swap dresspheres and use items. How much players enjoy this content will depend on how much they like rogue-like dungeon crawlers and want to unlock secret cutscenes the content offers. For me, this content had too little depth to enjoy, and I much prefer games like Guided Fate Paradox which were built exclusively with this genre in mind. The Last Mission is an interesting departure from the norm, but really wasn’t the bonus story material I was anticipating.
Finally X -Will-, the only content not previously released in the International version, is an audio drama written by Kazushige Nojima exclusively for the Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, and is set after the events of Eien no Daishou, the novel sequel to X-2 (also written by Nojima and released last year). Basically this was an interesting way to have players view the credits, which scroll next to a series of displayed concept art while the audio drama plays. X -Will- features two new characters, Chuami and Kurgum, as they seek out Yuna about a curious situation in which the dead seem to be returning.
What X -Will- does well is not only return players to the world of Spira a third time with more updates to the main characters, but offers interesting new mysteries and a new threat that seems to point to yet another sequel in the X mini-series. Whether Square Enix takes this opportunity or not, possibly depending on fans’ reaction to the material (which may be very divisive) remains to be scene, but it certainly sets up a new adventure that could interest gamers who really love this world.
X-2 will always be known to many as “the lesser half” of the X world. While I think the two compliment each other quite well, there will always be dissenters who just absolutely hate this sequel by principle, due to its campy and mostly lighthearted tone or the combat system’s vast difference to X. But with a brand new journey to experience, a brand new combat system to learn, explore and master, and brand new secrets to unlock, X-2 on its own offers just as much fantastic content as its predecessor, and adequately expands the story. While I’m not very enthused about The Last Mission and a little divided on the direction of X -Will-, this half of the Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster collection certainly offers a lot of content for its players with just the main game alone, plus the extra features, should they be enticed to follow Yuna’s story far beyond the events of Final Fantasy X.
If you never played the game before, play it. If you didn’t play it much before, play it now, especially for the Creature Creator. If you never gave the game a chance or just hated it, give the game a second shot. Sure, Blitzball isn’t the same, but there’s a world of story to enjoy and a world of monsters to destroy, and X-2 is certainly worth the time and effort.