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Final Fantasy X-2 Review
publisher: Square Enix
developer: Square Enix
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Nov 18, 03 (released)
|» All About Final Fantasy X-2 on ActionTrip|
Neal "Petrodon" Leyendecker
It's a foregone conclusion that sequels suck. In fact, famed movie critic Leonard Maltin has said the worst thing you can do to a great movie is to try to make a sequel of it. Truthfully, I enjoy some sequels and hate others; it's a sad fact of life. One thing I haven't seen until recently is a sequel of any game in my all-time favorite series, Final Fantasy. Though the games in the series are numbered like sequels, each game is very distinct from other games in the series, linked only by commonalities of the genre (like magic) and the classes of characters (like the Black Mage). However, as of now, all of that has changed. Though not technically the first direct sequel for Square, who have made several games in the Chrono Trigger and Tactics saga, never has a full Final Fantasy had a full sequel. So, what we have never seen is a DIRECT sequel to any FF game. And what a game it is. Final Fantasy X-2, as the name suggests is a direct sequel to the tremendously popular, Final Fantasy X. As I have already reviewed that game, it might behoove you to go and read that review first, not really because it's essential, but that I have found that most of the issues I had with the original have been completely fixed in the sequel, which isn't saying that the new game doesn't have a few new holes of its own.
Final Fantasy X-2, begins on a high note, literally. The game opens with a concert, and our lovely heroine Yuna is the performer. Yuna is one of the main characters from the original game; only in that one she is a summoner, possessing a mild manner and sad fate. The game is set two years after the end of Final Fantasy X, the beast that kept the world in check for a thousand years, Sin, is gone. We begin the game with a sense that in the meantime, things have definitely improved on the world of Spira. Now instead of being held down by fear the citizens of Spira are reveling in their newfound freedom. Yuna, though destined to die as a summoner, broke the chains of fate that caused Sin to return over and over again. Of course she had a tiny bit of help from some other people, most notably the main character of Final Fantasy X, a young athlete named Tidus. The game begins as mentioned before with Yuna's concert, only something is amiss. Some curious things are going on in the background of the concert though, most notably two other lovely females attempting to break into the stadium. These two characters are the stoic (and sexy) Paine, a warrior woman, and the cunning little thief from the original FFX, Rikku. These two, plus Yuna, are the main characters in FFX-2, and they are sphere hunters. Fans of the original game will recognize the spheres as being the means by which you upgraded your characters, now the spheres have an even more important role, which I'll get to later. The opening FMV has a certain old style feel to it, despite the fact that it is visually stunning. It plays like the opening of a 1970's cop show, and the main characters have a certain Charlie's Angels like intro.
Now at this point would be a good time to mention that though I love Final Fantasy games, one thing I certainly do not like is that every single one of them features main characters with severe emotional distress. And while some distress can certainly carry the story, I myself would love to see at least one game with a lighthearted feel to it. I may finally get my chance with FFX-2. So, did I like the opening FMV, you bet your ass I did. It might also be a good time to mention that there has definitely been sexiness upgrade for the characters, Rikku in particular. Previously, the little lady was a nice gal with a sleeveless shirt, a pair of shorts, and an unceasing cheerful demeanor. Now however, it turns out that she is sexy as all get out with her Daisy Dukes, bikini top and VERY obvious thong. This might be the one facet of the game that players of the original might fret about the most, but I enjoyed the change in the characters because it showed the one true fact of life we all live with, people change.
The visuals in Final Fantasy X-2 are very similar to those of its predecessor. Which doesn't surprise me much, since it is a foregone conclusion that the game was built using the same engine as the original. As before the lovely rendered backgrounds provide a wonderful starting point to begin this game. Many of the backgrounds and paths are unchanged from the original game, so everything will look familiar. The poly counts for the main characters and the support characters are the same. To make a long story short, until you hit a battle sequence, everything about this game will look the same. And even when you do hit a battle sequence there isn't a great increase in the visuals, just in the battle system. As I stated before, the visuals to the original were fairly good, and that holds true with this game too. The environment of FFX-2 is also a lot more interactive than before - you can climb and jump at certain areas. This is basically just an extension of the area map, so it's not a true interactive environment but like I said, it's MORE interactive than before.
The audio for the game has a much more technological basis than the original, which relied heavily on more earthy types of music, vocal pieces, string and wood and so forth. For this game though, the composers have broken out the synthesizer and the electric instruments to bring forth a much more modern soundtrack. No matter what the reason for this, I feel like it was a good change, and even though I felt that the music was one of the stronger points of the original game, the feeling and mood of FFX-2 is different and the music reflects that. The voice acting was as good as the original. One major sore point of video game dubbing is that the voices generally sound as if they are making a speech, and not conversing with each other, that is not the case here. Square obviously went to great length in order to make the voices sound as real as possible and with a few odd quirks here and there they succeed brilliantly.
The biggest overall change to the game is the battle system. No longer using the infamous sphere grid in order to dictate character upgrades, the new system is a much more traditional system of EXP gaining. Also, weapon and armor changes are nowhere to be found, and there is a good explanation why. FFX-2 has abandoned with tradition for FF console games and embraced a job class system like other FF games, such as FF Tactics. The job system is determined by gaining spheres each consisting of a job, and placing them on a grid. This job grid will allow you to change the characters job mid battle, so you can more easily defeat your foes. The default jobs you have are, Gunner, Warrior, Thief and Songstress. These jobs should be fairly self-explanatory, only there is one catch. Every time you change jobs, then your character will change clothes as well. It is fairly fitting then that the job system in the game is called the Dressphere system. This job grid/class system is essential to learn if you intend to do maximum damage to the baddies. Since your characters can only change one job at a time moving from place to place on a grid, a certain job might be too far to reach before your characters buy the farm. So, watch your grids and make good decisions. You will want to keep changing jobs frequently, as some abilities of certain classes only become available after learning other abilities of other classes. The way to learn abilities is to switch to that job and begin using the job abilities to gain AP points. You can only learn one ability at time though, so switch the ladies around so that you can even out your stats and gain more abilities. More jobs will continually become available over the course of the game though, eventually leading to around 12 per character, most of which are shared. The battle system has also moved beyond the steady locations of characters. In FFX-2, much like real life, your characters can be placed, in around and through your enemies during battle sequences. Some of them are closer and others further away, this can determine, among other things, the amount of damage your character will do, and likewise, how much damage they will do to you. It can also affect how much damage is done by spells and how often the attack succeeds. At first I thought it made battling a lot more hectic looking, but after a few battles, I caught onto the reasons for doing things and I warmed up quickly to the new interface.
The biggest improvement over the original game is the fact that FFX-2, is almost completely non-linear. The intro battles will take maybe 20 minutes in total, and then, you can go wherever you want, and do whatever you want. Of course, the game will tell you what to do in order to continue the storyline along, but it isn't vital to go directly to these locations. In fact, it's almost vital that you do not do this. The game doesn't have the greatest sense of balance, so taking some time in locales where you are fairly sure you can whip ass and gaining some levels is necessary. Actually this is one of the points of the game that I fretted about the most. Since the game was non-linear, it was too easily possible to go to a new area and get your tail handed to you. I haven't really played a Final Fantasy game since FFVII that leveling up was even necessary, because the game was so well balanced. However, this isn't one of those, so be prepared to do some leveling up.
The game also has a great deal of side quests and mini-games, almost too many to play. The new major one is a game called Sphere Break, which can only be described as fast math. You will need to select numbers around a core number that adds up to multiples of that number. Don't worry, it'll all make sense when you play it. Making a return appearance is Blitzball, but with noticeably less control than the original (which already had precious little to begin with), it wasn't fun to play before and it's not fun to play now, but with other choices available I am okay with that. Sphere Break is reasonably fun once you get the hang of it, and if you are in pursuit of the perfect game get used to playing a bit of it. Also, there are more carnival like games, like slot machines and racing games, as well as an arcade like shooting gallery. All in all, these games don't really make or break FFX-2, but they are a nice addition.
One very annoying facet of the game was the fact that you HAD to change dresspheres so often. Here's some advice, there is a cool cinematic for changing spheres, and when you get a new sphere, take your ladies onto the field and hit an easy random encounter so you can see it. But once you've done this, go back to the config menu and turn the cinematic off. Even though it's only a ten second thing, trust me, do it. A normal battle after the first third of the game it will probably be necessary to change spheres on each character once or twice during a battle. The reason for this is, unless you have very specific things enabled you cannot access other abilities in combat. Here's an example, I had Yuna as a Gun Mage, which is perhaps the most helpful character on the field where random monsters attack, however, I also had her White Magic perfected. Unlike other games, the White Mage has no "Attack" ability, and has no offensive spells. So, whenever I got in trouble I had to switch her from a Gun Mage to a White Mage in order to heal my party, therefore losing an offensive character. What I would have liked is to have the ability to access the magic I had already spent time acquiring as another job class. Only, the game doesn't work that way, you have to switch, every time. Another thing I fretted about was the pitiful allotment of modifiers to assist you. In the original game, you had weapons, armor, accessories, helms, gauntlets, etc. Not anymore, in FFX-2, you have two accessory slots that can aid you and nothing else. All of the statistics of the character, including hit points, are dependant on the job class. Fighter classes end up much stronger and able to defend themselves physically, while magic classes tended to have exasperatingly few hit points, but the ability to withstand magic. What would have been helpful is the ability to have accessories with some real advantages, like one that can beef up the defense of magic classes, etc. But, one thing is that at least the other abilities are accessible unlike other games when you get one job per character and that's it. It's just a level of the game that can be frustrating if you aren't patient, and if you aren't patient, then you really have no business playing an RPG in the first place. Another nice feature is a fix of one of the more obnoxious features of FFX, you can now skip certain cinematic sequences.
The last real issue that I had with the game was that it is possible to miss a lot of stuff simply by neglecting to do something at a certain time that you had no idea you had to do. I missed at least one dressphere (a complete job class) simply because I had not visited a location at the right times. However, the game does have a New Game+ feature, which to fans of the genre will recognize as the ability to gain carry things from a complete game into a new game, in this case, your Dresspheres, Accessories and Garment Grids. You will need to use this feature in order to make a 100% game, which is (of course) the only way to get the best ending to the game.
So, in conclusion, this game is a great one, if you can put up with a few odd quirks. Let me emphasize, that even though this game had one or two problems, overall I am highly satisfied. I would say that this game is easily an improvement over its predecessor, perhaps even twice as good. It certainly will have a good deal more replay value than the original, so if you are thinking of killing several dozen hours this would be a very good buy. Also one major note, there is almost no spinup wait time in this game, so most of those dozens of hours will be spent playing the game and not waiting.
8.6 Very Good
Excellent gameplay, well made battle system, lots of mini-games and side stuff, good voicing and above-average graphics;
Switching Dresspheres can be annoying, leveling up is back, skill use issues.
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