FFX-2 has enough charm to be worth of the series' moniker.
A lot of people were surprised when the first Final Fantasy sequel was announced, though it shouldn’t have been a big shock. Final Fantasy X was one of the most beautiful games created for the PS2 and had a rabid following among the legions of Final Fantasy fans. Adding onto that loyalty, the somewhat bittersweet ending of FFX left many without the proper closure they needed to move on. So the folks at Square-Enix threw a bone to their fans by releasing Final Fantasy X-2.
Our story picks up a few years after Yuna and her cadre of guardians ended the vicious cycle of destruction brought by the beast Sin. The world of Spira is picking up the pieces of their shattered world and celebrating the peace that came from “Yuna’s Calm.” Yuna, however, has joined up with Rikku and newcomer Paine’s group, the Gullwings, in hunting down memory spheres that contain videos of Spira’s past. She found a memory sphere that seemingly showed Tidus being locked up, and she figures that teaming up with the Gullwings will help her unlock the mystery surrounding that recording. Over the course of the game, they’ll be dragged into more political battles between the two new factions vying for control of Spira, and will be called on to save the world from an ancient threat yet again, all the while figuring out what exactly happened to Tidus.
The plot may have some familiar elements from prior Final Fantasy games, but don’t mistake FFX-2 as a simple cash-in on FFX’s success. FFX-2 does borrow heavily from its predecessor, but it offers enough of its own attitude to stand out in the Final Fantasy franchise. The tone of this game alone is much different than other Final Fantasies. FFX-2 is certainly more playful and less serious, though it does dive into deep emotion as the game goes on. Yuna starts out the game as a pop star, and Paine is likely the most sarcastic Final Fantasy character to date. The tone does fit this game well, but it may be a bit jarring for long-time fans of the Final Fantasy series.
The visuals and sound of this game are certainly on par with FFX, though that’s to be expected since the graphics engine, most of the locations, and almost all of the NPCs are recycled. Since FFX was such a beautiful game, this is certainly not a problem, though some more variety would’ve been nice. All of the voice actors from FFX also reprise their roles, and in most cases do a better job than before. This is evidenced especially in Yuna’s lines, which delivered with much more emotion. There are a few new FMV sequences that are absolutely beautiful. Square-Enix pumped out FFX-2 in about a year, but you’d never know it from the amount of polish on this game.
Combat is the single biggest change to FFX-2. FFX-2 has a more fun and fast-paced feel to the story and characters, and this is reflected in the battle system. Whereas FFX scrapped the Active Battle Timer and moved combat to a pure turn-based form, FFX-2 brings back the ATB. Your characters each have an action bar that fills up. Once full, the character can choose an action. Once you choose an action, another bar will begin to fill. Once full, the character will act. The length of the bars and the speed at which they fill depend on the action that you choose. So, for instance, using an item will likely happen instantaneously, while casing a powerful spell will take some time to execute. Not surprisingly, then, timing becomes a crucial factor in winning battles. You need to learn how quickly an action will take place, as stringing together several attacks in a short span of time will do combo damage to your enemies. Unlike previous Final Fantasies with the ATB, the bars fill quickly and your characters will constantly be acting. Combat is fun, fast, and frantic, especially as you learn more and more abilities.
One of the best features of the Final Fantasy series is the large party roster that you collect over the course of the game. FFX-2 drops this tradition and focuses solely on Yuna, Rikku, and Paine. Surprisingly, I found this emphasis on the small party to be a really good move. Because you’re not constantly swapping out party members, your characters will level up equally and stay even throughout the game. Also, because combat is so frantic, I’m glad that I don’t have to worry about party management and swapping out characters. The whole point to having a large party is the variety that you get from each character’s abilities. FFX-2 takes care of this a little differently through the Dress Sphere system.
The Dress Sphere system combines the concept of jobs and the sphere grid from FFX. During your adventure, you’ll collect dress spheres that give you different fighting styles. This includes favorites like the White Mage, Fighter, Thief, and Black Mage. However, a few new jobs make it into the mix. The Berserker is much like the Fighter, but with stronger attacks, higher agility, and the berserk ability. Lady Luck, a personal favorite, has a number of attacks that depend on blind luck, such as playing slots or rolling dice. The Dancer’s abilities give bonuses to the party, like regeneration or haste, for as long as her song lasts. There are about a dozen or so dresses, each with their unique skills and stats. Leveling up both increases your characters stats, but also gives you AP that powers up your dress spheres.
Adding to the complexity of the dress sphere system are the Sphere Grids that you bind the dress spheres to. Each grid has a number of nodes where you’ll plop your dress spheres. During battle, you can change spheres, and depending on the grid that you choose, changing certain dresses may give you additional abilities, like Poisonstrike or Firaga that you can use through the rest of the battle. If you traverse the entire grid, you can unlock your ultimate dress, which is sort of like a summon from FFX. The ultimate dresses are very powerful, though somewhat hard to find if you’re not looking for them. The Sphere grid does add quite a bit of depth to combat.
On the flipside, the Dress Sphere system also highlights one of the biggest complaints about Final Fantasy X-2, fan service. The party members, as well as most of the female NPCs, have a startling lack of clothing in this game. Yuna has transformed herself from a demure, robed priestess into a gun toting, Daisy Dukes sporting cutie. Half of Rikku’s outfits involve a bikini top, and a lot of the other women have even skimpier outfits. One of the minigames involves Yuna giving another woman a rub down, and you can get the girls to do some skinny dipping in a hot spring. FFX-2 does run more on the playful side than the serious side, but the above fan service does detract from this game, especially given its pedigree. You’d expect Square-Enix to be more conscious of protecting its superstar franchise from this sort of thing.
Another problem with the game is that it inevitably “borrows” a lot of elements from FFX. Pretty much all of the locations that you visit are 100% the same as FFX, and a lot of the enemies are recycled from that game as well. I suppose that it fits; after all you’re traipsing about Spira again. However, some additional variety would’ve been nice. Blitzball makes its return as well, though it’s pretty stripped down in FFX-2. Rather than controlling the action, games are automatically handled by the computer. You’ll pick your squad and watch the game unfold (though at about 10x the speed of FFX). This does pick up the pace of Blitzball, but it also takes the fun out of it.
Despite a few of the shortcomings, and the regrettable amount of unnecessary girl-on-girl action, FFX-2 is still a good entry to the Final Fantasy series. It can’t be recommended to anyone that didn’t like FFX, but it can be recommended to anyone that did. It’s not going to give you the same exhilaration of a brand new Final Fantasy game, but it does do a good job of striking a balance between being its own game and giving you more of what you loved. It’s good to see that Square-Enix is beginning to understand that the fans love these characters enough to revisit them, and I’d like to see them make more sequels like this in the future.