cerza's Final Fantasy X-2 International + Last Mission (PlayStation 2) review

Charlie's Angels+Final Fantasy X = Final Fantasy X-2.

Final Fantasy X-2 is Squaresoft’s first attempt at making a full blown sequel to an installment in the long running Final Fantasy series, and can be summed up on one simple equation: Final Fantasy X + Charlie’s Angels = Final Fantasy X-2. In Final Fantasy X-2 you play as Yuna, Final Fantasy X’s summoner extraordinaire. The story picks up two years after the end of Final Fantasy X and the defeat of Sin. With the Calm now settled over Spira, the people have become obsessed with unlocking the secrets of Spira’s past, so they may piece together the history of their world. This is being done by recovering spheres from a thousand years ago and older. If you remember the spheres from Final Fantasy X, then you know they are magical orbs that play back video that has been recorded into them. In other words, they are sort of like a T.V., DVD Player, and the DVD all in one. The people who hunt for spheres are called Sphere Hunters, and after being shown a mysterious sphere, Yuna, Rikku, and their new friend Paine have teamed up Brother and some other Al Bhed to form their own group of sphere hunters. While the Al Bhed simply wants to sell the spheres, Yuna’s goal in acquiring them is a much more personal one. How the story progresses beyond this point is entirely dependant on what missions the player decides to undertake and complete. That’s right missions. Final Fantasy X-2 is divided into five chapters each with their own levels or missions. There is no roaming or traveling in this game like in previous Final Fantasy titles. You simply move from one mission to the next. You have a choice on what missions you want to do though, because unlike previous Final Fantasies, Final Fantasy X-2 is almost entirely nonlinear. A good 90% of the games content is purely optional, but skipping over it isn’t the best idea, because you will be missing out on some important details to the story, such as Paine’s past. You will also find the final dungeon and final boss to be extremely difficult to beat without the rewards you acquire by doing the optional missions. You have the air ship available to you from the very beginning of the game, and with it you have access to every location in Spira. What ending you get, and what takes place during it, will also change depending on how close you are to achieving one hundred percent completion of the game, as well as what missions you finished. This is both a good and bad feature, because on the one hand it lets the player take control giving the game much more of a sandbox like feel. The player is able to progress and explore and his/her own pace, and do things as he/she wishes, allowing the experience to last from anywhere between 10-50 hours or more. However, the downside to this is that because it is impossible to get one hundred percent completion in one play through, the player will always be missing something. Be it because they chose to pass it up, or because they chose to do something that closed off the option to do something else. For this reason the story is never as strong as it should be, and players will more than likely still have questions and be left unsatisfied when they have beaten the game. Final Fantasy X-2’s game play takes a huge step backward when compared to its predecessor, Final Fantasy X. The sphere grid is gone and has been replaced with the old linear level system of character advancement, leaving players with very little control over how their characters advance. The Final Fantasy Job System has been revived in Final Fantasy X-2 and comes in the form of dress spheres. How this works is you can equip each of your three characters with a sort of mini sphere grid, some of which provide stat bonuses for the character equipping it. Once the grid is equipped you can fill the empty slots on it with dress spheres. The dress spheres you place in the grid determines what jobs that character can change into during combat. That’s right, during combat. Unlike previous Final Fantasy titles that had the job system where you changed jobs outside of combat, in Final Fantasy X-2 your characters may change jobs on the fly both inside and outside of combat. This makes for some interesting encounters and is definitely a positive feature, which could have been even more positive if Final Fantasy X-2’s battle system wasn’t a complete mess.

Final Fantasy X-2 uses a variant of the old Final Fantasy Active Battle System. In this system each monster and character has their own attack gauge. When the gauge is full the character or enemy may input a command and attack its target. However, there is the twist. The delay that used to be in effect while you were sifting through your inventory and menus, and kept you from getting annihilated while you chose what to have your characters do, has been eliminated. This means that as soon as the attack gauge is full and the command to attack has been given, the enemy or character will attack. This allows you and your enemies to chain attacks together for massive damage. This makes the pace of battle a very frantic and frustrating one, because enemies attack rather quickly and too frequently. You can’t take the time to strategize during combat, or sift through big inventories, in Final Fantasy X-2, because if you do then even the weakest enemies in the game will tear you to shreds. It should also be noted that there is a lack of balance in the enemies you encounter. Players can be running around a zone doing just fine, but then suddenly come up against a massive enemy they can’t touch, which will K.O. their entire party in only a few attacks. This is annoying to say the least, and only exhibits an overall lack of polish.

The additional problem Final Fantasy X-2’s battle system creates is that there is a delay gauge that appears when using a spell or ability. This gauge must be filled in order for the ability or spell to be executed. This takes many precious seconds to happen, during which time the enemy can usually get several attacks in, dealing a healthy amount of damage to your characters. Once the gauge has been filled and the attack carried out, whatever ability or spell you were waiting to execute just feels underpowered both in the damage it deals and in the visual effect displayed. For this reason the caster classes are largely useless, because the melee classes can attack more frequently for less damage, dealing more damage over all, in the same amount of time it takes for a caster to cast their one big spell. The jumping system also makes a return in Final Fantasy X-2. Veterans who remember Final Fantasy VII will no doubt remember this feature. Sadly, the jumping system worked much better in the previous Final Fantasies that it was in than it does in Final Fantasy X-2. Rather than simply hit circle to jump from platform to platform, in Final Fantasy X-2 you must be at the appropriate spot on the platform and time hitting circle just right when you get to that point after you have a running start. The camera usually gets in the way here and makes finding that point a challenge. What’s even worse is that once you do find that point, getting your character to jump only seems to happen to when the game wants it to, rather than when it is supposed to, or when you want it to. Overall, this only exhibits a recipe for frustration and makes Final Fantasy X-2’s platforming sequences a royal pain in the bum. You can look forward to playing through the same platforming areas and same environments over and over again as well, because graphically, everything in Final Fantasy X-2 has been ripped directly from Final Fantasy X. Practically everything from character models, to environments and locations, monster models, and spell effects is identical to what you saw in Final Fantasy X. The new characters are just modified avatars of the old ones and the same goes for the new locations, with the exception of the temple atop Mount Gagazet, which you visit in the games beginning. The temple is both beautiful and stunningly gorgeous to look at. It’s a shame that there is nothing else like it in the game. Yuna and Rikku have both been given a visual makeover. Yuna’s character has completely changed from how she was in Final Fantasy X, while Rikku remains the same. The new character Paine looks good, and is often the cynical voice of sanity for the trio. Sadly, all three girls constantly suffer from either a distinct lack of clothing, and/or looking completely ridiculous regardless of what job costume you choose to have them adorn.

The pre-rendered FMV sequences Square has become known for also return in Final Fantasy X-2. There is notably less of them than there was in Final Fantasy X. However, they look better than those of Final Fantasy X by leaps and bounds, and show just how much technology has advanced in the few years since Final Fantasy X and X-2’s release. Unfortunately, these sequences don’t come at the best times. Many of them arrive when the games story falls completely flat. For instance, there is a recurring motif in Final Fantasy X-2 of “the world is in danger! Let’s save it by singing a song and dancing.” After this you are treated to a beautifully rendered scene of the girls singing and dancing to pop songs while the rest of the world puts down its weapons and becomes friends again. It’s campy girl power to the max, and will have most rational gamers looking for something that will allow them to hurt themselves.

Sound wise Final Fantasy X-2 is fantastic, but definitely different from what fans have come to expect from a Final Fantasy title. There are only the faintest hints of the old tunes everyone knew and loved in Final Fantasy X, and much of it has been replaced by music with a distinct 70’s pop flare reminiscent of Charlie’s Angels. That’s not to say that the more laid back and mundane tones Final Fantasy has become known for are absent, because they aren’t. They are just fewer in number than expected. This isn’t to say that any of it is bad either, because it’s not. Final Fantasy X-2 has one of the best sound tracks of any Final Fantasy title, and has what is probably the best closing song of any Final Fantasy. The song “1000 words” is nothing short of memorable and fits into the game perfectly. All of the original voice actors return to bring the cast of characters alive. Along with the new actors added to the cast, they all do a superb job of bringing the cast to life and making an already large likeable cast even larger. You will really be able to get a sense of the characters thanks to their talent. For instance, one of the chants you will hear at the beginning of a battle will have Yuna saying, “gimme a Y,” while Rikku shouts, “gimme an R,” and then the ever sarcastic Paine says flatly, “gimme a break.”

There is also a ton of extra content available in Final Fantasy X-2 to keep players going when they are tired of questing. Blitzball returns, but is watered down and more hands off this time around. You can capture Chocobo’s again and take part in a number of faire like activities in the Calm Lands. Along with a few others, there is also the Gunners Gauntlet. This is a mini game that has Yuna running down a stretch of land shooting and killing monsters in real time. You get more ammo, as well as new types of ammo on the way, and your goal is to reach the end point within the time limit while you rack up a certain number of points by killing enemies. It is highly reminiscent of Squares old Horror RPG Parasite Eve, and is a different type of mini game than what is usually found in a Final Fantasy. Despite the problematic camera and clunky controls, it’s a lot of fun.

Overall, Final Fantasy X-2 isn’t a bad game. It just suffers from an overall lack of polish and being forced to stand in the shadow of one of the greatest RPG’s the Playstation 2 has to offer. If you can get the full ending, or “perfect” ending as people call it, you will find it to be extremely satisfying. Unfortunately, this ending is almost impossible to get without a walkthrough, and can’t be done in one play through, which detracts from the experience. After all, players who couldn’t stick it out for the first play through aren’t going to be sticking it out for a second one. What Square should have done is make the “perfect ending” the standard ending, so that the story would come full circle and complete itself, and then make a series of alternate endings and joke endings that aren’t variations of the games current standard ending. Also, given the changes Square made in Final Fantasy X-2, it would have helped if there was tutorial level at the games very beginning to explain everything. Instead, there isn’t one, and players will find themselves simply thrown into the fray, which is very overwhelming and doesn’t make a good first impression. Also, Final Fantasy X-2 is so nonlinear it lacks direction in most cases. This can make it rather frustrating to play without a guide, and the frantic mess that is the game’s battle system is doesn’t help either.

Final Fantasy X-2 is impossible to recommend to anyone who hasn’t played and/or beaten Final Fantasy X. This is because by playing Final Fantasy X-2 you spoil Final Fantasy X, and you won’t understand the games world and story. In the end there are only two groups of people that Final Fantasy X-2 can be recommended to. These groups are those who played Final Fantasy X, loved it and want more, and those who played Final Fantasy X and weren’t satisfied with the ending. If you can get the perfect ending, then Final Fantasy X-2 should cure your itch for a better ending for the cast of characters so many love, as well as for more Final Fantasy X. However, just know that the Final Fantasy X-2 experience won’t be as good as the Final Fantasy X one was.

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