Two great games, one half-cocked update
Let's get the truth bombs dropped right out of the gate - if you have easy access to the IA edition of Final Fantasy X, there's little point in buying this updated version of the game. The only updates you'll find here are some nicer facial animations and a few updated songs throughout the game. That's really about it. X-2 suffers from even less updatery - none, actually. These are still very much the games you got to play across the pond, with nothing here to justify the added cost.
That said, if you, like me, only had access to the NA version of Final Fantasy X, this might be worth a look. It's forty bones as of the time of this writing, which seems a bit pricey especially given the lack of totally new content or adjustments to the gameplay, but we'll get into that later in the review. As it stands, you'll still get one classic JRPG and a good, goofy experiment on Square's part. You really can't go wrong.
If you're a young'un or didn't play Final Fantasy X or X-2 back in the day, this collection is a pretty great entry point to the series. Final Fantasy X can be infuriating in spots, but its worst moments almost entirely lay within its optional content. The main quest and thrust of the game is immensely playable, even today, and it's easy enough that anyone could pick it up and understand how to play with little to no guidance. Final Fantasy X-2 is even easier, though it's a bit faster paced due to its rapid-fire combat. Final Fantasy X is entirely turn-based, whereas Final Fantasy X-2 is definitely the forefather of stuff like Final Fantasy XIII, with a faster-paced combat system that doesn't wait for you to take your turn slowly.
Final Fantasy X disguises its darker-themed story in a beautiful, tropical world that still looks good. It's a fairly linear world, but it's chock full of little nooks and crannies to explore as well as lots of towns and settlements to visit. The vibrant world feels terrifically alive. There are loads of people standing about and wandering the roads, and while it can feel slightly artificial at times thanks to a few supporting cast members popping up on the same route a bit too often, the world feels fleshed out in a way we really haven't seen in a JRPG since.
The excellent world-building extends to the world's lore and mythology, too. Religion grips the world's inhabitants for good and bad, creating a fascinating theocracy that rules through unchanging beliefs and systems. Our merry - and not so merry - band of adventurers rock the boat, and watching the collateral damage is definitely the best part of the game. There's a cohesion to the story here that we didn't really get from past entries, making the story one of the better ones in the Final Fantasy mythos. Everything and everyone's stories come together nicely for an incredible ending.
X's combat system remains the series' best. Battles are strictly turn-based. While each character definitely starts off with a specific, traditional feel to them, the robust stat-and-skill system (called the Sphere Grid) allows you to eventually customize characters pretty much to your liking. This allows you to experiment with the cast throughout the main story, letting you get a feel for your favorites which will undoubtedly become the focus in the game's robust side content.
That side content is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of it - namely blitzball, the game's soccer-like minigame - is absolutely terrific. Other side content? Not so much. We'll get into that more in a second.
The updated visuals and music are nice and relatively inobtrusive. I still question the necessity of the updated music. Having access to the IA edition's bonus content is terrific, but the grinding and requirements to beat most of those Dark Aeons is just jaw-dropping. I doubt I'll ever be completing it. One definite perk of the IA edition is the sphere drop abilities for characters and weapons. It makes obtaining upgrade spheres easy, which also allows the player to better upgrade aeons for the Dark Aeon fights.
X-2, as a whole, is a diversion of sorts. It was a way for Square to cash in on the popularity of X, but they decided to go balls-out crazy with it and make it an action-y series of missions with a definite girl power motif to it. It's not a bad game by any means, but it feels like the direct-to-DVD sequel you'd expect from a movie franchise, not a beloved game series. Its irreverence is its greatest strength, throwing all the seriousness of the prior game straight out the window and rebooting the X world into something bizarre and delightful. The revamped combat is okay, though I greatly prefer X to this one. The sphere grid has also been tossed in favor of the garment grid, basically an on-the-fly job system that allows you to change classes during combat. It's interesting, but ultimately neither as deep or as fun as the character building in X. Sadly, it's X-2 that Square would follow in its future game XIII.
The updated music and visuals might be decent, but Square really should have opted to focus on making some gameplay updates instead. It's been said before, but not being able to skip cutscenes in X is a pain in the ass. Mind you, it's a lot easier to tolerate today than it was a decade ago, since I've got all manner of devices and distractions to entertain me while Yuna and Tidus bray like jackasses. It's a bit indicative of that disconnect Square has with its fans and its games, though recent comments by the head of SE about shifting their focus back towards core gaming experiences makes me hopeful someone there has finally listened to the masses.
X's flaws are made all the more glaring by the befuddling lack of gameplay updates. Random battles still take place far too often in later parts of the game, and while you can eventually craft or find armor that will end random battles, there's no way to adjust random battle frequency ala Bravely Default. In areas like (minor spoilers here) Inside Sin or the Omega Ruins, this can be incredibly frustrating, particularly when monster hunting.
Speaking of monster hunting, X's sidequests can be straight up awful. Monster hunting could have been fine if there was some sort of option to avoid combat with enemies you've already fought, but as it stands, in order to collect the game's rarer creatures, you'll have to fight your way through dozens, if not hundreds, of needless battles, and that kind of tedium adds up fast. Monster hunting pales in comparison with the horrors that are dodging lightning, chocobo racing, and collecting butterflies. These activities are repetitive rage-inducing lessons in horrible game design, and the fact that they haven't been made any easier in this update is easily the most frustrating part of this HD update. It wouldn't have been easy to recode, but certainly some effort could and should have been made.
X-2 hasn't been updated at all. It's still a bit of a mess in terms of its cheap-feeling graphics (they regurgitated all the environments of X and some graphics actually looked worse than X, even before the graphical update). It also still feels like a terrible cash grab, neither lasting long enough to be of consequence nor adding enough content or story to warrant its existence. At its best, it's good for a few hours of entertainment. At its worst, it's one of those games I turn off immediately if I know someone's coming to my door.
Bang for the Buck:
As of this writing, this HD collection is $40. I think it's too steep by about ten bucks. The updated music and visuals are merely okay, and while the packaging is gorgeous, there's little here to explain why it's just a shade cheaper than most new releases a couple of months or so after their release. If there had been any gameplay updates, anything at all, I might have said yes, this is totally worth it. As it stands, I wouldn't pay more than $30 for it. That seems about right for two decade-old games.
And if you have access to the IA edition of X, there's just not enough here to warrant even that price point. Unless you were a massive fan of X and want to see some very minor updates or want to have access to it on your PS3, I'd steer clear. American players, the value here is going to depend very much on your enjoyment of X. If, like me, you really enjoyed the original, definitely give this one a look, but certainly not at its current price point.
X is a deceptively huge game. The linearity can be off-putting at first for anyone expecting or wanting a traditional traversible Final Fantasy experience. That's not to say it's as devoid of interaction or life as FFXIII, but the game definitely follows a similar structure. The game opens up in its last act, allowing access to tons of side content and a few collectibles that actually wind up greatly benefitting the player. You could certainly rush through the game and see everything it has to offer relatively quickly (outside of those damned unskippable cutscenes), but for a JRPG lover who wants tons of content and places to explore, you could certainly do a lot worse. Unfortunately, nothing's been added in the update that didn't previously exist, though American players will, again, appreciate the IA content.
X-2 can and will be beat relatively quickly, though there's a fair bit of side content and fun to be had with its craziness. It's nowhere near as massive as its predecessor, but it makes a nice addition to the HD update. There are a few added videos and such to the update as well, but I have yet to check those out.
If I were a European and had a PS2 and a copy of X, I wouldn't bother with this update. There's just not enough that's been done here to warrant the price or the update, and X shouldn't be a rare game to find. For American gamers, if you played X and enjoyed it, definitely give this a look, but wait a few months for a price drop. And finally, for all you newcomers out there, I envy you. Aside from the annoyance that is Tidus, you're in for a hell of a treat.