Part 46: Another Chapter In Square's "What Could Have Been Great" Novel
Final Fantasy X-2's fourth chapter was endearingly sincere. For once it seemed like the writers finally remembered what made Final Fantasy X worth playing. As Yuna sang, we saw her share an authentic human experience in an attempt to bring communities together. It pulled the story's many disparate parts into a neat and memorable package. As superficial as it sounds, it brought a smile to my face. How a game can go from such riveting heights to Square's rendition of Half-Life 1, is beyond my comprehension.
To gain even a modicum of glee out of Final Fantasy X-2's final episode necessitates hours of unnecessary busy work. And JESUS CHRIST, there are too many minigames to count! Then, when it's all over, Final Fantasy X-2 just ends. For most players, Yuna is no closer to reconnecting with Tidus than when she started this journey. Worse yet, there's no clear understanding where any of the characters stand. Is Rikku going to play a role in rebuilding the Al Bhed homeland? Will Paine re-establish her bond with Nooj, Baralai, and Gippal? Is Yuna destined to become New Yevon's next leader? Final Fantasy X-2 leaves a myriad of loose ends unaddressed.
Final Fantasy X-2 is a lousy game. After sucking away my lifeforce for thirty plus hours, my time with the game felt wasted. I thought a studio as venerated as Square could craft something tangibly engaging in a game as saccharine as Final Fantasy X-2. By the time I saw the credits, I felt a cold shiver run down my neck. My lungs felt as if I had smoked a carton of cigarettes. Final Fantasy X-2 dies with a whimper, and so too does the Final Fantasy X mythos.
What does the "Final Fantasy" name mean today? It's a question I have racked my brain over for the past month. If the franchise lacks any narrative or mechanical similarities between entries, is it even a franchise? Final Fantasy X-2 highlights a massive dichotomy plaguing Square-Enix: they do not understand why people like Final Fantasy. Evidence of this is painfully clear. What other explanation is there to justify their shotgun approach to the series? Case and point, Final Fantasy X-2 unpins everything that made its predecessor "special."
Part 47: Unfinished Business
Moments after the concert, Yuna has a brief aside with Maechen. The wandering scholar converses with Yuna about the tragic story of Lenne and Shuyin. He reveals Lenne was known worldwide for her beautiful singing voice, but Bevelle's invasion of Zanarkand put an end to her musical career. Both Lenne and Shuyin were residents of Zanarkand during the "Machina Wars." They tragically found themselves in harm's way when attempting to stop Bevelle's use of Vegnagun.
It's indisputably an exposition dump, but enamoring nonetheless. In these scant few minutes, Lenne and Shuying feel "real." Their demise is both tragic and heartbreaking. For once, Shuyin's warpath made sense, and Lenne's tragedy provides much-needed heart to an otherwise sentimental narrative. Our task of stopping Shuyin means something now that there's context for Shuyin's actions. Even better, you want to believe Yuna when she states there's a non-violent solution.
If only this scaffolding didn't require forgetting everything you know about Final Fantasy X. To buy into Shuyin's angst, you have to accept he was dormant while Sin devastated Spira. You put up with a great deal of "plot by convenience" in Final Fantasy X-2. You have to ignore the fallaciousness of Spira welcoming Al-Bhed technology in two years. You concede that Paine's paramilitary group existed in secret. You permit a dozen character transformations. But most of all, you have to allow the game to use Lenne's Songstress dress as a lazy Chekhov's gun.
During the concert, the Songstress dress projected holographic images of Zanarkand with relative ease. We are told Yuna somehow "engaged" Lenne's memories while singing. But for whatever reason, the dress never reacts when Yuna confronts Shuyin. In the final moments of the game, the costume magically unleashes the soul of Lenne. Yuna REALLY could have used Lenne's help three or four hours before this happened! Did the writers realize these pitfalls? Jeez, I sure hope they did. Did they give a shit?
Part 48: The Game Should Have Ended After The Concert
I referred to chapter four as being Final Fantasy X-2's "red-headed stepchild." The entire episode is a series of vignettes and fetch quests. Then, in its final hours, it subjects you to a rollercoaster of emotions during the concert scene. It's a Frankenstein's monster of an episode, but at least it ends well. Chapter five is an absolute tire fire. It is the drizzly shits of Final Fantasy X-2.
If there's one silver lining, it's the player can get as little or much utility out of chapter five as they want. After conversing with Maechen, Leblanc appears out of nowhere and informs Yuna that Nooj, Baralai, and Gippal are deep within the Farplane. With few viable options, Yuna and company endeavor to jump directly into the Farplane. With the ultimate premise at hand, the player can elect to immerse themselves with loose ends or drop immediately into the game's final set piece.
Because life isn't fair, I elected to go with the former rather than the latter. In the grand scheme of things, chapter five comprises less than four hours of the player's time. While I had no aspirations of getting the "True Ending," there were a few plot points I wanted to resolve. For all of Final Fantasy X-2's shortcomings, and there are many, it ostensibly features the same cast of characters I grew to love in Final Fantasy X. However their stories may conclude, I wanted closure.
The format for tying these loose ends is less than stellar. Upon manning the helm of the Celsius, the overworld becomes emblazoned with several "Hotspot" notifications. The number of hotspots depends on the actions of the player during the previous chapters. Getting the last hotspot opportunities range the gamut of reasonable logic. Most events occur if the player completed specific side quests. For example, concluding Kimahri's story arc happens if the player sought optional scenes at Mt. Gagazet. Other hotspots only play out if the player is inscrutable.
Take for example Wakka and Lulu's final moment in Besaid. Watching Wakka confidently name his child only occurs if the player talked to Beclem using the CommSpheres. Saving Wakka during chapter one, or stopping the fiends in chapter three, amounts to JACK SHIT! Another problem is the hotspots range a broad spectrum of interactivity. The hotspot in the Moonflow culminates in a short cutscene where the characters statically pose during a concert. The hotspot at Bikanel Desert is a full-fledged side quest culminating with several dungeons and boss battles. There's no rhyme or reason as to why this is an issue.
Part 48: Wakka And Lulu Are (STILL) The Best; Dona, Barthello, And Issaru Not So Much
While I groused about the structure of Wakka and Lulu's story arc, there's no doubting how nicely it ends. Watching the two not have their unconditional love end in melodrama is a refreshing change of pace. Wakka triumphantly naming his child, to the loud applause of his friends and family, was a fulfilling conclusion. A similar sentiment applies to Lulu. After acting as Yuna's de facto matriarch for years, her transition into motherhood segues to a feeling of independence. Additionally, Lulu's cold exterior appears permanently thawed.
Our time with Wakka and Lulu feels resonant because those characters mean something. We watched them evolve over the course of a forty hour adventure, so there's a feeling of obligation in seeing the conclusion of their character arcs. The arbitrary design parameters are ignorable thanks to the strength of the characters. The same cannot be said when Final Fantasy X-2 tries to apply the same format to supporting characters like Dona or Issaru. Both characters get as much screen time as Wakka or Lulu, and both feel painfully trite in execution.
Take, for example, Dona and Barthello's romance subplot. For ten hours the two have masqueraded as cheap knockoffs of Romeo and Juliet. It's the most sterile star-crossed lovers story arc I have seen in a while. Both were torn between Spira's dominant factions and found themselves on different sides of Final Fantasy X-2's "cold war." We are never clued into why they joined their respective parties. Furthermore, the game never conveys what impact this division has on their relationship. Then, they suddenly reconcile their differences, and their storyline ends.
Annoyingly, Square carbon-copies the same format for Issaru. After hinting at Issaru's irreconcilable differences with his brothers, the gang's all back together after Yuna's concert. We don't even see the three brothers talk out their differences. Final Fantasy X-2 gives us the payoff without the preamble. Everyone pretends the months and years they spent hating each other didn't happen. Worse of all, Issaru is happily leading New Yevon during its time of need.
I know many will counter Yuna's concert made this possible, but that dances around the more significant issue. Outside of Final Fantasy X's leading party, none of the hotspot recipients deserve their story resolutions. We never witnessed Dona or Issaru working toward achieving their goals. Nor do we watch either in turmoil over their previous circumstances. When both end up getting their "happily ever after" ending, it feels cheap. In a game that wants to craft a sense of freedom and liberation, it's laughable how most of the story is served on a silver platter of "convenience."
Part 49: THEY RUINED BLITZBALL AND KIMAHRI!
I'll come clean with another admission. I hate Blitzball. It's a glorified math problem that controls like garbage. Furthermore, the recruitment system was a colossal pain in the ass and never felt like an efficient use of time. That aside, I know people LIKE Blitzball. If you fall into the latter camp, more power to you! Unfortunately,
Blitzball in Final Fantasy X-2 is an odd beast. Foremost, the minigame plays itself. Players assemble a Blitzball team and watch the results play out like a simulation. Victories and defeats feel less like accomplishments, and more like results from a slot machine. I'm confident a small team at Square designed this version of Blitzball out of obligation, and none of them worked on the previous version. That's the only explanation I can think of, as this version of Blitzball is a complete regression from Final Fantasy X.
Then there's Kimahri. HOT DAMN does Final Fantasy X-2 take the piss out of Kimahri! Final Fantasy X-2 spends what feels like a lifetime building up a looming battle between Kimahri and Garik Ronso. Each represents two distinct perspectives on how the Ronso should handle the Guado. Kimahri seeks peace; Garik wishes for vengeance. When the two finally settle their differences, you might expect a cinematic boss battle. You would be wrong. In the "true ending" the two trade punches and eventually realize the fruitlessness of violence.
I have meant to talk about the variability of the final hotspots and now seems like the time. I understand this scene plays out differently depending on how the player handles Garik Ronso in the previous chapters. It's possible Garik leads an army of Ronso into Macalania Woods to exterminate the Guado. My dissatisfaction still stands. Kimahri comes across as a total goober in both outcomes. In the better ending, he negligently allows Garik to undermine his rule until the final chapter. In the worse outcome, he willingly sanctions an act of genocide. Either result isn't a great look for Kimahri.
What baffles me is the same writing team that wrote Wakka's story arc, wrote Kimahri's. Wakka's storyline leaves an impression of empowerment, but the same cannot be said of Kimahri. Kimahri appears to lack every possible attribute of a capable leader. Time and time again, he hesitates to address pressing issues dividing his people. Instead, he delegates his responsibilities to Yuna. Seriously, Yuna might as well be leading the Ronso by the time Final Fantasy X-2 ends.
Part 50: The Other Hotspots Are Okay. They're Just Okay
Feigning interest in the remaining hotspots is difficult. While some resolve compelling character arcs, others are downright painful. A few are worth talking about, but for brevity's sake, let's group them into a single table. As with previous blogs, each side quest is accompanied by a grade and my final impressions.
|Location of Side Quest||Pictures||Final Impressions and Grade|
Fuck this side quest! Was anything at stake while Rin's robots went haywire? Alas, the world will never know. I enjoyed watching Rikku eat a serving of humble pie, but this is ignoring the elephant in the room. I do not understand how the clues I collected corroborated Rikku as the guilty party. Plus, this isn't exactly a great payoff! For a scene Final Fantasy X-2 scaffolds for hours, you'd hope the results would be more tangible.
|Mushroom Rock Road|
Good to see you can count on an arena sequence in any role-playing game! The fight sequence at Mushroom Rock Road is about as ho-hum as it gets. A flurry of unnamed soldiers confronts Yuna before she battles Elma. What is there to love?
Tobli is a pox on this game.
I'll be damned! Final Fantasy X-2 crafted a story moment worth its weight in gold! For once, I felt like my prior decision-making translated to something appreciable. Leading the Guado back to their homeland was given the gravity it deserved. At no point did Tobli or O'aka XIII pop out to sell Tromell some bullshit. Likewise, it's the small touches that go the distance. Locating a young Guado, and learning how he made friends with two Ronso, was touching without being schmaltzy.
Where do I even begin with the Via Infinito? First, it sucks. It sucks a lot! This dungeon is a complete and utter betrayal of everything that makes playing Final Fantasy X-2 even remotely engaging. Corridors recycle ad nauseam; confrontations feel arbitrarily burdensome; the player's sense of progression is substandard; the art design is atrocious. I gave the dungeon my best try due to the two Crimson Spheres within its depths. I would be hard-pressed to explain if I felt it was worth it. I guess there's a story to be had here, but I couldn't stomach the mechanics that held it together.
This hotspot was a waste of my time! It's ugly, boring, and no goddamned fun to play. While most hotspots are mercifully short, the one in the Thunder Plains plays out far longer than it should. It exists to reunite Cid with the rest of his family, but did the game honestly need to subject me to TWO boss battles to achieve this? Likewise, the cookie-cutter dungeon you waltz through is BULLSHIT! I have seen dungeons programmed using RPG Maker with more character than this shit!
This side quest is a fucking trash fire. Holy shit, the shooting minigame whenever you locate a Cactuar is mind-numbingly terrible! Likewise, the final boss battle against Angra Mainyu is unreasonably laborious. Having any hope of beating it requires hours of grinding. It's a tedious time-sink with debatable rewards.
Before we transition into Final Fantasy X-2's coda, let's review the side quests I outright refused to try. Due to my disdain for Chocobos, I avoided the Chocobo ranch mission like the Bubonic Plague. This decision means I never saw the Clam Land Ruins or M'ihen Fiend Colony. It's tough to feel invested in areas that require a massive time investment for minimal gain. This sentiment applies to the Den of Woe and Via Infinito. I also fucked myself regarding the Djose Temple hotspot. I spent hours digging for shit in Bikanel Desert, not knowing I was making the final Djose Temple hotspot nigh impossible.
I have said my piece about the Crimson Spheres on the previous blog. . She should have been the connective tissue between Final Fantasy X and X-2. However, for reasons I'll never understand, her character arc is hidden behind collectible items. It also hurts the Crimson Spheres feel less like character development, and more like fanservice.
Part 51: Here We Go Again
Let's juxtapose back to the main story. After you decide to set into motion the game's conclusion, Brother triumphantly declares this the Gullwings' final mission. Shinra reveals he's leaving the group after Vegnagun's defeat, and other characters appear to have plans of their own. Once the team comes together, they set off for the inner depths of the Farplane. The player has a choice on how to get there. Any of the previously explored temples provide a viable pathway.
Fun story, I thought you had to use the temples to start the final level of the game. I spent three hours trying to interact with the holes at each of the temples, to no avail. When I found out I was supposed to talk to Brother, I was furious. Until that point, you see monsters flood several cities, and you go to the temples to put an end to their chaos. The game primes you into thinking accessing the Farplane involves jumping into the holes.
HOLY SHIT is the first dungeon in the Farplane ugly! It straight up looks like the Xen levels from Half-Life, and that game came out five years BEFORE Final Fantasy X-2. You jump on brown platforms in what appears to be the black void of space. To make matters worse, you fight an onslaught of Dark Aeons you have seen countless times prior. Even in the game's final hours, it struggles to craft a genuine sense of discovery. FOR FUCK'S SAKE, HOW MANY TIMES DO I NEED TO FIGHT ANIMA?
The art design of the Farplane is wildly scattershot. While this level appears to be a Cthulhu-inspired hellscape, we immediately return to the pastoral flower plain from earlier. Then the game juxtaposes to an electrified metropolis before Yuna confronts Shuyin on floating mechanical cogs. The disparate set pieces make it impossible to get your bearings straight. Worse, it makes pinpointing what purpose the Farplane serves to the story, moot. If the designers don't commit to a singular vision to their final level, the game cannot use its art design to establish a compelling sense of "place."
After the Dark Aeons meet an untimely demise, Yuna encounters a portal to the final level of the Farplane. Out of the woodwork, Leblanc appears and exclaims she has an interest in making sure Nooj is safe. LeBlanc's lines of dialogue are as terrible as they usually are, and her romantic bellyaching is in constant conflict with the game's more serious moments. While I listen to her pine about "Noojie-Woojie," the game resolves Paine's emotional baggage and presents Nooj's proposed self-sacrifice. I'm a hack writer, and even I knew this was poor juxtaposing!
Part 52: The Last Level Of This Game Can Go Fuck Itself
Are you still reading this blog? Are you? Okay, I need you to answer something for me. Has there EVER been a "GOOD" puzzle in a Final Fantasy game? I have played a half-dozen Final Fantasy games, and I don't think I can name a single puzzle I have liked. They're all crap! They are impediments to progressing the story, and nothing more. The piano sequence in Final Fantasy X-2 is the biggest pile of shit I have ever seen my entire life.
The first musical puzzle is best resolved using brute force. The final level is portioned off by electrified gates that contain a horrible boss should you attempt to pass through it. To avoid fighting this monster, players need to locate several musical plates and perform a melody on a console. The plates are spread across each level, and there's nothing in the environment to assist you in putting the musical notes in the correct order. I rectified this problem by using a guide.
After deactivating the second barrier, Yuna locates an injured Gippal. Following some joshing around, Gippal presents Paine with another Crimson Sphere. This Crimson Sphere showcases a fun scene containing Paine, Nooj, Baralai, and Gippal. It's a decent moment, but a painful reminder of the structural limitations of Paine's storytelling. Unless you've watched the previous Crimson Spheres, this scene comes out of nowhere. There's nothing in the main story that articulates Paine's inter-personal relationships before the events of Final Fantasy X-2.
But there's another proverbial "elephant in the room." That looming monstrosity would be the final piano puzzle. This puzzle may well be the worst puzzle I have seen in a Final Fantasy game. Let me tell you something; I have been through The Temple of the Ancients in Final Fantasy VII and Ultimecia's Castle in Final Fantasy VIII. Those levels have their fair share of obtuse puzzles, but they are child's play compared to the piano puzzle in Final Fantasy X-2. It's almost as if the developers challenged themselves to make the most frustrating puzzle in JRPG history.
The simple act of moving from one platform to another never ceases to be infuriating. Your sense of spatiality is FUCKED! Jumping in one direction, only to find Yuna on the wrong musical plate, utterly sucks. Another frustration is there's nothing in the game prior that prepares you for this puzzle. The melody we construct isn't something we have heard before. It's neither a sappy J-Pop tune nor is it one of Final Fantasy X-2's MANY leitmotifs. It's a puzzle that exists solely to impede your progress and does nothing to direct you toward understanding your surroundings.
Part 53: Final Fantasy X-2 Is A Tour de force In Superficiality
You'd have to be a total asshole to deny the parallels between Final Fantasy X and X-2. Both games present looming world-ending monstrosities as their bookends. How Yuna goes about defeating Vegnagun is eerily similar to how she went about defeating Sin. She first starts with individual body parts before going in for the kill. I'm not suggesting the writers of Final Fantasy X-2 plagiarized their source material, but the similarities put Final Fantasy X-2's shortcomings under a spotlight.
For as ridiculous as Sin may have looked, Final Fantasy X did a spectacular job of establishing our battles against it as a test of our might. The direction also did a tremendous job of framing Sin as towering over Yuna's party. No such framing is accomplished with Vegnagun. It's a moth-like monster that can sprout a large gun from its body. All we know about Vegnagun is it's a massive weapon that destroys indiscriminately. Unlike Sin, Vegnagun isn't used to surface vulnerabilities within our cast.
When Yuna meets up with Nooj, he shares his plan to sacrifice his life to put a stop to Shuyin. Predictably, Yuna convinces Nooj to not follow through thanks to a heavy-handed speech about the fruitlessness of sacrifice. I was half expecting Yuna to say something on par with "people die if they are killed." Everyone breaks up into teams of three, with each group attacking different parts of Vegnagun. Before they set-off, Yuna presents her plan on how to stop Shuyin. She plans on impersonating Lenne to persuade Shuyin to return to the Farplane. Considering Yuna just dressed down Nooj for his unnecessarily elaborate plan, this does not seem like an improvement. According to Yuna, sacrifice is "bad," but emotionally manipulating a vengeful spirit is "good."
Predictably, everyone sucks at their job. Leblanc is offed within minutes, and Nooj's team struggles to stand their ground. As you might expect, this means Yuna ends up picking up the slack. If Yuna's party always ends up fighting Vegnagun, why go through the pomp and circumstance of presenting three teams? AND EACH FIGHT PLAYS OUT EXACTLY LIKE THE BATTLES AGAINST SIN! Did Square think I wouldn't notice? If that's the case, the developers apparently think I'm an idiot!
When Yuna reaches Vegnagun's "core," the game exploits nostalgia by having Jecht and Auron spew bits of advice. It sucks the game uses two of the most engaging characters from Final Fantasy X in such a cheap and haphazard manner. To have them billow Vegnagun's elemental weaknesses feels like a complete betrayal. These characters were integral to Final Fantasy X, but non-factors in Final Fantasy X-2. Would it have killed the developers to include a scene where Yuna talks to the spirits of Auron, Jecht, and Braska? NOPE! This game is too cheap for such silly nonsense!
Part 54: Will The "True" Final Fantasy X-2 Ending Please Stand Up?
Surprise! Yuna's plan doesn't work! Luckily, the final battle against Shuyin may well be the best part of chapter five. Watching Shuyin use Tidus' moves was a fun callback. In fact, I would argue the concluding moments with Lenne almost redeem chapter five. Watching Lenne comfort Shuyin as she leads him to the Farplane, may be one of the more stunning moments in the game. But it's too little too late.
Now it's time for me to express a potentially controversial opinion. I think the "Normal Ending" should be the canonical ending. There's something about Nooj, Baralai, and Gippal's speech that gets me. Their plea for everyone in Spira to pursue their own destiny feels oddly cathartic. The same goes for Yuna's cutscene. Watching Yuna fly into the sky cements her as being entirely liberated from the confines that defined her in Final Fantasy X. She's free to explore her surroundings as she sees fit, in whatever role she wishes to assume. She feels independent in a world just recently freed from the shackles of predetermination. I couldn't write a better bookend for Final Fantasy X-2 even if I tried. But then there's the "True Ending."
I would argue the "True Ending" is the final proverbial nail in Final Fantasy X-2's coffin. Having the ultimate payoff of Final Fantasy X-2 be Tidus' resurrection is tone-deaf. There's something about the game viewing Tidus as "completing" Yuna that doesn't sit well with me. Yuna's growing independence fades away in favor of a heteronormative relationship. Worse, the storytelling cannot be bothered to scaffold this event properly. Tidus is brought back from the ether not because of Yuna's direct actions, but after an offer from the fayth of Bahamut.
Every attempt to justify the "True Ending" is fucking terrible. Tidus muses he doesn't entirely understand how he's back. He theorizes the fayth gathered his memories together and willed him back into existence. After hugging and fawning, the two affirm their love for each other. To watch a character as empowering as Yuna, have her character arc boil down to "getting her man back," is deflating. Part of the appeal of Final Fantasy X's ending was that Yuna had to forge her own path. With the return of Tidus, that no longer feels the case. And let's not forget how poignant Tidus' death was in Final Fantasy X. I hate this ending. I hate Final Fantasy X-2. I hate Yuna. I hate Tidus. I hate Square-Enix. I hate video games.
The ending to Final Fantasy X is an exercise in everything the Final Fantasy franchise should aspire to be. It dishes out a bitter cocktail of heartbreak and tragedy in a world defined by jubilation. The ending took me by surprise, and I didn't entirely understand how I felt about it when I first played the game. To have any hope of expressing the emotions I felt when I watched Tidus dematerialize, is an impossible task. It's one thing that Final Fantasy X-2 doesn't make me experience what Final Fantasy X made me feel; it's another when Final Fantasy X-2 completely unpins everything I loved about Final Fantasy X.
Part 55: Final Fantasy X-2 Is a Factory Of Sadness
Final Fantasy X-2 is a game eager to please. From the very beginning, it subjects you to a neon-drenched pop-concert, and never looks back. Every step of the way it attempts to engage its audience through brute force. It uses J-Pop, stunning visuals, and enticing outfits to craft a sense of playful adventure. Given that; I should just say what I think all of you already know: I did not like this game. I will not play it in a box. I will not play it with a fox. I will not play it in the air. I will not play it at a fair.
There's plenty to enjoy in Final Fantasy X-2. I like the dressphere system as a concept. Having an item-based leveling system isn't an insane proposition. The execution is weak, but it's undeniably ambitious. The reformation of the Sphere Grid into the more user-friendly Garment Grids is another sound idea. This tweak, coupled with the return of character classes, should be a recipe for success. But when it comes down to execution, Final Fantasy X-2 wallows in its filth.
Its mechanics try to draw you in, but they are easily exploited. Bubbly charm defines the tone of the story, but this is in direct conflict with Final Fantasy X. The game bills Yuna as a strong and independent force, but her characterization is inconsistent. Additionally, let's not forget the MANY times Final Fantasy X-2's voyeurism felt downright exploitative. Moment to moment, Final Fantasy X-2 struggles at the most basic levels. The side quests are many, but few are capable of actual world building. And the story Final Fantasy X-2 finally commits to is only tangentially related to its initial premise. "Shotgunning" doesn't even begin to describe Final Fantasy X-2.
Final Fantasy X-2 caused me to question the appeal of Square-Enix as a developer. The fact they do not understand one of the crowning achievements of Final Fantasy X is one of life's greatest mysteries. Lessons are not learned at Square-Enix. Nothing they have achieved after Hironobu Sakaguchi's departure signified anything real or abstract. The accomplishments of one entry in the Final Fantasy franchise doesn't translate to the next. This series is less a franchise, and more an abstraction populated with familiar tropes and visuals. They follow none of the known rules of game development. Square-Enix does not make good games; good video games just happen to them.
And before anyone comments, I'm not in the business of telling people what they can and cannot enjoy. I know people love Final Fantasy X-2. To those of you that fall into that camp, I'm all ears. I want to know more about your love for this game. I promise you I will not make fun of you. I find it difficult to imagine those who enjoy Final Fantasy X-2 revel in Final Fantasy X's melodrama. Likewise, I cannot foresee those who champion Final Fantasy X's dower moments as appreciative of Final Fantasy X-2's unabashed bubbliness. These two games are the video game equivalent of non-overlapping magisteria.
All this aside, my final recommendation is to avoid Final Fantasy X-2. Perhaps it should be played as a harbinger of Square's future, but that's a depressing perspective to maintain. I view Final Fantasy X-2 the same way Square's executives see the game. It's a cheaply made cash-grab during a dire time in Square's corporate history. Final Fantasy X-2 recalls fanservice throughout history but struggles to craft memorable moments of its own. That is why I cannot in good faith recommend this game. It's profoundly saddening and ultimately exhausting in ways it shouldn't be. And it is on that note I put a close to this long and disappointing journey.