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Surviving Final Fantasy X-2: Episode 1 - Dear God, What Did They Do To FFX? Why Is This Game "DISASTERIFFIC?!"

Part 1: Why Was This Game Made?

Before you wallow in my misery, put your face close to your computer screen and look at my question for a few seconds. I want you to answer my question. Do it. I'm not kidding, do it now. What did they do to Final Fantasy X? What did they do to Yuna? What did they do to Rikku? What did they do to Spira? WHAT DID THEY DO?

Why do I always end up developing a splitting headache when I play Final Fantasy X-2?
Why do I always end up developing a splitting headache when I play Final Fantasy X-2?

Of life's many quandaries, this is the easiest to answer. Basic research on Square's corporate history surfaced their sorry state of affairs when Final Fantasy X-2 began development. For those not "in the know," around 1999 to 2000 Square thought their eye for technical excellence went hand in hand with moviemaking. The result was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and the near $95 million write-off damn near bankrupted the company. In a bind, Square developed a three-pronged approach to regain their financial solvency. This plan included:

  1. Cut a deal with Disney to make Kingdom Hearts.
  2. Make a sequel to Final Fantasy X.
  3. Buy their leading competition, Enix Corporation.

Each of these bullet points warrants a doctoral dissertation, but for this series, we will set our sights on Final Fantasy X-2. When you accept that Final Fantasy X-2 is a shameless cash grab during Square's darkest hour, its missteps become immediately forgivable. I think Final Fantasy X-2 is a disappointing game, but context is everything. Sometimes forest rangers need to start fires for the greater good. If a shitty sequel to Final Fantasy X guarantees the franchise's continual existence, I can live with that.

Everything falls apart if you examine Final Fantasy X-2 as a self-contained entry in the mainline franchise. Its combat system is an odd half-measure between turn-based and real-time combat. The character class system is visually appealing but painfully unbalanced. Character outfits are equal parts objectifying and exploitative. The writing is a massive regression compared to Final Fantasy X. The story is a non-factor for enormous swaths of the game. None of the new characters feel memorable. Objectively, you would be hard-pressed NOT to refer to Final Fantasy X-2 as a "disappointment."

Oh no, someone warn Paul Verhoeven!
Oh no, someone warn Paul Verhoeven!

What surprised me most of all is how much of Final Fantasy X-2 is Square carbon copying shit from their design "playbook." Not only that, but its reliance on Japanese pop-culture magnifies my impression a corporate committee was in charge of its design. Whether it be the return of ATB combat or the use of tired and true storytelling tropes, so much of Final Fantasy X-2 is an exercise of contrivance. The worst is yet to come when the game tries to invert your expectations. Final Fantasy X-2's many pivots come across as failed attempts to draw inspiration from Final Fantasy VII or X.

Part 2: I Am In A World Of Shit

WHO THE FUCK IS PAINE? WHERE AM I? WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
WHO THE FUCK IS PAINE? WHERE AM I? WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?

Final Fantasy X embodies a timelessness that ensures it will stand the test of time. I enjoyed how Final Fantasy X drew on ancient Japanese culture for its narrative. It is important to remember how the backdrop of Spira fit FFX's tone perfectly. This sentiment does not apply to Final Fantasy X-2. By chapter two, the game is a painful reminder of the new millennium. The game spends most of its time paying homage to modern Japanese popular culture instead of providing Yuna emotional closure. As beautiful as Final Fantasy X-2 can be, I couldn't help but feel its visuals were wasted. Yuna is the main character, and in theory, undergoes a dramatic character transformation. Unfortunately, the game steadfastly refuses to scaffold what set this change into motion, or why we should care.

Final Fantasy X featured a sophisticated and somber setting. The characters had to earn their jovial respites in a journey ultimately defined by sacrifice and selflessness. This thematic balance set the world of Spira apart from other JRPG settings. Exploring the world of Final Fantasy X made it clear we were exploring a culture in its death throes. Families were devastated, and cities lay in ruins. While most look at Final Fantasy X as a pleasurable travelogue, it never pulled its punches. Need I remind you, half of the story boiled down to a young adult confronting his abusive and alcoholic father.

Instead, we have this shit.
Instead, we have this shit.

For X-2 to use the locals and visuals of Final Fantasy X to convey a farcical Charlie's Angels-inspired adventure comes across as a betrayal. Final Fantasy X has neither the cast nor the world for such an experience. Yuna is NOT a keystone for J-Pop induced wonderment. This disconnect is why I find the narrative universe of Final Fantasy X/X-2 to be wholly "broken." I have a hard time imagining people who enjoyed Final Fantasy X's dower moments accepting of X-2's bubbly narrative, and I am one of them. Likewise, I cannot fathom those who enjoy Final Fantasy X-2's wonton silliness appreciative of FFX's hard swings into melodrama.

Then there's the matter of Final Fantasy X-2's production values. Final Fantasy X-2 is a game where you can feel its cheapness. The dungeons feel as if they were made using a level editor. Character models look marginally better than they did in Final Fantasy X. To add insult to injury, the game's sense of progression is stunningly superficial. Locations like Kilika convey remarkable changes, but for the rest of the world, it is as if the developers just slapped on a new color filter. Luca, Bevelle, Besaid, and the Calm Lands are shockingly static despite being the most visited locations in X-2.

I guess two years is enough time to forget about the millions of lives lost to Sin.
I guess two years is enough time to forget about the millions of lives lost to Sin.

I am someone who tries to see the silver-linning to everything, and I must admit Final Fantasy X-2 isn't without merit. There are several scenes which "work" in Final Fantasy X-2, and we will discuss two of the most successful shortly. There are other novel ideas in the game worth praising. Final Fantasy X-2 is one of the few games in the Final Fantasy franchise to use its gameplay as part of its storytelling. Dresspheres not only work to build the game's tone, but they provide the characters with an opportunity to share their real-world personalities. The dress combat system also adds to the game's air of independence.

Part 3: WHAT THE FUCK DID THEY DO TO RIKKU?!

My prior praise is tenuous as there is an "elephant in the room." As Jeff once put it, Final Fantasy X-2 disgusts at every turn. The game's establishing shots ogle the posterior and breasts of the female cast, before panning to their faces. This practice happened more times than I can count. Then there's the matter of the dress transformations. The character transformations showcase the same areas of bare skin regardless of the selected dressphere. The fact more care and attention went into the dress changes than the rest of the game, is frustrating.

Speaking of which, let's talk about the clothes for the cast. I have no qualms about Final Fantasy X-2 drawing inspiration from the magical girl genre. Well, other than it creates a tonal anachronism between it and its predecessor. What I actively question is why half of the outfits look like lingerie. With several enemies shooting guns or casting magic, you would think the characters would WANT sets of armor that better protect their body. Instead, the dresses are equal parts exploitative and impractical. Case and point, look at what they did to Rikku:

WHAT DID THEY DO TO YOU?
WHAT DID THEY DO TO YOU?

Look, I get it. This game is aiming for a "specific" target demographic, but that doesn't make things better. The game's grossness is especially disappointing because I adored Rikku's personality transformation from Final Fantasy X to X-2. Rikku spends a great deal of Final Fantasy X doubting herself and questioning her role in Yuna's pilgrimage. In Final Fantasy X-2, she's bubbly and self-assured. Changing her look to surface her newfound confidence is within reason, but the execution is cringeworthy. The camera isn't exactly an equalizing force either. It is obsessed with showing Rikku's thong or positioning itself to provide shots of her downblouse.

I have to question why some view Final Fantasy X-2 as a source of empowerment. Yes, this is coming from a mostly white, male. If you disagree with my early impression, I want you to know you are a beautiful person and I love you Platonically from the bottom of my heart. I pose my objections with an open mind and am more than willing to hear out claims to the contrary. It is commendable the main cast is all female. To its credit, the game avoids belaboring this point and allows its characters to exert physical and mental might.

Somehow Yuna's high summoner training prepared her to use guns.
Somehow Yuna's high summoner training prepared her to use guns.

On the flip-side, the story fails to develop a growing sense of determination and grit in its actors. I cannot shake the feeling the developers selected this cast with selfish intentions. The reason we do not see Wakka, Kimahri, or Lulu as playable characters, is because they wouldn't have melded as well with Tetsuya Nomura's unique dress designs. With that being the game's main selling point, the developers went with three characters with the same geometry to ease development. Plain and simple, the all-female cast is another sad byproduct of bargain-basement design.

I would view Final Fantasy X-2 as an empowering stepping point for women in games if Square learned from the experience. The absence of progress on their part makes their true intentions embarrassingly transparent. Square didn't pick these characters to create a legitimizing journey of self-actualization. They chose them because they knew they could exploit their geometry. If this was such a ground-breaking moment for Square, then why do they continue to fuck up the depiction of females in their games?

I mean, seriously, what's the deal here?
I mean, seriously, what's the deal here?

Part 4: Why Did They Shitcan FFX’s Combat System?

Good job of beating the shit out of people just doing their job!
Good job of beating the shit out of people just doing their job!

I will accept assertions my feelings about the new tone or character designs are purely subjective. What I am ready to defend with my life, is the gutting of Final Fantasy X's "Conditional Turn-Based Battle System" was a MAJOR misstep. Final Fantasy X-2 is a pre-pubescent half step into adulthood. It is caught between a turn-based and real-time combat system. Much like your middle grades, Final Fantasy X-2 is an awkward, clumsy beast who practically breaks everything it touches. It means well, but it's also oozing with acne puss.

I have gone on record saying I think the ATB system is artificially rigid, and a primary reason I have avoided earlier Final Fantasy games. Whenever used, the ATB system requires hours of grinding to self-correct its kludgy mechanics. I understand this is a controversial opinion. I will even concede returning to the ATB system was an inevitability given X-2's truncated production cycle. But Final Fantasy X-2's attempts to "modernize" the ATB system are dispiriting adjustments. Had it committed to an entirely real-time or turn-based system, I think everyone would have benefited.

What the fuck am I even looking at?
What the fuck am I even looking at?

It's not all doom and gloom for the mechanics of Final Fantasy X-2. The dressphere system is a novel concept. It's a creative in-game way to craft a sense of freedom with its female cast. The transformations are voyeuristic, but significant time and care went into each outfit. Garment Grids take the Sphere Grid and graft it onto a user-friendly interface. The limited slots on each Garment Grid force the player to experiment with each character and attempt to play off their strengths accordingly. It is also important to note how easy it is to re-tool each playable character to your liking. When you stop to invest time in each of Final Fantasy X-2's mechanics, it rewards you handsomely.

I do not believe I am out of line in saying the dressphere system is flawed. Including this mechanic de-emphasizes the importance of character levels, outside of increasing each character's HP. This issue would be permissible if it were not for the fact each dress is leveled individually. To compound this problem further, half of the character classes are better renditions of pre-existing ones. Putting hours into the Warrior dressphere does not translate to the other, often better, physical attack-based dresses.

The camera angles are fucking atrocious!
The camera angles are fucking atrocious!

Let me provide an example from my own experiences. When I started out, Rikku spent hours in the Songstress dress. I found the "Darkness Dance" debuff a useful tool against early bosses. When I gained the Dark Mage dress, Rikku switched to that and started from scratch while learning new magic spells. By chapter two, my progress in each class was all for naught when I uncovered the Dark Knight dressphere. Hours of my hard work became antiquated because of my advancement of the story.

Final Fantasy X-2 bakes grinding into its core. My contrivance is the AP required to level the different dresses is scattershot. Why does the Warrior's "Power Break" ability take 40 AP, but the Songstress's "Sleep" command requires double that? Other classes immediately provide commands like "Firaga" or "Darkness," when in previous games such powers needed to be earned. By the end of chapter one, I was sporting two characters with "-aga" level magic, and the game could not respond accordingly. This issue inadvertently decouples the meaning of long-standing terminology in the Final Fantasy franchise.

Whoever selected the fonts for this game needs to be kicked in the ass.
Whoever selected the fonts for this game needs to be kicked in the ass.

To further compound these issues, Final Fantasy X-2's combat is WILDLY BROKEN. Classes like "Festivalist" or "Dark Knight" far outpace their peers. Some dresses have exceedingly long attack animations, and if an enemy interrupts these animations, you do not get your time back. Characters will even whiff in the air if you queue up attacks against recently KO-ed enemies. Using items also requires loading animations, and this slows battles to a crawl.

The balance between character classes is incommensurate. There are physically focused dresses which attack in quick succession. Magic-based dresses require more time to queue up defensive and offensive abilities. This asymmetry is why I would argue physical classes are more useful than their magic-based counterparts. Practically every enemy is weak against physical attacks but will have a random assortment of elemental immunities. Sure, there's a magic-based rock-paper-scissors mechanic, but when physical attacks fuck up all the above, there's no reason to learn its eccentricities.

The UI is still a jumbled mess that barely makes sense.
The UI is still a jumbled mess that barely makes sense.

Part 5: The Introduction Is A Fever Dream

If there is one positive takeaway from chapter one, it is Final Fantasy X-2 establishes its new tone swiftly. Before the first scene concludes, you know you are not in Kansas anymore. The dower and humble backdrop of Spira changed in the two years since you last visited it. Therein lies my initial problem with Final Fantasy X-2's story. It has only been two years since the events of Final Fantasy X. How is two years enough time for Luca to host neon-drenched J-Pop concerts populated by backup dancers and flying guitarists?

We will re-visit the dialogue shortly. Here's a hint: I think it is terrible.
We will re-visit the dialogue shortly. Here's a hint: I think it is terrible.

In two years time, every person in Spira has learned how to use Machina. Every city is electrified, and the NPCs are universally supportive of these massive changes to their environment. Practically every NPC has a newfound obsession with the profession of "Sphere Hunting." There's no sense of a culture clash between new and old. The game just shotguns a bunch of shit and hopes your emotional investment in Yuna and Rikku is high enough to carry you through this anachronism.

At least the developers had the foresight to have Final Fantasy X-2's first scene begin where the previous game concluded. The last we saw Yuna, she was using the arena at Luca to bring solace to an exhausted populace. This goodwill is not enough to justify having Yuna ostensibly singing a J-Pop tune while sashaying in a short skirt. Especially when said J-Pop tune occurs on a laser platform created by a gigantic robot drummer. Do any of you wish to challenge my notion this is too much of a leap of logic?

WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE? WHY IS THIS GAME FUCKING WITH MY BRAIN!
WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE? WHY IS THIS GAME FUCKING WITH MY BRAIN!

Remember the introductory cinematic of Final Fantasy X? Remember how Final Fantasy X started with Tidus having to live through Sin destroying his home? Remember how that scene established Sin as the story's focal point? Why doesn't something like that happen in Final Fantasy X-2? All we learn in Lucca is Leblanc can shapeshift into Yuna, and the Gullwings want to find spheres. Who or what is the driving force of the story? Why is any of this happening? Additionally, the game expects you to welcome new named characters alongside Final Fantasy X mainstays without question!

By not having a clear and cohesive hook, Final Fantasy X-2 feels aimless. A bunch of shit just happens, and the writers think this is enough to keep the story going for another two hours. Not only are the visuals a bewildering affair, but including several new characters makes it impossible to get your bearings straight. Side characters come and go with little care, and the results are nauseating. The ultimate irony is Final Fantasy X-2 makes the familiar backdrop of Luca seem alien.

Some of these characters are too anime even for my sensibilities.
Some of these characters are too anime even for my sensibilities.

What does the game do in the place of cohesive storytelling? Well, if we are honest, a whole lot of nothing! This frustration leads me to the most significant problem facing Final Fantasy X-2. 60% of the game is a series of one-off minigames or fetch quests strung together in the husk of Final Fantasy X. The "story" amounts to less than half of your playtime. Hours are spent attending to pointless errands and witnessing exploitations of nostalgia. Final Fantasy X-2 is a marshmallow. It's filled primarily with air, and what joy you get out of it is spoiled by an off-putting saccharine aftertaste.

Part 6: Leblanc Is The Worst. THE WORST!

After a concert Beyonce would have been proud of, Final Fantasy X-2 drops you into the fray, and there's no pomp and circumstance. All we know is Rikku, and a companion named "Paine," are attempting to get a Songstress "dressphere" from a Yuna doppelgänger. The only connection we have to Final Fantasy X is the brief mentioning of Yuna's name, and the presence of Rikku. Why is this happening? Who is Paine? The game doesn't care to answer these fundamental questions.

After doppelgänger Yuna beats a hasty retreat, Rikku and Paine follow suit. There are several battles against random goons, but none of these actions assist in building a sense of "place." We are attempting to "catch" a fake Yuna, for the sake of gaining an object only recently introduced. The writers thought the solution to this aimlessness was to throw in more new characters. With two unknown goons about to test Rikku and Paine, Yuna comes to their rescue.

When in doubt, throw a bunch of shit on the screen and hope for the best!
When in doubt, throw a bunch of shit on the screen and hope for the best!

Yuna's character transformation is an immense anachronism. In Final Fantasy X she was a naïve, but kind-hearted altruist. She valued the well-being of her peers ahead of her happiness. In Final Fantasy X-2, her modus operandi is acquiring material possessions without a care in the world. What caused this change to happen? She's introduced in X-2 as wanting to take back a stolen dress from Leblanc. In the culminating mission of chapter one, she pilfers a sphere from New Yevon. The game doesn't explain what set Yuna into a sphere related tizzy. Why is she working with the Gullwings? Why is she so confident the footage from the spheres is Tidus? And again, WHY IS ANY OF THIS HAPPENING?

Leblanc is fucking terrible. I will hear no arguments to the contrary.
Leblanc is fucking terrible. I will hear no arguments to the contrary.

Leblanc is the worst Final Fantasy villain I have ever seen. Part of this stems from her use in the game. When Leblanc enters a scene, her establishing shots always start at her crotch or bosom. In a world where half the population uses guns, Leblanc's outfit feels all the more ridiculous. She is one of the game's MANY examples of Tetsuya Nomura's character design gone haywire. Somewhat annoyingly, the game doesn't even bother to make Leblanc's flamboyant outfit a part of her character. In fact, her shapeshifting ability is dropped after the first chapter!

If you thought my issue with Leblanc was purely superficial, think again. The real "elephant in the room" is how she's the closest thing we have to a villain for the next four hours. Even then, the writing cannot be fucked to scaffold basic parts of her background. The Gullwings have an established rivalry with Leblanc's "syndicate," but the context on why is never established. Neither does the game provide Leblanc with moments where she feels like a legitimate threat. She's an annoying impediment to YRP's progress but relegated to delivering forced situational humor.

Why is Yuna dancing for no goddamn reason in particular? Did someone suffer from an aneurysm while writing this game?
Why is Yuna dancing for no goddamn reason in particular? Did someone suffer from an aneurysm while writing this game?

I hate to rag on the combat again, but the first Leblanc battle provides a segue to another issue I have with X-2's combat. Your party is randomly assigned a place on a battle grid whenever a fight starts. In turn-based Final Fantasy games, this isn't a big issue. In Final Fantasy X-2, the placement of your party can result in dire consequences. On more than one occasion I started a battle with one of my party members surrounded by monsters. Other times, party members would change their placement, with no agency given to the player, to regrettable locations.

Part 7: The Writing Is FUCKING DOGSHIT!

I can't feel my face. Should I call a doctor?
I can't feel my face. Should I call a doctor?

After Leblanc temporarily goes down for the count, the game transitions to what is ostensibly the game's "hub." On a flying hot-rod called the "Celsius" X-2 introduces its supporting cast. I get I need to maintain an open-mind, but this is where I draw the line. The Gullwings pilot a flying muscle car, and one of their members is named "Shinra!" This game can go fuck itself. In the absence of proper character development, X-2 plays a card from Seth MacFarlane's playbook and inundates you with referential humor.

Final Fantasy X-2 is littered with examples of referential humor. To further exploit nostalgia, half of your NPC interactions devolve into people asking if Yuna remembers them. I could tolerate X-2's attempts to elicit cheap laughs if its characters weren't strung together on a flimsy foundation. These soulless automatons are just here, and there's no sense of community. Again, say what you will about Final Fantasy X's penchant for histrionics, but at least the characters had a reason to be together. Why should I care about Buddy, Shinra, or Brother other than the game needs me to care?

I will admit, whoever worked on Brother's animations had a BLAST!
I will admit, whoever worked on Brother's animations had a BLAST!

Admittedly, X-2 is less bothered about conveying melodrama and more concerned about crafting a sense of playful adventure. While this is admirable, the haphazard writing bungles everything. The Gullwings feel as if they are fused together out of the convenience of the plot. Then there's the pop-culture inspired dialogue. I started off curious to learn more about the new party members. Lines of saccharine dialogue and forced attempts at humor demolished my interest.

When it became abundantly clear the story had no interest in valuing my curiosity, everything fell apart. Final Fantasy X-2's tone is already dissonant from Final Fantasy X's. Its failure to develop any compelling plot lines is a further insult. The exposition the game provides is all about Brother fawning over Yuna, or Rikku wanting to steal shit. WHERE ARE YOUR PRIORITIES FINAL FANTASY X-2?! For fuck's sake, one of our player characters is brand new, but receives no characterization until chapter three! This structure is not "pacing." It is a sign of someone not giving a fuck.

Good to see we have the brooding and mysterious type in our party! Check that off the list of anime tropes.
Good to see we have the brooding and mysterious type in our party! Check that off the list of anime tropes.

This nitpicking pales compared to the ghastly dialogue. While Buddy tinkers with the controls of the Celsius, he detects a sphere for YRP to nab. With enthusiasm you would expect out of a Kindergartner; everyone loses their shit. Buddy gesticulates like a maniac; Rikku bobs back and forth as if she is on methamphetamine; Yuna spews a myriad of vapid soliloquies. As the characters ascend Mount Gagazet, the game shares the worst line of dialogue I have ever heard in a video game.

To the writers of this game: Fuck you, get fucked, go fuck yourself! Rikku's moronic dialogue is meant to showcase her bubbly personality. The same could be said about our interactions with Leblanc on Mt. Gagazet. It's a playful attempt to install a sense of whimsy, but the result is groan-inducing. There's no sense of risk when a mission involves Leblanc, and our confrontation devolves into cheap comedy schlock. It's B-tier anime writing the likes of which the Final Fantasy franchise typically avoids. Because everything is played for yucks, I felt anemic when the culminating boss battle occurred.

Part 8: FFX-2 Can’t Ruin Besaid And Old Friends

Before any of you accuse me of mad-dogging Final Fantasy X-2, there is plenty to like in its initial chapter. Unsurprisingly, these decisive moments feature simple scenes between YRP and recognizable characters from the previous game. Case and point, revisiting Besaid is always a delightful experience. Touching base with Wakka and Lulu is consistently fun. Besaid showcases how to do shameless pandering correctly.

Wakka, it's been too long.
Wakka, it's been too long.

Besaid is a shocking example of how to use nostalgia to a story's benefit. When I started the game, I wanted to see what happened to Wakka and Lulu. To see them happily married and expecting a child is a delightful treat. What enamored me is how they are the same characters, but facing different, but relatable, life problems. Wakka's character arc, while short, is a relatable and real issue. Regardless of the superficial backdrop, questioning if one will grow to become a proper parent is something I can relate to as a person.

The game's tone is equally commendable. There are no forced attempts at humor. For once, the writing provides a scene where the characters convey a sense of love for one another without an ounce of cynicism. When Lulu and Yuna have their brief aside, there's a feeling of honest concern in Lulu's words. She's happy to see Yuna but doesn't want her new job to go to her head. Lulu congratulates Yuna on "spreading her wings," but cautiously reminds her not to lose sight of what makes her unique. These are actual words to live by for any person.

Did Lulu's OBGYN sign-off on her wearing a dress made of belts while pregnant?
Did Lulu's OBGYN sign-off on her wearing a dress made of belts while pregnant?

Besaid is a story moment which plays with your emotions. When Lulu exclaims Wakka is missing, you know what you need to do. The drama provided a pure adrenaline rush which allowed me to overlook the mission's pitiful code-inputting puzzle and cookie-cutter dungeon. Wakka's attempt to prepare for his pending parenthood is a play on the strengths of Final Fantasy X. When you push aside the Final Fantasy bullshit, Final Fantasy X featured a cast of relatable characters you wanted to see happy. When Wakka walks away from the dungeon, realizing he needs to learn how to be a parent by doing rather than watching, X-2 crafts an ethos of newfound independence.

Part 9: Side Quest Nonsense: Everything is Terrible, And Luca Makes Me Feel Empty

Some of the side quests are a raw deal.
Some of the side quests are a raw deal.

Before you ask, I want the record to show I have no plans on 100%-ing Final Fantasy X-2. If I had a choice between slamming a screen door on my genitals and 100%-ing Final Fantasy X-2, I would have to think about it. One would be a short burst of excruciating pain whereas the other would be an extended drain on my goodwill. If I am honest, I err toward the genital pain. The amount of optional content in Final Fantasy X-2 is nefarious. Anyone who has played the game can attest the side content vastly outnumbers the main story.

If the side quests were consistent about building the world of Spira, I wouldn't have as big a problem with X-2's structure. Nonetheless, virtually every side quest is a singular throwaway experience. The game can't even be bothered to craft compelling moments out of pre-existing environments. When you go to Luca, you witness a flashback where you control Yuna in a Moogle costume and hand out balloons to random NPCs. I am NOT JOKING; this happens in the game!

It's the video game equivalent to Chinese water torture.
It's the video game equivalent to Chinese water torture.

What I find degrading is how there are significant storytelling dragons the side content could have slain, but the game's priorities are out of whack. Topics like the rise of the Youth League or New Yevon's reformation are delayed until chapter five. However, watching Yuna waltz around in a Moogle costume is in the introduction. The game's "open-world" fares none better. While you are welcome to explore your surroundings, it never results in anything substantial. Despite the design team taking the time to make your surroundings feel distinct from what you remember, they all feel stagnant and stale.

Think I am joking? Exploring virtually every location absent of a mission leads to the same result. Yuna has a heavy-handed soliloquy directed at Tidus, and the game juxtaposes back to the level. Sometimes a familiar face will try to get Yuna's attention. Again, the game assumes the worst of its audience. It is perpetually stuck in a low cognitive domain and recites information with zero follow through. The examples list themselves. When you take the time to visit the headquarters of the Youth League or New Yevon, the game brings you up to speed on what they are, and who are their leaders. Beyond that, the game cannot be fucked to develop their platforms or impact on the greater world.

You don't say? Why would I be skeptical of the religion that wanted to subject Spira to cyclical agony?
You don't say? Why would I be skeptical of the religion that wanted to subject Spira to cyclical agony?

Part 10: Side Quest Nonsense: Macalania Forest Is Just The Best

But lo-and-behold, Final Fantasy X-2 surprises me once again! While exploring the Macalania Forest is a nightmare, everything you do there exhibits the best storytelling in the game. The game does three things at the Macalania Forest I immensely enjoyed. It uses the forest as a metaphor for the changes facing Spira, a backdrop to the game's best moral dilemma, and as an emotional showcase of Yuna's pent-up feelings for Tidus. It's the best level in the game, BAR NONE!

That said, the forest is STILL populated by horrible monsters.
That said, the forest is STILL populated by horrible monsters.

One of the recurring themes in Final Fantasy X-2 is the culture clash between the past and present. Some feel it is time for the people of Spira to take control of their destiny; others seek comfort in Spira's history. At the Macalania Forest, the beautiful woods are in decline with the disappearance of the fayth. The astounding Macalania Forest and its inherent beauty are moments away from disappearing forever. It's one of the few somber elements to Final Fantasy X-2's otherwise lackadaisical bubblegum-pop adventure, and it is a welcomed change of pace.

The moral dilemma the forest introduces is even better. When you explore the forest further, you find the Guado hiding as refugees. Interacting with Tromell showcases one of the most compelling character transformations in the story. The former totalitarian is penitent and regretful of the actions of his people. He recognizes the sins of Seymour and the genocide of the Ronso as a grave mistake, and his humility, if it can be called that, is stunning.

This is some good shit!
This is some good shit!

Visiting Mount Gagazet is a phenomenal complement to our interactions with Tromell. Kimahri is the leader of the Ronso and principally wants reconciliation, not revenge, with the Guado. I much appreciated how the game doesn't expect you to take a side on the matter immediately. My third compliment of the Macalania Forest is its use in forcing Yuna to confront her emotional issues, but this is a topic for another time. All I will say is, it's the BEST!

Rest assured, I got Paine's special dressphere!
Rest assured, I got Paine's special dressphere!

Part 11: Side Quest Nonsense: WHY IS EVERYONE A DICK TO YUNA?

Kilika Port is without a doubt the most disappointing environment in chapter one. When you first set foot in the port city, it is the environment which has changed the most. In the waning hours of Final Fantasy X, Kilika was still a smoldering pit. Now, it is a burgeoning trade hub teeming with life. It's a disappointing affair because the game does not capitalize on this potential. The best you get is a scene where Dona and Barthello make their best Romeo and Juliet impressions.

BREAKING NEWS: Dona still sucks!
BREAKING NEWS: Dona still sucks!

Dona and Barthello provide a reminder of two sizable inadequacies with X-2's story. First, X-2's storytelling functions on a low taxonomy of thinking. While it is happy to recall information or solicit understanding of its pathos or logos, it never challenges its audience to draw their own conclusions. Case and point, Dona and Barthello are in a relationship but split between the two dominant factions in post-Sin Spira (i.e., the Youth League and New Yevon). Learning this is haphazardly presented as a fact. There's no investigation why the two picked the factions they did, or what impact it has had on their relationship. There's no metacognition required, and this makes the plotline regarding the two camps feel all the flatter.

The second issue this scenario highlights is more to blame on X-2's tone. Why is every side quest giver an asshole to Yuna? No, really, why are so many people complete dicks to Yuna? She's the one responsible for bringing peace and salvation to the world of Spira. She single-handedly stopped the Apocalypse! Why are Dona, Gippal, and Beclem shit lords to Yuna? Why do random buffoons waste Yuna's time with pointless errands?

Speaking of which, Tolbi is terrible! Everything you do with him is a bad time.
Speaking of which, Tolbi is terrible! Everything you do with him is a bad time.

Tobli is a piece of shit. Everything we do with Tobli at the Moonflow is a waste of my goddamn time. X-2 took one of the most beautiful levels from FFX (i.e., the Moonflow) and used it to structure insipid fetch quests! What a fantastic use of my time. The reason I feel so strongly about Tobli is the game never connects him with the main story until chapter four. Until then, every interaction we have with him feels inconsequential.

The worst is yet to come until you reach the Djose Temple. There you have the pleasure of encountering the chauvinist, Gippal. I don't know why the Final Fantasy series insists on having at least one "Casanova Wannabe" in each game, but it is driving me crazy. Gippal seamlessly harasses each of our party members without a care in the world. He's a colorful personality in a world devoid of memorable characters, but JESUS CHRIST, I could do without sexism in a Final Fantasy game.

What a wonderful human being.
What a wonderful human being.

Tolerating Gippal's degenerate behavior is in the name of digging for shit in Bikanel Desert. Like I said, Final Fantasy X-2 is a series of minigames strung together to look like a full-fledged video game. Moments like these make the game's uncoordinated patch-work, all the more obvious. It's not as if revelatory discoveries are gained through the excavation minigame. Quite the opposite, the random number goddesses hates you if you put any time in Bikanel Desert.

Part 12: Tactically Guided Depression In Zanarkand

Full disclosure, when I first visited Zanarkand, I felt an unfathomable rage comparable to the heat of a thousand suns. After thinking about it, I have a greater appreciation of what the writing attempts at Zanarkand. There are a few quibbles worth noting. It's another level which shows Yuna's awkward evolution from a kind-hearted humanitarian to a selfish materialist. While Cid and Issaru aren't strictly "heroes," I wasn't sympathetic to Yuna's perspective.

EXACTLY! Why doesn't this side quest culminate with Yuna opening a museum?
EXACTLY! Why doesn't this side quest culminate with Yuna opening a museum?

Beyond this contrivance, Zanarkand is another fun exploration of our memories. The only difference is how Zanarkand purposefully tries to elicit a bitter response from the audience. Tourists populate the ruins, and they view the wasteland as an opportunity to steal its historical artifacts for financial gain. Traveling the many levels of Zanarkand, only to find empty treasure boxes and trash, is a depressing experience. All the same, this is the emotional response the developers wanted, so I commend them.

Yuna's interactions with Issaru and Cid paint a clear picture. While Yuna avoids calling their activities "sacrilege," she finds the conversion of Zanarkand into a tourist trap deplorable. Yuna's perspective would be more relatable if the significance of Zanarkand were not rooted in a bullshit religion. Lest we do not forget, the whole point of reaching Zanarkand was to perform a pointless sacrifice. Furthermore, I do not blame the tourist for wanting to visit parts of the world they previously couldn't. While the game wants you to view Yuna as a commiserate figure, it fails spectacularly. Her declarations about cordoning off Zanarkand make it seem as if she is announcing it as her property.

For once, Final Fantasy X-2 managed to make me laugh.
For once, Final Fantasy X-2 managed to make me laugh.

At least the culminating scene with Issaru is hilarious! Seriously, this was the one attempt at humor that worked for me. I have to praise the game for following through on its introduction of Zanarkand as a tourist trap. Having the scene end with Issaru acting like a narrator on a Disney ride is amusing to watch. Pacce and his "Kinderguardians" are fun to peruse as well. The game frames Issaru and his brothers as having each gone their separate ways and divided between Spira's two major factions. Sadly, the story fails to capitalize on this intriguing premise.

Part 13: Sucking The Life Out Of An Adventurous Caper

After hours of ineffectual thumb twiddling, Final Fantasy X-2 attempts to kick its story into gear. Buddy informs the Gullwings he's detecting an "Awesome Sphere" inside Kilika Temple and everyone battens down the hatches. When YRP arrive in Kilika Port, they discover New Yevon has placed the temple on lockdown, and the Youth League plan on assaulting the temple to gain the artifact. Somehow, Yuna's team sleuths their way into the temple and steal the sphere from both factions. Despite the inherent risk of their act of treason, the cast acts like they are about to join a party.

If the characters cannot be fucked to take the story seriously, why should I?
If the characters cannot be fucked to take the story seriously, why should I?

Right, this makes NO SENSE! The whole point of being a sphere hunter is to sell undiscovered artifacts to the highest bidder. Who in their right mind buys an orb stolen from the most significant religious organization in the world? I get this is a Final Fantasy game, and I need to suspend my disbelief, but when the scaffold for the game is as half-baked as this, I can't. Why is YRP so committed to stealing a part of Spira's history when they know doing so will turn an entire army against them? Why is Yuna so confident this sphere contains another video clip of Tidus? And again, WHY IS ANY OF THIS HAPPENING?

Speaking of that last question, let's get a few housekeeping items out of the way. Part of the main drive of Yuna being on the Gullwings is she holds hope Tidus is "out there" wandering the far corners of Spira. She maintains this belief because she saw a sphere, recorded a thousand years ago, which contained an image of someone who looked like Tidus. Correct me if I am wrong, but that's the plot of Final Fantasy X-2. I know I am guilty of my fair share of histrionics, but this is the dumbest basis to a story I have ever seen. Why the fuck would any reasonable person think a recording from a thousand years ago is evidence your recently departed love is alive?

I know I brought this up on my Final Fantasy X series, the HD Remaster fucks up the facial animations in Final Fantasy X-2 as well.
I know I brought this up on my Final Fantasy X series, the HD Remaster fucks up the facial animations in Final Fantasy X-2 as well.

What ensues at Kilika Temple is an exercise in Final Fantasy X-2's shoddy development. The environments are unchanged, and what impedes your progress are minigames and NOT cinematic battles. I have meant to talk about this issue before and now seems like the appropriate time. I cannot believe the developers could not be fucked to include at least a few new enemy types in X-2. You fight the same goddamned fiends from Final Fantasy X, and the only difference is they do not share the same elemental weaknesses. Even the bosses are rehashes of shit from FFX. The dungeons are even worse because they feel like they were pulled from a level generator.

There's a significant amount of buildup to a confrontation between the forces of New Yevon and the Youth League. Does the end of chapter one finish with a bloody battle between the two factions? NOPE! It concludes with a boss battle against a robot that looks suspiciously like Defender X! After offing this boss, Yuna's party runs away with the sphere in tow, and the scene just ends. That's it. That's the scene. That's how chapter one ends. It's as if the writers didn't know how to write a proper conclusion.

The fuck?
The fuck?

WHAT IS THE POINT TO ANYTHING IN THIS GAME? WHO IS NOOJ? WHO IS BARALAI? WHY DO I GIVE A SHIT ABOUT PAINE? Whenever I play Final Fantasy X-2, I'm left with an empty feeling. It's as if the game is developing a void in my soul. There must be something more to this game! There must be a hidden meaning to its aimlessness. This game can't just be a glorified Ponzi scheme!

Oh , you have got to be fucking kidding me!
Oh , you have got to be fucking kidding me!

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