Final Fantasy has had many faces of the years. From classic fantasy, to a mixture of that and science fiction. The later years the franchise would go pure sci-fi, with the latest release combining sci-fi and reality with a boyband. Final Fantasy X came at the end of the middle period where technology and magic were blurred together. Final Fantasy X-2 came two years after Square Enix had the wild idea that people may want to see more of characters they like. Both games have sparked debate over the years of whether its stranger moments went to far, and whether X-2 was a worthy sequel. Finally, with all the wealth of new content, the HD Remaster also includes Final Fantasy X-2 Last Mission, a sequel to X-2 that had not seen the west-until now. There is a lot to dig into – does the HD remaster of all these games sink or swim?
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platform: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PlayStation Vita, Xbox One
Release Date: April 11th 2019 (Nintendo Switch), April 16th (Xbox One)
Price: $ 49.99 (Review Copy Received)
In Final Fantasy X, the futuristic city of Zanarkand is attacked by giant monster and its spawn, catching up sports star Tidus in it. After being saved by a samurai who seems to know a lot about this monster, he wakes up in Spira.
Tidus quickly learns that not only is Zanarkand considered an ancient holy city, but Sin is still a menace. Stranger still, his missing abusive father is known here- and is deemed a hero! Oh, and Blitzball is still played as well.
Tidus soon gets caught up in the pilgrimage of Yuna, a summoner intent on performing a ritual that may kill Sin. Tidus wrestles with his past and current situation as the pilgrimage runs far from smoothly.
The story champions and suffers the infamous stereotypes of the Final Fantasy franchise. Long cutscenes with convoluted terminology, all to hammer in plot points long after you already got it. Even then, there are several plot holes and bizarre choices characters that clash with their personality and basic logic.
Tidus himself drew lots of ire from those who disliked the game, feeling he was annoying and a liability to the party’s mission. I would argue that in the first few hours of the game he is coping with the emotional whiplash of going from groupies and comfort, to monster-slaying and confronting daddy issues. Everything after that however is much harder to justify.
I would even dare defend the infamous laughing scene once you know the context (attempting to cheer someone up by being silly). The issue is a lot of Tidus’ lines were read in such a way they conveyed him being bratty or selfish. These bad deliveries are much rarer for most of the main cast. More on that later.
While Tidus can be divisive, the rest of the main cast are a delight. Characters that seem two dimensional at first reveal more interesting traits about them through their history and how they interact with the world around them. Kimari does suffer however due to his limited vocabulary. Yuna can also come across as almost passive to the point of annoyance at times, despite her obvious drive with her mission.
Overall the story is almost a perfect snap-shot of the typical Final Fantasy story-good and bad. A story with a lot of heart, hurt a little by strange terms and plotholes – and a lot by moments where dialogue and delivery from localization makes you scratch your head. Though the worst of it has been exaggerated. Whether you like it or not- cutscenes are unskippable.
In Final Fantasy X-2, the wheels come off. After the events of the previous game, Yuna seeks to find Tidus by seeking out “spheres” (acting as recordings) as a treasure hunter… And pop-star. While looking for spheres, Yuna and her friends stumble upon a terrible plot that can destroy the peace they had fought so hard for.
The tone makes it clear the game does not take itself seriously. Alone this is fine and in theory there is nothing wrong with attempting this style of sequel, depending on the prior game. The issue is that it still attempts a serious plot with a strong anti-war motif. It feels out of place with the more comedic and fan-service based moments.
The major villain of the game feels like a down-grade from Sin. Even with high-stakes, it feel like a retread of the last villain’s philosophy- one that had been used by many Final Fantasy villains up to that point already.
Without spoiling anything, the reason Yuna gets involved with what the villain is doing is a paper-thin coincidence, which is later explained by a paper-thin excuse that arguably harms certain story elements of the prior game.
The lighter tone never makes things feel awesome or hilarious. Moments of action look good, but nothing ground-breaking or that could not have been shown in Final Fantasy X. The comedy is strange, with most jokes falling flat and just being outright weird.
As a bizarre point that needs covering: the fan-service is pretty tame. At the time of the game’s original release other franchises pushed their sex-appeal more, and attempts to do so here feel half-hearted and draw attention to how out of place it is.
A character can have sex-appeal in its design (such as Lulu), but when doing something fan-service focused it needs to be more overt. Author Isabel Allende said “erotica is using a feather; pornography is using the whole chicken.” I never expect Square Enix to go as far as Dead or Alive with Final Fantasy and if they did, they cannot attempt it half-cocked like they did here.
While there are a few other notes, in summation Final Fantasy X-2 attempts to be fun, sexy and serious; flitting between them when it sees fit. While this can be done well, it fails here on all three fronts by doing nothing special, even when it first released.
Last Mission feels like a footnote. Taking place three months after X-2, the girls are summoned to a mysterious tower with promise of something amazing at the top.
The story is not the focus here, but even so it squanders the opportunity to develop the main characters with the very basic “lets stay friends forever” narrative stretched over its entire play-length.
Final Fantasy X certainly has the strongest story of the three, getting worse with X-2 and non-existent in Last Mission. X is a stereotypical classic Final Fantasy story. Whether you love or hate that, X-2 will frustrate you at best and turn you into a hater at worst.
Gameplay in Final Fantasy X is a throwback to certain classic RPG elements with some very experimental stuff. Combat is turn-based based on the Agility stat, enemies have weaknesses and if they fly they are impossible to hit in melee- all classic stuff.
I dislike how some information is missing to you. While in-game glossaries can tell you about every ability you can learn, some vital statistics are still missing. These can include how long a buff/debuff lasts for, how effective it is, if it can stack, or the relative damage of attacks or how they are calculated.
Most infuriatingly of all, some abilities may even have one of these pieces of information, giving little reason why others do not. The plethora of online guides can answer those questions, but without being able to see your own stats in combat, it makes experimentation much harder for purists who want to avoid using them.
Weapons and armor can also have “slots” to equip passive abilities. These can even change a weapon’s appearance. While this means gear dropped from enemies may have to be repeated to get the “ideal” number of slots, it is not a necessity to progress. Repeated battles for gear and materials will not mean you may not over-level thanks to the Sphere Grid.
The concept of levels has a very unique approach. Characters earn AP during battle to eventually earn a “sphere level”. This then allows the character to move around a giant grid, filled with abilities and stats. Players can then spend collected spheres on unlocking adjacent nodes to unlock said abilities and stats. On top of this, blank spaces can also be filled with special spheres to gain new properties
This system means it is hard to over-level by mistake, but the lack of a fixed number also can make it easy to overlook leveling up party members you have not used for a while. On paper this should be time-consuming, yet I never found myself struggling and usually had enough spheres to use when a character gained a new level.
The HD Remaster also includes the “Expert Grid”. While the standard grid gives a character a rough archetype based on its abilities and stats, a character can enter another character’s part of the grid with enough levels and spheres. The Expert Grid makes this a lot easier, allowing greater customization in the archetypes the characters have.
The puzzles and minigames within X do not suffer so well. Most of them being quite monotonous, or having an obvious solution that takes a long time to implement. I felt Blitzball took far too long to play, early matches were very difficult and the rewards were not worth the time and effort. Not to mention, the game does not take advantage of the 3D space at all.
As a small miracle, the exploit of hiding behind your own goalie while you are ahead on points is still applicable in the remake. In fact, aside from one or two glitches to get you past progression blocking NPCs, most glitches from the original game are present.
Though there are some new bells and whistles to make life easier. After battles players can trigger a “quick heal” menu, allowing them to heal up their party to full HP as cheaply as possible (providing they have healing magic or potions).
The HD remaster includes all content from “International” editions of X, including extra bosses, abilities, items, monsters and bosses. While these are welcome editions, the HD remaster is a mere face-lift- keeping the best, worst, and occasional missable content.If you were a fan of the original game, this is sure to be a blessing for you.
X-2 incorporates many of the concepts from X’s battle system, but with major changes due to only having three characters, and the Dresspheres. While traditional levels are back, the characters can change into different jobs via special spheres- affecting their abilities and stats (and abandoning weapons, leaving only accessories). Some jobs even have access to the abilities of other jobs.
The characters also have access to Garment Grids- where several Dresspheres can be stored. Not only does this allow them to switch their role during battle, but is encouraged. Passing from job to job activates gates on the grid that give buffs, and linking all the nodes on the grid creates a powerful summon akin to X’s Aeons (all other party members leave while the big guy finishes the job).
The jobs themselves improve the more you use abilities from them, unlocking more abilities. The downside is that this can take a lot of time even when taking advantage of specific enemies to do so. Having said that, the ability to use multiple jobs across multiple characters mean you almost have unparalleled tactical options.
Two classes in particular can be quite over-powered however. Alchemists can heal the party easily for huge amounts, and Psychics can become immune to pretty much everything with the right preparations. This does come with heavy investment in the classes however.
Battles in X-2 have had more changes on top of that. The Active Time Battle system (ATB) from past Final Fantasy games has returned – meaning enemies will act as soon as they can along with players if they input commands quickly enough.
This comes into good use with the Chaining mechanic. While an enemy is staggering (roughly for a second or two after taking damage), the next attack will deal more damage and cause the chain to extend. As someone who always felt the ATB rushed you too much for an RPG, its glad to see the quick decision making is rewarding here.
Rather than hop from dungeon to dungeon in a linear fashion, the world is you oyster in X-2. The main story and side-quests all take the form of missions. While I did not mind the linear progression of X, it does makes things a little more refreshing by having many different locations to visit.
On the other hand, this opens up a huge can of worms. X-2 has some of the most excessive requirements for 100% completion I have seen in a video-game. Even forgetting to speak to minor NPCs can rob you of that completion. Some side-quests and minigames can be locked off depending on the chapter you are in. The game is insulting in how much it baits you into New Game +.
Minigames are a little better than they were in X. Some of them certainly feel less like busy work, or grant more immediate awards. You can raise Chocobos to scout for items, capture monsters to fight in the arena, a math based game called Sphere Breakers and more. The Gunner’s Gauntlet is also a very simple and short shooting game, and yet I found it a delight.
On the other hand, the Publicity Campaign and excavation minigames feel like complete luck. You run around like a headless chicken, hoping NPCs and digging spots respond positively. Some story missions also have smaller minigames, which can be mind-numbingly simple yet take a long time to finish.
Aside for some recurring bosses who recur a little too often, Final Fantasy X-2 has shockingly good combat- something that could have supported a main numbered Final Fantasy title. While the minigames that surround it are better than that of X, there are still a few moments and puzzles you pray you could skip over.
The oddest duck in the whole collection is Final Fantasy X-2: Last Mission. The gameplay is closer to a dungeon crawler like the Mystery Dungeon series. Players climb the tower in randomly generated rooms, with every action causing all monsters on that floor to take their action immediately after.
Choosing which one of the three girls from X-2 to start with acts more like picking your starting class. Otherwise, only one dressphere allows you to switch girls. While all the girls share the same level, stats, and inventory, a select few classes do behave differently (such as the Black Mage’s elemental spells).
After this, you can equip one “primary” dressphere which allows you to access that job’s abilities and stats. You can also equip four other “secondary” dresspheres to access some of their abilities. The spheres themselves class as an item, and ones of the same type can be fused together to make them more powerful.
However, your primary dressphere is also effectively your armor. Each sphere has its own HP. When you are attacked, your primary dressphere takes damage first. Once it loses all its HP it breaks, gone, finito, busted. If your character loses all its HP, you are booted from the tower and go back to the first floor and reset to level one. Or, you just reload one of your saves you get every five levels if you think your build was good enough.
The game constantly gives the impression its challenging. A rare few traps and monsters can kick you from the tower or drop you down to lower levels, your level-up stats are random unless you use certain items to influence them and you can only carry twenty items (not being able to access your vault while in the dungeon, though you can drop off and retrieve them at certain points).
While there are plenty of things to hinder you and as long as the RNG is not hell bent on destroying you, the game is not terribly difficult. I have played more challenging game of its subgenre, but that is not a knock against it. It is certainly a fun comparatively-shorter adventure.
The main appeal of the HD Remaster is that things are, well, HD. There certainly are improvements, but this is far from the best remaster. Major character and monster models have been redone, looking less blocky. While smaller animations have improved (such as in faces), most animations have been made smoother – even if the original piece of animation looked weird.
The FMVs from the original game have also been converted to wide-screen without any issue (no stretching or just enlarging the image). There are rare moments when the sudden switch from game graphics to FMV can be jarring, but there are times its seem less unlike the original.
NPCs, on the other hand, look almost like the their original models. Faces are flat textures while major characters get their own eyeballs and teeth. Even then, a few textures on major characters were slightly blurry or pixelated.
Hair can also appear very rigid. They rarely have any reaction to the environment, meaning they never move. This also applies to similar things such as ribbons, bushes and tufts of fur. Lips suffer the opposite problem. No attempt at lip-syncing was made, so mouths seem to move around endlessly.
Some criticize the games’ artstyle, and while I can agree it looks absurd at times, I cannot say it ever took me out of it. Environments are gorgeous and fit within the lore of Spira. The monsters are especially a stand-out, looking like some of the most vicious creatures in the series. Wild animals are packed with muscle, and the more surreal things such as god-dragons get more unearthly designs to boot.
The games do have issues that are hold-overs from their original. X only utilizes a few models for weapons, which can take some of the joy out of getting a new weapon when it looks just like one you had two chapters ago.
Likewise X-2 and Last Mission use nigh-all their assets from X. Being in the same world it makes sense you would see some of the same areas and monsters. Even so, when these were new games I would have expected more new content than what we got.
X has had its entire soundtrack remastered. You even have the option to switch to the original soundtrack while in the overworld. The vast majority of the tracks use similar instruments, and times where a very different instrument was used I still felt suited the piece. The strength of the composition shines through, as I instantly recognized the battle theme despite only playing the original for a few hours.
On the other hand, X-2 and Last Mission keep their original soundtracks. X-2 continues its more light hearted approach with music that sounds more inspired by jazz, pop, and rock- making the whole soundtrack feel bouncy. 1000 Words also does more for the game’s story than what it tried to do in several hours before hand. Last Mission also attempts this peppy heist-esque soundtrack at times, and it really does not fit the slower and more tactical looking gameplay.
Finally: the voice acting. I feel the majority of the voice acting are well selected actors and actresses, forced to match-up to lip-synching with awkward dialogue. With the exception of a few stand-outs like Wakka, you can tell the cast was often hindered or an amateur hired to fill in for an NPC.
That being said, the audio drama Final Fantasy X -Will- has been dubbed and included. It shows the main cast’s acting abilities off much better, though the story itself may wrench open closure fans once had.
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster is a behemoth of a title. In terms of pure bang for buck, the game is an absolute steal if you can endure the worst parts of it.
If you did not like the games back in the 2000s, nothing has changed. But if you can take the cheese along with the odd boring minigame and puzzle – this is probably the quintessential Final Fantasy RPG. It would be a sin to miss out.
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review copy provided by Square Enix. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.