Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster Review

Despite what the developers say, the Final Fantasy series has seen a slump in recent years with Final Fantasy XIII being one of the weakest of the core entries in the series, its two follow ups have not quite reached the standard that fans of the franchise have come to expect and then there is the case of Final Fantasy XIV, which was so riddled with issues on release it had to be re-booted a year later. The solution to repairing the series’ image after a bad run is apparently to revisit one of the most revered titles in the series and give it a HD remake to remind fans of what the franchise is most loved for and Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster does just that.

Final Fantasy X is the tale of Tidas, a professional blitzball player for the technologically advanced city of Zanarkand. After the city is destroyed by a monstrous entity named ‘Sin’, Tidus finds himself flung into the far future. After coming to grips with his situation and befriending a few of the locals, Tidus discovers that Sin still frequently ravages the world’s settlements and so he decides to join the summoner Yuna and her entourage of protectors in a pilgrimage to stop it once and for all.

Upon its release on the PlayStation 2, Final Fantasy X set new benchmarks for what could be achieved in a JRPG with its excellent story-telling with realistic emotions conveyed through character modelling and voice acting, its 3D environments, unsurpassed visuals at the time and an abundance of optional content. Fourteen years later, whilst the graphics don’t quite reach today’s standards, Final Fantasy X still retains the charm that made it such a hit and a game that you could happily sink in excess of 100 hours into completing.

As a Final Fantasy game, Final Fantasy X keeps the same general JRPG formula intact of recruiting a small group of adventurers and setting off on an epic 60-hour core adventure with the whole package wrapped up inside a mostly well written and thought provoking yarn that drives gameplay progression. Of course, Tidus and co. will take part in combat at regular intervals, fighting enemies utilising a robust turn-based battle system and the experience gained from battling said foes can be used to learn new abilities and provide stat boosts via the game’s ‘Sphere Grid’ levelling system.

The Sphere Grid was a great evolution in the franchise’s character progression systems and allowed players to choose between a standard or an expert version from the get go.  Players essentially spend experience to move around the grid and use spheres garnered from combat to unlock additional stat boosts and abilities. The basic sphere grid funnels players through into set roles of each of their characters to begin with, but opens up later in the game, allowing every player to learn almost every ability the game has to offer.  The expert mode on the other hand, gives players free reign to level their characters as they please from the start, adding a bit of challenge to find the right balance between defence, melee/magic offence and support roles.

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The fantastic combination of story, interesting characters, tactical turn-based combat and a levelling system with some serious depth made Final Fantasy X the masterpiece it was. Today, the game’s mechanics still hold up extremely well against most games in the JRPG genre and the HD remaster easily eclipses Lightning’s recent efforts in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy in terms of story, gameplay and combat.

On the other hand, Final Fantasy X-2 I was not looking forward to as much. I recall when it first came out in 2004. After playing through Final Fantasy X multiple times I was extremely excited to see a sequel. What I got instead was a shock. The excellent storytelling and serious tone had been completely replaced by a J-Pop infused ‘Girls just want to have fun’ vibe with a silly story that left me bitterly disappointed. I promptly took it back to the store after a couple of hours and never revisited it. Now that it has been released in HD form, I have had another crack at it and although the girly vibe still grates, after spending some 30 hours with the updated title I can now appreciate that there is definitely a solid game underneath.

Final Fantasy X-2 features a much less intriguing story than the original and it takes place two years after the end of Final Fantasy X and the coming of the Eternal Calm. Players assume the role of the summoner Yuna as she and a pair of gal pals travel the world searching for vision spheres, navigate the political landscape of new factions emerging from the events of the previous title, hunt down monsters and ultimately identify and prevent a new threat from destroying the world.

Whilst Final Fantasy X-2 was received fairly positively at the time of its release, it did not fare anywhere near as well as its predecessor and being the first direct sequel in the franchise to date meant that a lot of in-game assets were carried over from Final Fantasy X including character models, monster designs and some slightly revamped versions of environments with a few new regions to unlock and explore.

The game saw a familiar cast of returning characters and players were given control over a smaller group of characters with three playable heroes available (half of what X offered) and rather than a lengthy flow-on story to aid progression, Final Fantasy X-2 ventured even further from the series’ roots by breaking the core narrative into bite-sized chunks in the form of missions of increasing difficulty that could be approached in an order players saw fit.

Perhaps the biggest departure from Final Fantasy X’s set-up though is that the combat has shifted from a turn-based battle system to one that is more frenetic and action-centric, in which each attack/ability/use of an item takes a specific amount of time and the combat continues to flow even whilst waiting for a selected move to be executed. To add to the complexity, players are also able to change the characters’ roles mid combat by utilising equipped dress spheres. Each of the roles allows temporary specialisation in a set of abilities related to the character class and its ability to provide damage output, buff/debuff support or healing. This role switching becomes increasingly necessary as the game progresses as balancing out the group’s battle tactics is the key to victory against some of the tougher enemies and boss monsters.

After the slow, measured pace of Final Fantasy X’s combat, the X-2 system is a refreshing change with the unrelenting action and necessity to switch between character classes during battle adding a sense of urgency and a subsequent increase in difficulty, at least until you get a hang of the ins and outs of the system.

The levelling system is also changed in Final Fantasy X-2, with Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid being abolished entirely and in its place levels are awarded upon gaining a certain amount of experience and players gaining automatic stat boosts as a result. Players can also improve their dress sphere roles by utilising them in combat, use them enough and an expanded roster of additional abilities can be acquired.

Fortunately, Square-Enix has selected to remaster the international versions of both releases. These versions include extra content that was absent from the original release and feature a few short additional story segments and a raft of new end-game boss fights that are geared towards having players max out all of their characters for an ultimate challenge.

In addition to the new textures and the HD overhaul, the Vita version of both games has incorporated some touch features to manage faster access to the quick healing menu which is a handy inclusion. Final Fantasy X also features Eternal Calm, a short video included in the Japanese/International release versions of the original game that sparked fan interest and prompted the development of Final Fantasy X-2. whilst Final Fantasy X-2 itself comes loaded with Final Fantasy X-2: Last Mission – a short playable sequel to Final Fantasy X-2 featuring a post-game story with the same vibe and characters.

Although there is no question that these HD upgrades more than make it worth your while, they do have a few niggling issues. Firstly, whilst the lip synching was ahead of its time back upon initial release, lip synching in general has come a long way since then and the mismatch between dialogue and mouth movement gives it an appearance that wouldn’t look out of place on an English dubbed martial arts movie. There are also a significant number of loading screens that interrupt gameplay and frequently bring proceedings to a screeching halt. Additionally, enjoyment of Final Fantasy X-2 is entirely dependent on your tolerance to bubbly dialogue and J-Pop, so it will definitely not appeal to everyoine. Finally after all this time, Tidus’s voice actor still bothers me and that infamous laughing scene, well let’s just say even when you know it’s coming, you can’t avoid it and once you have watched it, you can’t unwatch it.

Not only is Final Fantasy X considered a classic by many, its deep levelling system, entertaining combat and well written story still stand up remarkably well in comparison to JRPGs on the market today and the HD upgrade, trophy support and touch features for the Vita do a nice job of breathing some fresh life into the title for a new generation of gamers. Likewise, Final Fantasy X-2’s remake also gives a new sheen to the title and as a well done JRPG, it still provides an equally deep combat system and despite its narrative and presentation issues, is an entertaining diversion nonetheless. If you ever wanted to play either of these titles, these are the versions to get!

To many fans Final Fantasy X was the last truly memorable Final Fantasy game, a lot of work has gone into reimagining this masterpiece and its follow up and it shows. This is one of the most genuine and faithful remasters done to date and whilst it doesn’t quite top Nintendo’s effort with The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker HD, it does a bloody good job at bringing an updated classic to current gen consoles with additional content and much improved visuals. This is the definitive version of one of the best JRPG titles ever made and Final Fantasy X-2 HD is a decent bonus addition to the package.  With gameplay that will last in excess of 200 hours, this HD collection is an absolute must buy for JRPG fans and a solid reminder of the kind of greatness the Final Fantasy series used to be known for.

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