Final Fantasy is one of the longest running RPG series of all time and perhaps the one with the biggest fan following worldwide. Every incarnation has been different in characters, settings and style, yet all have maintained a certain sombre, huge scale, planet-saving tone that has made the series so popular and long-lived amongst its diehard fans and in truth, Final Fantasy is probably the epitome of what a good RPG should be. And then we got Final Fantasy X-2.
Firstly, Final Fantasy X-2 set the mark as being the first time that Square Enix actually broke their cast in stone, unspoken rule of never ever continuing any single Final Fantasy storyline – ever. Secondly, the tone of Final Fantasy X-2 was far more colourful, vibrant and light-hearted than any ever before it, despite the fact that you still ended up saving the planet in the process.
The story of Final Fantasy X-2 takes place after the planet-shattering events of Final Fantasy X and finds us in a divided but as idyllic as ever Spira where three main factions battle it out for political control of the country and its people. Ex-summoner and successful Pop Star (yes, Pop Star) Yuna on the other hand has left her cloak and staff behind, instead opting for some shorter than short shorts and dual pistols and has joined up with Rikku, Paine and the other members of the Gullwings, a successful and well-known sphere hunter group.
There are many different types of Spheres to be unearthed on Spira, the majority being the recording device spheres that are basically archived video footage of the past. Greatly prized by all due to the technology these spheres hold, sphere hunters are always in demand and competition amongst the groups are fierce.
Of course, this is a Final Fantasy game after all, and pretty soon Yuna and the gang are sucked into the politics behind the current Spira and before you know it, they end up on a mission that may very well be Spira’s last hope as they fight to stop the revival of the terrifying Vegnagun by forces unknown – yet who may very well hold a key to the past and their lives during the events of Final Fantasy X.
Like I mentioned earlier, the story of Final Fantasy X-2 is played out in a very light-hearted, fun fashion and this is one of the few Final Fantasy titles that I can remember that features an upbeat mood for such a long part of the game. It starts out frivolous enough but ends up epic enough to satisfy the hardcore Final Fantasy RPG gamer and yet still stands out of the bunch as being something entirely different from those that came before it. The game as a whole is refreshing to say the least to see Square Enix tread these usually untouched waters.
The first difference to the standard Final Fantasy fare is the fact that from the get go you are presented with the entire world map. Basically the game is divided up into five chapters and each chapter consists of one or two main storyline missions and a couple of side missions which you can access via any of the ‘hotspots’ on the map. The side missions of course are completely voluntary, though you will miss out on a lot of extra storyline, dialogue and nice pickups if you decide to skip them and head straight for all the main missions. This freedom of choice does come at a small price in my opinion though: the story is broken up and you don’t get that narrative drive that Final Fantasy is so famed for, particularly if you go for all the side missions which tend to sidetrack a little off the main story. However, skip the side quests and you miss out a lot of vital information, so you pretty much sit with a catch 22 situation.
Actual gameplay for Final Fantasy X-2 does drop gamers off in the familiar dungeon crawl, level up scenario but there are a lot of changes to the actual mechanics that makes for quite an exciting ride. First up, the active battle system is perhaps the most active ever, with fights seemingly taking part in real time as your characters rattle off their attacks one after another, straight after you’ve entered their commands. Time your attacks well, and you’ll even get rewarded with chain attacks that dish out a little extra damage which makes things even more interesting when you get to the bigger battles. Of course, for the less adventurous of you out there, you can slow things down via the menu to return the pace to a more ‘normal’ Final Fantasy feel.
Secondly, the job class system returns from other Final Fantasy titles, but this time in the form of dresspheres that allows either of the three ladies to change costumes (and thus abilities) mid battle. All the usual classes are there as always, though some are certainly more useful than others and I’m pretty sure you’ll find yourselves stuck in either the black mage, warrior or white mage caste for pretty much all of the game. Nevertheless, the classes are well balanced and with some careful planning you can find yourself sitting with a really well balanced party as you approach the end of the game.
One thing that may prove a little more annoying in this version of Final Fantasy is the move to include as many as possible mini-games in the format and you’ll soon find yourself frustrated by some or other arbitrary and not all that wonderfully effected rhythm or guessing game that more often than not frustrates more than entertains. Still, these plentiful mini-games do break up the pretty monotonous RPG gameplay and while they may annoy traditional RPG gamers, newcomers to the genre may very well appreciate all these little extras.
On the graphics side of things, the game doesn’t look all that different from Final Fantasy X, even going as far as recycling most of the backgrounds from the original game. Of course, this isn’t particularly a problem when you consider that Final Fantasy X was one of the best looking games ever. The character models have however undergone quite a skimpy makeover and the game in general feels a lot brighter and more vibrant than before. We also get treated to some of Square Enix’s legendary pre-rendered FMV scenes, though perhaps not as frequently as we would have liked to see them.
And of course in order to match up with the sumptuous visuals on display, Final Fantasy X-2 certainly does not skimp on the sound effects featuring a top notch voice cast that manage to capture the lighter feel of this title to perfection. The original soundtrack is as good as always, consisting equally of light-hearted fluffy pieces and darker, more heartfelt tones.
In the end, the new chapter storyline breakdown makes it possible to breeze through Final Fantasy X-2 in half the time than what it would normally take you to finish a traditional RPG title, but if you stubbornly go after all the extra material then you can in fact sit with a game that is comparable to any other Final Fantasy title in terms of length and longevity.
This lighter tone Final Fantasy title, and overlooking some of its minor flaws, has a completely different feel from any other Final Fantasy title before it but at the same time captures the same epic, poignant and love lost feel that has always been associated with the long running Final Fantasy franchise and as such shouldn’t be skipped out on by any true Final Fantasy lover because honestly, it is as good as any other Final Fantasy you have played before and sometimes, just sometimes, it is good to try things a little different.
For people new to the Final Fantasy mythos though, Final Fantasy X-2 may not be the greatest of starting points because a familiarity with the Final Fantasy X storyline is essential to getting the full enjoyment out of this sequel, never mind the fact that this new dressphere and VERY active battle system may prove a little daunting to people not used to the RPG genre.
A solid and entertaining game that although sure to be hated by many Final Fantasy traditionalists, is as good as any other Final Fantasy title ever released.