Games | PlayStation 2 | Final Fantasy X-2


By Parish | March, 2003 | A zany part of the Final Fantasy Series


The single biggest cop-out in the art of reviewing is that most limp-wristed of decisions: "If this game is your kind of thing, you'll probably enjoy it." Such a bold prediction is about the safest statement in the universe, and therefore about the least useful for anyone reading a review for the sake of netting an informed opinion before making a purchase. [1] A reviewer relying on such platitudes might as well just warn readers from the start that, oh, hey, maybe you should go rent the game, because you're not going to learn anything useful here.

That being said, with a game like Final Fantasy X-2, it's practically impossible not to end on a wishy-washy note. Perhaps more than any other game on the planet, FFX2 has the unique ability to polarize gamers to extreme opposite sides of the love-it/hate-it spectrum.

The simplest way to describe Final Fantasy X-2 is thus: Final Fantasy X? meets Brittney Spears' Crossroads meets SaGa Frontier?. Needless to say, it's mind-bogglingly bizarre. It's also a kick in the pants for fans of the Final Fantasy Series. The question for those fans is, do you enjoy being kicked in the pants? If not, every moment you spend playing this game will feel a lot like having bamboo slivers inserted into your eyes while Satan drinks the distilled essence of Your Brain from a goblet made of your skull. On the other hand, if you enjoy having your preconceptions taken out back and beaten with a brickbat [2] and believe tradition is something best left to the dead, you should preorder a copy of this game today.

Anyone who has ever looked at a gaming website has seen the basic details of the game explained a few dozen times already - blah blah blah first-ever direct sequel to a Final Fantasy; uses same basic game engine as FFX; features only three characters, all women, one of whom is a newly-liberated Yuna in a trashy wardrobe; blah blah; etc. This is all fairly mundane; more important to the overall gameplay is that combat is extremely fast-paced and focuses primarily on a streamlined version of the Job system. Unlike FFX's combat, which was slow-paced and often highly strategic [3], FFX2 has an incredibly speedy real-time system.

But in contrast to previous iterations of the Active-Time Battle concept, this one actually takes physical space into account for more than just the Tonberry battles. The computer arbitrarily determines your physical location on the battlefield in relation to the enemies, and carefully-timed three-person combo attacks (and the ability to interrupt enemy actions) are vital to victory. In fact, combat most resembles a 3D reinvention of the Chrono Trigger? system, starring alternative-universe versions of Ayla, Lucca and Marle who are somehow capable of using traditional Final Fantasy abilities. One can only wonder why Chrono Cross? didn't feature this system first, but whatever; better late than never.

The Job system in the game is likewise much faster-paced (and necessarily less intricate) than those in Final Fantasy V or Final Fantasy Tactics?. Rather than requiring gamers to spend hours mucking around on the menu screen, this Job set-up allows characters to change Job classes in the middle of battle (accompanied by sailor senshi-like transformations, which can mercifully be deactivated; Square does listen to your demands. Sometimes.). In fact, such changes are vitally important, as the skills available at any given time are limited to those inherent to the character's currently-selected class. The result is that any party member can serve in any role at any time; but unlike in, say, Final Fantasy VII, each character has certain built-in statistical strengths and works best within a limited set of classes. While the change from FFX's perfectly-designed systems is a bit jarring, it all works well enough, and helps the game to zip along at a rapid pace. Few will argue that the game is worse for the change.

Where the knock-down drag-out web board flame fights will transpire is over the shift in the overall tone of the game from the rest of the FF series. For the first time in history, this Final Fantasy isn't really about saving the world from The Most Dangerous Nihilist Ever. In fact, it's not about much of anything at all. There's a story lurking behind the scenes, but it's pretty unobtrusive and, like the story of the Grand Theft Auto? games, can largely be ignored. Instead, much like the GTA titles, you can choose from a bevy of both story-advancing and incidental missions to undertake, or just cruise around and see the world. But these quests aren't exactly the playground of Tommy Verceti - aside from one odd mission where you run around murdering as many dogs as possible, there's nary a bit of criminal shadiness to be found.

In fact, the tenor of the game is distressingly upbeat; you'll find not a single sulky pretty-boy hero who whines as he saves the world. At times, it's completely ridiculous, as you'll find (for instance) if you play through the flashback mission in which you learn what Yuna was really up to in the game's opening sequence [4]. While the FF series has never been devoid of wackiness, this game is basically one long string of goofy jokes. The overall feel is not entirely unlike an older GameArts title such as Grandia?, minus the slow-paced plot and utterly improbable romance between a pre-teen boy and a self-confident 17-year-old girl. And a lot of Final Fantasy fans are, understandably, going to have a probem with that.

Playing Final Fantasy X-2 is not unlike having your mind split in twain by a shiny, spinning, 4.7 GB disc of death. As this game unfolded before my eyes, I could feel my very soul bifurcating into its two basic personality components: grim cynic and gushing fanboy. Here representing this inner dialogue are popular ToastyFrog Webcomix characters Pretty Soldier Rorita Bishoujo as the jaded, analytic "Left Brain," and ToastyFrog as the easy-going, forgiving "Right Brain." Don't read too much into these assignments; Freud this ain't.

Left Brain Right Brain

Looks like Acclaim and Tecmo aren't the only ones with a monopoly on pandering. Remember how when the roman numerals following the "Final Fantasy" name kept getting bigger and bigger, you made some lame joke about how funny it would be when they got to 30, because it would be Final Fantasy XXX? Good going, genius. Thanks for bringing this upon us all.

Despite your insinuations, FFX2 has about as much in common with BMX XXX as it does with Hot Shots Golf - they're both contained on shiny discs that play in your PlayStation 2, and that's about it. On the other hand, while Acclaim swears BMX XXX is clever satire, there really is a strong element of parody in FFX2 - the whole atmosphere is completely tongue-in-cheek. The game is 50% love letter to FFX fans and 50% a satire of the entire RPG genre. It's actually a pretty gutsy move on Square's part.

Yeah, it was pretty brave of Square to reuse all that game engine and graphical asset code. I bet it really made them quake in fear to consider cutting development costs in half while charging consumers full price regardless.

First of all, there are quite a few new enemies, a new playable character, and an hour or so of newly-rendered cinematics to experience here. Plus completely new music. And it's not as if this sort of thing has never been done before. Square is certainly not alone in reusing technology and graphics for sequels; it's smart business. Ever heard of, say, Megaman?? Castlevania? A little game called The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask? If anything, the Final Fantasy series is unusual for always featuring significant upgrades between chapters.

So basically, you're saying Square has given up what made the series so remarkable in the first place? I mean, nothing screams "respectability" like being compared to the Megaman series. Seriously, that's as good as waving a little white flag in the air and admitting that you've forsaken all creativity and artistic integrity. People have likened FFX2 to Tomb Raider? because of Yuna's ass-tastic new costume and twin pistols, but it looks like the analogy even extends to the cheapness of the developers.

Maybe you should save that particular analogy until we're playing the fifth identical Final Fantasy X game in the space of four years. It's not as though FFX2 is a carbon copy of Final Fantasy X, either - the graphics and locations are the same, but the battle system and skill upgrade mechanisms are completely different, and largely unique.

Well, Square has already publically mulled the possibility of a Final Fantasy X-3, so there goes that little claim to respectability. And speaking of three, whose brilliant idea was it to reduce the total number of playable characters to three? What is this, a Contrail game?

Considering the amount of character-tweaking involved here, it's probably just as well. Remember Junction swapping in Final Fantasy VIII, or Element switching in Chrono Cross? None of that here. It's a good way to streamline the behind-the-scenes skill manipulation while offering players a large amount of customization. Besides, throwing in someone like Khimari or Tidus would spoil the "girls' night out" aesthetic of the game.

"Aesthetic"? Give me a break. Yeah, most women I know love bonding with their girlfriends by violently murdering hideous monsters together. I have it on good authority that this is why women visit the bathroom in packs - it's in case they get ambushed by Fiends on the way.

No, the game really does play out like gal-pals on a mission from god or something. The three characters are a great complement to one another's personalities. Despite her newfound pride in her butt cheeks, Yuna is still pretty demure (just not so dreary). Rikku is still a bubbly ditz. And newcomer Paine is Squall Leonheart done right - no sulky inner monologues or aloofness, just a serious demeanor and a touch of stand-offishness that makes her the odd one out despite her value as a combatant.

OK, OK. Paine is cool. However, she alone can't justify the existence of a game which completely cheapens the moving and perfect (if rather Battle Angel-ish) ending to Final Fantasy X. Let's face it; FFX was self-contained. There was no need for a sequel.

No, but at the same time, FFX2 doesn't really cheapen the original game. You have the opportunity for once to see the aftermath of a ravaged world being saved, and how people revert to their usual nasty, hateful selves anyway. And if you're worried about Tidus suddenly showing up with a cheerful, "Yo!" - don't. The majority of the game's real plot revolves around the mystery of whether or not he's still alive. It's surprisingly tasteful.

Unlike the characters' outfits. How lonely do you have to be to get off on this stuff, anyway?

What, you mean you don't want to wear LeBlanc's outfit?

Oh, god. This game is so ludicrous. I'm pretty sure Square is playing us all for suckers. But you don't care, do you?

Can't talk. Mission Start.

Final Fantasy X-2 may be the worst thing ever to happen to the series. Conversely, it may actually be the best thing to happen to it in a long time. At the very least, it demonstrates that the creators aren't taking themselves as seriously as the series' weighty plots and white-knuckle incipient world-smashing disasters might suggest. It represents a kind of freedom, pacing and emphasis on gameplay never before seen in Final Fantasy. And it's utterly and completely frivolous.

The ironic result: FFX2 will probably appeal most to people who would normally scowl disdainfully at a Final Fantasy game.

Really, there's a lot to like about Final Fantasy X-2 - it has a character-driven sense of personality and whimsy rarely seen in RPGs. Just leave your inner cynic at the door, or you'll spend the entire time with a pained, constipated expression on your face.


Footnotes

[1] Not that this site is particularly a bastion of useful opinions. Why are you reading this, anyway?

[2] Or, alternately, if you're into pert teenaged female buttocks.

[3] Unless you're one of those people who immediately picked up a FAQ and found the game-breaking ultimate weapons ASAP. In which case, why not just buy a GameShark and drop the pretense?

[4] Here's a hint: it was hairy, sweaty and involved lots of balloons.