Game Description: In Final Fantasy X-2, you'll return to the incredible game world you explored once before, for a new set of thrills and challenges!
"Some boys take a beautiful girl and hide her away from the rest of the world. I wanna be the one to walk in the sun. Oh girls, they wanna have fun"
So sang Cyndi Lauper in the eighties, and it would be easy to apply these lyrics to the main protagonist of Final Fantasy X-2. The games of the Final Fantasy series are role-playing games (RPGs) which each tell a unique story, with certain trappings (such as recurrent monsters and magic spells) to justify the moniker. Generally the world is in danger and a troubled young man must make things right. X-2 breaks new ground for the series in two major ways: it is a follow-up to the story of Final Fantasy X (FFX), and it does not feature a male lead.
Yuna was the strong but troubled damsel in FFX, which stayed focused on its hero Tidus. In this first direct sequel to a Final Fantasy game, Yuna tries to shed her conservative image (and clothes) as she takes front stage to learn more about herself and her travel companions. Disguised in hotpants, Yuna is joined by former castmate Rikku, the perky Al Bhed who I found so much more likable this time around. Rounding out the trio is Paine, a mysterious and reticent young woman with her own motivations. In my time with this trio I got a vibe different from that of past Final Fantasies. There is a lot of light-heartedness in this game, and some of the girls' interactions had me laughing out loud—a nice change of pace from the typically somber RPG.
One thing I'd like to address is regarding Final Fantasy X-2 being too "girly" a game. The comparisons to the stars of Charlie's Angels are apt. Goofy and silly Rikku is an underage Drew Barrymore. Tough-yet-feminine Paine has shades of Lucy Liu, which leaves Yuna as the demure girl-next-door Cameron Diaz. Together, they travel the world and bust baddies with plenty of weaponry, costume changes and high heels. I think that calling X-2 a girly game, though, is to miss the point. Although fashion plays a role, so does the gamer, learning about the new Spira and its onetime savior Yuna. If FFX was Tidus' story, then X-2 is Yuna's. And her story is funny, bittersweet, poignant and downright witty in turns, all wrapped up in some tight but stylish gameplay. The female cast may be new to Final Fantasy, but this game is still recognizably part of the franchise known for its story-telling and quality gameplay.
These three adventurers are driven by the desire to be top-notch sphere hunters. In an effort to learn more about their past and improve the future, people throughout Spira hunt for spheres which have recorded bits of information, like little movies. These movie spheres are an ingenious device to help move the plot along. A sphere featuring a mysterious man who looks like Yuna's lost love puts the plot in motion. The spheres are one of my favorite features of X-2. Playing a sphere is like watching a grainy movie, and I never knew what I might see in a sphere.
The quirky adventure story is joined by a fluid battle system that makes for a fun and fast-paced game. The dynamic gameplay of Final Fantasy X-2, based on dresspheres and garment grids, differs notably from its turn-based predecessor. Dresspheres provide the equivalent of jobs or character classes, reflected in the sassy outfit each character wears when a particular dressphere is active. Dresspheres must be equipped on a garment grid, which may possess inherent abilities. Getting the right combination of grids and dresspheres for each character was very engaging.
The beauty of this system comes into play during battle, which returns to the Active Time Battle (ATB) gauge system familiar to Final Fantasy veterans. When a character's ATB bar is full she gets a chance to act according to her current dressphere. But some girls just wanna have fun, and by electing to change dresspheres the player gets to see a stunning transformation sequence as a girl's outfit changes into something better suited to the job at hand. Whether a gal's style is stealing enemies' items, whacking monsters with a samurai sword or gunning them down with twin pistols, there is a dressphere available. I could do all these things with one character by changing dresspheres during a battle! There are many dresspheres to find, often during optional missions, so it helps to explore Spira. One of my favorites was the Gambler, which turns its bearer into a sultry personification of Lady Luck who attacks with slot reels or magic dice.
X-2 features an interesting score, a definite departure from traditional Final Fantasy fare with a focus on modern-sounding music, often with a J-Pop feel. Credits are shared by Noriko Matsueda (Bahamut Lagoon, Front Mission) and Takahito Eguch, who worked together on The Bouncer. I didn't care for it at first, but over time it's quite grown on me and I really enjoy the soundtrack. The U.S. release of X-2 features translated versions of the opening song "Real Emotion," and of "1000 Words," which are very good although I still prefer the Japanese version of "Real Emotion."
I'm hard-pressed to think of anything that holds this game back. The gameplay certainly does not. I think this is the toughest Final Fantasy game since the 16-bit era. During my first few battles I was constantly quaffing potions and phoenix downs to restore health and life, because I found my party dying—definitely not expected from a modern Final Fantasy. The game stays hectic throughout, and occasionally I would run into a powerful monster that left me no alternative but to run away. This meant I had to stay on my toes, and it was nice to feel challenged. Sometimes it was hard not to be dazzled and distracted by the dressphere transformation scenes. Fortunately these can be abbreviated or eliminated by options settings. I do wonder why Square Enix still refuses to put sound adjustments in its games. I'm used to console games that let me adjust music and sound effect volumes, and it's a minor complaint that X-2 doesn't follow this trend.
With X-2, Yuna fulfills the yearnings of Cyndi Lauper by leaving behind the boys to take the lead role and have fun with it. Her journey through Spira, both sunny and stormy, had a satisfying conclusion. Looking past the graphically pleasing surface, there was plenty of gritty gameplay to hold my attention. Building up my characters by learning new dressphere abilities was more enjoyable than leveling in recent RPGs, as was the earnest and lighthearted telling of Yuna's story. Final Fantasy X-2 is a great reinvention of the long-running series, and worth the time spent visiting its world.
Let me get something out of the way before I say anything else: I absolutely loved Final Fantasy X (FFX). The game's "sphere grid" ability system worked wonderfully, the story was engaging and full of spectacle, and it had some of the most memorable, most roundly-written characters I've had the pleasure of playing. If you ask me, it was one of Square's finest efforts since the 16-bit era, and debatably their best ever. Hearing that there would be a direct sequel, I could hardly wait. On top of that, being one of the fans of "oddball" games here at GameCritics.com, I figured the new mission-based play, Dressphere system and lighter tone would be right up my alley.
However, unlike Jason, I didn't actually enjoy the game very much, and the degree to which I disliked it was a bit shocking.
My thoughts on the Dressphere system and the game's refined mechanics are basically in line with the main review. Using and switching between the different outfits is quite simple and easy to grasp, yet it adds a pleasant level of complexity to the random encounters. The supercharged speed of battle initially blew my mind, and although I do think it's still a little too chaotic and quick for my taste, it becomes manageable sooner than you'd think. Different enough to feel fresh and new, yet familiar enough to avoid an awkward learning period, Final Fantasy X-2 (FFX-2) excels with regard to its core battle structure, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for it. Beyond this, I'm not too happy.
For me, defining characteristics of the best role-playing games (RPGs) are the story and characters. Some players may place a higher priority on the stat-based gameplay or the ability to dig deep into the search for hidden items and sidequests, but I don't enjoy those things for their own sake—I enjoy them only as complementary additions. I'm going to have to disagree with Jason and say that compared to the strong showing in FFX, FFX-2 just doesn't stack up.
Looking at the quality of the cast, I found lecherous screwball Brother to be an absolute riot, Yuna a little above average, and Rikku good for a chuckle here and there. But, new addition Paine was as dull as a pancake without syrup, coming complete with lifelessly flat voice acting to match. The rest of the game's inhabitants were complete washouts. I just didn't care about helping the girl who had a dream of riding a fluffy yellow chocobo, nor the sideshow huckster trying to earn a living by putting on a riverside performance, nor the semi-crippled leader of the Youth faction, nor any of the myriad people who are incapable of solving their own minor problems without your intervention.
The central story in the game was every bit as mediocre as the casting, and upon reaching the fifteen-hour mark, I had basically given up hope that it was ever going to grab my interest. Unfortunately, it was all too easy to maintain that same level of apathy until the end. I simply didn't find it very interesting to "explore" the different areas of the game's world for minigames and items because the bulk of the sidequests aren't relevant, and don't add much besides time spent on the clock. Giving me a wealth of minor diversions is all well and good as garnish atop a juicy quest, but even the greenest, freshest, tastiest, parsley in the world means nothing if the sirloin beside it lacks flavor.
I would have been all right with simply writing FFX-2 off as an unusually bold experiment and moving on, but Square played a little joke on me (and others, I'm sure) by making it terrifically easy to arrive at the game's final section underpowered and ill-equipped to actually complete it. Since the story wasn't keeping my attention, I ended up skipping many of the sidequests. In spite of this, the game remained an effortless cakewalk until the last area. I don't see what's accomplished by this eleventh-hour spike in difficulty besides some ill will towards the developers, but be aware that if you don't spend "enough" time noodling around Spira, you'll certainly pay for it later by falling into this little sand trap—the only way out being a few hours of straight leveling up.
It was difficult to come to a verdict on FFX-2. On the one hand, Square really took significant steps to avoid creating a carbon-copy sequel (which would have been all too easy to do), not to mention risking guaranteed sales with such a radical departure. On the other hand, they seem to have lost sight of what made FFX such a great experience to begin with. The fact is, as much as the analytical portions of my brain appreciated the lush graphics, unique Dressphere mechanic, and nontraditional approach to progression, the weak story and boring characters deal significant blows to the game as a whole.
Taken as the ultimate epilogue, fans of Final Fantasy's technical side will have a heyday with the wealth of tasks and secrets to keep them occupied, not to mention that going for 100% without the aid of an FAQ could be a near-endless pursuit. For RPG fans more interested in high adventure or fantastic tales told well, Final Fantasy X-2's lightweight return to Spira could be a little disappointing.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Suggestive Themes, Violence
Parents should know that although this game contains little that would make it inappropriate for children, the content is still aimed at a teen audience. The character outfits tend to be provocative, and the central themes of love and loss are perhaps lost on younger children, but the overall game is clean.
Fans of Final Fantasy shouldn't miss this excellent re-working of the core concepts of the series, which still features Cid and cactuars, while bringing back the Active Time Battle (ATB) gauge for fast battles. The mission structure makes X-2 feel more open than past games in the series, letting the player tackle Spira as he sees fit.
Gamers who missed Final Fantasy X will be missing out on enjoying the whole story, and if possible should play that game first, although it is not required.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers will be happy to know that all dialogue that carries the story forward is subtitled (on by default; configured in options). The singing during computer-generated cutscenes and post-battle one-liners are not subtitled.