Selling Nostalgia is big business at the moment in the video game industry. With the latest consoles crying out for titles it is no wonder that this lucrative rose tinted money pot has been approached by all and sundry.
Final Fantasy X for a large proportion of Final Fantasy fans, (myself included), still stands as the best in series from a list of titles both grand in scale and delivery. Until recently, each of the Final Fantasy forebears have been surpassed in some way by its newer sibling.
FFX, for its time was a revolution. The first to appear on the new PS2 platform, it stunned audiences with its spectacular graphics, the inclusion of voice acted characters and character models bringing the series back from the chibi style FF9 and FF7 and setting a standard alongside what I expect Square had hoped to achieve with Final Fantasy 8, but were hindered by the limitations of the hardware.
It’s direct sequel FFX-2, which was the first of its kind in the series, at the time split the fan base both due to the “direct sequel” approach which had never before been taken and to some appeared to represent a cynical cash grab tie-in off the back of FFX’s success, and due to the “Dress-sphere” system which seemed to garner a lot of hatred, from what I could understand of it, due to the perception that it was the Barbie dress up equivalent of the Final Fantasy series.
If I have to be honest, my own perception of this title were so tainted by the uproar over this title, that I never played it, until now. But lets look at FFX first.
Being the first Final Fantasy title released on Sony’s soon to be record breaking hardware, it understandably was talked of reverentially when it first arrived, but the question is, over a decade on, how do these two titles fare?
Graphically, FFX and FFX-2 were groundbreaking in their time, and the FMV game sequence attest to this fact.I still get a chill every time I watch the “opening” FMV. As Nubuo Uematsu’s Otherworld strikes those first distinctive chords that signal the start of something truly supernatural bearing down on our protagonist Tidus and the unsuspecting populace at large always fills me with awe. These FMV’s remain one of the most impressive features of both titles to this day and if I am honest, I could see little difference in the FMV’s from this title and those retained in my memory from when I first played through the title. In game models and backgrounds though have had a loving sheen applied, and although still somewhat jagged and blocky, the graphics on the main characters have a crisper, more impressive look to them. Sadly, the same cannot be said for non-player characters throughout, who appear to have been left with little modification of note during this HD remaster. This is most obviously noted when you disenbark at the start of the game, and the excited children and female Blitzball fans are standing side by side with Tidus. As it were, within the first 5 mins of the game, the illusion was broken, but those who focus on graphical fidelity solely will surely miss out on what is, without a doubt a standout game.
Thankfully, that which makes every Final Fantasy hold that dear place in our hearts is still there in abundance. A few mis-steps which appeared in the original release aside, (Im talking about the laughing scene, among others), the voice acting and scripting stands the test of time and alongside the grandiose story-line with dialogue that is emotive and believable. Every character from the chirpy Rikku; the misunderstood Wakka; or the gruff and surly Auron – each character stands out on their own merits. The opening of the game has you take control of Tidus, as he arrives to compete in the Jecht Memorial cup. During the match, The city is attacked by Sin, the primary antagonist of the game and a cascading series of events has Tidus wash up on a beach, where Wakka and his team are practicing Blitzball. Noting your skills, he recruits you to the team and asks you to accompany Yuna as she makes the pilgrimage to perform the ritual to placate Sin for another ten years.
In terms of gameplay, FFX can easily be considered the turning point in the Final Fantasy formula. Although still effectively utilising the turn based system used throughout the series, the Real time Overdrive attacks relied on Quick Time Events to get the most out of the special abilities and active stops during combat allowed for a more tactical approach to battles as each character had there specialties to bring to the fight. Coupling this with the ability to change your party on the fly allowed you to take a myriad of approaches to each fight.
Each iteration also has its hooks, both in levelling system and in minigames.
FF7 had materia levelling and the Gold Saucer for its myriad of distractions; 8 had the Magic-esque card game and the beloved Junctioning system; 9 had Item skill levelling and chocobo treasure hunting; but all of these pale in comparison to Final Fantasy X’s Blitzball and Sphere Grid (in my own opinion). The Sphere Grid system allows players to fully customize characters into whichever role they please by selecting appropriate skill and advancement nodes on the grid. The standard grid focuses on each character to their respective strength’s; Tidus as a fast physical attacker; Lulu as a strong magic attacker; Yuna as a White Mage. The Expert grid on the other hand allows you to build out your characters as you see fit, giving you a clean slate from which to start. The choice of which mode you go for is offered solely at the opening of the game, so some prior knowledge of the game is recommended for selecting the Expert grid, but it does give the most conclusive version of the game.
The grid itself has that “Just one more” appeal, and you will find yourself wanting to grind a few more enemies to unlock the next skill or bonus on your list throughout the duration of the game.
Like all true final fantasies though, grinding for the end game is a must, as the difficulty level of bosses does spike towards the last quarter of the game, but like most good JRPG’s there are enough side quests, hidden bosses and events throughout the world of Spira to prevent this from being a chore.
Should you require a break from the battling, Blitzball could be the answer to all of your needs. As one of the most comprehensive and addictive mini games in the series, it can become as much of a time sink in its own right as progressing through the main campaign.
Blitzball is best described as a cross between football and rugby, conducted in a large spherical water arena, known as the Blitz pool. As you traverse Spira, you have the ability to recruit players to your team to shape as you see fit, in order to win as many games as possible. Each character has a myriad of stats which can be derived to three core fields; Passing, offensive and defensive. Judging your teams stats for both strength and weaknesses compared to the opposing team is key to winning matches, and prizes range from simple items to additional unlockable Sphere Grid abilities, making shaping your team to win rewarding if you take the time.
It is worth noting that FFX is also accompanied by its more controversial and less well-received sequel, FFX-2. If you were to descripe each in a single word FFX would be Epic and FFX-2 would have to be Kooky.
From the outset, the opening J-Pop style re-introduction to Yuna, Rikku and newcomer Paine following the events of Final Fantasy X, show how toungue in cheek this “sequel” actually wishes to be. For all the Kitsch and cheesiness, beneath the surface of FFX-2 there beats a truly worthwhile RPG.
Almost all of what FFX did differently was changed, and X-2 pulls more influence from older titles such as V through VIII than it does from its direct predecessor. Gone is the QTE and tactics heavy combat, to be replaced with a fast paced Active Time Battle and a simplified Job system from Final Fantasy V. Dresspheres are the order of the day allowing each of your three characters to perform any role for which they have the appropriate dress. These “Spherechanges” allow each character to change job role mid fight, allowing for a somewhat tactical approach depending on your choice and the skills associated to each job in your arsenal.
Storywise, X-2 deviates wildly from its predecessor, with a more upbeat and light hearted tone to the characters motivations and dialogue when compared with the solemn, sombre beats of FFX’s religious and self sacrificial overtones. This, along with the lack of explanation or reason for the transformation of Yuna in the intervening years, from a meek, shy summoner to a hot-pants wearing, gun toting, J-pop star makes this iteration feel disjointed, ill-paced and ultimately confusing.
Graphically, the overhaul of FFX-2 seems to have taken better to this title than FFX, and character models, enemy and backgrounds truly pop on the Vita’s OLED screen.
Under the absurd veneer that has been applied to FFX-2, there is a lot of mechanics and minigames to take up your time.
Aside from kitting out the different job dresses to your dressperes, there is also a rather comprehensive, complex and enjoyable creature creator system that can see you capture, train and utilise fauna from around Spira in your party if you prefer which provides a welcome distraction from the main quests political intrigue and faction wars, but the true icing on the cake is Iutycyr tower.
This post-game mission allows you to pit your party against a series of monster filled floors in what is essentially a Roguelike dungeon crawler. Although the progression throughout this tower can be somewhat of a grind, the rewards are there to make it worth investing time into.
All in all, this feels like the alignment of the stars with FFX, and to a much lesser extent FFX-2, finding its true spiritual home on the vita. Both titles are singularly enjoyable and having this available on the go is something the 22 year old me could only dream of when FFX was released.
If you have already journey with Tidus and the team through Spira, or YRP as they hunted down spheres, this is a brilliant way to revisit what is a seminal final fantasy Duology. If you have yet to do so, and are a fan of JRPG’s, this is a title that must be played.
MLG Rating: 9/10 Format: PlayStation 3 / Vita Release Date: Out Now
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Final Fantasy X / X-2 HD Remastered by the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of five weeks on a PS Vita. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.