Having played, but never finished Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 in early high school, I still retain a number of fond and not so fond memories of the two titles. FFX I considered to be one of the last great FF titles, with great presentation, a good storyline and a combat system was for many years, what I considered to be the pinnacle of traditional turn based JRPG combat. Unfortunately it also suffered from possibly the most unlikeable protagonist I’d ever encountered in the long running series until that point. FFX-2 on the other hand completely baffled me and utterly lost my interest within the first hour. It was this appallingly cheerful, ridiculously corny game that had some manner of newfangled battle system that I just didn’t want to deal with. Now, with the benefit of hindsight and a HD re-release I can reconsider the judgments I made about the game all those years ago.
Unsurprisingly, the first thought that sprung to mind when I began replaying Final Fantasy X was “Damn, Tidus is as awful and irritating a character as I remember!” Uncharitable perhaps, but entirely justified. He’s a goofy jockish moron who, when not being an insufferably cheerful dolt, also whines a lot and mentions his father issues. Although that’s understandable as his father was an emotionally abusive jerk. Still, he might have been a more palatable protagonist were it not for the addition of voice acting. Alas, the voice acting for Tidus just turns him into a perfect storm of annoyance. Indeed, if his voice had a face, I would punch it. I would punch his voice, in the face. In fact, a fair amount of the voice acting in the game is less than stellar. At its worst, it’s bad. At its best, it’s usually pretty corny. While several aspects of the game have aged well, voice acting isn’t really one of them.
It doesn’t help that the script is often full of ham handed attempts at building pathos and some utterly dreadful melodramatic lines. A significant portion of scenes where Tidus and Yuna interact and develop their relationship are rather cringe-worthy. Yes, the infamous laughter scene is as terrible as you remember. Quite problematic considering that the connection between the two is a major element of the plot… That being said, it is an old game, and these problems are still a dime a dozen in JRPGs even today. Dodgy scripts and hammy delivery? Sounds like almost every other game in the genre. The core of the storyline however remains impressive. The world of Spira, despite the bright colours and absolutely garish aesthetics, is an awfully grim place. Sin, an all but unstoppable monster, freely rampages about and wipes out entire armies and cities. All the people can do is try to eke out an existence in the face of almost certain death. It’s a surprisingly dramatic and dystopian setting despite how gaudy it is, and despite the occasional awkwardness of the script there are some genuinely poignant moments.
The gameplay however remains as good as you’re likely to remember it. It is, in many ways the sum of Square Enix’s many years of work up until that point and remains the last “old school” style Final Fantasy title made. At it’s centre; classic turn based combat with a few added and entirely welcome features. Seriously the ability to freely swap party members as well as change weapons and armour mid battle was possibly the best thing ever added to turn based JRPG combat until Bravely Default came out. It might be tedious and slow at times, but damn if it isn’t familiar and comfortable. Apart from the traditional gameplay, the sphere grid system of levelling is also superb. Earning sphere points and using them to move about on a grid purchasing skills and power ups allowed for a great deal of customisation and the ability to develop useless characters into absolute powerhouses. Throw in a good story, gorgeously remastered but admittedly still dated looking graphics and an incredibly memorable and often haunting soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu, as well as trophy support and there’s quite a bit to enjoy about this title, despite its flaws.
Final Fantasy X-2 on the other is an entirely different kettle of fish compared to its predecessor. Indeed, it might be a different kind container holding an entirely different kind of sea creature. Remove the tone of tragedy and pretty much all the poignancy underlying FFX and replace it with corny light heartedness and all the camp of its gaudy exterior. Remove the traditional gameplay elements and replace it with a real time combat system where you change clothes to swap character classes and a rather non-linear gameplay structure where you can freely travel from area to area while completing missions. Get rid of the melodic works of Nobuo, and replace it with some kind of J-Pop Rock ensemble. Small wonder then that FFX-2 remains a rather contentious title. When I first played the game, I spent no more than an hour before retreating in disgust. Where was the sense of gravitas to the storyline? Or failing that, where was the sense of whimsy like the older titles? Instead I had what seemed like Charlie’s Angels if they were in a Japanese Magical Girl Anime like Sailor Moon or something. Lots of poses, girl power, magical transformation sequences and all.
Playing it now however I realise I did the game the something of a disservice. It’s just as awfully cringe inducing as I remember, but beneath that utterly ridiculous veneer, it’s a pretty solid game. The combat system is oddly addictive with (sigh) swapping dresses and the real time element adding tactical depths and the plot has some surprisingly good elements about political upheaval and rising factions threatening war. Not exactly a classic, but still a fairly good game nonetheless.