Final Fantasy. A series named due to the ultimatum it laid out; sell well or signal the demise of Square. A dichotomy of sorts, considering the series is approaching it’s 15th main entry, many more if you consider the numerous offshoots and spin-offs that now exist. And yet many say Square Enix have long since been performing mis-steps with each new entry, straying off course into pastures perhaps less green.
What is a company that has seemingly been losing it’s mojo for some time now to do? Remaster previous entries in the series of course! And despite being delayed, Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster is finally here for PS3 and Vita, and I’m sure many of you will be wondering whether Square Enix has done justice to the series given the Jak Trilogy-gate scandal that opposed opinion so feverishly last year.
The good news is that Square Enix has managed to dispel what many a Vita owner will have no doubt been fearful of; the framerate in Final Fantasy X HD (FFXHD) is more or less rock solid, and as a HD Remaster Square Enix have done a fantastic job. But before we delve into what’s new in this remaster I’d like to recap on what makes FFXHD such a great entry in the Final Fantasy series, for those of you who may not have experienced this epic classic from the PS2 era, way back in 2002.
A classic JRPG in structure, FFXHD follows Tidus, a famous Blitzball player as he is transported from his home town of Zanarkand to the world of Spira by a menacing force we discover to be called “Sin”. Unaware as to exactly what has happened to him (or why), the game’s 50+ hour journey consists of an intertwining plot that slowly uncovers the secrets of when, why and how Tidus has been transported to the land of Spira, and as to exactly what “Sin” is. Upon your quest of discovery Tidus quickly builds relationships with several characters that are pivotal to the uncovering of just what the hell is going on.
The world of Spira contains some similarities to Zanarkand. Blitzball exists in Spira as it did in Zanarkand, and “Sin” is still a terrifying force that can destroy entire towns in seconds. The universal sign for Bitzball from Zanarkand has been transported as well, however in Spira it is a sign of prayer for a religion known as “Yevon”. After meeting Wakka, a failed Blitzball team captain, we are soon introduced to Yuna, a summoner who is tasked with journeying from place to place throughout Spira, entering into sacred temples and passing their unique trials, gathering Aeons to summon from each in order to eventually defeat Sin and restore calm to the world of Spira.
Of course, being a Final Fantasy title this is the bare bones of the story as I do not wish to ruin anything. Being a typical JRPG, battles and levelling up your characters are the main staples here.FFXHD introduces the “sphere grid”. Rather than each character going from level 1 to level 999, as you gain experience in FFXHD you are awarded sphere levels, which allow you to move around the grid, with spheres being collected from battles and chests, allowing you to fill in the grid, gaining upgrades for health and magic, strength, new abilities and more.
Being the international version, FFXHD contains the expert grid which wasn’t available on the original North American release (though it was in Europe). If you choose the expert grid it changes the way each character progresses throughout the game. Whereas with the standard grid each character starts off at a specific point and is forced down a particular path initially, the expert sphere grid is more open allowing you to customise each character in any way you wish. I preferred the standard grid as it gives each character a distinct feel and abilities early in the game, but the option is there should you choose to play your own way.
The battles in FFXHD while turn-based, are faster and more fluid than the previous entries on PSOne. Rather than having to wait a specific amount of time for each character to be able to move, FFXHD contains character icons on the right hand side of the screen, showing the sequence of which each character and enemy will be allowed a move. This allows things to maintain pace while giving the player the opportunity to employ tactics and plan ahead. For example, when up against harder foes who are faster, you can employ Slow or Slowga to delay enemy attacks, allowing you more time to build up defense or lay a bigger offense.
I really can’t praise the battle system enough, as despite battles being random (and very frequent), this system takes some of the laborious waiting out and makes grinding feel much less of a chore. Moreover being able to see the path each character will be able to take allows you to aim for specific areas on the sphere grid; you know exactly what you’re aiming for. In FFXHD you can also switch party members on the fly without penalty which is essential as some enemies are vulnerable to particular elemental spells, or particular weapon types, such as Wakka being the only character that is able to physically attack flying enemies because he uses his Blitzball.
Aeon’s act as their own entities, rather than just strong attacks in FFXHD, so Yuna and all other party members are switched out of battle when an Aeon is summoned. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses, so tactical planning is a must. As players battle, an Overdrive gauge can be charged for much stronger special attacks, and this also applies to Aeon’s. Overdive attacks are handled well, as for example Auron’s Overdrive moves are based on hitting a specific sequence of buttons, and Wakka’s Element Reels act like a slot machine. It helps make the player feel more involved than previous entries in the series, as the effectiveness of many of the Overdrive attacks is directly dependent on player input.
Boss battles in FFXHD are fairly frequent and just as exciting. Enemies are rendered fantastically and all have their own personalities and abilities. Square Enix has done a fantastic job with the visuals here, and it shows on the main characters and enemies, which have had a substantial upgrade. Although the polygon count in many areas of the game is reminiscent of the PS2 era, the improved textures help making the game feel more or less current gen. While the players sometimes have slightly vacant expressions, some NPC’s still look like their PS2 equivalents and the lip syncing issues still exist, it’s difficult to be critical when so many other areas have been improved. This is, after all a HD Remaster, not a complete remake.
As I’ve mentioned previously, the framerate does occasionally falter, though it’s very minor and rarely noticeable. Framerate issues are isolated to when all of the main characters plus NPC’s are onscreen, or rarely during battles with bigger enemies and major effects flying round. Never did I experience any issues in framerate while roaming around from place to place, so these minor stutters are more or less isolated to the more visually intense cut scenes. While on the subject, the FMV sequences that the Final Fantasy series are known for are thankfully as amazing as ever. I noticed no compression issues whatsoever, a mean feat when considering the limited (3.4GB) space. Despite the aspect ratio being changed to incorporate the Vita’s native resolution, I never noticed the cut scenes looking stretched in any way.
One interesting Vita exclusive is the ability to swipe the touch screen to bring up a quick heal menu. I found this feature invaluable as is negates the need to go into any menu to search for healing spells or magic; it’s perfect for those times you want to run around in circles to spark battles and grind. The soundtrack in FFXHD has also been redone, though I’ll be honest and say I cannot remember what the originals sounded like in comparison. Even so, the music blends perfectly with the somewhat serious tone of the game and never disappoints. The voice acting perhaps fares a little less well, most noticeably with the performance of Tidus which at worst can sound a little stiff. The other main character’s acting is somewhat better though, so it’s a minor quibble and it doesn’t affect the stellar script.
Outside of the 50+ hour story, there is still plenty to do. As you roam throughout Spira you are able to scout for Bitzball players to add to your team. Blitzball plays out almost like an RPG version of underwater football, and is a joy to play. Each team has five players including the goal keeper, and their own sets of stats. Movement is automatic, though when you have possession of the ball you can dribble yourself (THE BALL!) if you wish. Everything, from passing, to tackling, to shooting is stat based. For example, if you attempt to score, your shooting stat comes up against the goalies blocking ability, and the distance from the goal slowly diminishes your striking stat as you shoot. It forces you to be tactical, and to plan your team carefully. It’s also immense fun, and you can undertake entire tournaments if you wish.
Chocobo’s can also be trained and raced, and extra Aeon’s and ultimate weapons are also around to be found. While the first half of the game is fairly linear, tracking from point to point through Spira, later on an airship is unlocked enabling fast-travel and further discovery of the secrets the world of Spira belies. It’s also worth mentioning that the trophy set (with Platinum included) is particularly insane in FFXHD. Some of the bronze trophies in FFXHD could easily be silver or gold in other titles, so I’d heed a warning if you’re a completionist – be prepared to sink 150-200 hours minimum to get the platinum here; it requires every character to be maxed out, along with all the celestial (ultimate) weapons and extra bosses to be defeated.
Despite the length of FFXHD, it’s such a well balanced title that you will probably never tire of it. With the inclusion of the expert sphere grid, and “Eternal Calm” extra content bridging the story between FFXHD and it’s sequel, the length and strength of the story, the accessibility and depth of the battle and sphere grid systems, the likability of the characters and the sheer scope of everything, it was, and is still a classic that ever RPG fan has to play. Look out for our Final Fantasy X-2 HD review, coming soon!