Squeenix’s first direct sequel brings on the Paine.
I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being pleasantly surprised when Sqaure Enix announced for the first time ever that there’d be a direct sequel to a Final Fantasy game, set in the same universe and featuring many of the same characters. As we saw more and more previews however, many of us became a little worried at the fairly huge change in direction the sequel to Final Fantasy X decided to take. Sporting a much lighter tone, with a lick of J-pop and an approach some would consider girly, our fears were soon put to bed when the game released in 2003/2004 to massive critical and commercial success.
Before you continue reading you may want to attack my Final Fantasy X HD Remaster (FFXHD) review first, as, although you don’t strictly need to play Final Fantasy X before getting into the sequel (although it’s the same universe the story only loosely continues, and newcomers can follow things just fine), you owe it to yourself to complete the game in order to develop the relationships with many of the characters who appear in Final Fantasy X-2 HD Remaster (FFX2HD), two years on from the events of the first game.
Indeed, while I feel hesitant to spoil the story for you, the character’s evolution in such a short space of time in a world where “Sin” no longer exists, truly lightens the dark tone of the original. Whereas FFXHD was a constantly serious game with intense moral choices and a feeling of constant danger, FFX2HD is a world where the inhabitants of Spira (the world in which both games are set) are altogether happier, and have dreams, hopes and aspirations that were never present with the prior fear of constant death that Sin’s destruction could bring.
My biggest fear from having played FFXHD with it’s minor, noticeable framerate dips, is whether a game that was built on an improved engine with better graphics would be able to run as smoothly. It therefore comes as a relief to find that FFX2HD has an even smoother framerate than it’s predecessor. In fact, I was left somewhat surprised that there are any framerate issues in FFXHD at all as a result. The graphics and colour spectrum have gone from what feels like 9 to 11 in the sequel, as the lush vistas, crazy character costumes and in battle effects pop to an even greater fashion in FFX2HD. In fact, I’d go so far as to say FFX2HD looks better than some current gen Vita titles, NPC’s aside. Every time you pick up your Vita you will be dazzled by the sheer beauty on offer here.
The battle system FFX2HD has to offer shares a few similarities with FFXHD, but to me it felt closer to Final Fantasy VII on steroids. FFX2HD returns to the tried and tested Active Time Battle (ATB) system that so many of the series are well known for, with a few minor changes that speed things up. Rather than Yuna, Rikku and newcomer Paine (the three characters you’ll be spending your time with throughout) being in fixed positions like previous entries, the characters positions change throughout dependent on which actions are happening. It makes things feel a lot less static, and more fluid for the better.
For those of you who don’t know, the ATB system has a a bar for each character that fills up over time. Once this bar is full you are able to attack, use items or perform other actions. Some skills and magic takes further time to charge before the attack is unleashed. These bars charge much faster than in previous titles making things more exciting. Characters can also chain attacks together now, and some actions, such as “Trigger Happy” allow the player to deal hit after hit, while a bar drains down. The big twist in FFX2HD‘s battle system however is the introduction of Dress Sphere’s and Garment Grids which allow you to change job classes on the fly.
There are loads of Dress Sphere’s to find in FFX2HD, each one having unique abilities. To begin with you only have a handful, but each has their own set of strengths integral to the battle. For example, the Warrior Dress Sphere increases your health and strength, making you a formidable attacker, whereas the Songstress Dress Sphere allows you to dance, performing moves that either aid your party or cast effects such as silence or darkness on enemies. The Gunner Dress Sphere allows you to attack flying enemies and the Black Mage allows you to deal elemental spells.
The Garment Grids are grids where you can place Dress Spheres for battle, and can gain perks in this way. Each time you change Dress Spheres, you can only move to an adjacent place on the Garment Grid, so careful planning and placement of the Dress Spheres allow you to create a well balanced team. Also, some Garment Grids allow status changes such as increased strength or magic when moving from one part to another, so planning is key. The possibilities are endless, but once you get used to the system it’s fairly easy to progress. Each enemy defeated earns you AP, which in turn unlocks further abilities. You can choose what order to earn these abilities if you wish, but only enemies defeated while you are wearing the specific Dress Sphere give AP to the ability selected, so it encourages you to experiment and try new tactics.
The driving force throughout FFX2HD is Sphere Hunting. Using the Gullwing from the previous title, you fast travel from location to location, accepting missions, and upon completion you are able to see the messages these Sphere’s contain, shedding further light on the history of Spira. You can however, go to any of the game’s fifteen locations at any time, so the speed you wish to advance the story is led entirely by the player. Spira is a place where it pays to explore, so those who decide to veer away from the story and explore the world’s secrets will find plenty to do here. Each area has a difficulty based on the enemies you will encounter, so you can choose areas that are easier initially so as not to be destroyed by stronger fiends.
It’s worth noting that FFX2HD has five different endings, so there really is a lot to see and do. I remember thinking the game seemed shorter than FFXHD first time round, and it’s true that the story is, but the wealth of things to do make FFX2HD even bigger than the it’s predecessor. If you want to find every secret you’re going to be playing for weeks, if not months. Also worth noting are the sheer magnitude of minigames on offer. Again, not wanting to spoil anything I won’t reveal all, but “LeBlanc Body Rub” is just one of the strange yet humorous games you can find in Spira.
The main minigame in FFX2HD is called Sphere Break, and it’s not easy. It plays out on a grid and uses coins, the aim being to get multiples of the central numbered coin. If you love maths I’m sure you’ll find it enjoyable enough, but for those of us with a lack of calculation ability, it could be seen as an idea of hell. I don’t mind it personally, but didn’t find it as engaging as Blitzball, or the fantastic card games Triple Triad and Tetra Master, from Final Fantasy VIII/IX.
Specific to the Vita version of the game is the return of the front touch screen swipe that I enjoyed in FFXHD. Basically while you’re not in a battle you can swipe the touch screen left to right to bring up a simple healing menu. You can heal this way instantaneously through magic or healing items, negating the need to go through all the menus. It’s simple but effective in saving time. In FFX2HD you can also swipe the touch screen in battles, though this time you can choose to change the Dress Change animations between full, short and off. Given the amount of times you switch Dress Spheres in battle, the majority of players will change the animations to short or off within a few hours.
The extra content that was in the International Version of FFX-2 is present here, and it’s a much wealthier inclusion than the extra Sphere Grid and Eternal Calm from FFXHD. Aside from the extra Dress Spheres and Garment Grids that were introduced, the biggest additions that Western shores will be experiencing for the first time is the Creature Creator and Last Mission. The Creature Creator allows you to lay traps all over Spira via a menu in order to capture all of the fiends and even some NPC’s to train and use for battle. It’s kind of like Final Fantasy meets Pokémon. There are full tournaments and even special scenes viewed for completing the fiend’s stories. This alone adds many hours to the game, but that isn’t all you’re getting.
The final cherry on the cake is the Last Mission. It’s a mission you can select from the main menu which has you climbing to the 80th floor of a tower, with a boss every 20 levels. If you die you are sent back to the start, but there are items you can discover that allow you to send things back to the start, making the next playthrough potentially easier. It plays from a top down perspective, and adds more to what happened after FFX2HD. Last Mission even changes the story depending on what ending you saw in FFX2HD, and the levels are randomly generated too. So it’s another time consuming romp.
All this boils down to is a major, major amount of content to dig through. While I don’t feel the main story of FFX2HD is quite as engaging as FFXHD, there’s astoundingly more content here that in the predecessor. When you factor in the fact that they are sold as a pair (though the retail release contains FFXHD on the cart and a download for FFX2HD) for less than £25 there’s is seriously little that can be complained about. While the scores below reflect my opinion for FFX2HD only, taken as a pair this set of remasters deserves a 5/5 every time. It’s an epic couple of games at an even more epic price. Between the two? Probably 400-500 hours to platinum both. Talk about bang for your buck!