Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster PC Review
In many ways, the debut of Final Fantasy X on the PS2 marked the end of the franchise as we previously knew it. While the FF series had already made some drastic changes during the PSX era, where the games moved away from Nintendo hardware as well as its 2D roots, the games themselves still carried on the spirit and mechanics of its classic turn-based gameplay as well as sharing several narrative themes despite the wildly different premises of each game. In other words, each game still “felt” like a Final Fantasy game.
After the success of Final Fantasy X, the series would branch off wildly with each following iteration, experimenting with all sorts of different gameplay revisions and concepts. Naturally, this caused quite a bit of division among fans, with some titles being praised for their innovation (FFXII) to others receiving a divisive reception (FFXII, again) that would only grow with each new game. Even the upcoming Final Fantasy XV, which is being touted as the biggest evolution in the RPG classic yet, has not managed to win over many of the fans-turned-skeptics after years of wildly different and inconsistent FF titles. The Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, released first on PS3 and then on PS4, fittingly symbolizes the breaking point among fans, with FFX being the last unanimously praised FF title and FFX-2 being the unexpected experiment that gained an equal measure of love and scorn among the fanbase.
Starting things off with Final Fantasy X, the franchise’s debut on the PS2 brought with it many of the styling and sentiment of its 3D predecessors, with a greater emphasis on the cast of characters rather than the overarching plot about saving the world from the latest dark threat. On a technical scale, FFX was also the next big graphical evolution of the series, ditching pre-rendered backgrounds for full 3D assets, and supplying voice acting for its characters during cutscenes. While both the visuals and voice acting haven’t aged entirely gracefully (bring up “the laughing scene” in front of any FF player and witness their response), they signified the next big leap in gaming aesthetics in the time, and the HD Remaster does the job in prettying up an already pretty game.
The gameplay itself still holds up the most, offering what is arguably the most realized version of the franchise’s turn-based combat. While previous FF games featured an ATB (Active Time Battle) bar for each party member to wait until it filled up to signify their turn, FFX instead shows in advance the order of turns between party members and enemies. Knowing the order of turns ahead of time drastically changes the flow of battle, where players need to consider several scenarios with this information: for example, an enemy is shown to attack right after a party member with low health makes a turn. Does the player use that turn to heal the character, or try risking an attack to finish off the opponent? Things only get more complex when factoring abilities that can change the order of turns in various ways. The game also features the ability to swap out characters at any time which eliminates many of the frustrations of previous FF games, such as inactive party members losing out on experience points or not having a Fire spell ready to take out an enemy weak to that element.
Speaking of experience points, FFX does away with traditional leveling in favor of its Sphere Grid system. Each party member has their own Sphere Grid, which is a collection of nodes where each ability and stat increase must be unlocked with the points gained in battle as well as the accompanying sphere. With its branching paths, the Sphere Grid allows players to customize each character however they see fit, though it would be much wiser to expand on their existing traits rather than branching away from them; as a Black Mage, Lulu should learn more offensive spells, while raising the strength of a warrior like Auron would make him the most ideal party member. That said, there are countless ways to branch out and make whatever party setup is preferable, and the HD Remaster includes further ways to expand the characters (in addition to several other additional bosses and items that were previously exclusive to the Japanese International Version).
Final Fantasy X-2 is the first FF to really turn the franchise on its head with its wildly unique ideas. For one thing, it’s the first direct sequel to an FF story, this time focusing on Yuna as the main heroine, while also changing the somewhat bleak tone of the first game into something much more cheerful and wacky. Director Motomou Toriyama’s J-Pop love shines brightly in this game before it becomes a common aesthetic in his follow-up titles, in addition to his inexplicable writing that involves time travel, alternate versions of characters, and literally saving the world with choreographed dance routines. That said, FFX-2’s willingness to poke fun at itself is endearing, even if the jokes don’t always work and occasionally veer off into utterly creepy territory (make sure no young ones or parents are around during the massage mini-game…).
FFX-2 also features a completely different battle system, one that compliments the fast-paced free-spirited nature of the sequel itself. This time the ATB bars make a return, where each party member was wait for the bar to fill up before performing an action. The actions themselves also carry their own wait times, which vary depending on what the character is actually doing or what their current role is. Making its first return since FFV, characters can change their jobs, which give them completely new abilities and stats that determine their roles in battle. The big difference here is that they can also change their jobs in the middle of battle, which makes up half the strategy: switching to a Thief role allows for quicker attacks that do little damage, while Mage jobs require extra time in order to cast a spell. This thought-process continues with the dozens of other jobs, and it’s up to the player to decide which combination works best in each situation. They had better decide quickly, too, as the enemies do not wait for players to make their selection like in previous FF games.
The other big change in FFX-2 is the switch from a mostly linear story path to a mostly open mission structure. While on their Airship, Yuna and friends can jump around various areas at a time to engage in specific objectives. These missions are ranked in difficulty, so it’s totally possible (but mostly improbable) to jump toward a mission well past their current level. While this level of freedom is appreciated, it can also break the balance in several ways, causing some fights to be far too difficult and other fights to be utterly trivial, depending on the order taken. Likewise, fans of grinding will practically drool over the number of abilities to learn with each job, while the added features of the International Version also include a very complex monster-raising mini-game that nearly doubles the content by itself. There are also the roguelike elements of the Last Mission, another separate game that takes place after the events of FFX-2.
On a technical sense, the PC version of the HD Remaster is virtually identical to its console counterparts. This would be a case of good news for some who don’t own a current Playstation console, bad news for PC gamers hoping to get a huge performance boost. As usual, there are mods working on applying various improvements, including 60 frames per second, but at least this version does not feature any of the problems apparent in past FF games ported to PC. The PC version also has a welcome addition in the form of auto-saving for both games.
Simply put, Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster is the most complete package for one of the most celebrated entries in the series. Not everything included has stood up to the test of time, but the sentiment of the whole being better than the sum of its parts describes this HD collection perfectly.