Review by Psycho Penguin
"The prime example of an awesome game being destroyed by devastating flaws, and easily the worst FF in over a decade."
Who would have thought that Square would ever make a sequel to a Final Fantasy game? And no, I don't mean the typical Final Fantasy sequel that we've all come to know and love. I mean a direct sequel to a game. Imagine taking control from the end of Final Fantasy 7, and figuring out what happened to the world. Final Fantasy 4 would be interesting for a sequel, as well. Of course, Square decided to make a sequel for the one Final Fantasy that probably didn't need a sequel, since the ending was powerful and easily my favorite in the series. But I guess the kiddies wouldn't be happy with the sadness of that ending, so we get a sequel to ruin what was such a great game.
And make no mistake about it, Final Fantasy X-2 is Square's opportunity to make up for the fact a lot of people didn't like the original's ending. They also made it to make more money, which shows just how low they are willing to go. Especially if they want to make a ridiculously horrible sequel such as this one. Final Fantasy X-2 is the worst Final Fantasy in quite a long time, probably since 2. The gameplay is perfectly fine, but the entire feeling of the game has been slaughtered, going from a melodramatic feeling of a linear quest to a happy go lucky, non-linear adventure. The mood has completely taken a turn for the worse, and it drove me absolutely insane throughout the game.
There's been a lot of talk about this being "Charlie's Angels" like, but I am going to tell you that I had absolutely no problem with this game being about three women. I barely ever noticed it, and was far more annoyed by the happy go lucky music and mood that the game set. Controlling three women for the entire game was an innovative concept and made no improvement or detraction to the gameplay or storyline, and if it helped more women become role playing gamers, then so be it. I cannot in good faith say that I enjoyed the style approach that this game took, and it became so bad that it actually detracted from my enjoyment of this game at times.
That's because the music is some of the worst garbage I have ever heard. Usually, you can at least count on the music of a Final Fantasy game to be decent, but not so in this case. I almost wanted to stab myself in the head with a rusty nail after hearing the airship theme in the game, and hearing it 500 times during the course of the game was not my idea of fun. It eventually changes, but into something that's possibly even more annoying. Thanks, Square. The only more annoying song is the main battle theme, which was a horrible guitar riff that sounded like something my friend Wayne would compose back in 2nd grade. There's 3 battle themes in the game, and this is easily the worst. So, you hear it 37,000 times during the game. There's no need to make the player be entertained or enjoy the music during the battles, apparently.
Fortunately, not all of the music has been butchered. Zanarkand has a much better song now, surpassing most of the songs in the original game to boot. The alternative battle theme, a fast paced dance beat that plays during the beginning of the game, absolutely destroys the terrible main battle theme and should have been placed as the main battle theme. The two vocal songs, 1000 Words and Real Emotion, are tremendous and my favorite vocal songs in the series. It is the occasional glimpse of brilliance from the soundtrack that makes my disappointment in the majority of garbage spewed into the game all the more impactful. If they can make such an awesome song for Zanarkand, and a battle theme that doesn't make me want to turn the game off, then why do they settle for crappy airship themes, lame remixes of mediocre songs, and terrible battle themes?
(The next paragraph has a major FFX spoiler, since it's relevant to FF X-2's plot.)
When you're not busy being annoyed by the music, you'll have to deal with the plot. It's not like Final Fantasy X had such a mind blowing plot, but it's games like this that really make me sit back and appreciate it more. They took the original and awesome ending and made it into a storyline for this game. It's three years later, and Yuna is now the leader of a group called the Gullwings, who go around finding spheres for some unknown reason. Yuna finds a sphere that contains an image of Tidus, and she goes all insane and the game turns into a plot to find the guy that DIED 1,000 YEARS AGO AND WAS A DREAM ALL ALONG. I don't expect my video game hero(ines) to be brain surgeons, but common sense is never too much to ask for.
Regardless, you'll spend 35-45 hours of your life wasting time, figuring out what has happened to everyone in the three years you left them. Yuna apparently neglected a lot of people, since most of them are happy to see her. Nice way to repay them for all their help, Yuna. Anyways, the game is connected by a bunch of mini storylines, and the main storyline is never really developed or paid off in any dramatic way. It's like watching a bunch of TV episodes, and the game basically agrees with me, since in each chapter, you get 1 story scene for each area, and in chapter 5, you get "episode complete" if you paid attention to all the story scenes. So, the "find Tidus" storyline is relevant for maybe 10% of the game, and most of it is focused on a RIDICULOUS new main storyline, which will totally blow you away in terms of its stupidity, as well as minor plots that never connect to anything, but may put a smile on your face.
The funny thing about the storyline is when you find out that Lulu is pregnant, but she still looks just as skinny and un-pregnant as she did in Final Fantasy X. Then again, EVERYONE who isn't a major character in Final Fantasy X-2 looks the same as they did before. This is absolute lazy programming by Square, and it shows that Final Fantasy X really was an incredible looking game. While X-2 is technically a superior looking game, the improvements are very minute and don't really make a great deal of difference. Mostly everything looks like it did in Final Fantasy X, besides battle animations, which are far better. I had no problem with the graphics, since the prequel is an incredible looking game, but those looking for innovation or new graphics WILL be disappointed.
Unfortunately, they didn't reuse the voice acting. Some of the new voice actors are downright horrific. Just wait until you hear Wakka or Kimarhi. You will INSTANTLY know that these are not the same voice actors. The voice actors in X weren't very good, but you'll learn to appreciate their talent after putting up with these clowns. They barely voice any emotion and you can clearly tell they are reading off a script. The voices don't even mesh well with the characters. Kimahri sounds girlier, and Wakka is more caribbean, believe it or not. Paine, Rikku, and Yuna are voiced okay, although the girlish tone of the game may drive you to drink some vodka or something.
Since there is absolutely no quality innovation in ANYTHING I have reviewed so far, I might as well let you in on some good news. The gameplay has really undergone a drastic metamorphisis, and most of the changes are actually for the better. Let me get the bad points off my chest first, since the entire review has been mostly scathing and I want to follow this format while it lasts. The non-linear mission based gameplay is the most awful innovation of the entire game, bar none. Final Fantasy X was incredibly linear, so they just go and make this game as non linear as possible. You still don't get a world map, but instead you start on the airship, and you can go from area to area at your leisure. In each area, you usually have a mission to complete, and some of these missions are incredibly annoying.
For instance, one particularly memorable (for the wrong reasons) mission had you match monkeys up in Zanarkand. Zanarkand Dome is not a terribly large place, but it spans a good six or seven screens, on multiple floors. This mission had you find a monkey which has a heart over its head, then try to match it up with its lover with an incredibly vague hint the game provides. This requires you to backtrack through the dome NUMEROUS times, matching all the monkeys up as the mission progresses. This was a complete waste of time. It's not even the worst offender. The cactuar mission has you go around the WORLD to find stupid cactuars, and you have to bring each one back individually before finding where to go to get the next one. This type of artificial game length is not the type I appreciate.
This is also the first Final Fantasy to sport a percentage based system, which shows you how much of the game you have completed. This is an incredibly novel idea, but there's one thing I did not like about it. It didn't give you your full percentage, just rounded it off to the nearest whole number. This meant you really had no idea if you were at the correct percentage, save for rare times where the checkpoint in a walkthrough had a whole number. If you were off by a fraction, you wouldn't know, since you could assume you were off by .4 or even half a point.
This isn't even the worst aspect of the percentage system. The fact that the percentage system is so incredibly unforgiving is the worst part. Getting 100 percent in one playthrough has to be the most annoying and tedious thing in the history of role playing games. Not only do you have to do such annoying missions like the ones I detailed above, you also have to figure out things like resting in the airship's inn in each chapter, finding a hidden moogle in the beginning of the game, and not interrupting a guy from talking. You have to watch every second of every story scene, and you have to not screw up on anything. All this to get a slightly better ending that actually pissed me off, since it ruins the original's. I don't see the appeal, personally.
Fortunately, I will report that this game has its good points, and these really saved it. The battle system and level up system have significantly improved this time. The battle system returns to the three character format, since you only get three characters for the entire game. This was good because instead of having to spread your resources over a group of people, you only needed to worry about three all game, and everyone could be of near equal skills. Leveling up is a joy in this game, as it uses the traditional method of earning experience points to level up to the next level. Thank God. I loved the sphere grid, but there's nothing wrong with the classic way of earning levels.
Battles themselves are fast and furious, sometimes bordering on insane speed. I promise you have never played a Final Fantasy with this kind of speed. All three girls can attack at the same time, and enemies can attack while you are attacking. It's like a Grandia type battle system, with real time battle speed. It's truly immersing, and some awesome innovations to the series help it a great deal. The major one is the chain combo, where you can chain attacks together to make powerful attacks. For instance, a Gunner can do a Trigger Happy attack, for a total of 10 hits. If another character attacks right after this, they will be at the 11th hit, and will do considerable more damage than normal. Teaming up for devastating attacks makes challenging bosses just a little bit easier.
The dressphere system is not as new as you may think, as it's really just a job system in disguise. I loved how the game tracked the percentage completion of each dressphere, which is really an awesome feature for a skills grabber such as myself. Each time you learn an ability on a dressphere, the percentage changes in accordance with how much you need to unlock still. AP works a lot like it did in other Final Fantasies, you gain it after battle and it goes to an ability you are currently learning. Sometimes, learning abilities helps unlock new ones. The dressphere system is addictive and just as fun as the job systems of old.
The innovative thing about dresspheres is that you can change them during battle now. If you start off as a gunner and the boss is only weak against magic, just switch to the dressphere grid and select the black mage dressphere. You'll now have the black magic you need. The only downside is you need to have the dressphere equipped on the current garment grid in order to be able to use it during battle, but I guess this was done to prevent the game from being even easier than it already is.
You'll need all the help you can get, since abuseable things like summons are now gone. This is the first Final Fantasy game in quite a long time (I think 2 is the last one that didn't have summons) which prevents you from using summons at any point in the game. It's not really a huge deal, but it's something a lot of people seem to have either ignored or just not noticed. It just shows how innovative and different this game really is.
Another innovation that a lot of people never seem to mention is the removal of equippable weapons and armor. The only thing you have to worry about equipping are garment grids and accessories for the entire game. Each character's attack power and defense power are based solely on their job and level. Don't worry, the game is not any harder because of the lack of weapons and armor, and considering all the things you have to manage in this game, the lack of these mainstays were hardly a bad thing. In fact, it was kind of a refreshing change.
The downside to the game is that after a while, it just gets old. You get sick of the music, sick of the battles, and sick of going through the same tedious areas, doing the same tedious things, just to unlock an extra percentage point for an ending you can download off the internet. Final Fantasy X-2 is the first in the series with a new game-plus option, a mainstay in other Squaresoft hits. This option allows you to restart the game with the same percentage, items, dresspheres, etc., just like you had at the end of the game, but starting back at level 1.
It's a question of whether or not you will actually want to go through the game again, though. If you are at a high percentage, replaying the game and giving the sphere to another group will branch the storyline a little, but overall the storyline remains pretty linear. For such a non linear presentation, you'd think the new game plus would offer an unique chance to play through a different storyline, but it will be the same old, same old. The fact you won't have to waste time doing meaningless tasks is nice, since you already got the percentage for them and all, but spending an additional 15 hours to get a 5 minute cutscene at the end of the game, when you already know what is going to happen, is something a lot of people will just choose not to do.
Especially when the game is ridiculously easy like this one is. I take back all the bad things I said about 9's challenge, that game was 7th Saga compared to this. Once you get 2 Dark Knights and a Chemist with Stash Mega Potion, it's almost impossible to lose. All you have to do is have the Dark Knights use Darkness, while Chemist uses a Mega Potion every turn. Since she's stashing it, you don't waste one from your inventory. The battles, while incredibly fun, are simply too easy, and most of the "puzzles" are more tedious and brain numbing than taxing. The final boss is INCREDIBLY easy, but a special 100 floor dungeon has the typical challenging as hell secret boss in it, although he's not as hard as previous installments featured.
Final Fantasy X-2 is such a mixed bag of wonderful innovations and awful features that destroyed the quality, it's hard for me to place a concrete score on it. On one hand, I really loved the gameplay, from the fast battles to the new dressphere system. Only having to focus on three characters was a joy, and made leveling up fun for the entire game. Unfortunately, the tone and mood that the game set was not for me. It's a personal opinion, and I respect Square for making a "happy" game, but it was way too annoying for me. The music was a disaster, the mission based gameplay sucked, most of the missions annoyed me, and it was way too hard to get 100 percent. This game won't go in the closet with such stinkers as Chrono Cross or Legend of Dragoon, but it hardly lives up to the lofty expectations it had as being the first direct sequel to a wonderful game in an incredible series.
After pleasantly surprising me with a wonderful PS2 debut, Final Fantasy X-2 just needed a style change and better music to take its place next to FFX. As it stands, this is an incredibly disappointing attempt, and an extremely upsetting missed opportunity.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 11/08/05
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