Final Fantasy X, in traditional Final Fantasy form, became the model for its generation of Japanese role-playing games. Final Fantasy X-2 replaced weight with whimsy and functioned as a celebration of its namesake. In the case of Final Fantasy X and its fanatic follow-up Final Fantasy X-2, their place in time and position in Square-Enix’s history are symbiotic parts of the same story. How they played is as important as what they meant; in the former objective magnitude is undeniable while an interpretation of the latter is entirely dependent on personal perspective. This is always true when a classic is remastered. In the case of Final Fantasy X / X-2 HD Remaster the question is how those two opposing forces aid in the absorption of a cohesive package.
In the real world, Final Fantasy X arrived at an awkward crossroads for Square. On one hand it was the third numbered Final Fantasy in three years and served as the crown jewel of Square’s assault on mainstream gaming. On the other hand, Square as a company was reeling from the incredible failure of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, one of the larger box office bombs of 2001. The beloved company that could do no wrong lost a ton of money on a cinematic venture into the unknown, and rendered Final Fantasy X – like Final Fantasy I years before it – as the make or break point for the entire company.
In the minds of gamers, Final Fantasy X sold the promise of the PlayStation 2. Individual results may vary, but, as senior in high school, I fondly remember abusing the computer lab’s T1-line to download then-state-of-the-art video of the opening computer-generated sequence. The way the water was spherically gathered in suspend animation, the return of turn-based battles, a reemergence of Eastern-styled characters, and the near-abandonment of pre-rendered backgrounds sent my friends and I into a wild frenzy over its potential. The usual Final Fantasy speculation – the more it changes the more it stays the same – was the only topic of conversation that summer. For the target audience, which we were unquestionably members of, Final Fantasy X was the second coming.
Here’s a weird thing you don’t hear much of anymore; Final Fantasy X lived up to its hype. Turn-based battles served as a refreshing and surprisingly strategic divergence from the active time battle system we knew and loved. Ridiculous words like “shoopuf,” “moonflow,” “farplane,” and “machina” became integral and respected terms of its narrative. The wide expanse of the Calm Lands, the magical intensity of the Macalania treetops, and the organic homeliness of Guadosalam served as vessels to transport minds to another world. Even that overly-criticized laughing sequence at Macalania’s pond defined the character of Final Fantasy X. For art and direction, it was a spotlight on imagination.
How it’s held up is a matter of personal opinion. Objectively, the game shows its thirteen years of age. Characters emote excessively with their hands, the writing is full of nonsense plot points and tired idioms, and the pacing, especially in the opening hours, can’t seem to get in a groove. These facets of Final Fantasy X can make it feel like a slave to its time and place in search of a master willing to overlook signs of age. Like anything else, this gets easier as the game goes on. For every supposed excess, like dodging lighting a hundred times or killing ten of every monster, Final Fantasy X is quick to answer with its remarkably solid battle system, endearing lore, and, of course, the unstoppable bastion of positivity known as Rikku.
This version of Final Fantasy X is subject to numerous additions and improvements. Chief among them are the HD coat of paint and remastered soundtrack. The former looks great for the portions of Final Fantasy X that use polygonal backgrounds, while the remastered soundtrack has few more misses. Different mixes of various percussive instruments make me feel like I’m remembering the game wrong, while the HD gloss, mostly, does the job of displaying the game I remembered under a modern lens. This sounds a bit testy because it’s always easier to point out flaws over triumphs, but the vast majority of Final Fantasy X’s technical presentation is 95% great. It’s likely the best Square-Enix could do without completing reconstructing the game.
Additions from the International and PAL version of Final Fantasy X have also been rolled into this collection. Chief among them is access to an expert version of the Sphere Grid, a no-holds-barred alternate path through character upgrades. With great power comes great responsibility, so while the probability of screwing yourself over is exceptionally high, but so are the rewards behind the amount of character customization it entails. Also included are optional battles against the fabled Dark Aeons, assuming the infamous Yunalesca fight wasn’t a proper test of your patience. Strapped to a separate part of the package is Eternal Calm, a twenty minute post-game narrative sequence constructed using established assets. Having never seen it previously I was a bit shocked at how well it setup the eventual premise of Final Fantasy X-2.
This, of course, brings us to Final Fantasy X-2. If you weren’t around these parts of the Internet in the early 21st century, the forum meltdowns and undying rage caused by Yuna & company’s transcendence into pop idols was second only to the cataclysmic reveal of Windwaker’s art direction. Yuna, Spira’s revered summoner and vanquisher of Sin was reborn as a…pop star? She was part of a team with Rikku and a new character named Paine? It recycles most of its assets from Final Fantasy X-proper? Some guy who looks like Tidus is involved? The main battle mechanic involves things called a Garment Grids and Dresspheres? What the hell?
While the premise and parts of Final Fantasy X-2 appear designed exclusively to infuriate its fan base, the execution and implementation of its ideas couldn’t have been more perfect. Dresspheres translate to jobs, and Garment Grids present different arrangements of those jobs. Active time battle is back, and focused exclusively on efficiently managing abilities between those jobs. Each job has unique attacks, status effects, buffs, or one-off powers, and juggling them between Yuna, Paine, and Rikku is the crux of Final Fantasy X-2’s combat system. The ridiculously fast pace at which it moves contrasts greatly with its strategy and planning-minded predecessor. At the time it was conceived and perhaps even now, Final Fantasy X-2 was the pinnacle mixture between two Final Fantasy system staples.
While its combat is a Frankenstein’s monster of proven ideas, Final Fantasy X-2’s approach to exploration was radically different from its peers. Composed entirely of separate missions, the player is granted the airship from the get-go and allowed to explore almost any of Spira’s locals. 80% of these recycles assets and locations directly from X-proper, though all repurpose goals and enemies to blend together with X-2’s narrative threads. Aided by new minigames (Gunner’s Gauntlet is particularly addictive) and new spins on older distractions (like Blitzball), a new game plus option, and the infamous Vai Infinito 100-floor tower, it’s clear Final Fantasy X-2 was built for a long term relationship between product and player. For what we all assumed was a cash-in leveraged on Final Fantasy’s good name, X-2 was quite a surprise.
Like Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy X-2 HD is also subject to the International version’s extra goodies. Probably the most pertinent and immediately useful is the addition of two new Dressphere’s, Psychic and Festivalist. I found Festivalist more of a novelty than anything but Psychic seemed to fill some the gaps left by the Alchemist Dressphere. There’s also surprisingly deep Creature Creator which can be used to trap monsters and add them to your squad. A careful balance ensures you monster party members won’t throw the game out of balance, though I’m sure there’s a way to eventually break something.
Last Mission is thrown in separately from Final Fantasy X-2, but functions as a mini-epilogue and is constructed like a classic roguelike. Just as Final Fantasy X-2 repurposed Final Fantasy X-2 assets to suit its needs, Last Mission remixes aspects for X-2 into a pseudo-tile-based dungeon crawler complete with all the bells and whistles expected of a Final Fantasy game. I found it frustrating and difficult, sure, but it’s there. There’s also a hastily constructed, audio-only epilogue that plays over the discs’ credits. I have no idea what it’s doing there and it seems to throw Final Fantasy X’s grand narrative even further off alignment than X-2 did, but I can’t fault Square-Enix for throwing something genuinely new into this collection.
Mostly for better and only occasionally for worse, that’s the complete package of Final Fantasy X / X-2 HD Remaster. Final Fantasy X remains a genre-defining legend while Final Fantasy X-2 dances neatly through its (largely undeserved) saccharine and exploitative expectations. Goodies in the form of additional content can mostly be ignored if they’re not your liking, and the HD gloss applied to every audio and visual outlet do far more good than harm. Under any lens Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 don’t feel ravaged by the father time – which is exactly what’s needed for another hundred hours spent across Spira.