The Final Fantasy franchise has been a long-standing staple of the gaming world since the release of the first Final Fantasy in 1987. Since that time, there have been more than one hundred games that share the proud banner of the Final Fantasy name, with the most recent release being Final Fantasy X | X-2 HD Remaster on March 20, 2014.
Originally released in 2001, Final Fantasy X was the first PS2 game in the series. There was a lot of anticipation and excitement for the title as it made a number of changes from the traditional formula, including voice acting, a new combat system, and the transition from completely pre-rendered backgrounds to fully 3D areas that could be explored. Of course, it was a commercial and critical success upon release, so much so that it received a sequel, the first direct sequel within the series, which they so named Final Fantasy X-2, and released in 2003. Sadly, for Square Enix, it was not as well received as the original game, though it did still sell millions of copies worldwide.
While many earlier games within the series are remembered fondly, in some cases, to the point of fanaticism; Final Fantasy X and X-2 are often forgotten, despite being excellent games themselves, paving the way for future games with the new technology and advances they made. In late 2011, Square Enix announced their plans to release Final Fantasy X and X-2 as a HD collection in honour of Final Fantasy X’s tenth anniversary, and to allow a younger generation who may have missed the initial release of the games the ability to play them as most PS3s aren’t backwards compatible with PS2 games. Development was delayed, mostly due to many of the team being busy with working on the Final Fantasy XIII Saga at the time, but at last, this HD Remaster has finally reached our shores.
Earlier this year, I selected the FFX | X-2 HD Remaster as my most anticipated game of 2014, and it didn’t fall short of my expectations. With fond memories from the original launch, reliving the world of Spira in glorious high definition is exactly what I was hoping for. Despite knowing the story, thoroughly, from the hours I played them originally, my experience of the collection was one of renewed vigour. The magic of the environment captivated me once more and drew my attention like no other, almost causing me to forget my past history with the games.
The mystical world of Spira is a bright and enticing backdrop for Final Fantasy X and X-2, and one which is filled with architecture and vegetation that strongly hints towards a visual design inspired by Southeast Asia. The story of Final Fantasy X is a wonderful blend of action, humour, drama, and romance between our exuberant protagonist, Tidus, and the soft-spoken Summoner, Yuna. The narrative focuses on a group of seven young adventurers on a mission to save the world from a beastly creature rampaging the world, known only as Sin. Unfortunately, for X-2, the story doesn’t quite live up to the mark that its predecessor set, occurring two years after the ending of Final Fantasy X, it has a heavy slide toward humour with the muddy addition of a dramatic storyline inter-spliced with general silliness as Yuna and her two companions embark on all kinds of ridiculous adventures.
The plot of Final Fantasy X is clearly centred on religious and political issues, with matters of racism added into to the mix. I greatly enjoyed the story as it portrays several real and serious issues, and deals with them in a way that can be understood and appreciated, without making light of these sensitive matters. The characters start off with their opinions strongly set in various points along the scale of what’s right and wrong, and throughout your travels you see their eyes open and feel the impact of their shift in perspective as their own dark secrets are revealed. X-2 also portrays these same issues, but in a different way as the world has changed with various religious and political factions having been formed, all fighting for dominance as Yuna tries to stay out of it all, more dedicated to her own personal mission than meddling with the mass population’s worries of which group is right. It’s not as deep or meaningful as X, but still has enough redeeming moments to produce an interesting tale.
I can still recall being amazed by the advances in gameplay these titles introduced. X uses a “Conditional Time Battle” system, different to the traditional “Active Time Battle” system from the older games. The new method allows you to quickly switch party members in and out during combat, granting you more flexibility in your choices, and not having to worry about carrying the wrong party as you traverse the world. It also utilises the Sphere Grid system for levelling your party, allowing much greater customization of character’s skills and abilities as you can eventually teach any party member any skill, if you wish to work for it. X-2 introduced Dress Sphere Grids, operating much like the original job classes from early Final Fantasy titles, but also allowing you to swap them mid-battle according to your needs. These systems were new and exciting, they were different, and I loved it. In fact, X-2’s combat system is one of the things I remember most clearly from my original time playing the game.
However, with all of that being established, the enticement of a HD collection is what they’ve changed or added to the game. Immediately noticeable upon start up of either game is the enhanced visual quality. The graphics are dramatically improved across the board, the old jagged textures are a thing of the past as everything looks smoothed out, and the vibrant colours of the world have a greater chance to pop. The character models of the main cast were redone, adding an extra layer of detail that they were missing the first time round. An issue that has carried over from the PS2 is the out of sync lip movements while the characters talk, which is unfortunate as it can be very distracting, and especially annoying for people like me who are driven crazy by small things like that. I also saw some minor frame drops during FMV cutscenes, but otherwise, the pre-rendered sequences look fantastic, bringing you deeper into the story with every beautiful cutscene. I do, however, wish that they had added the ability to skip them, because as wonderful as they are, they can also be lengthy, and are often situated right before a tough boss fight (i.e. Mt Gagazet), so if you lose, you’ll then be forced to sit through it all over again.
The music of Final Fantasy X also received a serious makeover, with approximately 60 tracks being remastered for the collection. In turn, some of the tracks were altered slightly, with most having real instruments added to produce a sound that is crisp and clear. This news was met with much trepidation and irk from many of the online community, demanding an option to choose the original music, which in turn, went unsatisfied. In truth, I can’t blame them, because the original soundtrack for X was amazing, but at the same time, I chose to reserve judgment until I was able experience the remastered soundtrack in-game, and form my opinion accordingly. I personally don’t mind the new soundtrack, but admittedly, there are a couple of tunes where I prefer the original. X-2 didn’t get remixed tracks, staying with a more techno-inspired sound; however, both received improved voice audio.
Another thing to know about the collection is that both games are the International versions. In Australia, we already had Final Fantasy X International, complete with dark aeons and other additional gameplay content, but we didn’t receive Final Fantasy X-2 International content. Thanks to this collection, in X-2, we now have access to additional dress spheres, “Creature Creator” – allowing you to catch and train monsters, a fiend arena, a new dungeon and a level known as ‘Last Mission’, which was never released outside of Japan. Befitting a PS3 game, it has been upgraded with trophy support, and to encourage play between PS3 and Vita, there is an ability to cross-save between versions should you happen to own both, and yes that is OWN, it’s cross-save not cross-buy. They also added extra story related content known as ‘Eternal Calm’ which is a cutscene bridging the gap between the ending of X and the beginning of X-2. Finally, they added a 30 minute radio drama, entitled Final Fantasy X –Will-, which can be heard by selecting ‘Credits & Bonus Audio’ from the main menu, telling a story of two new characters set after the end of X-2. Personally, I would recommend staying away from it as it’s weird and slightly confusing.
The PS Vita collection is interesting in the fact that apart from being re-designed in glorious HD, which looks great, it does have a few problems which I felt could have been improved with a little more development time. Firstly, there was the noticeable lack of touch controls, which was disappointing because the control scheme easily could have loaned itself to some new and interesting ideas, which in turn, could have set the Vita version of the game apart from its PS3 counter-part. Another issue to note is a minor input lag, which in some situations, could cause gameplay to become frustrating. (i.e. dodging lightning for Lulu’s celestial weapon!) It’s worth noting that the input lag is also present PS3 version, but it is dependant on the type of HD TV you’re using as to how much it will effect you. It might sound serious, but in truth, it’s often minor and doesn’t negatively impact on the overall experience.
If you’re a fan of JRPGs and you’ve never played Final Fantasy X or X-2, I would definitely recommend picking this one up. For those of you who have already played them both, I still recommend as it’s worth it for the extra content and upgraded audio and visuals. Even if you may not have liked X-2 the first time you played it, give it another go and it might surprise you by being better than you remember. These are two excellent games with a wonderful story that will captivate you and surprise you with its various twists. It undeniably deserves your time.
Note: This article was based on the PS3/Vita version of the game, and provided to us by Bandai Namco Games Australia for review.