torstai 2. joulukuuta 2010

REVIEW - Final Fantasy X-2 (2003)

Genre(s): RPG
Released: 2003
Available on: PS2
Developer(s): Square Enix
Publisher(s): Square Enix
Players: 1

Change. The main theme of Final Fantasy X-2, and a word that rings true in many a sense. Right after the game's Japanese release, Square merged with their long-time rival Enix, becoming Square Enix. The creator of Square's flagship series, Hironobu Sakaguchi, resigned from the new company and officially started his own, Mistwalker, which he had founded a couple of years earlier. Also, Final Fantasy X-2 was the first direct sequel in the whole Final Fantasy series. So what does "change" mean to us players, in practice? Final Fantasy X was a dark game with a great, yet sorrowful conclusion, and a hidden ending that both left us screaming for a sequel in a franchise in which no real sequels existed. With Final Fantasy X-2, the designers brought us not only the first direct Final Fantasy sequel, but a polar opposite of the previous game - a more humorous and loose game heavily influenced by Japanese pop culture and internationally known TV shows focused on "girl power" such as Charlie's Angels. Sound good? I didn't think so, that's why you're given the meaty chance to find out what's new in Spira since the permanent demise of Sin, and catch up with old friends, and at the same time, tie up some loose ends left untied by the first game. If you're expecting another Final Fantasy X, turn away as swiftly as you can. If you're expecting another unique Final Fantasy experience, you might want to stick around. Whether you like it or not, here's Final Fantasy X-2.

Corny. Irritating. Strangely addictive.

Hedy Burress : Yuna
Tara Strong : Rikku
Gwendoline Yeo : Paine
George Newbern : Meyvn Nooj
Josh Gomez : Baralai
Rick Gomez : Gippal
David Rasner : Brother / Trema
Ogie Banks III : Buddy
Pamela Adlon : Shinra
John DeMita : Barkeep / Hypello / Barthello

Two years ago, young summoner Yuna made the impossible possible by betraying an age-old religion and finding a way to defeat Sin, the scourge of Spira, once and for all. Spira is still in a state of confusion. It's now a world without one binding religion, and many restrictions born from Yevon's false teachings have dissolved. People live as one, and the use of the once unholy machina has become every day life. However, a new ancient evil is slowly but surely emerging, due to a power struggle between three rivaling factions, that all want to attain spiritual leadership over Spira, the kind the maesters of Yevon had before them. Yuna has grown up, all but left her old life after earning the title of High Summoner like her father before her, and searches for a new purpose. Her love for Tidus never died, and she still believes the young man from Zanarkand is still alive, somewhere. When Kimahri finds a sphere of an imprisoned young man who looks and sounds exactly like Tidus, Yuna joins an Al Bhed group of sphere hunters calling themselves Gullwings and sets out on a journey across the changed Spira to find more clues that might lead her to her loved one... and perhaps save the world again, along the way.

When I saw the first promotional material for this game, I was very against it. I wanted a sequel of some fashion to Final Fantasy X, for sure. Tidus' ultimate fate in Final Fantasy X was just too cruel to be the end of all ends. Of course, the victim of the most cruelty was Yuna, who had fallen in love with a guy that never really existed - instead he was a dream warrior whose only purpose of semi-existence was to find the means to destroy the worst scourge of the world, permanently. But, in practice, how to continue a story that has killed off the original lead character and prime motor of it, as well as put the coolest undead dude of all time to eternal rest? Well, after the credits of the previous game had rolled, we players saw with our own eyes that Tidus was alive, real and well somewhere - and that's where we begin our new journey. Yuna's main mission in the game is to find clues to Tidus' current whereabouts and reunite with the love of her life... but it certainly doesn't feel that way. Yuna's ultimate agenda is brought up from time to time and she speaks to Tidus much like he narrated the previous game, but most of the time it feels like there's no story at all. Final Fantasy X-2 is confusing, reckless, full of totally unmeaningful subplots, the music's awful, the gameplay's not all that great, the "girl power" schtick doesn't work for me, it's got even more "Japanese" written all over it than the previous game... but still, it's kind of addictive. It has so many different gameplay features, and such a nearly subliminal vintage Final Fantasy feel to it thanks to familiar settings for the most part, that it's nice to return to it from time to time. But it is NOT a great game, I'll tell you that much right now. Some parts of it are great, though. Actually, if there's one game in the world which I find difficult to rate, it's Final Fantasy X-2.

Since a few of Final Fantasy X's greatest characters kicked the bucket, X-2's thin story introduces a host of new characters, in better and worse. In the big picture, the characters make the game instead of the story, which just bounces around along the ride. There are a lot of great new characters, and some old ones have gotten a injection of kick-ass square in the bottocks. On top of all, the voice acting's a lot better, which supports the characters - although some of the cast are simply bad actors, and even the better work conditions don't help them one bit. Here's looking at you, Quinton Flynn... what the fuck is wrong with your mouth, dude? Come on, man! You've done a lot better!

Besaid looks the same as ever. This time, though,
you can climb on and off some of the rocks.
Yuna simply wouldn't make it as a lead character if she hadn't (proverbially) grown a pair, which she has. From the other returning characters, Rikku is the polar opposite - MAN, she's annoying! She no longer has the racism card on her side since the Al Bhed are now accepted citizens of Spira, so her constant yelling and babbling just gets on one's nerves. She cracks a few really good jokes, though - as do the rest of them, however. Once again, this is a very humoristic game, whereas the predecessor turned out damn bleak towards the end.

Since Sir Auron is deader than dirt and Lulu's completely changed as a person - I still don't get why the fuck did she go and get it on with an idiot like Wakka, though - the game needs a brooding, no-nonsense character, or it wouldn't be a Final Fantasy game. The developers got that and created Paine, the saviour of the playable party as far as players like me are concerned. Paine can't stand a happy-go-lucky attitude like Rikku's, and she speaks only when she feels the need to, and when she's making threats. My kind of girl. However, her backstory's not so great, once it's finally revealed; from the beginning, we're expecting something huge as more and more clues keep dropping as to why she persistently hangs out with people she doesn't like, but all the waiting never pays up, unlike in Sir Auron's case.

There are so plenty of characters in the game that I won't go into too much detail, I'll just say once more that the better characters would've deserved a better story to be involved in. It's nice to see Spira once again and be able to roam through familiar lands freely from the beginning to see how everyone's doing since the setting of the Eternal Calm, but there's simply too much shit going on in the actual plot - the New Yevon and Youth League rivalry included, I still don't quite get what it's all about, people just talk about it everywhere - and the progress of Yuna's personal journey is forgotten every five minutes because of some totally unrelated, meaningless sidequests mostly relating to those damn spheres. The story's all over the place, and unfortunately, the potential of continuing a great story is the sole reason for a lot of people who loved Final Fantasy X to bits to even try the game. The game simply doesn't suit everybody. Just look at its visual style, listen to the music, and check out the gameplay specs, and you'll know why. What the hell am I babbling about? Let me tell you about it all!

The main menu is totally different - in other words butt-ugly, pardon my French - and some miscellaneous details have notable but less significant differences. However, familiar environment and character models have very few changes made. Yuna and Rikku's attires, and their facials have been reconstructed well, both in-game and for cutscenes, while the developers didn't apparently even bother on the rest of the characters. Lulu is supposed to be pregnant but she never shows any signs of it, former summoners still have their robes on two years after ditching their duties, and most lesser NPC's are as wooden-looking as ever.

Well, that goes for the voice acting as well. As I said, overall it's a lot better, thanks to the better conditions. The central members of the cast articulate like Americans should, and the dialogue is much more believable. Joining the old cast, we have George Newbern, who went on to voice Sephiroth in every subsequent Final Fantasy VII release, as central character Meyvn Nooj; also, the brothers Josh and Rick Gomez, latter of which went on to take the lead as Zack Fair in Crisis Core. Gwendoline Yeo, usually stuck in very minor roles, does a great job as Paine, exactly what is expected from the character. Give this girl more work! Pamela Adlon, most known for her role as Bobby Hill in Mike Judge's King of the Hill, makes a central appearance as the Gullwings' child technician, Shinra - who sounds just like Bobby Hill. And he's just as obnoxious, too. Worse, even. Shinra's name has a cool origin, but this "Al Bhed computer whizkid" is by all means one of the worst, most annoying characters ever in a Final Fantasy game. Trust me - you'll want to strangle him. No spoilers. David Rasner always cracks me up as Brother - it's not the most masterful portrayal, but the humour his character brings to the table, including the broken English, is priceless. I thought making Brother a central character would be a huge mistake, but he's one of the game's greatest traits when it comes to the cast.

So the voiceovers are on the mark most of the time, and that's a good thing, since if it was of the same awkward quality as that of the predecessor, I would do myself a favour and mute my TV for the duration of the game. The music is revolting. The theme song is a simple, beautiful piano piece, which sounds just like something Nobuo Uematsu would come up in 10 to 15 minutes. It's great, but simple - no climax of any kind. While you're watching the opening credits roll, you might notice that Uematsu's name is not found anywhere. Indeed, Final Fantasy X-2 marks the first Final Fantasy game not composed by Nobuo Uematsu. And it shows - my God, it shows. The soundtrack, mostly composed by Noriko Matsueda (co-composer of Chrono Trigger) and Takahito Eguchi (arrangement work on Kingdom Hearts) is a mixed bag of crap, piss, urine, dung and horse shit. Remember the repetitive techno which plagued Final Fantasy X's otherwise decent soundtrack? Well, this one's full of it, and if it's not enough to drive a nail right into your cortex, take a load of all the irritating bubblegum J-Pop, that can't be fully appreciated by anyone else in the world but the capitalists back in Japan, and their keen followers in other countries. Even the battle theme sucks ass. It's just a synthesized guitar "solo", backed up by a generic, random, equally synthesized drum beat. Even the Final Fantasy victory fanfare, present since day one, is missing! As far as music is concerned, this game's as far from Final Fantasy as you can throw the soundtrack CD.

The villainous LeBlanc's outstanding cleavage
makes you wonder if she'd like a boob massage.
After a very, very awkward opening sequence, the basics of the game gradually unfold and the initial impression is that of a faulty, but a good, fascinating, and most of all, different role-playing game. Most definitely an RPG; people who know of the game's existence seem to have some sort of a belief that Final Fantasy X-2 is not an RPG, but a full-blooded action game. On the contrary, there are Final Fantasy games that are much less of RPG's than X-2. In some ways, it's actually a very traditional RPG. How long it remains a good game in your books, wholly depends on how long you can stand the returning and redesigned ATB system, and all the confusion brought on by the "story"... and how long it takes from you to understand that the story is nothing more than a red herring, not a solid base for the joy of playing, which it has been thus far in the series.

Moving around in the field is the same as always, and especially familiar to those who played the previous game - never mind Yuna's ridiculous running style. However, there's one very important new feature: jumping from ledge to ledge, and of course, grabbing ledges as well. This helps you to find hidden treasures in even the most familiar of environments, from places that used to be just underutilized background in the first game. Most of your long-distance travelling happens via the Celsius, the Gullwings' airship which is available right after the introductory mission, and you can travel anywhere on Spira with it at any time. Final Fantasy X-2 has chapters, which make up the main storyline, and missions, which are the sidequests. The missions really aren't that important, of course you can improve your chances of success and enjoy the game more by completing them, but they aren't necessary in any way. With the right strategies (and good luck) you can most definitely beat the game with just 45% completion on your stat screen. Yeah, missions make up over 50% of the game. I never said it was too long. To make progress in the story, you simply pick a hotspot marked on the world map (and usually recommended by Celsius' pilot) and go. A chapter comes to an end once you've cleared a particular hotspot, and as a new one begins, more hotspots as well as game features, including more minigames, are unlocked.

I said that the missions aren't necessary, but if you ask me personally, they're what make this game stick. There are so many unique features to this game. Many side missions, both one-off and repeatable, are like minigames which allow you a gracious amount of breaks from the tedious gameplay and pointless story. You can go excavating for items, including coins for the new prominent minigame, Al Bhed Primers and rare machina parts in the desert mounds of Bikanel Island, shooting up monsters in the catacombs once known as the Cloisters of Trials in an FPS minigame, and racing your rivals for secret treasure and spheres by foot - you name it. The reason you'll want to keep on playing this game is to see what kind of a minigame you can try next. All of them aren't too fun, but like I said, they often provide a good, needed break from the game nonetheless.

As the world is now in unity and people don't need a sports spectacle to divert their attention from Sin, Blitzball has become yesterday's news, thank Jeebs. It still exists, but as a purely optional, ambient minigame, and you don't have to see a lot of Blitzball or its players either. The new minigame is called Sphere Break and it's quite close to the card games in Final Fantasy VIII and IX when it comes to the layout, but still a very different game which you play by using unique coins and your personal mathematic abilities to your advantage. The game is very hard to explain, the in-game tutorial offers a bad explanation and the game is just mentioned briefly in the manual, so I won't go into any specifics 'cause I don't have a good guideline to go by. I'll just say that as a minigame, Sphere Break is remarkably better and more entertaining than the awkward Blitzball - even if I'm not too much of a sucker for anything that involves mathematics, especially in a video game.

This time, I saved character development and the battle system last, 'cause it's all a very complex system, and the game at its weakest. First off, the battle system. CTB from the previous game is replaced by a semi-traditional ATB system. Understandable, since there are only three playable characters, and I guess they wanted to make the battles more dynamic and intense anyway. What's left from the CTB system is that certain special abilities are followed by a lengthy cool-down period, which means that the characters' ATB bars change size constantly, depending on the actions they take. It's all fine by me. What's not fine is how the battles look. They're totally reckless and it's hard to get a hang of what's happening. The battles are made more "realistic" by allowing all characters on the screen, including the enemies, move at the same time. Oh yeah, and including the camera as well. It looks like a Royal Rumble, for God's sakes! Just try to concentrate on your commands, or curing status ailments, when there's a legion of enemies and all of your party swinging around the screen like monkeys, and remember, kids: some special commands demand warm-ups, so you can't wait until you really have to use Cure or Esuna on an ally. You have to do it immediately, even if it means botching your chance for a critical strike, or simply ruining your focus. Or just select Wait from the ATB settings - something I'd never do and in this game, I suffer the consequences.

Unlike in Final Fantasy X, you gain EXP and AP as you did in almost every game that came before it, with the difference that EXP is awarded to you post-battle, while you gain AP on the fly. Actual character development happens via a Sphere Gri... sorry, Garment Grid. But it's a little more complicated you could've imagined. See, Jobs are back, for the first time since Final Fantasy V, only this time they're called Dresspheres. I know, ridiculous, but what can you do? You gain different Dresspheres from completing both chapters and missions. It's needless to go over this once again, but Dresspheres include such titles as Black Mage, White Mage, Thief, Gunner, etc.. Just about everything you can imagine, if you ever played a Final Fantasy game before. Garment Grid is a grid of empty nodes, reserved for those Dresspheres, and maybe a few buffs, depending on the Grid. There are many different types of Garment Grids, and they're gained the same way as the Dresspheres themselves. You can equip each character with a different Grid, and then equip them with the Dresspheres of your choosing. For example, you can equip Paine with the "Still of Night" Garment Grid, which gives her the conditional buffs against Darkness and Silence, and then fill out the Grid with a few Dresspheres, such like Warrior, Gunner and Black Mage.

Paine, here to deliver pain.
So, this brings us to Spherechange, which stands in for the ability to change your active party at any time during a battle in the previous game. You can change your Dressphere (again, Job or Class) at any time during a battle to one that suits your need at the moment. However, whereas Final Fantasy X had many enemies that practically demanded the services of a Black Mage, there aren't that many in Final Fantasy X-2. You can get by with the default settings for a ridiculously long period of time, even against Elementals, and new Grids and Dresspheres just keep popping up. It's quite confusing. Also, I think it's a crime against the vintage Final Fantasy bestiary that classic enemies such as Iron Giant, Bomb and Behemoth are really quite damn weak, and they all appear in the early goings of the game. Well, there are Oversouls, hard versions of all enemies that appear once "you've killed a lot of enemies of one type" (read: it's quite random), to keep you on your toes. They just seem to keep popping up at the most illogical and worst of times.

Like in Final Fantasy V, hanging on to a Dressphere and sucking down the AP grants your character more abilities. For example, Paine (I always use her as an example, I wonder why that is?) is a Warrior by default, so as long as she stays in Xena mode, she can learn skills based on the usual Warrior/Samurai schtick: Power Break, Armour Break, Magic Break, Mental Break, Full Break, Flametongue, Thunder Blade and so on, by simply fighting and keeping one Dressphere equipped. You can manually choose which ability she should learn next from a surprisingly well-organized list, the same as in Final Fantasy VIII. Stronger versions or otherwise alternate versions of techniques unlock after learning the preceding ones. One serious flaw in this system is that you can't choose what abilities to use, they will all cluster up your battle menu. You will be going through literally dozens of commands while trying your best to fend off any bastards coming your way and curing yourself or your partners. Best to accessorize yourself as well as you can. Each character initially has two accessory slots. Weapons and armour cannot be changed.

So, when do we get to the summons? Right now. And there aren't any. However, there are these special kinds of Dresspheres that allow YRP - God, I hate that abbreviation - to transform into Trance-like versions of themselves, that kind of work like Aeons in the previous game, but they're not quite as effective in battle. Not having Aeons is one thing so not Final Fantasy about the game which is explained properly, by the fact that the Fayth all succumbed to eternal rest in the first game. However, you still just might bump into a few old Aeon friends during the game... you never know.

Yuna changing into something a bit more extreme.
About the general difficulty of the game... hmmm. The first thing you have got to understand about the game is how the battles work, and how to use the confusing battle menus efficiently while taking a beating from the horde before you. It gets pretty hectic from time to time, and even the lesser enemies can beat you down quickly if you falter - faltering is very easy, I can assure you. There's just too much going on all the time, and once again, the battle theme sucks ass. It's noisy and distracting. Really. The game is not as difficult as the tedious random encounters are difficult to simply bear. Good thing we have those million minigames to get our minds off the worst parts of the game, but they won't get you as close to a final conclusion of the Final Fantasy X saga, which you will probably be begging for at some point. Getting to the 100% mark is challenging, but more than that, dull and time consuming, and unlikely to even poke the interest of more casual players.

Final Fantasy X-2 has some fine qualities and some twists in the crappy story are very cool, made that way by an impressive host of characters, but being a direct sequel to one of the greatest games in the franchise inevitably casts a dark shadow over it. Its audiovisual style and methods of storytelling oppose the first game so radically that it's hard to even mention the two games in the same sentence, and the redesigned ATB system doesn't work as great as it's supposed to. The game lives on its minigame madness, and it's extremely fun to play in small doses at its best, but as a game that's supposed to be a captivating, full-fledged RPG, it's quite far from a standard Final Fantasy product.

Graphics : 9.0
Sound : 6.5
Playability : 7.0
Challenge : 7.5
Overall : 6.9


GameRankings: 86.25%

The last Final Fantasy game Hironobu Sakaguchi worked on in some capacity, and the first Final Fantasy game without any music written by Nobuo Uematsu.

The original idea was to make a Final Fantasy X sequel about Yuna, and another about Rikku. Both early drafts were rewritten as parts of this game.

Yuna, Rikku and Paine appear as the Gullwings in Kingdom Hearts II, as mischeavous fairy versions of themselves.

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