After playing Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster, it's hard to believe that both games are now over ten years old. Back on the PlayStation 2, Final Fantasy X was something of a revolution not just for Square Enix's popular series, but for Japanese RPGs in general. It was filled with voice acting, paved a route for more linear gameplay with an emphasis on storytelling, and, at the time, looked absolutely glorious. Meanwhile, Final Fantasy X-2 proved divisive, but even then it marked the franchise's first direct sequel – something it would repeat later with the perhaps equally divisive Final Fantasy XIII-2. However, unlike the publisher's newest trilogy, this collection is something that any fan of the series should thoroughly enjoy.
Final Fantasy X follows the story of Tidus – an energetic, loud-mouthed young blitzball player who's wrenched from a world where he lives life as a famous sports personality, and tossed into another full of monsters, swords, and magic. A stranger in a land known as Spira, the tale is told through the hero as he reflects on his journey with the title's main cast, which augments proceedings with a personal quality. He'll comment on what his thoughts and feelings were at the time, and in turn, this helps you to connect with the perfectly groomed protagonist.
There's not quite as much dialogue as you're likely to find in more recent JRPGs, so it's initially a little surprising to discover that the personalities involved feel just as fleshed-out and endearing as they did back in 2001. Despite the franchise's reputation for promoting brooding, melodramatic characters, you'll be hard pressed to find more than a couple of sulkers here. Tidus himself is upbeat and positive even though he's stuck in a foreign world, while his fellow party members offer extremely varied, yet understandable outlooks. The lead's brotherly relationship with fellow blitzball player Wakka remains a highlight as their friendly natures really click, while love interest Yuna acts as a believable influence in bringing the cheery protagonist back to reality.
The plot itself is relatively simple – at least on paper – but isn't explained all too well within the game. Little bits of exposure are dealt out here and there, but you'll largely be left to put the pieces together for yourself. There's nothing particularity wrong with this approach, though, as you'll likely be able to sympathise with Tidus' cluelessness. Thankfully, the moment-to-moment storytelling is superb, as you're thrown from one scenario to the next. The opening few hours see you go from surviving in a harsh, barren new world, to playing in a blitzball tournament that's held within a roaring city. It's a pace that few RPGs would be able to pull off well, but Final Fantasy X executes it exquisitely, and the best part is that is rarely lets up as you're constantly travelling to one lovely looking location after another.
It goes without saying, however, that this addictive urge to see where you'll end up next wouldn't be as frequent in a more open release. You'll be able to revisit past areas if you feel like it, and you're not forced down a straight path like in Final Fantasy XIII, but Final Fantasy X is still a linear game where it's near impossible to get lost thanks to a handy little minimap which points to your current objective at all times. While many fans found this change to the traditional formula to be a step in the wrong direction, there's no doubt that it benefits the narrative. You'll find yourself watching long cutscenes that develop the cast before you're let loose in a new location, and after the lengthy conversations are over, you'll be eager to explore and fight beasties in order to strengthen your party. Overall, it feels like the Squaresoft-developed title is structured just right, with cinematics and gameplay forming the experience in equal measure.
As with any RPG, it helps that the battle system is a good one – a format that you'll enjoy utilising even when you're patiently grinding for that next sphere level. Unlike its predecessors, the release sports turn-based combat instead of the traditional implementation of Active Time Battles. This means that encounters are a slightly more tactical affair, as you'll need to keep an eye on which fiend is set to strike next, while also making notes on which foes have elemental and technique-based weaknesses. The need for tactics is enforced further due to the fact that each member of your group tends to specialise in a specific way of fighting. Tidus, for example, naturally boasts a high agility statistic, so he's capable of actually making contact with more nimble enemies, while Lulu – the party's offensive magic user – is needed to wipe out beasts that are resistant to physical attacks. It's a system that requires brainpower if you're looking to eliminate your adversaries in the most efficient way possible, especially since you can also switch any of your three active fighters out for a reserve character on the fly if you're in need of a tactical change.
Battles are random, so you'll still be able to grind your way to having an overpowered party, but not to the extent that you may expect. Final Fantasy X makes use of the sphere grid – a board made up of nodes that you activate using statistic specific spheres which are dropped by fiends. You move each member of the cast around the grid unlocking stat boosts, passive abilities, and magic spells as you go, and for the most part, it's an incredibly gratifying and addictive way to power up your party. You'll find yourself running around just to find one more battle so that you can snag that tasty-looking 'HP + 200' node, or useful new command. However, because you're generally only upgrading one attribute at a time, your characters will see only very gradual growth, which again puts an emphasis on approaching combat in a tactical manner, where taking advantage of weaknesses and knowing when to switch out fighters is more important than relying on certain abilities or allies time and time again. .
That said, grinding for levels does unfortunately become a necessity when it comes to the title's endgame, where optional bosses are so powerful that you'll need to crank up your heroes' stats to ridiculous degrees. Still, there are plenty of bits and pieces to keep you entertained outside of your main quest, and the fact that there's something to strive towards other than defeating the final boss adds value to the overall package.
Perhaps the most important optional slice of content comes in the form of Spira's favourite sport: blitzball. You may only be forced to play a match once throughout your journey, but the water-based attraction will prove to be just as divisive as it did over ten years ago. Not too far into the game, you'll be able to recruit new players that you come across on your travels, and take part in tournaments and friendly clashes in order to win prizes, like rare sphere grid additions. Love it or hate it, blitzball remains one of the series' most demanding minigames, where you'll be levelling up your team and learning new blitz-specific techniques. Matches are a strange mix of sporting know-how and simple math, in which you'll need to weigh up your own player's pass, shot, and endurance statistics with the opposition's in order to carry out your desired play without it being countered or stopped. The whole system can seem a little daunting at first – especially if you're not a fan of sports in general – but if you can really get stuck in, blitzball provides a brilliantly worked supplement to the core game, and in some cases, proves to be even more addictive.
As if one stellar, fifty or so hour JRPG wasn't enough, the title's somewhat iffy sequel is on hand to further drain away your free time. Final Fantasy X-2 certainly isn't bad, with gameplay that's arguably just as good as its predecessor's, but there's no doubt that Final Fantasy X is this collection's main attraction. Just like the first game, the direct follow-up has aged well, but newcomers shouldn't go into it expecting a title of the same quality that strictly follows the narrative themes and characters already established by the original. It's still very much an unnecessary sequel that goes out of its way to provide details about the title's world that weren't needed, and therefore downplays a lot of the compelling mystique that surrounds the original game's weird and wonderful setting.
This time, you're put in the shoes of Yuna, as she works to prevent all-out war between quarrelling factions. The plot follows a more political route, as the now revered heroine meets with the leaders of the groups involved and tries to get to the source of the problems surrounding them, but it all feels a bit disjointed and blown out of proportion, especially when compared to the previous game's somewhat simplistic but ultimately captivating journey. This is partly because you're free to travel to different locations from an airship, which offers player choice, but damages the sense that you're on some sort of journey that has a defined goal. As such, the narrative goes back and forth without much happening, and quickly becomes a bit boring. Worse still is that it's often painfully obvious that the release's already thin storyline is being stretched to a huge extent in order to flesh out playtime, making it difficult to find the enthusiasm needed to see things through to one of the campaign's rather bumbling endings.
Nevertheless, Yuna and her sisters-in-arms Rikku and Paine provide an enjoyable dynamic. Sometimes the cast can come across as being horribly cheesy in a Charlie's Angels sort of way, but it's a refreshing change of pace from other, dourer games that you'll find in the genre. Meanwhile, Yuna's sudden transformation from being a rather plain summoner to a pistol wielding, tight shorts wearing bringer of justice perhaps isn't too well explained, but then there's something about Final Fantasy X-2 that makes you think it doesn't take itself all too seriously anyway.
In many ways, the sequel came as a huge disappointment back when it originally released in 2003, particularly because it didn't do much to add or expand upon the world that Final Fantasy X had crafted, but in hindsight, it's best viewed as a complementary companion to the original. Much of it feels like fan fiction, and there are times when you'll be hard pressed to find a gaudier JRPG, but there's still plenty to like when it comes to the title's gameplay.
Gone are the turn-based battles of its predecessor, which are replaced by a more action-oriented system that's akin to older entries in the series. Yuna and her two girlfriends are the only party members that you'll obtain, but through the use of dresspheres, they're able to fill any and every role in combat. Replacing the sphere grid is a traditional levelling system and the aptly named garment grids, on which you'll equip different dresspheres to each character, allowing them to have various classes available for use. For example, you could have Yuna focus on magic-based dresspheres with a healer thrown in for when the need arises, while Paine could handle roles that specialise in dealing physical damage. There's a lot of customisation to be found in forming your own party, and this is undoubtedly one of the game's biggest strengths, especially when you come across a devastatingly effective combination.
Regardless of how good its gameplay is, though, there's no denying that Final Fantasy X-2 fails to live up to the lofty heights set by the other title in this remaster. While it can be fun for a while as you experiment with different battle formations and explore Spira at your own pace, it lacks the polish and the cohesive, engrossing mix of character progression and plot development that Final Fantasy X offers.
And so we're left with a collection that contains an absolute gem of a JRPG, and its unnecessary but somewhat enjoyable follow-up. Fortunately, both titles have benefited from their high-definition treatment. They were colourful, richly designed games to begin with, and this remaster does a great job of cleaning up some muddy textures and adding a subtle layer of detail to everything from the enemy creatures to the environments. Main characters have also had face lifts which make for some slightly better animations, but their newly implanted eyes can sometimes make them look like horribly creepy puppets. On the PlayStation 3, however, there are still some noticeable jaggy edges that detract from the overall prettiness – but they're far less conspicuous on the PlayStation Vita's smaller screen, where both games look utterly glorious thanks to the crisp, vibrant display.
Unfortunately, the voice work hasn't aged quite as well as the eye catching art style or the lovingly designed cast. While it's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, snippets of dialogue can sound completely out of place, or badly executed, and it's also a shame to see that speech hasn't been properly lip synced for this revisit. It's a good job, then, that Nobuo Uematsu's musical score for Final Fantasy X is still astounding, and sounds better than ever due to some subtly reworked tracks, although the rousing battle theme and iconic To Zanarkand still steal the show. Meanwhile, Final Fantasy X-2's soundtrack is good, but much like the game itself, fails to really grasp what made the original so memorable.
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster is a superb collection that's a sight to behold on Sony's portable system. Final Fantasy X remains an utterly enthralling journey that boasts endearing characters, an addictive battle system, and a brilliantly paced story. This makes the first game worth the asking price alone, but its sequel complements it nicely nonetheless, despite its shortcomings. Veterans will absolutely adore this trip down memory lane, while newcomers get to enjoy one of the most important JRPGs ever crafted in its very best form.