Thursday, November 16, 2000

Final fantasy X remaster

In 2001, the original Final Fantasy X came out and single-handedly brought the JRPG into the PS2 generation. It was a remarkable feat. It had a brilliant story, a good combat system and a soundtrack that was to die for. It quickly became recognized as one of the greatest JRPGs you could find on the PS2. It has had it's ardent fans and ardent haters alike. It is a game that garnered a lot of strong responses from gamers. Square-Enix is a little late at jumping on the HD bandwagon, but if there was one game in their catalog that definitely deserved one, it was Final Fantasy X. Final Fantasy X-2 is here as well, but it did not make the same splash as its predecessor. There are some things about Final Fantasy X that are still brilliant. It's nice to relive it and to experience it again. As for Final Fantasy X-2, though I would not claim it to be as memorable as the first one it had some great gameplay elements that still hold up well today.

Final Fantasy X centers on Tidus. He is a star Blitzball player, like his father before him. One night during a game a mysterious entity called Sin attacks and takes Tidus from his home and sends him into the land of Spira. There he meets Yuna, a summoner about to go on a pilgrimage to the various temples in Spira so that she can have the power to destroy Sin. Final Fantasy X has a lot to its story. It had a lot of well developed characters, but mostly it was willing to tackle a lot of themes. In particular, the large amount of time it spends looking at the fictional religion of Yu Yevon and the teachings present. It's quite a story. It is only a shame that the voice acting isn't that especially good. Final Fantasy X didn't have great voice acting in 2001 and it's certainly not better now. It's a good story but the voice acting takes some time to adapt to. Final Fantasy X-2, by comparison, does a slightly better job (although not by a whole lot).

The gameplay in Final Fantasy X still resonates quite well. There are random battles to be fought, but the battle system was quite intuitive at the time. You always know the order in which you and your enemies will take action. This allows for lots of strategy and planning as opposed to being quick on your feet. For some this made the game easy, for others it allowed for them to have more control over combat. Each character also had an overdrive gauge which was very similar to Final Fantasy VII's limit breaks. When the gauge is full you can use an overdrive attack, which is a powerful attack. Each character also has their own uses and "job" in battle. Tidus is good at hitting agile enemies, Wakka hits flying enemies with ease while others miss, Auron has piercing attacks, Lulu casts her magic, Rikku steals and disassembles machines and Kimahri can absorb abilities of his enemies and use them. But the most interesting is Yuna who can summon aeons that you'll use in battle. Each with their own set of abilities and attacks. You can also switch characters in battle at any time provided that they are not knocked out. Every character shares in experience.

The most amusing aspect of Final Fantasy X was the sphere grid. The sphere grid is Final Fantasy X's unique level up system that has certainly influenced some RPGs (most notably Tales of Xillia). Each character gains sphere levels and follows a path along the sphere grid. You activate various nodes using spheres to raise your stats and learn abilities.

In a nutshell many of these elements in Final Fantasy X still hold up. Final Fantasy X-2, on the other hand, was somewhat polarizing back in 2003. Yet, for what it's worth, over a decade later it's really not a bad game by any means. The story is not as strong and neither are some of the characters. On the other hand, it is a more open world than Final Fantasy X. In particular, the battle system is still fast paced and fun. It goes back to the ATB battle system instead. Each character has access to dress spheres where they learn various abilities to be used in battle. The jobs affect how fast they attack and this makes Final Fantasy X-2 a fun game to battle in. The system is unique. Each job plays its own role. White mages heal, thieves steal and warriors attack. Final Fantasy X-2 has such a non-linear approach it can come across as quite tough and challenging at times.

There are some moments in Final Fantasy X-2's tone that certainly clash from time to time with Final Fantasy X. Where as Final Fantasy X is quite sad in many respects and downtrodden, X-2 is a lot more upbeat. Both games are rather fun to play, but fans probably still see Final Fantasy X-2 as being a less "serious" game. Originally when I played Final Fantasy X-2, I did not care for it. Here, I'm okay with it. The battle system is fun. And while the story isn't nearly as good as the first one, it's not necessarily bad either.

The HD Remaster has quite a few things of note, however. While I would like to point out the HD visuals first, I'd rather start with the fact that this is the international version of the game. Meaning that for North American players there's a wealth of new content. First and foremost, the sphere grid. There is now a standard and expert version of the grid. The expert grid allows for slightly more flexability. Where as the standard grid kept most characters contained to their own section, the expert one lets you divert a lot sooner. This means characters may learn other characters abilities sooner rather than later. It is also a less straightforward path. The expert sphere grid will require more grinding. There are more paths that diverge. Where as the standard is a more straightforward path, the expert sphere requires you to be a lot more aware of what you're doing. You might find yourself going back one direction just to get an ability you missed. The standard sphere grid will, for the most part, take every character to every ability along their path, but the expert sphere grid is less concerned with that. It can make the game harder or easier. The reality is that you need to zero in on what you want sooner rather than later. The expert sphere grid alone can give you a totally different experience with Final Fantasy X. I would highly recommend veteran players go with it. Newcomers should stick to the standard grid.

The other big addition are the dark Aeons. In 2001 North American players completely missed out on this optional quest. These are ruthlessly challenging bosses with millions of HP, requiring the best and boldest from players. Likewise, there is another hidden boss called Penance These bits of extra content are worth your time if you're willing to invest it. But most of all, they make Final Fantasy X worth revisiting even for those who mastered it over a decade ago.

Final Fantasy X-2 doesn't really include much (if any) extra content, unfortunately. No new bosses or story elements. But the collection as a whole does include "Final Fantasy X-2" Last Mission as well as a prologue to Final Fantasy X-2. There is also an audio credits sequence. In terms of whether or not you're getting your bang for your buck it's no argument... you are getting a lot of content for the asking price.

There are some other notable changes. The visuals are actually quite noticeable. The font of the text is different, for instance. But more important, the actual look and art style is more expressive and vibrant. It looks fantastic and it runs in 1080p. Not only that, but it's just a smoother looking game. A lot of HD remakes neglect to touch up on some of the pre-rendered stuff but Final Fantasy X and X-2 certainly do. Even the prerendered scenes have no muddied textures or blotches. They're also in 16:9 like the regular game. It's clear there was a lot of care taken with this one. Lastly, the music has been rearranged. While I still remember the original soundtrack quite clearly some of the new arrangements definitely do justice to the original tunes. Final Fantasy X-2 does not have a rearranged soundtrack, however. It's a good sounding game. The voice acting on the other hand isn't that good. As I said, it wasn't that good back in 2001, but now it just sounds terribly outdated. You almost wish they had re-recorded the voices. I'm not too especially bothered by it, however. The gameplay and story trumps it and there's something deliciously nostalgic about bad voice acting and.

There are smaller things that I'm somewhat picky about. Chief among them is that Final Fantasy X spends a lot of time expressing its dialog in various cutscenes. The option to skip them isn't present. I wish Square had added that for when one decides to replay as some moments can get a little dragged out. Likewise, with the audio there are moments when the game has small hiccups or pauses before other characters begin speaking. The dialog doesn't always flow naturally because there are moments when the next line has to load. Those nitpicks aside there isn't much reason not to get this HD collection if you loved Final Fantasy X and X-2. Even if you liked one and didn't like the other, there's enough content to justify the purchase of just one game. Square-Enix included a lot of stuff here that makes it worthwhile for fans. The version I had also came with an artbook and it's gorgeous. It has an introduction by Yoshinori Kitase, the game's producer. It's a neat little artbook that comes with the Limited Edition of the game.

Overall, I'm satisfied with this HD reissue. Final Fantasy X was a fairly remarkable game to me and it still remains so. The updates and care taken to the game are worthwhile. For fans of these games, it is certainly work taking the time for that trip down memory lane.

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