Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Final Fantasy X-2 Review

Final Fantasy was one of the leading franchises in the video game industry, however, there were still some things that it hadn't done yet. One of those things, was have a direct sequel to one of the numbered entries in the sequel. What Square came up with was a game that was very different in tone. Never had there been a Final Fantasy game where the main evil had already been defeated. The world had to be happier. Many people think that Final Fantasy X-2 was the beginning of a downturn in the quality of the Final Fantasy franchise. I think it is worth taking a closer look, though, to see if maybe this game has more to it than first glance.

As always, let's start by looking at the story of the game. The game takes place a few years after the conclusion of Final Fantasy X. The world of Spira is in the eternal calm brought about by Yuna and her defeat of Yu Yevon. The people have splintered into two main factions, The Youth League which wants to recover spheres and find the true history of Spira instead of the history that was spoonfed to them by Yevon. The other faction is New Yevon, a faction that is looking to protect the old temples. As many of these spheres are in the temples... well, these factions don't get along very well. In fact, there very well may be a war about to break out of this.

In the middle of all this, Yuna has joined Rikku in a group known as the Gullwings, a group of Sphere Hunters. The group also contains Brother, as well as a couple of other Al Bhed named Buddy the navigator of the group and Shinra, a genius Al Bhed who has invented the Garment Grid which allows the girls to obtain powers from different spheres they find. Yuna is busy looking for some trace of Tidus, when one day she happens upon a sphere which looks very ancient and yet seems to contain some scenes of Tidus! How could this be? Well, they keep looking for more spheres, and they finally happen upon another sphere of this mysterious man in front of a huge machina.

Now, it turns out that the leaders of the Youth League and New Yevon have been looking for this machina! It is called Vegnagun, and it a machina created a thousand years ago during the Great Machina War and has some kind of emotions and is possible of destroying all of Spira. Now, through various spheres gathered by the Gullwings, we find out that the leader of New Yevon, Baralai, and the leader of the Youth League, Nooj, knew each other for quite a while, they were looking to join an elite group of Crusaders known as the Crimson Squad along with Gippal, the new leader of the Al Bhed Machine Faction as well as Paine... the newest member of the Gullwings.

Eventually, Vegnagun starts digging holes at all the Chambers of the Fayth and corrupting their Aeons into Dark Aeons, which greatly depresses Yuna. After defeating a few of them, Yuna falls into one of these holes and ends up deep in the Farplane where she only escapes with the help of a certain phantom Blitzball Player. Yuna then puts ona  performance using a dressphere of an ancient songstress, this kind of stops the war between the factions...

Yuna then discovers that the man in the sphere who looks like Tidus is actually a man named Shuyin, who lived during the Great Machina War, and he was in love with a woman named Lenne... who is the same person from Yuna's songstress dressphere. They were in love and were tragically shot after Shuyin tried to control Vegnagun to turn the tide of the Machina War.

Shuyin's spirit, however, stuck around, however, and managed to possess Nooj and continued his search to use Vegnagun. Later on, Shuyin passes over to Baralai and heads deep into the Farplane. Yuna eventually catches up and just as Baralai is about to destroy Spira wth Vegnagun... the Gullwings dismantle Vegnagun and Spira is saved... again... yay.

Throughout this whole thing there are also a TON of sidestories, and other characters such as the Leblanc Syndicate, who kind of acts as a rival to the Gullwings, but ends up tangled up in the web of Vegnagun. The sidestories include Wakka and Lulu who are having a baby in Besaid. The Besaid Aurochs have joined the Youth League and are trained by a hardnose man named Beclem who has a complete hatred of Yevon and even discredits Yuna as nothing but a relic of the past. Dona and Barthello are on opposite sides of the conflict and are literally separated within Kilika. Cid has become an entrepreneur and with the help of Isaaru has turned Zanarkand into a tourist area. Kimahri has his hands full as Elder of the Ronso, as many of the youth want to go to war with the Guado, and two children have run off in search of a way to fix Kimhari's horn.

Yeah, I know this is horribly disjointed... but guess, what, it doesn't really play much better.The main problem, is that the main conflict of the game has absolutely NOTHING to do with the original game. Yes, the story, along with sidequests as a whole, give an incredible depth to the world of Spira, but as a sequel there needed to be more of a tie with the original story... such as Tidus and the Fayth... and yes, I know there is a little there, but technically that is all just an easter egg. That said, many of the new characters are well done, especially Baralai, Nooj, and Paine, they added a lot of backstory in there, the Leblanc gang is also well done... unfortunately, I never found Shuyin and Lenne to be anything other than completely annoying. So to me, the story is really a negative to this game.

Now on to the mechanics, and there is a LOT to cover here. First, let's talk about the way you navigate through the game. For the first time ever, you are in control of an airship from the very start of the game,meaning you can visit any area right from the start.The game is told in 5 chapters. In each chapter, you can visit each area to advance its story a little bit, or open up a new minigame, or in some cases, you'll just be locked out completely or there'll be nothing new to do. Certain areas are marked as hotspots as you progress, and these areas must be completed in order for you to advance the story. Basically, this means, there are a LOT of optional areas and sidequests in the game, In fact, if you want you could really beat this game in just a few hours by only doing the required areas. The game, though, is more about getting a deep understanding of the world, and as stated before the main story isn't anything that's worth rushing through. Also, the game keeps a somewhat "hidden" count of various cutscenes and story points in the game to give a completion rating, so to get 100% (which includes the best ending), you need to visit all the areas throughout all the chapters. All in all, the game just plays better if you take your time to go through all the areas. In fact, this may be one of the most fleshed out Final Fantasy games ever in that regard.

You only ever get the three characters in the game, Yuna, Rikku, and Paine. They can only equip 3 different items. A Garment Grid, and two accessories. As stated before, Garment Grids hold dresspheres which act as the jobs of the game. We'll get a little more into how they work in just a bit. Garment Grids also hold innate bonuses, and can give more bonuses in battle under certain circumstances. Accessories give many varied bonuses from stat boosts to speed boosts to status immunities... basically your standard Final Fantasy accessories...

Battle once again returns to an Active Time Battle setup, as your characters each have an action bar which fills up before they can take their turn. What's different this time, is that the characters' attacks can be chained together to give a damage boost if timed correctly. Abilities are learned by defeating enemies and performing certain actions while having a dressphere equipped. You can choose what order to learn abilities, though there are certain abilities which have prerequisites.

Let's return to the Garment Grids. Each garment grid has paths between the different dresspheres you place in them. In battle, you can travel along the paths of the garment grid to switch between dresspheres. Sometimes, this will take you through gates which will give you more bonuses. Usually this means more stat boosts, but could be other things as well. If you visit all the dresppheres in a garment grid in a single battle, you can then equip a characters ultimate dressphere which is kind of like the summoning mechanic of the game. The other two characters get removed from the battle and you basically control one super unit... which itself can learn more abilities.

This, in all, is very well put together and thought out, and is a great attempt at doing some multiclassing. However... the only downside to all this is that for the most part it is COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY. Most of the enemies in the game are not very powerful and there are very few which can't be defeated by just using normal attacks. There are also some very overpowered dresspheres which really will cover all your bases. The one that comes to mind is Dark Knight. This dressphere is one of the most powerful physical fighter and comes with an attack called Darkness which completely bypasses defense including physical immunity... so basically, you can kill anything with it.

Really, I think it is truly a shame that what should be such a great battle system is ruined by basically a lack of difficulty. Even in the bonus dungeon, which does include some decently difficult monsters, you can still pretty much overpower the enemies just by setup, and not by using the Garment Grid bonuses or special dresspheres. That said, if you take the time to learn abilities and play around with the different dresspheres, it is in fact a very fun experience with a lot of interesting class combinations to play around with...and if you really want to try out the special dresspheres, please remember to go into the options and turn off the animations... they are way too long for what they need to me, and you are going to be forced to watch them once any way. It kind of stinks.

Let's take a look at the minigames and bonus content of the game. There are many small minigames contained within the Calm Lands which has been turned into an amusement company, you can play them for currency to buy some items, but really these are just small minigames. There are quite a few larger minigames and activites you can get engrossed in throughout the game. The first one you'll probably come across is called the Gunner's Gauntlet. Here, you run through the path to Besaid Beach, with a gun and you need to shoot all the enemies that run your way. Each enemy will drop some more ammo, including different types of ammo, and you need to continually kill monsters in order to get a high score. There are 10 different difficulty to levels and there is alot of strategy involved, with a very specific perfectionist feel to it. Its fun and defintitely worth a few hours of your time.

The next big minigame is the digging minigame. This goes through the whole game and has you picking up various things around a small section of the desert. It ties in with an optional event in the story, kind of a "superboss", as well as letting you get the Al Bhed primers to be able to understand the different Al Bhed conversations throughout the game. The next minigame is Sphere Break. This is a math based minigame in which you have to make multiples of a certain number using coins with number values assigned. This is mostly used for one tournament in Chapter 3, but can be played at other times as well. Really, this one is pretty fun, though pretty easy, and I wish it could have been maybe used a little more than it was. The next large minigame is Blitzball. This one, which I'm going to say right from the start is a lot worse than its Final Fantasy X counterpart, has you as the coach of a Blitzball team that is replaceing the Besaid Aurochs who are not playing as they've joined the Youth League. Basically, you have a training menu which improves your players stats, then you watch your team play blitzball games since ya know... you don't have Tidus and Yuna isn't a blitzball player herself. Really, this again just becomes about learning the best way to train your players and then just going through the tedium of watching games to earn more training points... lather, rinse, repeat. In this version of the game, its even worse, since there's really no unique items you can win from this.

The final large "minigame" is chocobo raising. If you do certain things during the story, Clasko will open up a Chocobo ranch where the Monster arena was in the first game. You can then catch chocobos during certain random encounters. As you fight, you earn various food for the chocobos which can be used to raise your chocobos. The reward for doing this is a secret dungeon that can be opened up at the end of the game, which I honestly don't know how you're supposed to figure out with some sort of guide.

The "postgame" dungeon of the game is called Via Infinito, a secret area in which the original founder of New Yevon ran away to, to hide some of the spheres found by early sphere hunters. It is a 100-level dungeon in which you have to solve small puzzles to continue down and contains EVERY monster in the game. This is important as there is a VERY optional sidequest which makes you fight every monster in its oversouled form to win the best garment grid in the game. Basically this means fighting monsters of the same type a certain number of times, and the next monster that comes will be oversouled... it is very time consuming. This dungeon is very very long and contains the few fights in the game that could be considered at all difficult, and rewards you with some insanely powerful items... one of which is actually UNIQUE... which in this version of the game is saying something.

Now, you may have noticed I've omitted a VERY important aspect to his remastered version of X-2. The Creature Creator. Why? Well, I actually consider this a completely separate game to X-2. Yes, it is intertwined in various ways, but really, this is standalone, and I am going to write a completely separate review for this.

Onto graphics and music. The graphics of the game are not as redone as they were for Final Fantasy X, however, they did not need to me as much. Square Enix learned a thing or two between the games, and really the original graphics for this game still dont' look that bad. That said, they certainly did some work on most of the main characters of the game and they all look great in any and all of their dresspheres. The environments look as good as they do in the remastered version of X. The cutscenes of course look incredible. No real complaints as far as the graphics go. The sound of this game, well, its certainly not bad, but there are very few real memorable songs for this game. It is all very upbeat to match the mood of the world, which is can be a little jarring. Of course, then there is the big exception, which is the theme music of the game... kind of a reverse version of the prelude, which sounds a bit somber and has ALWAYS sounded a bit out of place to me. Again, though, some good upbeat tunes, nothing extraordinary, but it all fits.

In conclusion, this game is a very mixed bag. On one hand, it is amazingly expansive... in fact, for the time, I think it is a real accomplishment to have a world this fleshed out with characters and backstory. The problem is, with the real emotional draw having been eliminated in X, there was really nothing that could fill its void. The main villain really had no soul, and they tried to make it work by attaching him to some well fleshed out characters like Nooj and Baralai, but it just didn't work. Also, they created a wonderful battle system, but without the difficulty to really take advantage of it and enjoy it. Is this game as bad as people make it out to be? No, I don't think it is... if it is played correctly, which is a big if. Is there a way to save the game though?? Well maybe there is, I will finish by going out of my way to say that the HD Remaster version of this game is completely worth playing... and you'll have to read my next review to understand why.

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