Review: Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster

Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster is one of those projects that was clearly not taken lightly. With part of the bundle being one of the best games in the main series, it’s easy to understand why Square Enix took such meticulous care in this remastering endeavor. The main problem with this compilation, though, isn’t a lack of loving preservation; it’s that the latter game of the bunch is simply nowhere near as poignant, important or refined as the first. To that end, does it sully the overall experience? It’s time to find out.

So right away, it’s important to note that this collection includes both the original Final Fantasy X and its 2003 sequel, X-2. On top of that, though, this will be the first time North American gamers have the chance to play through the International versions of both games. While Final Fantasy X International and X-2 International came out in Japan and Europe, they never made their way to the West, until now that is. As such, there will actually be quite a bit of new content to explore , as X International includes the new Expert Sphere Grid, Dark Aeons as well as the short movie “Eternal Calm”, a video that bridges the gap between the ending of X and the beginning of its sequel. With X-2 International, we get the Psychic and Festivalist dresspheres, Creature Creator and Fiend Arena Tournaments as well as the Last Mission, a sequel quest that ties up the game’s ending. Of course, this is just some of what’s new in this package. Meaning to say, from a gameplay and content standpoint, there’s actually a lot new here; enough that playing through each installment again would be worth it for both casual and die-hard fans.

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But on the topic of gameplay, let’s break down each title real quickly. For starters, Final Fantasy X is without a doubt one of the strongest entries in the entire series. While it takes a somewhat obscure approach to its characters and setting, it manages to weave together a tale that feels like one of the most unique in the franchise, all the while hardly ever falling into eye-rolling stereotypes and cliches. In fact, what makes X such a powerful game is its distinct cast; the roster of characters are some of the most human, instantly relatable in the series, consequently tugging at our heartstrings with their struggles and gut-punching personal discoveries.

To complement the diverse cast is a story that is hard to predict, uncompromising and near flawless in its pacing as well. It introduces characters at just the right time, it takes them away at just the right time; it reveals plot twists just when you need them, and then it dials things back and lets folks coast for bit when events become too emotionally stirring. And although Tidus came come across as clueless and by proxy annoying, his optimism, amidst all of his doubt and the surrounding tragedy, is contagious and admirable. His interspersed monologues are also excellently written and delivered, further helping the player become attached to him whether they want to or not. His approach is supplemented well, of course, by Yuna, who is nearly just as big a star in the story as himself. When both characters come together, however, we’re often privy to fantastic on-screen magic which ultimately gels into a touching love story that feels impactful and existential on many levels.

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By itself, all of the aforementioned praise is wonderful. When put alongside X-2, those superb features are what make the sequel feel so devoid of life and essentially hollow at times. While Yuna steps into the spotlight completely in X-2, she just isn’t as charming as she is in the first game. Even being flanked by the quirky, bouncy Rikku, and the stoic, tough-as-nails Payne, Yuna, and her two partners, feel like they’re going through the motions the entire journey. Not to mention, how does Yuna go from laidback, nearly naive summoner to stage-rocking pop star with charisma and confidence that rivals the music industry’s best? It all culminates in a game that feels like too much fan service and not enough substance. There are definitely moments when the trio shines, and we are especially fond of Payne’s story in particular, but when juxtaposed with X, the starting lineup here simply isn’t nearly as interesting.

But these qualms extend further than the cast; the story in X-2 lacks that big-event feel. The stakes never feel all that dire, the hooks don’t ever feel all that compelling and the storytelling at large feels a bit sloppier, a bit less focused than what we get with the original. This comes off, then, as something of a mess that forms a narrative not worthy of the game’s name. Additionally, the story in X felt somber, whereas the narrative in its sequel is noticeably more cheerful. Therefore, it’s simply hard to care about saving the world when the main character was dancing in a skimpy outfit and singing to a crowd of tweens in the scene just prior. The proverbial engine does pick up steam until the latter half of the game, but things merely start off at an astoundingly sluggish pace, sure to turn away some less-than-patient gamers.

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Naturally, there is more to both games than plot. These are very conventional JRPGs at their cores, and as such present gameplay in an according fashion. X is far more traditional than X-2, but each plays out in a way that will be extremely familiar to anyone who’s played a game from the genre in the last three decades. In essence, each segment of the games unfolds like this: talk in town to advance the story, get some kind of mission, explore a field or dungeon, fight monsters, trounce a boss, level up, customize… wash, rinse, dry, repeat. But much of the time will be spent in combat, so let’s turn a critical eye in that direction for a moment. FFX is a turn-based RPG, so of course players wait their turn in combat to navigate a menu filled with action options, issue a command and then let their character go to town. There are overdrive attacks that act as Limit Breaks, where folks build a gauge through being attacked, and then unleash an enormous barrage once the gauge is full, but that’s about it. Hence, it’s a fundamentally simple system, but one that gets more strategic when players are introduced to the opportunity to press the L1 trigger to substitute in a fighter on-the-fly. This small facet adds combat depth that lets folks adapt their tactics on a whim to whatever the battlefield presents at that time. This whole setup is called a conditional turn-based system, and it was designed specifically for X to feel more methodical in pace. It works, too, giving the battling a sort of cerebral, calculating feel that rewards the strategically inclined.

FFX-2 is a little different, though, in that the CTB system is gone and in its place is something much faster. In actuality, it’s a variation of the classic active time battle system, that allows players to interrupt an enemy while they are preparing to take action, instead of waiting for the enemy’s turn to finish before attacking. This type of setup fits the overall style and design of X-2, and certainly makes for high-octane battle situations. Whether someone will enjoy it is ultimately up to their own preferences. In truth, though, it’s a fun feature, one that we personally loved. Combat is probably the sequel’s best component, next to the ability to play dressup with the dressphere and Garmet Grid — a mechanic that let folks change jobs with ease by only altering their outfit. Hence, the acclaimed job system of III, V, and Tactics is on full display here and is an absolute blast to play around with. Because of this feature, X-2 feels like a highly customizable game. In fact, X does a great job in this department as well, with its Sphere Grid which is a more interesting version of FFXIII‘s Crystarium’s component.

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The truth of all this talk is simple: the gameplay in both X and X-2 is downright rock-solid and has only aged like a fine glass of wine, getting better as the years have gone by. To say that they’re amazing would sound too hyperbolic, but we can’t figure out a better way to say it than that; these two games are masterful when it comes to gameplay mechanics.

So while none of the gameplay needed changing or adding to for this HD remastering, the visuals have very evidently been enhanced. Character models have more facial expressions, and the texture work of environments, backgrounds and cutscenes have all been given a complete overhaul. Really, Final Fantasy X as well as X-2 were great looking at the time of their launch, and much like the gameplay, they still look great. The best part, then, is that the high-def sheen plainly brings the two already aesthetically-pleasing games into an era of even greater graphical fidelity. I mean, clearly this isn’t a remake, but it’s one of the best remasterings on the market today.

We’d be remiss not to talk about the re-arranged BGM either. Over 60 tracks from the original X soundtrack have been re-arranged and/or remastered in high-definition audio, making the stellar OST all the more beautiful. To be frank, the compositions in X are some of the most moving in the series, so we’re just happy to hear them again. The voice acting is also top-notch stuff, too, though it hasn’t been tweaked in any way — which is a good thing. Speaking of fresh audio, the bundle comes with a new 30-minute audio drama written by scenario writer Kazushige Nojime, which players during the ending credits. As if there weren’t enough new components already!

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Closing Comments:

It’s hard to say much bad about this bundle because of how polished it is. Final Fantasy X is one of the best main installments in the whole franchise, so giving it a fresh coat of paint should only be seen as a delightful treat. It’s a classic game that should be talked about in the same breath as the handful of other genre-defining gems out there. Although its sequel hardly possesses that same level of magic, it’s still not an awful game by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it’s pretty solid, though certainly different than its older brother. Still, what we’re getting here is a remastering that is jam-packed with new content, audio and enhanced visuals. To just put it bluntly: buy this game. Even if you’ve played both titles before, there’s enough here to warrant a purchase. Final Fantasy X, at least, should be played by anyone who considers themselves even the slightest fan of roleplaying games.
score4.5
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 3