I had not played Final Fantasy X or its awkward sequel, Final Fantasy X-2, since I was a Senior in high school. While Tidus and Yuna's original adventure in Spira has always stood out to me as one of my favorite gaming experiences, I was unsure how the title would fare now, several years later. The original announcement of this remastered collection was actually one of the driving forces behind my decision to purchase a PlayStation 3, but as the game loaded into my console I could not help but wonder if my adventures in Spira would still be as momentous as they were many years ago.
Final Fantasy X takes place in the world of Spira. While seemingly beautiful and calm, there is poignant element to the world. The majority of the citizens of Spira follow the teachings of a religion known as Yevon. By following the teachings of Yevon, including abstaining from the use of machinery, they hope to one day be free from the terror caused by the whale-like beast known as Sin. Unable to kill Sin for good, the people of Spira send a group of Guardians and a Summoner to the various holy Temples around the world with the goal of banishing Sin for a 10 year period known as "the Calm."
As with many games in this genre, Final Fantasy X's story is littered with an agonizingly touching love story. The game's protagonist - Tidus - and Spira's most adored summoner - Yuna - quickly connect with one another. Over the course of the 80 hour story, the two of them develop a close bond and ultimately fall in love. To keep in-line with the game's appetite for tragedy, however, is the fact that Yuna, like all summoners, is destined to die in her battle against Sin, and Tidus may be less than he appears to be. Their love for one another fuels a divergence from Yevon's usual path towards defeating Sin, and makes for one of the Final Fantasy series' best plots, as it touches on religion and politics in an interesting way.
Final Fantasy X does what many games in this genre fail to do, and that is to balance out the cut-scenes and various gameplay elements. There is a perfect mix of combat, exploration, and story development through dialogue and cut-scenes. It also does a great job at mixing things up just when you think you have everything figured out in the world of Spira.
The series' combat system has evolved a lot since the days of Final Fantasy X. However, the simple turn-based system still stands out to me as one of the best in the series. While it is a seemingly basic turn-based system, there's plenty of added depth which makes FFX's combat fun to engage in. Swapping out characters mid-battle is done with quickness and ease, allowing you to get the appropriate team for the right situation. Each character in the game has their specified role in battle, Tidus being the quick and agile fighter, Yuna the white mage and summoner, Lulu the dark mage, Auron the brute force fighter, and so on.
Leveling up is also a little bit different here; whereas there are no levels per se, experience goes towards points on the game's intricate Sphere Grid system. By earning points gamers can move their character around the Sphere Grid and unlock new abilities and increase their attributes. Each character has a standard, mostly pre-determined path on the Sphere Grid, but users can choose to alter those paths by using unlockable spheres to take their character down a whole new route. This feature enables characters like Yuna - normally a healer - to turn into a tanky fighter, if you so choose. This remake also introduces the Expert Sphere Grid, which deviates from the traditional and locked version, allowing even more fine-tuning.
One of the most notable changes is, of course, the graphics. The updated models and environments really stand out and everything feels more vibrant than ever. Facial animations on the main cast have been redone, which while an improvement, can make the models of the NPCs - which have not been updated - stand out like a sore thumb. Unfortunately there are also still some really awkward moments where the narration just does not match up with a character's facial expressions or mouth movements. Speaking of narration, the voice-acting here is still remarkably cheesy. It was barely passable when originally released, and it certainly has not gotten better with age. There are a few moments that will make you scratch your head and wonder, but overall the voice-acting, while cheesy, does not detract from the game.
The soundtracks to both games have also been given a bit of an overhaul, but even the game's most hardcore fans may not notice this on first listen. Many of the songs have been rearranged to improve their quality and add a new level of refinement to the tracks.
Also included in this collection is Final Fantasy X's odd step-sister of a sequel, X-2. X-2 has always been considered a weird follow-up to the masterpiece that was FFX. While it is not a bad game on the whole, it pales in comparison to its predecessor. Set a few years after the events of Final Fantasy X, Yuna, Rikku, and newcomer Paine, embark on a seemingly harmless quest that ends up thrusting them into another adventure to save the world. While Sin has long been defeated, the effects of Yevon and Sin are still present throughout Spira.
X-2 actually does a pretty decent job at giving gamers a bit of a backstory to Sin and its creation, but ultimately gets tied up in a nonsensical story and peculiar gameplay elements. It also tries to take a much lighter tone, with the inclusion of J-Pop elements and overly stereotypically girly themes. For instance, gone is X's Sphere Grid, and in its place is a new way to unlock abilities, known as Dress Spheres. These Dress Spheres literally change your character costumes mid-battle in a usually revealing outfit. Shifts in tone like this make it hard to take anything seriously.
But this collection is more than just a remastering of two popular JRPGs - there are a lot of great additional features too, the most notable of which is the inclusion of content previously exclusive to the international release of the game. The inclusion of the Dark Aeon side-quests literally adds hours upon hours of additional gameplay. Then there are new Dress Spheres for X-2, which enable you to take on new traits and skills for each character in the game. X-2 also has a new creature creator and battle tournaments, which is fun for a bit, but will not hold your attention for long. The biggest addition is the "Last Mission." This event is set 3 months after the ending of X-2 and has your characters facing off against monsters in the Iutycyr Tower. This Tower is quite the challenge and will require some grinding, but the additional cut-scenes make the hard work worthwhile.
While not a huge issue, there is one minor drawback to this remastered collection: for some reason the game is not a member of Sony's cross-platform program, so if you want to play it on both the PS3 and Vita, you will have to purchase the game twice. Both versions are basically the same, but you will notice some minor graphical imperfections on the Vita.
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster is a well priced ($39.99) remastering of one of the best Final Fantasy games of all time. Final Fantasy X will easily draw you in as it marks a series high in both narrative and gameplay, and Final Fantasy X-2 is a decent enough follow up. Both games have definitely stood the test of time, and fans will definitely want to return to Spira.
This review is based on a retail copy of Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster for the PS3