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EGM Review: Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster

Posted on March 17, 2014 AT 08:13pm

Better days

The HD remasters of Final Fantasy X and X-2 certainly show their age in some ways, but both games also serve as a refreshing reminder of a time in the life of this once-esteemed series before it became completely unhinged.

Not unlike the world at large by the end of 2001, Final Fantasy X marked a paradigmatic shift for Square’s flagship franchise—one that many longtime fans had trouble adjusting to. In place of textual diatribes the likes of which could fill the length of a Stephen King novel, FFX introduced voice acting for the first time in the series. Fully 3D environments replaced the pre-rendered backgrounds that defined the PS1-era entries. And perhaps the biggest sin of all—or so I felt at the time—they ditched the overworld map.

For all intents and purposes, FFX—and its sequel, another first for the series that many viewed as heretical—signaled the beginning of the end for the franchise. Some 12 years later, however, in the wake of Final Fantasy XIII and its increasingly insane sequels, replaying Tidus and Yuna’s respective stories holds far more lucid, sober moments as compared to their modern counterparts. Both X and X-2 (albeit to a lesser extent) tell tales that still subscribe to coherence. The stakes, of course, are high—nothing short of world-ending danger to stop—but as compared to the existence-threatening crises Lightning and company navigate, you might even call stopping Sin (the machina-hating leviathan that serves as Final Fantasy X’s chief antagonist) and saving civilization “tame.”

In fact, the storytelling in Final Fantasy X manages to impress all these years later more so than it did over a decade ago (it certainly helps that I’m far less jaded and resistant to change than I was at 17, and perhaps a little quicker on the draw). Director Yoshinori Kitase’s last project as scenario writer is noticeably more nuanced than the those that preceded it and considerably more so than the ones that followed. Awful, awkwardly acted laughing scenes at Luca aside, FFX eschews exposition-espousing characters and leaves it up to players to piece together some of the more subtly threaded narrative components. It’s the first Final Fantasy that didn’t talk down to me, and had it benefited from better voice acting, it may have wound up as one of the stronger entries to be divisively contended by fans.

Combat is similarly uncomplicated but welcomingly deep. No asinine acronyms or layers upon layers of convoluted mechanics—just good old-fashioned turn-based combat and an extensive customization system the likes of which have partly defined Final Fantasy. Hell, Square Enix even benched the ATB meter introduced in Final Fantasy V and present up to this PS2 debut in order to streamline the strategic side of enemy encounters, replacing it with a list that displays the order of turns as decided by the seed stat. It’s very much the opposite direction that the series has been moving toward more recently. No clutter, no chaos. There’s room to breathe and size up a situation, and while it might not have any of the glitz and glamour that seems to be distracting Square Enix nowadays, there’s a timelessness to its simplicity that makes it possible to return to Final Fantasy X a decade later and not find it mired in outmoded construction.

Then there’s the sequel and directorial debut for Motomu Toriyama—the madman responsible for introducing words like “fal’Cie” and “l’Cie” into Final Fantasy vernacular. Like its predecessor, X-2 touts stellar combat. It remains firmly rooted in familiar Final Fantasy systems—ATB is reintroduced, classes make a comeback in the form of dresspheres that players can alternate between, changing outfits and changing roles—but because characters exchange blows or attack simultaneously, every encounter unfolds with fast-paced action. In other words, everything that recent entries try so desperately to capture, but have failed miserably at after sacrificing competent design for visual spectacle. The franchise’s first true sequel has both, and as a result, battles—from the lowliest of fiends to the biggest of bosses—carry this femme-fronted Final Fantasy.

Everything else, unfortunately, might as well be hand-signed by Toriyama. Despite all that transpired over the course of their first Spira-saving adventure and despite having aged two years, Yuna and Rikku seem to have regressed emotionally. Their attitudes and behaviors are wildly more childlike and petulant, as though the hardships faced trying to stop Sin in no way permanently matured them. I have nothing against the occasional immature character, or even a classic bildungsroman in which the first half is spent dealing with a tiresomely puerile cast, but Final Fantasy X-2 is neither of these. What it feels like instead is a story centered around three women written by someone (or someones, in this case) with absolutely no insight into the female psyche and with zero experience writing female characters beyond superficialities that straddle the border between sexist and just plain silly.

Whereas returning to Final Fantasy X proved, in some respects, unexpectedly more enjoyable than it was a decade past, returning to X-2 is a visit burdened by the weight of all the baggage accumulated since 2003—a trip to the exact moment when the screw perceptibly loosens. Everything is still held together, but it’s a tenuous hold at best, and looking at it now, you can clearly see the inevitable loss of structural integrity.

As for the HD Remaster part of this re-release, well, not unlike Square Enix’s other forays into HD updates—such as the recent Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix—both games remain undeniably PS2-era in appearance, but with jagged polygons smoothed over and that distinctive, glaucoma-like blurriness from our backwoods CRT days laser-corrected with sharpened focus, they’re no longer the eyesore something two generations removed ought to be.  Honestly, it’s nothing to write home about—like the blu-ray re-release of a ‘70’s flick. Sure, most of the environments and character models are noticeably improved (though the occasional generic town NPC will wander by all sharp edges and hazy, low-res textures and serve as a glaring reminder of what console generation these games come from), but this is something dated made serviceable by modern standards—an update, not an overhaul.

HD Remaster also brings with it a handful of superbosses from Final Fantasy X: International and the Expert Sphere Grid for daredevils, along with something new for audiences outside of Japan:  Final Fantasy X-2: Last Mission, a sequel to the sequel. Outside of the most die-hard Blitzball fanatics, however, this tacked-on, totally bizarre epilogue won’t hold much appeal. Take everything you know about Final Fantasy in general—let alone X and X-2—and throw it out the window, because Last Mission is a different beast altogether. Set three months later and taking place entirely within the unexplored heights of a previously undiscovered ancient tower, Last Mission jettisons the familiar in favor of a hyper-accelerated turn-based strategy game married to a roguelike dungeon crawler. Controlling either Yuna, Rikku, or Paine, players ascend the tower’s near-100 floors to the mystery at its top, spurred by an anonymous letter received by all three. The tower is best compared to Persona 3’s Tartarus—with randomly generated floors populated by randomly spawned enemies. But without any conventional combat system, exploring the tower becomes a weird dance in which every step or action counts as a turn, and while moving about in real time, player and enemy turns are traded like stop-motion chess but without the complexity.

The dressphere system makes a comeback, but evolved so that Yuna, Rikku, or Paine can wear up to six dresspheres at once, each one with its own HP bar to pad out survivability. If all six dresspheres are dropped to zero along with the character’s, it’s back to Floor 1 with nothing to show. It’s not exactly punishing, because Last Mission isn’t exactly hard, but since it’s not at all fun, engaging, or interesting, it amounts to little more than one big chore, the existence of which I don’t comprehend.

Last Mission’s pointlessness aside, Square Enix could’ve just as easily not bothered with bringing it beyond Japan’s shores. Like I said, I think it might hold value to anyone who worships X and X-2 with all the fervor of a Yevonite, but those lacking in such faith won’t find much reason to slog through so many stories for something barely passing payoff at its summit. The bulk of the package—one all-around great Final Fantasy and one that’s at least not agonizing to play (which is more than I can say about what we have to work with today), complete with a fresh coat of paint—are more than enough to make HD Remaster worth investigating for anyone who missed out 12 years ago, and a worthwhile purchase for those who already sailed Spira’s seas but have fond memories of those travels.

Developer: Square Enix • Publisher: Square Enix • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 03.18.2014
Maybe Final Fantasy X was always a stronger entry in the series than I gave it credit for, or perhaps recent disappointments just make it seem all the more better. Either way, between X‘s well-roundedness and X-2‘s remarkably fast-paced but still classic-feeling combat, HD Remaster is worth the price of admission. Just don’t pick this up solely for Last Mission unless you really, really, really love FFX-2 like a parent loves their child: unconditionally.
The Good The classics are classics for a reason, and both battle systems prove that sometimes less is more.
The Bad How Yuna and Rikku have the combined maturity of a middle-schooler in X-2.
The Ugly Every single thing about Last Mission. I don’t get it—is it some kind of elaborate joke?
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster is available on PlayStation 3 and PS Vita. Primary version reviewed was for PS3. Review code was provided by xxx for the benefit of this review.
Chris Holzworth, News Editor
Chris Holzworth has wanted to write about games all his life. He first cut his teeth writing for enthusiast sites such as RPGFan, and after writing for just about every other enthusiast website he could came across, wound up as EGM's east coast news correspondent (read: editorial intern) before relocating to LA to serve as news editor. You can follow his rants about storytelling on Twitter @manadrive.[Meet the rest of the crew]

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