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SummaryThe soul of the series is not there
The GoodDespite being an ardent Final Fantasy fan and a Squaresoft admirer in general (beside Final Fantasy, they also created such great games as Xenogears, Live a Live, or the Chrono series), I was pretty suspicious about "Final Fantasy X-2". After hearing it will be much lighter in story than other Final Fantasies, and will concentrate on non-linear gameplay instead of the plot, I felt strange. After all, I never wanted to see a continuation of the Final Fantasy X story. I loved the sad ending, and I didn't want to see it turn into a "happy end".
After I completed the game, I was left with mixed feelings... but good things first. The storyline does have its good moments. At times it is almost as sad and as melancholic as the one of the predecessor, even though it's not always easy to notice. What it doesn't have is complexity. There are hardly any plot twists worth mentioning; the party members are reduced to the absolute minimum (only three in the entire game - the previous "record" were five characters in "Final Fantasy V"), and the storyline itself is clear and transparent. But at the same time, while "keeping down" throughout the game, it occasionally raises to a drama.
A "happy end" to the story is possible, but to figure out how to get it is anything but obvious. I didn't get it, and was actually pretty satisfied with the sad "normal ending".
In a certain sense, "Final Fantasy X-2" is similar to Final Fantasy V, although it has a somewhat more involving story. If you are familiar with the gameplay system of "Final Fantasy V", you'll feel right at home here. It is basically the same famous job system that was first introduced in "Final Fantasy III" for NES and was brought to perfection in "Final Fantasy V". You also equip a job (a "dress", as it is called here) on a character, and learn its abilities. Unlike "Final Fantasy V", you can choose yourself what abilities you want to learn first, and also switch dresses in battles. On the other hand, you can't customize your battle menu to have various abilities from various classes at the same time.
You automatically receive five starting dresses; all the others (I believe there are more than ten available in general) should be found or earned in a way unrelated to the story. There are also three super-powerful dresses for each one of the three girls.
If you were disappointed by the aggravating linearity of modern Final Fantasies (after "Final Fantasy VIII" the non-linearity level went downhill, breaking all records in "Final Fantasy X"), then "Final Fantasy X-2" is the right game for you. Although it takes place in the same world as "Final Fantasy X" and features same characters, it is a totally different experience. "Final Fantasy X" made you follow the story, revealing optional locations and quests only near the end of the game. In "Final Fantasy X-2", you get an airship right from the beginning, and you can go wherever you like, following the story or simply exploring and doing sub-quests whenever you feel like it.
"Final Fantasy X-2" is by far the most non-linear Final Fantasy, surpassing even "Final Fantasy V" and the second part of "Final Fantasy VI". Almost at any given moment, you can visit every place in the game; whenever there is something important to do in a certain place, it will be highlighted as a "hotspot". By visiting only highlighted locations, you follow the main story directly, but you are free to explore other locations as well. Besides the hotspots, which contain the main missions, there are plenty of additional missions, or sub-quests. The game is literally full of such missions, and will take some time to finish if you decide to go to every location and do every mission. If you prefer going straight to the goal, you can do it here. True to my custom of playing only the necessary parts the first time around, I completed the game in 19 hours - my shortest Final Fantasy ever (compare that to "Final Fantasy VIII", for which I needed 60 hours). It is possible to complete the game without doing any sub-quests.
But the true "salt" of "Final Fantasy X-2" is not the non-linearity or the side-quests per se, but the fact the locations of the game keep changing and are different every time you visit them. At a certain point, almost every location in the game will become highlighted and "necessary" to visit. However, you can always visit it before or later, and see how it changes from visit to visit. Something like this was never before seen in a Final Fantasy game, and is generally very rare for Japanese RPGs. You can take side-quests, help people, and see how your actions influence the world, almost in a fashion of a Western RPG. The freedom of exploration and the continuous changing make Spira of "Final Fantasy X-2" a rather convincing world, even though it lacks a homogeneous style.
Of course, this world wouldn't have been the same without the excellent graphics. Once again, Squaresoft's artists created breathtaking locations that are more than just technical eye-candy. Clothes, architecture, nature - everything looks magnificent; this world is simply great to look it. I loved the South-East Asian style of the world - undeniably a great idea, compared to the usual medieval or futuristic settings. The character graphics are fantastic, and of course, there are pre-rendered CG animations... well, this is a Squaresoft game. Need I say more?
And finally, I liked the way Squaresoft experimented with this game. I like how they always try something new with every new Final Fantasy. Even though I was disappointed by this game, I appreciated the effort.
The BadI have always been a fan of the Final Fantasy franchise, liking most of them, both critically acclaimed classics like Final Fantasy VI and controversial games such as Final Fantasy VIII. Excluding early installments, the only Final Fantasy that left me somewhat cold was the fifth. I have always appreciated Squaresoft's artistic side, the aesthetics of those games, their sensual beauty and emotion.
And I was pretty sad to realize that "Final Fantasy X-2" lacked this artistic touch. First of all, even though I liked the fact they weren't afraid to design a new gameplay system for the game, I couldn't help being bothered by the lack of originality in the setting. The world of this game, beautiful as it is, is an exact replica of the predecessor. All those marvelous South Asian locations are not original. And with graphical beauty being the main artistic strength here, it brings down the overall score of the game.
Because in other aspects "Final Fantasy X-2" is decidedly below its predecessors. It sorely lacks depth, emotion, this naive, touching approach to story-telling that was so typical for the series. The game's story is light, thin, and dry; it can't be even remotely compared to other Final Fantasy plots. It doesn't have the soul of the series; in fact, it also doesn't have any other kind of soul. The price we had to pay for the nice non-linearity was too high. We never become involved in the game, it doesn't have the same impact as other Final Fantasies. Even the fifth one was more impressive.
The character cast is the game's weakest point. It's unbelievable how they could present such a bad character cast in a game that has had so many prequels with so many interesting characters. Even the characters of "Final Fantasy V" are more exciting! The problem is not just that the characters are not typical for the series; the problem is that they are uninteresting, shallow, flat, boring, and sometimes downright annoying.
I really disliked this "teenager" aspect of the whole thing. It was done in a much more convincing way in "Final Fantasy VIII". There, we also had annoying teenagers; but they were believable, they had relationships with each other, all kinds of silly teenage conflicts; it was rather realistic and interesting in its own way. In "Final Fantasy X-2", the characters are not revealed to us. What can we say about Rikku? Or even about Yuna? We are given next to no true background information. The characters don't evolve. They are lifeless, sterile, artificial.
And they determine the style of the whole game. And what is this style? In one word - pop. Stupid teenager girls who don't even behave like girls; weird, unconvincing mixture of old culture and rock concerts; the whole thing really feels like a mess, it has nothing of the interesting styles of earlier Final Fantasies. The mixture of dragons and high-tech corporations in "Final Fantasy VII", the "sixties" feel of "Final Fantasy VIII", the charming medieval world of "Final Fantasy IX", the melancholic South Asian environment of "Final Fantasy X" - even this last one is pretty much gone in this game, thanks to the whole pop aspect. Unconvincing, uninteresting, and poor.
And there is another very serious flaw. The music. Ever since I played my first Final Fantasy game, I was fascinated by its music. Nobuo Uematsu's works were for me an inseparable part of Final Fantasy universe. "Final Fantasy VI" wouldn't have been the same without its beautiful main theme; "Final Fantasy VII" wouldn't have been the same without its majestic musical accompaniment. Now, the music of "Final Fantasy X-2" is not really bad. There are some interesting and "moody tracks", but this is not true Final Fantasy music. The absence of Nobuo Uematsu can be noticed immediately. I missed the typical Final Fantasy tunes full of emotion and deep melancholy. Of course, the music doesn't spoil the game completely, but I can't help thinking it would have been much better if it were decorated by Nobuo Uematsu's melodies.
Other than that, I should mention the difficulty level. In 19 hours, I finished the game being at level 47, gaining the last ten levels in the final dungeon. Although some bosses were pretty uncomfortable, I actually had more trouble with regular enemies in the final dungeon than with the bosses. The last five bosses are simply too easy - I finished them without any problems, although I did nearly no side-quests and gained only one additional dress - Dark Knight. I imagine the game would be an absolute breeze for those who completed all the side missions.