The Final Fantasy series has evolved quite a bit since its humble beginnings back in 1985. With each new episode of the series, Square Enix managed to update the formula with new features without straying too far from the beaten path, creating a sense of familiarity despite the completely different stories and settings.
It was only with Final Fantasy X that the team started making some bold changes that moved the franchise truly forward. While some fans disliked this new direction, it’s undeniable that the game is still today one of the best role playing games of the PlayStation 2 era thanks to its unique story and setting, which are really different from anything that has been included in the series before it.
Final Fantasy X | X-2 HD aims to introduce the two games of the FFX saga to a whole new generation of fans as well as allow older gamers to experience the magic of the world of Spira once again with some improved graphics, arranged soundtrack and all new contents.
As far as an HD Remaster goes, Final Fantasy X HD is a really good one and definitely one of the best remasters released up until now. It’s not a simple upscaling job with some improvements here and there: the game includes upgraded backdrops, textures, lighting, interface, character models and more. The game certainly doesn’t look as good as Final Fantasy XIII, one of the best looking role playing games released in the previous console generation, but it definitely doesn’t even look like a game released over ten years ago.
On closer inspection not everything has been changed for the better. Notably, some character models look somewhat off, especially Tidus, and not all the details on the models have been enhanced. At the same time the NPCs models are just as bad as they were ten years ago, making the graphics feel pretty uneven at times. It’s only a minor gripe though, as most gamers aren’t going to focus on each and every tiny little detail on each character model while playing and having fun with the game.
And have fun they will. Quite a lot of it, actually. Final Fantasy X turn based battle system is still today one of the best battle systems ever included in a Final Fantasy game. A menu on the right side of the screen indicates turn order: by using specific skills, players can delay the enemies’ turns and emerge victorious without letting them land a single blow. It’s a really engaging system with a lot of flexibility and possibilities.
The leveling up system was something entirely new back when the game was originally released. While not feeling as fresh as it did years ago, the Sphere Grid system works really nicely still today, allowing gamers to customize each one of the playable characters in many different ways by unlocking nodes on a huge grid. Each node includes either a stat increase, magic spell or special ability. The HD version includes the Expert Sphere Grid, which grants more freedom during the customization process. The increased freedom comes with the risk of doing some wrong choices, making the Expert Sphere Grid a suitable choice for gamers that have already played and completed Final Fantasy X.
Final Fantasy X HD new contents are all taken from the International version of the game, originally released only in Japan and Europe. Together with the already mentioned Expert Sphere Grid, the game includes extra boss battles against the Dark Aeons, more powerful versions of the Aeons, as well as an extra battle against Penance, an incredibly challenging boss that comes with a huge amount of HPs.
The final addition to FFX HD is a newly arranged soundtrack. I have quite mixed feelings about it, to be honest. Some tracks have definitely been improved by the use of live instruments and new arrangements but I cannot help but feel that some of these arrangements are off. This is probably because I feel really attached to the original soundtrack, which I still consider one of the best of the series.
One place where the game hasn’t been touched is the story. Following the destruction of the city of Zanarkand, main character Tidus finds himself in the world of Spira, a world plagued by a huge monster called Sin, the same monster that attacked and destroyed his Zanarkand, a monster that only seems to exist to bring suffering to the inhabitants of the world. After learning about the Summoner Yuna and her incoming battle against Sin to save the world, Tidus decides to accompany her as her guardian, hoping that his meeting with Sin will reveal a way for him to get back home.
The whole story starts really slow but gradually picks up the pace as the party gets closer to the final destination. Some characters could have used more development, mostly Kimahri, Lulu and Wakka, who are pretty much at the sidelines most of the story. Voice acting doesn’t help, unfortunately, as it’s pretty inconsistent from beginning to end.
The second half of the collection, Final Fantasy X-2 HD, is a completely different experience, as both story and gameplay systems are radically different from the first game. Just like with Final Fantasy X, the graphics have been vastly improved with better textures, character models, backdrops and use of lighting. Unfortunately the upgrading job is even more uneven than in Final Fantasy X HD, with lower quality models looking pretty rough especially when compared to the main characters’ models. The same goes for backgrounds: some feature such low quality textures that it’s really impossible not to notice them.
Unlike Final Fantasy X HD, the game’s soundtrack has been left intact, with its own unique mix of J-Pop and more typical role playing game tracks. This was to be expected, as Final Fantasy X soundtrack has been remade only because it didn’t feature live instruments.
Final Fantasy X-2 plot is kinda weird when compared to the previous game due to its light-hearted tone. This isn’t a bad point per se, since it’s not really bad but just different from what is expected of a Final Fantasy game. Most of the cast of the first game comes back alongside some new entries that don’t get developed as nicely as they should have. This, however, matters very little, as the real meat of the game is seeing how Spira has changed following the end of Yuna’s journey and the defeat of Sin.
The game’s battle and growth systems are also different from the previous game. The Active Time Battle system, a staple of the series, comes back in full glory, being faster than in any other Final Fantasy game. The three playable characters, Yuna, Riku and Paine, can also coordinate their attacks to create some long chains and cause heavy damage to enemies. Gone is the Sphere Grid system, with a regular leveling up system taking its place. What sets the game mechanics apart from many other role playing games is the Dress Spheres system, which allow the three characters to use certain classes, weapons and abilities. Better yet, the dresses can be changed during the course of battle thanks to the Garnment Grid, which also grant specific bonuses. The system is even more versatile than that of Final Fantasy X, thus allowing for even greater customization.
Final Fantasy X-2 HD also comes with some new features that have never before appeared in a Western release of the game like the new Creature Creator, which allows gamers to capture and use in battle monsters and NPCs. Leveling up specific characters also unlocks some more story bits. Another addition is The Last Mission final segment, which takes place sometime after the ending of the game. This segment plays differently than the main game, featuring a more roguelike experience.
Final Fantasy X | X-2 HD Remaster is the first HD remaster for the Final Fantasy series and it’s honestly a really well done job, despite some uneven graphical updates. Gameplay wise, I think Final Fantasy X-2 HD has still an edge over the predecessor, but it’s only a matter of personal preference as both games are huge role playing games that are still today some of the best ones ever released. Highly recommended to all Final Fantasy fans and role playing game enthusiasts.