Final Fantasy X is a game I have mixed feelings about. I enjoyed it once it reached endgame, as the game’s strange linearity started to wear off and it let me do the kind of exploring and face the sort of epic monsters the series is known for. But there were many aspects of the game I disliked, chiefly the voice acting, the story, and certain characters. So I was curious to see how I would feel once the journey continued in X-2.

First things first: the HD graphics are pretty great, with a very nice job being done to bring things up to date. It doesn’t look like  a new game but it looks very pleasing. In particular, the environments are wonderful, very fresh and colourful. The art style is interesting as well as the game continues the unusual Pacific-Island style used in the first game. The character design for some of the secondary NPCs leaves a lot to be desired but we can allow that in a game that is over ten years old.

X-2 focuses on Yuna, accompanied here by Rikku and a new character, Paine. So far, the game seems to eschew the normal system for party-building (where people rock up and join your party) in favour of  a monster-catching type system. Basically you set traps on the world map and try to catch monsters or humans that are local to that region. You can then start to level them up in your party through combat. There are probably some interesting things you can do here by replacing your party members with powerful monsters, but really, so far I haven’t bothered. The system is a bit of a time sink and none of the extra monsters or characters seem that enticing. It’s not helped by the fact the extra character the game gives you for free (Brother, the Al-Bhed leader of Yuna’s crew) is, basically, an idiot and I cringe every time I see him on the screen.

Yuna, Rikku, and the chronically bored Paine
Yuna, Rikku, and the chronically bored Paine

Herein lies one of the big problems with the game so far. The new characters that are introduced are really not appealing to me at all, perhaps tailored for a much younger audience. Further, the voice acting is some of the worst I have encountered. Yuna is actually the best, which is surprising considering she was probably the weakest VA in the first game. New character Paine uses a sarcastic and bored monotone for all her lines; other characters seem to put on very odd intonations that are probably supposed to sound funny but are instead excruciating; one talks as if his mouth is full of saliva; and so on. It’s really annoying.

The writing is underwhelming so far, too. The main premise is OK–Yuna is now a ‘sphere hunter (basically a treasure hunter), and is being drawn in to the power struggles occurring after the events of the first game. But the character development and dialogue is generally poor and the only characters who don’t drive me mad so far are Yuna and Rikku. I also dislike the way they come up names in this game. JRPGs often have weird names when they get a Western adaptation, but at least they’re normally variations on names that exist. FFX-2 often just picks two syllables and sticks them together at random. Combined with the Al-Bhed language system–which is a different ‘language’ that is just an encoded version of the common language whereby letters are swapped for other letters–it amounts to a simplistic approach. I do a lot of work with languages in my job, and perhaps because of that I’m sensitive to what I see as a philistine treatment of the subject. It can also be unintentionally funny at times–like when Yuna gets jealous of a presumably female but unseen character whose name is pronounced as ‘Len’.

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Len Goodman could probably teach Yuna a thing or two about dancing. Maybe that’s what worries her?

Combat is one of the high points so far, being quite fast-paced. Because you only have three people in your party, there is no switching out of characters. Instead, your heroes can change ‘Dress-spheres’ which enable them to use different abilities. This also changes their appearance. It’s a novel idea and kind of cool so far. The game also dispenses with the sphere grid from FFX, as well as the queued attack order system from X, instead using an Active Battle system like FFVIII. Combat is still fun but I have mixed feelings overall, as I did like the combat and leveling from FFX which to me was the best part of the game.

I have found myself rushing through battles at times but that’s partly a function of game design rather than inherent weaknesses in the combat system. The game is divided into chapters, with certain locations highlighted as key to advancing the story. You’re encouraged by a big red ‘completion meter’ on the world map to visit other locations as well. Doing so can trigger side-missions and help you acquire items. But occasional lack of clarity about objectives or whether there is even any point to running through an area can mean the random battles get frustrating very quickly. There are also a plethora of mini-games that you have to complete which range in quality from mediocre to awful.

It probably sounds like I hate FFX-2 so far. I don’t: the environment and game world has its charm; Yuna and Rikku are likable protagonists; and the whole thing has such a whimsical feel that I feel like some kind of ogre for disliking elements of it. But even allowing for the fact the game is 10 years old, there are major aspects of the artistic conception and creation of this game that seem highly questionable.

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Now, the obvious question for any readers out there is: why has this guy just started playing Final Fantasy X-2 HD, instead of something sensible like Fallout 4? Basically, I’m forcing myself to play through my backlog of unplayed PS3 games before I upgrade to the PS4 around Christmas. Two years of playing Dota 2 pretty intensively means I have a lot of catching up to do. Better get back to it!

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