I probably didn’t play Final Fantasy X-2 in the best frame of mind. I’ve been looking to get it finished fast so I can move on to other, more recent games, and so I probably haven’t done it justice. I do like that they centered the game around Yuna, who is a likable protagonist, and they even made her a bit more of an action girl with the addition of a jump button. The game’s tone is largely upbeat and feel-good and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I still think it’s fair to assert that this is a vastly flawed game and far from a strong entry in the Final Fantasy series.
I wrote about some of my concerns last month in my First Impressions piece on this game. Those problems persist throughout the game. First and most obviously, the dialogue and voice acting are more or less dire throughout. The dialogue lacks any semblance of wit: its attempts at humour come across as juvenile and bland; and the vast majority of the characters are of no interest whatsoever. This is made worse by the voice acting which is the worst I can remember hearing in a modern video game. Yuna, Maechen and Rikku are not bad, but most of the others are atrocious, especially Brother, whose diction is simply bizarre; while the Hypellos are even more annoying than Jar-Jar Binks. I was staring at the screen in disbelief that they would make people endure this.
In this day and age it stands out and it’s significantly worse than FFX, which was not good either. The animation doesn’t help: there is little to no effort to match face movements with speech, while characters often jerk around nonsensically or gesticulate uncontrollably while speaking. Most of the secondary characters use extremely ugly character models and faces too. At times I found it literally unwatchable and just left the room to let cutscenes play out. I also dislike the naming system (or lack of one), with characters often being given random assortments of syllables to make up a name. What kind of a game gives people names like Nooj and Beclem? These sorts of details are significant when you’re trying to build a coherent world, but it seems to have been lost on the writers here.
The plot is largely forgettable and not very engaging. The whole threat-to-Spira thing has been done already with Sin, and they try to top that with a giant machina named Vegnagun, but it doesn’t work. The mission design also sucks, as the game throws at you a huge variety of different minigames and gimmicks that are underdeveloped and today feel massively limited. Considering that all the environments were already designed and are just re-used here, you would have though they could spend some time crafting something new that was satisfying to play.
They do have one new system in the form of the monster arena, whereby you can catch monsters and other characters in the wild and train them up to use in your party. There’s no incentive to do so, however, as they don’t seem to get any stronger than the ones you start with; and the characters are massively unappealing, either generic monsters or unbearable, idiotic squadmates. It is literally just another thing you have to grind. Maybe there were people who still wanted to do that in 2004 but in on the cusp of 2016 it seems preposterously dated.
The unfortunate thing about all this is that the core game mechanics are still solid, and the most fun from the game comes from its combat. The game has a solid underpinning and it is a shame that the writing and direction lets it down so badly. The Dress-sphere system works fine, and it is cool to have unusual classes like Dark Knight, Samurai and Gun Mage to play with, in addition to the usual archetypes. Boss design is impressive, continuing the theme of FFX which adopted a different style of boss than we see in most games. Regular monsters look as lame as ever, for the most part. Moreover, some parts of the game are teeth-grindingly frustrating as random battles pop repeatedly as you are trying to find your way around using the inadequate map. You can always equip a no-encounter item but then you run the risk of being even more under-levelled for some of the boss fights. And some of the bosses in this game are as hard as fucking nails.
I have to mention a certain end-game puzzle as well, which involves running around standing on plates to figure out which musical notes you’re supposed to play on a series of pianos to de-activate some electrical gates that spawn an (almost) un-killable monster if you get it wrong. I hope my description captures a sense of how lame, stupid and frustrating it is. I am so glad they don’t make them like this anymore.
The environments are often stunning, just as they were in the FFX re-master (they are pretty much all exactly the same). The soundtrack is fine but nowhere near the level of some of the earlier ones. But this is a sequel rather than a full-on FF game so it’s probably to be expected.
I don’t have a clear sense of how FFX-2 is viewed in series canon, but playing it now without rose-tinted glasses, it is extremely dated and not very much fun. You could always say “don’t bother with the crap side-missions”, but if you try to rush the game you will hit a wall eventually with some of the bosses. I finished the game with a 72% completion; there were certain questlines that required massive backtracking and grinding, and I am not all prepared to put in the time. The game clocked me at 35 hours for completion but there were probably another 10-15 hours in failed boss fights. So I don’t think I got as happy an ending for Yuna as she might deserve. But again, if Square wanted people to be that invested in the story they should basically have done a better job in writing it. Sorry.