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Monday, May 26, 2014

My Review: Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster (PS3/Vita)

I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Final Fantasy X. Other games in the venerable RPG series might have more complex characters, less convoluted storylines, or flashier graphical presentations, but even without taking into consideration Final Fantasy X’s significant impact on the genre as a whole, it was also one of the first RPGs outside of the Pokémon series that I had ever experienced. I was ecstatic to hear that Square Enix would be giving this game and its much-maligned sequel the HD remake treatment, especially after playing through Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix and thoroughly enjoying that particular trip down memory lane. Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster takes a classic RPG, one of the best Squaresoft ever produced, and brings it into the modern age.

The Final Fantasy X duology takes place in the land of Spira, where servants of the dominant religious order embark on a pilgrimage in order to silence the terrible beast known as Sin. While some of the moment-to-moment story beats or dialogue sequences may seem a tad nonsensical, there’s a lot of heart to the story of Final Fantasy X and the overarching plot is sound. The use of the ‘stranger in a strange land’ plot device in order to explain the lore of Spira to protagonist Tidus is cleverly handled, and Spira itself is one of the most fully-realized worlds Square has ever created. It’s an interesting and somewhat melancholy tale that ends in tragedy. Note that this only applies to the original game, as Final Fantasy X-2 takes things in a significantly more lighthearted direction. If you take X-2 as seriously as it takes itself, you’ll probably enjoy this harmless spinoff game, but it’s best to approach the game with much lower expectations that you would its classic forbear.

I won’t go very in-depth with the gameplay of Final Fantasy X and X-2, but suffice it to say that they are both exemplary turn-based RPGs. Final Fantasy X has perhaps the best combat system in the entire series, with the ability to see the turn order and swap characters as you see fit, while X-2’s Dressphere system provides entertaining variety in combat that may have inspired the Paradigm system of Final Fantasy XIII. The versions of the games included in the HD Remaster are the International versions that were never released in the United States before. This means that Final Fantasy X HD comes with the Advanced Sphere Grid, Dark Aeons, rebalanced difficulty, and the Eternal Calm short video. X-2, on the flip side, has new Dresspheres, minigames, and the Last Mission chapter that sees the Gullwings exploring a mysterious tower. Of course, both games have trophy support.

Presentation-wise, this is an exceptional HD upgrade. There’s no hiding the fact that these are early PS2 games, and there are still some stiff animations and ridiculous lip syncing inherent to the game’s original design. However, environments and character models have been completely redone for this collection, and they look considerably sharper than before. Final Fantasy X also features a completely remixed soundtrack (for better or for worse, X-2’s eclectic score was left untouched). I’ll admit, at first I was a little thrown off by the new music, since the original compositions are more-or-less ingrained in my memory. Once I got used to them, however, I really appreciated the improved instrumentation present in each track. Iconic tunes such as ‘To Zanarkand’ and ‘Yuna’s Theme’ sound virtually identical to their original incarnations, at least to my ears, but the alterations made to ‘Besaid Island’, ‘Battle with Seymour,’ and of course ‘A Contest of Aeons’ really enhance Final Fantasy X’s aural offerings.  

Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster offers the definitive version of a role-playing classic and it’s less-beloved but still rather enjoyable follow-up. If you’re at all a fan of Japanese role-playing games and you’ve somehow missed Final Fantasy X, this is easily the best way to experience the game. And if you, like me, have fond memories of this game and are looking to play it again, there’s enough new content here to justify the purchase.

Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster is available on both Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita. 

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