Final Fantasy X-2
Release: March 13, 2003 | Developer: Square | Publisher: Square
Released just two years after Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy X-2 was the first direct sequel in franchise history. Despite being warmly received by critics, it is remembered as a misstep in the annals of Final Fantasy history. Many Final Fantasy fans wrote off Final Fantasy X-2 as a cash-in on the massive success of Final Fantasy X. While it was most definitely an attempt to stretch the assets created and the money spent developing Final Fantasy X, it was none-the-less filled with original ideas and a rich story that is surprisingly self-contained.
At first glance, X-2 can easily appear as juvenile fan service, short on substance and depth, but that really is the brilliance of the game. Final Fantasy X-2’s best feature, the compelling story, is almost entirely optional. Doing a bare-bones play through, X-2 can be completed in 20 hours, but in order to achieve the full experience and a 100% completion rating, 40 hours or more may be required.
In the end, depending on your level of completion, Yuna’s character arc reaches its conclusion in one of two entirely different ways. The multiple endings, another first for a Final Fantasy title, push the wanton need of the player to explore the world in increasingly greater detail, scrounging for extra percentiles to add to the overall completion score. This, in turn, reveals an ever-increasing depth to the game’s story and characters.
Final Fantasy X-2 takes you back into the world of Spira, now free from the overbearing religious dogma that once ruled its people. Yuna has transformed from Summoner to a celebrity sphere hunter, part of a rogue crew called the Gullwings. Consisting primarily of Al Bhed, Yuna’s cousins Rikku and Brother among them, the Gullwings traverse Spira in search of spheres, small treasures that hold both great monetary and academic value.
It is the period known as the Eternal Calm, just over two years since the defeat of Sin and the end of Final Fantasy X. Not long after Sin’s final defeat, the truth about Yevon was exposed by its priests for the purpose of allowing Spira’s populace to decide for themselves whether or not to continue following the disgraced religion.
Many inhabitants of Spira were quick to rebel against Yevon’s teachings. Aligned under the banner of the Youth League, these rebels dedicate themselves to uncovering Spira’s history by gathering spheres.
These spheres, which contain camcorder-like recordings, may hold the secrets of Spira’s past.
Growing political strife and ever escalating violence between New Yevon, a group founded to preserve the Yevon way of life and keeps its secrets hidden, and the aforementioned Youth League threatens to tear Spira’s people apart.
You soon discover the true motive behind Yuna’s adventurous turn with the Gullwings – after Sin’s defeat, she was given a sphere containing images of a young man imprisoned and begging for help. The man in the grainy sphere appears to be Tidus.
The emotional core of the story is Yuna’s search for answers, and it is masterfully dressed up on all sides by the compelling side story of a world’s rebirth, the efforts to control that world, and the ever-widening gap between politics and the people they govern.
Having an almost entirely optional story, there is a lot to miss in the game. If you miss something the first time through, however, Final Fantasy X-2 has a New Game+ option that becomes available upon completing the game. The New Game+ allows you to carry over your weapons, items, and completion percentage while at the same time beginning the story over from the start. This gives you the opportunity to pick-up those lost percentage points in an effort to get the full 100% and see the “perfect” ending.
In another series first, you are given three party members at the start of the game that remains your sole playable characters all the way through. Having only Yuna, Rikku, and newcomer Paine as your permanent battle party at first glance may seem restrictive, but X-2’s masterful battle mechanics quickly add ease of mind on the matter.
In the most refreshing advancement since the ATB gauge revolutionized the series, Final Fantasy X-2 introduces the Dress Sphere / Garment Grid system. Throughout the game, you collect Garment Grids and specialized spheres called Dress Spheres.
Each sphere contains a set of skills that each character can utilize in battle. Each Garment Grid can have two or more Dress Spheres placed upon it, and equipping these Garment Grids to your character grants you the freedom to switch between the Dress Spheres on the fly. Changing Dress Spheres during battle provides an additional layer of complexity, as moving through the Garment Grid gains various stat boosts and special abilities.
This battle mechanic, when combined with the ability to chain and coordinate your attacks for maximum efficiency and damage, results in fast-paced, frantic battles and a deep level of character customization.
The fun, airy, fast-paced style of storytelling and game-play was initially criticized by series die-hards for deviating too far from Final Fantasy X, and the franchise as a whole. However, viewed on its own merits, X-2 stands out as an innovative and highly stylized JRPG that intentionally casts off the shackles of its predecessors.
This new lighthearted sensibility is as much about up-ending the series status quo as it is a reflection of the growth of Yuna as a character, as well as the revitalization of Spira in the era of the Eternal Calm. What Final Fantasy X-2 really delivers is a study of the processes we endure healing old wounds, as well as the violence that seems to inherently come with establishing new paths into the future.