Review: Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster

FFXHD-InfoFFXHD-StoryBoth of the Final Fantasy X games take place within the world of Spira – a world that has gone thorugh a golden age of industrialism, brought about by a mysterious advanced civilisation and their own creations, the machinery known simple as the machine. However, to ensure that civilisation does not rely too much on its progression, a colossal and malevolent entity known as Sin is conjured to the land every thousand or so years to destroy everything. Only the grand summoner can take down Sin, and Tidus, a man who survived a Sin attack, accompanies Yuna on an adventure to awaken her true power as a summoner.

Final Fantasy X-2 takes place roughly two years after the conclusion to the original game, and sees Yuna adapting a new persona and a new role within society as a bounty hunter of sorts. But when she sees someone looking like Tidus, who she has since fallen out of contact with, she enlists her most trusted femme fatales, Rikku and Paine, on an adventure to discover the truth behind this mysterious apparition and the forces that may be related to it.

The story in both the Final Fantasy X games are surprisingly rather good for a Japanese RPG. They aren’t unnecessarily convoluted like earlier 3D Final Fantasy games and they tend to touch upon stories and issues that might occur in real life – such as the use of religion to exploit the fears of the masses or the ramifications of over-reliance on technology. Combine this exploration of themes with some genuinely likeable characters and Final Fantasy X’s narrative still stands up today. It’s biggest downfall, however, is just how cliché it is.

FFXHD-PresentationHD Remaster’s primary drawcard is that it sports a fresh new look for games that are over thirteen years old now. The backgrounds have been revamped to provide a greater degree of clarity to its standard definition counterparts as well as add detail. Most of this detail in the environments thankfully steers away from anachronism – providing a fresh new look while retaining elements that made the origins so fantastic.

What doesn’t feel the same is easily the character models themselves, which have been completely upgraded to the point where it seems as if they have been rebuilt from the ground and up. The supporting cast are fine – but the main characters (namely Tidus and Yuna) themselves appear to be “over-stylised”. That is, they look so ridiculously smooth that they look almost comical and less realistic. To make matters worse, the new models seem to have trouble syncing their speech to speech animations and it results in a notably worse lip syncing performance throughout the entire game. It was bad in the original version due to the syncing to an originally Japanese voice track, but it’s even worse here in HD Remaster. It’s not all bad news, however, as the full motion video cutscenes, which rarely survive the transition to HD without some kind of degradation of visual quality, have made the move in one piece and still look fantastic.

Besides these issues (that are entirely subjective based on personal tastes, by the way), on a visual level, both Final Fantasy X and X-2 both look fantastic. These aren’t full blown remakes to the point where they are unrecognisable – but every meticulous detail (besides what has been explained above) has been recreated to look fantastic on any modern television set. Even smaller details have been added in to give life to the game – including a completely revamped GUI for the option and battle menus, as well as pulsating animations for paths along the sphere grid and certain weapons. All in all, a lot of care has gone into the little details to make things look more alive within the game world.

It’s quite rare that a remaster of this caliber would receive the full treatment and feature a remastered score too, but several of the tracks in both Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 have been remastered to give them a lot more depth and impact. Considering how well constructed the soundtrack of the game was all those years ago, it’s astounding that the team has managed to expand on these tracks to help give them more impact to the games scenes and set pieces. Voice work is still quite cheesy but generally speaking the cast all give good performances (especially considering the material they have to work with). The HD remaster is alleged to feature improved audio for the voice work too.

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FFXHD-GameplayFor the most part, both Final Fantasy X and X-2 play similarly to how they played all those years ago. And despite the time that has passed, they still play quite well. However, it may be to player preference as to whether a turn based battle system still is enjoyable today (especially after the advent of games like Kingdom Hearts). If players aren’t fans of this style of battle, neither X or X-2 will win them over. Despite the limitations of a turn-based battle system, both games manage to feel fast paced.

X is a rather pedestrian affair – allowing players to input commands and watch them play out in order, though it is one of the only turn-based games where a higher speed stat means that a player will be able to act more than once in one turn (given the right circumstance). X-2, on the other hand, is much faster paced and rewards players who input their commands faster (and even simultaneously) rather than waiting around. The game also feels a lot more active – requiring input during certain moves to maximise damage. This kind of “active” way of battling, that is, requiring input from the player after they’ve chosen their initial commands, helps the game feel less monotonous and would later be implemented into many role playing games. Both systems still stand the test of time, and are especially enjoyable.

Character progression in X is handled via the Sphere Grid – a giant board game of sorts where players unlock the ability to move spaces as they level up. Using a “sphere” on a space will unlock the characteristics of that sphere (Ie. “Learn Ability: Fire” or “Attack +2”). Two versions of this board are available – the traditional one which gears each character towards a specific role, and a new schema (new for PAL region players, called “Expert Mode”) where players can craft each team member individually as they see fit on a separate board. The Sphere Grid is an interesting way to implement the traditional “levelling up” mechanic in a role playing game, and to this day it still feels just as unique as it did previously upon its original release. The Sphere Grid consists of hundreds of different nodes too, as players who are keen enough can experiment with different builds on repeat plays.

Progression in X-2 is a completely different system that harkens back to the traditional, job-based Final Fantasy games. Each of the three player girls can equip “Dresspheres”, costumes which grant unique powers depending on which one is equipped at any given time. Each of the playable characters can take up to six dresspheres at a time into battle and switch between them at will – effectively allowing players to adjust their strategy mid-battle to adjust to their enemies. The Dressphere system allows players to earn new abilities simply by using each of them in battle, which encourages players to experiment to unlock a worthwhile slew of abilities to use. To add an extra layer of strategy to the battle, changing dresspheres in specific orders during battle can grant the player extra benefits or buffs.

There’s heaps to see and do in Spira between main quests too, with both games featuring a veritable plethora of side quests and mini-games to indulge in. Both games will take roughly forty to fifty hours to complete on just a simple, story based run with a few distractions – while completionists will easily get at least sixty hours out of each. Combined, that’s a lot of game to play and even better – none of it really gets too old or droning. X-2, in particular, features a mission based system that removes filler content (like wandering vast landscapes endlessly) and provides a more open-ended experience.

Most recent remasters improve the visuals and little else, offering no reason for players of the original to return besides fleeting nostalgia. X and X-2 HD Remaster includes a treasure trove of new content for the player, assuming they haven’t imported international versions back when the games released. Besides the two main games, HD Remaster also includes “Eternal Calm”, a fifteen minute bridge between X and X-2. It also includes “Last Mission”, a rogue-like follow-up to X-2 which sees the girls reuniting to tackle a multi-story tower. It’s a nice idea, but its ending is ultimately depressing and quite uncharacteristic for a game as happy-go-lucky as X-2. Completely new to the HD Remaster is “-Will-“, a thirty minute audio drama that details the fate of the major characters in Spira. All this content is great, and for those who are returning it’s all selectable from the beginning too.