Final Fantasy is the series of my young adulthood. I played and replayed the Playstation Final Fantasy games, including the repackaging of the older titles, from middle school up into my late college years. I was obsessed. With Final Fantasy X and X-2, I dumped three hundred or more hours of my life into them at their respective releases. With the series of late though, I have pretty much given up hope on ever recapturing those experiences. Some people still play the current titles, but I think it is easy to become jaded when the narrative quality of the games seems to be in decline. What I didn’t expect in playing Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, is that I would inspect my rose-colored nostalgia glasses, feel a twinge of sorrow, and then crush them beneath my heel.
Final Fantasy X was a masterpiece when it was first released. The Playstation 2 was only stepping into its infancy and the company that was then still Square showed that the most beautiful series in the previous generation could do the same, but bigger and better. The story revolves around Tidus, an athlete who is displaced into the future one thousand years. The future he has landed in is a world largely devoid of technology and ruled by the tenants of the Yevon religion. According to its precepts, individuals who have taken up the title of summoner must use their powers, travel across the globe protected by guardians, and face a city-sized monster that terrorizes all civilization. The story, setting, and characters are fan-treasured, and rightly so.
Thirteen years later though, the game has aged noticeably, even with the HD remastered graphics. Voice acting-wise, we have come a long way. Yuna’s performance in particular needs polish, but overall it feels as if all character interactions are stunted and awkward, with odd pauses between characters. As far as the game goes, it starts out slowly. This hasn’t changed since the original, it was long then and its long now, but it takes about five hours before one reaches what feels like the game proper. I can say, “well, that was the times,” but I think that it is okay to be critical with a wine that sours a bit over time. The minigames will attract few if any fans; even Blitzball, the main minigame, can provide some fun, but requires game after often-frustrating game to get worthwhile items.
The look of the game is polished compared to the original, but sometimes it does the game no favors. Characters still move their mouths regardless of the dialogue, and unimportant, less-rendered characters look eerily flat with no fuzziness to obscure their simple textures. But the battles are great and the story is great, so fans of the game will still find satisfaction there. What may not satisfy is some of the other additions to X. In Japan, the original release had an international version follow-up that never made it elsewhere. The additions in that are here and, I have to say, it is a mixed bag. The big perk is that longtime players have access to a new Sphere Grid (the way in which you level characters) as an option; it allows far more customization of characters initially, which is a formula worth playing around with for challenge’s sake. On the bad side, there are additional bosses that will trounce players for exploring the world too much, too soon. In my case, these bosses hindered me from finding some of the ultimate weapons, weapons I needed to fight these things. In other words, the game offers challenges that may unexpectedly kill players who didn’t save, unaware that old locations harbor new, insurmountable challenges. The very worst change in Final Fantasy X is the new music arrangement. Subtle changes in the music will ultimately confuse and disappoint veteran players. They shouldn’t have changed what wasn’t broken.
Final Fantasy X-2, the inferior of the two games, is best described as a narrative disaster. Let me reiterate something before I go on, I played this game for countless hours as a kid, and I did have fun. As an adult and more experienced gamer, however, my revisitation of this game was eye-openingly negative. Yuna has discovered a sphere that details the whereabouts of someone she has lost and, in an uncharacteristic act, shorn off her duties as a living legend to join up with sky-faring treasure hunters. What follows is a tale that feels more like experimental fan fiction. Let’s start with the positive as much as possible though: the battle system is addictive, fast-paced, and character customization feels limitless. It is by far, this game’s best feature.
Where the game falls short is everywhere else. It is perhaps because of the linearity of X that the creators did this, but the game can be played in a haphazard order and mini-quests strewn throughout the game can be accomplished if one chooses to do so. By doing quests and experiencing the storyline, completion points are acquired. Depending on how many completion points the player racks up, the ending of the game changes. The problem with this strategy is that the only worthwhile ending absolutely and without a doubt requires the player to play following an online guide. This, as you might guess, is terrible. What adds to that is the fact that the vast majority of these side quests are an exercise in tedium. At one point in the game, I had spent twenty minutes walking back and forth between rooms picking up monkeys and matching them to their mates. I suddenly realized that I was not only not having fun, I was doing work. The sad truth is that if the game had focused on the incredibly addictive battle system, the game wouldn’t have suffered, even despite the story which comes off as trite since it almost completely avoids the initial purpose of Yuna’s journey, a purpose that could have carried both interest and emotional depth.
On top of the inclusion of the original games and their previously unavailable content are two bonus stories. The story between X and X-2 explains Yuna’s reason for journeying, while the other is a sequel beyond Final Fantasy X-2. It was at listening to this story that I realized the real problem with Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster. Final Fantasy X is a fantastic game albeit with a few flaws. The addition of X-2, the bonus stories, and additional content only hampers the original experience and even taints it. The sequel bonus tale, told as an audio drama, completely negates all the trial, tribulation, and sacrifice of the original game by (spoiler alert) returning the very monster that initially terrorized this world (end spoiler alert).
As a fan of Final Fantasy X, I can’t help but be enraged. By adding and adding to the original tale, they have spoiled the good. For fans, this remaster is only worth experiencing in this form, which feels more unpolished than actually a tribute, if one wants to have trophies on Playstation Network. By replaying them, my nostalgia for this pair of titles has diminished significantly and the additions and inclusions make the game feel bloated with unwanted content rather than a well-crafted, complete edition of the game. For those who have never experienced Final Fantasy X, do so on the original disc and leave this title alone. Some things are just better left untouched.
Vinny Orsillo | @VinnyOhGames