"I consider it a rather strange occurrence when the resulting product is not only a disappointment, but seems like it was intentionally developed as a way to slap everyone who enjoyed the original game right in the face.
. . . in position.
It’s showtime, girls.
FINAL FANTASY X-2: the very first bona-fide sequel to a Final Fantasy game in history. And considering the quality of its source, probably not a half-bad idea. Let’s face it, Final Fantasy X wasn’t merely a fantastic RPG in its own right, it surely stood out even among the best of the entire series as well. Therefore it was only natural that Square would want to build upon it for a sequel. (No doubt the fact that they still had ready access to the game’s engine didn’t hurt matters, either; something that can’t be said for the improbably popular seventh installment.) That’s why I consider it a rather strange occurrence when the resulting product is not only a disappointment, but seems like it was intentionally developed as a way to slap everyone who enjoyed the original game right in the face.
I mean the first game was by far the most mature release from Hironobu Sakaguchi to date. Envisioned in a tropical world that would see itself completely ravaged into bloody ruin with every generation, it had a knack for making you care about its well-developed cast of characters with its touching and believable script. You’d actually begin to care for obnoxious jock Tidus and timid summoner Yuna as well as their blossoming relationship – this even while Square was constantly impressing the direness of their mission upon you with untold violence and death. Yet the overwhelming feeling of sadness would momentarily be dispelled every now and then with bits of humor just before reeling you back in with its themes of sacrifice, spirituality, and introspection. To make an entire game that would follow up on its perfectly executed and downright beautiful conclusion without ultimately cheapening it would require a vast amount of effort on the part of the developers involved. While playing this “sequel”, however, I was repeatedly and rather forcibly struck in the head by the distinct impression that either:
a.) its design team consisted entirely of overly excitable pre-teen girls who were too busy discussing makeup and boys to ever play the game they were supposed to be expanding upon, or
b.) that villainous ninjas must have crept into the SquareEnix offices the night before it was finished and spliced the masters with footage from Charlie’s Angels, Soul Train, and My Little Pony.
I kid you not, the previously unimaginable depths of horror and shame that these scoundrels have tricked you into purchasing are painfully evident from the very beginning. In the opening cinema we’re forced to watch what appears to be none other than High Summoner Yuna doing her tackiest Mariah Carey impersonation with an incredibly stupid pop song. A pop song! A pop song that’s filled with nauseating lyrics, fey hand movements all over ridiculously dressed body, and a copious amount of bumping and grinding. You know, opening with an idol dance-a-thon was merely “annoying” when Faerie Dust Story did it on the PC Engine, but thanks to the power of the PlayStation 2 I actually think I’m going to be physically ill. “What can I do for you? What can I do for you? What can I do for you?” she suggestively croons over and over again, even as her supposedly male back-up dancers gyrate all over the stage. Look here, sister – you know what you can do for me? Well for starters, you can shut up and put some clothes on.
And upon actually taking control of the sweaty starlet, you’ll notice that Yuna doesn’t merely run in order to get around – she prances about like an empty-headed twit, flailing her arms to and fro in a stereotypically girly fashion as if singing “~la la la~!” everywhere she goes. Sweet merciful savior in heaven, that’s just WRONG. She certainly looks the part as well, having cast aside her elegant kimono in favor of an (ugh) “pretty fly” sleeveless corset ensemble that’s complete with a yawning chasm in the chestal region. You heard me, there’s a gaping hole cut right down the middle to expose pretty much everything from neck to bellybutton! This is in addition to a skirt that only covers one leg, perfect for giving everyone in Spira a revealing glance at those slutty hotpants of hers – an act which several of the male characters are all too happy to perform.
Not that I can lay the blame solely on her trashy new duds – with lines as mind-bogglingly awful as those she’s been given, it was inevitable that our heroine would resemble nothing so closely as a spoon-gagging valley girl. But don’t just take my word for it; why don’t we have a look at some examples of actual in-game dialogue? “Oh poopie!” exclaims a frustrated Yuna, and when the rest of her party looks at their companion askance, she defends her outburst with a whiny “Hnuuh? I’m just copying you.” Or how about when she describes an unfortunate turn of events as “disasterrific?” Oh, please. And let’s not neglect gems like, “I don’t like your plan. It sucks.” Am I to believe that this irritating wench is the same young lady who previously captured Tidus’ heart with her innocent solemnity, noble sense of self-sacrifice and unshakable core of determination? In fact, if she ever did find her long-lost beau, he probably wouldn’t even recognize her. Instead he’d wonder who this painted, foul-mouthed trollop is and why she’s tearfully embracing him – assuming said trollop doesn’t just dump the poor bastard and head for the nearest bar looking to pick up several hunky ronsos.
But as much a travesty as the new Yuna surely is, the farce of a makeover they’ve inflicted upon poor Rikku is even worse. Not only does the outfit she’s almost not wearing consist of little more than a tawdry bikini top (and yet, for no apparent reason, voluminous sleeves) and a scanty thong – clearly jutting out from short shorts that hang well below the pubic mound, I might add – but her head appears to have been completely overtaken by a nest of venomous yellow sea snakes. And it’s not just her appearance; there’s something seriously wrong with this girl, as she’s always pawing at the air with her hands, sniffing at things, or suddenly popping up from the bottom of the screen ala the dog from Duck Hunt. When she’s not spewing drivel like “I got it goin’ on!”, this slightly deranged lass also suffers from a disturbing fascination with monkeys, exclaiming “MONKEY!”, “That’s my mon-key!”, or even “A hundred monkey points!” Oh, and then there’s Paine, who neatly fills the role of the oh-so-cliche tough, sarcastic, edgy chick. Great, so now we’ve got the valley girl, the hyperactive dog girl, and the token goth. Gosh, do you think she’ll turn out to have a tender side buried underneath all that angst and black leather?
Not to be outdone, the voice acting is a perfect complement to the abysmal writing and character designs. While mere text can’t possibly capture the true effect, one can barely imagine Yuna’s incredibly saccharine “We’re your friendly neighborhood Gullwings!” without cringing in fright. That’s their little group’s name, you see: “Gullwings at your service! *teehee*” Or how about engaging into a fierce battle with the incredibly moronic, “Hi, there!” right before everyone slaughters the poor beasts into fairydust oblivion? I pined for oblivion myself every time one of the antagonists referred to Yuna and company as the DULLWINGS.
“That’s sphere’s just a dud . . . perfect for the DULLWINGS!”
“Who’s on top now, DULLWINGS?!”
Oh, man . . . this is like something out of a bad dream, or maybe even the Super Mario Brothers Super Show. In fact, I suspect the only reason I found the courage to keep on playing was in the (ultimately dashed) hopes that Captain Lou Albano would suddenly drop in so we could trounce the evil King Stoopa – currently a tomato-sauce sucking vampire – before he hoarded away all of the magical sushi for his own fiendish designs. Naturally our adventures would be accompanied by “Danger Zone” from Top Gun blaring away in the background, and after that we’d be chased around by a giant googly-eyed muppet in a *delightful* live-action segment while the disembodied head of Magic Johnson looked on in disdain. See, that would have been awesome – unlike Square’s flamboyant parade of the hopelessly inane.
Speaking of blaring music (not to mention the hopelessly inane), I don’t know who crafted this game’s score, but judging by the results I’d say it must have been the diabolical Dr. Funkenstein. Rather than build off of a foundation cemented by the often brooding, occasionally depressing, and ultimately haunting themes that punctuated our last outing, the good doctor instead subjects us to a crippling onslaught of deadly, deadly FUNK. You’ll have to withstand an army of cheesy 70s porn mixes rife with outlandish synthesizers and tropical bird calls, because it’s either that or a hearty helping of swinging jazz and even bombastic high school marching bands. Seriously, just listen to the track “Machine Faction” and try to resist the image of a swarthy, deep-voiced ronso sporting a giant afro and urging Yuna to shake her barely-concealed groove thang – just try. Maybe this sort of shameless wackiness would fly in Space Channel 5 or Final Zone II, but here it’s incredibly out of place – even more so when it’s presented right in the midst of FFX’s dark and vaguely sorrowful backgrounds!
Oh, did I forget to mention that? The new Spira is constructed almost entirely from near-exact replicas of its predecessor’s environments with the exception of a few uninspired new areas. This is admittedly unsurprising, as Square’s intent behind making their first sequel to a Final Fantasy was little more than to rake in some quick cash, but it’s still lazy as all hell. And not only did they rip off all of Tidus’ battle animations, but they reuse the same polygon models for characters returning from the first game, even though their professions and personalities may have changed drastically in the meantime. Hence you’ll wonder why a certain individual is still wearing her bulky Yevon robes despite her new vocation as a reporter . . . oh, and the near-complete dissolution of the Yevon religion. Or why a MAJOR character from the original is so far along in her pregnancy as to be giving birth “any day now,” yet looks exactly the freaking same to the point of retaining that impossibly constricting outfit of hers! And believe me, you don’t even want to know what gruesome fate has befallen Yuna’s fellow summoner Isaaru.
However, I don’t want to make it seem like FFX-2 is a total waste; that’s not my intention at all. Thankfully, there is at least one shining ray of light at the end of this dark, cold tunnel: the excellent combat system. Not only has Square returned to the Active Time battles that have been a series trademark since IV, but they’ve also updated the expansive job system. You can gradually collect as many as fourteen different classes, here called “dresspheres,” that range from the fearless berserker to the fearsome dark knight – or from a cunning thief to mighty mages. Even better, you can actually switch between them right in the heat of battle; this is done by placing the dresses you want quick access to onto your character’s “garment grid.” There’s a huge number of these grids to be found, and each one gives their user various bonuses to their stats or other abilities like the use of black magic regardless of one’s current class. Speaking of which, naturally every one of the jobs provides its own impressive list of abilities. Some of them are inherent to the class and thus immediately selectable, as with the gunner’s trigger-happy onslaught of hot lead or the dark knight’s infamous “Darkness” (Dark Wave) attack, which sacrifices hit points in exchange for a crashing emanation of negative energy. Most, however, you’ll unlock by earning experience through battle – noteworthy inclusions being the samurai’s explosive fireworks, the black mage’s bigger and badder array of destructive spellcraft, or the alchemist’s endless supply of phoenix downs in battle. Obviously choosing which abilities to unlock and which classes to have on hand in your garment grid is an integral part of the game’s combat strategy, but you can even inflict punishing combos by timing your characters’ attacks just right. Special abilities take a while to charge, while regular attacks occur almost instantly; just time your three characters so their selections finish around the same time and they’ll all lash out together, chaining their blows together and inflicting major damage in the process.
Unfortunately, the specter of stupidity once again rears its moronic head once you see these classes in action. The “lady luck” gambler class thrusts our trio into incredibly skimpy outfits that show skin to win – these half-naked temptresses lay invitingly on their sides and proceed to blow kisses to the enemies! But that’s not to say that they’re all provocative, far from it; samurai Yuna wears a bowl on her head, while trainer Rikku attacks with (you guessed it) a feral monkey. For Paine’s “songstress” class, she dresses up in what appears to be a polyester disco suit and proclaims that the enemies should stay off her dance floor.
I mean . . . wow. That’s almost as unbelievably lame as whenever Yuna transforms into a giant flower. And these aren’t even the exceptions; pretty much all the dresspheres look equally dumb. Of course, the transformations look every bit as cheesy as the classes themselves, as the girl’s already meager coverings begin to melt away (with the camera moving in as closely as possible, of course) into those of her new role, occasionally followed by her quickly leaping over the moon for some unknown reason. And let’s not even get into all the head-smacking one-liners that’ll make you reach for the Tylenol; to list them all would take twice as many words as this review in its entirety. Well okay, but just a few.
“And now for some Rikku-brand white magic goodness.”
“Prepare for a phantasmagoria of magical powers! Your abilities will be mine!”
“Welcome to your doom, starring me.” (Rise from your grave?)
“GULLWINGS TAKE THE GOLD!”
Unfortunately, even if you could somehow overlook its overpowering aura of “grrrl power,” this game’s core design simply isn’t all that compelling. Whereas Final Fantasy X featured an incredibly potent storyline yet suffered from noticeable linearity, X-2 attempts to rectify this by going to the opposite extreme. Thus you’ll spend the vast majority of your time grappling with random encounters, boss battles, and what are essentially dopey sidequests that have little or nothing to do with the main plotline. What you end up doing is instantly jetting from place to place on the world map using your airship; places that you’ve already seen before in Final Fantasy X, of course. As soon as you complete the handful of mandatory assignments, you’ll advance to the next chapter – whereupon you’ll go visit these same places all over again for new, even dopier sidequests. It’s sort of like Legend of Mana, minus that game’s pitiable lack of difficulty, except that LoM didn’t even attempt to have a continuous plot; why, in this case virtually a whopping 25% of the game (the lion’s share of which is located near the end) is related to developing the story!
And what a fine story it is. In a stunning pair of contradictions that are perhaps the most telling of all, let’s take a moment to examine the underlying message of Final Fantasy X: “Always hold on to your memories.” Yet delve past the foppish exterior of its successor and you’re instead counseled to “Forget your past and put it behind you,” ultimately to realize that “You can’t always get what you want.” Except for Yuna, I guess, because she’s a pretty pretty princess.
Well exuuuuuuse me, princess – but I find all this to be rather insulting when so many of these quests are so disasterrific. In one of this game’s typically embarrassing, downright stupid missions, you have to shack up lovelorn monkeys together for some hot hot monkey love. In another, you have raise publicity for some lame-ass corporation by walking up to random people all over the world and then making the correct choice from a list of selections exclusively through trial and error. And while you might expect them to be of a higher quality, the “story” missions are just as “bad.” No review for this game should be without a nod to the hardcore girl-on-girl action. I’m specifically referring to the scene in which Yuna must give a steamy massage to one her female rivals. Now, you might think that sounds fairly innocent, and you’d be right – had it not been for dialogue like “Where are you groping?!” or “OOH! AAH!! THAT'S IT!!!” and of course “OH, YOU’RE SO GOOD!!!!!!! (swoon)”
GOOD GOD, SQUARE.
Really, if this is the sort of thing that your design teams are into, maybe you should just suck it up and start producing hentai games. In one scene Yuna’s uncle Cid admonishes our heroine, instructing her to be more ladylike; sound advice that she never takes to heart. His son, however, constantly lusts after Yuna and her newly-exposed bod despite the fact that she is his COUSIN. Hyurk, what a disgusting pervert!
Sure, there are snippets of a decent game scattered haphazardly across this disc – but that doesn’t excuse the fact that playing it for more than ten minutes will make you start to weep blood. This is an ultimately feeble episode of Girls Gone Wild featuring stolen graphics, exhaustive stupidity, and little more than sidequest after sidequest. It’s as if the designers/ninjas set out to take everything that was great about Final Fantasy X and completely ruin it by turning the sequel into a catastrophic parody of Mystery Science Theater 3000 proportions. I mean, would you want to play Grand Theft Auto 3 if it starred Michael Jackson, who would use his popstar powers to transform into a hotrod and entice little boys into driving him around the city? Damn right you would! That’s because Michael Jackson is cool. “Yuna and the Pussycats” is not.
I honestly wish that I was making all this up, but regrettably these descriptions are all cold hard FACTS, facts which cannot be denied by even the most faithful of Square loyalists. I for one wish that I could claim that our girls didn’t decide to take a break from saving the world by slipping into bathing suits and subsequently having a splash fight within the sacred hot springs – until Yuna’s cousin tries to peek in on them. I sorely wish that I could deny the existence of YUNAPALOOZA, wherein our heroine attempts to bring all of Spira together, presumably because they’ll all unite to kill her after they catch more of her nasal MTV-diva, faux-emotional, sugar-pop, teenie-bopper excuse for singing that’s supposed to make them all cry tears of joy and then engage in a group hug to share their feelings. But most of all, I wish I could conclude that its awesome job system and combat outweigh its appalling lack of taste. But I just can’t do that! Some might read this and simply think I’m gleefully bashing the game just to upset its fans or in some misguided attempt to look “cool,” but the fact of the matter is quite simple: everything else is so unbelievably poor that Square’s having the gall not only to release it but to make it part of the Final Fantasy series is an insult to their fans everywhere. This is all my subjective opinion, and I’m sorry if you strongly disagree with my reasoning. Even so, there are things in this review that desperately needed to be said, and someone needed to stand up for TRUTH and JUSTICE by revealing this game for the flaming train wreck that it truly is. “No!” a few of my fellow Square fans will perhaps moan in protest. “Nooo! That can’t be true! That’s impossible!”
Search your feelings; you know it to be true.
Staff review by Sho (August 22, 2004)
Sho enjoys classic video games, black comedy, and poking people until they explode -- figuratively or otherwise. He also writes a bit.
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