"Do you remember the music of the early nineties? It featured a wave of experimental genres and new hybrids, at least compared to the music of the eighties. From Seattle, the raw sound of Nirvana refined the rougher edges of punk, paving the way for later acts such as Green Day, which itself was a hybrid of British punk and “new” alternative. The Black Crowes tried a new fusion of Southern blues with rock and roll. Rage Against the Machine combined political protest lyrics with an aggressive ..."
Do you remember the music of the early nineties? It featured a wave of experimental genres and new hybrids, at least compared to the music of the eighties. From Seattle, the raw sound of Nirvana refined the rougher edges of punk, paving the way for later acts such as Green Day, which itself was a hybrid of British punk and “new” alternative. The Black Crowes tried a new fusion of Southern blues with rock and roll. Rage Against the Machine combined political protest lyrics with an aggressive grinding sound to produce music corporate stations were afraid to play.
However, a funny thing happened - Music executives discovered it was easier to manufacture a musical act. Why deal with the controversy of Marilyn Manson claiming to be the anti-Christ when the Spice Girls and 98 Degrees are just as profitable? Goodbye drug addicted alternative rockers, hello shallow nu-metal stars! Who cares if the overall artistic quality is lacking? The bottom line is still the same!
Sadly, Square has shamelessly copied the music industry’s model in regards to the console roleplaying game market. Gone are the days when a player is trusted to control more than three characters at a time. Gone is the willingness to experiment, sometimes successfully (Final Fantasy Tactics), sometimes not (Saga Frontier). Gone is the roleplaying game as an intellectual pursuit, replaced instead with the button mashing and memorization commonly seen in an action game.
Final Fantasy X-2 is the latest installment of the classic Mecca series of Square, and it reeks of overproduction. The sheen permeating gameplay can not cover up the lemons lurking in character, plot and battle system development. Final Fantasy X-2 has the superficial features for success but lacks the backbone to support them, much like a sugary pop group.
Problems arise the second Final Fantasy X-2 is started. It is supposedly a direct sequel of Final Fantasy X, featuring largely the same cast and all of the same locations, yet the game tiptoes around who the lead heroine, Yuna, is searching for. This target isn’t mentioned by name, so I can’t divulge it without spoiling, but the situation is ludicrous to me. What if Rocky 2 started and acted as if the first fight with Apollo Creed never occurred? A sequel assumes prior knowledge of a past installment.
Overlooking this gaping plot wound, we soon learn the quest for this missing person is irrelevant anyway. Instead, you are thrown into picking sides between the remains of Spira’s religious hierarchy, New Yevon, and the insurgent rebellion group, the Youth League. It is nice you are given the option to join one faction or another, but the point is rendered moot when the infamous Final Fantasy staple of “one true enemy” rears its ugly head, whom the groups must band together against.
Sound familiar? It should since it was a plot device first used in 1990 by Final Fantasy 2. And in Chrono Trigger in 1995. And in 1997 by Final Fantasy 7. And in 1999 by Final Fantasy 8. And probably in a few more Square games I haven’t even played.
Because of this, it is hard for me to ignore the formulaic feel of Final Fantasy X-2. In terms of characters, we have the inner-crisis stricken main character, Yuna, the loyal best friend, Rikku, and the silent warrior with the mysterious past, Payne. You can find these character templates strewn about the Final Fantasy universe, but in past games they were developed instead of remaining stereotypes. Rikku never becomes more than an enthusiastic drone to support Yuna. Payne has an interesting and tangled back-story, but it is ignored for the first 40 hours of the main story arc.
An excellent battle system can sometimes compensate for a lackluster story. After all, not every game can channel J.J.R. Tolkien or Lloyd Alexander. Unfortunately, the frantic pace of Final Fantasy X-2 favors button mashing over deliberation, and quantity of mediocre gameplay over quality.
In Final Fantasy X-2, battles are fought in traditional roleplaying fashion. When you enter combat, a new screen pops up, and you do battle via selections in text menus. A class system based on outfits (Dresspheres) allows you to change classes effortlessly in battle. Each class has different abilities that can be learned by using existing abilities and defeating enemies.
The breakneck speed of Final Fantasy X-2 is apparent from the opening battles. Enemies attack furiously and in-tandem, and menus pop-up, wanting to know what you are going to do about it. Even at the slowest battle speed, you are at a disadvantage - Enemies are issued orders directly from the Playstation 2 CPU, whereas you must contend with your pitiful human brain.
As a result, combat degenerates into a game of Simon. “Did I get hurt? Okay, then ‘up’ once and ‘X’ twice to heal. My health is fine now, so ‘down’ three, ‘X’ once, and tap ‘R1’ as fast as I can.” Repeat from hour 1 to 50 with slight variations dependent on character class and personal preference.
Final Fantasy X-2 does provide an opportunity to experiment, but it is irrelevant when the gameplay is so flawed. You would have to like the game itself to justify spending an extra 20 to 50 hours hacking through bonus dungeons, finding hidden character classes and completing each area for a few more minutes of full-motion video at the end.
It is the ramen noodle method - Give the consumer a whole lot of crap and maybe they won’t be so disappointed about buying crap in the first place.
Since Square has failed at creating an intruiging plot, compelling characters or a reasonable facsimile of a battle system, what did they spend their time on? Why, making everyone shiny, of course! The characters and environments glitter in Final Fantasy X-2, as everything is presented in jaw-dropping clarity. Full-motion video is integrated seamlessly with gameplay and close-ups provide incredible details, right down to facial expression. This new resolution allows for increased body language, an important step toward realism.
However, the superficial gains made in graphical clarity are surrendered by the lack of design creativity. Final Fantasy X-2 stars three skinny white chicks with small chests. Oh yes, one is a different race, but the only noticeable factor is eye color. The Ku Klux Klan would fit right in on Spira, since the few “black” characters in the game all play minor roles. Overall realism declines despite the ability to be more realistic.
Final Fantasy X-2 is the metrosexual wet dream of gaming. Who lives in the world of Spira? Skinny white people who just love to break into singing cheesy pop at any time! Square should hope and pray Dave Chappelle never finds their enclave of breast-less, curve-less whitey.
The feeling of bubble gum mass production can never be escaped while playing Final Fantasy X-2. The concept of a direct sequel is undermined by the plot’s direction; the battle system never feels completely controllable; the characters fail to develop in meaningful ways; and a high sheen attempts to obscure the lack of true diversity. Final Fantasy X-2 is a soulless money pit, and deserves to be lumped with the Ashlee Simpsons and Hillary Duffs of the music world regardless of the shiny Final Fantasy name on the cover.
Community review by sgreenwell (March 18, 2005)
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