Final Fantasy X-2 is an awesome game, and in many ways a type of game that Square-Enix should continue to make. What I mean by 'type' is that it is in many ways like its predecessors and in many ways very new and original. Square-Enix always changes Final Fantasy games up, but not in so much a way that the change(s) are so noticeable over what stays the same. The static qualities that Final Fantasy games have had for so long have appealed to many gamers, including this one, and have made a very good formula for these games - the key word in that sentence being static. But this formula is not set in stone, and it's good that Square-Enix let us know that they still possess the innovative qualities that they did when this series first started. The formula that has been in play for a while is not what makes a Final Fantasy game, and the creators of these games have every right to be innovative and keep us on our toes, as they did when this series first started.
Probably the most notable quality about this game is its title, Final Fantasy X-2. It's a direct sequel, first sequel in this series of games. Blasphemy? Not in the slightest. In fact, it's kind of a stretch to even call this game a sequel. Many complain that this game doesn't have the same feel as Final Fantasy X did, and notably so, which is why I say 'sequel' is a stretch. You are in the same Spira, but it is an entirely different Spira. You have the some of the same characters, but the difference in character between these two games is vast. When one thinks of a sequel, one thinks of the continuation of a story, the elements of the first story playing a rather integral role in the sequel. This is not the case for this sequel. In fact, a player could play this game without having played Final Fantasy X and really not be missing that much background story. There are two important elements from Final Fantasy X: Yuna defeated Sin for good and brought the Eternal Calm, and Tidus faded away. That's it. All the details of Final Fantasy X have little if anything to do with this story. All the small details that pertain to Final Fantasy X-2 are explained by Yuna's narration. You may think all the above qualities are negative, but quite the contrary. I think Square-Enix has succeeded brilliantly in making this sequel. The stories of Final Fantasy X and X-2 are separate, greatly intertwined, but separate. Final Fantasy X was Tidus's story. Yuna was there, as were others, and she played a big role in his story, but it was his story. Tidus plays an integral role in this game, even though he is just a memory. He is Yuna's motivation, her initial reason. But this is Yuna's story, separate from Tidus's, a different world, a different journey. Ironically, it's the non-sequel qualities of this second installment that make it a wonderful sequel.
The second notable quality about this game is its playable cast, all female. Bad thing? Not at all. Something we've never experienced before? Yes and no. First, we have once experience a female lead protagonist, but not to this extent. Final Fantasy VI's lead protagonist was Terra, a female. But the ensemble-like characterization method used in Final Fantasy VI gave all the characters in the game more or less equal characterization, and in the end Terra didn't feel like the lead protagonist, even though I believe she was meant to be. In Final Fantasy X-2, the central point of this story is Yuna's journey, so it would be expected for Yuna to be the lead protagonist, and the writers do a very good job evening out Yuna's story and the overall story of this game, while still making this game in large part about Yuna. Now it's hard to say the rest of this paragraph without sounding sexist, but just know that I in no way equate gender with personality traits. The Final Fantasy games to precede this one (expect for the one mention earlier) have all been lead by a male. I have no problem with this at all. But one of the many changes about this game is that it's lead by a female, and really for the first time we are viewing a Final Fantasy through the eyes of a female. Viewing the world through the eyes of a male has always been a melancholy, stoic, militarist and overtly serious experience until toward the end when the male's character changes but he is unwilling in some way to properly reveal this important change until one of the female characters comes in, works her magic, and suddenly the lead male is a better person and now capable of saving the world. And that has been going on for entirely too many games. With this one however, we skip all of that. We have Yuna, a vibrant, optimistic and moderately cheerful person. We see the world in a light that I have never seen in a Final Fantasy game before. She's honest, she's open about her feelings upfront instead of finding out about them later, she sees the good in everything and everyone, and she brings a sense of hope into despair where many lead protagonists would bring the opposite. In the beginning of the game this is expected, nothing major is really going on. But even when the threat shows itself, she retains these qualities. Even to hear her speak of Tidus isn't all that depressing, and at least we know how she feels as she feels it instead of finding out later that she had had feelings all through this game but we just find out about them with five minutes left. And she shows a type of weakness that in our stereotypical society only a woman can really pull off, and that is the weakness of love. She is driven partially by her want to see Tidus, and every once in a while she will show that weakness, very convincingly, and so convincingly that it usually moves the story along, as you slowly see her despair and longing turn into courage and motivation. Having a female lead has made a vast improvement on story telling style, a change that should be used again. Maybe not an all female cast, since it's good to have a mix, but definitely another female lead every once in a while. Speaking of the all female cast, my second point here is that we've never seen one before. I love the bond and the playfulness that these three girls have, and again, due to society, this bond is only feasible to be had by a group of girls. They're wacky, fun, carefree, crazy, and in many cases smiling. They care about one another and they have a genuine want to be there for each other. This bond has been there in previous casts, but not nearly to the extent that it is in this game, and that is another very nice change in this game. And seriously though, the only real comparison I see between these girls and the girls of Charlie's Angels is the pose.
Let me just say I love the battle system in this game. Battle system is all to preference, but I love. It has a little bit of old and a little bit of new, and even something both old and new. The Active Time Battle is back, and it's on crack. It's so fun, you can attack with all characters at once, and the fiends retain this power as well. It's very real-time like, but so much that I actually think it is. The Dress Sphere system is cool, a welcome return of the job class system, just with better clothing. And I like that you can change them mid-battle, nice addition. Garment Grids were kind of useless at first, but they became useful after a while. And while I like the interactiveness of the Sphere Grid, it's kind of nice to just level up and pick abilities for AP gaining. And the talking that goes on during battle is awesome.
The graphics I still love. First of all, it rather annoyed me that they didn't re-synch the words with the lip movements in Final Fantasy X, but they did in this game, almost flawlessly might I add. Now, while I am a bit upset that they didn't change some of the area scenery or NPC models at all, I forgive them because they made quite a few new areas and several new NPC models. The FMVs are breathtaking, even more so than in Final Fantasy X. Yuna's transition from in game character to FMV character looks kind of sketchy, but not so much as in Final Fantasy X. The character redesign of Yuna and Rikku is wonderful, and I love how they have changed. Yuna looks more laid back, and Rikku's hair is really awesome. To anyone who says they looks slutty... grow up. Paine has a wonderful character model, and whoever designed her clothing should do it for a living. I love the music in this game. I think that while it is a big change from what we expect in a Final Fantasy game, the initial atmosphere of this game isn't what we are used to either. We're in happy mode at first, and the music reflects that, and reflects how Spira has changed into a much better and happier place than it was. Yuna's Ballad is beautiful. I never thought I would hear a theme song more beautiful than Aeris' Theme, but I have. And it has its fair share of serious songs as the mood of the game shifts, especially the aeon battle music.
Many writers say you should start the story with a bang before you give it to them. Well, of all the bangs to start a story off with, this game really just pops a balloon. This game has a very good story, but the story is gradual and in pieces. The non-linear aspect of this game is both a good and bad at the same time. It's good because you have almost complete control of the story, so you can see it how you want. It's bad because you can see some sequences too far apart from one another and forget some small aspects of the story which were rather important to that next scene. However, you have control of how the story unfolds itself or if it even unfolds at all, which is a nice change from having it forced upon you. That being said, the story of this game suits Yuna's journey perfectly. It gives Yuna hope and despair at the same time, makes her face opponents who she once defeated and sent with her own hands, and introduces a whole new one. Shuyin is a good villain, because he's not really the villain. He's similar to Riku in Kingdom Hearts, not the bad guy, just misguided. And Leblanc is just funny, from her accent to bossing Ormi and Logos around, good stuff. There are so many sub-stories in this game that all intertwine themselves, so much for Yuna to see and interact with, so much for her to get involved in. Not to mention the whole conflict between New Yevon, the Youth League, and somewhat the Machina Faction. That was good stuff right there. It was interesting to see how peace only turned into more war in this world, and how Shuyin reacted to that, as well as the rest of Spira. It's a nice change to have multiple endings. And not just the five possible at the very end, every area has different endings, and you more or less have control over that. So many possibilities to the end of this game as a whole, you could replay it several times and still not see everything there is to see. Luckily you can replay it several times and keep your stuff, thanks to the very convinient New Game+, because it would really annoy everyone if the only way to see the perfect ending was to get 100% in one game. And might I just say that the reuniting of Lenne and Shuyin brought tears to my eyes, beautiful scene.
More than anything about this game, I loved the characterization, especially the transition characters from Final Fantasy X. Rikku and Brother are wonderfully done. Rikku became this fun and ambitious teenage girl who loves what she does. Brother can speak English and has let the role of leader go to his head. The back-story of Paine, Nooj, Barali and Gippal was very intriguing and fun to see unfold. Paine's character especially was very well done. You see her change in so many ways, figure out why she became who she was in the first place, and see very deep emotions in her. She received more characterization that many Final Fantasy characters ever have. And then there's Yuna. On my list of best Final Fantasy characters ever, Squall was at the top (*dodges stones*). But with the advent of this game, Yuna is at the top, followed by Paine. Yuna's character took a 180 that I personally didn't see coming. She changed in ways that took me completely by surprise. If you look at her transition as a whole, from the beginning of Final Fantasy X to the perfect end of Final Fantasy X-2, it is truly awe inspiring to see how she changed and grew, very enthralling. In fact, to see her character change like she did leads me to believe that Hedy Burress purposefully did Yuna's Final Fantasy X voice the way she did, it wasn't just bad voice acting (possibly).
I have heard many say that the good ending of Final Fantasy X-2 undermines the ending of Final Fantasy X, and I will now challenge that. At the end of Final Fantasy X, Tidus helps defeat Sin and Yu Yevon, knowing that upon their defeat, the fayth will stop dreaming and he will vanish. So he sacrificed himself so that Sin would be destroyed and Spira would be saved. But this was Tidus's decision, not anyone else's. That was not Yuna's sacrifice. Yuna didn't let Tidus fade, he faded of his own will. It was not a sacrifice for Yuna, it was a loss, a loss that she couldn't stop. Or so she thought. Tidus's fading changed Yuna. It drove Yuna, gave her hope, gave her life, gave her meaning. And when she possibly had the chance to see him again, it gave her motivation. Through her search for Tidus, she found so many things that weren't Tidus. She found people that needed her help, she found conflict between several groups, she found Shuyin and Lenne, she found an ancient machina as powerful as Sin was. And through all of this, she found herself, cheesy as that may sound, that it what happened. She found out who she really was, gave herself the chance to be who she really was, and realized that Tidus's sacrifice was not the way. It worked, and Sin was destroyed, but the ends don't justify the means. To have to lose in order to win isn't winning, isn't victory. Her speech before the fight with Vegnagun is a perfect example of how she changed, not just that she said that, but that she had the courage to say it. After all is said and done, Tidus's fading had more of a meaning than just to save Spira, and that meaning is given through this story and through Yuna's journey. Yuna's story began when Tidus's story ended, but he was still a part of her story, even in passing. He may have sacrificed himself, be she didn't let him die, and through this journey she found the courage and strength to not let him die, whether he comes back or not.
A wonderful game this is indeed. Not without its flaws, not without its mini-games that make you want to pull your hair out, not without a really really easy final boss, but a wonderful game, and an innovative step in the right direction for future Final Fantasy games.