Final Fantasy is a name almost synonymous with console RPG gaming. For over a decade, Square has released a new Final Fantasy title every so often but with one major difference to other games. They weren't sequels. They were the same name, but every single story, character and location was different in every single one of the games. However, they have finally done away with this theory and the first true Final Fantasy sequel is here. A few changes have been made to the franchise and tradition of the games, but in our opinion these changes are good.
It's been two years since Yuna rose up to become the hero of Spira and Final Fantasy X-2 returns you to Spira once again. Yuna is no longer a grand summoner, and rather has joined up with the Gullwings to hunt for spheres. These spheres are scattered throughout the land and somewhat drive the storyline on in the early section of the game. However as Yuna, Paine and Rikku find more and more disturbing spheres, they realise that something is going on in Spira, something that must be stopped. That something is Vegnagun. As you travel around you will notice that Yuna has celebrity status, this helps Yuna on her new quest in many ways.
As mentioned before there have been some significant changes to the gameplay of the title. For most of the time you still do travel around the lands, taking on enemies but with the sphere hunting capabilities of the trio, it has allowed the developers to put in a new style of play. Final Fantasy X-2 is mission based. Starting off in the Gullwings airship, (where you can buy things from the store such as elixers and phoenix downs or take a nap) you can view a map of Spira. It is possible to go anywhere in Spira at anytime but to drive the storyline further along, the hotspots are where you need to be. A hotspot is where they have detected a sphere, and not only will you find the sphere there but usually also some trouble.
Obviously being mission based has changed the game somewhat, but it is still not a very linear story. You can go anywhere in Spira and pick up sub-quests at any time. Quests such as finding a Chocobo for a young girl, handing out ballons as a moogle and others. Not all places have quests all the time, and because of this the game will tell you about the quest on offer at the selected location or inform you that none are available. You don't actually trigger the mission just by reaching that location all the time. Sometimes you will have to talk to someone to trigger the mission. You will know a new mission is starting because "Mission Start" will appear on the screen followed by a description of the task at hand. If you want to abort a mission, sometimes you can return to the Gullwings airship via save points scattered around the lands. The hotspots and other locations also detail a difficulty level ranging from one to five which can help you decide whether your characters are tough enough to visit that location yet.
The battle system is still in place and random battles still occur. We did find ourselves leveling up at times to defeat some bosses such as Barili but the enemies featured in random battles near boss battles usually offer some good experience and you should be able to level up quickly. The battle system used is called the ATB system. Rather then each character getting their turn in succession, small bars fill up. Once filled, the character can then perform their special move or attack. If you choose to use magic, the bar must fill again before that spell is cast such as Cure, during which time this character may be knocked out. Depending on which clothes you are wearing at the time and also which move you performed last, determines how long the wait is until you can perform your next move. Being an RPG it will be tempting to use a guide and some are available. There is one particular bit which is quite hard to figure out with a guide, we won't spoil it though. In fact this part of the game is one problem we found with the game. There is a particular section and if you don't perform the task required at the exact moment, you have to load a recent save. From what we can tell, there was no way to trigger this action again without loading the recent save.
To go with this the clothes system has changed. Around the place you will be given Garment Grids or find them as well as clothes spheres. These spheres when placed on a grid allow you to change the clothes you are wearing in game and in the middle of a battle. So Yuna can start off as a White Mage (primarily used for healing) and turn in to a Warrior, just by losing a turn. The clothe change animations and graphics are stunning and show Square-Enix's knack for visual splendour. Using the right clothes at the right time can be the key to victory as they can determine the characters hit points and defence abilities.
Like in the past, the key to progressing further in the game is your characters level. If you want you could spend a few solid hours or days leveling up at the highroad and probably be able to breeze through the game but most people will want to jump into the storyline and try and get more and more information quickly. Battles do become at times people just hitting each other until one falls over but of course there are defensive abilities which can blind enemies and make them more prone to missing the characters when attacking. This works both ways.
The developers of Final Fantasy have always had quite a knack on putting together some of the most impressive and fearsome monsters featured in an RPG game. Nothing has changed with X-2. You will encounter foot soldiers who will be easily defeated and gigantic monsters who have some special moves which can knock over your entire party in one foul swoop. The animations and graphics used for both the monsters and the special moves are really impressive. At times the length of the move animations can become frustrating because you want to know just how much damage the characters are going to take and then plan your next move. Sometimes you will run into a battle thinking you're going to be smacked down by this enemy, only to find a few turns later they are on the ground with your party cheering at the victory.
Should you play through Final Fantasy X before X-2? Optimally yes, but its not required. Along the way you will run into numerous characters who will ask you a question whether you remember them or not. If you say yes the game will continue on but you still learn their name, but if you say no you will be told who they are. This mechanism is obviously in place to help those who haven't gone through X first. It appears there is a massive spoiler for X near the start of the game, as it shows what appears to be the final scene of the last game as a CG cut scene.
With the ability to travel all around Spira from the get go, this is also going to lead to spoilers from Final Fantasy X, but also allows you to do a bit of exploring should you get stuck at some point in the game. The areas of Spira are quite varied and no one area is the same as the last. It is possible to walk from area to area at times in Spira, but this can be dangerous due to the random enemy attacks which are designed to help your characters gain levels.
This leads into the graphics which as with all Final Fantasy games are stunning to look at. There are some bland textures around the place but most of the game features an explosion of various colours whether it be towns, characters, or the aforementioned monsters, the game does look great on the PS2 console. Sometimes you can actually interact with the special moves as well. For instance with the trigger happy move, you have to slam R1 to fire shots towards the enemy. Sound effects are once again great with some decent voice acting in English and a cinematic and moody soundtrack which changes depending on the current situation facing our three young girls.
The Playstation 2 really has been fortunate to get the Final Fantasy series as it truly is one of the greatest RPG series of all time. The fact that with this sequel, the developers have been able to try some significant changes and still have the game pass with flying colours shows the strength of the franchise. This is a game that any fan of Final Fantasy should own, and any fan of the RPG genre should at least give more then a casual look because its very easy to become engrossed in the world of Spira.