Tuesday, January 11, 2011

More Greatest Hits: Final Fantasy X-2

Final Fantasy X-2 takes place after the end of FFX. Sin is defeated, the Aeons are gone, and Tidus has mysteriously vanished. Eventually Yuna comes across a sphere with a video in it that makes it seem as if Tidus might just be alive. Blah blah, yadda yadda. The law of diminishing returns strikes again with Final Fantasy X-2, and considering Final Fantasy X was already not that great, that means we're really in for a treat here.

True story: my brother was obsessed with FFX. He still talks about it as if it was one of the greatest games of all time. When he found out I'd bought this game he couldn't wait to play it to find out what happened to the characters after the first game. Even with all that love for FFX he still gave up before the first chapter was over. That's how bad this game sucks. Also, Square, if you're listening thanks for betraying your stupid fans' loyalty you sick bastards.

(On a related note, it'd be nice if I could spin this into a story about how Square-Enix ruined some child's Christmas but the truth is my brother is older than I am and is kind of a dick. If anything I thank Square for getting back at him for all the times he beat me up as a kid.)

I, on the other hand, actually played this game quite extensively and am quite qualified when I say it sucks ass. Final Fantasy X-2 takes a break from typical JRPGs in many ways. For one, X-2 has ignored the general consensus among many JRPGs that having more characters is better. While other games have 5-10 playable characters, with some even hitting over 50, Final Fantasy X-2 has three playable characters: Yuna, Rikku, and Paine. Of course, the presence of a Final Fantasy Tactics-esque job system means it's like having dozens of characters, but only if you're remarkably stupid.

Unfortunately, being unique is not always a good thing, as our Unlimited SaGa review established and this game proves. Final Fantasy X-2 might have really had something with the inclusion of the job class system which elevated Final Fantasy Tactics to best seller status despite not being all that great. But what Square doesn't seem to have realized that what made the job class system so popular was its ability to customize: to make each character uniquely yours. In Tactics you could have, for example, a Black Mage with Fighter techniques and Dragoon style high jumps. In Final Fantasy X-2 there is no customization. Every Black Mage is the same as every other Black Mage, every Fighter is the same as every other Fighter.

But it's not just the job class system (or dress spheres, as they're called). The entire gameplay for this game has been dumbed down. You no longer have to worry about equipping weapons or armor, just accessories. Levelling up is all automatic, and your abilities and stats change whenever you change jobs so there's not even any strategy to levelling with the right classes.

With its generally non-existent story consisting almost entirely of "hey, remember that part in FFX?" type events, overabundance of strong and independent (yet still remarkably ditzy) female characters, conspicuous lack of puzzles, and gameplay dumbed down to the point of monotony, Final Fantasy X-2 is clearly a game intended primarily to appeal to girls who don't like video games. What the designers didn't realize is that girls who don't like video games still don't like video games and are not a viable target audience. The kinds of girls who are a good target are gamers and just like any male gamer they don't like having their intelligence insulted. Maybe if Square had put as much effort into making this game good as they did into making it palletable to a demographic that won't play it anyway it might have been halfway decent.

Story: 2/5
Since most JRPGs lack riveting gameplay they instead put most of the focus on storyline and presentation. Which is why X-2's crappy story and character elements dealt the hardest blow to the game.

In case you're hoping to see the same characters from Final Fantasy X, don't. Even characters who appeared in X are vastly changed. It almost feels as if someone went through the characters, cherry-picking personality traits he liked and dropping the rest. The result is that Final Fantasy X-2 feels more like a crappy fanfic than an actual sequel.

Presentation: 3/5
As far as presentation is concerned, Final Fantasy X-2 isn't that bad. Obviously the graphics designers didn't slack on X-2...except in the battle system.

In most recent RPGs attacks, especially magical or super-powerful ones, are an event. Gameplay stops and we get to see total devastation happen. In X-2 special attacks are simplified to a few differently colored pixels around what is otherwise the character's normal attack animation, which is just as well since the ATB Gauge keeps moving so you won't have time to look at pretty attacks anyway.

What is made into an event is the in-battle changing of dress-spheres. But believe me when I say the dress changes will get old after the third or fourth time.

Gameplay: 2/5
While JRPGs are already not exactly known for riveting gameplay, and the Active Time Battle system remains without a doubt one of the worst ideas in the history of video games, Final Fantasy X-2 STILL managed to take gameplay to a remarkably lower level. At this point, we're not even scraping the bottom of the barrel anymore. No, we've punched through the bottom and started digging through dirt.

Minigame Idiocy: Over 9,000/5
Retarded minigames have been a trademark of the Final Fantasy franchise for every game after 7. X-2 has a grand total of three different minigames, presumably because Square realized that by the time chapter 3 rolls around players will be wanting to play something, anything other than this game. And oh yes, as you would expect, all three minigames are shoddily done mistakes requiring no skill or strategy that you get to play through once and never again.

KR Rating: BAD

Annotation from The Future:

Oh poor, deluded past me. I can see you now, reviewing this game and truly believing that was the worst it could get. At the time of this writing there is serious talk among gamers that Final Fantasy 14 has literally killed the Final Fantasy series. I'm not sure if I believe this myself, but I don't suppose it's entirely out of the question. Still, I think the hate is misplaced. Final Fantasy is not a great game series ruined by one bad MMORPG. It's sucked for a while and if you didn't know that, smack yourself in the face. To prove my point, I want to mention another awful Final Fantasy game: Final Fantasy XIII.

In this review (X-2) I mentioned how the game seemed stripped out and dumbed down. Looking at it now not only will I still say that's totally accurate, but I believe it can also be seen as the prototype for Final Fantasy 13. Thirteen is a game in only the loosest sense of the term. It's barely even interactive. The game handles combat mostly on its own, at no point do you really need to even so much as push a button to win. The entire game world is mostly a straight line from one cutscene to another, broken up only by a recycled story and uninspired boss battles. Even the upgrade system, while on paper an interesting take on the old class and level system, is here entirely superfluous. There's no real strategy to wisely choosing which upgrades to take as you'll end up with all of them in the end anyway.

But God damn it. Sure it's on rails, but a game can be on rails and still be fun. Final Fantasy 7 was technically on rails - the story did not deviate in any way, no matter what you did or in what order you did it, but it was still great. Think of it like a roller coaster. The car is going to the same place no matter what, you know it's not going to go anywhere else, but there's enough twists, turns, and drops that it doesn't matter.

Final Fantasy XIII is not a roller coaster. It's a subway car full of smelly homeless people, taking you somewhere you don't even want to go. You don't want to be here but you feel like you have to because the conductor used to be a really awesome guy and you feel like you owe him. Speaking of the conductor, the entire time you're here he keeps coming on the loudspeaker to tell you about the hot lesbian couple a few seats down from you, in a "wink-wink-nudge-nudge" kind of way.

That is Final Fantasy XIII, distilled down to it's primal essence. It is a subway ride with homeless lesbians.

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