The day Square Enix stop trying to wring money out of their old properties we’ll have all been long in the deep, cold ground. Whether it’s trickling out the occasional bolt-on to Final Fantasy VII (while skillfully avoiding the remake fans seem to want most) or trying to recreate Tomb Raider in their own image, they know how to squeeze every last drop of cash from their fan base.
Thus it’s no surprise that Final Fantasy X, probably the second best loved of the series so far, and its confusingly-titled sequel have been given the full box set treatment. Well, not exactly. Final Fantasy X comes pre-installed on the cartridge, but FFX-2 takes the form of a redeemable code for the PlayStation Store, after which you’ll have to endure a 4GB download before you can play a thing. There is a legitimate reason for this – PS Vita game cards are a remarkably small 4GB each and it might have raised the price to produce bigger storage media – but it’s the first in a series of cut corners and disappointments that plague the collection.
There’s an amazing amount of game to play here though. Collectively the two games run well over a hundred hours for standard playthroughs, and getting two sets of 100% completion will likely take months.
Other than their length, the two games have little more than their art style in common. While Final Fantasy X plays in traditional JRPG style, with long cutscenes interspersed with battles and linear storytelling, its sequel is far more free-form and provides a mission based structure, often playable in any order.
Any readers thinking the linear storytelling of Final Fantasy X sounds more appealing should disabuse themselves of that notion as soon as possible. While linearity can help lead players through a well-written and engaging story, roadblocks are thrown up constantly in the form of a confusing introduction (which in Final Fantasy tradition goes on for some hours), overly long cutscenes and worryingly poor voice acting.
Quite why the voice acting falls so flat is a bit of a mystery, since the game makes use of an impressive cast, including James Arnold Taylor, John DiMaggio and Tara Strong. The problem is that it all sounds too game-like, the lines are spoken with no apparent sincerity and edited together as though the actors were standing in different rooms. It’s also unhelpful that the game’s ability to name the main protagonist means that characters seem to go to great pains to avoid addressing him directly.
Of course voice acting and sound editing don’t make a game, but they can act to redeem a game with rather poor writing. Perhaps it scans better in the original Japanese, but if there are many lines in the game which aren’t hammy or contrived, they’re few and far between.
The characters too leave a lot to be desired, although they tick the usual Final Fantasy boxes – the Blonde Guy, the Magic Girl, the Kooky Chick, the Moody One, and the ‘Ethnic’ One. The problem is that they all seem to display very little depth beyond that. The ongoing plot threads of, for example, Tidus coming to terms with his family history and identity would bear a lot more emotional weight if we ever got to know him very well. Instead, the scene everyone remembers is the awful fake laughing, and that’s rather telling.
The gameplay redeems the whole product somewhat, and across both games there’s a surprising amount of extra content in the way of minigames. Obviously the main attraction is Blitzball (despite the odd broken mechanic) but there are extra features like Gunner’s Gauntlet that distract from the main RPG segments.
Don’t misunderstand, though – these are still very much JRPGs. There are turn based battles using the traditional slowly-filling meters, numbers coming out of enemies’ heads and overwrought supermoves performed after taking damage. There’s very little to say about this. It’s tried and tested, it works well and X/X-2’s incarnations were probably the best display of Final Fantasy combat until they started mucking around with it in Final Fantasy XII.
The first game to its credit doesn’t feel 13 years old and part of that may be that the visual design still holds up reasonably well. Although fixed perspective camera is quite unnecessary on a system capable of rendering full 3D worlds, situations where it actually causes problems are quite few.
The upscaling to a higher resolution (it seems slightly dishonest to call it an HD remaster when the Vita can only display at 960×540) has been handled well and although it’s somewhat disappointing that the game uses the original art assets rather than the new engine and complete redevelopment we were promised, it’s still very attractive. The FMVs that dazzled in 2001 are now slightly more run-of-the-mill, but still do their job well.
However, even the nice graphics, bonus content previously only included in the Japanese special editions aren’t enough to save the box set from the crushing mediocrity of its story, characters and writing. Fans of course will lap it up, and have a great time playing through games they already loved with added achievements and boosted graphics, but those who haven’t played Final Fantasy before will find little for them here.
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, for all its heritage, provides very little reason to buy it other than for nostalgia. It’s a huge amount of game in a low-priced package, but its content is bland enough to bring to mind going to an all you can eat buffet which only serves porridge. It may bring back fond memories of cold childhood mornings, but after not too long you’ll be completely sick of it. 57%