I can remember when Final Fantasy X came out like it was yesterday. Having spent months repeatedly playing the demo that came packaged with the PS One release of Final Fantasy VI, I finally got my hands on the the real thing when it came out a few days before my 13th birthday in 2002.
It’s been more than 10 years since that memorable day, but it took mere seconds from firing up Final Fantasy X / X-2 HD Remaster to bring that Final Fantasy-obsessed teenager right out of me, despite my alleged adulthood.
Final Fantasy X / X-2 HD Remaster, as the name implies, repackages Final Fantasy X and its underrated (in my opinion) direct sequel, Final Fantasy X-2 with a fancy coat of HD paint, rearranged soundtracks, and a raft of new features. While fans of the originals will enjoy the heavy dose of nostalgia, this new release is also a great way for new players to introduce themselves to this fantastic pair of games. They’ve aged surprisingly well and the improvements only make things better.
Return to Spira: A Recap of Final Fantasy X and X-2
In a lot of ways, Final Fantasy X was a big departure from its predecessors. While all the previous titles in the series had used a European take on fantasy or science-fantasy, the world of Final Fantasy X - Spira - drew heavily on South East Asian architecture and motifs, with a dose of steampunk thrown in. Though the plot was largely your standard save-the-world Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) fare, the storytelling itself became more sophisticated - as the first Final Fantasy with voice acting, writers were able to achieve a new level of emotionality in the characters. The game also toyed with the idea of the “main” character serving largely as a narrator, with the plot focused on one of the supporting characters; a device that would later be expanded upon in Final Fantasy XII.
Mechanically, FFX also cut away from those before it. JRPG staples like an overworld with distinct towns and dungeons were thrown out in favour of a more seamless, if less grandiose, world. The Active Time Battle system - a turn based design in which time constantly flows, even while choosing actions - that had been a feature of Final Fantasy games for 10 years prior was abandoned, replaced with the simple, but tactically deep Conditional Turn Based system, in which time is no longer a factor, but turn order is determined by stats, buffs, and the delay from previous actions.
Final Fantasy X-2, the first direct sequel in the series’ history was itself a big shift away from its predecessor, in some ways venturing further from the franchise norms and in others returning to form. Following on from the events of FFX, the plot in FFX-2 took on a more politically-heavy theme, with a group of treasure hunters called the Gullwings caught in the midst of factional divides on the brink of war.
The game returned to the ATB system used in earlier games, albeit a more refined version, and it reintroduced the “job” system from Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy V, and Final Fantasy Tactics: a character’s appearance, stats, and skillset can be changed on the fly by altering their job (called Dress Spheres this time around.)
For the most part, the remastered versions of Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 are identical to the original versions, and that is in no way a bad thing. Both games were really ahead of their time when they released, and have aged spectacularly. The stories and characters are as gripping as ever, combat was (and still is) nuanced and deep, and there is plenty of content to keep you entertained. I literally spent hundreds of hours between the two games back in the day, and I’m looking forward to doing so again.
The most obvious change is in the visual department, with character models and levels all getting new and improved textures. They aren’t quite as good as what we’ve come to know from some games in the Vita library, but these are assets that are more than 10 years old, and they look significantly improved. There is some inconsistency - for example, more attention seems to have been paid to main characters than minor ones, which can be jarring when both are on screen at once. But overall, the visual enhancements are impressive.
What stood out to me most though, is the music. The games, FFX in particular, had some lovely music as it is - but the rearranged versions here are absolutely gorgeous. As a general rule, I’m happy to play a game with the sound down and with background noise, but the music here is just so captivating that I can’t play without it.
Mechanically, the games are almost identical to the originals but with one very welcome change - an auto-healing menu option. While outside of battle, you can automatically heal your whole party with a few taps of the Vita’s touchscreen: open the menu, select either magic or items, and then the game will calculate the most efficient way to top everybody off. This is incredibly useful and I’d certainly like to see more party-based RPGs implement this in the future.
A few other improvements are noticeably missing though. Making cutscenes skippable this time around would have been welcome, especially for those who have already played the games, as would an auto-save or quick save function.
As far as content goes, both games are based on their “International” versions; Japanese re-releases that included all extra content from foreign versions of the game. For FFX, this doesn’t mean a whole lot for us in PAL territory, as the international content - a range of extra optional bosses known as Dark Aeons - were first added in the original PAL version of the game. This means that, for us, the only new content is the Eternal Calm epilogue video.
FFX-2 brings with it a bit more content though, that has previously not been seen outside Japan. As well as a range of new Dress Spheres, items, and abilities, you’ll have access to a new endgame dungeon with randomised levels, and a Pokemon-like monster hunting minigame, which lets you recruit monsters and NPCs to fight alongside your party. Long-time fans will be glad to finally have a chance to play this formerly Japan-exclusive content, and for new players, it just means that there is even more to see and do.
When it comes to HD remasters, they don’t get much better than this. Sure there are some minor issues, and it would have been nice if the game had Cross-buy support so that the PS3 and Vita versions didn’t have to be bought separately. But Final Fantasy X / X-2 is still a must-have for all but the most RPG-averse gamers. The original games are fantastic and have aged incredibly well, with improved visuals, brilliantly rearranged music, and a few new features that go towards making them even better. Whether you’re a Final Fantasy veteran, or someone who wasn’t even born yet when FFX first came out, you should waste no time in picking these up.