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A different view of Spira
The Final Fantasy series has been running for over 15 years now. A lot has happened, and the series has become one of the most popular within the RPG genre. While all previous ten games in the so called main series might be considered as sequels to each other, the recently released Final Fantasy X-2 is the first true direct sequel, continuing the story about Yuna and some of the other characters from Final Fantasy X.
FFX-2 takes place in Spira, the very same world which players explored in FFX. The basic plot is about Yuna now being a Sphere hunter together with Rikku from FFX, and a new mysterious character called Paine. This all started after Yuna saw a sphere showing someone who looked very much like Tidus from FFX. Since Summoners aren't needed in Spira anymore, Yuna changed into a happy adventurer (Grandia-style), picked up a par of machina-guns, and started to roam the land with her new attitude. The new style that FFX-2's plot offers might come as a surprise to many, and a lot of those who thought it would be ridiculous might also realize that they shouldn't judge a game right away. The plot is not nearly as deep or dark as it was the first time we visited Spira, but it's still interesting. Besides figuring out who it actually is in the sphere Yuna saw, it's also a pleasant experience to see how the world of Spira has changed the past two years.
While FFX-2 doesn't really have the deeper kind of plot that most previous Final Fantasy games had, its battle system is something of a kind. Battles are semi-real time, with the return of the classic ATB bar. As you already might know, each character gets her turn once the ATB bar is filled, and can thus perform any kind of action. While this is semi-real time, battles will seem a lot more chaotic than in previous titles. Enemies won't wait for you to finish casting your spell before attacking you, instead they'll just jump at you when you're charging, making the spell take a little longer to cast. Of course, you can do the same to them. Much like in Final Fantasy V or Final Fantasy Tactics/Tactics Advance, FFX-2 uses the infamous Job system. Most of the classic jobs are back (White/Black mage, Warrior, Thief, Berserker, Samurai etc.), as well as some new ones (Gunner, Gun Mage, Songstress etc.). Each job has a whole bunch of abilities to learn. Very much like the GF's in Final Fantasy VIII, the player can choose which particular ability the character is going to learn next. However, to learn certain abilities (i.e. the most powerful ones), certain prerequisites must be fulfilled (such as learning the basic abilities of that job first).
Unlike the previous job systems, the one in FFX-2 is built up through something called the Garment grid. A Garment grid is a tiny version of the Sphere grid we saw in FFX. On this grid, players can choose to place out any of the jobs he or she has acquired so far. After that, simply choose a job of your liking. This may seem a bit unnecessary, since players don't actually "learn" the job by walking on the grid like in FFX. Instead, this is for the sole reason of being able to change jobs directly in battles. Depending on which grid the current character has equipped, he or she can change to certain jobs directly in battle (followed by a transformation scene when the character's clothes change). This is essential for certain boss fights. Let's say you have 3 warriors, and you're out of healing items. Simply change one of them into a white mage through the Garment grid, and start healing. The Garment grid also has something called Gates. These are small icons on the grid which can affect the party in certain ways when changing jobs. For example, some of these might cast Curaga on the entire party when that character passes through the gate. It's very handy.
The controls in X-2 are almost identical to those in X, save for the new jump button. Yuna can now jump up large rocks, or between small gaps when running through dungeons. While this may seem unnecessary, it's still kind of fun, and offers new ways of exploring dungeons. The rest of the interface is beautiful. The menu design is pretty, and with pleasant tutorials and explanations for everything, no player will have any trouble understanding the system in this game. When it comes to originality, there are certain interesting things to say about FFX-2. While the basic gameplay is very similar to FFX, the major changes come with the characters and plot. Also, unlike FFX, this game isn't linear at all (you can go anywhere in Spira at any time during gameplay, and most of the things in the game are optional). While some may think that exploring Spira all over again is a lame excuse for not making a new world setting, I thought it was interesting. I liked to see how Spira had changed, and how things moved on after the Eternal Calm came. Only second to Working Designs, Square's localization jobs have almost always been good. With the huge change of style from X to X-2, I'm truly impressed over how well the voice-actors managed to play their parts. While Yuna used to be the quiet, shy kind of person, she now acts like a happy teenager. Rikku is the same as before (although even worse), and Paine perfectly play's her part as the female version of Auron. I won't even bother with spelling errors, as I have yet to experience such a thing in this game.
When it comes to music, some players might get some seriously mixed feelings. While FFX's soundtrack featured lots of well-composed tracks perfectly fitting into the surroundings and plot, FFX-2's music always seem to center around Yuna and the others, no matter where you go. In most places, the music is fast-paced and pop-like. Some of the tunes are overly annoying, and some just seem weird. Even if Spira indeed has changed, and the characters in fact are much more light-hearted, I still thought that the music didn't fit at all in some places. If you can let go of how things were in FFX though, you'll probably like the soundtrack for what it is. Don't expect anything epic though.
Lastly, we come to the graphics. Simply put, this game looks exactly like FFX. However, considering that FFX still is one of the most beautiful RPG's for the PlayStation 2, I couldn't lower the score all too much. Towns and dungeons are very detailed, character models are beautiful etc. Overall, this game is eye-candy. This is also probably the first Final Fantasy game to skip the plethora of long and tiring spell sequences, and instead focus on a fast and more entertaining battle system.
When it comes to replay value, this game does have a lot to offer. There is a New Game+ function (you get to keep your equipment, items and abilities learned), as well as several different endings. Unfortunately though, the game is way too easy. Even the later bosses in the game (including some of the optional ones) were pathetic. Fortunately though, there is a 100 floor bonus dungeon to explore, which can offer some serious challenge on the later floors. While the number of mini-games and sidequests (excluding optional story-sequences) may not be as many as in X, there are still tons of them.
The completion time of Final Fantasy X-2 may differ a lot depending on how much you want to do. You can easily finish the game in 15-20 hours if you just keep to the missions you have to do. However, if you want to see all the story-sequences, complete all missions, master all the mini-games and finish the bonus dungeon, you'll probably be going for 100 hours or more.
In the end, Final Fantasy X-2 was surprising. When the first pictures of it arrived, I really didn't know what to think. Sure, it was pretty far from the best Square-Enix game ever, but it did have a lot of qualities. Most importantly, this game is not thrown together in any way. There is a lot of thought put in it, and while it may not appeal to everyone, I found it quite entertaining. Even with some flaws in music, plot (to a certain point) and difficulty, I still recommend this game to those who are willing to experience Spira again, in a more light-hearted way.
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