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By: Red Raven
The answer hinges on what one perceives the Final Fantasy series to represent. On the one hand, this series of games is simply that: a number of high production-value titles produced by a single company among many others. From this perspective, FFX-2 is a fairly entertaining and extremely polished game. The battle system, for example, has been simplified and refined from its predecessor, FFX. Active Time Battles have returned along with an increased sense of battle speed. This speed is directly felt not only in the literal sense of enemies and party members exchanging blows every few seconds with nary a lull, but also in the visual sense of dynamically animated characters jumping around the screen and performing impressive-looking attacks.
Everything outside of battle has seen similar refinement from FFX. Menus are simple, easy to coordinate, and are accompanied by intriguing background pictures, lights and sparkles. The new class system is easy to pick up and remains otherwise intuitive - just slap those Dresspheres on a Garment Grid and hunt yourself some Fiends. There are many different classes and each of them has an easy-to-understand set of abilities you learn via AP earned at the end of battle. Who could ask for a better system, right?
Unfortunately, there remains a rather large contingency of fans whom view a Final Fantasy as something more than simply another game produced by a another company. There is a precedence associated with the name, a reputation of excellence, quality, and craftsmanship. And it is this unspoken promise which has, decidedly, been broken.
A few hours into the game, after the luster and mystique of the blazingly fast battle system wears off, one will be struck by a thought. Since using abilities and items causes a significant delay in ending most battles, what would happen if one simply pressed the attack button over and over instead? The result one finds will be rather disturbing: you will beat every single encounter. It seems when Square was cutting corners in order to hasten battle speeds, one such large corner cut was any semblance of strategy whatsoever. Each of the fifteen different classes has a number of seemingly useful abilities that are, in practice, wholly unnecessary for the completion of the game. Fans of FFX's party-swapping, FF9's equipment management, FF8's Junctioning allocation, FF7's Materia optimization, FF6's Esper manipulation, or any of the other elements of strategic battle planning present in every single other Final Fantasy, well, you are out of luck. Indeed, the player will find "special" Dressspheres rather early in the game which provide the function of FF8's Guardian Forces, destroying utterly any sense the battle system was ever meant to be taken seriously.
There is little question that the graphics in FFX-2 could rival just about any other RPG on the market. From the majesty of Mt. Gagazet to the ethereal Macalania Woods right down to the cavernous expanse below Bevelle, one gets the impression that the processing power of the PS2 was pushed just about to the max. What impression one does not get however, is that the graphics have been improved in any significant way since FFX. Besides the superficial and obviously fanservice costumes the main characters wear, the remaining entirety of the game seems to have been cut and paste from its boundary-pushing predecessor. Direct sequel or no, it is more than fair to expect that some of the returning characters would have changed visually just a bit after two years of post-Sin life - especially Lulu whom seems to be able to hide her 9th-month pregnancy behind the same corset worn when Tidus was still around. This becomes even more annoying when one battles the exact same fiends from FFX, whom were amazingly bland even the first time around.
Although fans may try to give Square the benefit of the doubt, after seeing the ending sequence to this short excursion into the 12-16 year-old girl demographic, they will likely remain in shock that such a game was given the Final Fantasy title. Regardless of whether one was a particularly large fan of FFX's characters or not, more likely than not one will fell betrayed by their superfluous use in this game - they demonstrate absolutely no resemblance to the emotionally hardened and mature characters which defeated Sin and saved the world a scant two years ago. Indeed, it is hard to imagine this game succeeding if it were based on any other setting or group of characters. Wild ARMs? Lunar? Breath of Fire? Dragon Quest? No, the only reason why the "choose your own adventure" mission progression actually seemed a good idea during play was because of the unspoken promise (mentioned above) of a deeper meaning to the entire game. Instead, one will find oneself playing 35 hours worth of mini-games in an effort to seek closure concerning a conveniently-place loose end - final closure which has been deferred to the inevitable Final Fantasy X-3.
In the end, FFX-2 will only be as good as the emotional baggage one brings to it. Those looking for profound insights into the world of Spira will leave unenlightened. Those seeking strong narratives common to the series will hear only silence. Those whom wish for a second chance to swim in the ocean of FFX will only discover a tide pool here - diverse, vibrant, colorful, and yet shallow, short-lived, and devoid of greater meaning. Ultimately, only those whom expect nothing of Final Fantasy X-2 will get exactly what they expected.
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