Late to the Party: Final Fantasy X-2

Version played: I played Final Fantasy X-2 on PS4 as part of the Final Fantasy X/X-2 Remaster collection. All screenshots below are from my own playthrough. Please note that spoilers for both Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 are discussed in this article, though fewer plot elements from Final Fantasy X-2 are mentioned. Please proceed with caution if you haven’t played them!

Final Fantasy X-2 was always gonna be a weird one. For me, at least. In 2003 I was still high off of my love of Final Fantasy X, the first Final Fantasy game I ever beat completely by myself. At the time, I couldn’t believe my favorite Final Fantasy game was getting a sequel, particularly since to my knowledge, they never did (something that would clearly change in later years). I remember being incredibly excited at the announcement, and then with time, that excitement turning to dread. In 2003 I was 14 going on 15-years-old, and I couldn’t believe how these characters I had loved had changed in the sequel. Everything was skin now, everything seemed meant for titillation, and the open ogling of women’s bodies in skimpy outfits when that hadn’t originally been the case. I was upset, and I was irritated. I have to confess I actively avoided the entire thing and put it out of mind in the coming years. Revisiting it as a full grown adult was always going to be a trip.

In truth, I understand where my young teenage brain was at the time, and I understand why I had such a visceral negative reaction to the promo material for this game–it took something that felt safe to me at the time and turned it into something I didn’t trust. But this isn’t a feeling I experienced during my playthrough over the past three weeks. Perhaps its age; perhaps its distance from my original feelings, changes in my perspective and engagements with things like this, what have you. Is there a lot of skin on display as I previously surmised, particularly for a game centered on outfit changes during battle? Yes. Is this game goofy as hell and incredibly strange? Also yes. But perhaps most importantly, and the thing I keep coming back to is just how much fun it is, relentlessly and bizarrely so.

Y R P in position!

When Final Fantasy X came out in 2001, the tenth mainline game in the Square’s popular Final Fantasy anthology game series, one of the most consistent criticisms I remember hearing was that it was too linear. The game shuttles you from town to town with barely any time to breathe or maneuver until the very end when it opens up right before the final battle. Final Fantasy X-2 is a lesson in the complete opposite. The game dumps you on an airship within its first hours and tells you to have fun with barely a whisper of what the hell you’re meant to do, and true to form I stumbled around lost and confused but consistently laughing for the first two hours or so trying to figure out what I was supposed to be accomplishing here.

Unlike the large party of its predecessor, Final Fantasy X-2 whittles your team down to three members: Yuna (the responsible one, sorta), Rikku (the fun one), and Paine (the mysterious one, with a level of dry cynicism I immediately appreciated). Together, along with Brother, Buddy and Shinra, they form a group known as the Gullwings who search the world for valuable spheres, devices that do anything from recording messages to containing memories and feelings of the previous owner. Both Yuna and Rikku were present in Final Fantasy X’s story, Yuna as a bit of a stealth protagonist to the game’s ostensible one, Tidus. Yuna spent so much of the previous title locked in her pilgrimage, acting almost solely as the party’s healer and quiet strength, marching unerringly towards her final goal to defeat a monstrous abomination devastating the world, but that’s over now. Now, she has guns! And a singing career, kinda, it’s complicated. Her days of a sole, unwavering mission to defeat an abomination surrounded by her guardians has been replaced with a meandering romp of a girl’s sphere hunter’s trip. What’s her goal? I’d love to tell you, but I barely know myself, other than searching half the time for Tidus (or You because he’s never named in game), who disappeared at the end of Final Fantasy X.

Yuna is always engaged in very important missions, such as wearing a Moogle costume at a concert venue

I was concerned about the whittled down party initially, but the game circumvents that in one of the best ways possible, by allowing each character to take on any skill or class at any given time via dresspheres. In a Sailor Moon-esque transformation sequence, mid-battle naturally, your characters can shift between different jobs/classes: a warrior, a black mage, a thief, a healer, they’re all there. The game truly shines, however, in its creation of more ridiculous classes that are endlessly fun to try out in battle: a Psychic that zaps enemies and teleports around the field; a Berserker that has you mindlessly doling out tons of damage but unable to do anything else; a Festivalist that throws exploding fire fish at enemies; a Songstress that dances enemies to sleep or darkness or silence, and some half dozen others. Finding a new dressphere was always a thrill and finding out what ludicrous powers I was going to incorporate next was an endless treat. Each dressphere must be leveled up with AP by each character to obtain all their powers. While this is fairly par for the course in RPGs, because of the sheer number of dresspheres available I only maxxed between two and three for each character, which is a shame because some were left woefully neglected once I latched onto my favorites. Still, if there’s one aspect that I wholeheartedly love in this game, it’s the dresspheres.

Paine sporting the Thief dressphere. This is what a standard thief outfit looks like these days, yes?

In addition to the dresspheres, X-2 largely utilizes ATB combat–active, turn-based combat that requires you to quickly make decisions and strategize because your enemies are attacking you the entire time you riffle through that unsorted Items list to find a Lunar Curtain and cast Protect on your party. This is a stark departure from its turn-based predecessor that allowed you to take as much time as needed per turn and view several upcoming turns in advance so you always knew who would act next. I can struggle with ATB because I do like to make thoughtful decisions in battle. As it was, there were plenty of times I ended up spamming reliable attacks just because I knew I could get them out quickly. Amusingly, some 40 hours in I realized you actually can change the battle to a “wait mode” similar to Final Fantasy X or slow down the ATB so you’re not frantically picking your options. I found this out entirely by mistake, which brings me to my next point.

Final Fantasy X-2 has no interest in holding your hand, explaining its missions, orienting you, or telling you anything you’re not actively invested in researching yourself, whether in game or outside of it. On your well-stocked airship is a very strange child named Shinra who has a tutorial for nearly everything in the game, should you choose to speak with him. I, being impatient, promptly ignored him and spent dozens of hours unaware that new status effects–enemy attacks that hinder you in battles until you cure them–had been added in this game or that certain mechanics in battle could have made my life infinitely easier. On the one hand, I deeply respect this game for refusing to use kid gloves. The information is there, should you seek it out. On the other hand, it’s incredibly easy to get overwhelmed with the abundance of new terms, freedoms, and dangers. This is a game that assumes you have at least some familiarity with JRPGs, including its immediate predecessor, and sucks for you if you don’t. It’s a title I would never suggest to a Final Fantasy rookie, even though tonally, I feel it would be a great introduction to Final Fantasy’s worlds without the baggage of world annihilation and fantastical pilgrimages drowning in drama.

The Gullwings spend most of their time helping out the citizens of Spira complete compelling quests such as selling concert tickets

Final Fantasy X-2 is a game almost completely lacking in urgency. There is no cataclysm on the horizon, other than easily missed whispers of a weapon called Vegnagun. The political conflicts between different factions in Spira, New Yevon and the Youth League, seem as though they could boil over into violent conflict but they never seem particularly bothersome when they do. Yuna’s answer to world political strife, after all, is to have a concert so everyone can get along. X-2 consists of chapters where you can visit anywhere you’d like and accomplish any mission you’d like unless it’s story centric, which will take you to the next chapter after completion. It all feels incredibly meandering, but after years of the threat of apocalyptic doom and destruction in Final Fantasy titles, this approach feels amazing. There are moments of melancholy and moments of conflict, certainly, but they never overtake the game’s investment in having a good time.

So what is the game’s fun, exactly? As I mentioned before, a great deal of my glee came from trying out new dresspheres in battle. Each dressphere transforms the character’s entire look and each look is unique to Paine, Rikku, and Yuna. I love shit like this. I am nothing if not a lover of character outfits within video games, and the various outfits peppered throughout are true feast. Are they all great? Absolutely fucking not. Many of them are terrible, but the ones that hit are incredibly fun. If I had to pick a sole favorite, it’d be Rikku’s Psychic outfit and her Festival outfit, but I also loved the Samurai, Warrior, and Dark Knight outfits and the bizarre beauty of Yuna’s special sphere, where she’s a whole flower. Alas, Paine often had the worst of the crop in my opinion, though her neutral look is my favorite of the three.

Yuna in all her floral dressphere beauty

I also have to commend the game for Yuna’s transformation from quiet, dutiful daughter in Final Fantasy X to relaxed, fun fighter in X-2. I’ve always been incredibly fond of Yuna and seeing her more confident, goofy side in X-2 is wonderful. Hearing our previously reserved summoner declare she’s not quiet anymore she “asks questions now” or hollering that “It smells like party time to me!” as she throws her exploding shoes at an enemy is an endless delight. Rikku is equally fun as a character and her outfit is unabashedly ridiculous. It was that outfit that largely made me dip out all those years ago, but seeing it now, it just makes me laugh. It’s so stupidly over the top, I can’t help but come back around to loving it. The bows, the bikini, the low riding short shorts, so much of this game is operating at an 11. Paine, bless her, doesn’t make much of an impression. She’s there as your mysterious straight woman to Yuna and Rikku’s silliness. I like her, but she makes much less of an authoritative stamp on the game compared to the other two.

The missions in Final Fantasy X-2 run the gamut from “go here and fight X” to “pair these monkeys together so they can fall in love.” For the most part, the mix of serious and silly missions hits a very nice balance. I was rarely bored or felt like I was doing busy work as the case can be in certain games. 

Giving massages to a crime syndicate boss is very, very important work

No, where I feel the game starts to feel bloated to the gills lies in its side content: content you could easily spend hundreds of hours doing. You remember the world’s worst minigame Blitzball? Well don’t worry it’s back! And still fuckin awful! Would you like to trap monsters around the world and train them in a highly convoluted arena so you can win tournaments? Step right up! Not to your taste? Don’t worry, there’s a coin game too! You like stressful number pattern games with a time limit don’t you? Oh, well don’t worry if you don’t, there’s also a boring shooting game called Gunner’s Gauntlet that’s wonderfully frustrating! I love a minigame, but I’d call these more time sink maxi-games. If I could avoid all this, I would just leave it, but the fact is, if you want to 100% the game and achieve the “Best” ending, you can’t. Yes, this game has a percentage completion system that affects your ending and you can bet your ass you won’t achieve it in your first playthrough unless you’re following a guide to the near absolute letter, and this is incredibly irritating. I’m currently sitting at 66% completion at the very end of the game. I missed huge swaths of content, and I never even knew I was doing so. This is a game that doesn’t just want you to play it multiple times; it practically demands you do, and even then, you better be open to using a guide anyway.

My only desire is to NEVER see this minigame again

So where does Final Fantasy X-2 stand in 2021? Hard to say on some levels. It’s bloat feels very much in line with the glut of content often available in open world titles today, though its presentation is vastly different. Where I think the game shines in comparison to current titles is its willingness and commitment to lean into its own foolishness. This game knows it’s silly, but it wants you to come along regardless. It’s ok that you don’t know what you’re doing, we’re just here to have a good time! It’s hard to imagine a AAA like that today when we’re often surrounded by titles desperately trying to project an air of cinematic prestige. On some levels, it feels as though the game is laughing at this self-serious attitude. It doesn’t need it. There are spheres to find. Guns to shoot. Booty shorts to wear. Concerts to warble through. And at the end of the day, I’m left smiling.

It’s time for the Gullwings’ last mission!

Some stray thoughts and unfiled grievances:

  • It took me 3 of the 5 chapters to realize I should visit every single area every chapter, not just the areas with a mission icon. This game, truly, explains NOTHING.
  • Yuna continuing to whistle for Tidus in various areas, the signal they used to send one another so the other would come running, actually made me sad. I still get teary eyed thinking of that ending with Yuna whistling on the dock in Final Fantasy X.
  • The game desperately needed some quality of life improvements. There is no where to view what mission you’re currently on (and you can only do one mission at a time). Several times I left the game for a day or so, came back and had no idea what the hell I was meant to be doing.
  • On a similar note, having me do an entire mission only to enter a boss fight with no warning or chance to save, subsequently dying and losing an hour or two of progress is complete and utter trash.
  • Outside of our main three of Yuna, Rikku, and Paine, I didn’t care for barely any other character in this entire game, and if there’s one place I usually think Final Fantasy game’s shine, it’s their characters. I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about Lenne and Shuyin, which is why I didn’t even bother to mention them in the main article. Gippal…who? Nooj? Pass. Baralai? Whatever.
  • Yuna’s running animation is very dumb
  • The music is not up to the incredibly high standards I usually have for Final Fantasy games! I love the jazzy, fun tracks that herald the Gullwings and “Real Emotion” is a whole banger, but those are my only real standouts. I didn’t even care for “1000 Words.”
  • I looked up the 100% ending. I will most likely play this game again, so I can get all the dresspheres because I love them, but I don’t need to get 100%. There’s so many annoying things required.