To say that the tenth chapter in the Final Fantasy saga is a divisive one, would be a vast understatement.
Pay a visit to any JRPG forum and you’ll see a unanimous praising of Final Fantasy VII as the holy grail of gaming; but one person so much as mentions X, and you watch the board tear itself in two as the Fantasy fanboys lay into each other.
Square Enix however, are clearly of the opinion that FFX was pretty good, as they’ve seen fit to release and re-release it on four different platforms. Over a decade on from its PS2 debut and only a year since it was remastered for the PlayStation 3 and Vita, the ‘Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster’ is out yet again, this time on the PlayStation 4.
The two titles on offer in the bundle make for very different experiences, with X being the epic main attraction and X-2 being the somewhat awkward comedy spin-off. You begin the former as Tidus, the fresh-faced, teenage son of a local sporting hero, and star-player of the Zanarkand Abes Blitzball team. After a match is interrupted by the city-obliterating catastrophe known as ‘Sin’, he’s teleported away to the land of Spira; where the adventure begins proper and he’s introduced to X-2’s protagonist, Yuna.
Spira itself is a joy to explore, and plays home to a huge variety of distinct locales. From tropical Kilika to mountainous Gagazet, every area feels unique, and plenty of colourful NPCs provide a great sense of depth and realism.
The journeys you make in-between towns are where you’ll run into enemies, as the series’ signature random battles shatter the screen and your party is dropped into combat. The Conditional Turn-Based system the two games use is similar to their predecessors, but they add a few new tweaks to the old formula. The welcome ability to make commands while the previous turn’s animations are still playing out goes a long way to maintaining pace during fights. And a continuously updating on-screen list illustrates the effect certain moves will have on the flow of battle. Overdrives return from previous games as powerful special attacks, but unlike before, these now require QTE-style inputs from the player to determine their effectiveness.
Defeating enemies rewards you with AP, which in X is used to move through each character’s Sphere Grid – a brilliantly deep progression system that offers some excellent flexibility in how you develop your party. For those new to the series or JRPGs in general, there’s also the option of a ‘simplified’ Sphere Grid, not present in the original Japanese or American releases. X-2 uses its own levelling system altogether in an attempt to emulate the Job system of older Fantasy titles. But it’s an attempt that falls short, and one which really only serves as an excuse to play dress-up with its three heroines.
Questionable outfits aside, the characters across both games all feel memorably individual and fleshed-out. Despite some painfully awkward moments in X (fans will be familiar with the infamous ‘laughing scene’), the relationship between Tidus and Yuna is an engaging one, and is sure to have emotionally invested players choking up towards the game’s final act. The somewhat tongue-in cheek nature of X-2 naturally makes for some more cheesy dialogue, but it does well to toe the line between entertaining and just plain cringeworthy.
Beyond the main stories, there’s a staggering amount of extra content to indulge in. Both games are rife with side activities, minigames, and challenging, optional boss fights. Between the two titles, you’re looking at well over 160 hours of gameplay, which for a £40 RRP is pretty good value for money.
Important characters, aeons and enemies have all been treated to noticeably upgraded models and textures from their original PS2 incarnations, and menu screens benefit from updated assets, and crisp, clear text. The game’s pre-rendered FMVs have also been enhanced, and cropped from their original 4:3 to fit 16:9 screens. Even the beautifully composed orchestral score has been remastered, and new to the PS4 version is the option to choose between the original and updated versions of the soundtrack. As far as new content goes, European players will be treated to the short movie (and X to X-2 gap-filler) ‘Eternal Calm’, which goes some way to explaining events in-between the two games. X-2 also includes some previously Japan-only content in the form of an extra mission and some added, character-changing ‘dress spheres.’
In theory, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be the definitive version of the FFX story that fans were hoping for. But in a bizarre slip-up by Square Enix, the port to the PlayStation 4 has generated a couple of bugs that are in desperate need of patching.
Firstly, the games’ soundtracks now insist on restarting the backing music in each area following every battle you fight. Meaning that instead of the audio picking up where it left off pre-combat, it now starts the track over from the beginning.
Secondly, there’s an issue with the game’s random number generator, in that it’s no longer actually random. Over the course of our playtime, it’s not something we ever noticed, but testing by the community has confirmed that any and all gameplay aspects that rely on the RNG (enemy encounters, Blitzball, drops, attack hits/misses) are all fixed. (It’s worth noting that FFX-2 does not appear to suffer from this issue.) We gave it a try ourselves and reloaded an old save on the Mihen Highroad where sure enough, each time the same enemies would attack in the same order, in the same spot and drop the same loot. For most players causally running through the story, this bug might go by totally unnoticed, but for those looking to pour some time into Blitzball tournaments, or farm certain enemies for rare items, it’s borderline ruinous.
Subsequently, until a fix is released by Square, this latest incarnation of FFX is not the definitive version we were hoping for. It shouldn’t devalue the fact that a tremendous amount of work has gone into the Remaster, but as it stands at the moment, the PlayStation 3 (or even the Vita) version from last year, is the closest to the ‘original’ experience it’s possible to get on a modern system.