From the Archives: A Square Sequel

Final Fantasy is probably one of the best-known names in the JRPG genre. And yet even within this long-running series there are titles which have had more attention than others.

Everyone can vouch for the quality (or at least impact) of Final Fantasy VI and VII, but what about the ones people don’t talk about in quite such reverential tones?

Today I’d like to talk about one of the less fondly-regarded entries in the franchise and explain why you should give it another look.

This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2013 as part of the site’s regular Swords and Zippers column on JRPGs. It has been edited and republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

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Final Fantasy X-2, the first ever “true sequel” in the game series (not counting the anime Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals, which was a sequel to Final Fantasy V), was a big departure for Square in many ways. The simple fact it didn’t have a soundtrack by series mainstay Nobuo Uematsu was enough to get people raising their eyebrows and clicking their tongues at it, but there were plenty of other things that made people go “Hmm…” as well. Let’s run through them.

First up, it has a much smaller playable cast than many other Final Fantasy games. Rather than the seven-in-total, three-at-a-time party lineup of its predecessor, Final Fantasy X-2 instead limits its playable cast to the same three characters for the whole game. Yuna and Rikku return from Final Fantasy X with new costumes, while newcomer Paine is introduced for the sequel. While initially it’s jarring to not be able to switch out characters in mid-battle as in Final Fantasy X, the game quickly shows its true colors and how having just three playable characters doesn’t compromise the flexibility of the game’s systems in the slightest.

No, on the contrary, Final Fantasy X-2 features a wonderfully flexible system that is an excellent evolution of the series’ classic Job system, and which doubtless later informed the development of the Paradigm Shift mechanic seen in Final Fantasy XIII and its sequel as well as Lightning’s outfit-shifting in Lightning Returns.

Dubbed the Dressphere system, the mechanic requires each character to equip a combination of a Garment Grid and the eponymous Dresspheres. The spheres go in the slots of the Garment Grid and each correspond to one of the classic Final Fantasy Jobs. Each sphere has a stock of abilities to be learned through earning ability points in battle and via a few other means, and each character has a single unique Dressphere that only they can use. Oh, and as the name implies, each Dressphere has its own (deliciously flamboyant) costume, too.

So far so Job system, you might think. But the intriguing thing with the Dressphere mechanic is that it becomes possible for characters to switch character classes in mid-combat, replacing the party member switching of Final Fantasy X and providing a marked contrast to earlier implementations of the Job system, which only allowed switching between battles.

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A degree of strategy and forward planning is involved in switching Dresspheres on the fly, as each Garment Grid only has specific paths between the nodes into which the spheres can be inserted, and thus if you’ve put a desired Job two nodes away, it’ll take twice as long to switch to. To counterbalance this, however, a number of Garment Grids feature special “gates” that confer bonuses on the wielder when changing to a Job that causes them to pass through it. To add further complexity, switching to each of the characters’ unique Dresspheres requires that she switch to all of the Jobs on the grid she currently has equipped over the course of a single battle. This is very difficult to achieve on more complex Garment Grids, but straightforward on simpler ones — the tradeoffs are that you can’t have as many Dresspheres equipped at once, and these simpler ones often don’t have the bonus-conferring gates.

What’s interesting about the available Jobs is that they all feel very distinctive from one another, perhaps even more so than in earlier Final Fantasy installments that used a Job system. Some of them don’t even have an Attack ability, for example, which requires you to think more carefully about your strategy than simply hammering the X button until the enemy falls over.

Others have different length Active Time Battle bars — yes, the ATB system is back in Final Fantasy X-2 after a brief absence in – and others still have helpful passive abilities that assist either themselves or the whole party. By combining various sets of Dresspheres and the variations each character brings to each Job when they switch to it, there’s actually a large amount of character customization here — something that was, at times, a little lacking in Final Fantasy Xparticularly when playing with the default “Basic” Sphere Grid configuration that forced characters to develop in a mostly linear manner. (This problem was somewhat mitigated by the “Expert” Sphere Grid option that appeared in the International and PAL-region releases of Final Fantasy X, which started all characters in the middle of the grid and allowed players to develop them as they pleased.)

Aside from character development and a hugely fun battle system, Final Fantasy X-2 is also noteworthy for drifting away from the typically linear format of past Final Fantasy games. Rather than the “start at one end of the world map, run to the other end then zip around all over the place” approach of Final Fantasy XX-2 instead jumps straight to the “zip around all over the place” part by immediately providing the player with an airship and allowing them to visit anywhere in the game world from the outset.

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There’s a natural sequence of places to visit according to their difficulty level (which is explicitly stated), of course, but there’s nothing stopping you from going off-piste and exploring freely for a while. This new structure means that the game has a much more “non-linear” feel about it — there’s still an unfolding story with a beginning, middle and end, yes, but along the way there are a lot more smaller self-contained episodes, many of which feature recurring characters either from Final Fantasy X or created specifically for X-2. It’s impossible to see all of the game’s content in a single playthrough due to a fork in the plot partway through, though it is possible to get 100% storyline completion and see the “true” ending in one run.

Final Fantasy X-2 is much more obviously “JRPG” than the rather somber Final Fantasy X in that it’s colourful, flamboyant and distinctly more exaggerated about everything it does, but it certainly doesn’t suffer from its significantly more light-hearted tone throughout — and it still knows when to turn on the drama to keep things exciting.

Despite the fact that the game isn’t talked about all that much these days (by contrast, it was voted the 32nd best game of all time by readers of Famitsu in Japan [Editor’s Note: at the time of original writing]), to date it remains one of my favorite installments in the long-running franchise, and it’s well worth revisiting the remastered version for PS3, Vita and PS4.


This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2013 as part of the site’s regular Swords and Zippers column on JRPGs. It has been edited and republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

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One thought on “From the Archives: A Square Sequel”

  1. I’m probably one of the few who didn’t care too much for FFX but really liked FFX-2. Besides liking the flexible combat, I thought the story was a good change of pace from the-world-is-going-to-end, and it actually shows you the aftermath of what happens you when you do save the world. I feel like it’s an extended epilogue, and some games don’t even get a short one.

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