Final Fantasy X was a milestone for the franchise and set the tone for a lot of what would be associated with Final Fantasy afterward. It introduced voice acting and was the first Final Fantasy to forgo a world map in favor of interconnected areas, which FF XII and FF XIII would later adopt. It was also the most cut scene-heavy Final Fantasy to date and set the franchise down that path. Final Fantasy X has remained one of the more popular games in the franchise since its release, especially in its home country of Japan, and that made it a pretty natural choice for an HD re-release. The Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster represents the ideal way to play the game. It includes both Final Fantasy X and its sequel, Final Fantasy X-2, as well as the previously overseas-only international content for both games.
The first of the two games in the collection, Final Fantasy X, is a substantial upgrade from the original game in a number of ways. You start with an Expert Sphere Grid, which offers more freedom than the original's Grid but fewer spaces to level. There are also a number of minor changes to the weapons and armor, and there are a handful of new combat abilities and skills. The most significant change is the addition of a huge number of optional superbosses. There is a "Dark" version of each Aeon in the game, a reference to an event that occurs in Final Fantasy X-2, and there's a new powerful superboss known as Penance.
For the most part, these changes are for the better. The new abilities are nothing significant but can ease some of the minor frustrations by making enemies drop Spheres for the Sphere Grid. The optional superbosses are fun to fight, but a few of them are poorly placed. For example, there is one located at the entrance to Besaid Village. If you don't collect certain items before you leave for the first time, it spawns and makes it impossible to collect the items until much later in the game. Beyond these upgrades, little has been added to the game, and many of the new features take a while to be appreciated, so North American fans of Final Fantasy X will see a lot familiar content before they see anything new.
On the other hand, Final Fantasy X-2 has a number of new features. There are new items, Garment Grids, and additional dress spheres that weren't in the original version of the game. The most significant addition is a new system that allows you to capture and train any monster and use it in battle. These monsters including cameos and references from the previous game, and you can use characters like Auron, Jecht and Tidus, as well as other NPCs, although they're all simple when compared to the three main girls. There are also new optional bosses, including two who represent the most difficult challenges in a Final Fantasy title.
The coolest addition is Last Mission, which is actually a sequel to the main game. After the events of Final Fantasy X-2, the Gullwings reunite to investigate a mysterious tower. Inside this tower, the gameplay changes from a turn-based JRPG to a Shiren the Wanderer roguelike-style game. You play as any one of the three girls and investigate the tower by using a grid-based movement system. You and the enemies move at the same time, and defeating your foes involves careful planning to ensure you aren't overwhelmed and defeated. The dungeon is full of traps and danger, and being defeated returns you to the start of the dungeon, but that should be familiar to fans of roguelikes.
The Dress Sphere system from Final Fantasy X-2 also returns. Players can find spheres scattered around the dungeon and equip them on the characters. The spheres unlock special abilities and spells, and they grant the character higher stats. You can even layer the dresses to improve the effect, although you gain fewer abilities for a layered dress than you do a base dress. The trick is that dresses also represent your HP. If a dress is damaged too much, it will be destroyed, and you lose access to all of the abilities and the HP boost. Lose all your dresses, and you're reduced to the Freelancer class, who is extremely weak and easily killed. The idea in Last Mission is to keep your Dress Spheres intact and use their abilities to kill enemies.
Last Mission controls a little awkwardly and is rather simplistic. There's little complexity to the mechanics, and it's pretty easy for a roguelike. It's also lacking the more dire features of Shiren clones. Starving to death and being carted off by the wind are nonissues in most areas, so you can take your time and kill enemies from a distance while you're wearing the gunner dress. It's a fun addition to the game and a welcome bit of variety to extend the storyline of the original game.
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster also includes two plot-only extended cut scenes. One is Eternal Calm, which is set between Final Fantasy X and X-2. This was originally included with Final Fantasy X International and sets up the major character changes between the two games. The other is the entirely new Will. This event plays over the credits of the game and introduces several new characters and plot events. There isn't much I can say without spoiling it for fans, but it appears to be setting up for a Final Fantasy X-3. Of all the additions to the game, this is the one I expect Final Fantasy fans will look upon with the most trepidation. It will devalue or weaken events that occurred in the first two games in the series, and if the sequel never materializes, the plot twists will never be resolved.
In addition to the international edition features, Final Fantasy X/X2 HD Remaster features HD visuals. Square Enix went all out and redid the character models for almost every major character in the game in addition to improving the textures on a number of NPCs and environments. The characters look a lot better than their original counterparts, and it certainly improves the game's visuals on an HD television. The difference between the original Final Fantasy X and the HD version is pretty stunning, but there are some downsides. Some of the new character models look a little odd, especially when compared to the NPCs. Final Fantasy X always had a small problem with the main characters and NPCs being extremely different in model quality, but the HD Remaster amplifies that. Any scene where NPCs are standing in the same shot as Tidus and friends looks pretty awkward. Some of the facial animations also looked a little less expressive when compared to the original version.
Perhaps most frustrating is that the games, by and large, are untouched aside from the visual updates. There's a load of new content to be found, but most of the new content already existed in the international versions of both games. There are many minor changes that could (and should) have been made to the game but were not. For example, Final Fantasy X still lacks a "skip cut scene" option, which can be incredibly aggravating if you need to replay an area or simply aren't interested in watching a 15-minute cut scene with slightly improved visuals. Final Fantasy X-2 still has several very annoying requirements to get the 100% ending. There are a lot of little UI tweaks and changes that could've been made for a better experience. Considering Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD went out of its way to make minor modifications to help the dated Kingdom Hearts 1 play better, it's frustrating that Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster couldn't do the same. There are also noticeable loading times, which are slightly more substantial than the ones in the PS2 version. They don't ruin the game, but they stand out.
The audio has also had some touch-ups. Many of the songs have been adjusted or remixed — some for better, and some for the worse. I'm mostly neutral on this change after hearing the songs side by side. Some are improvements, and others sound off. There's also some new voice acting, such as for Will, which sounds OK. (Fans will be amused to learn that by the era of Will, people have finally started calling Tidus by his name instead of "you" or "that guy.") The voice acting is a mixed bag. The Final Fantasy X voice acting that tries to match the PS2-era lipflap is awkward. It gets better when characters don't do that, so Will, which is audio-only and released a decade after the original game, is probably the best-acted thing in the collection.
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster is easily the best available version of the two games. Some nagging flaws, like inconsistent HD visuals and extra loading times, do little to detract from the overall quality of the experience. If you were a fan of either game, this is the collection for you. With an incredible amount of content packed between two games and the additional features and bonus videos, it's the ultimate package for any Final Fantasy X fan. It's unlikely to change your mind if you didn't enjoy the game in its previous form because few of the flaws have been fixed, and at its core, it's the same game that came out for the PS2, just prettier. It's still a great purchase for fans or those who have somehow missed the Final Fantasy X games until now.
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