It is fair to say that Final Fantasy X probably wasn’t at the top of many a makeover wishlist, but you have to be realistic: with their old-school character models and hand-drawn locales, the likes of VII, VIII, or the underrated IX, would require not just a high-def lick of paint, but an all-in remake. With nothing of the sort on the cards any time soon, Squeenix have instead decided to focus their attention to the very first fully-3D Final Fantasy.
For all its flaws, X was and still is a very enjoyable RPG, a landmark entry in the series that changed FF conventions forever – for better or worse. It still had airships and Marlboros and Phoenix Downs, but it also had a forward-thinking combat system and fancy new Sphere Grid levelling system. It made fully explorable environments and hammy voice acting the standard. The opportunity to revisit the South East Asian-flavoured Besaid Island and other stunning corners of Spira – in full HD, no less – is a welcome throwback to 2001, especially as this is the first time many Westerners will have had the opportunity to sample the extra content of the International version of the game. Throw in the oddball sequel, X-2 (a probably unnecessary yet pleasingly completist touch) and you have an intriguing package on your hands.
Sometimes, it takes a direct comparison between new and old to see the full benefits of an HD re-work. Not so here. Aesthetically, Virtuos Games have done a splendid job, switching everything into 16:9 widescreen, completely remodelling some of the characters, improving textures and lighting, and even painstakingly re-drawing the pre-rendered backgrounds so that they mesh with the new models. Some of the glitches and dodgy animations remain, but overall this is a fine looking tribute to one of the best moments on the PS2. The music has also been given some love and attention, and Uematsu-san’s tremendous score is embellished with booming new orchestration, new piano flourishes and remixed tracks.
Final Fantasy X has at its core an enjoyable, appealing combat system. Returning to classic turn-based combat reminiscent of the pre-Active Time Battle days, there is something to be said for the charm of slower-paced scraps that allow you to process and execute your moves tactically in old-school fashion. Switching characters from your party during fights, the powerful Overdrive attacks and the excellent summons that you eventually unlock add to the fun; this time around your aeons remain in place until either the end of the battle or until they are dispatched, and come complete with their own stats and special attacks. The oft-imitated Sphere Grid system allows you to choose how your characters pan out over the course of the game by spending battle-earned points to move around a grid and unlock new stat boosts and abilities.
Traversing Spira by airship, monster hunting, completing side quests and playing Blitzball are all fun diversions, and there are many hours of gameplay here if you want them. There are also a huge number of unskippable cutscenes that progress the story, which is a real mixed bag veering between high melodrama, goofy comedy and genuinely touching moments. Playing using the English voice actors serves to show how clunky the script is, and doesn’t help in endearing you to some of the characters – particularly lunk-headed Blitzball jock Tidus. An early meeting between the spiky haired hero and sensitive magic type Yuna is a fine example of this, as he delivers lines like “My old man, he died” with all the panache of Keanu Reeves in Point Break.
But hey – you don’t enter into a retro FF title expecting Oscar-winning scripting and logical storylines. Even the lauded VII had some woeful writing going on. And like so many of Squaresoft’s creations, there are some terrific characters involved – from the likeable Wakka (played by the guy who voiced Bender in Futurama and Marcus Fenix, no less!) to the splendidly evil Seymour Guado, a treacherous purple horror with arborious limbs and a fine sideline in patricide.
As sequels go, Final Fantasy X-2 is one of the more controversial in recent memory – placing the female heroes from the Sin-battling party two years previous in their own adventure, which abandons the conventional feel of the preceding game, allowing full exploration of the world map from the get-go and a mission-based structure. The combat returns to a variation of the Active Time Battle system, and the Sphere Grid is replaced with class selection – something that harks back to the days of Final Fantasy III. The choice of class is linked to clothing: you choose a Dress Sphere which can be customised thanks to the awkwardly named Garment Grid, and can effectively change outfits – and therefore class – during battle. The whole “girls dressing up” thing and overall Charlie’s Angels vibe was criticised in some quarters around the time of release, and can seem a bit silly at times.
There is certainly a lot more going on than meets the eye – with a deep plot full of political intrigue that nods reverentially to FFX. The peppiness and decision to substitute a proper Uematsu soundtrack with a load of J-Pop nonsense was a poor one. There are still huge cutscenes, which in this day and age should really be avoidable should you not wish to sit through them.
VERDICT: It is sad that apart from the cracking XII (remake that as well please!), Square Enix seem to have lost their way a bit with their beloved franchise. One half of this excellent HD remake, and the success of other recent JRPGs like Bravely Default and Ni No Kuni, shows that when done properly, the Japanese role player is still a genre with a lot to give. With a PS Vita port offering the same gloss with some touch screen add-ons, there has never been a better time to sample the last truly excellent old-school Final Fantasy. By no means as bad as people make out, X-2 is a strange but worthy inclusion, but it is likely to be the story of young Tidus that leaves a lasting impression.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.