Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD remaster review.

Review by Louie Chudley 

setinstonegaming.com

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Introduction

As with any HD Remaster / remake I feel the way the game is approached by the player and what they expect truly depends on whether they played the original or not. Final Fantasy 10/10-2 HD Remaster is definitely no exception, so keep in mind that I am approaching this review as someone who played the originals.

In my early teen years I played these games to death, with more than one hundred hours clocked in for both, I can say with confidence that the wait for these HD ports was by no means a short one. With very little game footage shown outside of press events prior to the games release most fans, myself included didn’t really know what to expect.  Although a little frustrating, this for me was a welcome departure from the flood of prerelease information gamers have come to know today. It allowed me to once again feel that same enigmatic anticipation I did back in 2002. A nostalgic feeling more than fitting for HD ports of twelve and ten year games. Once I finally got my hands on the games, I felt like a kid again just itching to get pop them into my system.  But enough nostalgic rambling, I have a question to answer.

Does this High Definition coat of paint glorify cherished memories or does it make me want to get out the paint stripper? Let’s find out.

FFXHD Gameplay

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If any of you were worried about the gameplay mechanics undergoing massive changes fear not, save those uncertainties for remakes, because that’s not what these games are.  Both these titles stay true to their source material without the persuasion of contemporary change. Whilst that’s all well and good, it doesn’t mean that a few light changes wouldn’t have been welcomed. 

Battle system: 
Three playable characters are allowed in the battle party, yet at the single press of the L1/Left shoulder button the player can swap out the active character for any of the four characters in reserve.  This coupled with the command affected turn based system makes for a simple yet strategically driven combat system. 
Essentially characters and enemy turns are represented with face icons on the right of the screen. Depending on which commands the player chooses these turns can be reduced, multiplied and even detriment to enemy turns. However outside of boss battles tactical use of this element becomes rather redundant as most grunt enemies can be killed in a single hit. This is due to the enemy and character class/stat types. For example, by default the character Wakka has high agility and accuracy, which makes his attacks super effective against flying type enemies. Each character has one of these enemy type advantages from the very start of the game and vice versa. This can make for rather easy battles, however due to the sheer number of random encounters (Roughly every 10-15 steps) these quick battles soon become a gift as you find yourself quickly racking up experience.   

Much like the Trance and Limit brakes of previous Final Fantasy titles FF10 sports the customisable Over Drive system.  Each character has an Over Drive bar which will increase as the character receives damage (By Default). Once full they have access to a special attack vastly stronger than their regular commands.  Once specific combat conditions have been met, the player can change the requirements for a character’s Over Drive bar to increase.  This along with the ability to learn new Over Dive attacks is where the customisable element is introduced and later becomes quite beneficial to the player if used strategically.  

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Akin to Final Fantasy 9 & 6, Summons in this game are not only used in combat, but are a core part of the narrative.  I find that in Final Fantasy 10’s case, this connection helps to emphasise their relevance when used in combat.  For those who don’t know, a Summon is a powerful creature that the player can call upon to aide them in a fight. Once called the party is replaced with said creature which the player now controls. Back in the original release of the game being able to control the Summon was a first for Final Fantasy. Twelve Years later this still feels unique and fresh, along with having their own move sets and unique abilities, summons have never felt more fun and relevant in any other Final Fantasy. 

All these combat elements as fluent and fun as they are remain untouched and unchanged from the original 2002 release (Excluding visual and audio). This is not a bad thing by any means it’s just some minor additions would have been appreciated.   During many of the grunt combat sessions I found myself wishing for a way to breeze through them ASAP. Ports of previous Final Fantasy titles and other Square Enix games such as the recent master piece Bravely Defult introduced ‘Auto Battle’ mechanics, allowing the player to quickly finish battle sessions. This is particularly useful when you just want to get from A to B. Something like this would have been a very welcome addition to this HD Remaster, and I am left wondering why Square didn’t incorporate it. Especially considering a new mechanic was included called ‘Quick mode’. During battle you can change the setting on the fly as to whether you wish to have the long or short Aeon (Summon) animations. This same mechanic is utilised outside of combat for ‘Quick Healing’ your party with either items or magic. This was an awesome idea, so it just baffles me more why there was no auto battle.

Character growth:

Final Fantasy 10 HD swaps the more traditional JRPG levelling system for a skill tree type mechanic. After combat, participating characters will earn ability points (AP) these points are used to traverse a shared Skill Tree called the Sphere Grid. Doing this will develop each of the character’s stats and teach them new abilities.
It sounds simple and it is, however to unlock these new attributes the player must use the necessary item. These items are known as Spheres and they, although not limited to, are also obtained by defeating enemies. The sphere needed depends on the attribute or ability, for example an increase in Health (HP) requires a Power Sphere.   As the Player advances through the sphere grid they will eventually reach the end of a character’s specific section. When this happens they can then gain access to a different character’s part of the grid. This essentially allows every character to learn all abilities. 
Some players might find this diminishes the character’s uniqueness and necessity in combat and they would be right to question. However I believe by the time you develop your characters to this point the narrative of the game is nearing an end. So this element of character development ends up being a metaphorical check list for the completionists among us. Which is handled in a way that I find makes the grind fun, whilst simultaneously delivering customisable character growth. 
Although we in the UK are familiar with it, players in the US are not, what I am talking about is the Expert Sphere Grid.  Added in with this HD port the Expert Sphere Grid sees a complete rearrangement of all the unlockable attributes and abilities featured in the standard Grid. This essentially acts as the game’s Hard Mode as the switch around creates a lack of abilities the game would recommend the character’s know at specific points. This forces the player to rethink their strategies during combat, especially boss battles.   

Linking in with character growth is the weapon & armour system. Each character is limited to a specific type of weapon & armour and most will come with some kind of stat boost or status effect added to them.  About one quarter into the main story the player will gain the ability to customise their arsenal allowing them to upgrade their characters strengths and in some cases completely change the dynamic of battle. This is a very simple mechanic that gives the player the freedom to customise their own battle style whilst retaining the games scripted character archetypes.   

Side Quests: 
Side Quests in this game amount to little more than a tedious and frustrating collectathon. Without giving any spoilers, this game tempts the player into the completing the side quests with important and/or desirable items hidden behind them. That’s normal for an RPG; however the quests themselves mostly consist of frustratingly difficult mini games with deliberately broken controls. Of course a good challenge in a game is what we want but when that challenge comes from broken control it is far from fun.  
One side quest finds the player controlling a Chocobo (Large bird) the player must race another Chocobo whilst collecting balloons and dogging flying obstacles.  Sounds simple enough and it is, unless the player wants the aforementioned desirable item.  
What makes this not fun are as follows, fun being the key word because that what all games should be:  
The Chocobo itself is deliberately programed to be difficult to control, because the idea is that your character is training a wild animal. The locations of the balloons you need to collect are randomly generated, so collecting them is completely based on luck. The obstacles you must avoid sometimes hit the player in chains because there is no character recovery time. There are invisible walls that, if you hit you’re sent in the complete opposite direction.  The camera is a fixed view that instead of following the player, the player must awkwardly follow it. As the camera pans from one angle/position to the next the player is required to movie the analogue stick in the same direction, if they don’t the character will be forced in the wrong direction.
 I found the camera to be a problem throughout the entire game not just in Side Quests  and had hoped it was something Square Enix would have fixed for this Remaster. Back when the original game was released this type of camera was normal and commonly used in RPG games, however since then players have grown accustomed to much more user friendly camera controls.  Not every Side Quest is like this and the ones that aren’t are really fun, but there are enough bad ones to wildly frustrate and even put off many players from doing them. Luckily the only Side Quests that affect the story, I found to be among the fun ones. (Ones that mostly focus on combat)

 

 

FFXHD  Story

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Spoiler Free!

The story of Final Fantasy 10 HD is at its core well designed and well written. The narrative doesn’t try to flood the player with convoluted plot points and backstory. It accomplishes this by utilizing a technique called external analepsis. Essentially this means that from the start of the game to a certain point, the narrative the player is engaged with is a flashback narrated by the main character. This allows a large majority of the story to be told through the perspective of a character the players are supposed to empathise with.  Once the story gets to the point when the characters are in real time, the players have grown to understand and relate to the characters and their plight. Whilst at the same time, this reflection of the past is supposed to have acted as the character’s resolve to keep moving forward.  This emotional connection with the player is what makes Final Fantasy 10 HD’s narrative so engaging. The characters are connected with each other in a way that never gets stale, because as they journey together they change and grow as people, even changing the entire architecture of their beliefs.  Some might argue that this kind of story telling belongs in a movie and not a video game, but that’s where final fantasy 10 HDs narrative excels. The world, its lore and everything the player comes to engaged themselves with, is so well realised as an interactive experience that a video game is the only way this story can be told.  Yes now and then there will be some cheesy lines and cringe worthy moments, but they’re never enough to brake the immersion.

Presentation

Final Fantasy 10HD’s presentation is where it should truly shine most as a high definition remaster and is some ways it does, but over all I expected more. 
As a whole the game is very stunning and beautiful in High Def, but that never stopped me from noticing its PS2 origins. Some of the character models were completely redone and the textures popped with pattern and colour, but the NPC’s which you see in full motion cut scenes looked flat, with bled and pixelated textures.  The music was better than ever with over 60 tracks completely remastered. The original had an amazing sound track to begin with so hearing some of the most iconic scores in a remastered state was a real luxury.  The frame rate was always smooth with very little slow down and the antialiasing was top-notch, giving the game a super sleek finish.  The parts that stood out the most for me were the pre-rendered environments and GUI. It was a real pleasure being able to notice every detail and it really helped to pull me into the game’s world. Though the redesigned UI was the icing on the cake, it looked clean and modern whilst staying true to the original. The inclusion of the short FMV eternal calm is a nice bonus but nothing more, as an interlude between FF10 & 10-2 it really doesn’t add anything to the story. And the bonus audio drama supposed to act as an epilogue to FF10-2 is just odd and better ignored.

FF10HD Overall Verdict

Final Fantasy 10 is a fantastic role playing game with so many innovative and old school elements combined that make for a truly immersive gaming experience. Final Fantasy 10 HD is not much more than a nice treat. The High definition visuals and audio really help the original game stand out, but it doesn’t do much more than that. Additions like a player controlled camera, the option to skip cut scenes, auto battle mechanics and tweaked controls seem to have been completely ignored.  I know it’s not a Remake, but I feel these small revisions would have been right at home in a Remaster. And I know retexturing minor NPCs is asking a bit much of the developers, but when they’re in cut scenes the old PS2 textures look really out of place.

Over all this is the definitive version of Final Fantasy 10, so if you’re a first timer or simply want to revisit an old favorite, Final Fantasy 10 HD Remaster is the one to play. I just feel there were some missed opportunities in this port that could have added to the awesome experience that is Final Fantasy 10.  

Score 8/10

 

FFX-2HD Gameplay

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Battle system:

Final Fantasy 10-2 HD is wildly different to its predecessor in so many ways and the most evident is the combat system. Gone are Summons, Over Drives, and turn based commands. In their place we see the return of Final Fantasy series trade mark ‘Active Time Battle’ (ATB) system and a reimagining of the famous job system.

During combat each of the three available characters will be able to perform commands once their individual ATB bars have filled up. The time it requires to fill and for the command to be performed depends on that characters previous action. E.g. A powerful spell would take longer to perform than a regular attack and would cause that character’s ATB bar to grown in length, making it take more time to fill for their next turn.  As enemies are also subject to this mechanic, (Though the player cannot see enemy ATB) this makes for some rather intense and fast passed battles. Slightly different to previous ATB systems in the series, this new take is a welcome change. Keep in mind though, if you are coming straight from FF10 HD the drastic change in pacing can be a bit overwhelming. 

Noticeably the game’s most prominent mechanic; the aforementioned re-worked job system is what gives the combat its unique and dynamic edge.  Throughout the game players will collect a vast number of items called Dress Spheres. Each one of these unlocks a new class type that all three characters can use to completely change their command sets, appearance and even stats. The difference between this and a regular job system is that each character can switch to a different Dress Sphere both inside and outside of combat at the simple press of a button.  This allows for the player to approach battles in their own manner and really make what would have been a boring grind, something fun and unique. Collecting all the Dress Spheres is a big part of the core game and side quests as well as the items that let you use them.  That’s right, using Dress Spheres isn’t as simple as just finding them. They must be equipped into items known as Garment Grids, These generally consist of three or more slots for Dress Spheres to be placed into. During combat, Garment Grids function as a rotation wheel of sorts, where the player will switch from one Dress Sphere to the next along a pre-determined path. Depending on which slots the player places the Dress Spheres; certain ones can gain added abilities and attributes. This varies from grid to grid and the game is full of them. Collecting many and trying out different combinations really adds to the already vastly player style driven combat. 

Garment Grids do replace the versatile weapons and amour system from FF10. However each character can equip two accessories, so this really isn’t an issue and makes sense considering the way Dress spheres work.  Some players might be turned off by the lack of playable characters in this game, but given the amount of changeable Job types I really didn’t find this to be an issue at all. In fact this version added a new mechanic called Creature Capture, as this is a remaster of the originally Japanese only International PS2 release. Assessable from the very start of the game, players have the ability to capture enemies and other originally NPCs and use them in combat. Placing one of them into your party requires that another member be removed, sometimes more than one depending on the creature’s size. Although it’s an appealing idea, this mechanic felt tacked on and out of place. Instead of adding more depth to the combat system its poor integration rendered it unnecessary. The flood of extra playable characters along with their lack of Dress Sphere animations made the mechanic feel separate to the original combat system and as a result turned me off using it. Thankfully this function is completely optional. It is also worth noting that summons are not available in this game. As their replacement, each of the three main characters can acquire a Dress Sphere unique to them that has extra powerful abilities.  Whilst they are most certainly cool to use the first time, I found myself rarely if at all using them again.

Character Growth:

Final Fantasy 10-2 HD does away with the well-executed Sphere Grid from the previous game. In its stead we see the return of the classic leveling and EXP system. I agree with this decision as developing your characters through the Sphere Grid, in addition to managing Dress Spheres and Garment Grids would have been overwhelming and possibly confusing. The Level Up system has always worked in previous titles and it certainly doesn’t falter here.  
However the Sphere Grid was a solid system and I feel it was a missed opportunity not incorporate elements of it into the Garment Grid mechanic, due to their aesthetic similarities.  Moreover Garment Grids don’t develop; the player simply swaps them out when they obtain better ones. I felt if the player could enhance their grids by utilizing Sphere Grid’s design, this would have been a valuable addition to the games customizable nature. Although this would have been a nice inclusion for the remaster, it’s by no means necessary so I won’t penalize the game for not doing so. 
As for the growth of each Dress Spheres, new abilities and boosts in starts are granted with continued use of that particular Dress Sphere. However it is the character that gains these advancements not the sphere itself.  So if a different character uses the same sphere, unless they have already been using it regularly, they won’t be as strong or know the same commands.  This is fine and the game’s fun is not compromised because of this. But I believe that if the Dress Spheres developed regardless of the character using it, the new Creature Capture system might have felt more natural and assessable. 

Side Quests:

The majority of Final Fantasy 10-2HDs gameplay consists of Side Quests and the main game can be finished very quickly if they are ignored. As soon as the Introduction mission has been completed the player has free rein to traverse the world map’s various locations. Quests marked with ‘Hot Spot’ are part of the main story, but if you chose a location unmarked, it more than often has a mission or two to complete. Finishing all of these missions can easily add another 20-30 hours of playtime and most of them are pretty fun. Dress Spheres, Garment Grids, Accessories and other items are more often than not the rewards for finishing a mission, so it’s well worth doing them all. The downfall of the side quests is also the same problem that the game as a whole faces. If a player wishes to get a 100% completion rating for the game, all quests including the main ones must be completed in specific orders. Not only that, very small and extremely missable details, which add to the total percentage must be accomplished during these missions. This means unless you don’t care for a 100% completion, you are pretty much required to follow a game guide.  Admittedly not everyone, but many players don’t enjoying following guides for various reasons. I don’t enjoy using them because I feel it breaks the immersion. Having to flip through pages in a big book or reading a walkthrough online every 5 minutes, just so I can make sure I’m doing the correct things to get 100%. That’s not what I consider user friendly game design.  Don’t get me wrong Final Fantasy 10-2HD does a good job of making its quest fun and engaging, but therein lays the problem. If I have to take myself away from that experience, just so I can read something to make sure I don’t miss a small detail or pick the wrong option. That’s counterintuitive, something a game should never be.

Another addition brought to this HD port from the Japanese International PS2 release is the optional ‘Last Mission’. Played in the style of ‘Rougelike’ dungeon crawler, akin to those of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series. Last mission sees the player commanding one character of their choosing through an eighty storey tower.  Although it’s always nice to have something extra, Last Mission feels foreign to the rest of the game. Whilst playing through it, I was mildly entertained at best and couldn’t stop questioning why they chose to change the game’s play-style. Why not give the players an eighty floor dungeon that sticks with the combat system they have been using throughout the entire game? Give them a reason to keep grinding their characters post game. It just didn’t make sense to me and felt like something that should have been an IOS/Android game.

FFX-2HD  Story

Spoiler Free!

Although it is certainly not bad, the narrative of Final Fantasy 10-2HD doesn’t even come close to the magnum opus that was its older brother. Staring two of the characters from the previous game and one new comer, the story centres on them following a trail of lost and ancient video recordings. These recordings (Spheres) uncover the existence of a weapon of mass destruction and a man that tried to use it to save his lost love. Thrown into the mix are the political rivalries of contemporary activists and a powerful religion determined to hide its corrupt past.  Discovering that this weapon still exists and could very well fall into the wrong hands, it’s up to you to destroy it.  
Although it’s an overused format, this narrative is executed in a way that leaves a fresh taste in the player’s mouth. For me, this was because the story is used as a foundation to show the players of the first game how the main character has grown and changed. However this does result in some shallow dialog and cheesy character motivations. Take it with a pinch of salt and you will find the story of Final Fantasy 10-2HD to be quite endearing and fun. 

Presentation

Given that the original PS2 release introduced more realistic facial animations and crisper textures over the first game. This high definition paint job looks really nice, more so than FF10HD. There is no remastered audio here, but given the quality of the original tracks that’s nothing to get upset about. The game runs smoothly with no noticeable frame rate issues. Sometimes characters would take a few seconds to load into a combat environment, but it’s never really an issue. I do however remember this happening in the original PS2 release, so it would have been nice to have had the game a bit more optimised for the Remaster.  All the nice touches from the first game’s port such as the sharp detail in environment renders and clean antialiasing are also present here.  The camera form FF10HD is sadly in this release too, however it doesn’t pose as big of an issue due to improved controls. The GUI is not changed from the original PS2 game, it is sharped but the layout and colour schemes are the same. This isn’t a bad thing; it just would have been nice to see something new as they did with FF10HD. However there is the small addition of character face icons changing depending on the equipped Dress Sphere. A small change, but a welcome one that added to the excitement of obtaining new Dress Spheres.  Overall the presentation of the game is lush and fits right at home on the PS3 and Vita.

FF10-2HD Overall Verdict

Final Fantasy 10-2HD is a good looking and fun game with addictive combat and a reasonably entertaining story. I found most of game’s issues to be with features from the Japanese PS2 release feeling out of place to the rest of the game. There is the issue of requiring a guide if you wish to get 100% completion and that for me is a big issue. But the game’s core experience is fun enough to make using a guide worth it. I would still prefer not to need one though. As far as a remaseter goes, I felt like this game brought more new content to the table than the first game.  It’s just that content wasn’t particularly interesting. Even though the story is weaker in this game, it still requires you to have played FF10HD to get the most out of it. If I was to compare the two games I would say FF10HD is a stronger game with a more engaging narrative, but FF10-2HD has an addictive and fresh approach to combat that shouldn’t be passed up.

Score 7/10

 

Overall Recommendation

Both games are the definitive versions of classic PS2 games. A must have for any Final Fantasy/ RPG fan. If you’re new to Final Fantasy or RPGs in general these games are a good place to start as they have enough content and originality to do the genre justice.  

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