Get it? Dressed to the nines? ‘Cos… ‘cos you can change your outfit in this game, and IX is also a… number of a game in… the series… you know what, it’s hard to come up with titles, so don’t judge me.
Final Fantasy X-2 is the first game in the earth-shatteringly popular franchise to be a real, proper sequel to one of the earlier numbered entries, and that’s one of the reasons that it’s really rather peculiar that X-2 was in fact the first game in the Final Fantasy series I ever played. On the other hand, I loved Kingdom Hearts and really wanted to experience more of FF, and of JRPGs in general, and I was a just-turned-teenager to boot, so perhaps it’s not that surprising that I ended up going for the FF game that a) had been released fairly recently at the time, but long enough ago that I could afford it, and b) featured as its protagonists a trio of girls with a selection of different outfits.
For those not in the know, several Final Fantasy games feature variations on a ‘class’ or ‘job’ system, allowing different members of the party to take on different roles in battle with varying abilities and stats. In some cases, characters are locked to the job they start as; in others, the player can decide which class to assign to a character, or even change it mid-game. X-2 takes this system and turns it into something which one man would probably call trite, pointless fanservice, and another man would probably call beautiful, innovative… fanservice. The ‘dressphere’ system, you see, allows you to change the class of each of the three protagonists even in the midst of battle, and doing so just so happens to also change the clothes they’re wearing. (There’s even a slightly magical-girl-esque transformation sequence, which must have been unbearably exciting for Teenage Me.) If you can believe it, though, the dresspheres actually have a fair bit of plot relevance – even in the very first scene, a minor villain uses one to disguise herself as main character Yuna (or, suffice to spoil, someone who looked very much like Yuna…), and the theme of things, or people, resembling others is actually quite a prominent one throughout the story.
Let’s quickly touch on the plot, while we’re here. (Spoilers, in case you hadn’t realised.) Basically, in X, Yuna helped Tidus (who turned out to be a ghost) defeat a giant space whale, then Tidus drifted off to be a ghost and Yuna just sort of went to get on with life sans ghost boyfriend and/ or space whale. Cut to a couple of years down the line, and Rikku – a party member, if one of the less prominent ones, in X, and now wearing significantly less clothing – shows up with a recording of someone who looks an awful lot like Tidus; understandably, Yuna’s kind of freaked out, so they decide to go on another adventure.
It’s interesting to me (now, although obviously the first time I played X-2 I had no idea what had gone on in X) how this game, as the first true sequel of its series, deals with the aftermath of its predecessor: in X, primary antagonist Sin was this enormous evil presence that the entire world was constantly aware of – I mean, it was a giant space whale, so it was hard not to be aware of – and the protagonists had largely devoted their lives to defeating it. Come X-2, and (as far as everyone knows), Sin’s been vanquished, leaving Yuna presumably feeling a little bit lost as to what her purpose is supposed to be now and the rest of the world trying to work out how to exist without one of its biggest constants, even if that constant was terrifying and world-threatening. Part of Yuna’s motivation as a character to go on this new adventure is a sense of wanting to reinvent herself, to rediscover who she is and what she’s capable of – it can’t be easy adjusting to peace when all you’ve known is endless threat, all you’ve worked for a seemingly hopeless quest to defeat an impossible foe – and her new mission takes her back to several of the same old places she visited in X, only to find that they’re not really the same old places any more. Without the looming terror of Sin, people have been able to get on with trying to find purposes of their own, leading to two major religions expanding and becoming a lot more angry about each other’s existence, while technological development has accelerated in a way that might well not be particularly desirable in the long run.
I think X-2 feels as if it’s thought hard about the consequences of what happened in X, more thoroughly than some of the material post-VII or XIII would end up doing; it’s impressive, given the self-contained story told in X, that the writers were able to come up with such a believable continuation. That said, the main story of X-2 is… probably not as strong as that of X; after finishing X-2, I felt that I’d had a good time, but was a bit underwhelmed by the overall plot. The strength of it, I think now, is in how it draws its context from X while giving that story further context of its own, continuing the characters’ stories and growth in a way that really doesn’t feel like a spin-off or even a follow-up so much as a second half of the same tale.
For all the good things I think about X-2 as a really good… I don’t want to call it a sequel, because I really do feel more as if it’s just another chapter in the same story, so let’s call it a notquel, to X, there is one connection it tries to make that I… don’t really know why it tried to make, to be honest. It’s not even a connection to X, for that matter, but to VII of all things. See, there’s a very minor character called Shinra in X-2, and the official Ultimania word on what happened to him is that he ended up doing research that led to Mako extraction becoming a thing as we see it in VII, lending his name to the Shinra Electric Power Company; presumably, the Shinra family who run the corporation by the time of VII bear X-2‘s Shinra’s name due to being descended from him, or something. It’s kind of a cool trivia bit, I guess, but it leads to all sorts of cans of worms about how the worlds of the two games are supposed to be connected (I think the idea was that Shinra’s descendants eventually left the world of X-2 and travelled to VII‘s once space travel became a thing), and I just don’t feel like it needed to be there.
X-2, then, was a game that realised that it had to deliver on being the first Final Fantasy to really, truly, properly make the ‘Final‘ part of the franchise’s name seem dumb as heck, and I do think it lived up to that. It’s not without its flaws, though – or perhaps I should say ‘things to criticise’, since these are all subjective things. Certainly, the whiplash in mood from X‘s epic, slightly depressing journey to a J-poppy game about a coupla chirpy chicks (at least on the surface; X-2 can get emotional just as much as its predecessor at times) has attracted some mixed reactions, as has the fact that it looks pretty much just as good as X and no better. Plus, it’s the first game not to have Uematsu on music, which is… sad, but actually I don’t think the OST is half bad. It fits with the overall aesthetic of the game, at any rate, and I think cohesion between all of a game’s elements is something that’s perhaps a bit underrated from time to time.
If nothing else, I can say that X-2 drew me in enough that I kept playing Final Fantasy. It showed me a hint of what FF games are, and indeed JRPGs in general, and I still think that it’s a game with its own distinct identity – yes, even though I also think of it as part of X – and one that I’d actually really like to play again. I should probably pick up the X and X-2 remaster, really. My inner teenager is wondering how those transformation scenes look in HD, and the rest of me is sighing in exasperation at the sheer adolescence of that thought; mostly, I just think it’s a story worth experiencing, and the fact that I played it before I’d played any other Final Fantasy game speaks to that. It can stand on its own, and it sure as hell can stand as a successor to X.
This post was part of the Final Fantasy Crystal Compendium, a community event orchestrated by the Well-Red Mage. A bunch of awesome people got together to write articles on every main FF game, and you can read all about it here!