Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster Review
Hey, I remember this! This is Final Fantasy. This is a series I’ve often called “the greatest franchise in video game history.” It’s the series that first got me involved in role-playing and for years, continually delivered. And when I say that, I don’t mean it was always good; there are lots of franchises that are always “good.” No, for a while there, every single entry was epic and memorable; each set a new high watermark for the role-playing genre. And now, looking back, I’m reminded of the singular greatness that was once synonymous with Final Fantasy.
Graphically, let’s just state the obvious up front: Beautiful new high-definition visuals can’t hide the fact that yes, these are PS2 games. While this is a worthy HD upgrade on all fronts, and adds a wonderful luster to our deeply entrenched memories, the developers didn’t recreate the entire game from scratch. As such, the world and character detail can’t be compared to modern-day productions. That’s plain. Even so, given the shift in this industry to more Western-themed styles, it’s kinda like culture shock to retrace our steps to a time when Japanese influences ruled. And you now, it’s refreshing. It’s just a different form of fantastical imagery.
They didn’t redraw all the character and world designs, and they also didn’t recast and re-record the voice performances. Hence, we’re left with the amateurish voice acting that was, at one time, considered top-tier. It was during a time when acting was just coming to prominence in the gaming industry, so you didn’t find many veteran professionals in the field. I say it contributes to the charm of the game, but not everyone will see it that way. Beyond that, you can’t deny the quality of the soundtrack, which is just plain gorgeous. Still not a fan of J-Pop, but that’s hardly the only type of music in FFX-2, a fact which shouldn’t be ignored.
Do you know what struck me during my first few hours playing FFX HD? It wasn’t that turn-based combat should never have died, and should never be labeled “outdated.” And I wasn’t walking around going, “oh, I remember this!” because in point of fact, I don’t remember much of it, having played through it over 12 years ago. No, what struck me surprised me: The pacing. I never realized just how much faster gaming – and indeed, all forms of entertainment – has become. Over the years, developers have felt the need to bombard us with constant stimuli so as not to lose our attention. By most modern standards, these old games are…slow.
And I love it. I love that a camera isn’t changing its viewpoint every two seconds. I love that some special effect isn’t constantly assaulting the screen. I love that we can sit and watch a dialogue sequence without having to press a button, without being distracted by a dozen different things happening in the background. I love that the designers capture this sweeping, epic adventure in broad strokes rather than short, snappy, in-your-face blasts of visceral imagery. The best part is that these games are actually full of unbelievable scenes, replete with memorable drama and emotion, along with some of the most wondrous, awe-inspiring locales ever seen in games.
It’s just the presentation style that’s different. Thankfully. I finally remembered what it was like to become immersed in an adventure that didn’t constantly require my input; I’d forgotten the roller-coaster ride you take when you’re experiencing a fully fleshed-out storyline. Not a storyline that you can change, not a story that’s told through pieces of scattered documents that you may or may not find, and may or may not read in a gigantic world that doesn’t feel tied together by a main plot thread. No, this is a plot written and completed and I’m along for the ride. You can’t skip the cut-scenes? Good. Doing so completely defeats the purpose of taking this ride.
That all being said, I guess I have to agree with the points other critics are making. Several are saying that unskippable cut-scenes are a bad thing and to some extent, I understand that sentiment. After all, if you’re going to introduce a new generation to these old games, you have to make some concessions. Per my pacing comments above, I imagine some younger gamers will just flip out or have some sort of attack because a cut-scene lasts – ‘gasp’ – a few minutes. And if you gave them the opportunity to skip it, they might become more interested in the gameplay, which would in turn make them more interested in the surrounding story.
So yes, I do get that. At the same time, I seriously doubt there are many who bought this package to experiment. This is fanservice, pure and simple. When analyzed properly as the fanservice it is, it’s difficult to find any problems, because these are precisely the experiences we all loved back in the day. However, I will say that given the amount of time it took to produce these HD Remasters, I would’ve expected a bit more in the way of extra content. It’s great that we basically get the International version of FFX (which wasn’t available in North America) but there isn’t much beyond that. For comparison purposes, there are other HD collections out there that offer more extras and goodies.
I also wonder how difficult it would’ve been to implement a free-roaming camera for certain sections, for instance, and what about other in-game items and equipment we’ve never seen before, or an extra quest? The only really worthwhile addition is the Expert Sphere Grid for veterans, but that’s specifically for experts (trust me). It’s clear that all the development effort went into upgrading the game’s visuals, and I don’t really have a problem with that. Each of the main characters are crisper and more defined (and a little shinier), and the special effects really shine during especially intense enemy encounters. In short, you’re looking at the definitive versions of each title.
That’s really what this is all about, isn’t it? It’s about presenting the long-time fans with updated versions of two great games, and any collector worth a salt wants this in his or her collection. The visual and audio bonuses are really just icing on the cake, but it’s a tremendously tasty icing. As for the all-important test of time and whether or not FFX and X-2 withstand it…I’d say that’s very subjective. From a technical standpoint, yes and no. "Yes" in the general design, creativity and imagination aspect; "no" in the nuts-and-bolts department. From an artistic standpoint, again, yes and no. "Yes" in regards to the beautiful music, excellent and diverse enemy and world design, etc. But "no" concerning things like voice acting.
The bottom line is that the Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster is for the fans and the fans alone. There’s nothing here that makes concessions for the new generation, and tries to get them more involved in an older style of gaming. The unskippable cut-scenes, amateurish voice performances, overall slower pacing; it’s not going to convert someone. It does, however, cater to the loyal fans who have watched this franchise’s tailspin with heartbreaking dismay. Essentially, I view this compilation as our consolation prize. It’s not exactly what we wanted but we have to appreciate it, right? These games were amazing. And now they look better.
So, what's there to complain about?
The Good: Fantastic visual upgrade, top to bottom. Epic, memorable adventures in both games. An homage to a gameplay style that should never be called “old-fashioned.” A few nice extras. A huge amount of bang for your buck (up to 200 hours for only $40).
The Bad: Not enough bonus goodies. Isn’t inviting enough to newcomers.
The Ugly: “Only that this reminds me just how far Final Fantasy has fallen.”
3/21/2014 Ben Dutka