Fair warning to those of you ten years behind the rest of us: spoilers ahead.
Square’s Final Fantasy X is one of the most important RPGs of its or any generation. A sprawling story focused on themes of fate, responsibility, and cultural taboo, X gives gamers a ton to talk about. Its main romance is a huge part of that.
Tidus is the headstrong, impetuous young man with terrible fashion sense swept away to a different world by the terrifying behemoth known as Sin. Yuna is the demure, selfless summoner tasked with defeating said terrifying beastie. Sparks fly between the two immediately and Tidus quickly dedicates himself to her cause. He becomes one of Yuna’s greatest cheerleaders, always quick to remind the group that Yuna would beat Sin and bring the Calm the denizens of Spira craved. Little does Tidus know that defeating Sin means the Summoner’s death. Consumed with grief for basically encouraging Yuna to work toward ending her own life, Tidus swears they’ll find another way. They do, of course; by entering Sin’s body and defeating Yu Yevon, the cycle of death that consumes Spira could end. Doing so unfortunately means the end of Tidus, who turns out to be the product of a dream generated by a group of fayth locked in stasis by Sin. That’s the abridged version, but rest assured that many who played through the game were moved by the tragic story and became very attached to the main characters (yes, in spite of the horrid laughing scene).
The story of Spira could’ve–and, some would argue, should’ve–ended on that triumphant note. Square, however, had other plans, and thus we were all treated to Final Fantasy X-2, the first direct sequel in the history of the series. The game stars Yuna, now working as a treasure hunter of sorts in cahoots with a returning Rikku and a new character named Payne. Ostensibly in it for cash and glory, Yuna has an alterior motive for traveling with the group: trying to track down her lost love, Tidus. A decent enough set up, right?
Right. As far as the gameplay goes, X-2’s battle system is among the best of the modern entries in the series. Characters utilize dresspheres to change jobs during combat, leading to a change of wardrobe and a distinct change of abilities–it’s kind of like Final Fantasy XIII’s paradigm system applied on an individual basis rather than to the entire party. This leads to a frantic, fun, experience that can be deep and difficult when it feels like being a bastard. That giant sand worm? Fuck him.
There’s just one problem: this is a Japanese RPG, which means the developers are going to tack on a load of crap. Tack on crap they did, adding missions that included handing out balloons, giving someone a massage via an interface reminiscent of tic-tac-toe, distributing flyers for a play, and my personal favorite, watching boring ass surveillance footage from all over Spira. Despite everything it had going for it, X-2 is the kind of game you hope your roommates don’t catch you playing. Try explaining Tobli to someone that’s never picked up a Japanese RPG. Go ahead. I hope you weren’t looking forward to that party next weekend, because you’re not invited anymore.
Although the game had more than enough warts to send a toad packing, I played the shit out of X-2 trying to get the perfect ending so I could reunite Yuna with Tidus. That scene on the Farplane where Yuna whistles and then Tidus whistles back? Chilling. I wanted more of that. Despite how much I enjoyed the original’s conclusion, I wanted the happy ending I didn’t get from X. Getting it, however, means acquiring a 100% completion rating. Want to get two of your favorite star-crossed lovers back together? I hope you like handing out balloons while dressed as a moogle, you sucker, because you’re about to waste a ton of your time on tedious garbage.
X-2 will always feel like a huge missed opportunity to me. It could’ve been something grand and epic, a treatise on love and loss, an exploration of faith and denial, a heavy game that relied on a relatable female lead and a fantastic battle system to tell one of the greatest stories ever told in gaming. Instead, it’s a sideshow, a great example of all that’s wrong with the JRPG genre. I’ve written before about my desire to play a more mature JRPG; X-2 could’ve cut that article down in its tracks. I’m convinced such a game would sell, that it could suck new fans into the genre who would otherwise be turned off by the ridiculous cruft.
Check out episode 128 of the D Pad D Bags podcast, featuring Dead Space 3, Minecraft, and Portal 2.