Sequel Slump: Final Fantasy X

Note: This editorial may contain spoilers for Final Fantasy X and X-2.

Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy franchise perhaps holds the record for most titles that take place in completely different universes, although during the PlayStation 2 era, they broke that tradition with the first direct sequel to a Final Fantasy game, Final Fantasy X-2. This editorial will examine the transition between the initial game and its sequel.

The original Final Fantasy X itself posed major changes for the franchise, such as nulling the Active Time Battle System of its predecessor in favor of a battle system that was pretty much completely turn-based, with no real-time elements. All three active characters and their foes appeared on a turn-order meter similar to that in Final Fantasy Tactics, with commands executing immediately after input, thus ending a character or enemy’s turn, with a recovery time until the character or enemy’s following turn. Victory naturally resulted when the player defeated all enemies, while a Game Over resulted if the player’s active party all died.

Victory in the tenth game resulted in experience acquired for all participants in combat that occasionally resulted in “levels” the player could consume to move characters across the massive Sphere Grid, with consumable items obtained from foes allowing characters to acquire higher stats and learn new skills. Despite the visual complexity of the Sphere Grid, each character’s section was generally linear, although greater customization could result if the player acquired special items to break the “locks” on the grid so that the player could have free reign in customizing the party.

Final Fantasy X-2, in contrast, brought the franchise back to its Active Time Battle-based ancestry, with a general faster pace than previous titles that used the formula, although speed was still adjustable in the game interface. Normal experience levels returned, although the first direct Final Fantasy sequel used a class-customization system not seen since the fifth entry for the three primary female protagonists. The player could place class orbs in various grids so that each of the heroines could change their class in the heat of combat, and killing enemies acquired AP for a class’s abilities, new skills learned in the middle of battle.

While both the original Final Fantasy X and its direct sequel both contained certain polarizing elements, most critics and regular gamers can agree that both titles had solid combat systems despite their great differences, with the former title being among this writer’s favorites in the franchise and the latter being the best of the series to feature a class-changing system, even more so than prior games that used the mechanic like the third and fifth titles.

One criticism of the tenth entry, however, was its linearity, although sidequests could potentially boost playing time to several hundred hours, and Final Fantasy X’s linear structure did have its benefits such as the ease of advancing the main storyline, not to mention the strong central story itself. Some rabid series fanatics, however, protested the lack of an unrealistic donut-shaped overworld where the main character could wander around like a forty-foot giant, with the tenth game replacing it with more realistic environs and world exploration. Final Fantasy X-2, in contrast, had slightly greater freedom in terms of where the player could travel at certain points in the title.

Another vast difference between both games is in the tone of their storylines, with the first game weaving a serious narrative that only rarely had humor (and occasional WTF moments such as the infamous “laughing scene”), while its direct successor was generally more upbeat and feminine, common criticisms of its own storyline. There was, however, plenty of humor in X-2’s plotline that this writer actually found funny at times, sometimes a nice break from the seriousness of certain RPGs’ storylines. Taking these differences into consideration, however, most can agree that the first Final Fantasy X had a better plot.

Both titles also feature vastly-different musical styles, Final Fantasy X’s soundtrack being more peaceful and subdued (except perhaps for the main battle theme), while Final Fantasy X-2’s music was generally more energetic, but to most ears unmemorable aside from the theme songs “Real Emotion” and “A Thousand Words,” another legitimate criticism of the direct sequel.

Concerning the voicework in both games, most agree that the quality of both titles in this area is generally consistent, with Final Fantasy X having actual realistic battle dialogue and avoiding oddities such as characters shouting the names of their skills, and Final Fantasy X-2, in sync with its upbeat nature, featuring comical battle dialogue that this writer actually found humorous and preferable to generic skill-name-shouting voice acting prominent in most Japanese role-playing games.

Both titles are generally on par with one another in terms of graphics, although X-2 has more realistic shadows in battle. There are, however, certain anomalies such as Wakka and Lulu having a baby in the sequel, with the latter hardly appearing at all pregnant prior to their infant’s birth, a perfectly legitimate criticism.

In the end, does the transition between Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 exhibit an instance of sequel slump? The answer, at least in this writer’s opinion, is no, with both games in his opinion having their share of strong and weak points, the former including strong gameplay systems and the latter including linearity in the first game and heavy recycling in the second. Both titles received above-average critical acclaim, aside from the lunatic ravings of franchise fanatics whose opinions in this writer’s opinion are grossly unreliable and best ignored.

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