by Jonathan Cook
Cute girls, virtual cosplay and comical action:
Final Fantasy X-2 has it all.
Unless you've been living in a cave for the past two months, it's pretty clear which video game for Playstation has been on everyone's top ten list. The long awaited first-ever "sequal" to a Final Fantasy game has been the literal "must-have" for any FF gamer. What's interesting about Final Fantasy X-2 besides the excellent game play, multidrectional story-telling and comical sidequests is how the focus of the game is geared towards Final Fantasy's "silent majority" in the gaming universe: the female gamer. Although video games are still considered by many a "guys" activity, female gamers have been increasing in number since Final Fantasy VII came out eight years ago. One reason for this is while most RPGs are pretty much geared toward a set "goal" like rescuing a princess or defeating some dark overlord, Final Fantasy's appeal can be attributed to the social interactions amongst it's game characters more than the quest itself. In Final Fantasy X, you and your fellow quest characters have pretty much been equal in regards to species or gender. However, in Final Fantasy X-2, it's "girl power" all the way! But that's just the tip of the iceburg. There are so many things to do and see in this game that even the official "stratagy guide" is as thick as a mid-city phonebook. But for this article, we'll just go over the fine points.
"Final Fantasy X-2" takes place two years after the defeat of Sin and the fall of Yevon. A period of peace known as the "Eternal Calm" has spread throughout Spira. With Sin no longer a threat, the people of Spira have discovered new "freedoms". People could now come and go as they please, use the once forbidden "machina" in their everyday lives and spend their time exploring human nature to it's fullest with the exception of any type of "sexual" revolution. And personally given the recent "events" of this year's Super Bowl, I'm all too thankful to the folks at Square Enix for omitting that type of behavior in the people of Spira. However, these new freedoms are not without a price. With no centralized government, Spira's citizens have formed into political factions that fight over control of Spira's future. The two largest groups are known as the Youth League and New Yevon. But some people don't wish to be involved. They, for the most part, just want to have fun. And that's where our favorite heroine comes in.
Since Sin's defeat, Yuna has been enjoying life back on Besaid Island with Wakka and Lulu. During that time, Wakka and Lulu got married (assumption only) and Lulu is expecting their first kid any day now. One day, Rikku stopped by for a visit and showed Yuna a sphere movie containing images of a certain blonde-haired blitzball player in the background. Yuna asked Rikku where she found the sphere. Rikku said Kimahri discovered it on the summit of Mt. Gazazet. It was then that Yuna decided to join Rikku in search for more spheres in the hope of being re-united with the man she loves.
Yuna hooks up with a small group of Al-Bhed "sphere-hunters" called the Gullwings. The Gullwings was founded by Rikku and her brother (conveniently named Brother) who roam Spira in their airship the Celsius looking for spheres that might contain images to Spira's past. It was then that Yuna was introduced to Paine, an 18 year-old woman with a mysterous past who acts like the "straight-woman" of the group. Sphere hunting has pretty much become the "craze" of Spira and the backdrop of the game story. The more spheres you find, the more you learn about Spira's past as well as some of it's dark secrets. Will Yuna discover her true love once again? What is the truth behind Paine's past? And will Rikku ever put any clothes on? ^_^;;
For those of you playing this game for the first time, you may think this is an "exact" continuation of the Final Fantasy X universe right? No way Jose! This is a whole new ballgame. First of all, the sphere-grid is gone and replaced with the traditional "experience points=level up" scoreboard. Second, you can no longer wait and strategize your next move. All combatants (characters and fiends) on the battle screens have "attack" timers now. Yes, you have to think more on your feet but now you have "combo" chains that once you master, you can practically whail on anybody. You have just the three characters throughout the game (Yuna, Rikku and Paine) and they pretty much multitask (i.e. black mage, white mage, warrior, thief, etc.). However, you do get to pick and choose what your character should be thanks to a new gaming factor called a dressphere. If you want all three of them to be Black Mages, no problem. You want one as a White Mage and the other two as Warriors, you can do that. As you progress in the game, you have the opportunity to get more "dresspheres" containing powers that can help make or break a situation in battle. Not to mention "some" of the dresspheres make for great eye candy. Yeah, some girls reading this may think of that last commit as being slightly sexist. But as I told my friend and cosplay seamstress Suzanne Therman on the day she went to buy the issue of PSX magazine that showed the first dressphere pics: "I will bet you $20 that as we speak there are girls reading this article and whipping out their sketchbooks trying to draw these so they can have an idea how to design their cosplay outfits before 'con-season' starts."
Suzanne just nodded.
But the dresspheres are one of the main highlights of the game. The designs are so colorful that it's like your very own cosplay contest within the game. I can't discribe it folks. You're just going to have to see it to believe it. My personal favorites are the "Gambler" and "Thief" costumes. ::nosebleed:: Now, let's talk about some of the other game factors. You do have a "storyline" but it's not cemented in stone like in FFX. Here, you can go anywhere you want to by foot or airship but the key to victory depends on the number of "side-quest" missions you participate in. The more you participate in, the better your ending will become. And unlike past Final Fantasy games, the story is more or less centered around "comical hi-jinxs" than intense melodrama. I guess given all the death and distruction in FFX, I can understand the change in pace. There's also a new game in Spira called Sphere-Break. In a nutshell, it's a numbers game involving coins. But it's real additive if you happen to be a math whiz. One last thing, your characters will master new techniques through experience points during battle scenes. For those who have played Final Fantasy IX, this should be familiar to you.
"Where Are They Now?"
One of the best parts about playing FFX-2 is getting to see what everybody is doing now. I won't spoil the "really" comical ones but my personal favorite happens to the one involving that ditzy priestess-in-training. She's now a (no joke) TV News reporter.
Everybody in their best James Earl Jones voice: THIS IS SNN! (I use to work for my hometown CBS affiliate in a past life, so I got real kick out of that one).
You also get to see what Spira in general has become. Some of it's humorous and some of it's just plain sad. Crass commercialism just about runs rapid where sights that were once considered sacred have now become cheesy tourist traps. Even Rikku's old man, Cid is trying to get in on the action. You also will have to make decisions about when and when not to side with some of the political factions in the game. Whomever you chose to side with will make a difference in how the game continues.
Overall, this game kicks butt. Plain and simple. But even I had my problems with it. At first, I found the game frustrating because there was really no set pattern to it. But once I started getting into it, I was actually enjoying myself. In the battle scenes, it's all a matter of readjusting your brain and rhythm. Second, while I'm all for a Final Fantasy Game where the female characters aren't playing second fiddle to the lead male ones, I'm not a fan of them playing off the "Charles Angel's" buttkicking, dumbchick stereotype. Luckily, the programers were wise to create a character like Paine as one of the lead characters to help keep it balanced. I like Rikku and Yuna a lot, but I do find it annoying as hell when they don't bother to act their age. So Paine naturally has to be the one to jerk a knot in them every once in a while. As of this writing, I have yet to actually finish the game. But I'm told you can't finish it at 100% the first go-around. Certain sidequests can only be done after you completed the game the first time around. But so far, I like what I'm seeing. My only universal complaint was the fact Tokyopop or whoever did not bother to put out a Final Fantasy X-2 soundtrack. I mean come on, who doesn't want a copy of "Real Emotion" blasting in their car. At least release the two singles on a singles CD. But whether your a fanboy who likes cute girls kicking ass in comical situations or a catgirl whose playing the game for cosplay inspiration, Final Fantasy X-2 is the game that just might help narrow the gender gap in the gamer's universe.