These days HD remasters are a dime a dozen. Seemingly every game series that ever did or, still does hold a well respected reputation has seen fit to release HD ports of their PS2 era installments. God of War, Metal Gear Solid and Devil May Cry are all examples of series that brought their old games back for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. It was only a matter of time then before colossal JRPG series Final Fantasy joined them. Square Enix though takes a different approach to the HD conversion than it’s counterparts. Rather than scale a collection of games to the modern HD resolution they’ve chosen to port the divisive Final Fantasy X and, it’s less popular sequel to Playstation 3 and Vita whilst upgrading the titles in a way previous HD collections haven’t. With it’s Final Fantasy X / X-2 HD Remaster Square Enix delivers the best example of what HD re-releases can be.
Fans who were unimpressed by the games characters, story, voice acting or combat however, aren’t likely to be won over by this remaster as understandably the core content remains effectively the same. Final Fantasy X follows the tale of Tidus a young man swept away from the comforts of his futuristic city home Zanarkand into the mysterious world of Spira. Clueless of his surrounding Tidus manages to latch onto a group of guardians escorting the summoner Yuna on her pilgrimage through Spira. Their mission is to defeat the marauding monster who plagues their existence and, villainous entity responsible for Tidus’s predicament – Sin. Just like the original I loved learning about the intricacies of Spiran society through the eyes of a hero whose just as foreign to it as I. Tidus is always asking the questions players want answered, and being educated alongside them. On a second play through knowing the twists I could see all the subtle foreshadowing which made the replay incredibly rewarding. Final Fantasy X is the Edgar Wright movie of JRPGs.
Storied with a rich history and inhabited by a large cast of diverse characters Spira is a remarkable world; one of my Final Fantasy favourites. Every area has it’s own history and the game is eager to let you in on it. But the cringe worthy voice acting that some characters sported in the original release is something the remaster isn’t able to resolve. Who doesn’t know the now infamous laughing scene? Protagonist Tidus is once again the primary culprit of poor performance but, after a short time re-adjusting I actually found his tone more bearable than I’d remembered. Mysterious mentor Auron is once again the standout member of the group delivering his stoic lines with believably. Smaller side parts though are once again lumbered with frustratingly one dimensional portrayals.
Whilst the voice acting is cleaned up but otherwise left as it was, the soundtrack is a markedly different to the original. Due to the limitations of the PS2 original composer Nobuo Uemastu wasn’t able to use traditional instruments, instead relying on PS2’s built in tone generator. Thanks to the substantial hardware upgrade of both PS3 and Vita the capability to use orchestrated instrumental pieces is not possible; so sixty pieces of music were completely re-recorded. As a returning fan I thoroughly enjoyed the new music, feeling it helped the game fight off the dated feeling the older music could’ve imbued the title with. The tracks also add a little something for super fans who should hear the difference – though some feel theses new tracks are weaker than the original, I would disagree strongly. Unfortunately the option to choose old or new music is not included
Mirroring Square Enix’s approach to audio, core visuals have also been re-built from the ground up but, less important sections are left less radically altered. Main cast members faces have been completely re-worked and are now animated with a much higher fidelity than the originals were afforded. As such they’re able to convey far more emotion through facial expression than they were previously. Additionally Yuna’s summonable aeon companions have also been re-worked, in addition to Tidus whose animations have been smoothed out when he’s exploring outside of combat. Frustrating even with all the work going into facial animation the infamous terrible lip syncing hasn’t been fixed. Lips still flap apparently independently of the words that come out their speakers mouths. The work done on major characters also starkly contrasts with minor characters whose still sport PS2 papery flat facial animation. The discrepancy between old and new is certainly noticeable and a problem then never really stops niggling. Annoyingly even core characters occasionally jump back to their old faces in jarring fashion when Sqaure seems to think they’re hidden – beautifully animated one moment paper then next.
Enemy combatants have also had their textures readjusted for the remaster, a technique that seems to have worked as I never saw a large discrepancy between their quality and the playable characters in battle. Although the enemy types remain fairly undiverse, commonly sporting palette swaps, each unique subtype remains beautiful and disparate in appearance compared to other monster varieties. Most graphical glitches strangely haven’t been fixed like character models arm popping through sleeves every now and then, or hair cutting through objects but, these are not deal breakers. And even though the FMV’s haven’t been re-scaled for 16:9 widescreen I was never bothered by them. Though the decision to make cutscenes non-skippable or pausable is still frustrating. Especially on the Vita where it would make sense to allow on the go players the ability to pause scenes when necessary.
Outside of a face lift and re-tune Final Fantasy X remains largely the same as it was on PS2. Combat takes place using a turn based system rather than series traditional active time bar. The turn based approach adds a welcome layer of strategy to combat that demands players make the most out of their moves before the enemies attack. Combined with ability to swap party members in and out of battle on a whim, alongside each combatants inherent strengths and weakness, Final Fantasy X’s hardest battles are some of the most tactical in the whole series. Final Fantasy X’s willingness to depart series tradition is not only evident during combat but, also out of it.
Characters don’t level up instead earning enough experience earns them a point that allows them to move around the sphere grid. A large board dotted with activatable nodes that teach characters permanent new abilities or attribute upgrades. I found traversing the board to be exciting, making leveling feel more active than passive. The branching paths mean each hero can be customized to a players liking – especially in later sections of the game when they’ve outgrown their own section of the board. This presents a sense of freedom that a stoic traditional level number doesn’t. I didn’t feel at mercy to a standard leveling curve – I had a welcome say in my characters development.
Final Fantasy X however is the starting point for one the series most saddening trends. Linearity. This is the first in the series that did away with the world map and bound players a straightforward progression – at least until the later segments. Toward the end of the adventure the world opens up immensely offering a plethora of optional side quests that extend the games length extraordinarily. Thankfully because I enjoyed Final Fantasy X’s tale so much I didn’t ever feel trapped by the linearity presented. They’re just enough diverging paths to keep explorers happy, those who run through will still miss plenty of extra loot.
For returning American players there’s also the happy perk of unseen content. The international version that was originally only released in Europe and Japan is the foundation of the package. As such there’s a bunch of extra content including an expert sphere grid, brand new option super bosses and some new abilities thrown into the package. Combined with the upgraded visuals and a chance to play the title again it’s an exciting proposition for super fans.
Final Fantasy X was always a divisive RPG. Many long time fans felt betrayed by it’s simplicity – mostly born from the series new found linearity. But they’re many fans from my generation who remember the JRPG as their first or, at the very least their first JRPG on the then newly released PS2. Final Fantasy X HD Remaster is a game made for those who remember it fondly. And those people are bound to be pleased by the improvements Square has afforded the game in their dedication to the remaster. It won’t turn any naysayers into lovers but, Final Fantasy X is still a great RPG and thanks to a slew of visual and audio upgrades the best example of how to make a HD re-master. Well done Square Enix.