Edge's 'competent' rating for Final Fantasy X attracted bile from Square's fanatical young apologists and concurrence from those who argue that the series has faltered ever since that opera scene. FFX-2 divides by virtue of its concept even before one considers its execution.
Historically, each FF game is a world unto itself, united by common threads and traditions but nevertheless unique. So to series stalwarts FFX-2 feels wrong. Besides, surely it's impossible to sequel any game that climaxes in the salvation of the world? FFX-2 may be a sly cash-in to the cynic but its wider significance is in forcing Square to re-imagine its brand of videogame epic to demonstrate what happens to a saviour post-Armageddon.
So while the backgrounds, melodies and faces are familiar, the flow of play is resolutely distinct. This is what happens when an FF star gets a day job. That star, Yuna, two years after beating antagonist Sin, has joined a female trio of treasure hunters, known as YRP. These are the sole characters you control. It's all pink bubblegum, curves and blinding J-pop attitude, plausible in the main, as it appears designed to attract female gamers as much as titillate the stereotypes.
The main change ideologically is the mission-based structure, splitting the adventuring into more manageable non-linear sections over five chapters. This move ensures that many won't get past critiquing what FFX-2 is not, rather than the qualities it exudes: the freeform structure is well implemented and the battle system, more akin to a menu-driven beat 'em up complete with timed combos, is the acme in the series, and even the genre. A new jump ability also adds a welcome, if basic, level of exploration.
However, the plot falters, especially with the multiple paths; the random battles are still wearyingly capricious and the dialogue is sub-par. Square has a unique challenge: with the FF series nearing its thirteenth basic iteration after 17 years, the company is almost alone in facing issues of identity and consumer apathy in old age. After series founder Hironobu Sakaguchi's 'retirement' no one seems too sure of where the series is going. FFX-2 represents one option and will certainly divide the audience, inspiring passionate discussion.
Over-familiarity and stagnation has bred a cancerous apathy among gaming's cognoscenti. FFX-2, like it or not, gives players a reason to take notice again.
Final Fantasy X-2 is out now on PS2