Editorial: Final Fantasy Retrospective Part Four: The PS2 Era

Oh hi, readers! It’s that time yet again, my friends! For those just joining us, I have previously explored the NES, SNES, and PS1 eras of the Final Fantasy series in previous editorials. With the 1990s behind us, let us now turn to the PlayStation 2 days of gaming and the three series entries that resulted.

We have to go back, TO THE FARPLANE!
''Yuna! It's your kids, Yuna!''

Final Fantasy X brought the series to the sixth generation of gaming consoles in July of 2001. Released in December 2001 in North America, Final Fantasy X was notably the first game in the series to feature voice acting; receptions to the voices were mixed to say the least. All awkward laughter aside, Final Fantasy X‘s voice acting revolutionized the series’ storytelling mechanisms. Final Fantasy X tells the story of Tidus, a young superstar athlete from the futuristic city-state of Zanarkand and the misadventure he finds himself caught in when Zanarkand is destroyed by the giant whale-like beast known only as Sin. Final Fantasy X features a relatively small cast of misfit characters centered around Yuna, a summoner seeking to destroy Sin. Final Fantasy X is frequently criticized for its extreme linearity; there is little exploration and backtracking until the end of the game, and the game’s environments are very straightforward. Final Fantasy X notably did away with a traditional leveling system, making it the first entry in the series since Final Fantasy II not to use levels and experience. Final Fantasy X instead uses a “Sphere Grid” for progression. By earning an experience point equivalent through battles, players advance characters through nodes to increase stats and learn abilities. Each character begins the game locked into a section of the grid, but by unlocking lock nodes, the player can take characters through any path on the grid. Final Fantasy X uses a “Conditional Turn-Based” battle system; battles are turn based, but turns are traded back and forth among characters and enemies in a less rigid fashion than in early JRPG battle systems.

Final-Fantasy-XI-Screenshot
Purple haze, all in my brain...

Final Fantasy X saw mixed receptions, though not so mixed as its successor. In a hugely controversial turn for the series, Final Fantasy XI was made as an MMORPG for the PlayStation 2, PC, and eventually, the Xbox 360. Released first on the PS2 in Japan in 2002, then on the PC in North America and Japan in late 2003 before coming to North American PS2’s in 2004, Final Fantasy XI was the series’ first foray into online gaming. Final Fantasy XI takes players into the world of Vana’diel, a massive fantasy world full of places to explore and storylines to uncover. The many Final Fantasy XI expansions create a large, deep story for players to discover and many quests to complete. Choosing from among five races and three nations, players initially create a character with one of the six traditional Final Fantasy jobs before potentially unlocking new jobs as the game progresses. Final Fantasy XI used an interesting take on the job system; upon reaching level 18, characters could unlock a subjob, which could then be paired with their main job to allow for greater character variety. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy XI was not a solo-friendly experience; accomplishing anything of note required a group of players teaming up together. Final Fantasy XI is still online and going strong, with new content regularly being added to the game.

Why, yes, I did in fact recycle this screenshot from my FFXII review.
Darth Va-er, a Judge Magister at work.

Rounding off the PlayStation 2 Final Fantasy era is Final Fantasy XII. Released in March 2006 in Japan and October 2006 in America, Final Fantasy XII clearly took influences from the MMORPG nature of its predecessor. Set in the world of Ivalice, Final Fantasy XII is a massive game with a large, open world to explore and a heavily MMO-influenced battle system. In addition to gaining levels traditionally, characters in XII can also be advanced in the “License Board”, a square-based grid that enables characters to use weapons, armors, accessories, magic, and other abilities. The License Board allowed an unprecedented level of character customization, but also removed the uniqueness of each character’s fighting abilities. Final Fantasy XII, rather than having a character-based plot, used large-scale political events to tell its story. At times, the plot of Final Fantasy XII feels like a steampunk adaptation of George Lucas’s Star Wars franchise; the influence of the Star Wars series on Final Fantasy has never been clearer. Final Fantasy XII was well-received, and many gamers consider it to be a refining and fixing of the less desirable elements of Final Fantasy XI.

Sadly, for many gamers, the PS2 Final Fantasy games simply could not capture the magic of the SNES and PS1 entries. Still, most of the PS2 Final Fantasy entries were well-received, and the series continued to live on into another generation of gaming consoles. What do you think, readers? Are the PS2 Final Fantasy games just as worthy of praise as their predecessors? Or were the SNES and PS1 games just better? Let me know what you think in the comments, my dear readers!

11 comments

  1. FFX really didn’t receive a mixed response, not critically, and not among its 2001 players.

  2. Final Fantasy X was the Final Fantasy that got me into the series. Also FFX-2 gets no mention? Especially from you? I fracken love that game, though I’ve never gotten 100% in one sitting… :(

  3. I’m only dealing with the main series games in this retrospective. I do love X-2, though.

  4. He’s just writing about main series games and X-2 was a spinoff.

    It was great though.

  5. I’ve finally gotten around to playing FFXII, and enjoying it immensely. It was boring at first, when it seemed like it was going to be all mission-y things, but as the storyline got off and running it became very obviously a great game. Even the music is memorable.

    FFX is a different story…

    I’ve been liking the retrospectives, by the way. Are you considering any other series to do like this?

  6. I thought FFX was widely acclaimed by most fans and critics alike, voice acting aside. I certainly love it though its not in my top 3 Final Fantasies.

  7. A large number of utterly wrong people consider FFX’s voiceacting to be exceptional. At the time I thought some of the characters talked a bit strangely. Yuna was obviously reserved in how she spoke and acted, but Lulu seemed weirdly reserved. Like reserved, but I had no idea why and she didn’t seem to know either. Tidus was kind of annoying, but I think probably 50% of players named him after themselves, so they overlooked it.

    Looking back I think in general FFX’s VA work is just bad, but at the time was mostly acceptable. Something like Resident Evil also bad voiceacting, but bad enough to transcend its own inadequacies and become so bad it’s good. And everyone realized it at the time.

    FFXII I think probably has the best story of any of the post-SNES FFs. (I’m saying from FF7 onward because the earlier ones’ presentations placed more severe limits on storytelling than the “cinematic RPGs” that followed.) The main problem I had with FFXII was three things:
    1) Hunts sucked ass/Required GameFAQS to complete in a reasonable amount of time (aka find the damn Mark)

    2) I guess because I ignored the Hunts I was *always* fucking broke.

    3) You had to do soooo much damned walking by the time you got to where you were going (that Lighthouse towards the end of the game, for example) that by the time you got there…why were you going there? The giant MMO-like world killed the pacing of it for me.

    But when I watched all the cutscenes on Youtube one day after having finished it a year or two earlier it has a pretty good overall narrative. Then again, I liked Star Wars and they just Find & Replaced the names of characters/locations for most of it. Then again, FF2 was also basically Star Wars, but kind of sucked story(and everything else)wise, so there’s that.

  8. FFXII only had a better story in the macroscopic sense of the phrase. At the planning level I am sure that the story is more nuanced and detailed than any other Final Fantasy that came before it – BUT in terms of plotting and pacing the narrative failed to deliver in spectacular fashion after the ten hour mark, making it one of the most absentee storylines seen in a Final Fantasy title since FFIII. Even such narrative absurdities as X-2 and VIII grant me more narrative satisfaction than XII, and the only reason that I prefer FFXII’s storyline to that of XIII is because a story that isn’t there can’t offend.

    XII is a fine game, but SE completely dropped the ball on the narrative front.

    Who even remembered that there was a story until they hit the endgame?

  9. ^LOL! Or I guess people could just follow evilpaul’s lead and watch the cutscenes undiluted on YouTube!

  10. Well, right now I’m enjoying walking around killing shit, which may be a function of not having spent significant quality time in a recent MMO, so FFXII’s battle system is new and interesting to me. I also like the pause-management battle system, even though it feels out of place in an FF game. It seems like this one could have been “Final Fantasy: Ivalice Universe” or something other than a numbered Final Fantasy; except its budget and the emphasis on airships and empires forced it to be so.

    The PS2 generation also had the least interesting, most annoying lead characters. Tidus and Vaan are awful, but there are supporting characters who make up for them. The voice acting definitely contributes to their annoyance.

    It’s disorienting to come from liking most of the characters in a game (SNES era) to caring for a few (PS1) to definitely caring more about the background story than what the characters are going through (PS2). However, there is no other series in gaming that inspires such a responsive connection, for good or ill.

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