Final Fantasy X-2

G. Christopher Williams

If FFX-2's consideration of feminine identity is schizophrenic, so too is its game play.

Publisher: Square Enix
Genres: RPG
Price: $49.99
Multimedia: Final Fantasy X-2
Platforms: PlayStation 2
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Teen
Developer: Square Enix
US release date: 2007-07

"What can I do for you?"

Hmmm... Indeed.

This question is pounded out on synth-pop beats in a flashy and frantic pop concert FMV that opens Square Enix's first ever direct sequel to a Final Fantasy game. Former High Summoner Yuna saunters on stage in her familiar white traditional kimono-esque attire, whirls around and transforms before our eyes into a leggy, Japanese pop princess in a notably black (read: bad girl) loose-fitting blouse and too short mini-skirt. This Yuna has changed from the sedate, controlled, and self-sacrificing savior of Spira from Final Fantasy X into a pert party girl in the blink of an eye. If Final Fantasy X-2 is a departure from the series in its less serious tone and more free form and fast paced game play, this image of Yuna's transformation is the visual cue that signals that change to long time fans.

But, hardcore fans will ultimately not be surprised by this initial transformation. Images of Yuna in short shorts brandishing paired pistols have been appearing on the web and in gaming magazines for most of this year. We have known that this FF would feature more action elements (the ability to jump and climb while moving around Spira's environs) and that Square has seemingly taken a page from the Tomb Raider series in sexing up its female leads while still maintaining a respect for female empowerment. (And, hey, what is more empowering than a young woman with twin hand guns?)

Indeed, the same tension that emerges through the iconic Ms. Croft seems to lie at the heart of the transformative themes of FFX-2. Lara is tough and independent but still a fit subject for the male gaze (or, in less academic terms, a Maxim spread) and that same war between taking women seriously as characters (and especially protagonists) in video games and treating them as sex objects seems inherent in Square's decision to focus on Yuna, returning FFX character Rikku, and newcomer Paine as the leads in this girl power fueled game.

This FF is not revolutionary in presenting a female lead character (witness Terra the lead of FFVI -- released as Super Nintendo's FFIII in the States), but this is the only FF to feature only female characters in your adventuring party. Square has also never shied at creating interesting and complicated female characters (again, the aforementioned Terra or the FFX incarnation of Yuna, or even FFX's resident voluptuous goth-mage, Lulu), but then again it has also often copped out by using the virgin-whore dichotomy to represent femininity in their games (*cough* -- FFVII's Aeris and Tifa -- *cough*). What Square seems to have done here, though, is to take a page from the girl power excess of the last decade (from the Spice Girls to the Charlie's Angels revamp) and play both stereotypical sides at once.

The reason I bring this concern up is that Square seems to be reaching out to a female audience with this game with its complete emphasis on female characters and the introduction of ostensibly "girly" game play mechanics like the dress spheres that allow the characters to switch character classes along with their outfits. When Yuna declares in the "Eternal Calm" video (released in international versions of FFX but also available in subtitled versions on sites like that her impending new adventure -- a search for her lost love Tidus (the male protagonist of FFX) -- will be "my story" (an echo of Tidus's description of the previous FF narrative), Yuna claims FFX-2 for herself and her gender. The freedom and independence this implies is found throughout the game's nonlinear structure and through features like the dress spheres, which not only let you choose how the girls look in battle but also what role and powers they possess. Instead of following the traditional RPG standard of characters defined by their classes (fighter, mage, thief, etc.), each of the girls can be any or all of those classes. Thus, their distinctness is based not on the role they play but literally on who they are, getting us familiar with the various tics of Yuna, Rikku, and Paine.

Yet, that this is their story (a female quest) is dampened by the sexed up versions of the girls through sexual innuendo like the lyrics of Yuna's opening song, "What can I do for you?" and the girl on girl action hinted at through mini-games in which you give Yuna's half dressed rival-turned-ally, Leblanc, a "satisfying" massage.

If FFX-2's consideration of feminine identity is schizophrenic, so too is its game play. While the change from the traditionally demure Japanese girl with downcast eyes to the new flavor of the month Japanese pop diva seemingly signifies FFX-2's transformation from rigid, orderly, and narrative-driven traditional RPG game play to a more spirited freeform, nonlinear format, the same tension between tradition and progressiveness creates a similarly frustrating schizophrenic game play. FFX-2 has a dominant story line: the quest to discover the whereabouts of Tidus and a power struggle in Spira between the older authority of their religion and the new ideas of the Youth League. There are also a host of side quests, some focusing on combat and some on mini-games, which can be taken on or ignored as the player chooses. Due to this convention, the game can be completed through the main missions in about 20 hours or extended by another 20 or 30 hours playing through the remaining side quests. Unfortunately, the effect this "nonlinearity" has on game play is more like an artificial extension of a shorter, less cohesive and less well developed plot than FF has customarily given us in the past. Some of the missions and mini-games are fun and add to the overarching plot and our sense of the characters but some are simply tedious. Since the environments in the game are borrowed from FFX, players will feel nostalgic at first, re-encountering old enemies, characters, and places from the prior game. Yet, after running over the same old ground over and over again (you will likely visit each of the locations in the game 4 or 5 times over the course of its five chapters), the nostalgia fades and the game play simply becomes monotonous.

If FFX-2 initially seems to be about progression and change, it seems to be more so a rehash of old environments, an old game engine, and the old thematic tension of femininity and power. It seems, much like the Tomb Raider games or the recent Charlie's Angels movies; unable to resolve the tension it produces between feminine autonomy and subjectivity. Players here will find some autonomy in their ability to build a party their way but also still at the mercy of a less than progressive RPG with a weaker story and far less drama than its predecessor. If the game draws female gamers, they will find themselves in this same bind -- a bind that they are likely to be familiar with -- between the traditional roles that they have been cast in with only some sense of the hope that one day they too will be able to experience their story.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.