Games

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 www.rpgamer.com 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.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta



19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller



18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr


17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr



16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image