Final Fantasy X2 is available on Playstation 2. A remastered version including Final Fantasy X is available across the entire late-2010s era of consoles, on Playstation 3 & Vita, and for Windows (including on Gamepass).
Early 3D was rough for video games; there’s just no getting around it.
Like, I appreciate that Super Mario 64 feels great to control, and that Crash Bandicoot is a hyper-appealing mascot character. Still, just look at the indie games scene. You’ll see oodles of developers paying homage to the SNES and even NES generations of pixel art. But outside of a few exceptions like Umurangi Generation, chunky, polygonal 3D is… a less popular look.
And for good reason. For all the “Best Games of All Time” that people pull from the Playstation and Nintendo 64, a lot of them looked like relics over a decade ago, let alone now. Even fan-made “high-definition” versions that re-texture and re-light their assets can just look uncanny.
Then you add the still-fledgling practice of “video game voice acting” into the mix, and you get…
Author’s Note: Yes, the “laughing out loud” scene is supposed to feel deliberately strained and uncomfortable. But it’s far from the only wonky example in Final Fantasy X, let alone early-aughts titles as a whole.
And I’m absolutely not here to bemoan that. Pixar and Dreamworks were still solving the “make real-ish humans look appealing” problem in 2001, and they weren’t also developing 70-hour video games to house them in.
Besides, the Playstation 2 era was incredibly formative to me. Graphical prowess his hardly the only marker of an appealing game. Still, it isn’t a non-factor, either.
So what do you do when you’re hamstrung by new technology?
Lean Into It
Final Fantasy X2 is, to be clear, a very imperfect game.
But, critically, it’s also not ashamed of itself.
And that’s one of my favorite combinations of things in this whole wide world.
Exhibit A: The Dressphere system
a.k.a. “Probably the most involved Job System the series has had since Final Fantasy V“
A huge chunk of the appeal in any given battle comes from all the costume changes these girls go through mid-fight. Many – like the Warrior and Black Mage – are series staples, gussied up to be as visually-striking as possible. Others – like the Psychic and Lady Luck – seem to exist because some concept artist dreamed up an outfit too fabulous not to use.
And if you leave animations for those “Spherechanges” on, you have to indulge in them, every single time. There’s no button to skip ahead; you can’t even fast-forward in the Remastered release. Just like a Sailor Moon rerun, you’re going to watch these girls perform the same pre-baked transformation sequence, battle after battle.
It’s absolutely hokey the third time, let alone the thirtieth.
Tons of players will rightly find it annoying.
For all its trouble, it’s not even that technically-impressive – certainly not by modern standards.
But the game is overly eager to show it off to you anyway.
I’m loving every minute of it.
This is even before bringing up the game’s opening cutscene.
It’s a Charlie’s Angels send-up. It’s a live J-Pop concert fueled by magic and magitek. And, in the process, it pulls triple-duty as its own music video.
More than anything else, it’s a mission statement.
Final Fantasy X was a bit hokey for some of you? Fine – they’re gonna turn that dial up to eleven.
Which, sure, is why follks love to slap the “campy” label on Final Fantasy X2. But that’s more appropriate than folks might think in passing.
Like all good art design, there’s second layer to the “camp” aesthetic. Not just outlandish art direction, but deliberately breaking norms in most unrealistic, exaggerated way. It’s supposed to feel a little plastic and artificial by design, like an absurd interpretation of itself.
What’s a better adjective for stiff, early-days CGI characters if not “plastic”, after all?
And when the design embraces that, suddenly it throws normal “Good or Bad” judgment out the window. It doesn’t even try to turn the tables and become so-bad-it’s-good. Final Fantasy X2 just is what it is, and you’re forced to meet it at its own level.
Y’know, think about a story on its own terms.
What a concept.
Camp for a Cause
Here’s the thing, though: “Camp” isn’t always there just for the sake of being fun. Sure, sometimes it’s meant to be goofy. Sometimes it’s purely accidental, turning serious intent into something new and amusing.
And at other times, it’s a deliberate statement.
Final Fantasy X2 takes place after the apocalypse. You beat the Big Bad in Final Fantasy X. You overturned a major malevolent force in the world. And it’s left a power vacuum, because the world’s conflict can’t be contained in just one Final Boss Character.
Everything are changing. The old guard and a newer generation are at violent odds over increasingly-muddy politics. Character relationships from the first game have become estranged over it. Some citizens avoid the conflict entirely, finding escapism in showy entertainment.
Heroine Yuna isn’t exempt – she’s run off in search of excitement and chasing slim chances, dodging the responsibilities put on her as Savior of the Realm. Half of the game’s missions amount to sidequests diverting you away from even that “main” sidequest.
Games are political. Yes, even the ones with pop-idol music numbers. Especially the ones with pop-idol music numbers.
Just circle back to the Dresspheres themselves. Rikku’s wardrobe is the most daring of the three, belying fearless self-confidence. Paine guards herself with dark colors and long outfits as much as with cold words. And Yuna, ever the mediator, blends the two.
Final Fantasy X2 is all about fashion, sure. But fashion is expression, and expression is how we interact with the world. And, in a way, these women wield fashion to carve out their own identity in a world that’s both left them adrift and demands so much of them.
This game is Camp, from its worldbuilding and art down to the mission where you hand out balloons while dressed as a Moogle. And every bit of that tackiness builds on its core themes.
But here’s the kicker – a ton of this might be unintentional.
If I go play the recent HD Remaster of Shin Megami Tensei III, it still looks like an older game. A shiny, cleaned-up one, absolutely. But if I look at it hard enough, I see the seams where the original core was bumping up against what 2003 hardware could handle.
If I look at the HD remaster of Final Fantasy X2, I see goofy elements that are deliberately playing themselves up. The flaws are still there, but they still feel like the intended experience all these years later.
Obviously it was a conscious choice to keep game’s tone pretty light. A hundred interviews with Final Fantasy X2‘s developers will attest to that. But it’s harder to find a direct answer about how much technical limitations played into that.
Maybe it really was a driving force behind the choice to go full-throttle and flashy, knowing that 2003 hardware would force it to come across as a little hammy.
Maybe it was just a happy coincidence – reviews from the time seem perfectly pleased with what the game could present at the time.
Or, maybe it was a bit of both.
But whether or not it was the designers’ intention, that’s the effect that Final Fantasy X2 has in 2021.
It’s a near-farcical but earnest throwback to what I can remember of the late 90s and early aughts, from its pop music to its often-janky 3D animation and even its tube tops and short shorts.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
For bonus “reading”, go watch this retrospective on how traditional “camp” fashion is informs every aspect of Bayonetta – EuroThug backs her case up with oodles of research: