They say that genius goes unappreciated in its time, and I would like to put forward the case that this phenomenon explains why Final Fantasy X-2 didn't exactly launch to rave reviews back in 2003. Sure, it had its fans, but this game created a very clear demarcation point for people to begin declaring that Final Fantasy had lost the plot.
Progress can be scary. But even so, it's progress. Thus the things that made FFX-2 fairly unwelcome a decade ago – its all-female cast, its vibrant visuals, its zippy combat system, its mission-based structure – are precisely what make it so compelling today. While the world wrings its hands over the way video games are so neanderthal about female protagonists (and gay protagonists, and minority protagonists, and...), here is a game that unapologetically puts three women front-and-center. Sure, they sometimes dress in sexy clothes, but it's a flamboyant Fashion Week kind of sexy, not the sleazy wardrobe malfunction/chainmail bikini kind. Its Job system (tied to the costumes, incidentally) and mission-based structure offer precisely the sort of open-ended freedom RPG fanatics pine for in their games these days.
And, with the U.S. release of the HD Remaster version of the game a few weeks from now, FFX-2 will have one more notch for its "ahead of its time" belt: It did roguelikes before roguelikes were cool.
You know, rogue likes; you must have heard the term bandied about quite a bit lately. Half the indie games out there – the half that isn't patterned after Metroid, basically, and even some that are – draw their inspiration from Rogue, Nethack, and Mystery Dungeon these days. You should know the drill by now: You step into a grid-based dungeon to fight to the top (or bottom) floor using nothing but what you collect along the way. Every creature in the dungeon takes a turn for each move you make. Each time you play, the layouts are generated randomly, along with enemy spawns and loot placement. And when you die, you lose everything and get sent back to the start again. Indie games have practically reinvented the roguelike over the past few years, exploring the concept both faithfully (Dungeons of Dredmore, The Binding of Isaac) and loosely (Spelunky, FTL, Mercenary Kings). Before this recent insurgence, though, only a special flavor of grognard had the faintest clue what the word even meant.
And yet here's a port of a decade-old Final Fantasy game with an entire separate roguelike mode. I'm talking about Last Mission, the previously Japan-only add-on epilogue to FFX-2 which takes the form of a fairly standard Japanese-style roguelike in the Mystery Dungeon vein. Unlike Final Fantasy X's add-on, Eternal Calm, this isn't simply a 10-minute machinima – it's a full stand-alone RPG in its own right, a roguelike climb up an enormous tower consisting of dozens and dozens of floors.
Of course, I don't mean to suggest that Last Mission was some radical firebrand of game innovation. It wasn't even the first Final Fantasy-based roguelike. However, it's easily the single most faithful roguelike adaptation I've ever seen; unlike Chocobo/Pokémon/Torneko Mystery Dungeon games, it's based directly on the characters, events, and mechanics of FFX-2. You pick one of the three Gullwings (Yuna, Rikku, or Paine), each with different capabilities and traits, and slug through bad guys by equipping different Dress Spheres. Each dress confers specific skills on your heroine of choice, including special abilities and varied stats, and it may even potentially change her standard melee action as well.
As the epilogue to FFX-2, Last Mission nudges you toward having played the original game first. The story that unfolds via dialogue between the women ties into the main game's plot, and the best ending to Last Mission is only available if you import a save file with a 100% clear FFX-2 file on it (good luck with that). You also get extra perks for simply importing a save file in the first place.
Last Mission, at least in the early going, is a bit less grueling than the norm for roguelikes. It does away with the concept of stamina drain altogether, though as a tradeoff it also disposes of auto-healing; if you want to recover hit points or magic points, you need to use curative items or skills. The system isn't quite as unfriendly as it sounds, though, as once again the Dress Spheres factor in here as well. Each Dress Sphere you equip comes with its own stock of HP and MP; in fact, you can swap between characters at any time, and the tagged-in heroine will inherit the active Dress Sphere all the way down to its current HP and MP values.
This has an important secondary effect, too: Because enemy attacks damage your Dress Sphere, not your character, being reduced to zero hit points doesn't equal game over. Instead, your current Dress Sphere breaks, and the next one in your equipment list activates. Your heroines only get booted from the tower if all Dress Spheres shatter and then they run out of HP while not equipped with a dress. Both the characters and their dresses level up independently: The women level through experience gain in combat, while dresses can be fused (with the use of a somewhat hard to find item) to create more powerful versions of that dress type.
All in all, Last Mission makes a nice wrap-up for the Final Fantasy X games (yes, I have my fingers crossed that they won't really create a Final Fantasy X-3). And because it, like FFX-2, didn't really stick to the expected conventions of the Final Fantasy series, it holds up quite well a decade later. There's a certain timeless appeal to roguelikes, and because so much of FFX-2's personality and mechanics have been infused into Last Mission, the end result is quite enjoyable. I have a feeling that Last Mission will probably be enjoying the lion's share of my FFX/X-2 HD Remaster time in the coming weeks... not because it's new and unfamiliar, but because it's a load of fun.