Open up the job lookbook
Final Fantasy X-2 first hit the PlayStation 2 20 years ago in Japan, on March 13, 2003. It was a very unusual kind of game for Square to make, both in tone and it being a direct sequel to a previous Final Fantasy game. But 20 years later, I’d argue it’s a stellar entry in the series, in ways well-exemplified by its dressphere system.
Spheres are the core of a lot of technology in Spira, throughout most of Final Fantasy X. After the events and revelations of FFX, though, Spheres suddenly become much more in-demand. Team YRP, or Yuna, Rikku, and Paine, form up as sphere hunters to try and track down lost, rare spheres for big rewards.
It's showtime, girls.
Today marks 20 years since Y, R, P first took position with the launch of Final Fantasy X-2.
What was your favourite memory of returning to Spira? pic.twitter.com/2ataNgAYcd
— FINAL FANTASY (@FinalFantasy) March 13, 2023
Gameplay-wise, this leads into the dressphere system. We see some of this in the game’s absolutely stellar intro, but Final Fantasy X-2 uses spheres as its mean of re-classing and changing jobs. Your party is, outside of the creature capture feature, just Yuna, Rikku, and Paine. The variety in their abilities and what they do, then, stems from the dresspheres, which sees them don new outfits to invoke the power of different jobs.
Moon prism power
It’s a mechanic that draws very direct, overt homage to the magical girl genre. These transformations aren’t just a hot-swap of items or weapons, but an entire transformation sequence, where the girls shed the armor of one job and clad themselves in another. Strike a pose, get a special intro, all the bells and whistles. It rules.
Concerns about Final Fantasy X-2 in the past swirled around worries that it might be too “girly“, the way a jock in an ’80s movie might talk about ballet before suddenly becoming a primo dancer in a pumped-up training montage and changing his ways. Yes, Final Fantasy X-2 leans heavy into the style of this, embodying magical sailor warriors, runway models, and warrior princesses alike. The result is an effusively stylish and memorable battle system, filled with fantastic outfits that put fashion spins on classic Final Fantasy jobs.
Couple this with the quips in-game, and it’s a great set-up for a job system already. When Rikku remarks that her Dark Knight armor “isn’t just for show” after a job swap, it’s a fun battle remark that puts a smile on my face. Some may remember Final Fantasy XV fondly for the boys’ camaraderie, but it’s worth noting the girls of YRP had a similar vibe going years earlier on the PlayStation 2.
But let’s talk about the battles now.
Navigating the Garment Grid
Swapping jobs on the fly and building up mastery in each one already makes for an interesting set-up. What puts Final Fantasy X-2 over the top is how it layers the Garment Grid system over it, generating interesting combat by imposing limitations.
No YRP member can freely swap between all available dresspheres. They may get access to all of them, apart from a few character-specific spheres, but each girl has their own Garment Grid. Here, you plot out what dresspheres are available and which one they start on.
While this starts out as an easy way to condense down the breadth of jobs available, the simple action of swapping dresspheres becomes its own mechanic. Some Garment Grids may have gates that, when passed through, offer additional boons; a bump in stats, or maybe even access to certain spells. Now, you’re having to plot out not just a good range of jobs for your fighters, but a potential “route” for them to take, in order to activate their bonuses.
Keep in mind, you’re doing this while fighting another enemy. Unlike FFX‘s turn-based system, battles are (by default) in real-time in Final Fantasy X-2, using a version of the Active Time Battle system. You could be trying to work your way through certain gates on the Grid and suddenly get hit by a big attack. Or maybe you want to hold off swapping to a lower-health class, at least until there’s a pause in an enemy’s assault. Layered over top are the special dresspheres, a trump card shift that sees two of the girls leave the battlefield for one to take center stage in their “ultimate” gear. It’s my humble opinion that Overwatch‘s D.va owes at least a little bit to Rikku’s Machina Maw dressphere.
Strike a pose
This fluid, ever-changing combat system just helps further highlight how individual each dressphere is. The Songstress takes on a distinctly Bard skillset, while the Gunner has an actual “press R1 to fire” ability that can set up chain combos. Final Fantasy X-2‘s take on the classic Blue Mage job, dubbed the Gun Mage here, is one of my favorites in the series. And later unlockable jobs like Lady Luck and the Alchemist all bring fresh, new aspects to combat. Seriously, having “Mix” always available and a bottomless pocket of Mega-Potions makes for a really interesting healer.
Final Fantasy X has often been remembered in the upper echelon of Final Fantasy games, and for good reason: it’s an exceptional RPG. But today, two decades out from its original release in Japan, we should also pay some respects to the inventive and enjoyable sequel it got in Final Fantasy X-2, and a dressphere system that stands the test of time.