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Final Fantasy X-2 set several precedents in the Final Fantasy series aside from being the first direct video game sequel. It was the first game in the series to feature only three player characters, an all-female main cast, and early access to most of the game's locations. Additionally, it featured a variation of the character classes system—one of the series' classic gameplay concepts—and is one of the few games in the series to feature multiple endings. It was the first numbered game in the series that did not have musical contributions from longtime composer Nobuo Uematsu.
The game was positively received by critics and was commercially successful, selling over 5.4 million copies on PlayStation 2 and winning a number of awards. It was the last Final Fantasy game to be released by Square before merging with Enix in April 2003. The game was re-released as a high-definition remaster for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita in 2013, together with Final Fantasy X, as Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster. Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster was released for PlayStation 4 in 2015, Microsoft Windows in 2016 and for Xbox One and Nintendo Switch in 2019.
Unlike Final Fantasy X, in which a player's course through the game's world was largely straightforward, Final Fantasy X-2 is largely free form. The game consists of five chapters, with each location featuring one scenario per chapter. Put together, the five scenarios in one locale form a subplot of the game, called an "Episode". Only a few scenarios per chapter are integral to the game's central plot, and are marked on the world navigation system as "Hotspots".The narrative features both narrative-driven side quests, and choices that impacted some elements of the main narrative. There is a percentage of content completed, with 100% completion unlocking a secret ending. When the game is completed, it unlocks a New Game Plus option that allows the player to restart the game with all of the items, Garment Grids, dresspheres and storyline completion percentage achieved previously. However, all character levels are reset.
Though a direct sequel to Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy X-2 does not duplicate its predecessor's gameplay, switching to the series's recurring Active Time Battle system. Whenever a random enemy is encountered, the ATB system is used. Under this enhanced version of the ATB, playable characters may interrupt an enemy while they are preparing to take action, instead of waiting for an enemy's turn to finish before attacking. Furthermore, it is possible for both characters and enemies to chain attacks together for greater damage. Final Fantasy X-2 introduced a character class system through the inclusion of dresspheres. Because the party consists of three characters, variation in combat is achieved through switching dresspheres, which alter character stats and abilities.
The playable characters are allowed to equip one dressphere at a time, each providing different battle functions and abilities. Characters can learn new skills for each dressphere with the use of Ability Points (AP). AP is obtained by defeating enemies and by the use of items and abilities for that sphere. Abilities to be learned are chosen in the main menu. During battle, AP is given to that ability until it is learned. Each character can access as many as six dresspheres at a time, depending on the specific properties of the Garment Grid they are wearing. The Garment Grid is a placard featuring a geometric shape connected by nodes. These nodes are slots that can be filled with dresspheres, allowing characters to change character classes during their turn in battle. Most Garment Grids possess Gates that when passed through grant the user a complimentary buff.
Disagreements between Spira's factions are punctuated further after the disappearance of Baralai, Nooj, and Gippal—the leaders of New Yevon, the Youth League and the Machine Faction respectively. Returning to the underground areas of Bevelle, the Gullwings discover the missing faction leaders discussing Vegnagun and learn that the machine's AI allows it to detect hostility and to respond by activating itself and fleeing. Paine had once been friends with all three men. Two years earlier in a cave beneath Mushroom Rock Road called "the Den of Woe", just before the failed Operation Mi'ihen, the squad's final exercise was conducted. Within the cave, the various squad candidates were swarmed by pyreflies and driven to kill one another. The only survivors were Paine, Baralai, Gippal, and Nooj. Before the four survivors could leave the cave, the spirit of Shuyin—requiring a host in order to interact with the world physically —had possessed Nooj, and later forced him to shoot his comrades.
Shuyin possesses Baralai's body, pursuing Vegnagun to the Farplane. Nooj and Gippal follow in pursuit, asking Yuna to keep things under control on the surface. Yuna falls into the Farplane and meets Shuyin, who mistakes her for a woman named "Lenne". Shuyin expresses his anger that Spira's citizens have not yet come to understand the heartache that war can cause, and plans to use Vegnagun to destroy all of Spira.
1000 years before the game, Shuyin was a famous blitzball player in the high-tech metropolis of Zanarkand, and the lover of a popular songstress and summoner—Lenne. Before he could use Vegnagun, Lenne begged him to stop. Shuyin yielded, but a group of Bevelle soldiers arrived a moment later and shot the couple. The Gullwings organize a concert to which everyone in Spira is invited, supporters of the Youth League and New Yevon alike. Additionally, the Songstress dressphere worn by Yuna is revealed to hold Lenne's memories, resulting in a sphere screen projecting them to everyone in attendance during the concert. Witnessing images of Shuyin and Lenne's last moments, Spira's citizens begin to understand the unproductive nature of their disagreements.
Although the factional fighting has ceased, Shuyin has nearly carried out his plan to destroy Spira with Vegnagun. Joining forces with the Leblanc Syndicate once again, the Gullwings make their way to the Farplane and find Gippal and Nooj already battling Vegnagun. Once the group destroys Vegnagun, Yuna uses her songstress dressphere to convince Shuyin to let go. However, Shuyin finally realizes that Yuna is not Lenne and attacks her, gaining a physical form to do so. The Gullwings quickly defeat Shuyin, and Lenne's spirit appears to soothe him as they both depart together. Subsequently, the fayth once located in Bevelle appears before Yuna and thanks her as well. He then asks her if she would like to see "him" again. If the player replies with "Yes", and a sufficient percentage of the game's optional storyline has been completed, the fayth locates Tidus's scattered pyreflies and sends them to Besaid, where they reform; thus, when Yuna returns home, she is reunited with Tidus. Players who achieve 100% completion in addition to reviving Tidus will see an additional reunion scene in Zanarkand where the pair discuss whether he is truly real or still a dream.
Aesthetically, the world of Spira is essentially unchanged in the two years since Final Fantasy X, and many locations return from the game. There are, however, major changes in the ideology of Spira's people. After Sin's defeat came the arrival of an era known as "the Eternal Calm". The priests of the Yevon religion chose to expose the truth about the order, leaving the population to decide for themselves how to live in a world without that religion and without Sin. Advanced technology and the Al Bhed are embraced by the population, which has begun to pursue leisures such as attending musical concerts and participating in the sport of blitzball. Others have become hunters of ancient treasures, ranging from coins and machinery to spheres in forgotten caves and ruins. Those who pursue the latter are known as "sphere hunters", of which many groups have formed.
In the absence of Yevon, groups have formed. Young people were especially quick to abandon Yevon and embrace machinery, while many of the older generation felt that cultural changes were happening too quickly. The most influential of the groups are the progressive Youth League, led by Mevyn Nooj and seeking a break from the past, the New Yevon Party, led by a former priest named "Trema" until his disappearance and later by Praetor Baralai, which seeks more gradual change, and the neutral Machina League, led by Gippal. By the start of the game, there are rising tensions between the Youth League and New Yevon factions. Both groups have sought out High Summoner Yuna's support, who has instead joined a sphere hunter group with her cousin in hopes of finding a way to bring back Tidus, her lost love who vanished during the ending of Final Fantasy X.
Several other major and supporting characters from Final Fantasy X appear in the game. Additionally, other characters are introduced in Final Fantasy X-2, such as the faction leaders and the Leblanc Syndicate, a group of sphere hunters who serve as the Gullwings' rivals for much of the game. The game's main antagonist is Shuyin, another new character.