Final Fantasy X – The Importance of Listening to Stories

SPOILER TERRITORY!

If you have never played Final Fantasy X, please, do yourself a favor and consider getting either the original PS2 version or one of the remasters (PS3, PS4, and PC versions are available), as this piece will contain MAJOR spoilers you would not want to know before playing the game for the first time. If you enjoy powerful story moments in fiction – you will thank me for that warning!

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The first Final Fantasy released on the Sony PlayStation 2 had a lot to live up to. After the fantastic set of games that came out on the original PlayStation platform, this was a big step up. A grand update! Who could ever replace the fan favorite Cloud Strife and his beloved Aeris (or Aerith – the choice is yours)? What intriguing gameplay mechanics and systems could it experiment with, as did FFVIII? How could it replicate the fable feeling of FFIX (still on my “to get around to” list)?

FFX brings us to the land of Spira. A distant, foreign place full of gorgeous colors and seemingly lay off atmosphere. We’re traveling there with our protagonist Tidus – following the tradition of naming characters after some sort of weather phenomenon. Although, I never quite understood why the official pronunciation of his name is tee-dus, not tide-us. You know, borrowing from “tide”? That’s honestly probably some mistranslation from English to Japanese and Japanese back to English since the original name is ティーダ – “Tiida”

That’s an irrelevant topic. Let’s go back a few sentences!

Tidus is presented to us as a confident guy. His blond hair and truly vivid blue eyes probably got him more female attention that he’d want as we see in one of the first scenes. A group of fans holding a blitzball in front of Tidus’ face eagerly waiting for his autograph (which also allows the player to change his name if they wish – we’re going to stick with Tidus).

There is someone else in that scene, however. Silently watching from the shadows, maybe make the player go “huh?” before they get thrown into the Central Asia-inspired Zanarkand. Establishing shots show us the scope of the massive city as buildings rise up before us and we control our main character running across a hefty highway. Again, there is somebody else in the background… or maybe even the foreground as we start learning through some of the NPCs dialogue. His face is on the screens, his name echoes, his presence is felt. Even Tidus acknowledges it. His own father Jecht is there in spirit and even though we won’t get to meet him for a while, we are constantly receiving information about him. Maybe even more than about Tidus himself.

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The Blitzball game begins. Tidus is a star player and he is very clearly comfortable with his fame as he enters the water-filled dome. A few minutes into the game, however, a huge force appears and begins to destroy the city. High buildings fall, streets crumble and our protagonist flees. At this point in time, we should also probably mention that there is a third person watching over him. A strong figure wearing a red haori is someone Tidus knows already. He’s called Auron and immediately becomes a contrast to our main character. He’s serious, cold. In battle, Auron is visibly stronger. Tidus can barely even lift his sword! We’re supposed to play as this guy?!

Long story short – the force is revealed to be named Sin and it’s destroying the city. Soon enough it also manages to get a hold of Tidus himself as this was its plan all along… ominous…

This opening is crucial for a story we’re about to get involved in. Notice how I never mentioned the actual first scene happening in the game. The campsite scene chronologically takes place a lot later but I had another reason to not include it. It begins the narration style of Final Fantasy X – the story is told in first person, from Tidus’ perspective. He starts it with a literal “Listen to my story” and apparently this is the part that everybody misses as they never comply!

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I like to think this was inspired by the amazing visuals of FFVIII’s ending.

This intro is quite a read already but, to be fair, this is also a very long game. Today I will be talking about the first act of it – we’re going through the Departure and half of the Initiation portion of it. If that does not make any sense to you – it will shortly. What will make sense at the end of this piece, hopefully, is the infamous laughing scene that everybody likes to criticize! This is the scene I will be stopping at.

The Zanarkand portion and part of his meeting with the Al Bhed are what I called Departure. This is the first set of stages in a monomyth – a concept introduced by Joseph Campbell. You can probably use it to describe most of the common fiction but Final Fantasy X is a prime example of how it can be played out. We will go through the first nine stages – enough to show you that listening to Tidus’ story matters and you completely missed it if you, like a lot of people, thought the laughing scene was “cringe-worthy”. Let us begin.

1.1 – The Call To Adventure

“The hero begins in a situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.”

This is quite literally what happens. Zanarkand is shown to us as Tidus’ hometown. Blitzball is introduced to present something important in his life. Something that gives him strength to move on and what he actually enjoys. Calls into the unknown are easily identifiable, too. A weird boy – later revealed to be one of the fayths (whose encounter with Tidus consists of four words – “It begins. Don’t cry.” Remember that for later.), the constant presence of Jecht and Auron. This scene also establishes one of the themes of the story – comparisons. We will see very shortly that Tidus isn’t only getting compared to his father and he isn’t the only person being compared, either.

1.2 – Refusal of the Call

“Often when the call is given, the future hero first refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his or her current circumstances.”

Tidus is hesitant of going with Auron. The haoki wearing man doesn’t give him much information and seems to be distant. The sword Tidus is given is too heavy for our main hero and his mindset is to simply follow Auron who appears to know much more about what’s going on. Joseph Campbell himself states “the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved.” I don’t think I can explain it better than that.

1.3 – Supernatural Aid

“Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his guide and magical helper appears or becomes known. More often than not, this supernatural mentor will present the hero with one or more talismans or artifacts that will aid him later in his quest.”

This one is obvious. Tidus gets teleported by Sin (with the help of Auron) to the land of Spira. As we later find out – Auron is a literal supernatural mentor to Tidus and he gives him his first weapon.

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[feelings intensifying]?

1.4 – Crossing the Threshold

“This is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known.”

Our protagonist finds himself alone underwater. A place he’s familiar with, yet it quickly becomes dangerous as monsters attack. He needs to use a sword given to him by his mentor to defend himself, find a safe hideout and start caring for himself. He’s lonely and confused. This is the first time we get to see a foreign glowing glyph marked with an unknown language. Quickly enough, we also get confronted by people speaking said language – the Al Bhed. They are not the friendliest of fellas, although one of them helps Tidus fend off a creature.

On the Al Bhed ship, we are introduced to how differently people treat Tidus and the hardships of communication are beginning to pile up. This is also a point in which our hero decides to willingly help his rescuers, though, therefore – crossing the threshold.

1.5 – Belly of the Whale

“The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. By entering this stage, the person shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis.”

Again, taking things quite literally – Sin is a whale. It is a giant force traversing via water. Before getting “too close to Sin” for the second time, we have a scene between Tidus and one of the Al Bheds, who happens to be bilingual. The girl is called Rikku and she explains to him that Zanarkand was destroyed a thousand years ago, the blonde guy clearly has something wrong with his head and it is probably because of Sin’s toxins. She laughs at Tidus’ once he mentions he played for the Blitzball team in his hometown. This completes the separation from his old life as a star player into his new life in a foreign world of Spira.

Honestly, this sudden realization that his Zanarkand is gone, the feeling of loneliness, the hostility of the Al Bhed and being completely lost in a new world is the main driving force behind Tidus’ character. Something most people don’t seem to get. The guy is homesick. He was a well-known figure playing a sport he loved to take part in. Even if it meant getting compared to Jecht all the time. Just in a split second, that life has now disappeared and everything he had was destroyed. Let that sink in for a moment as we fade once again into the ocean.

We have now concluded the Departure portion of the monomyth. We’ve learned quite a few things and set in stone the main character’s motivation, his mindset and the basis of the story. The game asks us if we want to save. Yes, we do. We want to save these concepts as these will be very important in understanding the Initiation.

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Familiar setting, mentor and an amulet – all in one screenshot!

2.1 – The Road of Trials

“The road of trials is a series of tests that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes.”

Tidus washes on a beach of Besaid and shortly after meets another one of his mentors. This time, it is Wakka, whose voice actor now blends two characters in my mind every time I hear him (Wakka and Jake from Adventure Time). That’s irrelevant, though.

Blitzball is back! Our protagonist is excited to hear that. He’s confronted with the contrast of Spira to Zanarkand as Wakka states the same things Rikku already has. Tidus must have been inflicted with Sin’s toxins! He must be crazy! There is no way that he’s from Zanarkand as that place doesn’t exist! Alienating our hero, calling him insane… would you feel good after a conversation like that? Neither does Tidus.

Wakka becomes his (and our) guide through the land of Spira. He eases us into the complex beliefs and mythologies. We learn about the Crusaders, the religion and the prayer which Tidus recognizes from his own world. We get a literal Road of Trials as well! The Besaid Cloister of Trials!

2.2 – The Meeting with the Goddess

“This is the point when the person experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother. This is a very important step in the process and is often represented by the person finding the other person that he or she loves most completely.”

We don’t need to go far for that to happen, either. A “goddess” in the story of Final Fantasy X would just be Yuna. We meet her in seemingly dire circumstances after Tidus learns she hasn’t come back from the Cloister of Trials. He gets enthralled with her character, he sees how similar they are the more he learns about her. Yuna also gets compared to her father – High Summoner Braska. People expect her to defeat Sin – this huge force we’ve been a victim of! How is she supposed to pull this off?

Not only that – Yuna is also the only person who believes Tidus. In one of their first scenes together – they laugh. Clearly enjoying each other company. Yuna shortly confronts Tidus about the name Jecht as she’s heard it already. Jecht was one of her father’s guardians, it appears he left Zanarkand to come to Spira. Before that, we’ve learned that our protagonist was never confident enough to tell his father he hates him. This presents us with the depth of this character. His boldness is just for show. Everyone else was always calling him out on crying, going as far as to call him a crybaby.

This part introduces us to Lulu – an older sister figure to Yuna, Kimahri – one of Yuna’s guardians, and another person Tidus ends up getting compared to – Wakka’s deceased brother Chappu. To put even more pressure on Tidus, Wakka not only wants him to guide the Besaid Blitzball team in a tournament but also gives him Chappu’s sword. Called Brotherhood, no less.

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Somebody is clearly enjoying the company! The PS2 didn’t have the best tech in the world, yet you can still see emotions coming through the characters.

2.3 – Woman as Temptress

“In this step, the hero faces those temptations, often of a physical or pleasurable nature, that may lead him or her to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. Woman is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, since the hero-knight was often tempted by lust from his spiritual journey.”

The waters get murky around here, as these stages get longer and longer. We’re dealing with a JRPG here, after all. Tidus also doesn’t really get tempted by lust in Final Fantasy X. His strays from the main path are mostly because of other incidents happening around him. The first one being the destruction of Kilika.

Once we start getting comfortable with our cast, Sin comes back full force. The attack on Kilika is shown to us in great detail and evokes the feeling of the sudden shock and grief. We’re back into Tidus’ mindset. He gets reminded of a similar scene happening in his hometown and of the appreciation he was receiving from people in Zanarkand after seeing how Kilika locals treat Yuna. This is also cemented by one of the most famous cutscenes in Final Fantasy X – the sending.

Before the ceremony, however, Tidus – and by extension the player – has to learn what it is all about. Lulu isn’t keen on explaining it yet gives a short summary of the afterlife and how the lost souls become fiends. But even she doesn’t want to tell him about “the end”. Obviously, setting up a character without any knowledge of the complex lore is a way to ease the player into it as well. It also creates space for memorable plot twists and a need to replay the game from a perspective of someone aware of all the traditions and know-hows of the land. Final Fantasy X greatly benefits from a second playthrough! I would highly recommend it!

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The game also gets truly sad on your second go…

Back to the distractions; we have the Blitzball tournament. Again, the theme of suffering is shown as Tidus learns that Blitzball is one of the only ways of enjoyment people in Spira have. This is why the Crusaders protect the Luca Stadium and why the tournament is a big deal. People can forget about their hardships when the matches are played out. A sport our protagonist loves will now make him recall its connection to the negative feelings. Frustrated – he screams at the top of his lungs. This isn’t Tidus being weird. These are emotions and stress piling up. He doesn’t want even want to play in the tournament anymore but he has given his word to Wakka and he now knows how important that is to the people of Spira. The Jecht shot technique is another one of those moments that taint the happiness Tidus got from Blitzball.

Yuna’s pilgrimage becomes a focus of the story later on but for now; it is just a distraction. The cast travels to the Kilika Temple and the second Cloister of Trials to receive Ifrit. Then, right before the first Blitzball match, mentions of Auron start once again. In Tidus’ retelling of the story, he points out that it didn’t even come across his mind that this “Spira Auron” and “his” Auron might be different people.

Right after that, Yuna gets captured by the Al Bhed Psyches and we learn about her lineage. The finals are happening, stressful events get thrown at our hero one after another. The crowd doesn’t want to see Tidus on the field. They want Wakka! The hostility becomes more apparent as it happens during Blitzball itself and especially if the player loses the match which is a high possibility on their first playthrough. The bad news are not over yet as Sin attacks the stadium.

2.4 – Atonement with the Father

“In this step the person must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life. In many myths and stories this is the father, or a father figure who has life and death power. This is the center point of the journey. All the previous steps have been moving into this place, all that follow will move out from it. Although this step is most frequently symbolized by an encounter with a male entity, it does not have to be a male; just someone or thing with incredible power.”

If you have been following Tidus’ tale up to this point, you will easily fill in the blanks. The ultimate power in his life is his father. He’s been abused by him, always overshadowed by him. Jecht was always on his mind. Our protagonist has been presenting himself as this cool overconfident guy to hide how horrible he feels about everyone in his life comparing him to Jecht. Jecht is the ultimate power of Spira, too. As we soon learn from our supernatural mentor himself – Auron – Sin is Jecht. And Spira revolves around the cycle of Sin’s destruction. This is a big breakthrough in the story!

Auron is revealed to be another one of Braska’s guardians, even called “the best guardian there ever was”. He throws Tidus in to become Yuna’s guardian putting even more pressure on him. Tidus will now get compared to every other person in this role. To him, Auron isn’t a figure to aspire to. He’s somebody that played him. He brought him to Spira, he betrayed him. He wants him to lie, to hide the truth about Jecht, to excuse everything with Sin’s toxins. Tidus never had a choice, he’s been involved in this unwillingly and is now without a way out.

This is what’s happening in our hero’s mind during the laughing scene.

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One of those people has a different mindset to others. Can you spot the difference?!

The laughing scene is supposed to be awkward. It’s an illusion of comfort. An integral theme to all of Final Fantasy X. Yuna knows this is hard. She repeats that she forces herself to smile, that her journey is to be full of laughter. And – LAST SPOILER ALERT – she’s going to certain death. Their laughs are not to sound good. It’s the expression of emotions. Trying to force negativity out to instead, place something positive there. Final Fantasy X gets a lot of bad word of mouth for this scene but it is only because people view it completely out of context. They don’t listen to the story, as Tidus wanted them to do. They don’t think about the characters and how they are developing. This is the same fate FFVIII’s Squall suffered in people’s eyes. Stuck as how his character begun, not how he developed.

I’ve said before that I appreciate good character development more than actual stories. I love Final Fantasy VIII because of that fact. The storyline might have been almost nonsensical and the plot twists seemed thrown in at random but Squall ended up in a completely different place than at the start of the journey and this is what captivates me. It’s just a shame people don’t pay enough attention and prefer to blame everything on bad voice acting or direction. I’m not about to say FFX’s voice acting was perfect because it clearly wasn’t. It was stiff a lot of the times but this one time, during this one scene – it was supposed to be like this. It’s not easy to make yourself laugh in a believable manner when you’re filled with grief, shock and panic. Tidus might present himself as a confident guy but that’s only his persona. The real Tidus isn’t like this at all.

If only people would actually listen to stories and read books instead of only looking at their covers…

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Empathy’s not hard, guys! If Yuna able to see Tidus is sad – so can you!

Also – this scene also makes them legitimately laugh at the end as they are realizing they enjoy spending time together. Ah, bless them!

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