Part 85: I Do Not Care What The Internet Says, I LOVE This Game!
Today I will break with tradition and first address the subtitle to this blog. I can only image many of you intend to publish a heated response to it, ignoring my supporting commentary on why I feel the way I do. For all my nitpicking and prattle about Final Fantasy X's derisible moments, and there are many, it moved me emotionally in a way games usually do not. Final Fantasy X is daring at parts and showcases a level of gall mostly absent in the video game industry. Almost in spite of its previous madness, I came around to love it.
From a technical perspective, Final Fantasy X's final five hours are a masterstroke in narrative storytelling. Well, except for one part, and trust me, we will talk about that “one part” shortly. Beyond that, Final Fantasy X avoids what I think are the three “Cardinal Sins of Video Game Conclusions.” My three rules are elementary, but the vast majority of games seem to violate one or two when reaching their codas. First, stories should never introduce new information during the conclusion. A sudden plot twist isn't good storytelling; it's a clear sign of writers not knowing what they wanted out of their narratives. My second rule is probably the hardest; don't use the ending to summarize previous events. Summary exposition is a clear sign of an author holding their audience in low regard. Finally, a well-crafted ending elicits strong emotional responses from the public. In my book, Final Fantasy X exceeds all three criteria.
Is Final Fantasy X guilty of shameless pandering and narrative bow-tying? YES, IT IS GUILTY OF BOTH! Do I care? NOPE! As a philosopher once said: "The devil is in the detail." The game panders, but it avoids pulling the rug from underneath you. Nor does it waste your time patting you on the back, or fawning over your previous accomplishments. Instead, it sets up a cathartic ending where you are left wondering what happens next. That is a sign of quality writing!
We could moan and groan about how the story uses the "Hymn of the Fayth" as a Chekov's Gun until the moon turns blue, but that's needless nitpicking for the sake of it. The story crafts compelling set pieces where genuine character drama takes place. Yeah, I think the game would have been better had it not introduced the "Tidus is a dream" horseshit, but even that services one of the most touching scenes in the game. Do I understand what "Dream Zanarkand" is and what role it serves in the story? NOPE! Do I care? If I cannot enjoy a little cheesiness in a Final Fantasy game, then BURN IT ALL DOWN!
Part 86: There's a Plot Twist I Didn't Hate!
Will you look at that, Final Fantasy X crafted a decent plot twist! Discovering Auron is an “unsent” is one of the few revelatory moments Final Fantasy X builds with a stable scaffold. During the party's first visit to the Farplane, Auron was brooding on the steps claiming “I do not belong here.” His excuse of not needing to see his past fit his aloof personality, but there was always a foreboding sense of him hiding something. Lo-and-behold, the Auron we know and love is an apparition of a man with unfinished business.
There's something oddly empowering about Auron being an "unsent." Outside of Belgemine, Auron is one of the few examples of an unsent using their omnipotence for good. Thanks to him, Tidus and Yuna finally break Spira from its wretched torment. It's comforting to know Auron refused to accept his death but defied nature to pursue a greater cause. He's the inverse of Kuja from Final Fantasy IX.
Auron could have been one of the many unsent we encountered during our journey. Yunalesca is the norm for the unsent. This negative precedence generates a distinctiveness to Auron. He's "special" to the world of Spira, and to us. Knowing Auron is an unsent also means we must cherish the little time we have left. The defeat of Sin means those who are condemned to roam Spira with regret, can finally be put to rest, and that includes Auron.
The memory Auron shares to Tidus is emotionally evocative. Auron discloses why he's spent so much of his time raising Tidus. Jecht made Auron promise he would protect Tidus as he developed into adulthood. Tidus may not have appreciated Auron when they first crossed paths, but he now shows a sense of gratitude. I'm a sucker for cohesive character development like this. Hours ago, Tidus and Auron were butting heads and arguing over the necessity of Yuna's pilgrimage. Now, they have developed a permanent bond not defined by carnal urges or a life debt. Their relationship grew naturally as the two learned more about each other. Fuck, the bond between Auron and Tidus is more believable than the relationship story-arc in this game!
Part 87: The Structure For The Conclusion Is A Crazed Mess
It wouldn't be a Final Fantasy blog by ZombiePie if there weren't assholish nitpicking, and goodness there's PLENTY to nitpick! I found Final Fantasy X's linear structure to be largely pleasurable. The lack of an overworld wasn't a handicap to my enjoyment. Final Fantasy X's linearity allowed for interesting experimentation by Square. The worlds we explore are visually diverse and incredibly distinct from one another. Each location does a masterful job of developing a sense of devastation in Spira; lest we forget, there are only two metropolises left standing.
That is where my fawning stops because upon defeating Yunalesca the game finally allows you to return to previous levels. I wanted to praise this decision, but the execution left a bitter taste in my mouth. Not only are certain locations locked behind super bosses or invisible walls, but what you gain out of exploring your surroundings is unfulfilling. Looking back at it, this is something Final Fantasy IX did exquisitely. Visiting the cities of Lindblum and Alexandria during different phases of the story was a romp. Final Fantasy IX takes the time to show each city in various states of glory or disrepair. Watching NPCs try to craft a life in the world of Final Fantasy IX meant they didn't come across as "Weapon Merchant #3" or "Annoying Child #500."
This attention to detail is unfortunately absent in Final Fantasy X. When you revisit the village of Kilika, it is still in ruins with the same dozen characters animating to suggest they are rebuilding their destroyed homes. We saw those same canned animations when we first visited Kilika, and they never amount to anything. Other parts of the world feel equally stagnant. Despite Sin being a roving threat, Spira's major locations remain untouched. Interacting with the NPCs is equally disappointing. Few characters recognize recent developments in the story, and fewer still mention Yuna by name. For a game centered on being an "epic journey," you'd think it would leave no stone unturned.
But there's an even bigger thorn in my side regarding Final Fantasy X's concluding structure. This game has three endings. Zanarkand felt like the logical place for the conclusion of the story. It was the city Yuna dreamed of visiting and the former home of Tidus. It appeared to be the appropriate place for Tidus and Yuna to bring the "Eternal Calm." Then the game transitions to multiple dramatic set pieces at a whim. The mystique behind Zanarkand feels inconsequential by the time the conclusion wraps up.
Sure, defeating Yunalesca isn't the same as killing a giant space whale, but defenders of Final Fantasy X would be hard-pressed to justify its THIRD "ending." Transporting the characters to what is ostensibly heaven, to fight an anthropomorphic bug, isn't the send-off this game deserves. It further highlights how out of place Yunalesca is in the greater narrative. Yunalesca’s defeat falls to the wayside as we transition to multiple dramatic set pieces outside of Zanarkand. And while the conclusion of Tidus's storyline is compelling, it occurs after deciphering terrible platforming bits and obtuse puzzles. There's no denying how much of a Final Fantasy game FFX is.
Part 88: Some Interesting Faffing About
Before we revel in how I made Final Fantasy X a boorish chore, let's discuss a few excellent character moments. The first occurs immediately upon entering the Fahrenheit. Yuna walks up to Cid, and bows. The two characters do not exchange words. For once, a Final Fantasy game has a scene speak for itself. Yuna's gratitude does not require dialogue. Likewise, Cid's happiness does not warrant a long-winded speech. I was shocked to see such creative restraint in a Final Fantasy game.
The supporting moments after this poignant aside are equally resonant. Wakka and Rikku share their belief the Hymn of the Fayth plays a critical role in defeating Sin. They excitedly ferry our party to Bevelle where they plan to share the news to Yo Mika. As they enter the city, Yuna's entourage is accosted by several guards. In what I can only describe to be Shelinda's shining moment, she spares us from a battle against a company of soldiers.
When Yuna confronts Yo Mika, he is surprised she hasn't called the Final Summoning. When she informs him she has put an end to the practice; Yo Mika loses his shit. The religious leader exclaims Yu Yevon will devastate Spira unimpeded, and without the Final Summoning, Spira is all but doomed. Yo Mika divulges Yu Yevon uses Aeons to become invincible, and if there are Aeons, Yu Yevon can never be defeated. Not wanting to see Spira become a wasteland, Yo Mika ostensibly commits suicide, and bursts into a wave of pyreflies. After Yo Mika exits the stage, the Fayth of Bahamut appears before Tidus and Yuna.
Bahamut converses with Tidus and Yuna on their present situation. Tidus informs the apparition they plan on using the "Hymn of the Fayth" to calm down Sin before making a direct assault. The fayth agrees and provides more information about Yu Yevon. Long ago Yu Yevon was the peerless leader of Zanarkand but became so impressed with summoning he couldn't stop. The former defender of Zanarkand became an Aeon due to his summoning addiction. Suspiciously, the fayth concedes Yu Yevon isn't a full-blown villain, but a neutral force driven by obsession.
The specter asks Yuna to summon the Aeons in her repertoire when she reaches Yu Yevon. If Yuna can defeat each Aeon possessed by Yu Yevon, then he will no longer have any "armor" to hide behind. The last moment worth writing about is when the fayth turns to Tidus. The ghost child reminds Tidus that defeating Yu Yevon will cease the fayth's dreaming, and the illusions created by their dreaming will disappear. Confused what this warning means, Yuna attempts to confront Tidus, but he jokingly brushes the warning away.
The story should have shown Yuna acting upon her suspicions. As it stands, Yuna conveys having a hunch about Tidus, but never follows through. She allows herself to be exploited by Tidus's ruse when we all know she's smarter than that. This dillydallying deprives the story of an emotional confrontation between the two star-crossed lovers. Adding such a scene would have added more emotional weight to the conclusion. Not only that, but the game's final heartbreaking point would have been clearer still: Yuna and Tidus have swapped places.
Part 89: The Worst Idea Ever
If there is one inexcusable contrivance I have with Final Fantasy X, it is its side quests SUCK SHIT! It's not just that the optional content rarely contributes to the narrative. The ultimate problem is side quests are soul-crushing tests of any person's patience and come in the form of nauseating minigames or byzantine fetch quests. "Fun" isn't a word which enters my vocabulary when talking about the Cactuar Village, Monster Arena, or Dark Aeons. Maybe "torture," or possibly "agony?"
I openly concede there are some of you who enjoy Blitzball. While I found the minigame to be an arduous math problem, even I enjoyed the presentation of Blitzball. Blitzball showcases a ton of pomp and circumstance, and it maintained my attention for a few minutes. The same cannot be said about the rest of the supplementary content. I think we can agree collecting the Celestial Weapons is the cruelest shit put into a Final Fantasy game.
There's a surfeit of content in Final Fantasy X. If you were stuck on an island and only had one game to maintain your interest until a rescue crew reached you, Final Fantasy X is a solid candidate. There are dozens of time sinks, and personally, I found none of them to be compelling content. To add insult to injury, most of the side quests are different renditions of tired and true Final Fantasy tropes, but "taken to eleven." Capturing monsters to fight in an arena isn't a novel idea, but having to get ten monsters of the same type to complete a set, is.
What I find most insulting is how the game cordons entire portions of the story behind this side content. Wanting to revisit Besaid throws the Dark Aeons in your direction. Discovering the history of Bitzball requires you to complete a tournament. Learning more about the history of Yu Yevon sends you to the Omega Ruins. Resolving Belgemine's story arc subjects you to the Monster Arena. Why would you hide world building beneath fifty feet of GARBAGE?
This grousing leads me to my "terrible idea." For reasons which are my own, I decided to "attempt" every side quest in Final Fantasy X. I will warn you right now: my success rate was paltry. As you may have predicted, I didn't get a single goddamned Celestial Weapon. Likewise, I barely scratched the surface on the Cactuar mission. I ran after one Cactuar, lost track of it, and gave up when I read what the rewards were. Like I have said before, "brevity is the soul of wit," and that means
Part 90: Sidequest Nonsense - Baaj Temple
I enjoyed two side quests in Final Fantasy X, and that's it. The first is the Cavern of the Stolen Fayth, which completes Lulu's character arc. The other is the Baaj Temple, which provides the only characterization of Seymour outside of a few flashbacks in Zanarkand. Likewise, I found the battle against Geosgaeno in the Baaj Temple an empowering callback. Yes, he can one-shot your party using its petrifying "Stone Gaze," but it's a breeze you can complete in a few turns.
Completing this side quest provides one of the strongest Aeons, Anima, and it is a great assist when combating the game's harder bosses. The only downside is accessing the Baaj Temple requires every Destruction Sphere from the Cloister Puzzles. This contrivance isn't great as it adds an hour and a half of needless busywork, but the reward is well worth the extra effort. If you forgot about the Destruction Spheres, and are playing the HD Remaster, then Lord have mercy on your soul.
What the Baaj Temple contributes to the greater narrative is more frustrating. At the temple, you encounter Seymour's mother. She agrees her son has become a wicked monster and needs to be defeated. Seymour's mom discloses how she sacrificed herself at Zanarkand to become Anima. She had hoped Seymour would use this summon to defeat Sin once and for all. Unfortunately, Seymour became intoxicated with his newfound power. She then offers to give Anima to Yuna if she promises to rid the world of Seymour.
I call this "frustrating" for two reasons. One, this should be in the main story because it's the only characterization of Seymour's motives. Despite subjecting you to several shitty affectations, Seymour never reveals what caused his fall from grace. Second, the game cannot be fucked to reference what we learned in the Baaj Temple. While Seymour flexes his pecs, he never mentions his mother or the fact he was a victim of racial prejudice. It's all characterization which only exists in isolated locations.
If confronting racial prejudice was Seymour's raison d’être, he would have been the most grounded Final Fantasy villain in franchise history! Not only that, but a topic as heavy as racism is an unfortunately timeless issue. Think what the story could have gained had it tackled racial prejudice with the same tact as Jecht's alcohol abuse! For whatever reason, the game fails to make good on this potential. When we fight Seymour one last time, he exclaims an added sentence if you summon Anima, but that's all you get.
Part 91: Sidequest Nonsense - Fighting A Dark Aeon & The Jecht Spheres
The Dark Aeons are without a doubt the most rage-inducing content in Final Fantasy X. The Dark Aeons ruin the straightforward process of revisiting previous locations. Let's pause for a minute so I can weave a tale of when I met my first Dark Aeon. When I initially gained control of the Fahrenheit, my immediate reaction was to revisit Besaid. I thought it would have been humbling to see where Yuna's fantastic pilgrimage started. As Yuna reached the gates of Besaid, a priest walked up to blocked her progress. After calling Yuna an "infidel," the priest summoned "DARK VALEFOR," who KO-ed my party in a single move.
The issue I have with the Dark Aeons is how they gate away entire locations I would have loved to explore. With Besaid, there's a Jecht sphere you cannot view until after you defeat Dark Valefor. This scenario is untenable. Not only are the Dark Aeons difficult, but they highlight one of the many examples of Final Fantasy X's design lacking discipline. When you add up the Dark Aeons with the other super bosses (i.e., the Monster Arena, Penance, Ultima Weapon, and Omega Weapon), you realize there are as many "Super Bosses" as there are mainline story bosses. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?
How does the game benefit from this baffling fact? The Dark Aeons are the jumping point to Penance. Beyond that, they exist for the sake of the game boasting about its many super bosses. Defeating these encounters is neither compelling nor entertaining. Even exploiting the gameplay is a trade-off of boredom for tedium. I know I could have summoned Yojimbo and pray he uses Zanmato, but I could not be fucked to care. God does not roll dice!
This audible grousing circles back to why I found the Dark Aeons frustrating. Dark Valefor prevented me from watching the Besaid Jecht sphere. Why is this such a problem? The Jecht spheres feature the best storytelling in the ENTIRE GAME! COME AT ME; The spheres are the reason I came around to Jecht. Watching the growing sense of camaraderie between Braska, Auron, and Jecht was a perfect showcase of Jecht's reformation. The surfacing of Jecht's sensitive side is equally impressive. I would even hazard to say Jecht has the best character arc in a Final Fantasy game since Vivi.
Most of the spheres depict light-hearted joshing during Braska's pilgrimage. What comes through most of all is the sense of Jecht being Tidus's father. Other orbs tell a more dramatic tale. Frequently Jecht expresses a desire to raise Tidus into a decent Blitzball player. Jecht's desire to be back with his family is another constant. These moments showcase how much he has transformed while in Spira, and how it has been a positive force in his life. The game doesn’t suggest Jecht's parental negligence is forgivable, but merely that people can change in unexpected ways.
Now there is one sphere I found objectionable. This moment pertains to Jecht almost ruining Braska's pilgrimage at the Moonflow. Here we see a dejected Jecht lamenting how out of control he becomes when drunk. He loudly promises he'll never drink again, and it appears he kept his promise. Now I have hounded Final Fantasy X about this issue before, so I'll keep my feelings brief. Having a singular moment of self-actualization put an end to an addiction is woefully irresponsible. Conquering any addiction is a slow and painful process fraught with opportunities to fail. To suggest otherwise flies in the face of the people who have had the willpower to conquer their addictions. They are heroes far greater than what this video game is willing to acknowledge.
Part 92: Sidequest Nonsense - EVERYTHING ELSE
Correct me if I am wrong, but beyond the four or five examples of side content already mentioned, nothing else is worth writing about extensively. At least the Dark Aeons are cool to look at when you encounter them. Other side quests can't be bothered to entertain you visually. In my desperate attempt to find value in the game's optional content, I ended up playing another match of Blitzball. This time I listened to the input of my viewers and tried to recruit other players.
I guess there's something oddly hilarious about watching Brother frantically swim in the water sphere, but this feeling is fleeting. The Blitzball recruitment system is more obtuse than it has any right to be. At no point do you understand who the best players are, or where to find them. I will state for the record; I dedicated an hour trying to recruit the best possible players for each position in my team. The result of this hard work was a 0-0 draw in my first non-story match.
Inscrutable game design sabotages other pieces of promising side content. I WANTED to send Belgemine to the Farplane, but could not be fucked to gain the Magus Sisters. It's not that there's anything mechanically broken with the Monster Arena. It's just an annoying time sink which forces you to interact with the worst parts of Final Fantasy X. It hurts the capturing mechanic requires you to use weapons which become a massive hindrance when facing off against higher leveled monsters. And honestly, Belgemine never came across as an interesting character. An unsent summoner using their time to train would be high summoners is intriguing on paper, but this premise isn't worth spending hours capturing monsters.
I do not understand what possessed me to think I was ready to enter the Omega Ruins, but goodness did I regret it. The random encounters you experience are beyond fucked, and the bosses are no slouch either. The concept of the Omega Ruins is decent enough. Thousands of years ago, an imprisoned priest became Omega Weapon due to his hatred of the outside world. Beyond this intriguing conceit, everything about the Omega Ruins SUCKS! The random encounters are a grind. The level design is monotonous. The environmental puzzles are elementary. Finally, defeating Omega Weapon is an unmitigated shit-show. I booked it for the exit when I discovered Omega Weapon has 999,999 HP in the HD Remaster.
Part 93: Final Fantasy X's Momentum Careens Out Of Control
Final Fantasy X’s constant stumbling is forgivable considering how good its final moments are. The several battles against Sin and Jecht are proper bookends to a magnificent journey. The game crescendos to an epic battle and the results do not disappoint. Fighting Sin on the exterior of the Fahrenheit, as the airship’s missiles blast it away, is an awe-inspiring sight. Each confrontation stresses the enormity of Sin. Fighting Sin’s pectoral fins requires two separate battles, and each does an excellent job of underscoring the monumental nature of our struggle.
Normally I would chastise a game for providing too much of a good thing, but the writing prevents this video game “sin.” As the party prepares for each battle, the characters express varying degrees of exhaustion. During one such sequence, Yuna and Tidus have a brief aside where Yuna questions if they are making any real progress. The sense of fatigue in her words is palpable, and we should know, as we have gone through the same battles. On top of that, the cutscenes leading up to the Sin battles are AWESOME!
Dynamic camera angles are dramatically used to provide cinematic flair. Each gives prominence to Sin’s massive stature. Watching the lumbering beast inch closer to our diminutive party is excellent directing. Entering the bowels of Sin and exploring that which lives there is equally stunning. Waltzing through the decrypt ruins of Zanarkand adds to the ensuing drama. Even before that, the game throws one more battle against Seymour, which I didn’t hate. Seymour's design is terrible, but it is one of the few times Final Fantasy X crafted a puzzle within a boss, and it didn’t make me want to pull my hair out.
Seymour’s story arc concludes with little pomp and no circumstance, but this quibble is moot. Seymour always sucked, and I was prepared for his conclusion to be unfulfilling. Likewise, the story moments inside Sin are robust enough to maintain my attention. Exploring Zanarkand is largely pleasurable. Sometimes the game overstays its welcome, but I can't fault the game for trying to build its mood and tone. Exploring the devastated ruins of Tidus's former home is an eerie reminder of how far we have come. Many hours ago Tidus was whining about being far away from home; now, look where we are.
Part 94: Jecht's Story Arc Is The Best Goddamned Thing In The Game!
So why am I willing to forgive Final Fantasy X’s earlier blunders? My response is relatively straightforward. The subplot between Jecht and Tidus is one of the most compelling ever conveyed in the Final Fantasy franchise. Maybe it’s the minimalism of their dialogue, which comes in awkward spurts rather than long-winded diatribes. Maybe it was the added potency of the narrative’s tasteful use of parental negligence and substance abuse. Maybe it was Tidus’s voice actor expressing a diversity of emotions most critics ignore. Regardless, the conclusion of this story arc is an emotionally tinged cocktail where its melodrama is used to the game’s benefit.
What I found to be resonant most of all is how Jecht and Tidus are far from being the father and son you imagine in your dreams. The conclusion of Final Fantasy X doesn’t magically heal the decades of abuse Jecht afflicted on Tidus. What I found commendable is how Final Fantasy X doesn’t waver in its characterization of Jecht. He still maintains his gruff exterior as he chides Tidus for being emotional. Tidus poignantly exclaims his hatred for his father and refuses to forgive his prior abuse. It appears to be a classic case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. Then, when you least expect it, Jecht apologizes. He’s sorry it's come to this, and he's remorseful he can’t stop himself from hurting his son.
As the cityscape of Zanarkand illuminates, and the final form of Jecht appears, I was left speechless. Jecht takes the form of a fiery abomination. The monster bears enough of Jecht’s hallmarks you know it’s him. It’s an odd example of the game’s over-the-top boss design adding to the emotional weight of a scene. You knew this battle was bound to happen but did not understand what shape it would take.
I wish the fight against Jecht weren't a complete slog. The combination of the pagodas and several party leveling attacks made defeating him an abhorrent grind. It’s within the game’s prerogative to have a legitimately difficult final boss, but Final Fantasy X burns its furniture to heat its house. Jecht is immune to virtually every possible status effect, and he has several countermeasures to use against your party. Like previous bosses, he can shatter petrified party members, and good luck beating him with two characters. Then there's Jecht's Overdrive. GOOD LORD, his OverdriveFUCKED ME UP! When Jecht hit, he hit hard, and I felt powerless when his pagodas charged him to his maximum strength. I resolved to use Rikku’s "Mix" ability to off Jecht in two or three turns thanks to “Trio of 9,999,” but it shouldn't have come to that.
Part 95: Yu Yevon Is The Most Insulting Final Boss I Have Ever Seen
The conclusion to Final Fantasy X is almost a tour de force of high production values melding perfectly with evocative emotions. The spectacle it provides is a sight to see. There is, however, one final black mark against this game, and that's Yu Yevon. Not since Final Fantasy VIII have I seen a Final Fantasy game attempt to shock its audience and fail so spectacularly. Fighting Yu Yevon's is an anticlimax. There's no other way to describe it.
It’s a soap opera-esque storyline straight out of 1999, and the dialogue continually embarrasses itself. Watching the characters act horrified at Yu Yevon is laughable. The presentation fares none better. The party finds itself in heaven, but are transported without warning. I will give credit where credit is due, the series of battles against the Yu Yevon possessed Aeons is one of the stronger moments in this sequence. Each time you defeat an Aeon the camera pans to a pained look on Yuna's face. She's emotionally torn as she kills the Aeons she has grown to love.
Yu Yeon’s dramatic entrance is little more than a second-rate knockoff of previous Final Fantasy games. Most Final Fantasy villains pop out of nowhere to prevent our heroes from a glorious victory, but something about Yu Yevon feels especially off. Say what you will about Necron from Final Fantasy IX, but at least he's a threat to the player. And while Sephiroth and Ultimecia are held back by unnecessarily convoluted plotlines, the spectacular production values of their final battles saved them from boredom. The battle against Yu Yevon boils down to a waiting game. For fuck’s sake, its own gravity spells subject it to more damage than your actual attacks. Not only that, but the game grants you the “Auto-Life” ability which dissolves any semblance of difficulty.
Asspull bosses are one thing, but what makes Yu Yevon all the more insulting is how it concludes no story arcs. Usually, final bosses provide lines of exposition as you fight them. This dialogue clues you into why they tried to bring death and destruction to the world. During the battle, Yu Yevon doesn’t make so much as a peep. He floats in the air as he harms himself until he's down for the count. It’s a battle that just happens, and when it is done, so is the game’s investment in Yu Yevon. No one walks away from this fight looking stronger. The game leaves you with a brazenly schlocky final battle which the “real” ending salvages by sheer brute force.
Part 96: It's Not The Ending You Want; It's The Ending You Need
Nothing quite brings you crashing down to reality like the realization the protagonist you have followed for the last forty hours is not long for this world. Their journey is yours as their vicarious experiences are an extension of your accomplishments. This highly personal relationship is a primary reason games rarely challenge the notion of the "happy ending." Any defiance to the standard video game rigmarole could be interpreted as an affront to the player. The player has put in hours of hard work to get to the end of a game, and developers rarely wish to question this sense of entitlement.
As Tidus dematerializes, the game makes it abundantly clear you are not getting the happy ending this game's previously smarmy tone demanded. I cannot help but applaud the writers for taking this monumental risk. To think a game populated with forced laughter and J-Pop induced love scenes DOESN'T end with everyone living happily ever after, is shocking. For once, a high budgeted three-dimensional era Final Fantasy game dared to challenge its audience. It feeds them a bitter cocktail of tears, heartbreak, and crushing reality. Better yet,
The moment Yuna begins her sending ritual for the remaining unsent on Spira, and everyone notices Auron is disappearing, sent shivers down my spine. Knowing one of the most consistently great characters is leaving for the afterlife is desperately sad, but somehow life-affirming. In a game as provably stupid as Final Fantasy X, even it can take the time to remind you of the important things in life. Auron leaves his friends knowing he’s done his part to break Spira of its vicious cycle, and fully confident they will usher a new era where all can grow and prosper. It’s equal parts bad-ass and touching.
There are other small touches during the conclusion worth discussing. Watching the Aeons petrify, and then burst into dust, drew an audible gasp from me. Watching everything I spent hours to gain shatter before my eyes, was a powerful but disquieting visual. The callbacks to characters like Gatta, Elma, and Shelinda wonderfully underscore how epic of a journey this has been. The blue pillar of fayth exploding into a mountain of pyreflies provides a similar intimation. With the fayth finally released from their slumber, you know the game has reached its conclusion. It is at this moment you are reminded of the gravest consequence of your party’s accomplishments.
What got me most of all is when Yuna runs to embrace Tidus, and she tumbles through him. Tears stream down her face as she realizes there’s no stopping this depressing conclusion. After forty hours you empathize with Yuna. Someone as tender-hearted as Yuna deserves to live out the rest of her life in leisure. No other member of our party has sacrificed more and received so little in return. When Tidus walked up to hug a distraught Yuna, and his arms phased into her body, I lost it. Watching Tidus thoughtfully adjust his geometry to better comfort Yuna is one of the most compelling visuals I have seen in a video game. It’s amazing how subdued the game’s final moments are. There’s no overwrought goodbye from either character. As Tidus jumps into the Farplane, he waves goodbye and leaves to join Braska, Auron, and Jecht. For once, a Final Fantasy game lets its ending speak for itself.
When the game transitions to Yuna, it once again reels in its melodrama for an emotionally realistic scene. Yuna recognizes the sacrifices everyone has made to reach their well-earned respite from Sin. Yuna hesitates as she speaks, and the wispy nature of Yuna’s voice feels appropriate for the scene. I enjoy how Yuna isn’t a great speaker when provided a podium. How would you and I handle the pressure of having to address thousands of grief-stricken people? I think we would all struggle to form a coherent sentence without coming across as inconsiderate, or using the tired trope of telling people “this too shall pass.” I also think Yuna’s insufficient confidence adds to the sense of an uncertain future. The people of Spira have had their society upended from the ground up. It’s almost as if knowing what happens next would have been worthy of a sequel.
Part 97: What An Ending; What A Game!
I end each Final Fantasy blog series with a mini-essay on whether I think people should play the game in question. Here, I feel doing so is an exercise in redundancy. I greatly enjoyed Final Fantasy X and highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t yet experienced it. Final Fantasy X has one of the best endings I have ever seen in a video game. The relationship between Yuna and Tidus adds emotional honesty to the greater narrative. The dynamic between Tidus and Jecht is one of the best stories conveyed in a Final Fantasy game. Finally, the production values of Final Fantasy X ensure it will stand the test of time for as long as video games exist.
I understand many of these claims may come across as histrionics. Final Fantasy X is a game with a myriad of flaws. The voice acting draws plenty of ire, and with good reason. When the dialogue swings and misses, the voice acting places the writing under an even brighter spotlight. There are sequences and story set pieces which drag far longer than they should. Tidus’s characterization is inconsistent, and his plot-twist is catastrophically terrible. I recognize these points being legitimate criticisms of Final Fantasy X. I’m not some maniac who views this game as being a perfect crystal worthy of trollish defending.
But through the mist and madness, Final Fantasy X perseveres. Crafted with loads of sincerity, when the story hits its targets, you cannot help but cheer it along. Beyond that, even the most ardent of Final Fantasy X’s critics would be hard-pressed to deny it was a massive risk. Lest we forget, the Final Fantasy franchise is as much about Square trying novel ideas as it is about using a family of tired storytelling tropes. This, more than anything else, is part of what earned them a place in video game history. Final Fantasy X takes risks just as previous games did. Not all risks played out perfectly, but you have to credit the game for trying new ideas, and not relying entirely on the Final Fantasy playbook.
Mechanically, Final Fantasy X has one of the best combat systems I have seen in a JRPG. Final Fantasy X's rejection of the ATB system is indisputably its greatest attribute. This game PROVED the franchise didn’t need to be held back by the ATB system, and future entries could experiment with combat systems free from its rigidity. This emancipating point proves Final Fantasy X has a legacy worthy of academic discussion. And let's be honest, Final Fantasy X is fun to play. Being able to swap characters seamlessly in and out of combat encourages player investment in each character. The same sentiment applies to the Sphere Grid. While the Sphere Grid is daunting, it becomes gloriously liberating when you finally wrap your mind around it. You are free to convert any character into whatever you want, and each pathway on the Sphere Grid provides compelling results.
I want to take the time to address the most common criticism Final Fantasy X receives. Well, at least the most common criticism the game receives on the internet. Many like to claim it ushered a new era of Final Fantasy games which lost sight of what initially defined the franchise. This sentiment is categorically false. I hate to break it to you, but it wasn’t Final Fantasy X that forced out Hironobu Sakaguchi and the quainter era of Final Fantasy games. It was Square’s insistence that their eye for technical excellence was conducive to making a hundred million dollar movie!
Let’s be honest here, much of what Final Fantasy X is maligned for, started with Final Fantasy VII. The Final Fantasy franchise’s current reliance on narrative melodrama and technical excellence, rather than mechanical brilliance and straightforward storytelling, began with Final Fantasy VII. What I do not understand is why one game is revered for ushering JRPGs to new heights, whereas another receives mountains of shit due to ONE SCENE pulled out of context. Fuck that jazz! If Final Fantasy VII and X swapped places on the Final Fantasy timeline, I think this conversation would be different. Take this with a grain of salt as I am someone who has yet to play an 8 or 16-bit era Final Fantasy game, but this is my impression as an outsider looking in.
So I’ll repeat what I hope is abundantly clear. Final Fantasy X is a fun game with largely pleasurable characters. It’s a journey with plenty of moments worthy of condemnation, but these points do not distract from the “bigger picture.” Final Fantasy X features a story of self-actualization and sacrifice, and when its character drama sinks into your heart, you’ll realize how emotionally honest the game is. Check it out if you haven’t already done so, and I promise you will not regret it.
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