I just finished playing Final Fantasy X (the HD remaster of the International version), and I really enjoyed it. While Final Fantasy XIII’s Command Synergy Battle system is still my favourite, I think the Count Time Battle system is a step up from VI and VII’s Active Time Battle system. The rearranged soundtrack – while perhaps not as memorable as others in the series – is pretty superb. FFX has the most coherent, cohesive, and well-presented lore and narrative of the Final Fantasy games I’ve played. The game looks fantastic – while a few untouched character models and rigid animations stand out, the core visual direction and art holds up amazingly well for a game that’s now 13 years old. As with a lot of JRPGs, Final Fantasy X’s final stages feel padded out, and several of its later bosses might have been frustrating as hell if I hadn’t done my research and figured out how to deal with their cheap shots. Final Fantasy X isn’t a perfect game, but it’s a damned good one.
As I considered writing about Final Fantasy X, I realized that what I really wanted to write about was its cast of characters. Final Fantasy X is – more so than perhaps even XIII – a game about its characters and their journey. Events transpire and facts about the world are revealed, but the moments that really matter – the moments that will really stick with me – happen between the main characters. The writers – and it’s worth nothing here that FFX’s event director was none other than the now-infamous Motomu Toriyama – did a great job of keeping the spotlight on the cast; the lore isn’t all that important, and it’s appropriately sidelined. Elements of the costume design are easy to criticize, but I didn’t find them distracting, and I don’t think Nomura gets enough credit for the fundamental strength of his facial composition. Yes, snark about belts and zippers all you like, but I think Nomura’s faces are the best in the business, and I’ll submit that Yuna in particular is one of the best overall character designs in video games.
I could write paragraphs about Lulu’s dignified maternalistic responsibility, Wakka’s gradual shedding of religious dogma, Auron’s enigmatic severity, Kimahri’s troubled sense of duty, and even Rikku’s empathetic rapport. In the interest of focus and brevity, however, I want to focus on Final Fantasy X’s lead characters: Tidus and Yuna.
I began FFX with some pretty big reservations about Tidus. He gives early indications of being a bit of a happy-go-lucky dolt – a perception not helped by his over-use of theatrical canned gestures that I’m sure felt a lot more contemporary in 2001. His costume is full-on Nomura, and he has a tendency to make goofy facial expressions. That said, Tidus grew on me. He tends to say what he thinks, and considering the horrible circumstances he finds himself in – his hometown is destroyed, he’s been (seemingly) transported 1000 years into the future, his dad is a giant genocidal sea monster, and he ends up on a near-Sisyphean adventure that will result in the death of the girl he loves – he’s remarkably level-headed, good-natured, and resilient. Tidus is also, notably, not a stereotypical JRPG Chosen One/Mary Sue. He doesn’t have supernatural powers, he’s more awkward than cool, he’s treated fairly condescendingly (especially early on), he doesn’t have a unique role in the lore, and he never really saves the day. He’s not even a particularly great character in battle – I got a lot more mileage out of Yuna, Auron, Lulu, and Wakka.
The infamous, oft-mocked laughing scene was, ironically, one of the scenes that really endeared me to Tidus. It’s easy to mock, but looking past the obvious performance awkwardness (something I’m willing to do, given FFX’s vintage), it’s a pretty charming scene that actually carries a fair bit of narrative weight. What I saw was two overburdened 17-year-olds sharing a childish, awkward, and flirty moment of catharsis amidst pretty bleak circumstances. I could be giving it more credit than it deserves, but I’d much rather be too credulous than too cynical.
That scene brings me to Yuna, who I think is pretty indisputably the star of Final Fantasy X. Her selfless pilgrimage to Zanarkand is one of the most iconic video game adventures I can recall, and its tragic nature lends FFX a fairly unique bittersweet tone. Yuna isn’t a Strong Female Character in the sense that a lot of contemporary discourse seems to be calling for, but she embodies a quiet, dutiful strength that I found very endearing. Between her heritage, the implied expectations of her Guardians, and her youth, Yuna is carrying a ton of weight, and Square did a great job of portraying her quiet struggle. Her and Tidus’ first conversation succinctly sets the game’s heroic journey and love story in motion, and conveys a lot with very little. Yuna’s first sending was the point at which the game really grabbed me – the combination of beauty, despair, innocence, and a vague foreshadowing of Yuna’s fate is a masterwork in video game storytelling. The way later events re-contextualize this sunset conversation between Yuna and Tidus is pretty powerful – Tidus interrupts her in the midst of recording her posthumous goodbyes and inadvertently twists the knife of her looming mortality. The iconic spring scene is similarly tragic – Yuna and Tidus grasp at a carefree escape each realizes is an impossible dream. From this point on, Yuna’s determination is steadfast – she faces down the Ronso with such determination they fight to the death to protect her, and when the time comes, she resolutely summons and defeats the Aeons and Yu Yevon knowing full well Tidus’s existence depends on them. She falters in the end, but in a way that asserts her own humanity.
Final Fantasy X is Yuna’s story, and it’s one of my favourite video game character arcs. It’s about falling in love and saving the world; more importantly, it’s about coming of age too early, living in the shadow of a martyr, challenging received wisdom, and navigating what is effectively a terminal illness. It’s a very special story that hit me emotionally in ways games seldom do.