Fighting Final Fantasy X Parts 14-25: Am I In Love, Or Is This Just The "Honeymoon Period?"

Part 14: Exposition Done Right... Well, Mostly

In the previous episode, I spent much of my time discussing how Besaid introduces the game's two major thematics. These thematics are sports culture and religion, and Final Fantasy X does them justice. Wakka serves as a cautionary tale on the dangers of sports culture as he cannot finish a scene without name dropping Blitzball. Regarding religion, the game hints at a darker subtext whilst using the “theory of omission.” The game’s gaps of information are an appreciated change from the heavy-handed exposition dumps from earlier games.

YOU ARE DAMN RIGHT YOU DON'T KNOW SHIT!
YOU ARE DAMN RIGHT YOU DON'T KNOW SHIT!

Interacting with two "Crusaders" reveals several things about the dominant religion in Spira. Yevon has a religious order with the support to fund and train an army of believers. Likewise, this religious institution has sunk its teeth deep into the remnants of human society. Humanity blindly follows the customs stipulated by Yevon. Plenty of people trust this institution so much, they feel it is worth sacrificing their lives. This is communicated BEFORE the formal introduction of the theocracy’s hierarchy and is one of the game’s more successful examples of front-loading.

There's a distinct feeling of syncretism regarding the faith of Yevon. When Tidus finally enters the Besaid Temple, it is decorated with anachronistic religious iconography. The practices and uniforms of the summoners are distinctly Shinto, but the icons and customs are Buddhist. The hierarchical nature of Yevon adds in an unmistakable Abrahamic feel. Comparisons to the Catholic Church, or Islam, are unshakeable. All this means the game's use of Yevon resonates with a larger audience.

There's someone to hear my prayers? Someone who cares? Someone who's there?
There's someone to hear my prayers? Someone who cares? Someone who's there?

The only issue is the game's effective world building is complemented with Tidus acting like a goober. We are only two episodes in, and I have resigned myself to Tidus ruining emotionally poignant moments. Tidus's brazenly moronic behavior is cringeworthy. As the game is attempting to introduce the player to the customs and practices of Spira, Tidus sees to it to violate every possible religious tenet of Yevon. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he acts as if the people and places of Spira are impediments to his efforts to go “home.” This makes it difficult to understand Tidus’s perspective for the first three hours of Final Fantasy X.

What is more of an insult is when Tidus expresses bewilderment with concepts he has JUST BEEN INFORMED ABOUT! How many more times am I going to be forced to tolerate Tidus introducing himself as a member of the "Zanarkand Abes?" HE WAS TOLD TO NOT DO THIS TWO HOURS AGO! I understand the purpose is to have Tidus act as a cipher, but his behavior is insufferable. Instead of acting inquisitively about his surroundings he treats the world of Spira as a playground for heroics. Give me a goddamned break Tidus!

THEN LEARN HOW TO LIE! DO SOMETHING INTELLIGENT FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE! FUCK ME!
THEN LEARN HOW TO LIE! DO SOMETHING INTELLIGENT FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE! FUCK ME!

Part 15: THE CLOISTER OF TRIALS PUZZLES ARE FUCKING BULLSHIT!

Once Tidus and Wakka are done repudiating Satan, they return home and get some much-needed rest. What ensues next is an odd torment of a scene. A soliloquy between a priest and Wakka tailspins into another God-awful dream sequence. The dialogue between Wakka and the priest serves to foreshadow Yuna’s dire predicament in the temple. That's noble enough, but the scene becomes muddled when we witness a young Tidus wishing his father dead.

Is being an insufferable brat a requirement to become a Final Fantasy protaganist?
Is being an insufferable brat a requirement to become a Final Fantasy protaganist?

Final Fantasy X’s narrative repetition is a growing annoyance. The dream sequences repeat Tidus's surface level angst against his father. Rather than build my sympathy for Tidus, they showcase him as a sniveling brat. While I contemplated my disgust for Tidus, he poisons the well yet again when we re-enter the temple. Upon discovering there is a summoner locked deep within the catacombs, Tidus sees to it to rescue the “damsel in distress.”

There are two points of contention to be made. One, Tidus disrespects the customs and practices of Yevon without retribution. By not allowing Tidus to experience a comeuppance the rules and customs of Yevon feel without merit. The second issue stems from the mixed messages the game sends to its audience. If you are going to feature the protagonist violating the core beliefs of a religious institution, for goodness' sake, have it mean something. When it is all said and done Tidus's blasphemous act is all for naught. As he reaches the inner chamber Yuna magically exits the cloister barely scathed. His attempt to prove the necessity of humanism over theocracy fails. This deprives the sequence of a raison d’être.

NOW LET'S TALK ABOUT THIS HORSESHIT!
NOW LET'S TALK ABOUT THIS HORSESHIT!

Should Final Fantasy X be inducted into the Video Game Hall of Fame, it will be despite several black marks on its record. The most prominent of those black marks are the Cloister puzzles. What the fuck was the design team even thinking? If you were to remove them, nothing of consequence would be lost.

Fuck video games forever.
Fuck video games forever.

The cloister puzzles are a bad thing. They are byzantine in design and require the player to think like an MIT graduate. With no pomp or circumstance, the game plops you deep within a temple with ominous glyphs hovering over a nearby door. You discover there are several glyphs and spheres you need to interact with if you wish to progress further into the temple. You are then subjected to a glorified pixel hunt as you look for obscured orifices to place spheres into. Benign cracks now become small details you furiously mash the action button on. The previously tolerable fixed camera angles now become a major handicap. It’s a kludgy mess that does not improve.

What did I do to deserve this?
What did I do to deserve this?

Let's double back to those "Destruction Spheres." In the game's tutorial, it playfully suggests locating and using the Destruction Spheres will unlock helpful "treasure." Under normal circumstances, the word "TREASURE" coincides with the word "OPTIONAL." The Destruction Spheres are ANYTHING BUT "OPTIONAL!" Some would even argue the first Destruction Sphere is THE MOST CRITICAL TO COMPLETE! WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?! YOU CANNOT DO THIS! Nothing in the game articulates the unqualified importance of the Destruction Spheres, and lacking the ability to revisit previous locations compounds this problem.

What a crock of shit!
What a crock of shit!

What is especially disappointing is how wasteful the puzzles are. We enter temples with thousands of years of history and learn nothing about that history. Progressing from one chamber to the next doesn't shed new light on how the practices of Yevon developed. There are large gaps in Final Fantasy X's fossil record, but it refuses to clue us in on what those gaps may be. Nor do the puzzles provide context on what you are doing. You are moving destruction orbs to the correct place purely for the sake of it.

Part 16: This Game Is JAPANESE AS FUCK!

After the pointless puzzling about is complete, Tidus finds his way to the inner chamber where the distressed summoner is apparently trapped. As suggested earlier, Tidus's tantrum proves pointless as Yuna exits the temple's inner chamber without his help. Tidus's ill-conceived folly draws the ire of Yuna's Guardians, Lulu and Kimahri. What rubs me the wrong way is how the game depicts Tidus as being in the right, despite the opposite being true. Imagine reading about a maniac running into the Vatican City whilst shouting "I HAVE TO SAVE THE PRINCESS!" Now if that news report ended with the Swiss Guard shooting that person dead, would you be surprised?

Why does the game wait until the fourth set piece to explain what the
Why does the game wait until the fourth set piece to explain what the "pilgrimage" is?

Things are not entirely terrible. I appreciated how the game takes the time to showcase Tidus as an outsider looking in. When Yuna announces she has become a summoner, the entirety of Besaid is jubilant, whereas Tidus looks bewildered and overwhelmed. Yuna's announcement and the celebration which befalls the city underscore how different Spira is to Zanarkand. Yuna has a social network and its occupants consistently express justifiable skepticism regarding Tidus. Lulu's initially cold demeanor, and Kimahri's stoicism, all come across as understandable reactions to Tidus.

It blows my mind how the supporting cast is better at expressing emotions than Tidus.
It blows my mind how the supporting cast is better at expressing emotions than Tidus.

Yuna's summoning of Valefor is another example of genius storytelling. The scene does well to remind us that Yuna is a junior summoner brimming with potential and newfound power. She’s also the nurturing type given her loving embrace of Valefor. It is worth mentioning the cinematic attempts to incentivize the player to explore the cloisters as they may contain extra summons. I would like to preface I wrote that sentence whilst gritting my teeth and holding back screams of terror.

Remember how I bowed out of skewering the game's technical limitations by claiming its "heart is in the right place?" The midnight celebration for Yuna fits that definition perfectly. For all intents and purposes, the literal presentation of the set piece is a feverish nightmare. Characters behave like automatons, and the voice acting is questionable. BUT it somehow works for me. Wakka's joshing around seems honest, Tidus's speech to the Besaid Aurochs appears sincere, and you know EXACTLY WHAT THE GAME IS TRYING TO DO WITH YUNA!

Oh we will get to this shit in a little bit!
Oh we will get to this shit in a little bit!

Each character expresses a distinct and entirely transparent emotional state to the audience. Likewise, there's something "different" about Tidus during the nighttime celebration. His motivational speech with the Besaid Aurochs is a cheesy but touching aside. Tidus is becoming more comfortable with his surroundings and developing a sense of sincerity whilst doing so. The game does a nice job of showing its protagonist pursuing interpersonal relationships outside of the primary cast. What is less successful is when Tidus turns to Yuna.

Part 17: The Scenes Between Tidus and Yuna are ROUGH!

I'm hoping the dialogue between Tidus and Yuna gets better, otherwise this going to be ROUGH!
I'm hoping the dialogue between Tidus and Yuna gets better, otherwise this going to be ROUGH!

For a story predicated on two characters being in a relationship, you’d think more effort would have gone into the interactions between Tidus and Yuna. The script calls for a sense of teenage awkwardness, but the execution is a DISASTER! What should be an endearing flirtation between the two characters becomes a soul-wrenchingly painful exercise. The two ask each other terribly "awkward" questions, because hey, that's what you do when you have belligerent sexual tension! It's typical for a Final Fantasy game, but the addition of voice acting means the script's faults are placed under a more prominent spotlight.

We didn't talk about it last episode, but sometimes the faces in the HD Remaster look WRONG. It's kind of freaky....
We didn't talk about it last episode, but sometimes the faces in the HD Remaster look WRONG. It's kind of freaky....

I wish to express a disclaimer. What I am about to say may be the most controversial opinion I express on this series. I know many of you will react violently to what I am about to say. Before I say it, I want to preface I appreciate you taking the time to read these horribly long-winded diatribes. You are all beautiful people and I wish you all the best. So here we go….

I think the voice acting for Yuna is worse than the voice acting for Tidus.

A majority of her responses are single-word replies, like "yes" or "uh-huh." When she speaks more than one syllable, she speaks with a hushed monotone voice that puts me to sleep. Tone-deaf would be a great way to describe my impression of Yuna. During moments where she's expected to express anger or excitement, she instead speaks using the same monotonous droning from before. The result is a torment of unconvincing performances, one after another.

I would like to mention my criticism is not directed at Yuna's voice actor. She did her best with what she was given. Let's not joke around, Yuna's script is appalling. Compared to the rest of the cast, Yuna utters the greatest number of proper nouns and technical terms. This results in large swaths of her dialogue sounding like technobabble worthy of an episode of Star Trek. When Yuna lectures about her upbringing, despite my interest in the topic, her dialogue sounds like a child wrote it.

Why don't you ask him what his favorite flavor of ice-cream is?
Why don't you ask him what his favorite flavor of ice-cream is?

There's another issue I would like to address. When Yuna expresses a feeling of infatuation towards Tidus, it results in the stiffest line reading in the game. If this game wants me to believe these two will fall in love, it had better get its shit together ASAP! It is nakedly transparent the game is trying to sow the seeds of this relationship early. The problem is nothing feels genuine or believable. Even if you muted the game, I don't think their relationship comes across as less forced. We go from "Look at the summoner!" to "Oh hey, it's love at first site," in record time.

Part 18: Tidus's Dream Sequences Continue To Be Terrible

Oh man, this fucking scene is SOMETHING ELSE!
Oh man, this fucking scene is SOMETHING ELSE!

Oh, GOD! This fucking scene is BAD! HOLY SHIT, I DO NOT KNOW WHERE TO START! It bears mentioning how the earlier performance with Wakka is awfully cute, and that's an honest compliment. Wakka playfully teasing Tidus helps craft those positive interpersonal relationships I always harp about. This serves as an interesting segue to Final Fantasy X's dialogue choices. Once in a blue moon, you can decide how Tidus responds to a situation. These moments are best described as “innocuous.” They are innocent and have little impact on the greater machinations in the game.

SEE! The faces are real fucked up in the HD Remaster! Was this the case in the original game?
SEE! The faces are real fucked up in the HD Remaster! Was this the case in the original game?

I am between-two-worlds on whether I find the game's dialogue choices to be liberating or wasteful. I find it liberating as it allows me to role-play as the Tidus I want, rather than the Tidus I feel obligated to be. On the other hand, the choices feel unnecessary and their purpose is too obfuscated from the player. I do not understand if my choices will lead to anything, and yet again I do not know if this is a good or bad thing. As it stands, I'm role-playing as a Casanova wannabe whenever given the opportunity.

Then the dream sequence happens. So here's the deal. I do not understand what the purpose of this scene was! I have NO CLUE why this was included in the game! Without words to describe my feelings, I'll just chronicle every part of the scene and hope it makes more sense to you.

And away we go!
And away we go!

The scene starts with Tidus sitting on a nondescript pier. Eventually, Yuna approaches Tidus to inform him their plan may have been "discovered" by an unknown force. Who is she talking about? I HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA!

What do you mean by
What do you mean by "it?" WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING?

It turns out Yuna has asked Tidus to take the two of them to Zanarkand. Then Rikku pops out of nowhere to remind Tidus he promised to take her to Zanarkand... despite this never happening. WHY DOES EVERYONE WANT TO GO TO ZANARKAND?

WHY IS RIKKU HERE? DID TIDUS TAKE DRUGS BEFORE GOING TO BED?
WHY IS RIKKU HERE? DID TIDUS TAKE DRUGS BEFORE GOING TO BED?

Tidus tries to make sense of the chaos, but then he hears his father billowing in the distance. After chastising him once, Tidus transforms into a small child. The camera then pans to Jecht who is now accompanied by Rikku and Yuna. WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING?

Oh GOD... please tell me there ISN'T an Oedipus complex in this game!
Oh GOD... please tell me there ISN'T an Oedipus complex in this game!

Rikku and Yuna try to empower Tidus to stand up to his father. They beckon Tidus to share his true feelings. So he shouts "I hate you," and then he wakes up. The game transitions to the next scene as if this dream NEVER HAPPENED!

That's just uncalled for Tidus!
That's just uncalled for Tidus!

Part 19: Wakka Is My Favorite Character In The Game

You might wonder how someone who tore Steiner from Final Fantasy IX a new fucking asshole can admit to liking Wakka. Well, my lovelies, the devil is in the details, and I'm all about the Devil. Before you call me "crazy" let me defend my outrageous declaration, because the scene after Tidus wakes up is part of the reason I feel adamant about Wakka. Tidus overhears Lulu and Wakka talking behind his back, and this conversation is important for a couple reasons. It introduces Wakka's character arc and propensity for Tidus. We discover Tidus looks alarmingly like Wakka's recently deceased brother, Chappu.

Can we talk about how Lulu's dress is made entirely out of belts? WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT ABOUT?!
Can we talk about how Lulu's dress is made entirely out of belts? WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT ABOUT?!

This premise works for me for several reasons. The main reason is the game has established Wakka to be a man who is dedicated to his faith. This suggests he has an affinity for miracles or the unbelievable. What is to say Wakka doesn't view the miraculous appearance of Tidus to be a blessing for his religious devotion? As superficial as it may seem, the story arc regarding Chappu adds some much-needed depth to what could have been just another Final Fantasy comic relief character.

I appreciate Wakka's emotional transparency whenever he interacts with the other characters. When Tidus asks Wakka about Chappu, he does not hesitate to reveal the truth. He is a character who wears his emotions on his sleeves and makes no qualms about it. The ease of which you understand his emotions is complimented by his story arc. The death of a relative is something we can all relate to. This means you better understand his grief and actions within the game.

And I want to say I think John DiMaggio is the most
And I want to say I think John DiMaggio is the most "consistent" voice actor in the game.

I enjoy the character dynamic between Tidus and Wakka. I find their playful joshing about to be complimentary to their characterization, and a compelling way to welcome the player to the world of Spira. Wakka welcomes Tidus, and therefore the player, with open arms and radiant enthusiasm. It is a relationship the game fully realizes and the fact it has "teeth" makes it all the more compelling. There's no denying there's something infectious about Wakka. I cannot entirely place my finger on it, but he's a character I think the writers wanted you to gravitate towards, and they accomplished this.

It is worth noting Tidus avoids being a jackass when Wakka talks about his brother.
It is worth noting Tidus avoids being a jackass when Wakka talks about his brother.

There's one final aspect of Wakka I feel obligated to address. On the previous episode, I mentioned how over the moon I was regarding Final Fantasy X's depiction of interpersonal relationships. Wakka is the initial force which gets this ball rolling. Wakka is the first character we witness pursuing relationships beyond Tidus. The dynamic between him and Lulu is one of the more compelling relationships in the game. What is more important is how Wakka pursues his relationships on his own prerogative. Every supporting character in the previous games either did not pursue interpersonal relationships beyond the protagonist (i.e. FFVII), or they required the protagonist to support them (i.e. FFIX). Wakka breaks that trend in the first three hours, and this is a monumental accomplishment.

Part 20: The Game Is Still Tutorializing... Three Hours Deep

Why did the game pass off a joke during Yuna's dramatic coming of age moment?
Why did the game pass off a joke during Yuna's dramatic coming of age moment?

Previously I praised Final Fantasy X for chunking up its gameplay tutorials, and now I must eat humble pie. As Lulu and Yuna accompany us, we are subjected to TWO major gameplay tutorials. The first introduces Final Fantasy X's elemental weakness system. Either the game is stretching its mechanics to the breaking point, or the developers thought lowly of their audience.

Why does Lulu use a toy Moogle as a weapon?
Why does Lulu use a toy Moogle as a weapon?

As someone who grew up memorizing Pokemon's elemental system, I have always had difficulties wrapping my mind around Final Fantasy’s elemental system. It is like skiers and snowboarders having to "unlearn" certain habits if they wish to practice the other sport. It is simple enough, but I question why the game waited until NOW to explain this to the player. We have fought countless baddies and bosses, and it was clear most had an elemental alignment of some sort. Following some faffing about, Tidus finds himself pitted in a battle against a mysterious lion.

OH SHIT! When did Panthro become a Final Fantasy character?
OH SHIT! When did Panthro become a Final Fantasy character?

I don't hate this confrontation, but it has its fair share of issues. It persuasively introduces Kimahri as a protective guardian of Yuna. Kimahri is a man of action when it comes to ensuring Yuna's safety, and it doesn't hurt he looks cool while doing so. Our battle also serves as a reminder of the skepticism Tidus is facing. Whether it be Lulu's cold demeanor or Kimahri's bloodlust the game does a good job in emphasizing the supporting cast are NOT ENTHUSED by his presence.

Now if only Kimahri wasn't a complete waste of a character. The design of Kimahri is interesting enough, unfortunately, his execution sabotages everything about him. Being the mute stoic type means there are no opportunities to interact proactively with Kimahri. Lulu mentions Kimahri's race and tribe, and these measly factoids hold us over for an undisclosed amount of time. It's the "Red XIII Syndrome" all over again ladies and gentlemen! I suspect the design team added him into the game for the sake of it and didn't have a "master plan" regarding his place in the story.

Is it me, or does summon suck? Like why does the summoning animation take FOREVER?!
Is it me, or does summon suck? Like why does the summoning animation take FOREVER?!

Once the hostilities have subsided, we are introduced to ANOTHER gameplay mechanic! This time the game turns the spotlight on Yuna and her ability to summon Aeons. Besides being a healer, Yuna can summon numerous beasts you unlock as part of the temple missions. These beasts have several elemental attacks which can be useful when paired against the correct opponent. Her Overdrive causes the Aeon she summons to use its special attack right away.

It is time for ANOTHER disclosure on my part. I dislike using Yuna and Kimahri in combat. For Yuna, she doesn’t add much to the party you can’t get elsewhere. It's not as if I am bereft of potions, elixirs, and phoenix downs. Yuna's damage output, as is usually the case for white mages, is shit. So I have been swapping her into combat when needed and swapping her back out as soon as possible. Plus, the Aeons themselves aren’t that great right now. I’m open-minded to them becoming useful later, but right now they are not worth the time you have to wait until their summoning animation is complete.

Wakka have you seen what everyone is wearing? We are DRIPPING with style!
Wakka have you seen what everyone is wearing? We are DRIPPING with style!

For Kimahri... my active dislike of Blue Mages applies. I refuse to do busy work to make a character “usable” when there are superior alternatives. What I find especially insulting is how you can only use Kimahri’s Blue Magic when his Overdrive is available. If I put the time into teaching Kimahri a smattering of powerful spells, they would only be accessible under certain circumstances. What compounds this problem is how fucking weak he is when not in Overdrive. That is GRADE-A BULLSHIT!

Part 21: The Boat Ride To Kilika Is A Mixed MOTHERFUCKING Bag

It's not just a mixed bag. The boat trip to Kilika subjects you to the highest of highs, and lowest of lows. The scene starts off innocently enough. As the citizens of Besaid bid Yuna an emotional farewell you are left with a positive impression of what your party accomplished there. This moment is paired with Tidus stealing a pair of binoculars and peeping at Lulu's breasts. I AM NOT JOKING! THIS HAPPENS!

FUCK THIS! FUCK TIDUS! FUCK WHOEVER WROTE THIS!
FUCK THIS! FUCK TIDUS! FUCK WHOEVER WROTE THIS!

Holy narrative dissonance Batman, who thought this was a good idea? The game is working earnestly to build my sympathy for Tidus, and then it pulls off this shit! To distract us from the dire implications, the game attempts to please our neural synapses with a different type of “fan service.” As we explore the ferry, we discover a flamboyant merchant named “O'aka,” and the boat is powered by Chocobos.

Jingling neon colored play keys in front of a child will only get you so far.
Jingling neon colored play keys in front of a child will only get you so far.

Eventually, the game provides much-needed characterization for Yuna. By overhearing a few conversations we discover Yuna is of royal heritage. In our quest to discover more we discern Yuna's father is "Lord Braska," a summoner credited with defeating Sin a decade ago. I understand perfectly what the writing is attempting. Providing Yuna and Tidus with a similarity regarding their upbringing adds legitimacy to their budding relationship. Living in the shadows of a parent provides the two with a discussion point they can relate to in their conversations.

But GOOD GOD, the dialogue between Yuna and Tidus is ghastly! The writing attempts to convey simple teenage flirtations, but it ends up falling square on its ass. What happens in execution is a perfect example of adults writing what they think teenagers sound like. There are quaint ideas to be had in their dialogue. But those quaint ideas stop off to spend six hours in a bar, and then they die of alcohol poisoning. At some point, I expected to see the two uncomfortably mouthing about the weather.

MOTHERFUCKER!
MOTHERFUCKER!

The major revelation is Tidus's father, Jecht, is alive and well. Jecht is revealed to be Lord Braska's guardian and assisted in raising Yuna. What ensues next is an exhausting example of Yuna waxing Tidus's ego. She affirms her confidence in Tidus's claims of being from Zanarkand without question. For what reason, we will not know for some time, and this is what I object to the most. Tidus's tall tales of being a star Blitzball player from Zanarkand are always met with a nod of approval from Yuna. Not being clued in why this is the case makes much of what follows an annoying lesson on "plot by convenience." Yuna agrees with Tidus because the script demands it, and all other machinations are beyond our comprehension.

It's not all doom and gloom my lovelies! The boat battle against Sin is FUCKING AWESOME! This confrontation serves as an amazing segue to one of the game's most emotionally evocative set pieces. This ensures the action serves a greater purpose beyond providing us with visual eye candy. The deckhands inform us their willingness to sacrifice their lives if it means they can protect their families in Kilika. There's a sense of desperation which drives us to defeat Sin post-haste. The dynamic camera angles during the battle stunned me. Each blow we inflict upon Sin drives it in a different direction. This changes the perspective of the camera and provides the battle with a distinctly cinematic feel.

I cannot preface enough how badass this scene is!
I cannot preface enough how badass this scene is!

I am less enthused with the game’s immediate follow through. Upon inflicting enough damage to Sin, the monstrosity breaks away from the boat's harpoon. This causes a rogue wave to hit the deck, knocking Tidus into the ocean depths. Wakka dives to his rescue, but upon doing so they encounter a massive jellyfish. How is this an appropriate follow-up to the battle with Sin? This is a clear cut case of the game not knowing when to reign things in. Not realizing that "less is more," the game subjects us to a pointless battle without clear connections to the previous events.

Sometimes you need to shake your head in shame.
Sometimes you need to shake your head in shame.

Part 22: Empowerment In Death

In the beginning God created Blitzball.
In the beginning God created Blitzball.

My previous nitpick is forgiven thanks to the stunning scene when we first enter Kilika. We witness a tsunami engulfing the township of Kilika within minutes. This works to underscore the preeminent threat Sin poses to humanity, and how fragile life is in the world of Spira. Likewise, the ensuing destruction works to remind the audience not to celebrate their battle against Sin as a true "victory." Sin is still a threat, and capable of further wanton devastation at the drop of a hat.

Hey Tidus, when did you decide to get introspective?
Hey Tidus, when did you decide to get introspective?

Witnessing this causes Tidus to experience a slight existential crisis. Tidus recognizes he is "stuck" in Spira, and what the consequences of this are. It is a rare moment of maturity from Tidus which works. Instead of expressing his Casanova tendencies, Tidus depicts emotional vulnerabilities which we can relate to. Then there's the scene with Yuna. This is without a doubt my favorite scene in the game. Upon entering Kilika, Yuna is greeted by several villagers asking if she can perform a "ceremony" for the recently deceased. We are finally provided a much-needed opportunity to learn more about Yevon.

And I honestly think this is the best scene in the game yet.
And I honestly think this is the best scene in the game yet.

It is a marriage between cinematics and music which craft the game's most poignant moment. As the villagers audibly sob in the background, we are subjected to several stunning visuals. It is a magnificently melancholic masterpiece. When Yuna dances the water around her swells to lift her into the air. This blesses the spirits and prevents them from becoming the dead fiends we have fought throughout our journey. Keen-eyed players will notice upon defeating enemies they normally burst into wisps of colorful smoke. It turns out these wisps of smoke are human souls. This context now places all battles under a different, and more affecting light. Then Tidus says his best line yet:

OH SHIT, this game finally made all its characters work for a scene!
OH SHIT, this game finally made all its characters work for a scene!

For as beautiful as the ceremony was, in a perfect world, it is unnecessary. Its beauty could be better appreciated if it was never performed, and the only way for this to be the case is if Sin is totally defeated. Tidus's commentary is apt for other reasons. In a succeeding scene, we discover Yuna is easily swayed by her emotions and is self-conscious about this. This necessitates her close relationship with her guardians as she requires their support to perform her duties. Among the tragedy, the game works to make the case that there is something worth fighting for.

I have avoided bringing up this topic, but now is a good enough time to correct this: Final Fantasy X feels distinctly Japanese. The characters emote much like your typical anime fare, but there are other cultural influences worth mentioning. Yuna is a shrine maiden, and many of her practices are steeped in Shinto traditions. She's decked with a bow on her back, and her staffs have a distinctly Shinto look and feel. The necessity of blessing the dead is unmistakably Buddhist, but this is an example of syncretism working in a story's favor. By pulling different but similar cultural references, Final Fantasy X crafts a religion which pays homage without being insensitive. The religion in Final Fantasy X works thanks to its folk feel, and not despite it.

Will the
Will the "real" Tidus please stand up?

Part 23: Then The Pacing Just Dies

It wouldn't be a Final Fantasy game if it didn’t follow up powerful story moments with asinine bullshitery. Our introduction to Kilika starts off on good enough footing. Controlling Tidus, we explore the recently destroyed streets of the village. Our brief time here contextualizes the destructive power of Sin and the resiliency of humanity. We watch dozens of NPCs toiling away at rebuilding their homes, and our interactions with them reveal the routine nature of this sort of event.

I'm sorry Yuna, but did you get concussed during the ceremony? You should see a doctor for that.
I'm sorry Yuna, but did you get concussed during the ceremony? You should see a doctor for that.

Had the game spent more time on world building, I could have forgiven the game's later faults. Learning more of how the citizenry practices their religion, or mourn the dead would have been greatly appreciated. Doing so would have built up a scaffold regarding why everyone adopted the religious practices of Yevon. Unfortunately for all involved, the game decides it would be more appropriate to further front-load Yuna's relationship arc with Tidus.

Maybe the relationship between Tidus and Yuna pays off dividends as an emotional keystone to Final Fantasy X's narrative. I am open-minded to this idea. What I am less enthused about is how the story shoves the inklings of this relationship down our throats within the game's waking hours. I understand what the story is attempting. Yuna sees a part of Jecht in Tidus, and for whatever reason, is drawn towards him. Not enough time is spent extrapolating why this is the case. Was Jecht a parental figure for Yuna? Did Jecht teach Yuna something important during her upbringing? What part of Jecht does Yuna see in Tidus? This may come across as needless nitpicking, but considering we have had TWO WHOLE SCENES dedicated to Yuna fawning over Tidus, I strongly believe I deserve clarity.

It is starting to scare me how Tidus says EXACTLY what I am thinking during a scene.
It is starting to scare me how Tidus says EXACTLY what I am thinking during a scene.

There is one aspect of this character dynamic I enjoy. There is something oddly novel of having the most important character be Yuna, but the game is from the perspective of an outsider (i.e. Tidus). For all the moaning people like to direct at Tidus, he is just a cipher. Tidus is NOT the main character! The dynamic between Tidus and Yuna's guardians is similarly well done. They view Tidus as a disruptive force with good reason. He has disrespected the customs and practices of their religion without delicacy. Then he is awarded a place in Yuna's court which took them years to earn. Whenever Lulu puts Tidus in his place, I love how palpable the animosity feels. So why does the game temporarily put the kibosh on these emerging dynamics so we can fight a giant plant monster?

I also killed the Purple People Eater.
I also killed the Purple People Eater.

This is why I violently rejected the relationship arc two paragraphs ago. Final Fantasy X is painfully guilty of "Start — Stop" storytelling. It cannot remain committed to a handful of story beats for over thirty minutes before proposing a new one. Moments ago the game provided a recent development for Yuna's budding feelings towards Tidus. This will not be addressed for another hour, but in the meantime let’s get curious about Chappu, the Luca Goers, and Dona! Tidus's fractious relationship with Yuna's guardians? FUCK THAT! How about we learn more about the Blitzball tournament in Luca instead! This is not pacing, this is cramming whatever you feel like it for the sake of forced sentimentality.

If there is one facet of Final Fantasy VII's narrative I respected, it was its structured outline for character moments. Levels addressed singular story beats and completed those beats entirely. With Final Fantasy X I feel like I'm champing at the bit for more substance. Final Fantasy X's travelogue arrangement is becoming its own undoing. The environments are not reinforcing the characters, it's placing them into stasis.

Part 24: [Almost] Everything At The Kilika Temple Is Atrocious

Everything that occurs before, during, and after the Kilika Temple is an unmitigated nightmare. Not only are the scenes at the temple painfully played for laughs, but the handful of poignant moments backfire spectacularly. It is a clear cut case of the game throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks. And it's bad... it's so fucking bad. I mean, just look at the Luca Goers:

Oh man... these guys are something else!
Oh man... these guys are something else!

Somehow these assholes survive the MASSIVE tsunami which destroyed the rest of Kilika. On top of that, they seek pleasure in putting people down in the post-Apocalypse. SAY WHAAAAAAAAAAAAT? The Luca Goers are villains from a bygone era that secretly never existed. Their cheesy dialogue would make the Cobra Kai blush. It is clear the game wants us to feel motivated to defeat the Luca Goers during the Blitzball tournament, but it did so using the cheapest possible tropes and idioms. Does this game need a villain ripped from an 80’s sports movie? I sure do not think so! Outside of the context of Blitzball, they feel out of place and in conflict with the game's overall tone.

Making a villain out of Dona makes no fucking sense. Let me get this straight, Dona is a summoner like Yuna, right? Why is Dona putting down Yuna and attacking her integrity? Why is there a scene where Dona actively seeks to ruin Yuna's standing as a summoner? Shouldn’t they be working together to defeat Sin? Don’t they have to obey religious precepts which prohibit lying, back stabbing, vanity, and/or egotism? Can someone honestly tell me why Dona is evil?

It just keeps getting better!
It just keeps getting better!

So the world is on fire, and somehow people still feel the need to be vainglorious jackasses. I... what, why? What benefit does the story get out of having a smattering of minor villains irrelevant to the progression of the plot? And what is this act of arbitrary villainy in the name of? Why another temple puzzle that's what!

OH FUCKING FUCK THIS!
OH FUCKING FUCK THIS!

Seeing an opportunity to ruin Yuna's career, Dona has her squeeze toss Tidus into the lower depths of the temple. As Tidus is not a fully fledged member of Yuna's court, his entrance violates an unknown religious custom. To the game's credit, the Kilika Cloister of Trials is not as obtuse as the one at Besaid. It is still a COLOSSAL WASTE OF MY TIME MIND YOU! As mentioned previously, there's a lot to the religious practices of Yevon we do not know about. Exploring these ancient temples and uncovering secrets about Spira's mythos would have at the least added some much-needed substance to the temple puzzles. Lacking this, the puzzles are an impediment to the player's progress, and nothing else.

The puzzles also feel as if they were designed in isolation from the rest of the game. The trick this time around is using orbs to light walls on fire. Doing so allows Tidus to uncover new secrets and rooms to explore. Will we ever see such orbs in the rest of Spira? FAT CHANCE BUCKO! Mechanically the controls for the puzzles are clunky as fuck. Moving a pedestal to fit into a recess is easier said than done. The parts and pieces you move feel swimmy and lack snappy and reactive controls.

How did you all get here without burning down the walls?
How did you all get here without burning down the walls?

Part 25: But Hey, At Least The Game's Heart Is In The Right Place

Through the mist and the madness Final Fantasy X elevates its superficial mechanics into something emotionally resonate. The rest of the party are not happy to see Tidus in the antechamber of the temple. Interacting with Lulu and Wakka reveals Tidus's presence could cause Yuna’s excommunication. The game establishing consequences to Tidus's actions is fine so long as we see them in action. Tidus could practically be hanged, drawn, and quartered for the myriad of cultural faux pas he has committed up to this point. If we do not see Tidus receiving his comeuppance, then we as the audience can no longer take the words of the supporting cast seriously.

Despite these concerns, working our way back to the temple's entrance provides several pleasurable moments. Lulu keys us in on what the "fayth" are, and by doing so we have a better understanding of what it means to be a summoner. The sacrifices of the past have since become an inevitability for the people of Spira. Plus, when Yuna exits the catacombs of the temple, Tidus provides an astute observation which piques our interest.

Rosebud?
Rosebud?
It is the same planet, but just 1,000 years in the future. It's not like you have been transported to a different galaxy.
It is the same planet, but just 1,000 years in the future. It's not like you have been transported to a different galaxy.

I am between two worlds for moments like these. I appreciate the game working to foreshadow the nefarious nature of Yevon. There was a similar moment earlier when Tidus mentioned Yevon's prayer "borrowed" the Blitzball victory signal from his time. This lays the groundwork for a dramatic reveal regarding Yevon. Likewise, the game doesn't go far enough with any of these attempts of foreshadowing. The tune we hear here isn't something I recall from our brief time in Zanarkand. Had this short tune been a leitmotif introduced when we first took control of Tidus I think the gravity of Tidus's observation would have been magnified. Such a strong connection between the past and present would have inspired us to become inquisitive detectives on this visually stunning travelogue. BUT the game is trying without falling flat on its face, and I have to give it credit for that.

Then out of nowhere, the game makes Tidus as a character "work." We learn of Tidus's growing anxiety about never returning to Zanarkand. While many of you continue to decry Tidus as being whiny or annoying, moments like these attempt to contextualize his childish behavior. Being in an unfamiliar setting, and not knowing what to do, is something we can all relate to. Whether this is enough to justify Tidus's earlier tomfoolery is up to the individual player. For me, understanding a character’s pathos, logos, and ethos permits me to better tolerate their nonsense. The scene where Tidus allows his emotions to boil over after exiting the Kilika Temple is just one example of this.

Get shit faced drunk!
Get shit faced drunk!
Well... and that too.
Well... and that too.
Let's talk about the word
Let's talk about the word "transparency."

I LOVE this scene. Yes, the voice acting and animation diminish the impact of the scene, but at least you understand its intent. Tidus is one of the most emotionally honest characters in video game history. Tidus is EXACTLY the sum of his parts. He's a social butterfly who realizes everything he worked to gain is gone forever. He now finds himself in an alien world and surrounded by people who actively dislike him. His attempts to gain entry into the social networks he has been exposed to have only been partially successful. You can sense that he's becoming increasingly frustrated from this. It's clear and cohesive storytelling if I have ever seen it. It's not great, but it gets the job done.

Tidus ISN’T an abomination. He does exactly what he was designed to do. Tidus is a walking trope who manages to just get by in every scene he has in Final Fantasy X. Yet somehow the writing strings him along on a visually interesting journey. The interactions he has with his surroundings are often better than the actual role he plays in the story. Even when Tidus acts like a goober, he elicits an emotional response. Whether this desired or not is irrelevant as this is an accomplishment in and of itself.

I love this game. I like how the cast is easy to understand, and how the story sets them up for adventures. I enjoy the cinematic feel to the set pieces. The worlds we explore are amazing to look at, and I enjoy the game's world building. No really, I think I'm in love. Well with that, I guess we will call it. Next time we meet we will talk about Luca.

And I have a lot to say about Luca
And I have a lot to say about Luca
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