[If you're wondering what this blog post series is about, read the introduction. The first section of this article deals with the opening of the game; the second is marked as containing spoilers for the rest of the game.]
I should have been more excited about Final Fantasy X. The first Final Fantasy introduced for the PlayStation 2, it promised to be a technical showcase for the power of the console.
And yet... in the months and weeks and days leading up to FFX's release, I felt curiously flat about the game. Two years removed from my college graduation, I was now living on my own for the first time in my life. I had outgrown roommates, outgrown the overwrought dramas of FFVII and FFVIII, and no longer appreciated the nostalgic adorability of FFIX. Had I outgrown the Final Fantasy series as a whole?
"Yes" might have been a legitimate answer, but at that time I was not yet ready to let go of the relics of my younger days.
The opening is a bit schizophrenic.
On the one hand you have a peaceful moment around a campfire set to the strains of a beautiful piano melody. It's quiet and sedate and wistful, and it feels like the setup to an intriguingly introspective game. On the other hand, you have what comes after: a frenetic and confusingly busy cutscene accompanied to metal rock, movie seemingly designed to appeal to a targeted demographic looking for a hardcore game experience. After watching the opening, the question became - which hand would win out?
A quick note: FFX was also the first Final Fantasy game to feature voice acting, and boy, was I nervous (and if you've watched dubbed anime, you know why). I'm glad to say that my fears were unjustified; the voice acting in this series has ranged from surprisingly bearable to excellent.
The Rest of the Story
The gist of the plot is this: Tidus, a star blitzball player, is transported to another time where a monstrous entity known as Sin threatens to destroy the world. Yuna is a summoner whose father - along with Tidus's father - turned back Sin ten years ago. She and Tidus and others embark on a journey to prevent this destruction, only to learn that the the situation is not as simple as it seems.
This is a fairly generic summary, and in all honesty I found much of the game to be similarly generic. Other than Tidus and Yuna, the characters are not all that interesting to me - not even Auron, the "cool" laconic wandering samurai - so I'll skip the bulk of the story and just mention the parts that stood out.
Before talking about what's really going on in the story, let me talk about two relationships.
The first is the romance between Tidus and Yuna. At the time I found it lacking in both drama and passion. Now when I think about it, it feels honest and surprisingly subtle. Again, I don't know whether my mind is playing tricks on me; but I will say that my views on love fifteen years ago could be charitably described as "naive". Now I'm... well, perhaps I am still a bit willfully naive, but I also appreciate that a good relationship requires steadiness and a thousand quiet moments that build into something strong and lasting. And I think FFX does an excellent job depicting that.
The second relationship is that between Tidus and his father, Jecht. Abandoned as a child (it's not revealed until later that Jecht left to join Yuna's father in a quest to turn back Sin), Tidus harbors a deep-seated resentment towards his father. It's an intriguing bit of darkness within an otherwise sunny personality.
Although Jecht is presumed dead, the truth is far more complicated. Although Sin is presumed to be turned back every ten years through the trials of a summoner and a guardian, it turns out that this cycle is what actually allows Sin to renew itself. Each journey to defeat Sin merely destroys a form, one that is almost immediately renewed through the body of either the summoner and the guardian. And so when Tidus and Yuna and the others embark on their quest to turn back Sin, they are unknowingly also seeking to destroy Tidus's father once and for all.
Twining together two threads of the plot - the world-spanning one and the highly personal one - is a neat device that adds weight and consequence to both. It all comes together in one final battle that is preceded by an emotional meeting (1:39 - 7:00).
Okay, the animation is stilted and the voice acting is excessive, but I still find the dialogue effective: beneath the spoken words you can infer everything that the characters are leaving unspoken. There is subtlety in the scene, and it's hard not to appreciate that.
Then, of course, we get another heavy metal ballad. To further belabor my point, I'll mention the tragedy of the ending where Tidus and Yuna are pulled apart, and praise the emotional maturity of both characters upon realizing their fates. Then I'll mention that there's a sequel - Final Fantasy X-2 - that completely undoes this ending. I only know this because I read the plot of the sequel on Wikipedia; the game itself I found to be honestly abhorrent.
That's the FFX experience It's a haunting tale covered
in layers and layers of unfortunate excess. When I played it I was
unable to separate the two, but now I find myself feeling far more
charitable towards the game. Was I overly judgmental back then, or is
my memory kinder now? I'm not sure.