note: this game came out ten years ago, so I’m going to speak about spoilers freely
I finished Final Fantasy X a few weeks ago. I’d started playing it a long time ago, but the horrible voice acting grated on my nerves and I stopped playing. But, as I was making a list of games I owned but hadn’t completed, I decided to give Final Fantasy X another shot. And I ended up getting sucked into a story that I enjoyed for its uniqueness. Final Fantasy VI and VII are essentially the exact same story. In fact, the reason I have always been mystified about the love for Final Fantasy VII is that Final Fantasy VI did the same thing with a larger cast and more emotion. And Final Fantasy IX was essentially a love letter to Final Fantasy fans full of inside jokes and references. Final Fantasy X is, to borrow a phrase from The Giant Bombcast, a Japanese-ass game.
The whole game, after all, seems like a metaphor for the Japanese blend of Shinto and Buddhism in the modern world. When people die, they need to be sent. And some of these become the aeons that summoners summon in the same way that the dead become kami. The Buddhism aspect comes in with the overall story of the cycle of death and rebirth. Sin is constantly dying and reborn. And it’s even extra poetic that the aeon used to destroy Sin becomes the next Sin. Interestingly enough, the game explores whether endless death and rebirth cycles make life futile. That’s how I always viewed religions that believe in rebirth, but I assumed that those who grew up in that culture would take it for granted. But we end up with a refreshingly bare look at what this truth means to different characters. For the first half of the game, the main characters and most of the world view it with a mixture of resignation and hope. Even though the cycle has been never-ending, it did have a beginning and so perhaps it COULD have an end if the right person faced Sin. And this also mixes quite well with the ever-present (in nearly all cultures) archetype of the virginal or pure person being able to defeat evil. In fact, in addition to the fact that you’re playing and hoping for a positive ending you figure that if anyone can defeat Sin it’s the innocent Yuna. (Something I intend to return to later in this essay) And, of course, in the case of Seymour Guado it leads to a feeling that life is pointless. As long as people are alive, they will suffer at the hands of Sin. His solution: kill everyone.
The Buddhist teachings of karma also overlap into the next, very Japanese topic: the origin of Sin. Sin arises because of the war between Zanarkand and Besaid. At first the story sounds like the archetypal “And Man Grew Proud” (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AndManGrewProud) like the Semitic story of the Tower of Babel. (And which they’d explored countless times – Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI) But the story ends with the fact that as machinima development turned to weapons, the two sides did not stop until they had developed a weapon that could destroy the entire world. It’s pretty clear that this is an extremely thinly veiled reference to the atomic bomb. As the only nation thus far to be on the receiving end of nuclear weapons, this is a topic that’s explored over and over in cinema, anime, fiction, and video games. And so the creation of Sin, which devastates people across the world as punishment for nuking Zanarkand, it’s almost like a bit of wish fulfillment. Imagine of our nuking of Japan had lead to an unbeatable entity being born which wreaked equally devastating havok upon the rest of the Earth until they atoned for their sins in creating such a weapon.
Speaking of atonement, I may be reading a little too much into things, but I felt that the arc revealing the hypocrisy and power hunger of the Church of Yevon to be an indictment of Christianity. (Or similar religions) In short, the game’s reveal is that not only does the principle church of the religion use the very machina they forbid (in a bit of a mirror to the way the Soviet leaders had the luxury they denied their people), they also know that Sin cannot be defeated. Atonement as a way of getting rid of Sin is a fallacy designed to keep the people in line and give them hope. Again, seen by me as a allegory to the fact that atonement does not save someone from Hell. Not only that, but the church leaders are all (or mostly) dead spirits who loved life and power too much to allow themselves to be sent. Maester Mika’s undead status was a surprise to me, but it was foreshadowed early on by what seems like a throwaway comment by Tidus. In fact, when the main characters tell them they think they have a plan for ending the cycle or rebirth, the leaders see this as a threat to their power and attempt to kill the heroes. Yu Yevon himself appears to be power hungry as it is he who continues to create Sin. And that makes him the most powerful entity on Spira. It appears that he either made up the concept of atonement or long ago decided no amount of atonement would be enough. I saw it as a nice balance that Auron was also an unsent, but rather than clutching to life for vain reasons, he was doing it as part of a promise to Jecht and Braska.
Finally, two smaller elements that make this a more Japanese game than previous Final Fantasy installments. Although machinima is more of a forbidden tech than a lost tech, everyone other than the Al Bhed treats it as such. This is definitely not unique to the Japanese, many science fiction authors have explored it, but it seems to crop up a LOT in Japanese works. In Trigun and Nausicaa, off the top of my head. Also, the art style, architecture and so on was a lot less European and much more influenced by Southeast Asia.
Leaving the subject of how Japanese Final Fantasy X is, I think the idea that Yuna’s purity is what gives you the confidence in her the ability to defeat Sin is reinforced by two things in the game. First of all, Yuna’s rival is the exact opposite in temperament – haughty. And, compared to Yuna, dresses like a slut – with her thong visible and clearly meant to be more sexual. But I think this is really brought home by the fact that when she sees the lies at the center of her religion, to which she dedicated her life and to for which her father died, she loses her virginity to Tidus. In case you’re wondering what hentai version of Final Fantasy X I played, there is no explicit sex. But I have no question that the scene under the tree where she kisses Tidus and then they float all over the place and all the visuals that go along with it are meant to be a metaphor for sex. The scene immediately following that one even seems to imply actual sex took place. At any rate, her innocence dashed by the church, she sees no need to maintain her purity. Additionally, she finally allows herself human attachment. Since everyone but Tidus knew that the summoner must die in their battle with Sin (even if Sin is ultimately vanquished), you can imagine that summoners purposely refrain from forming strong bonds with others – especially marriage. Her father was married BEFORE becoming a summoner.
Onto the Seymour Guado character. It’s hard to know who in the Square Final Fantasy team is responsible for what, but since Sakaguchi was still the main creative force at the time, perhaps I’ll lay it at his feet. Sakaguchi enjoys exploring the idea of forbidden love. In fact, I found the story of Seymour’s parents to mirror the cross-species forbidden love of Terra’s parents in Final Fantasy VI. (Which I saw, at the time, as an allegory of inter-racial marriages) This is also true in a less extreme way for Yuna. I predicted Seymour’s Face Heel Turn (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FaceHeelTurn) from the moment his character appeared. Probably anyone over a certain age saw it coming. It was just too obvious from the way the was creepy, unnerved Yuna, and pissed off Tidus. Also he always seemed to be around whenever Sin attacked.
The truth about Tidus appears to be a big meta joke when you think about it. Near middle you learn that Tidus is a dream. And when he defeats Sin, those who are dreaming can wake up. And when they wake up, Tidus ceases to exist. Guess what happens when you beat the game? You turn it off for good and all those characters cease to exist. I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve read something similar in a Tim Rogers review of some game. I don’t remember which one right now, but thankfully it’s not an overused meta joke (when it definitely could be). Meta joke aside, the fact that Sin is Tidus’ dad and that he has to kill him to free him from the curse is an age-old trope. It was played well, although the limits of fitting the English voices to fit the Japanese lip sync led to a narmtastic (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/DarthWiki/Narm?from=Main.Narm) “ihateyou” when it should have been its most moving.
Some random thoughts that don’t fit anywhere else: apparently some time around 2001 it was decided that all acquatic humanoids sound like Jar Jar Binks. The Farscape entrance reminded me a lot (in the way it looked) of the entrance to the Esper World in Final Fantasy VI. I thought it was neat they had a video camera technology in the spheres. I kept thinking that if Final Fantasy X was made into a movie, Jecht should be played by Bret Michaels and Auron shoould be played by Robert Downey Jr. The wife saw me summoning the Aeons in the final battle and said it made her think of Pokemon.
I ended up being surprised with how much I enjoyed Final Fantasy X after my initial revulsion. The tight story ended up getting me thinking about a lot of philosophical points and the story was pretty compelling. This gives me hope for Final Fantasy X-2 which, thus far, appears to be more of a “let’s see what happened with all our old friends” than a proper plot. But Final Fantasy games usually take until near the halfway point to reveal the true story.