Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Reflections on Final Fantasy X (spoiler warning)

(These are my reflections on Final Fantasy X for PS2. RPGing is a personal hobby, and such exposition enhances the gaming experience for me. But it may not be of interest to many readers, so please disregard this post if that is the case. A special thanks to Michael Clarkson for his input in helping shape what follows).

Illka has succinctly remarked on an endearing attribute of video games that speaks in part to why they're leaving the movie industry in the dust:
The reality [is] that despite selling more than movies, video games still fly under the radar and thus get to operate under very different social rules and constraints than, say, mainstream television shows and movies, especially since video games are pure products of the the engineer and nerd culture that is completely different from, say, the culture born of marketing, social sciences and various "critical studies" that currently dominates Hollywood and print media.
This is not to say that the virtual gaming world is devoid of leftist or progressive themes--Final Fantasy VII took misanthropic environmentalism to the extreme, for example--only that there is far less territory strictly off limits in the gaming world as compared to other popular forms of entertainment.

So it is with the tenth fullscale installation of the Final Fantasy series. How propitious it is for the story to be brought to mind in front of the Presidential election this November. Seymour, the primary antagonist, embodies many of the worst fears of Obama's detractors--leveraging his biracialism for political advantage and maintaining a public veneer diametrically opposed to his history and the actual objectives he strives to fulfill.

Born of a human mother and a Guado father, Seymour's childhood is an emotionally traumatic one. He was neglected by his Big Man father, an important leader of the Guado, who would record a warning ahead of becoming a victim of patricide that his son's corruption was his fault as a failed father. Seymour was abandoned by his mother who became a Fayth (thus removing herself from the world of the living) while he was a kid. Raised by Guado, the half human Seymour spent much of his formative years brooding alone.

Despite this inner turmoil, he showed promise as a gifted speaker and potent magic user. His mother's conversion into a Fayth allowed him to summon Anima, a tortured but powerful aeon and personification of the emotive side of Seymour's soul. (In Jungian psychology, the anima is the female side of a man's unconscious mind, while more generally in psychoanalytical mythology it is the underlying influence on a person's thoughts, behavior, and personality--it's basically interchangeable with the word "psyche").

By harnessing the power of Anima and combining it with his sharp mind and rhetorical prowess, Seymour attracts the notice of Yevon's (the ecumenical 'Church' that is run by four 'high priests', or Maesters--two humans, one Guado, and one Ronso) ruling class. In announcing his selection as Maester, he is billed as a racial healer who, half human and half Guado, will be able to bring the races together and integrate the separatist Guado into the mainstream (and mostly human) Spiran society. Demonstrating his messianic credentials, Seymour calls upon Anima to ward off one of Sin's attacks on Spira much like Isaiah called upon God when Jerusalem was under siege:
King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to heaven about this. And the LORD sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king. So he withdrew to his own land in disgrace. And when he went into the temple of his god, some of his sons cut him down with the sword.
Seymour's ideas of healing differ from conventional conceptions, however. A life of emotional suffering has led him to the Buddhistic conclusion that all life is suffering, and that to end Spira's suffering he must end all life in Spira. To achieve this, he must infiltrate Sin, take the reigns, and obliterate life itself. In his words, "Life is but a passing dream. The death that follows is eternal."

That puts him at odds with another biracial aeon summoner. Yuna's different colored eyes are not a result of heterochromia, they are a manifestation of her half human, half Al Bhed heritage. Like Seymour, she is seen as a prospective savior of Spira. She even walks on water:



While Seymour bolsters John S Bolton's assertion that the mixed-race are not natural bridges but natural dividers, in Yuna's case it's not so clear. Her intentions are clearly noble, but an argument can be made that Seymour's are as well. Initially, she does not stray from the teachings of Yevon. And the teachings of Yevon call for a literal implementation, over and over again, of what Paul explained to be God's intention:

We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
So begins her pilgrimmage to enlist the aid of the Fayth and their aeons in a bid to confront Sin and knock it out of the picture for another several years of calm before the inevitable process repeats itself. Seymour's intention is to insert himself into that pilgrimmage and ultimately become the one she chooses as the final aeon necessary to vanquish (and eventually reinhabit) Sin.

FFX breaks with other titles in the series in the prominent role organized religion plays. That has traditionally been territory Dragon Quest has explored but Final Fantasy has left alone. Understandably so, given DQ's relative popularity in Japan, where the religious landscape is more pluralistic and syncretic than it is in the US.

Unlike DQ, where a more-or-less balanced account of organized religion is offered, FFX goes for the jugular. Yevon is a corrupt institution with teachings it hypocritically does not adhere to (the use of Machina, for example, is forbidden yet at Bevelle--Yevon's Vatican--they are heavily utilized). Its followers are dupes, even if well-intentioned (like Shelinda or poor Wakka) and its leadership is merciless.

For example, in Operation Mi'ihen, the Crusaders and the Al Bhed team up to do battle with Sin. Maesters Seymour and Kinoc, the later who is head of Yevon's warrior monks, are present to oversee the operation, which both know will end badly for Yevon's coalition, a coalition that doesn't actually involve anyone from Yevon on the front lines. That's why they're present--to make sure it's executed, ensuring a staggering loss of life for the Crusaders and the Al Bhed.

The Crusaders are a military order ("Templars" or "Hospitallers" would've been a more appropriate name for them, but would risk being lost on some players relative to the broader name recognition of "Crusaders") born out of a conflict with Yevon. They are devoted to fighting Sin and its spawn. Kinoc's efforts to guarantee their downfall is surreptitiously reminiscient of King Philip IV's destruction of the Templars, whom Philip, like Kinoc, owed much to for their previous military assistance.

Both Kinoc and Philip saw destorying these respective military orders as the best way to erase their debt and free themselves from potential military challenge in the future. Like Philip, who martyred Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay cried out as he died would soon face him before God, Kinoc was on borrowed time. Both Philip and Kinoc would be dead within the year of running the military orders they were putatively aligned with into the ground.

The Al Bhed are a curious race of Nordic-looking pirates*. They are entirely secular and consequently detested by Yevon, the Guado, and much of the human population. Unsympathetic to Yevon's ludditism, they rely heavily on the machina of the past. As the technological knowledge required to create machina has been lost over the last thousand years, the Al Bhed are only able to drive the car, not understand how or why it works. Their situation brings to mind that of Europe during the Middle Ages, after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Thomas Sowell writes:

Europeans lived for centuries with the presecne of ruins more magnificent than anything they were capable of creating or even restoring. It is hardly surprising that they looked back at the ancients with awe, long before they developed the modern Western tendency to look forward to greater accomplishments in the future than those of the past of the present.

As atheistic separatists, pirates, and kidnappers, equipped with potent mechanical weapons and the willingness to harness technological knowledge to challenge the prevailing stasis, Yevon's desire for the Al Bhed's destruction is easy to understand. In a rebuke of the extreme misanthropic environmentalism of FFVII, the regressive position is not held up adoringly but instead seen as a dire obstacle to be overcome. Maester Mika explains the stasis Yevon is to maintain: "Yevon is embodied by eternal unchanging continuity, summoner... Those who question these truths--they are traitors!"

Kinoc's giddiness in front of the impending failure is hard to miss, and Auron coldly receives his old comrade as it is about to be executed. The more thoughtful and tactful Seymour engages a skeptical Wakka over the operation, arguing that pragmatic concerns must outweigh strict orthodoxy in trying times, and anyway the intentions of the Crusaders and the Al Bhed are both good, so he must 'assist' them.

Yevon never finds redemption. It falls to pieces as the story unfolds. Maester Kelk, a Ronso, shows signs of genuine concern over Seymour's murder of his father Jyscal, but it is not long after that point that he is rubbed out by Seymour, just as Seymour knocked off Kinoc. Maester Mika turns out to have been an unsent for some time. By definition, the unsent are those who've not accepted death and grow increasingly resentful of the living in their zombie state, caught in limbo between the world of Spira and the Farplane, where the souls of the dead find eternal rest**. Whether or not he understands that Yevon is perpetuating the spiral of destruction that has continued to wreck Spira for a millenia isn't discernible, but as he comes to further resent the people of Spira he cannot possibly have their best interests at heart.

Yet despite the designation of the unsent as those who've not yet accepted their deaths and must therefore be forcibly sent by a summoner lest they wander the world aimlessly, Auron is the most purpose-driven character in the game. Having experienced the cruel Sin cycle firsthand, he ensured Yuna would be safe by placing her under the protection of Kimahri before dying. As an unsent he then 'travelled' to Zanarkand during its antiquity to bring Tidus to Spira, joined Yuna's party (with Tidus in train), and steadfastly kept the party on the road to Zanarkand with the modest goal of destroying Yunalesca, Jecht, and finally Yu Yevon himself, thus overturning the whole structure the Sin cycle rested upon and in the process ridding Spira of its need for Yevon.

It might be unfair to Kimahri to designate Auron as the game's most determined. The Ronso are a primitive race with a warrior culture respecting little other than physical strength. Their's is a closed society. Consequently, Kimahri's shameful banishment from the tribe after refusing to submit to Biron after losing to him in a fight is accentuated by his subsequent devotion to Yuna. Yet it is from this devotion to her that he draws the strength needed to topple Biron in their rematch. This warrior ethos stifles his communication with Tidus, who finds asking questions gets him the same treatment Ibn Fadlan frequently received when he queried the Norsemen--the silent shaking of the head and a cold shoulder.

But Kimahri's devotion is undivided. He challenges Tidus early on to ensure that he is worthy of guarding her, and only opens up to Tidus after Operation Mi'ihen, when Tidus' commitment to Yuna has become clear. Although as a Ronso he is naturally distrustful of the Al Bhed, on the way to Guadsalom he makes it clear that he trusts Rikku as an individual, as he has seen her devotion to Yuna firsthand. Following the escape from Via Purifico (literally "the road to purification"), Kimahri doesn't hesitate for a moment to fatally hold up Seymour so the others are able to escape. Against the advice of Auron, who doesn't have Seymour on his radar screen, the rest of the party returns to save Kimahri.

Kimahri is similar to Steiner from FFIX. His unrelenting devotion makes him appear naive. But in a world where everyone's motivations are as pure as his are, that naivete no longer serves as a weakness. He is only susceptible because of the evil of others.

He also illustrates how the Japanese like to deal with underachieving minority groups (think the Native American Red XIII from FFVII). His dress, his name, his voice***, and his weaponry all strongly suggest that he is sub-Saharan****, but he's not black--he's blue. And he's not human, he's an anthropomorphic lion!

Wakka and Lulu are supporting acts. The affable (he is a Pacific Islander) Wakka brings refreshing warmth to a story that is in its first couple of hours cold and vertiginous:



He instantly strikes up a friendship with Tidus that is more natural than any other that develops between any of the characters. As is revealed later, this is enhanced by Tidus' resemblance of Wakka's late brother and Lulu's fiance, Chappu. Wakka's not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he's pragmatic. In crossing over submerged Al Bhed ruins built against the advice of Yevon on the Shoopuf, he asks a rhetorical question of relevance to Americans: "Good lesson. Why build a city over a river, ya?"

Both Lulu and Wakka serve as plot dumps, in addition to voicing the views and concerns of the general population. They are active adherents to Yevon's teachings, which they (Wakka especially) reflexively defend.

Rikku adds some spice to the equation. She is the most superfluous character, as the story isn't dependent upon her at all--Cid could've offered assistance to Yuna without the aid of an intermediary. He is the summoner's uncle, after all.

Spira's story is one with an overarching theme of sacrifice coarsing throughout. The Sin cycle is founded upon a steady stream of self-immolating summoners. The moloch is never permanently sated. According to the teachings, Sin always returns as a reincarnation of a guardian of the very summoner who subjugated it years before, all due to the misdeeds of the Spiran population.

Yuna is to play the sacrificial lamb, just as her father did a decade prior. For this her popularity is almost universal. Finding her in the field, the Spiran scholar Machean greets her, in an allusion to the famous meeting between David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley, by saying, "Lady Yuna, I presume?" Following in her father's footsteps, she determines at a young age that her life will be forfeited for the benefit, however temporary, of the Spiran people. When Tidus challenges her on this after the first battle with Belgemine on the Mi'ihen Highroad, Yuna responds that defeating Sin is something she must do because "a time when people can sleep safely is worth anything, no matter how short it is."

Yuna's willingness--eagerness, really--to sacrifice herself to (temporarily) defeat Sin might appear to reveal her as the moral apotheosis, all the more so to one living in the midst of the navel-gazing facebook generation. She's Christ in a religion that has more than one of them. But to read it this way is mistaken. Yuna is taking an easy moral path. She's been in cruise control since deciding to make the pilgrimage as a child. Her life means little to her. So then is her sacrifice, separate its real-world consequences, of little moral consideration. To the contrary, to those--Rikku, Cid, and Tidus--for whom Yuna's life is of greater importance than it is to Yuna herself, her self-sacrifice is an act of tragically misguided good intent or even of selfishness.

Tidus is perhaps the one who is able to tip the scales to dissuade Yuna from continuing the Sin cycle. The Al Bhed attempt to save summoners--against the summoners' own wishes--from themselves, but Yuna's guardians keep it from happening to her. Rikku knows her cousin faces certain death by following uncertain teachings, but with the support of Auron, Lulu, Wakka, and Kimahri, in addition to her own convictions, Yuna doesn't budge. Tidus, an enthusiastic supporter of Yuna's pilgrimage to defeat Sin, only finds out much later that part of that pilgrimage involves Yuna's death. Upon this revelation, he immediately switches sides and conspires with Rikku to find a way to avoid Yuna's death at the final summoning.

Little comes to fruition from their conspiring, but Tidus' protestations clearly way heavily on Yuna, as the intimate scene at Lake Macalania illustrates^:



It is the confrontation with Yunalesca that pushes Yuna over the edge. In the face of Yuna's self-immolation, Yunalesca makes it clear that the Yevon teachings are bunk when Wakka and Lulu challenge her. The somber ceremony, in which Yuna is to choose one of her guardians to become the final aeon, gets contentious and then downright belligerent. Yunalesca will not be aiding in the final aeon creation, for this summoner and her guardians have now come for blood. Auron, who'd been guiding the process towards this outcome from the story's opening in Zanarkand 1,000 years prior^^, exhibits an uncharacteristic burst of animation as the battle begins that was only characteristic of him before he died. He has been living (heh) as a zombie in Spira for a decade in anticipation of this moment:



After exposing the falsity of Yevon's teachings, defeating Yunalesca, breaking into Sin, and putting Jecht to rest, Yuna makes the ultimate sacrifice. To destroy Yu Yevon and thus end the Sin cycle forever, she vanquishes her loyal aeons who've been indispensable in the all that has transpired. She does this knowing it is also the death knell^^^ of both Auron and Tidus. And she must live on with this sorrow to try and piece back together a very broken Spira. Calling it quits in the meeting with Yunalesca would've been a much easier out.

As Yuna shows the failings a reckless disregard for one's own existence brings, Tidus demonstrates the more apparent failings of being wrapped up in one's self. As he makes his way through Spira, he is initially concerned with little other than finding a way back home. He is haunted by his father, who displayed the same overarching desire to get back to the Zanarkand of the past. But as Tidus witnesses the mass sending at Kilika, he is drawn in by Spira's suffering. The love he develops for Yuna manifests itself as a tireless search for a way to prevent the pilgrimage from ending in her death. In between Mt. Gagazet and Zanarkand, the Fayth make it clear in a dream that while Yuna may live through the showdown with Yu Yevon, Tidus will not. In either victory or defeat, he will cease to exist. Yuna suspects he is hiding something, but as she hid her impending doom from him for so long, he withholds his from her.

Drawn against his will into a wrecked foreign world, Tidus ends up paying the ultimate price for its betterment. FFX portrays religion in a very unflattering light. Unlike the more nuanced approach of Dragon Quest VIII, there is nothing redemptive or inspiring about it. The 'hope' Yevon's teachings inspire is clearly a false one that does not address any spiritual need whatsoever--it only serves to assuage the people's fears that they'll be annihilated by Sin today instead of tomorrow. Yunalesca puts it succinctly when she says, "Death is the final liberation... It is better for you to die in hope than to live in despair."

Tidus' ordeal is truly Christlike. He is thrust into a world that ranges from indifference to dislike of him, has it revealed to him that he must give his own life to redeem the place, and does so against his wishes but with the understanding that it is not his will to be done, but something greater than himself at work. In this, he steps out of his father's shadow. Jecht gave himself up so Spira might have ten short years of peace. Tidus did so to give it an everlasting peace.

Final Fantasy X does not close with its participants living happily ever after. In many ways the ending is deeply unsatisfying. The protagonist disappears from Spira as abruptly as he entered it. The bonds he formed with the people of that world are torn away, and we're left with the heartbroken love of his life facing a devastated Spira that is left in tatters, without a unifying body (previously Yevon) to bring together the hostile races. Our protective instinct kicks in and we want to be there to put the pieces back together. There is some comfort in knowing Kimahri, Lulu, Wakka, and Rikku are still there, but it's far from complete.

Unpalatable as it may taste, it's an ingenius metaphor for speaking directly to us, the rpgers. A great game gets the player wrapped up in its universe, allowing him to suspend his disbelief and become engrossed. The characters are more than virtual avatars, they are real people. Yet like so much else, the magic is fleeting. FFX does more than just let us experience painful disengagement as players in the real world, it injects that pain into the story itself. Thus we are hit by it twice--in the traditional way as game players always are, and also vicariously through the characters themselves. Instead of fading into the credits as we see everyone living happily ever after, the people we've spent fifty hours with say their goodbyes to us directly. As the name of the track implies, someday the dream must end.

* There is some reason to entertain the idea that the Al Bhed are an allusion to the Islamic Golden Age (basically the first few centuries after its birth, when it inherited 'pagan' Arab and Persian mathematics and astronomy before, as Toby Huff argues, it brought advances in them to a halt), juxtaposed to Europe's 'Dark Ages', between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Renaissance in Italy, as represented by Yevon. Perhaps, but the rapid expansion of Islam had a transformative effect on the Middle East and Persia as it spread, yet the only thing Islamic about the Al Bhed appears to be their name (they're all blond, and Rin sounds Swedish).

** The amount of space devoted to the metaphysical aspects of FF games are something I tend to minimize. I find them overly fantastic and rarely flushed out well enough to make much sense of. They strike me as unnecessarily distracting and usually disappointing.

*** John DiMaggio (voice of Bender from Futurama), who is white, does his voice (as well as Wakka's), but in character he sounds like James Earl Jones doing Mufasa from The Lion King.

**** The Mt. Gagazet musical track has a melancholy Amerindian edge to it, however.

^ In addition to the bemusing Al Bhed, Tidus has European complexion and features, but conspicuously 'Asian' hair. We have no reason to doubt Jecht's paternity, but maybe his wife's utter dependence on him is her way of atoning for past infidelity (or maybe she's just a bad mother, like Linda from Brave New World). Father and son bear little resemblance to one another. Jecht has dark hair and dark eyes (to Tidus' blond hair and blue eyes), and with his gruff voice that accompanies a gruff personality, could be a cariacture of white rednecks. When confronted about his drinking problem, he quips, "I can stop anytime I want. But why do today what you can leave for tomorrow?" As Sowell writes in Black Rednecks and White Liberals:

The cultural values and social patterns prevalent among Southern whites included an aversion to work, proneness to violence, neglect of education, sexual promiscuity, improvidence, drunkenness, lack of entrepreneuriship, reckless searches for excitement...
Finally there's Oaka, the travelling Scotish merchant from the 19th Century, who must've warped in from Poland.

^^ That Auron keeps this to himself throughout the pilgrimage until the last moment deserves a spot on a tabulation opposite Peter's Evil Overlord list. He presumes as long as he is there to guide the party, their ignorance is inconsequential. Not only is does this cause unnecessary emotional hardship for everyone else, one can't help but wonder how Yunalesca would've ever been challenged if Auron were to give up the ghost somewhere along the way. When accosted by Rikku for this, he unsatisfyingly responds "If I had told you the truth, would that really have stopped you from coming?" Sir Auron, that's a hypothetical question, not a rhetorical one!

^^^ Okay, Auron will be sent to the farplane (I guess), and Tidus will end up in an infinitely large body of water, swimming around alone. They might as well be dead. As mentioned previously, the metaphysical stuff annoys me.

20 comments:

mwc said...

The subject of race in FFX is very interesting. I don't think Bolton's assertion holds water: people of mixed race are neither natural uniters nor natural dividers. They can be, and are (in this game as in real life), both; their racial characteristics do not decide who they are. Which is not to say that the race has no role, but the significant part that race plays comes from personal narrative, not intrinsic properties. Seymour's race divided him from the other Guado, making him overly reliant on a his mother, who essentially committed suicide. Yuna, by contrast, was able to "pass" and seemingly came to the decision that her race didn't change who she was. Being of mixed race helped both of them to eventually be perceived as uniters, but their race didn't decide whether their actions matched that perception.

One thing that I thought was incomplete was an examination of the origins of racism in Spira. The hatred of the Al Bhed, nicely articulated by the game's biggest racist (Wakka) comes from the religion itself. As for the conflict between the Guado and the humans, perhaps that simply boils down to the difference in appearance, though the Guado seem to express some ideas about racial destiny that msy also contribute. Racial and religious conflict are such an important part of the story that it seems like their origins could have been explored somewhat more deeply.

I thought the connection you made between Seymour and Buddhism was very astute. One presentational aspect of the game that always bothered me was Seymour's voice, which I thought was too calm and light either for the villain he was or the politician he pretended to be. If Seymour is interpreted as a kind of aristocratic Bizarro Bodhisattva, however, his vocal inflection makes more sense.

The one thing I find truly regrettable about this game is that its attitude towards religion is so one-note. In DQVIII, the church is just a mirror of society, inhabited by good men and bad. FFX admits only villains to the upper echelons of Yevon, and weds the church to an empty dogma of false hope that subjects its strongest believers to a torturous journey towards death. The church does little, if any, good for the people — it is the blitzball players who help rebuild Kilika, while the priests sit in the temple praying (unknowingly) to the man who destroyed the town in the first place. Kelk Ronso is the only Maester who isn't actively evil, but he is still tolerant of Mika, Seymour, Kinoc, and the hypocrisy of the church. This narrative may be attractive to a "new atheist", but in reality even false beliefs can inspire adherents to do real good. The depiction of Yevon could (and should) have been more nuanced than it ultimately was.

Anonymous said...

I like your assessment of Auron's single-mindedness in pursuing the downfall of Yunalesca while keeping quiet about his true intentions. He reminded me of Gandalf a great deal in this respect, as the ageless wizard was more than happy to send Bilbo Baggins and his descendants off on epic quests without ever explaining how their deeds fit into the broader conflicts of the world. Both Auron and Gandalf are the ultimate protagonists of their stories in terms of pulling the strings and directing the quest.

I noticed that although you did extensive explorations of relations among the sentient races in Spira, you did not mention the Hypello (shoopuf drivers who lack the aggression to play blitzball and admittedly aren't very prominent in the story). Do you think they have any counterparts in the real world or are they just filling the Star Wars cantina role of alien creatures with funny voices?

I think several paragraphs could be written as well on the game's backstory - the corrupt bargain whereby Yu Yevon "saves" Zanarkand as a dream land and causes suffering to everyone else in the process.

Finally, I second all sentiment that religion gets the one-sided treatment in this game.

peter

Anonymous said...

The Al Bhed are sensitive to racial discrimination and they are legendary traders.

I think they're supposed to be medieval Jews, persecuted by Christians, eking out a living by peddling small goods.

Tara Strong, who did the voice of Rikku, is Jewish.

yesef said...

Liked the FF anaylsis as always, the amount of allusions you pick up on is incredible. When I play the FFs again (probably going to do 7, 9, and 10 again in order), I will be sure to read your blog again and look for those things and also see if I can pick up on anything else.

Stopped Clock said...

AE, I know it's only been a day, but did you get my email? The only reason I wonder is that the address you give on your profile page doesn't look like an email host, and I dont want to sit around waiting for nothing.

Audacious Epigone said...

MWC,

I had trouble finding a coherent angle to approach FFX from for much of my time playing the game. I'd considered building it around the contrasts between Seymour's and Yuna's biracialism--how they respectively leveraged it, how it affected perceptions of them, etc. But there was so little on the Yuna side. She's one of the most popular people in Spira even though she's half Al Bhed. Her father is of course a celebrated martyr who mentions in passing when Auron protests letting Jecht join the pilgrimage that as he's a fallen summoner who married an Al Bhed, he can hardly judge. But otherwise, there isn't any evidence that he was a pariah or that Yevon is antagonistic towards him (or Yuna). It's almost as though her Al Bhed heritage is forgotten, a convenient way to tie her to the airship without really tying her to the destiny of the Al Bhed.

The Guado are relatively new converts to the Yevon belief system (within one generation of Seymour's rise to power). The Guado-Human relationship seemed promising to me early on, but again, the Guado weren't flushed out thoroughly, either. As long-time keepers of the Farplane, why were they outside of Yevon for so long. I don't know.

But in reality even false beliefs can inspire adherents to do real good.

Beautifully stated. That nails the difference between DQ's balanced treatment of religion and FFX's degradation of it. Yevon doesn't seem to inspire anyone to do real good--Yuna's genuinely has the interests of the Spiran public at heart. She's not religious zealous. Wakka and Lulu follow the orthodoxy, but like Kimahri (who isn't interested in Yevon's teachings at all), they are there for Yuna, not for Yevon. Shelinda (a minor character who is a budding Yevon nun) is about the only token presented.

Anon,

Keeping with the Tolkienesque reference, they're kind of like Hobbits. They don't even charge for the Shoopuf ride if memory serves. I haven't thought much about it, but maybe a real world comparison could be made with the solidarity, barely visible jobs that are crucial in getting the trains to run on time: Lighthouse attendants, freight train conductors, cattle ranchers, etc.

I agree regarding the backstory. I'm definitely not one who could write it, though. I struggle to be even marginally insightful or thought-provoking with the metaphysical stuff.

Anon,

As I play, I scribble stuff down on themed notecards. I entertained seeing the Al Bhed as Jews, analagous maybe to the Jewish community after the Bar Kochaba revolt with Spira being the Roman Empire, or in Palestine from the 7th Century onward with the rise of Islam. Notice too that after being uprooted, Cid leads the Al Bhed to their "Home" in the desert. It's a barren place, but they turn their section of it into quite a prosperous place. A comparison with contemporary Israel (or biblical Israel following the Exodus) is plausible. But the seafaring and raiding, plus teaming up with the Crusaders to fight Sin, made it tough for me to maintain the allusion in my mind. Interesting chain of thought for sure.

Yesef,

Thanks. But I trudge through the games slowly--I just beat Nemesis last week. I clocked 120 hours total (60 to beat the actual game--although I frequently leave the game on when other things come up--and another nearly 60 just to do the monster arena, including collecting four of the Celestial weapons to make it possible). So I have lots of time to ruminate on the stories.

Audacious Epigone said...

SC,

Just did. I haven't read through the La Griffe post yet, but I will.

Audacious Epigone said...

the amount of allusions you pick up...

Sometimes I'm sure I look too hard, creating the illusion of an allusion where no intentional one exists.

Anonymous said...

NERD!

popularsymbolism said...

I'm a bit late to the party - I initially put off finishing the game years ago because I was so annoyed by the bad voice acting in the game.

It wasn't until a few months ago that I came across an 'undubbed' copy of Final Fantasy X International - basically, it's the International version with Japanese voice acting and English subtitling.

The story was much more enjoyable and dare I say 'authentic' this way.

I'm now playing through FFX-2 (also in 'undubbed' form) before I do a piece on Final Fantasy X and its sequel, but here is a short blog posting I did on the translation and the 'undub' version - I think you might find it interesting.

http://popularsymbolism.wordpress.com/2008/12/01/final-fantasy-x-and-the-art-of-undubbing/

Audacious Epigone said...

PS,

Does the international version work only on Asian PS2s? I'd like to be able to take on the dark aeons (whenever I decide to play through the game again)--I love the battle system, and the monster arena was one of the most challenging rpg experiences I've had to date.

Audacious Epigone said...

PS,

The laughing scene doesn't come off as being quite as corny as it does in the English version. The English voice actors sound much more constrained (workman style, as you say) than their Japanese counterparts do.

popularsymbolism said...

Audacious: The problem with regular PS2s is that they are region-locked - that is, if you have a US PS2, it is locked into only loading US NTSC games.

As for Final Fantasy X International, it was only released in Japan and other Asian countries. The retail version has the following characteristics:
+ Has Japanese/English language option
+ Has English voices
+ Has all the bonuses you mention

The version I played through is the same as the retail International version, but with the difference that it has the Japanese voices re-inserted. It's basically an unauthorized version. To play this version, your PS2 must fit one of the following requirements:

1 - It must be modded (modchip to let you play a backup)
2 - If you have a 'fat' PS2, you can trick the PS2 into reading import or backup discs by 'disc swapping'.
3 - If you have a 'fat' PS2 with a network adapter, you can insert a HDD in your PS2. With the help of a program called HDLoader/HDAdvance (this is a disc you can play on an unmodified PS2 - you can buy it on the Internet), you can install your discs onto HDD and play them from there. Added advantages: basically no load times and all that, plus you can put your PS2 HDD into any computer using an USB enclosure and install games from your comp there.

Anyway, this falls into a 'grey area' of sorts, and I'm not condoning piracy - but seeing as there's no 'legit' way to play FFX Int with a Japanese dub and English text, I figure there's nothing wrong in me openly discussing these 'undubs'.

And as far as I have been able to ascertain, you seem to frown upon 'political correctness', so I figure it's alright with you. :)

And indeed, the scene is a marked improvement - Tidus as a whole sounds MUCH better in Japanese. He was the main reason I couldn't get into the English version of FFX - he had this whiny, teenyboppy attitude about him in the beginning that I found really hard to come to grips with.

Audacious Epigone said...

PS,

I don't have an old fat version, I have a new PS2. I'm barely literate when it comes to the vgame world, much as I enjoy indulging myself in it as of late. I bought my PS2 last year, and the only vgames I've played in roughly the last decade are the four rpgs with reviews on my sidebar. What do I need for the newer, thin PS2? What about the PAL version--I understand the presentation is 'squished'.

Re: getting into the game: Yes, the voice acting is straining, especially early on. Having played DQ8, I'm definitely spoiled (it avoids the translation problem by simply limiting mouth movements of speakers--in Japan, the game didn't use voice acting at all). The Wakka and Tidus meeting on Besaid beach hooked me though--up to that point, I'd considered shelving the game and going on to something else.

I'm looking forward to your review of X and the sequel. I'm playing X-2 now--if not for my wanting to see the Spiran saga concluded, I would've turned the game off in the first two minutes. The Charlie's Angels/Power Puff girls thing repulses me. I suspect I'd enjoy it a lot more if the player controlled Nooj, Gippal, and Baralai, but what are you going to do? :)

popularsymbolism said...

Here's how I interpret FFX-2 so far (and keep in mind that I have not yet finished it), and it might go some way towards explaining the whole Charlie's Angels angle:

- Yuna has been abused and used all throughout the first game and has sacrificed any notion of self-happiness for the greater good:
- by Yevon as an institution
- by Seymour (the whole arranged marriage where she was forced to kiss him while making a fist with her hand, showing restraint and repulsion)
- having to sacrifice all her Aeons (she looks visibly upset when she summons them only to have them ritually killed)
- And finally, the clincher, losing Tidus in the process of eliminating Sin, her only true love and the one that unlocked her suppressed personality.

With Sin gone, The Eternal Calm isn't what she expected it to be. She looks upon the New Age with fear and suspicion - the New Youth League are basically extremist Atheists and force their own dogmatic beliefs on the people - any semblance of the old must be abandoned (such as prayer gestures, respect towards summoners or Yuna) according to their doctrine.

In your review of FFX, you noted that it was very one-sided about religion, but here is where I think FFX-2 offers a nice counter-balance - it shows that in the absence of a great common enemy to unite the people and an institution to keep them in this perpetual crisis (the 'Noble Lie' which Leo Strauss inherited from Plato's The Republic), nature abhors a vacuum. So with Yevon reduced in stature, a new group comes in under the guise of being 'truthseekers' but in reality just wanting to control the people in a different way. So what FFX-2 is trying to show is that religion isn't necessarily the problem, and that spirituality and technology are not necessarily bad in and of itself.

- As for the Charlie's Angels vibe - well, this is explained in the movie 'Another Story' (a bridge between FFX and FFX-2). Rikku confonts Wakka with the fact that Yuna is not being allowed to lead her own life the way she wants it, and when Rikku shows her a sphere that shows a figure resembling Tidus, Yuna concurs and decides to join the treasure hunters. The costume she wears is Rikku's idea - this is also explained in 'Another Story'.

'Another Story' was included in the PAL version of Final Fantasy X (and International, of course). You can view it here:
Another Story - Part 1
Another Story - Part 2

popularsymbolism said...

As for an import/homebrew/backup option for your slimline PS2, look into FreeMCBoot.

http://bootleg.sksapps.com/tutorials/fmcb/

You'll need an 'Action Replay', 'Codebreaker' or something else of that nature to 'mod' your PS2.

BTW, it's a softmod - meaning it does not modify anything - it basically modifies your memory card, and whenever you insert that MC, the proverbial 'modchip' kicks in.

A slimline PS2 lends itself well to disc swapping AFAIK. Anyway, here is a Youtube video tutorial:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7moC29aeaYw

While the slimline does not have an IDE HDD expansion bay, you CAN buy something that will enable you to use IDE harddrives on your slim PS2.

http://www.neoasic.com/hdcombo.htm

While it might seem daunting, I HIGHLY recommend something of that nature. It's not only the elimination of load times with the harddrive that does it for me - it's also the convenience of use - plus it makes for a somewhat quiter PS2, due to there being no optical disc access at all.

Anonymous said...

O'aka is clearly cockney, not Scottish. Also, any examination of FFX is incomplete without dealing with the bad voice acting, especially on the parts of Tidus and Yuna. I found it to be extremely distracting, and an enormous hindrance in enjoying the game.

Audacious Epigone said...

Anon,

The disjointed voice acting is a distraction, especially after playing Dragon Quest VIII, where the voice acting is very well done. But I didn't think it was intolerable.

Re: Oaka, it is Cockney? Yangus from DQ8 is clearly cockney, but I remember Oaka having more of a highlander accent, although it had been a couple of months since I'd had contact with him in the game (he seems to disappear midway through and never return), so I might have been recalling his voice incorrectly.

Anonymous said...

I think most of the associations you pulled ring true, at least as factors (unconcious and conccious) in the characters. One thing i think you completely glossed over is the metaphysics, and though it's messy and a little annoying because of tidus' extreme emotional attachment to yuna he remains in spira. Now he's not unsent for some reason and yes i've seen the ending of FFX-2 but i came to this conclusion after seeing him in the sea (probably off of besaid) and going over the function of soulds and sending.

Audacious Epigone said...

Anon,

Have you read my FFX-2 review? Tidus' Cartesian suspension in the deep blue strikes me as an anondyne way of infusing a depressive world with a fairy tale ending. More generally, the metaphysical underpinnings seem inherently contradictory to me.