It isn’t hard to find a lousy father in a video game. From Big Boss to Hojo to the King of all Cosmos, there are plenty of examples of dads who are at best clueless and at worst villains. The Final Fantasy series is full of characters who have been orphaned, abandoned, or severely damaged by bad dads. There are some parental figures (like Barret in Final Fantasy VII or Cid in Final Fantasy IX) who are caring and kind, but they are most definitely the exception. This concept is never more apparent and adeptly portrayed than in Final Fantasy X. It is a notable title in the series for a number of reasons. It was the first title on the PS2 (with visuals that frankly still look pretty damn good today), it was the first to have full voice acting, and it represented a new design direction as the first title without a navigable overworld. In terms of storytelling, it presents a much bleaker world populated by scattered and desperate people. While it is on the surface an epic, world-spanning adventure, Final Fantasy X is at its heart a genuinely moving story about a world of absent fathers and the lasting emotional damage done to those left behind.
Final Fantasy X contains many layers of dysfunctional father/son relationships. Braska and Jyscal represent the archetypal absent father preoccupied with duty to a higher cause at the expense of one’s family. Braska, in becoming a Summoner, makes an incredible sacrifice for Spira yet he is also denying Yuna a father. Additionally, there is Jyscal, Seymour’s father, who is so focused on managing the affairs of the Guado that he ignores his son completely, leaving him to be raised and cared for by his wife, who ends up giving her life to the Fayth to become Anima, easily one of the most terrifying things. Ever.
Both Yuna and Seymour’s relationships with their respective fathers has a profound effect on the development of their characters during the course of the story: Yuna grows to appreciate her father’s commitment to duty and decides to follow in his footsteps, while Seymour resents his father’s neglect and murders him. The religion of Yevon is, in a less literal sense, portrayed as a kind of aloof and abusive father to the people of Spira, personified in the corruption of the Maesters and the recurring appearance of Sin, which rises up and devastates everyone and everything around it like a mean drunk.
Finally, there is Jecht — Tidus’ father. At the beginning of Final Fantasy X, Jecht is portrayed as an archetypal ‘sports dad’ — he’s abrasive, insensitive, and selfish. Granted, in the early parts of the game all we know about him is through Tidus’ perspective. It’s clear that they have never really connected even though the younger one chooses a similar path in becoming a Blitzball player. As the game progresses, Tidus finds spheres scattered around Spira by his father, and is able to witness Jecht’s journey with Braska and Auron ten years previous. A couple of them feature him drunk and in jail, or drunk and sleeping it off (and hey, if I had a nickel for every time that happened…), but each sphere Tidus finds slowly reveals a dad who desperately misses his son. Through that, and Auron’s constant presence and guidance, Tidus begins to gain an understanding that his father is not quite the person he knew growing up. The culmination of this gradual discovery is when the two of them meet again, face to face, inside the body of Sin.
This is perhaps the single best father/son moment I’ve ever seen in a video game. It perfectly captures the awkward, slightly inarticulate exchange between a father and son who have never really bonded on an emotional level. The most effective moment is when Jecht makes a weak joke about still being bigger that Tidus: “Well, I am Sin you know”. Tidus’ response, “That’s not funny.” just nails the way he has grown as a character throughout the game; that he has been deeply affected by the amount of death and destruction throughout the game. Furthermore, what makes this scene so brilliant is in the dissonance between how little is said versus how much is conveyed. The Final Fantasy series has many scenes designed to evoke a reaction in players, but nothing they’ve done before or since is as emotionally naked as when Tidus and Jecht are reunited.
Let’s be clear; Jecht is not a particularly great father for the most part. It’s hard to rationalize the behavior of somebody who constantly antagonizes his 7 year old son and refuses to acknowledge that he’s being a douche. While by the end of the game that perception doesn’t really change a whole lot, one definitely comes to gain an understanding of Jecht as a father. Tidus’ journey and gradual reintroduction to him through the eyes of others reveals a flawed parent but also a noble and caring man who, like so many fathers in the real world, struggles to express it outwardly.