[Note: This article contains major spoilers for Final Fantasy X.]
When I ask people for their thoughts on Final Fantasy X, I usually get responses like “Oh you mean that game where the main character looks like Meg Ryan?” or “Yeah it’s that one game with the really horrible lip-sync.” And sometimes, not often mind you, I get a great response like “HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.”
A lot of people remember Final Fantasy X for the romance between Tidus and Yuna, the epic story of a gang of likeable characters who fought a giant whale, and the laughing scene. It’s a great game for sure, and it has a pretty decent soundtrack. And it’s no wonder that the Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Collection that came out this March was received with open arms from adoring fans of the series.
I find it odd, however, that not a lot of people seem to bring attention to how dark this game actually is. Final Fantasy X takes place in a world called Spira; it’s a world ruined by Sin, who is basically death incarnate. The summoners go on a pilgrimage around Spira to pray to the dead. And when they reach Zanarkand, which is a dead, ruined city by the way, they pray to the ghost of a dead high summoner who then tells them that they need to choose one of their guardians to act as a sacrificial lamb. The summoner and the chosen guardian then give their lives to defeat Sin. But when this happens, the sacrificed guardian becomes the new Sin in its place. And let’s not forget that Spira’s government is run by a bunch of dead maesters who refuse to rest in peace. And that the fiends you encounter on your journey are made up of spiteful dead souls that lost their way after death. Oh.
Pitchfork sums it up perfectly in his article series, The Rise and Fall of Final Fantasy: “Don’t let the smiling blonde kid and sunny beach on the cover art fool you. Final Fantasy X is one of the most morbid games you’ll play.”
There is one big scripted event that I feel really brings this message across in the game and that is Lulu’s sidequest in the Calm Lands where you acquire Yojimbo in the Cavern of the Stolen Fayth. In this optional area, Lulu encounters her previous summoner who lost her life while trying to acquire Yojimbo. Upon meeting Lady Ginnem’s unsent form, Lulu asks Yuna to send her to the Farplane. Lady Ginnem refuses, and a battle ensues while the wistful Lulu’s Theme plays in the background.
Even a character such as Lady Ginnem, whom we can assume shared a close bond with Lulu, refused to be sent, even though she must know that the Farplane is the only suitable place for a lost soul. I think it’s very telling how the concept of death itself can twist a person into something unrecognizable in Final Fantasy X‘s universe. In an optional scene in the Farplane at Guadosalam, we see Lulu staring off into the distance, wondering why Lady Ginnem isn’t appearing. This missable scene will be confusing for first-time players but when you look back at this portion of the game, you’ll begin to realize how profoundly death affects a person. In the Farplane, you conjure the memory of your loved one. But if they’re unsent, like Lady Ginnem, they become nothing more than spiteful beings.
Death in Final Fantasy X is clearly quite a dark issue: when you pass on, you either become a fading memory, or a monster.
“The dead need guidance. Filled with grief over their own death, they refuse to face their fate. They yearn to live on, and resent those still alive. You see, they envy the living. And in time, that envy turns to anger, even hate. Should these souls remain in Spira, they become fiends that prey on the living. Sad, isn’t it?”
The dead are generally portrayed as a resentful bunch in Final Fantasy X. Not unlike Lady Ginnem, the people who have passed on in Spira refuse to accept death simply because they want to go on living. As a result, the unsent souls get so consumed with their hatred that they turn into monsters. Even the maesters of Yevon themselves refuse to retire despite being dead.
“Enlightened rule by the dead is preferable to the misguided failures of the living.”
But of course, not all the dead souls yearn selfishly for life. Auron is on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to the issue of the dead refusing to pass on. He doesn’t envy the living; instead, he fights to remain in the realm of the living so that he can have justice for Jecht and Braska. At the end of the game though, Auron fulfills his mission and allows himself to fade into the Farplane as well.
All this talk about death and the dead being selfish is fine and dandy but what does it all really mean?
We see the dead refusing to pass on because of these few reasons: the want to continue to rule, the want to live, and the want to see their promises through before leaving. At the end of Final Fantasy X, they all see the same end regardless of their motivations to remain in the human world: they go to the Farplane where they can finally rest.
The message here is this: death, ultimately, is inescapable. It’s a message that rings loudly and truly even in our own lives. What makes Final Fantasy X brilliant isn’t the story (though it’s good and I love it) or its characters; it’s the subtle message that it delivers without players even realizing it’s there. I don’t think people give this game enough credit for what it really means to bring across.
It’s funny. When I first played this game when I was 10, all I could remember from the Seymour Flux fight on Mount Gagazet was what a pain in the ass that was. Replaying the game now, I notice that Seymour utters the words “Death awaits you!” before inflicting a character with the zombie status. In the context of Final Fantasy X, truer words were never spoken.