Tidus has a conversation with Rikku where he learns that Zanarkand was destroyed 1,000 years ago. He learns that there’s this religion called Yevon, and that his Zanarkand is now considered a holy place.
As if the Al Bhed haven’t been cruel enough, Rikku makes us sit through the sphere grid tutorial. I’ll talk about that hot mess in a later entry. With that out of the way, we’re done here. Never one to waste time, the writer pushes the big red button labeled “Sin shows up and magically transports our hero to another part of the world for purposes of plot convenience.” (The lettering on the button is very small.) This is not the last time they will push that particular button.
Tidus washes up on the beach of Besaid Island. He makes friends with Wakka, who has the distinction of having the third most ridiculous haircut in the world. Tidus gets a chance to show off his extreme Blitzball prowess and Wakka – being captain of the local Blitzball team – invites him to join.
I love Besaid Island. This is actually the point where I connected with the world and decided I wanted to find out what happens next. It says something about the length of Final Fantasy games that when I came back here during the last chapter of the story, the music and scenery actually filled me with nostalgia. Usually you get nostalgia for a game you played months or years ago. Or played in a different time in your life. But this game is so long (especially for someone new to JRPGs) that I felt a sense of wonder simply returning at the end of the same play-through.
We’re a few hours in, and we’re just now being introduced to the premise of our journey:
Summoners are devout followers of the Yevon religion. They train to summon gigantic supernatural beasts, called Aeons. They go on a pilgrimage to the ruins of Zanarkand, where they will fight Sin. They pick up new Aeons from each of the temples they visit along the way. It’s a dangerous road, so a summoner always travels with one or more guardians – people who swear to defend their summoner with their life. If the Summoner’s quest is successful, then in Zanarkand they will obtain the Final Aeon, which will be powerful enough to defeat Sin.
Later we’ll discover that many summoners may be on their pilgrimage at the same time, even though only one of them needs to complete the journey. Lots of summoner parties get killed, or the group dissolves, or they give up, so this redundancy makes some kind of sense. Although, I imagine it would be really awkward if two teams reached the Zanarkand temple at the same time.
Hello there! After you.
Oh no, after YOU!
No really, we don’t mind. You guys play through.
Oh we’re not in a hurry. You were here first.
Besaid serves as our introduction to the people of Spira. Here we get to see the world in its idealized state, not marred by violence, destroyed by Sin, or embroiled in an ongoing cultural / religious schism. This island village stands as an example of the people and places we’re fighting to save. There’s no assumed empathy here. The storyteller goes to work building an emotional connection with the world before they ask us to save it.
Putting a Team Together
Wakka takes Tidus into the village, where they visit the temple. We bump into the rest of the main cast and the party is formed. In the other Final Fantasy games I’ve played, it felt like other characters join your party. In this game, you’re joining theirs. The party was formed before our hero ever showed up. It consists of…
Yuna is the summoner, and thus the leader of the party. She’s serious, quiet, determined, powerfully empathetic, and enormously polite. She also gets an instant crush on our lead when she sees how handsome and protagonist-y he is. Really, the reasons for their mutual attraction are never expressed. Certainly Yuna is far too reserved to say what she digs about Tidus. Their affection is one of opposites. He’s brash, loud, confident, and full of jokes, while she is… not.
Yuna’s father is Braska, the summoner who died defeating Sin ten years ago. People keep saying things to Yuna like, “You’re the daughter of Braska. You have a lot to live up to.” Which has this unpleasant undercurrent of, “Your father died for us. What can YOU do?”
Lulu is our black mage – the person that casts your ice, fire, water, and electricity magic spells, as you do in these games. The story insists – through the comments of the other characters – that she’s serious and has a short fuse, but my take on her is that she’s insufferable, condescending, and never one to pass up the chance to make a cutting remark. When I compare Wakka’s description of her to her actual dialog, I’m left with the impression that something, somewhere, is getting lost in translation. It seems like she’s supposed to be stoic and quiet, like Squall in Final Fantasy VIII, but instead she feels really mean for some reason. Maybe her dialog was written to be sardonic but comes off as bitter and cutting in the English read? It’s hard to say.
Part of the problem is that the audience will naturally assume that when we meet someone new, we’re seeing them in their default state. If someone is angry, we assume they have a bad temper. If they’re drunk we assume they have a drinking problem. If they’re crying, we assume they’re emotionally brittle. It’s all part of the shorthand storytellers use. But it can confuse things if the character in question treats the protagonist differently from everyone else. Maybe she’s not always mean and cutting to people? Maybe she’s just weirded out or frustrated by Tidus specifically, and actually treats other people much betterAlthough she’s pretty cruel to Wakka at times, too.? It’s hard to say.
Also, she’s wearing a voluminous black dress made of fur and leather, and she lives on a tropical island. Maybe she’s mean because she’s always hovering just on the edge of heatstroke.
Wakka is our orange-haired Blitzball buddy, and inexplicably the only member of the party to speak with a faux- Hawaiian accent, even though most of the party grew up on this island togetherYuna moved here when she was about 10, but Lulu has presumably been here her whole life.. He’s a big believer in the Yevon religion, and is often used as writer shorthand to portray or explain the general attitudes and beliefs of the faithful. He’s captain of the Besaid Aurochs and a pretty decent Blitzball player, but the rest of his team has the combined sports prowess of, say, the swollen carcass of a dead manatee wearing a Blitzball jersey.
Kimari has been protecting Yuna since she was a little girl. He’s a Ronso, a race of humanoid… lion… people? With horns in the middle of their foreheads? Or is he more tiger-ish? Like, a tigercorn? I don’t know. They have a mild case of Noble Savage going on. Kimari towers over the other party members, but he’s actually pretty small for a Ronso. He also saves a ton of money on voice work by virtue of almost never speaking. I don’t think he gets a single line of dialog until something like ten hours into the story.
There are only two other people needed to complete the party, and we’ve already met them. We’ll reunite with Auron and Rikku later in the story.
Aside from Yuna, nobody believes that Tidus is from the living Zanarkand of the distant past. The working explanation is that he’s a little crazy in the head on account of getting too close to Sin, and that he’s actually just from elsewhere in Spira. There’s a big Blitzball tournament coming up on the island of Luca, and people from all over will be there. The party reasons that Tidus might meet someone he knows there, so they offer to take him. Yuna’s pilgrimage passes through Luca, so it makes sense for them to travel together for this first leg of the journey.
Just to keep things complicated, it turns out that Tidus happens to look a bit like Chappu, who was Wakka’s brother and Lulu’s boyfriend. Chappu abandoned the faith of Yevon, and then died fighting Sin. This had the side-effect of making Wakka even more zealous for Yevon, and making Lulu more bitter in general.
Sure, the writer could have just shoved everyone together. “You seem nice! Why don’t you come with us to fight Satan?” But the writer took the time to give everyone different reasons to want to have Tidus along.
On top of her silent crush, Yuna is naturally disposed to helping people, so helping Tidus would make a lot of sense to her. Wakka’s Blitzball team absolutely sucks, and suddenly he finds a pro-level Blitzball player who looks like his dead brother, so inviting him along is a no-brainer. And Kimari? Kimari jumps Tidus on the road, fights him for a couple of rounds, and then seems to accept him into the party when he proves himself.
The only person who doesn’t have a good reason to want Tidus along is Lulu. And in fact, she finds his personality to be grating, his constant ignorance about the world annoying, and she’s probably creeped out by him looking like Chappu. Like I said above, maybe she’s not as mean as she seems at first. Maybe she just can’t stand Tidus.
Final Fantasy Island
The village of Besaid consists of five tents, two of which are given over to textile production. Another is actually used by the Crusaders – roughly the local militia. About half the visible population is a Blitzball team. Nobody seems to be related to anyone else, even though a mostly isolated micro-community like this one couldn’t sustain itself without an uncomfortable level of inbreeding that would turn the whole village into one big extended family. Nobody grows food. The temple is about ten times larger than required for a population this size, and that’s ignoring the massive underground puzzle maze used solely for training summoners.
It sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m not. While the village is made of nothing more than absurd tropes and hand-waves, the storyteller has invested a great deal of time into establishing these characters, their motivations, their shared history, and their relationships with each other. The inner-workings of this group are actually fairly complex. Each of them has a different reason for embarking on this journey, and each has a different view of Tidus. The writer is carefully spending their exposition on the stuff that matters most, and leaving everything else to shorthand tropes
Final Fantasy X is confidently a drama-first kind of world. The storyteller knows exactly what kind of story they want to tell.
(Although having said that, I really wish the designer had thrown some unreachable tents into the background to hint that we were just seeing a tiny part of the village.)
 Although she’s pretty cruel to Wakka at times, too.
 Yuna moved here when she was about 10, but Lulu has presumably been here her whole life.
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