Yuna, Lulu, Wakka, Kimari, and Tidus board the boat to begin Yuna’s pilgrimage. Their home of Besaid Island was there to show us Spira in its idealized state. It was there to build empathy and an emotional connection to this world. Our next stop is the island of Kilika, where that connection will pay off. Now that we sort of care about Spira, the storyteller will show us the brutality of Sin. As the ship approaches, Sin strikes the island.
The people of Kilika have built their houses out of wooden sticks. Out on the water. With rickety walkways between them.
But of course they built on the water because it makes for a pretty good show when Sin huffs and puffs and blows their house down. Kilika is the Red Shirt of towns in Spira. Half the town snuffs it, and by the time our heroes arrive the whole place is filled with mourners and smashed huts.
When the party arrives, Yuna volunteers to perform the “sending”. Apparently summoners have a secondary duty. When they’re not on their way to fight Sin, they’re in charge of performing funerals.
And funerals in this world are important, because death in the world of Spira is completely bonkers. A summoner has to do a little dance to guide the spirits of the dead to the Farplane. (Which is apparently an off-brand afterlife.) If she doesn’t do this, then the spirits will linger, grow angry, and eventually turn into fiends. As the sending is performed, little rainbow firefly sparkles come out of the departed and drift into the skyWhat would happen if you did a sending indoors? Would the pyreflies bunch up at the ceiling like cigarette smoke? “Oh man. Looks like someone did a sending in here. Open a window, man.”.
Death Makes No Sense
The rules of death are completely vague, here. I know I’ve been pretty forgiving of the writer’s laissez-faire approach to worldbuilding so far. But while I can forgive them not explaining where the food comes from because this story isn’t about fighting over resources, I’m less forgiving of their refusal to establish the rules of death. The cycle of death is a big part of this story, both mechanically and thematically.
Here are a bunch of random confusing things about death in Spira:
Sometimes people die, but then they get back up and keep going. They’re “unsent”, but not “undead”. Their flesh isn’t rotting. The only way you can tell they’re dead is that if you perform a sending nearby, rainbow sparkles come out of them and they’ll collapse. Which leads me to wonder… what about them makes them “dead”? Their bodies are warm. They’re not decomposing. They’re not ghosts. That sounds like “alive” to me.
When Yuna performs this sending we see pyreflies depart from the bodies of the dead, but other times she’ll perform a sending and the body will disappear entirely, along with clothing, gear, and whatever else the person was carrying. So performing a sending on an unsent soldier will cause his metal sword to evaporate along with the rest of him. Well, sometimes. In the ceremony Yuna is performing right now, we see sparkles come out of the dead, but we don’t see the bodies vanish.
Sometimes unsent look like normal folks. Other times they become transparent ghosts. They can still converse with the living and they still seem to be sane, but they’re transparent.
Other times the dead go insane. They may or may not be transparent, but they seem to only want to kill the living.
Other times we run into creatures that aren’t unsent, but undead. There are several zombified foes in this game.
While I can’t think of any examples that we meet, dialog also seems to suggest that leaving someone unsent might eventually turn them into a straight-up monster. Maybe this means the ghost enemy type? Or maybe that’s yet another kind of undead?
Yunalesca (we’ll meet her much later in the story) and Auron are both unsent, but Auron has visibly aged ten years and Yunalesca still looks youthful despite being a thousand years old.
We’re probably not supposed to think about these things in terms of game mechanics, but for extra hilarity: “Zombification” is a status attack in this game. If a character becomes zombified, then casting healing on them will injure them. Auron is already an unsent. Then a monster can inflict zombie on him, making him unsent AND undead. If his hitpoints reach zero, he’ll… die? Now, you might argue that a character falling over in combat should be called KO, not dead. I agree, that makes much more sense. But then to revive him you either cast a “life” spell or use a “phoenix” potion, and the names of those things imply a kind of returning-from-death deal. So if unsent zombie Auron dies then you can bring him “back to life” and he’ll just be an unsent?
And don’t even get me started on Seymour (we’ll meet him soon) who is able to return to the land of the living after having his form killed and even obliterated multiple times. Unsent or not, it seems like after a few hundred sword-stabbings and fireballs, your body ought to have trouble keeping up all those processes that prevent decomposition.
And if having the dead hang around isn’t strange enough, there’s the additional strangeness that we can go to the Farplane and visit them. I’ll talk more about the Farplane in a later entry.
I’m not saying we need a chart of all the different classes of death and their long-term effects. And the ridiculous stuff with zombie unsent Auron is just stock Final Fantasy combat mechanics that we can sort of ignore for story purposes. But I feel like we in the audience should at least understand death as well as the average peasant of Spira. I’m willing to allow for Rule of Cool, but even visually cool things are less impressive when you have no idea what they mean.
Every temple Yuna visits on her journey has “the trials”, a hilariously contrived puzzle section that mostly consists of putting glowing spheres into holes in combinations to open doors to rooms with more spheres and doors. It’s ostensibly part of becoming a summoner, although I’m not sure how much utility colored-ball sorting will have in the final showdown with Sin.
I think the puzzle sections are a great idea in principle. It makes for a nice little change of pace every few hours, and helps establish the notion that a pilgrimage is supposed to be challenging and not just a casual religious junket. But while I like the idea – and I think the first couple of puzzles are kind of fun – the execution is just awful.
The major problem with these puzzles is that the interface is a disaster. You’ll walk up to some OBJECT and press the action button. You’ll then get a message saying, “You see OBJECT here.” You then dismiss this message with the action button.
This is followed by a popup menu:
- Take OBJECT.
- Leave OBJECT alone.
You make your selection and press the action button again. Then you see another message saying, “You take the OBJECT.” One last push of the action button will dismiss this message and you’ll be able to move again.
That’s two messages, a popup, and four button presses for ONE ACTION. And if you accidentally mash the action button one too many times because you’re trying to shoulder your way through this onerous interface, then you’ll begin the entire process again and need to endure another round of popups and messages.
Ideally you could just walk up to OBJECT and press the action button. The message “You took OBJECT” could appear at the bottom for a few seconds without taking control from you. Or – if the designers are just terrified that you’ll find yourself in a situation where you won’t know what you’re holding, they could add a little message in the corner of the HUD to the effect of, “Holding OBJECT.”
Action button picks up. Action button puts down. Boom. Easy. Since you can only carry one object at a time, this would require zero gameplay changes. There is no reason this needs to be such a chore.
That’s my problem with these trials. They are not good puzzles. They’re incredibly simple puzzles wrapped in multiple layers of inconvenience. They take a lot of time to solve, but only because there’s so much busywork and long canned animations for frequent yet mundane tasks.
Imagine if I asked you to do this puzzle:
Except, your view will be zoomed in so that you can never see more than one piece at a time, and every time you move a piece you have to click four times and watch a ten-second animation. It might take you a couple of minutes to do it, but when you’re done there’s not much satisfaction because you didn’t really do anything challenging. I kept you busy, but I didn’t engage you.
I’m not saying all the puzzles are just 4-piece jigsaws. A few of the trials do have interesting ideas or twists in them. The visuals and the music provide a nice layer of sensory stimulation to make it feel like you’re having fun. But the rare moments of genuine puzzle-solving are hopelessly buried in busywork.
 What would happen if you did a sending indoors? Would the pyreflies bunch up at the ceiling like cigarette smoke? “Oh man. Looks like someone did a sending in here. Open a window, man.”
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