Final Fantasy X Part 9: All Bad

By Shamus Posted Thursday Aug 11, 2016

Filed under: Retrospectives 109 comments

There’s something odd about Tidus. Well, lots of things. Actually, I guess everything about him is pretty strange. But one thing specifically, which is that there are an awful lot of things he simply doesn’t know that he should.

Final Fantasy X is using his fish-out-of-water status to help explain the world to us. That’s a great idea and it’s probably why FFX is so approachable for newcomers. However, Tidus is from Zanarkand, not another planet. So why is he apparently ignorant of major geographical locations and fauna?

Outside of Zanarkand, Tidus seems to have no idea what the world is like. It’s not like he says, “Mt. Gagazt? Yeah, in my day we called it Mt. Dave and there was an Arby’s on the summit.” When we reach Mt. Gagazet late in the story he registers no recognition whatsoever. It’s like he’s never heard of or seen this mountain before, even though it supposedly looms over the city he lived in.

On the right is a Shoopuff. It's HUGE, and it can carry a dozen people on its back. But Gimli insists it still only counts as one.
On the right is a Shoopuff. It's HUGE, and it can carry a dozen people on its back. But Gimli insists it still only counts as one.

He’s never seen a Chocobo, the massive yellow birds that are the primary means of mounted travel. He’s never seen a Shoopuf, a beast of burden that looks like a shaved anteater size of wooly mammoth. He’s never heard of the moonflow, a spectacular natural phenomena of glowing flower particle effects that drift over the river at night. There’s a sunken city near the moonflow that’s clearly from his time period, and he seems to know nothing about it. That’s like someone in Cleveland who has somehow never heard of Cincinnati. When the airship – an artifact of this time period – shows up, he doesn’t seem to recognize it. He’s never heard of the Guado or the Ronso even though they are clearly major races of this world. The Ronso have obviously lived next to Zanarkand for thousands of years.

Yes, he’s not really from Zanarkand. He’s from Dream Zanarkand. We’ll talk about that idea later, but for now: Dream Zanarkand was based on the real place. How is it that the dream version never had airships or Guados or Ronsos and nobody ever mentioned the mountain that would have filled the southern horizon? If you launched me from modern-day Pittsburgh to the same general area 1,000 years in the future, I wouldn’t walk around going, “The Ohio River? What’s that? Bears? Never heard of them! What’s a deer? What’s a Philadelphia? Is that some kind of rodent?”

The Ultimania Guide has a bit more information on how Dream Zanarkand works, but The Ultimania Guide is not in the game. It’s an obscure collection of bonus material, equivalent to a pre-order bonus book of design sketches. It was never even officially translated into English. If not for the internet, we wouldn’t even know it existed, much less what it said. Yet the phrase, “It’s explained in the Ultimania Guide” is said all too commonly in discussions of the Final Fantasy X story. That is, the key information for understanding what this story is saying is not contained in the text itself. And even with the help of TUG, there are still a lot of confusing blank pages in the tale of Spira.

Laying aside gripes over why half this story has to be gleaned from bootlegged books on the internet, we’re still left with the puzzle of why Tidus doesn’t know things he should know. Is this a case where the storyteller is trying to show how rough and incomplete Dream Zanarkand is? Or were they just leaning on the fish out of water trope a little too hard?

Yuna Kidnapped

Let the record show that there is NO WAY for someone to get onto the roof of this thing unseen, and it would be impossible for someone to hide on the roof just above Yuna and remain unseen by all six people below.
Let the record show that there is NO WAY for someone to get onto the roof of this thing unseen, and it would be impossible for someone to hide on the roof just above Yuna and remain unseen by all six people below.

The story has been mentioning it pretty regularly: Summoners are disappearing on the road. Nobody knows why. It’s been building this mild background tension while the story has focused on a bunch of interpersonal stuff between the party members.

But as Tidus rides the shoopuf across the moonflow and fails to recognize the city beneath the water, the other shoe drops. An Al Bhed jumps into frameFrom the roof of the shoopuf cabin, which is almost Kai Leng levels of implausibility., grabs Yuna, and dives into the water. Wakka and Tidus – the only swimmers in the group – jump in after her. There’s a boss fight with an Al Bhed submarine, Yuna is saved, and they complete the journey across the moonflow.

Soon after on the road they meet Rikku. It turns out she was driving the machine that was trying to make off with Yuna. So let’s tally up the Al Bhed crimes so far:

  1. Assault. (Of Tidus.) Multiple counts.
  2. Kidnapping. (Tidus.)
  3. Slavery. (Tidus again.)
  4. Kidnapping. (Yuna, at the Blitzball game.)
  5. Using a hostage to cheat at Blitzball.
  6. Kidnapping. (Yuna again.)
  7. Attempted murder. (Wakka and Tidus, when they tried to save Yuna.)

So when Tidus catches up with Rikku, she yells at him and he apologizes. (Because she got hurt a little when her kidnapping murder machine blew up.)

I know, right? I defended myself like a total asshole. I'm such a jerk.
I know, right? I defended myself like a total asshole. I'm such a jerk.

The story acts like Wakka is an asshole for being an Al Bhed hater. There’s an entire arc about his supposed Al Bhed bigotry. The story blatantly shows us that every bad thing he ever said about them was true, but then at the end he breaks down and apologizes to all these people who tried to kill him for thinking poorly of them. And they forgive him. And nobody in the entire story seems to notice that maybe a reciprocal apology is needed.

It’s like the writer doesn’t realize the things the Al Bhed are doing are wrong. We could kind of forgive the incident in the ruins at the start of the game. Maybe that was an isolated group of Al Bhed. But this summoner kidnapping business is a major project directed by the Al Bhed leadership, involving attacks on our main characters.

They don’t like that summoners willingly sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Fine. But their response is to try and kidnap summoners and kill all who stand in the way. If you’re trying to kill people you’re no longer a conscientious objector or advocate for peace. You’re just another active participant in a violent conflict. Again, fine. That’s good fodder for a story. But you can’t turn around and pretend that the Al Bhed are this poor minority who are oppressed for no reason. They’re staging violent attacks to disrupt the only known method for averting the end of the world. They’re not “misunderstood”. People think they’re dangerous, and they are. They have assaulted harmless individuals. (Tidus.) They’ve assaulted summoner parties. (All of them!) And their attacks put the entire world in peril. Even if their viewpoint is morally correctAnd that’s a pretty big IF., they still aren’t harmless victims of prejudice.

A Thought Experiment: Fireman Bob

This is the kidnapping submarine the Al Bhed used to swipe Yuna. This was actually really visually confusing my first time through the game. Yuna is riding on top of the machine trying to kill you. She doesn't seem to be struggling. Is this a betrayal? Is she mind controlled? Is this an evil twin? Nope! They just didn't animate her.
This is the kidnapping submarine the Al Bhed used to swipe Yuna. This was actually really visually confusing my first time through the game. Yuna is riding on top of the machine trying to kill you. She doesn't seem to be struggling. Is this a betrayal? Is she mind controlled? Is this an evil twin? Nope! They just didn't animate her.

There’s a burning building. Hundreds are trapped inside. We’ve got a firefighter named Bob. He can enter the building and plunge into the flames in the basement to save all the people. How? I dunno. It doesn’t matter. Maybe he’s going to unlock a gate or turn on the sprinkler system or cut off the flow of fuel that’s feeding the fire. Something. Whatever. However, it’s 100% certain that – successful or not – he will die doing this. He will not make it back out. Despite this, he’s willing to make the attempt. In fact, he’s adamant that it’s his purpose to give his life to save these people.

But there’s this guy Albert. Albert doesn’t think it’s right that one person should sacrifice their life for everyone else, not even willingly. So Al tries to stop Fireman Bob from going into the building. The police try to break it up so Bob can proceed, and then Albert tries to kill the police.

What is Albert’s morality based on? How does he justify restraining Bob against his will (which, remember, will result in the death of hundreds) to save his life, but then trying to kill the police? I don’t know what Albert believes in, but it sure as hell isn’t pacifism. I’m not saying it’s impossible to come up with a justification for Al’s behavior, but I think most people will agree that his moral compass has a very peculiar calibration. In the context of a story, I think he needs to explain himself more than, “I can’t let any firefighters die!” Barring that, I think I need the other characters to recognize his inexplicable values and behavior.

The story keeps saying the Al Bhed as these idealists, but then showing us that they’re crazy violent jerks. When they aren’t trying to murder people they’re beating them up and cheating at Blitzball.

Crazy, or Dumb?

This is Rikku's response when you point out she attacked you. She claims she didn't. The first time through the game you think maybe there's more context. But on the second time you realize, NOPE! She actually did totally attack you, and this line is nothing more than empty misdirection.
This is Rikku's response when you point out she attacked you. She claims she didn't. The first time through the game you think maybe there's more context. But on the second time you realize, NOPE! She actually did totally attack you, and this line is nothing more than empty misdirection.

And even if we forgive their various violent crimes, it’s hard to sympathize with their particular position because their plan of kidnapping summoners is idiotic. It’s obvious that no matter how many summoners they nab, more will come, because the people of this world want to stop Sin. Eventually the Al Bhed would find themselves running some sprawling supermax prison brimming with pissed off magic users. That can’t end well.

They have to be thinking of this one of two ways:

1) Just stop the pilgrimages! We’ll think of another way to beat Sin!
2) We’d rather let the world be destroyed than allow people to willingly sacrifice themselves!

If they’re thinking #2, then the Al Bhed are a doomsday cult. They’re literally worse than the corrupt Yevon leadership. Yevon is willing to allow willing human sacrifice to forestall the end of the world, but the Al Bhed are willing perpetrate murder, which will hasten it.

If they’re thinking #1, then they should just go about looking for that way and leave summoners alone. The pilgrimages aren’t going to stop. So rather than splitting your efforts between kidnapping summoners (summoner parties are crazy dangerous!) and fighting Sin, just focus on the latter. Once you beat Sin, the other problem is solved.

Al Bhed? More like… All Bad!

Laying aside the kidnapping, lying, and attempted murder, the party is now complete and Rikku is magically transformed into a non-thug from this point on. Yay!
Laying aside the kidnapping, lying, and attempted murder, the party is now complete and Rikku is magically transformed into a non-thug from this point on. Yay!

Rikku and her father Cid (we’ll meet him later) put a sympathetic face on the Al Bhed, but judged solely on their behavior the Al Bhed are either idiots or villains. (And to be fair, there’s lots of room for them to be a little of both.) Sure, Wakka hurt people with words and ignorance. But the Al Bhed hurt people with bullets and malice. Why does Wakka’s understandable distrust demand an apology but not the violent crimes of the Al Bhed?

We can’t even use the fig leaf excuse of “Not All Al Bhed act this way”, because the game doesn’t show us a single Al Bhed that objects to this behavior. The leadership is instigating it, and the rank-and-file behave like thugs. They don’t seem to have any apologetic bystanders among their membersMaybe Rin the shopkeeper? But he never actually seems apologetic. He’s just the only Al Bhed that never physically attacks you.. Not only is their position morally questionable, it’s also inexplicable and all-encompassing. Everyone seems to be exactly the same sort of unexplained crazy / dumb.

All of this is exacerbated by the fact that Tidus (and thus the audience) doesn’t know about summoners dying when calling the Final Aeon. That’s the entire motivation for these attacks, and it hasn’t been revealed yet. Which means from the point of view of a first-time player, the Al Bhed are trying to stop pilgrimages for no reason whatsoever. This makes everyone’s understated reaction seem even more unreasonable.

From this point on Rikku is a kind and empathetic young girl. That’s great. She makes for a fun party member. But the writer wants to pretend this is the same Rikku that Tidus met at the beginning of the game, and that doesn’t work.

You can imagine what would happen if Yuna and the others found some harmless stray guy in the wilderness. He’s hungry and cold and confused. So Auron kicks his ass, Wakka suggests murdering him for being a fiend in disguise, and then Yuna forces him to work for his food. Rikku would be scandalized. She would fight against it, because this Rikku isn’t an amoral thug.

We can forgive lots of lapses of logic in this story. Sure, the Guado don’t have a really good reason to go along with Seymour, and maybe it’s a little strange that nobody notices that the Yevon guards all use forbidden weapons. We can nitpick lots of little details if we’re set on over-analyzing everything. But this stuff with the Al Bhed isn’t some missing exposition with a couple of nameless side-characters. This is a major faction in the story. This faction is filled with characters who all have names and voice acting, and their behavior feeds directly into Wakka’s character arc. The Al Bhed are an important part of this story and they need to be portrayed in a coherent way.

This blunder mystifies me. While the story is bonkers, the characters are generally solid. And yet here in the middle of the story we have this giant contradiction where the story keeps giving us reasons to distrust the Al Bhed and then acting like distrusting the Al Bhed makes you a prejudiced bigot. It comes off as both incoherent and sanctimonious.



[1] From the roof of the shoopuf cabin, which is almost Kai Leng levels of implausibility.

[2] And that’s a pretty big IF.

[3] Maybe Rin the shopkeeper? But he never actually seems apologetic. He’s just the only Al Bhed that never physically attacks you.

From The Archives:

109 thoughts on “Final Fantasy X Part 9: All Bad

  1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

    It’s not just that he’s a fish out of water, he’s a very sheltered kid, too. He obviously never left Zanarkand before, but even if he could, he’s like a kid living a life of luxury in his city and who never left because it’d be outside his safety zone.

    I also imagine the inconsistencies have been smoothed over. After all, Dream Zanarkand doesn’t have a mountain looming over it, so it’d be weird if its citizens remembered Mt Gagazet, as there would be a problem between what they (should) remember and what’s there. Or maybe it’s a result of the 1000 years spent as an Aeon, they forgot most of what’s not DZ.

    When Yuna’s kidnapped, pretty sure the Al Bhed doesn’t come from the roof, but from underneath, as if he climbed the Shoopuf. Also, they don’t kill the guardians, they kidnap them as well, so I suppose the boss fight is there because it’s been too long since the last one. A bit of gameplay and story segregation.

    It’s #1 for what the Al Bhed are thinking, and they kind of do that already (bar leaving the summoners alone). The Airship they salvaged is part of it (even before we get to use it), it’s just that they need to be cautious when doing that, since they have the whole world + Sin against them.

    The problem with Wakka’s mistrust (and everyone else’s, really) is the fact that they blindly accept what’s going on, without even trying to think of another way. It is justified, since they’ve had a 1000 years of despair and now they’re clinging to the last roots over the edge, but it still comes as weird how resigned they are to things being this way (I’d say it looks rather bad for a newcomer, too, what with all the rules they have against helping people). I’m not defending them, though, they do act like thugs, but in this context they come out as a persecuted minority that gets bullied just for thinking differently.

    1. Shamus says:

      “When Yuna's kidnapped, pretty sure the Al Bhed doesn't come from the roof, but from underneath, as if he climbed the Shoopuf.”

      I watched the cutscene to get these screenshots. He drops down from the roof, directly above Yuna.

      1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

        Maybe he uhh… had a chocobo jump over the shopoof while riding it. Then he dropped from the chocobo to the shopoof roof, then from the roof to grab Yuna in a matter of seconds?

        Yeah probably not, huh…

      2. KarmaTheAlligator says:

        Fair enough, I always thought he came from the bottom, since it makes no sense for him to come from the roof.

      3. Syal says:

        He’s been up there with the Hypello driver from the beginning; the reason so many summoners have disappeared is because the Shoopuf is in on it!

        1. Lachlan the Mad says:

          The Shoopuff you’re riding on is the same one that Jecht attacked when he was making the pilgrimage with Braska (you can actually see the scar on its leg in the first screenshot of this post), so maybe it wants revenge on all summoner parties by proxy.

    2. Chauzuvoy says:

      I feel like that’s some weird ordering of information, though. I think the idea of organized resistance to the maesters has some merit. After all, the whole system of government on Spira is held up by this endless death march that only seems to be slowing down Sin from eventually destroying the world anyways. There’s a strong argument to be made that the Maesters don’t actually want to stop Sin for good at all, because the summoner’s pilgrimage is a big part of what keeps them in power. But instead of a group of rebels trying to unseat a cosmic order that keeps the jerk Maesters in power at the cost of thousands of lives, we see a bunch of jerks who try to stop the pilgrimages for no given reason, even though they’re the only thing that stops Sin from killing literally everyone. It’s not just sloppy writing, it’s a wasted opportunity for some really smart and interesting writing.

  2. Joey245 says:

    …yeah, this sounds about right. I like the Al Bhed as a concept, but something got seriously lost in translation in the final product. And I don’t mean “going from Japanese to English” translation. I mean “going from abstract idea to physical game” translation.

    I never really “got” Rikku’s appeal, either. Sure, she’s an awesome party member, but as a character she always felt kind of bland. I liked Yuna and Lulu a lot more than I did Rikku. Hell, I liked Wakka and Kimahri more than I liked Rikku.

    (Sidenote: In the hovertext for two of the screenshots, Rikku is accidently spelled “Riku.” As a longtime Kingdom Hearts fan, this threw me for a loop for a sec. Other than that, loving the analysis so far. Keep it up!)

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Rikku is the only party member who can out cheerful Tidus. Plus she’s useful in combat. Plus she gets to return in the sequel and create even more fans.

      She’s pretty cool in Record Keeper as well.

      1. tmtvl says:

        “Useful in combat”? No other overdrive can rival hers in sheer game-breaking power (if you know how to use it).

        1. Decius says:

          12x 99999 damage attacks comes close.

        2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          If you’re min-maxing, she’s superb. If you’re playing casually, she’s “useful in combat”. That’s what I was getting at.

    2. IFS says:

      Instead of correcting the typo Shamus should go in the other direction and photoshop Riku of KH into the screenshot.

    3. Syal says:

      Rikku’s appeal is she’s a bubbly cheerful busty girl around the expected age of players.

  3. Darren says:

    Some niggles: Waka doesn’t hate the Al Bhed because of their violent actions–which are presented as something recent–but because they violate the tenets of Yevon (which, as the game draws our attention to in a few spots, like the blitzball arena and the Yevon guards, are inconsistent and hypocritical). He spends way more time complaining that they use machina than that they are violent.

    Getting ahead a bit, I think one element that the game barely even mentions is that Yuna is Rikku’s cousin and the niece of the Al-Bhed leader. We know that the Al-Bhed are indeed looking for alternative ways to defeat Sin thanks to Operation Mi’ihen, so their more recent, violent behaviors could be explained as a result of Cid drawing a line in the sand over his niece.

    Finally, regarding Tidus’ knowledge, this has always bugged me. The game is a bit vague on the timeline, so maybe that mountain wasn’t there, and maybe the Moonflow didn’t exist in Tidus’ time? People are bad at understanding timescales to begin with, let alone for fantasy worlds.

    1. Mintskittle says:

      I’m fairly certain that Wakka’s bigotry was do to the fact that his brother went off to fight Sin with a machina weapon and got himself killed. There’s a bit back in Besaid where Wakka gives Tidus his brother’s sword, and explains that when he joined the Crusaders, he left it behind. My guess would be that he feels the Al Bhed corrupted his brother and made him forsake the teachings to not use the machina weapons.

      1. Darren says:

        Oh, yeah, that’s right! But the point is that his hatred really has nothing to do with anything specifically malevolent on the part of the Al Bhed. I mean, the other characters even hide from Wakka the fact that Yuna is part Al Bhed, which shows that even others view his hatred as irrational bigotry.

        1. Felblood says:

          While this is true, it doesn’t really confront the core problem.

          Yeah, Wakka is a jerk, who hates a people group for a stupid reason.

          That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of great reasons to hate those other jerks.

    2. GloatingSwine says:

      I think the issue of Tidus’ lack of knowledge about the outside world is more a case of the dream of Zanarkand being a Truman Show style sealed space where the outside world is mentioned but there’s no specific knowledge of it because it doesn’t exist in the dream the Fayth don’t bother filling it in.

      As far as Tidus is concerned, Zanarkand was functionally the whole world and because he’s a construct of beings who wanted it that way he had no reason to think that was in any way strange.

      1. Mintskittle says:

        Looking back at all the scenes of Dream Zanarkand, I get the impression that DZ is more or less an island surrounded by water. The intro where we’re first introduced to Tidus, plus flashbacks to his childhood all appear to show the same home, which is oceanfront property, and then there’s the first cinematic, when Auron is raising toasting Sin’s arrival, it’s ocean as far as the eye can see. Heck, the Blitzball stadium is entirely over the water with a small bridge linking it to the city. I don’t think anything exists in the dream outside the city.

        go to 0:45, then 2:17. The city more or less floats on the water.

    3. Syal says:

      Also, as someone who freaked out about finding new moles on my face only to look at an old picture and discover they had been there for decades… some people just aren’t very observant. I can see a guy missing a mountain in a skyscraper city, or not paying attention to the place that lights up at night when Zanarkand never darkens.

      1. Someone painted it a different color and added a NYP field.

        1. Noumenon72 says:

          Is the typing you saved by abbreviating “NYP” worth having 90% of readers unable to understand your comment even if they Google? To me, it’s not. (AFAICT it means they inverted it vertically by swapping the Y-Position.)

          1. Syal says:

            I think it’s a Not Your Problem field, i.e. who cares about a mountain when its way over there.

          2. Zekiel says:

            Also if this is a Hitch-hikers Guide reference, it isn’t NYP it’s SEP (i.e. Somebody Else’s Problem field)

  4. Erik says:

    Nit pick: You call her Rikku in the main text, but Riku in the mouseovers.

    1. Locke says:

      Riku is a whole different person from a related series of games, too.

  5. Grudgeal says:

    And because I can never stop beating this particular equine: Tales of Symphonia has its own equivalent to this in racism against Half-Elves, who make up the organization called the Renegades, whose job it is to try and stop the Chosen (Summoner) from completing the Journey of Regeneration (The Pilgrimage). To that game’s credit the Renegades are presented as villainous (they kill a lot of innocents and nobody gives them a pass on it), albeit villains with the same goal as the protagonists once they learn the truth of the Journey of Regeneration.

    The Half-Elf racism, meanwhile… The less said about that the better. The story is about as subtle about it as a rocket-powered sledgehammer to the face, and also doesn’t make any sense considering there’s all of, what, four elves in the entire world and they’re all holed up in a magical forest outsiders can’t visit. It would be like having a world where mulattos were immensely discriminated against and there’s only a single black person in it. If they are so hated, where do they come from in the first place?

    1. Perceptiveman says:

      Tales of Symphonia is a mess of a game, and I’ve never gotten the love. It’s heavyhanded, overloaded with themes, and can’t seem to decide what it’s really about. And I say that as someone who LIKES Tales games.

      1. Grudgeal says:

        Tales of Symphonia is a mess of a game, and I've never gotten the love.

        It’s a love spawned from being the first big jRPG on a Nintendo console since Chrono Trigger. If your household could only afford a single console in each generation and your little sister kept pushing your parents to buy the ones with Mario on it while you had to sit quietly and watch all your friends getting the PS1 era classics, well, after eight years you’d go for pretty much anything. Same reason why I love of Skies of Arcadia despite it being a tidal wave of clichés.

        1. Christopher says:

          Yep. It’s got some qualities to it(I think the battle system is fun, and can be co-oped), but it’s mostly that it was the only one. If Smash Bros. Brawl had as many guest characters as Smash Bros 4, Lloyd would have been included like the Xenoblade guy is in 4.

          Besides, I think it was the first of the console Tales games to be released in Europe. There was a PSP one first, then Symphonia, then a GBA port of Phantasia, and then nothing until Vesperia on Xbox 360. It was a new thing.

        2. Felblood says:

          Skies of Arcadia is troperiffic as hell, but I don’t think I’ve seen those tropes arranged in quite that way before.

          The morality system in that game was charmingly unique, in that it encouraged players to act like a chaotic good pirate, and wasn’t interested in helping with any alternate character interpretation. Vyse is a Chaotic Good pirate, so you might as well try to be the best chaotic good pirate you can be.

          Also, it’s one of the few RPGs with two completely different combat systems, that actually manages to extract meaningful gameplay from both of them.

          It reaches into a lot of different stories and steals liberally from all of them, yes. –but it manages to blend them into something very different.

          My only beef with the game is that there’s no option to execute Admiral Vigaro. Seriously, out of all the Valuan Admirals, he’s the only one I really wanted to kill, and he gets to walk into the sunset, still spouting his ghastly philosophy. I get that he’s supposed to be comic relief, but he’s not funny. This game actually has some creepy issues with women, and he’s the poster boy for them.

    2. Shen says:

      That actually has some historical precedent in countries the world over. People would go abroad, screw someone of a different nationality and someone ends up with the child. The foreign parent doesn’t come back/stay with the kid however and so you’re left with a mulatto in a land of almost entirely white folk/black folk. People of either kind will tolerate full-blooded others (so long as they’re useful) without much fuss, but signs of interbreeding threatens the status quo and inspires distrust. This actually happens both ways as, mulattos tend to identify as the more populous and/or developed race, rather than a mixture, which both parent races find insulting and ostracize them for.

      As they naturally grow in number, the natives feel threatened and the animosity get bigger. Said antagonism leads to mulattos breeding more and more with other mulattos as the foreign parentage still aren’t around much/don’t interbreed. That boning leads to a more established look for the mulattos of various scales which makes them easier to separate from the natives, which as always makes the hatred even more pronounced. Apparently this is the source of a bit of cultural guilt in Japan which is why it crops up so much in their games. They don’t tend to add a bunch of expository dialogue because it’s a commonly known depiction of racism – the same way Western audiences can identify the truly terrible racists because they’re calling a black guy a “savage” or “monkey” or whatever; we don’t need to be told what the problem is or why it’s a big deal. I’d also speculate that it’s also the reason the foreigners are elves rather than humans of other races: it happened mostly with Caucasians, who are hard to visually distinguish in the typical manga style.

      In Symphonia, this has been going on for quite a while and with the absence of elves meaning no “fresh” half-elves are being made (not in great numbers at least), the half-elves are seen as a full-blown race in and of themselves, breeding entirely with others of their kind and geographically separating completely from the humans.

  6. The Rocketeer says:

    The morality of FFX is not complex. That’s both the biggest strength and biggest problem with the game.

    On one hand, it allows the game to focus on its strengths. I’ll keep saying it, because it’s true: the game runs on raw sentiment. That’s everything in FFX, to tug on the heartstrings, to play sorrow and hope and anger into a harmony. And it excels at that.

    But the game’s simplistic, rigid values are at odds with what it implies about its world. The game’s uncomplicatedly vicious portrayal of Yevon as an allegory against dogma, against blind, yielding faith to fatalistic sacrifice in the absence of true understanding, baldly contradicts the behaviors the game later tries to portray as heroic and just.

    The game itself is rigidly and unapologetically dogmatic. Its use for Tidus as a protagonist, as a foreigner to the setting, is key. The game uses Tidus for the same reasons that people invent pithy observations about government or society to put into the mouths of fictional children: the one thing Tidus can’t be regarding Spira is cynical. His absolute naivety about Spira and his brash, guileless personality make him the perfect vessel to pass unreserved, uncomplicated judgments on everything and everyone he encounters, in a complete vacuum of knowledge and experience, all of which turn out to be uncannily prescient. He knows Seymour is evil right off the bat, he never trusts or respects the church, he never holds a grudge against the Al Bhed despite their wicked behavior and is revolted by Wakka’s prejudice against them despite his cruel treatment at their hands. Tidus never has a gut reaction that doesn’t later turn out to be completely vindicated, regardless of how unfounded and petty it was at inception. Later, he and the rest of the party will upset the world order and risk the lives of all Spirans based on their no-hope non-plan to beat Sin.

    Tidus’ beliefs and actions, and, as the game progresses further and further, those of the rest of the party, are increasingly taken for granted as virtuous and heroic because they accord with the game’s rigid and uncomplicated morality, and only proven justified after the fact, according to what they couldn’t have known at the time they set them inexorably down their course. The message, in the end, is that what you believe so strongly to be right can’t be wrong; that those who doubt or oppose you are necessarily ignorant or wicked; and that there is no stakes too precious to gamble on your own ideals, even if that stakes is the lives of other people. Or all other people, as the case may be.

    The party exemplifies the blind, sanctimonious dogma that the game condemns in Yevon, and are vindicated time and time again not by their principles, their knowledge, or their worth, but by writer fiat and their roles as the protagonists. They must succeed because their success is the plot, as it were. This was a major problem I had with FFXII, but it’s an order of magnitude worse in this game. The biggest example is Auron, who I’ve argued before is an irredeemable monster; his actions can only be justified by an absolute foreknowledge that he is a main character and that his rightness is fundamental to the plot as written.

    This, more than anything, is what has soured me on the game as the years have gone by. The game’s special pleading for its main character’s transgressions against its otherwise ironclad screed against dogma not only cheapen what thin thematic payload the game had, but perverts it. It reveals the writers’ dependence on a reflexive, symbolic foe that only inadvertently or incompetently invoked a deeper philosophical premise they didn’t comprehend. Because the game is a fairy tale- a work of fiction absolutely subject to the review of its creators- it can get away with having its protagonists always guess the right way, and pay off all of their risks, and vindicate all of their doubts. And if the game were simply a tale of men versus monsters, that would be fine. The problem I’ve had with this game and with FFXII is that it tries and fails to import that childish simplicity into a setting too complex to accommodate it; FFX is certainly a tale of men versus monsters, but it’s also a tale of men versus men, and a tale of men versus men-as-monsters.

    The game portrays its main cast the way a puerile Young Adult novel portrays its audience-inserts: You are inherently special and and right. Doubt is the weapon of a corrupt social hegemony. Affirmation and validation of your feelings is the ultimate proof of merit. The game washes over the fact that, in a real-world, pluralistic society, people who view themselves this way lie somewhere on a spectrum from deluded to dangerous. The real world has words for would-be-protagonists: narcissist; megalomaniac; fanatic; sociopath.

    Very broadly speaking, fantasies that dispense with hardships and difficulties of the real world do so in two ways: by evading them, or by overcoming them. The former is an escapist fantasy, and the latter is an empowerment fantasy. In an empowerment fantasy, challenges are represented as daunting, even inflated relative to real life, and surmounting them is accomplished with merit, resilience, or cleverness. In an escapist fantasy, the particular difficulties are simply not present, not alluded to, or they are shown not to be troubles at all; they are trivialized or dispensed with out of hand, as a matter of course. In Final Fantasy X, the empowerment comes in defeating all comers through force of arms, through expressing your martial superiority against the challenges of the world. But the cast never has to earn their moral, philosophical, ideological superiority. The game buys heavily into the self-absorbed fantasy that moral superiority is personally inherent, and that philosophical merit is merely a matter of possessing an indispensable special knowledge; that upon learning this special knowledge, one is led naturally and directly to the only objectively right conclusions, by which they may deign to guide themselves and others over any objection. Contradiction and opposition is either proof of ignorance, as in the mass, or of evil, as in singular villains.

    Final Fantasy X works best as a sentimental story about two young people in love, doomed to lose one another. Or as a twisting, revelatory narrative about a thousand-year con. Or a sword-and-sorcery tale of a group of warriors against an epic foe. In these respects, it is entertaining, even inspiring and personable. But as a morality tale, a thematic construction, Final Fantasy X is an escapist fantasy wherein the hardship dispensed with is the pernicious and humiliating heterodoxy of the Other. It is, at best, unbecoming.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      I’d like to go one further and say that you don’t even earn your martial victories. Yes, in the strictest mechanical sense the player has to make some correct choices about which attacks to use in battle, and the player will probably spend some time grinding to earn bigger stats. But narratively, why are these characters winning fights? Tidus has never used a sword before. Wakka fights with a beachball. They have no resources, no skills, heck they’re not even fighting with amazing determination or the Power of Friendship, these are people who can just pick up sports equipment and use it to kill God. The only reason Tidus succeeds in combat is that he’s the protagonist.

      A world full of dangerous monsters might seem like an empowerment fantasy, but FFX doesn’t suggest that it’s difficult or even remarkable for a water polo player to beat a fifty foot monster with a hundred pound sword.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        I’m willing to give this game, and nearly every game, a complete pass on this, and I think that goes for nearly any audience. Fighting monsters is as easy or as hard as the game says that it is, and learning and practicing skills is as hard or as easy for a given character as we are told that they are.

        To suggest otherwise might be rational, but it’s a rational counterargument you could apply to an incredible number of games, and should really just be folded into general suspension of disbelief unless something acutely trespasses the stated norms of the setting.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          The point at which my disbelief unsuspends isn’t that Wakka is an effortless badass, it’s that the game never establishes Wakka as being uniquely good at beachball-based combat, and there are an awful lot of beachballs in this world. Your average JRPG party generally have either superpowers or combat training that justify why they’re better at monster killing than the average citizen, but FFX does something relatively rare in never explaining why the Luca Goers don’t turn their blitzballs to war and start killing monsters just like Wakka does.

          “Cloud is a soldier who’s really good with swords” is a flimsy excuse for why no one else in the entire world considered stabbing Diamond Weapon to death, but at least it’s an excuse: the narrative is trying to make sense, and in so doing it gives me a structure to suspend my disbelief from. I can’t even begin to jusify Wakka with in-universe information.

          Games can say fighting is as easy or hard as they want, but FFX presents a world where fighting is effortless if and only if you’re one of the main characters. They have exactly the same unearned martial superiority as unearned moral superiority.

          1. Syal says:

            Everyone who wants to fight is either a guardian, a Crusader or possibly a monk. The Goers don’t kill monsters because they’re smarmy jackasses, not because they couldn’t if they tried.

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              It wasn’t about the Goers in particular, my point is that this is a world where monster-killing is both extremely easy, and so in-demand that people are dying for lack of it, yet no one seems to be taking up the profession. To resolve this problem you either have to declare that everyone is an idiot, or that the real source of easy combat is the out-of-universe superpower of being a main character.

              Every RPG has this “Why don’t more people fight?” problem to some extent, but FFX has a uniquely bad case of it. The game’s not even trying to justify this, it just expects the audience will know the JRPG tropes and apply them unthinkingly.

              1. Syal says:

                and so in-demand that people are dying for lack of it

                I don’t think that’s true. People die to Sin, but there’s no issue with the normal fiends for people who aren’t on pilgrimage. There’s plenty of fighters.

          2. Retsam says:

            > Wakka is an effortless badass

            Years of physical training to play a sport, plus the fact that he’s actually done this guardian thing before, is “effortless”?

            If I were trying to gather a group of people to kill monsters, I think professional athletes would be pretty high on my list of people I’d want to recruit.

            If you’re willing to give the game a free pass for, say, geographic monster leveling, quibbling over weapon choice feels a little silly.

      2. I’d say that sword shouldn’t weigh much more than 8 pounds for usability, but Buster Sword.

    2. Arstan says:

      That’s…. astonishing. Wow, really sets the view of the game differently, for me at least!
      Great writing!

      1. MichaelGC says:

        It is, isn’t it! :D

    3. In the computer programming world, we have a thing called Conway’s Law. It says that the structure of programs that an organization produces will always mirror the structure of the organization. If you have two teams working on something that is supposed to work together, you’ll get a system with two tight cores and only loose communication between them.

      I think stories work the same way. And Final Fantasies X, XII, and XIII at the very least just reek of a very loose overarching story being written, then parceled out to individual writers who subsequently probably communicate only with their level programmers and scripters and modelers, and by the time the whole comes back together it’s far too late to make it coherent. The end result is a game where everything is locally coherent, but globally the whole thing’s a mess. Hence, for instance, Shamus talking about how it seems like there’s two completely different Rikkus in the game.

      I think a lot of what you see is just that the story is fundamentally incoherent, because it was written by a team that was not cohered together but fragmented into a lot of subteams with inadequate leadership. In way it’s not even that the thematic payload is cheapened by this or contradicted by that so much as the game doesn’t have an intentional thematic payload to speak of at all. You can draw one out of the result, because humans can always find patterns, but I’m not at all convinced they were put there on purpose.

      JRPGs are really hard to make well. I could make the argument that they are the hardest things to write that I know. Holding together this much story, with all the technical requirements, the integration into mechanics, all the other things they require… it’s hard to imagine anything harder to write.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        You may be more right than you know, in the case of this particular era of Square Enix’s internal structure and communication.

        I don’t think the rot could have truly set in as of Final Fantasy X, which was the last game to be developed before the merger. But the problems thoroughly foreshadowed in XII, exemplified in XIII and its progeny, and currently dreaded in XV have largely been attributed to a total breakdown of communication and vision between different sub-groups within the developer. It is not an exaggeration to say that these games (not to even touch upon FFXIV) all developed, or failed to develop, as they did primarily because no team working on these games knew what any other team was doing, often spending years (years!) making literally no forward progress.

        Personally, I blame FFXII’s troublesome development more on the unexpected departure of Yasumi Matsuno, without which the game had no creative leadership… but that’s the company’s more overriding deficiency, at this time. Square’s internal make-up (as a developer; I have no eye on their publishing affairs) has become notorious as a total leadership vacuum, in which the few personnel who hold the real power and make the real decisions directing the day-to-day development of the scant few remaining in-house Square-Enix franchises have been promoted well beyond their talent.

        In particular, Tetsuya Nomura, Motomu Toriyama, and Hajime Tabata are currently regarded as the three men all but killing the corporate culture: empowered by seniority and beyond reproach of the rank and file, but uniquely unqualified for their responsibilities and either indifferent to or impotent against the developer’s pervasive internal dysfunction. The company, at present, is incapable of making games more complex than their by-now-innumerable mobile microtransaction platforms (e.g., All the Bravest, Record Keeper, etc.), and no one is positioned to challenge or capable of altering that dysfunction.

        But as for this game, and this particular deficiency, I chalk it up more to laxity than incapability. FFX was the third game in a row that disintegrated thematically in the third act without affecting their popular or critical reception. I don’t regard thematic cohesion as a priority of the defunct Square Co., Ltd., an otherwise multitalented marque.

    4. tremor3258 says:

      Well, this changes permanently how I look at the game – especially after real Zanarkand, considering that’s where Auron’s Dogma really comes into its own.

    5. tmtvl says:

      That's everything in FFX, to tug on the heartstrings, to play sorrow and hope and anger into a harmony.

      Now I’m imagining a Dog of Flanders videogame and trying (and failing) not to start bawling my eyes out. (Patrasche T_T )

    6. Galad says:

      I know nearly nothing about FF as a series beyond what I’ve read here but I hope I can one day wield the English language in a way as grand as you do! :)

  7. MichaelGC says:

    Albert the Al Bhed isn’t all bad, I’ll bet.

    1. TMC_Sherpa says:

      Are you implying

      Rikkus writing requires revisions?

        1. TMC_Sherpa says:

          Perhaps I picked a paring that precluded a more perfunctory persuasion?

          1. Syal says:

            So, Sherpa’s suggesting said speech structure stopped subsequent soliloquys?

            1. Time to take this thread towards termination?

  8. Darren says:

    One other thing: did anyone else ever notice that the character models in the game and the character models in the CGI cutscenes look very different from each other? The characters in the cutscenes look much more Asian, with Rikku practically looking like someone else entirely (which is why I’m bringing it up now). I’d assume that this is an attempt to make the game more appealing to Western audiences–and there are all sorts of ugly implications there–but it always stuck out to me.

    This is not true of Final Fantasy X-2, but in that case both sets of models look like the more Westernized version.

    1. Syal says:

      TheDarkId’s LP refers to all the cutscene folk as Asian Stunt Doubles. It’s an odd thing; I’d chalk it up to better animations and a realistic style, but 8’s cutscenes didn’t have it.

    2. Ralesfiue says:

      The PS2 original’s models are much closer to the CGI. The remake was done by a seperate studio, who I guess didn’t have access to the originals because they look really different.
      Outside of that, though, the big difference is in the lighting, which in the CG is trying and almost coming close to looking like skin with lighting and shadowing and shine and detail, while the game has to make do with painting it on. The remake is a bit less subtle about it, though that may just be the sharper textures.

  9. JackDaDipper says:

    “I’m not saying there was a second shooter, but I am saying I smelt an Al-Bhed that day.”
    -Grand Wizard Wakka, 2016.

  10. Hal says:

    I always kind of considered Tidus’s ignorance about the world to be an indication of his Pinocchio-like condition. Dream Zanarkand isn’t “programmed” with the information about the outside world that would have existed in Tidus’s time, so it doesn’t even occur to him that this information should exist, or that there’s any discrepancy between his knowledge and the world as it is at all.

    I recall some property doing something similar to this, but I can’t recall if it was a movie, or a TV show, or even a book of some kind. All I remember is that one of the characters was insisting he was something that he wasn’t, and it started to fall apart when people challenged him beyond his two-dimensional understanding of himself: Tell us about your childhood, who was the first girl you fell in love with, what’s your favorite meal, etc. He realized he didn’t have any of that information because he wasn’t actually that person.

    I wish I could recall anything besides that. But the point is that I don’t think Tidus was actually a “real boy” until he left Dream Zanarkand for Real Spira. (Which is also why it was so frustrating that they punted on the question of what happened to him after Dream Zanarkand disappears.)

    1. Hal says:

      Okay, a foray into TV Tropes tells me that this is such a well-used idea that I’ve probably seen a number of variations on it. I’m probably thinking about an episode of Batman:TAS where a HARDAC clone actually thinks it’s Batman, but it’s hard to say at this point.

      1. John says:

        I thought of that Batman episode immediately upon reading your comment, so I suspect you may be right.

    2. evilmrhenry says:

      A similar idea is Pleasantville, where the town just loops back into itself, and everyone inside are basically automatons until the protagonists arrive and break everything.

    3. Felblood says:

      I’m assuming that you’re not referring to Cloud from FFVII, who has to deal with some amnesia/clone/stolen-identity/resurrected-and-came-back-wrong stuff on a basically daily basis.

      It doesn’t help that he really is being gaslighted, what with the population of his hometown being replaced with Shinra-paid actors, to cover up the fact that Sephiroth murdered the entire town. Just because you’re crazy doesn’t mean the government isn’t out to get you, indeed.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    That's like someone in Cleveland who has somehow never heard of Cincinnati.


    1. Ramsus says:

      Every time I see a video like this it just convinces me the rest of the world is even dumber for thinking that cherry picking the dumbest people you can find somewhere is a useful way of determining the intelligence of the average member of that population.

      1. Jabrwock says:

        Sometimes they do. But then sometimes they find a professor of geography at a major university who doesn’t know squat about the country next door… and you begin to wonder.

        1. Steve C says:

          That a Rick Mercer reference?

        2. Felblood says:

          Yeah, because that’s a problem that’s unique to the academic establishment in America.

          Nobody else’s colleges are run on 400 year old rules designed to prop up a status quo of octogenarian bureaucrats teaching 1000 year old subject matter.


  12. el-b says:

    id imagine dream zanarkand is pretty much dark city from the film of the same name. no one knows whats outside and no one cares. they talk about this other city (the beach from the film) but no ones seen it and no one wants to leave, and if they do want to leave they are reprogrammed by the fayth or ejected from the dream.

  13. Daemian Lucifer says:

    There's a boss fight with an Al Bhed submarine

    Only in a final fantasy game can that sentence be said matter of factly.

    1. Jabrwock says:

      Right after you SUPLEX A TRAIN!

      1. Syal says:

        And fight an octopus that’s trying to wreck the opera.

      2. Jean says:

        Not just any train, but the train that carries the souls of the recently deceased to the afterlife.

    2. tremor3258 says:

      And it’s not even a major boss fight, really. It’s just sort of a thing that happens.

      1. Alexander The 1st says:

        “You know, as you do.”

  14. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Huh…Who wouldve guessed that this game would be so prophetic.

  15. In fairness to Gimli, even if he killed a troll it’d still only be one. It’s enemies killed, period, not enemies killed + size + capability of damage. (Rewatched the movies lately, couldn’t resist)

    I kept trying to come up with a logical Albert explanation, and failed. If he has a moral compass, I think it’s surrounded by a powerful electromagnet.
    Maybe something about only those who fight for their own beliefs, without aid, are human? Therefore the police aren’t, and Bob is, but he lost and should accept Albert’s worldview without complaint. Still very very screwy though.

    And it is AMAZING what people will manage to not know/learn. If Tidus’ entire life was school (which he doesn’t care about maybe?), that stupid game, and hanging with friends who also play/love that game, well, his brain’s full of game stuff most likely.

    1. Bubble181 says:

      Come now. How about:
      Bob doesn’t have free will, he’s been brainwashed/pressured into a false self-sacrifice. The police are oppressors.
      The hundreds of people Bob would save are all supervillains who deserve to die. Those claiming to be police are, in fact, in collusion with these bad people.
      Albert believes Bob to be destined to even greater things, and these police are keeping him from realizing his full potential – eventually discovering a way to quench all fires, everywhere, for ever.
      Bob is saving these hundreds from a fire, but is, by the same action, condemning thousands of others to a worse fate; and the police are too blind to see it.

      1. Syal says:

        I do like the idea that Bob is running in to save a prison.

        And, Bob is disrupting the ignition source while putting out the fire, making it so the follow-up investigation won’t reveal what’s causing it.

        The police also own the chemical company responsible for the fire starting.

  16. dan says:

    For the Al Bhed, I got the impression that they were supposed to be an oppressed minority… but as a result of that, their society got pretty unhealthy and radicalized. So I saw them as a narrative mirror to the Church; even though they were opposed in ideological principle, they had also been corrupted by the long, fruitless struggle. But that not all the writers “got” that (consciously or not), and that maybe they didn’t quite pull it off.

    As for Tidus’ extreme ignorance of the world, I assumed that the Dream of Zanarkand simply didn’t have an outside, like how a game of Sim City doesn’t have a country or world outside the gamespace City. Tidus didn’t (couldn’t?) question that because he was in a Dream, where things worked according to Dream Logic.

    I assumed that the Dream of Zanarkand was a sanitized, idealized nostalgia trip where the Fayth were fantasizing about the Good Old Days. I figured that Tidus grew up on the set of the Truman Show version of Happy Days, he wasn’t living in, like, a vivid recreation of the actual 1950s so to speak.

    1. Hal says:

      Well, sort of idealized. Tidus has a bad relationship with his father, so there’s obviously some level of badness in the dream, but it’s unclear how deep that goes.

      1. Sam says:

        Well, it could be like the Matrix? In the Matrix, Agent Smith tells Morpheus how early iterations were perfectly idealized which resulted in subconscious rejections. So maybe Dream Zanarkand is similar? Where irritations and resentments on personal levels distract from the lack of external information and the perfect city.

    2. Locke says:

      So far as I can tell, there’s no indication that any other citizen of Dream Zanarkand is any different from Tidus. They grow up, they have lives, and then presumably they die to make room for the next crop of growing children. Tidus isn’t a copy of a real Tidus stored in Dream Zanarkand for a thousand years, and neither is Jecht or the announcer guy or anyone else. They’re the descendants of the original copies from a thousand years ago.

  17. Dev Null says:

    It’s come up elsewhere for me recently, and I have to say I’m getting tired of this “It says good guy on my nametag so shut up about me torturing kittens” school of character development. I’ve never played FFX, but I have trouble imagining that I’d get past being made to apologise to my kidnappers for fighting back. (I didn’t make it past Stephen King’s Gunslinger “hero” emotionlessly raping a woman with the barrel of his gun for information. I only just managed to finish the Stephen Erikson book House of Chains where the first quarter of the book follows the main character on a rampage of rape and mass-murder – and that was only because I was kind of hoping to see him get his come-uppance before the end.)

    Newsflash; having a character do bad things, without _really_ careful justification, makes them bad. That justification can make a really interesting story, but if you don’t even bother to try? They’re badguys now.

    1. ZekeCool says:

      Oh man I forgot about that scene. That first book is… really rough. If it makes you feel any better he’s really intended to be damn near inhuman at that point. The first book is really there to make you understand that this is a man possessed beyond morality with his mission.

      He gets much better as he gets other people around him again and has to slowly come back to being human. Those books get really good but then again, the first one was written years and years before the others and King’s lack of writing experience at the time shows compared to his later, much more polished, work.

      1. Dev Null says:

        Well, if he’s supposed to be inhuman, he succeeds. But it just comes across as typical 16-year-old power fantasy; I couldn’t stomach it. I have power like no one else (guns). I have money like no one else (he throws gold around in the start of that first book like water, and everyone else is obviously stunned by it.) I have sex appeal like no one else (he doesn’t actually spend much of his money, because impoverished women give them everything he wants just for the chance to have sex with him.) But I don’t care about any of that. I don’t care about anything except… the Mission. Which is catching some nebulous mustache-twirling Dick Dastardly character. And I’ll torture and rape people to accomplish it.

        Uegh. Please. He’s got all the appeal, range of emotion, and depth of character of Arnie in the first Terminator movie. _That’s_ supposed to be my hero? There’s antiheroes and then there’s the opposite of heroes; we call them villains.

        1. Syal says:

          The good guys don’t show up until the second and third books. Roland isn’t a good guy, he just gathers them.

          But he does have a shootout with Santa Claus, so he isn’t all bad.

          1. Zekecool says:

            I guess that’s a danger of writing a series where the actual goal and party dynamics don’t really come together until the third book, you’ll lose a lot of people who aren’t that into the first two. It’s a fair criticism.

            See the turtle, ain’t he keen?
            All things serve the fuckin’ beam.

    2. Taellosse says:

      All fair points, but I feel I must draw a distinction: Roland Deschain of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series is not, nor is he intended to be, a hero. He is the main protagonist, certainly, but he says himself, and plenty of others reiterate, that he is neither heroic nor particularly a good person. Basically everything he does in that first book is meant to make that VERY clear. He kind of wishes he was a good person, sometimes, but knows he is not, and believes that he is, instead, a necessary person – a man willing to do some really unpleasant things for what he is convinced is the greater good. He’s at best an anti-hero. Some of the supporting cast – the other core protagonists introduced in the second book – are good people, or at least close enough to it compared to Roland, but the gunslinger himself is supposed to be viewed with, at most, respect for his determination, particularly in that first volume.

    3. Syal says:

      I guess I’ll throw in I read Stephen Erikson’s The Deadhouse Gates, and not only were there no heroes, I got to the end of the book and couldn’t tell who I was expected to root for. I think it was nobody, actually; his books are really dark. (They’re based on Planescape: Torment, I guess. There’s even a character wandering around looking for his past, literally called the Nameless One. Except he also has a name. Which is dumb.)

  18. MadTinkerer says:

    “It's like the writer doesn't realize the things the Al Bhed are doing are wrong.”

    It’s because the Al Bhed are the AVALANCHE of this game. They’re the scrappy idealistic underdogs, so by definition they’re the good guys regardless of whether they seem that way to the audience!

    There are three main reasons for this.

    1) Every Final Fantasy game has some major elements of Star Wars in it. FFX is different because for once you don’t join The Rebellion equivalent (in 6 you form The Rebellion yourselves, in 7 you start off in The Rebellion, in 8 you are a recent graduate of Mercenary College who end up working for The Rebellion, and so on). Since the Al Bhed are like The Rebellion, and The Rebellion are the Good Guys, that makes the Al Bhed the good guys!

    2) This is at least partly a Japanese cultural thing. I’m not an expert on Japanese culture, but I do know enough about it that the whole “‘You misunderstand our ideals’ resolves everything” attitude is a pretty common trope. Sometimes it’s even played for laughs, but if it’s supposed to be a joke in FFX, something was certainly lost in translation.

    3) This is also at least partly a Final Fantasy thing. Good Guys can basically do whatever they want, even if Fridge Logic dictates that they’d be villains in a different story, because the Real Villains want to mess up the whole world. Final Fantasy games are games where every good guy has an enormous body count of faceless mooks because killing random encounters is not killing actual characters. Even the healers are accessories to mass murder.

    Remember: in a lot of these games, one of the characters is a former member of the antagonist’s army. An army which the heroes are killing by the dozens if not hundreds. FF4, FF6, FF7, FF9 and FF12 actually had the characters comment on this, in most cases the turncoats expressed remorse because they wish they didn’t need to fight their former comrades to save the world. (In FF5 you’re never part of a military. In FF8 the turncoat was Seifer and he turns against you, so the trope was handled a little differently.) FFX and FFXIII do not handle the issue nearly as well.

    1. The Rocketeer says:

      AVALANCHE was explicitly not “the good guys.” They get called out multiple times as the terrorists they were, and Barret’s arc in particular involves coming to terms with the innocent blood on his hands, acknowledging he isn’t any “cleaner” than Dyne, an actual psychotic mass murderer.

      And just acknowledging it doesn’t settle it, either; Reeve still calls him out on it later, just to let him (and the audience) know that they haven’t forgotten. And of course, Barret can’t really say anything to defend himself at that point.

      1. Which shows how good video game writing CAN be, since it’s saying “your actions caused the deaths of a huge percentage of this city, and you can NEVER escape that regardless of how you spend the rest of your life.”

        Cut to now and even something as mediocre as FFXIII, where the obvious solution to the main problem gets mentioned and dropped just as fast but is at least mentioned, then something as terrible as Fallout 4.

        Where did all the good writers go?

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Um… wait, stop. Avalanche’s actions did NOT cause the deaths of any percentage of the city. They killed maybe 15-20 people TOPS. The evil Shinra Co execs that decided dropping a plate on the city was acceptable practice killed that part of the city, full stop. You are not responsible for actions choose to take to stop you. Just as Shinra isn’t responsible for the deaths of their janitors and guards in the plant, that’s the part Avalanche IS responsible for.

          1. Pretty sure that they were warned, and considering that they weren’t really doing anything all that useful before that event, stopping would have cost nothing and not led to the deaths of thousands of people.

  19. Mark says:

    I’d be reluctant to make too big a deal out of “the Al Bhed attempted to kill you! Attempted murder!” because battle sequences are always disconnected from the story and consequence-free in JRPGs. Even if you’re getting shot with bullets and grenades you don’t get killed, you get “knocked down” or whatever.

  20. Cragfire says:

    It’s possible the Al Bhed are driven mostly by their leader’s opinion of the summoner system. Cid is Yuna’s uncle. He’s already lost a brother-in-law to the sacrifice system and his niece is up next. I think that the Al Bhed’s opposition is likely a product of Cid’s emotional stake and the moral argument could be interpreted as propaganda to keep his followers invested.

    The next part is not really explained at all in the game. If you’re very careful you might be able to deduce a few of these things from some clues. I admit that it doesn’t counter your criticism of the storytelling. Games really should let their story stand on their own and a lot of parts of FFX are poorly explained to the player. What follows is what Cid’s propaganda to his followers might sound like.

    There are six high summoners (people who completed a successful pilgramage). On your one journey, you encounter and hear about many other summoner parties. The only conclusion one could draw is that summoners have a shockingly bad success rate. Zanarkand was destroyed a thousand years ago and the first successful pilgrimage after Yunalesca occured six hundred years after Sin destroyed Zanarkand. That means Sin was afforded an entire six hundred years to run rampant and destroy Spira.

    Meanwhile, the calm lasts about… six months.

    The point is: Summoners really aren’t needed for the continued existence of Spira. Their only function is to “give people hope,” not to prevent Sin from getting out of control. If Sin run amok was really a threat to Spira’s survival, then it would have destroyed everything a very long time ago. Sin mostly functions as a tragic cap on the population of Spira rather than a real threat of complete annihilation.

    Spiran society is largely a couple of small settlements dotted across some islands. Considering the number of other summoners you meet during the game, it is reasonable to conclude that the summoner system is actually a significant drain on their population of able bodied persons and has rather questionable benefits. Yevon is a widespread and very damaging suicide cult. It is therefore reasonable to kidnap summoners and their guardians with the hope of ‘deprogramming’ them and convincing them to go home and be productive members of society.

  21. Jabrwock says:

    At one point I tried to head-canon the Al-Behd to make sense by the following:

    That they HAVE been telling people that the summoner dies, and have tried to use non-violence to save them, but guardians attack them on sight because they are effectively ex-communicated heretics. So they justify attacking the guardians because the guardians were going to murder them on sight anyway.

    Doesn’t explain anything else in their behaviour though.

    1. Gerbil says:

      Except that “the summoner dies when fighting sin” is pretty much common knowledge in the world. The only people who don’t know that are young children and Tidus, whk Essentially dropped in from another planet.

    2. tremor3258 says:

      As bad as things are on Spira, pointing out the summoner bravely sacrificing his or herself to buy everyone else a period where they aren’t really sounds like it should reinforce the system.

  22. Locke says:

    The implication of this scene isn’t that Dream Zanarkand’s edges are rough, but that Yevon was very thorough when he created the place. Either that, or a thousand years of time has caused mountains that no longer mark the horizon to fade from common knowledge. How many tribes native to the Pennsylvania area prior to colonization can a spoiled teenager from your city name? That information is two hundred years old.

    Regardless, the people of Dream Zanarkand apparently believe that all the world is their island city-state, and that’s very helpful for someone who’s trying to keep the place totally isolated. Airships pose an obvious threat to that, and also serve little purpose to a city that believes the entire world’s landmass is like ten miles across.

    The way nobody comments on this suggests that the writer is probably just leaning on the fish out of water trope too much, though. If they intended Tidus’ lack of knowledge to come from his being from Dream Zanarkand, I’d expect them to draw attention to it here. Have Wakka try to convince Tidus that his memories are wrong and he needs to focus on remembering where he’s really from, or have Yuna ask some innocent questions and be surprised and conflicted when Tidus can’t answer them.

  23. LCF says:

    “Albert doesn't think it's right that one person should sacrifice their life for everyone else, not even willingly. So Al tries to stop Fireman Bob from going into the building. The police try to break it up so Bob can proceed, and then Albert tries to kill the police.
    What is Albert's morality based on?”
    An Atlas Shrugged overdose.

  24. Blackbird71 says:

    I don’t know enough about this game to know how accurate the following assumption would be, but depending on the proximity of Zanarkand to the rest of the world’s population, the wealth of its people, and its level of general education, Tidus’ responses may not be that far off.

    Those of us reading this website likely live in societies in which information is readily available, and education on global matters is common, so such ignorance can be difficult for us to comprehend. However, not all the world is this way. Not that many years ago, I spent some time in one such island nation. I met a handful of individuals who were well-educated about the world outside their country, but the populace by and large were often ignorant about details beyond their borders (and many lacked knowledge about places more than a few villages away). They may have heard of other places, but often greatly misunderstood anything beyond a few names (I met people who believed that the U.S., Germany, and Australia were all neighboring countries, because of course that’s where “white people” were from; imagine their surprise when I told them how much closer Australia was to them (same time zone) than it was to my home in the U.S.).

    I say all of this not to put down those people in any way, but to demonstrate how different circumstances can be, and how those circumstances can greatly shape people’s perspective and reality. This is why I mention the country’s wealth as a factor: in a third-world nation, where people often spend most of their time laboring for the necessities of survival, there really isn’t much time to be concerned with the nuances of things beyond your immediate experience. For the man working 12-14 hours a day in a field to provide for his family, Germany might as well share a border with California for all he cares; he probably will never see either, and neither country really has anything to do with his day to day living, so it’s not something he has time to bother himself with when he has more pressing matters. It is only when individuals and nations reach a point that they have time on their hands for pursuits beyond basic survival that education really takes hold.

    Again, I don’t know how much of this applies to the game in question. As a land with professional athletes, one can assume a certain level of affluence (although that’s not necessarily true), so that would seem to cast some doubt on the theory. Still, it is worth remembering that even in a world like our own, it’s not as unusual as we might think for people to be ignorant of the world beyond their daily lives and experiences.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      I remember a British reality TV show which aired in early 2002, where one of the contestants was a late middle-age sheepherder from a remote part of Scotland. At one point the other contestants had to explain to this person what had happened on September 11 of the previous year.

      After having had it explained, the contestant dismissed it as unimportant, saying that it in no way affected them, nor their sheep.

  25. Vi says:

    I have seen pockets of the Internet where people appear to genuinely believe that anyone associated with an oppressed and/or outnumbered group is exempt from all moral standards forever. I don’t get the impression that it’s a widespread belief, or that it’s supported by any oppressed populations themselves, but I’d imagine something like that could possibly have influenced some of the game writers responsible for the Al Bhed. :/

    1. Deoxy says:

      I don't get the impression that it's a widespread belief, or that it's supported by any oppressed populations themselves

      Looking at Milwaukee at the moment (or Ferguson in the last couple of years, or… yeah, you get the idea), I think that particular part of what you wrote is just plain wrong. The rest of it seems pretty accurate, though.

  26. Deoxy says:

    It comes off as both incoherent and sanctimonious.

    That sounds exactly like a good chunk of the other side of a great many political debates in this country (I assume they would say the same, hence I didn’t specify which was “other”).

  27. bhlaab says:

    I know this is over a year old, but I think you’re overthinking the Al Bhed stuff. You posit that there’s “details focused” storytelling and “drama focused” storytelling but Final Fantasy (plus a lot of Japanese pop media) goes for a more “feelings focused” approach.

    What’s notable is that the revelation of the true nature of the pilgrimages happens at the exact same moment the reason for the Al Bhed kidnappings is explained. At this dramatic reveal what comes to a head is:
    -The Al Bhed want to stop the pilgrimages
    -Tidus wants to stop the pilgrimages
    -The player (presumably) wants to stop the pilgrimages.

    And as far as the writers are concerned, that’s all that matters. Now you, Tidus, and the Al Bhed are best friends forever.

    Note also how Wakka’s bigotry also comes into play roughly around the same time that we learn Yuna is partially Al Bhed. Therefore we feel that Wakka’s bigotry is WRONG, because it means he hates Yuna and everybody likes Yuna!

    Also let’s examine the introduction of the Al Bhed.
    -Tidus is accosted by the Al Bhed. The Al Bhed are JERKS.
    -Rikku stops them from killing Tidus, extends an olive branch, and has a pleasant conversation with Tidus. RIKKU is NICE, but the rest of the Al Bhed are JERKS.
    -The Al Bhed keep trying to kidnap Yuna. The Al Bhed are EVIL JERKS.
    -Yuna is part Al Bhed. The Al Bhed are NOT INHERENTLY EVIL, so Wakka is A RACIST, but some Al Bhed JERKS are trying to kidnap Yuna.
    -Rikku tries to kidnap Yuna. Conflict of internalized good and internalized evil create doubt in player, leading into plot twist.
    -The Al Bhed are trying to save Yuna’s life. The Al Bhed were GOOD all along, regardless of all prior evidence!

    It’s really that simple. And to be honest, 99% of players will likely accept that trajectory because the writers did an acceptable job writing to the psychology of the player even though it ignores basic logic. I mean, it’s Final Fantasy X. Logic isn’t a major part of the setting or structure and it’s fine.

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