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On My Undying Love for Final Fantasy X (or: Jenna’s Love Letter to a Game)

The love of my life

There have been many times when I can remember completely ignoring my friends, family, bodily functions, nutrition, responsibilities, etc, for video games, but the most flagrant example of this violation of what some may consider “basic human needs” was the time when, over winter break of my freshman year of college, I went to an old friend’s house in my podunk little town and we mutually ignored each other while I played Final Fantasy X for sixteen hours straight. I wish I was joking.

Would they have ignored each other for the equivalent of two full back-to-back work shifts? No, though to be fair, they also probably didn’t have the choice to.

Would they have ignored each other for the equivalent of two full back-to-back work shifts? No, though to be fair, they also probably didn’t have the choice to.

For good or for bad, that occasion was neither the first time I had played the game, nor the first time I had played it for long enough in one sitting to theoretically amass a hefty paycheck. (In fact, if I were to total up the amount of time I’ve spent playing that game instead of finding or working at a job, and calculate that wage, I would have…a whole lot of money.) We all have those games or books or movies or stuffed toys that we discover in childhood or early adolescence, fall madly in love with, and carry with us through the rest of our days. This is often with little to no regard for the quality of the thing in question in the eyes of anyone else — or goodness knows I wouldn’t love Titanic as much as I shamefully still do — and so I will not claim to anybody that Final Fantasy X is a perfect game. I won’t even claim that it’s the best of the golden days of Squenix, or the best of the saga, or even the best game that year, as 2001 was a decent year for gaming.

It’s hard to say what makes a person love a game so much as I love you, FFX. Anyone who has spent any length of time with me can attest to just how often I bring you up in conversation. (Spoiler: they are all sick of it. We’ve never left the obnoxious honeymoon stage, have we?) Only recently, when the HD re-skin was announced, did I start to question what draws me to you so much, in wondering — the voice acting and matching is terrible, the story has some holes, some segments are incredibly long and tedious to play through, and I’ve played you intimately probably twelve times. Is it really worth buying your counterpart again? Is it really worth playing another time through and reliving the fantasy worlds of my youth?

To which I proudly and triumphantly exclaim: yes! Yes, it is always worth it!

You, reader, might have that thing, too, that it’s always worth going back to (lookin’ at you, Kingdom Hearts fanpeople). Final Fantasy X is my analogue for talking to you about the thing(s) that you like that much, in a way of bonding us together despite perhaps a lack of otherwise shared interests. When I hear the first few bars of the opening theme “To Zanarkand,” my heart gets all good-wobbly-nervous-gooby and I can’t help but close my eyes; even during the almost-unanimously-terrible laughing scene, I can’t help but either grin or grimace depending on the day. But my sentimentality aside, there are other reasons why I think this game is so great, and why I love it so much.

The number one thing aside from the aforementioned nostalgia that continues to draw me in once a year is the world of Spira. I am not religious, and even in Dungeons and Dragons I usually choose to play an atheist, yet somehow this game makes the idea of Yevon almost appealing to me; not as a religion, but as a unifying kernel, something that links all people together in the ways that peoplon Earth are ceaselessly trying so hard to find. Their world, so affected by the tragedies allegedly of the devising of former peoples, has so much sadness, so much devastation, and they have the common bond of what Han Solo might call a “hokey old religion” to hold them together. Though the religion of Yevon is not free from the shackles of millennium-old dogmas and traditional practices that seem irrational and, in some cases, barbaric, the problems in Spira and the way that their people lean on their god is very realistic and accessible (and, I suppose, bordering on the theocratic). The problems feel like real-world problems, and I get drawn in by the well-fleshed history of why they are that way and what the protagonists are doing to change the course of their history. No matter how fantastical, the world and the characters and the problems all feel genuine. Which, considering it is fictional races and people in fictional worlds, is maybe saying something.

For what is history but a map of associations?! *snrksnrk*

For what is history but a map of associations?! *snrksnrk*

The point is: there’s a flowing consciousness and a narrative in the game that makes me care about it. Dennis Washburn wrote a really cool piece about narrative, memory, and history in the academic journal Mechademia a few years ago which I would suggest you check out if you have access. Near the beginning of the article, Washburn talks about individual memory versus alternative histories, about how the Al Bhed — Rikku’s race of people, who believe in the good of machina and their having been scapegoated on that terrible day when Sin took over — live a very different type of life than Yevonites. Jargon aside, the complexity and variety of stories and histories and the question of memory, the question of what’s real and what’s extrapolated and what’s a dream, is what makes me wail and cry and snot all over my controller every time. We discover all of these things with Tidus, rather than knowing everything from the start, because we, too, have been thrown into this strange and beautiful new world and we’re all discovering it together as whiny teenage athletes. When I found out the Giant Plot Point about ⅔ of the way through, my heart broke for everyone involved. Even knowing what is coming, it breaks.

There’s so much that can be said for this game — the art, the story, the music, by all things beautiful and good the music — but in the end, you don’t want to read a love story to a game that came out more than half my lifetime ago. You’re possibly thinking instead, perhaps nostalgically, perhaps critically, about the game or book or movie or stuffed animal that you love in the same way, too. It’s not about the technology, it’s about the connection you have with that fictional world and the way that you know someone else has it too, either with that thing you do or with something else. Every time Seymour is a dick up on Mt. Gagazet and kills off everyone but Auron, I get angry. Every time Yuna performs her first sending, I can’t help but absorb all the colors. Every time I’m in the temple in Bevelle, I’m just as cranky. It’s comfort; it’s well-documented that people like comfort, familiarity, and even when the years change and the leaves start greening or browning or graying, you still have that thing to fall back on. The people of Spira love their world and their customs as we love the things that we love. Final Fantasy X, you have never forsaken me!

In a non-douchey over-analytic fashion, however, I can’t actually answer why I love Final Fantasy X so damn much. It’s a good game and I don’t care what anyone says, I always cry at the goddamn end, and that takes a whole heckuva lot — hats off to you, FFX, my first darling. I will always love you, even though your lip-flaps don’t match the voice acting, even though that laughing scene is atrocious, even though I’ve grown past your lovely little pixels and into a new era of my own life much as the Playstation saga has grown into its own rebirth. Do we need a reason to love things? Well, no, perhaps that spoils it. But do we want to know that people are connected to each other in that irrational and undying chemical fixation? Yes. And there, I believe, is the point, gentle readers.

2 Comments

  1. Shoumik Hassin Shoumik Hassin

    So I tried playing this recently and I just couldn’t get past the opening hours. The time shift just happens without explanation and you’re immediately thrown into some battles and a scene you don’t have enough info to process and it really broke up the narrative flow for me. And then it turned out Tidus couldn’t understand the language of the people he was rescued by. And then other things happened. It was pretty frustrating, especially when accompanied by some PS2 slowdowns. I was also delving into FFIX at the time and that game just settled better, though I know FFX’s narrative is a lot more ambitious. Should I just power through?

    • Jenna Galka Jenna Galka

      Admittedly, I have a hard time getting past the first six hours or so, too; though it’s all important to the story, I try to get forward to when Tidus wakes up on Besaid Island and the more interesting parts start — it’s definitely an awkward shift when it’s suddenly like ROBOTS MACHINES NAKED GIRL BUTT but it makes more sense later. FFIX is more compact and neat magical adventure story reminiscent of older games in the series, whereas FFX is a sprawling story with many lines of thought twisted in. I would say that if you can get to Besaid Island after the whole underwater machina part, it might become more interesting.

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