This analysis is speculative and grounded in a very technical consideration of concepts as well as an underlying theory of art from a Hegelian perspective. A rather lengthy analysis of the game’s aesthetic unity as a whole through its individual elements.
The Concept of Aesthetic Unity
What does it mean to say that the concept of a video game is something not fundamentally about gameplay itself? Concepts are structures of unity, and far more interestingly they are structures of necessary unity. The concept of a game, then, is the overarching principle under which it is unified and in which its parts are necessarily interconnected. Some games are about nothing other than their gameplay, and thus fall under a consideration of mere game. Role playing games like Final Fantasy tend to nowadays be designed under a concept other than mere gameplay, and the gameplay is more or less designed towards some unity with this overarching concept, albeit the unity of gameplay and grand story concept is often necessarily disconnected in order to keep gameplay fun. The concept of a game thus becomes the ultimate determining factor of what is in the game, where, how, and why.
The concept, if adhered to, lays the general (in the sense of generative) principle which informs the development of the creative effort as a whole. It is a concept that manifests in the story, the individual characters, the visual aesthetic, the audio, the design of the interactive world, and the gameplay itself. The necessary aspect which concepts have is not one which includes all detail and particularity, but the unity which explains the being there of a general element. Just as a racing game is necessarily about a competition of speed, so does the concept of a game as a whole carry necessary elements that must manifest in the game if it is to present the concept coherently and pointedly as its emphasis.
This conception of games goes against the common notion that games are synthetic creations which are merely externally united elements. That a game has a story to tell, let me be clear, is not the same as saying that a game as gameplay has a unifying concept to convey under the guidance of that story. How a game looks, what its story is, and how it sounds is often considered as if it were irrelevant to the gameplay because it usually is quite irrelevant. Many stories can be told through many different forms, but what is often missed is that the game element can and sometimes does manifest something specific in the theme of the entire piece.
While something like Mario or Sonic has no unifying concept other than gameplay, often crafting the link of story and gameplay on a mere superficial level to simply tell a straight story to give a thematic unity to otherwise disconnected gameplay scenarios, something like Final Fantasy X (FFX) is not quite the same. FFX attempts to integrate its narrative into the consideration of gameplay, but in the end it is a very weak determination in which gameplay is for the most part determined in its own right without appeal to world narrative concerns.
The Concept of FFX: Overcoming,
Letting Go,& Moving On
I take FFX to fundamentally be designed under the concept of a unified whole meant to represent and convey the being and movement of the logic of working through and letting go of the past. The world of Spira is a world still determined and dominated its past by its very nature, but specifically by a war a thousand years in its past. Its religion is based on an interpretation of the meaning of this event. Its present life is lived in the comprehension of the world around this event, and itself remains not only under the shadow of the meaning of this event, but still experiences it as a never ending present aftershock. Its metaphysical reality is one in which those who die and cannot let go of their attachments to the world remain in the world of the living as an ever present weight to account for and continue carrying—this is manifest in the pyreflies, the unsent, fiends, Sin, and the circle of intricacies around Yu Yevon. Its main cast are all individuals still tied to something in the past, carrying it, and continuing to be determined by it. The very basis and determinate cause of the story in the far past is precisely a consequence of the fundamental antagonist’s inability to accept the end of things and let go.
The game begins at a seemingly inane point, yet its transition point to the world where we shall spend most of the game is interesting. Sin attacks Zanarkand, Auron shows up to help Tidus, and in transitioning to Spira he says to him: “This is it. This is your story.” Immediately we know that ultimately this whole game is centered around Tidus’s story. It begins with Tidus and sets up the ultimate problem, the heavy anchor that is his father, almost immediately, and it will end with Tidus in the ultimate consummation of the concept: learning to let go completely by giving up life itself.
The Concept Through Individuals
The Present Cast
Tidus is the main character of the game, but his connection to the world and other characters makes it so that his story is necessarily bound to theirs, or rather, their stories are actually bound to him. The nature of what Tidus is, who he is, who he is related to and what they have planned for him, have set up a contingent necessity for the story and its characters to come together for the sake of his character.
With Tidus we see the main concept clear. Tidus has one major thing anchoring him to the past: his all-star blitzballing father Jecht. From the very beginning of the game it’s clear that the link is not amiable, at least from Tidus’s side. We find through the development of the game that Tidus has good reason for his lingering and unresolved resentment towards Jecht. Through flashbacks we know that Jecht was quite an asshole who, in a failed manner of tough love, didn’t have the right words or attitude for the son that loved and idolized him. For unexplained reasons Jecht became an alcoholic and started losing his game edge, and one can guess that led to far more problems than are shown in the game. Beyond the clear emotional abuse towards Tidus, one can’t miss the clear problem concerning the fact that Tidus’s mother cared more for Jecht than about him. Sometime not far into Tidus’s childhood, Jecht one day goes out to sea to practice blitzball and comes into contact with Sin, causing him to be transported to Spira and never to be seen again. So strike one: emotionally abusive father; strike two:Oedipus complex with regards to mom’s attention; strike three: soon after Jecht disappeared his mother literally dies from grief at the disappearance of Jecht.
When all is said and done, by the time the game begins Tidus is a young man who has followed in his father’s footsteps and become a blitzball player himself. Despite his resentment, or perhaps because of it, Tidus decides to walk the same road his father did in order to somehow show him that he was strong enough to make it on his own and that he would become a bigger sports legend than him. Considering that ten years after Jecht disappeared he’s still the talk of the city and even has an annual tournament held in his memory, Tidus has quite the shoes to fill. Jecht, both within and outside Tidus, is an anchor that doesn’t leave him free. One can imagine that in Zanarkand, even if Tidus had not gone into Blitzball he would have still been known to most only as Jecht’s son and nothing more. Who Tidus is, and what he is by the beginning of the game, is almost entirely existent in the shadow of what Jecht did to him and the inescapable legacy he left overshadowing him. The story of Tidus, though it meanders here and there, is ultimately about his reconciliation with Jecht, understanding him, accepting that what is done is in the past, and finally moving on. While the love story with Yuna is obviously major, as well as the grand narrative of the hero saving the world and sacrificing himself, they are not the ultimate point of his story. In the end, Tidus overcomes mostly inner demons rather than outer ones, and the story of FFX is ultimately the story of Tidus.
Yuna manifests the concept differently. She is the child of a forbidden love which was denied legitimacy by both sides of the peoples involved. Her mother was an Al Bhed, considered heretics by Yevonites, was disowned by her brother and her people. Her father was a Yevonite priest who was expelled for marrying a heretic. Yuna herself was looked down upon for her lineage, thus she hides it to reduce tensions. Aside from that, however, she is weighed by her father’s legacy and lives in his shadow. A kind and selfless person, with the openness of mind, strength of will, and and curiosity of her father, she decides to follow in her father’s vocation as summoner in order to bring hope to Spira. Like Tidus she takes on the same role as her father for the same aims of her father, yet unlike Tidus these aims are not born out of a desire to overcome a shadow she resents. What anchor’s Yuna to the past is not so much within her as it is outside her as the old world and ways which constrict her freedom—and, of course, the problem of finding a way to defeat Sin.
Wakka, perhaps the most visually unique of all the characters, also has his hangups, and why wouldn’t he? Sin killed his parents when he was young, leaving him alone with no one but his younger brother Chappu (who aparently looked a bit like Tidus). Grew up raised by the pious people of the village and temple of Besaid island, plays and loves blitzball yet never wins, joins the eternal struggle against Sin by becoming a guardian to a summoner that quit halfway, and if that was not enough his little brother joins the Crusaders in a united attack with the Al Bhed and their machines to fight Sin and gets killed. Wakka just can’t seem to catch a break. Sin kills his parents, he does everything he can to be a good person and be as pure as one can humanly be, and… Sin keeps on killing everyone he cares about. He really hates Sin, and being a devoted Yevonite, he really hates all the sinful people who keep making god angry and sending an unstoppable monster to kill innocent people at a whim. Said sinful people are, for the most part, the Al Bhed because they use machines, which Yevon really hates for reasons no one knows other than a war between highly advanced cities a thousand years ago. Besides the frustrated resentment, Wakka can’t accept that Chappu is dead and never returning, so much that upon meeting Tidus he does all he can to lie to himself for a good while that Tidus is just a Chappu that doesn’t remember. Concerning his devotion, Wakka is carrying the weight of a tradition he does not understand and hates a large group of people he does not know just because the church says they’re bad. Part of his story is releasing himself from these traditional anchors.
Lulu is a black magic user, lover of the late Chappu, family friend and big sister/mom of Yuna and Wakka, and all around fashionista with a taste for leather belts and belt accessories. Jokes aside, Lulu is unfortunately a rather undeveloped character. She’s a goth ice queen who is slow to warm up to anyone and quick to hide her emotions. If there is anything she’s dragging along it’s that she still misses Chappu, and thus her emotional reservation is a defense against getting attached to someone she can lose. She also sees the completion of the summoner’s pilgrimage as an opportunity to overcome her weaknesses and become stronger to protect the ones she loves.
Khimari, a Ronso, is literally the embodiment of the worst weight of the past in this game. Bullied for being smaller than the other Ronsos, and getting beat up and having his horn broken to his great shame, he leaves his original home on Mt. Gagazet and heads down into the human world to find his way. While in Bevel he comes into contact with the dying Auron, who gives him the task to protect Yuna in his stead. He accepts this task, and becomes her protective guardian from then on. While Khimari rarely talks, when the party is passing through Gagazet it’s clear he’s never forgotten how he was shamed, and it did weigh on him.
Rikku is as a character, well, undeveloped and vague. Her mother died in a machina accident when she was younger, her cousin is on a pilgrimage to commit ritual suicide, her dad is the leader of the Al Bhed, and Rikku… well, Rikku is just unsure about her future—and afraid of lightning because she got hit by it once. She’s Al Bhed and gets a lot of weird looks and unjustified hate from the Yevonites of Spira, but she doesn’t seem to mind it much. She is as a character generally unhinged from any inner past, the only anchor weighing on her being the one Yevon hangs on all the Al Bhed as well as the desire to save her cousin and friend Yuna from a pointless suicidal fate. Rikku is a bit of an optimistic rational enlightenment character, seeking to break the boundaries imposed by ancient dogma and tradition with the argument that none of those restrictions make sense, and that the offered explanation and solution to Sin that Yevon offers are at best wrong and at worst dangerous for those who make the summoner’s pilgrimage.
The Past Cast
Auron is literally the manifestation of the concept of the lingering past, a past that refuses to leave the present, and he is this past because of his unwillingness to accept that he and his friends sacrificed so much for nothing. While to the rest of the world he is a legendary guardian who journeyed to successfully bring ‘the calm’, Auron carries the weight of the failure of his party’s dream to save Spira from Sin once and for all. To end Sin is to end the cycle of death and sacrifice tied to it, and it is more importantly to end the stranglehold of the past as the nightmare that is Sin as well as the corrupt tradition that is the church of Yevon.
Whether Auron ever believed strongly in Yevon is unknown, but his troubles with the church began when he refused an offer of marriage to a priest’s daughter, effectively ending his carrier prospects in the church and bringing to his awareness the political reality of the church. After meeting the outcast Braska, he soon also meets Jecht, and together they travel to Zanarkand with the aim of finding a way to defeat Sin once and for all. Along the way all three strongly bond as friends, and Braska and Jecht rub their informal and loose attitudes off on him. Once the secret of the Final Aeon—the sacrifice of summoner and close friend—is revealed, and that this is only a momentary stop to Sin that at best might do the final trick, Auron tries to convince both friends to leave and seek another way to destroy Sin, but they choose to hope it might just be the last sacrifice. When Yu Yevon takes control of Braska’s Final Aeon and denies their hope, Auron returns to Yunalesca to find out if there really is any hope (is told that there isn’t). He loses his cool for the first time and attacks Yunalesca. Getting mortally injured in the attack, he crawls down Mt. Gagazet and reaches Bevel, meets Kimahri and entrusts Yuna to him, and ‘dies’.
Due to the metaphysics of Spira, however, the dead can continue living beyond death if a strong enough will is still attached to the world. Auron is so weighed and strongly tied to his wordly goals that he remains in the world as an unsent, continuing to live because his stubbornness is so strong even physical death is not enough to separate his will from the world. He cannot let go of his hatred for the church of Yevon’s lie about the nature of Sin and their method of defeating it, a lie which cost him his closest friends. He cannot let go of his promise to Jecht to watch over his son, and he cannot let go of his own mission to find something other than the Final Aeon to vanquish Sin. When he and the present party in the game finally meet Yunalesca again, he reveals how much the sacrifice of Braska and Jecht weigh on his soul. To paraphrase, he states that to accept Yunalesca’s method is to give in to false hope for the individuals who sacrifice themselves without regard to the truth of the rest of the world’s continuing suffering and sorrow. Those, like Braska and Jecht, who sacrifice themselves knowing it would fail yet hoping it may succeed are in the end fools who only release themselves from pain, but no one else. Braska had the excuse of hope due to ignorance, but with his and Jecht’s fate revealed why it could have no hope of succeeding; thus, there can be no more possibility of it as a hope for Yuna. Auron pleads that she give up false hope and choose to live and fight the hopelessness by seeking a new way.
Jecht is everything your average teenage boy wants to be: a sports superstar, a fabulous pirate, and an egotist with an abnormal need to be seen as the greatest. A superstar blitzballer in his own class, Jecht nonetheless wasn’t quite happy with his lot and took to drinking along with being an emotionally abusive father. Whether he started drinking and this negatively affected his game, or whether he started drinking because he was already getting too old and losing his edge, either way he became a known drunkard. After getting literally spirited away to Spira by Sin, on his journey with Auron and Braska he finally self-reflects on what he has been doing with his life and realizes he made major mistakes. Perhaps this was a consequence of Auron’s stoic discipline and Braska’s mellow calmness and coolness of mind rubbing off on him, but nonetheless he becomes fully self-conscious through the journey.
While in Spira Jecht finds himself constantly thinking about his family—mostly his son. It becomes clear through the video spheres he left scattered around Spira that Jecht truly had loved his son and wife (moreso his son), and had just had a very wrong idea of how to raise a proper man with tough love. Jecht is, funny enough, the path which Tidus is only retreading from an opposite direction. Jecht goes into Spira and finally matures, recognizes what he was anchored to, and comes to eventually accept that for him the dream was over. He accepts that he will never return to Zanarkand, never see his son again, and yet from this he gathers strength and commits himself fully to Braska’s efforts to save Spira. Jecht releases his inner anchors by accepting the problems he had denied: his alcoholism, his inability to properly love his son, the end of his hope to return home. He learns to accept and let go, but not in a meaningless empty sense of forgetting, rather he learns it in the inwardizing and concretizing sense of self-determination. Jecht is able to make the great sacrifice of becoming the fayth for Braska’s Final Aeon because he has worked through himself and no loose ends are left except the direct reconciliation with Tidus. Given that that is impossible at that moment, Jecht’s sacrifice was one of genuine will to pass over and conclude his life story as a martyr in the struggle against Sin.
With the failure of defeating Sin once and for all, however, Jecht’s two possible dreams are frustrated. He can neither go home, nor has his sacrifice saved the world. But, though Jecht gives up almost all of his dreams and sacrifices himself for something greater, in living on as Sin this greater dream of something universal beyond him converges with the most inward and individual dream to connect and have closure with his son
Braska, like Yuna, is the ‘ideal’ character type in the story. A progressive enlightened misfit on a mission to save the world, there really is not much to him. He has no internal anchor but the simple grief of his Al Bhed wife who was killed by Sin, and he is externally anchored against his will by the traditions of the world which sought to make his love impossible. To defeat Sin is to defeat the binding chains of the past, and what could be a more powerful refutation of the past than a heretical priest and his band of excommunicate misfit friends being the ones to end the reign of terror of the divine curse that is Sin? If there was a fault given to Braska it is only his willingly blind hope, which led him to die in false hope that he would vanquish Sin once and for all with the Final Aeon—something Yunalesca had already let him know would not happen.
Seymour is one of the main antagonists of the game, and manifests a deranged version of the concept of overcoming the past. While he professes to be seeking become Sin in order to save Spira from its endless cycle of despair and pain—by killing everyone—his real motives are emotional rather than an intellectually enlightened. A half-human/guado in a very intolerant and racist world, he grew up exiled from the human and guado world. His own father exiled him and his human mother due to the political unrest they caused. While in exile his mother fell ill and saw her death coming, and knowing her child’s loneliness decided she would become the fayth for his final aeon so that he could defeat Sin and be hailed as a hero who is finally accepted by the world. Seymour is traumatized by her sacrifice and refuses to defeat Sin but is strong enough to continue living. When he is a young man he is allowed to return to his father’s land and joins the order of Yevon, and somewhere along the way he had already become a twisted individual with a nihilistic worldview and a desire for power and revenge on the world. For Seymour, death is release from the pain and despair of life, and to kill others is to grant them the gift of peace and eternal rest—you can’t fear dying if you’re already dead and refuse to die. Throughout the game it is noticeable that he cannot help but slip that in truth the wish to ‘save’ Spira is actually the wish to destroy it. Seymour, ultimately, is the willing and active strengthening of the chain of the past, the inability to let go and the conviction that it can only be guarded against by constantly keeping it present as a reminder. He cannot let go of his trauma and hatred, he cannot let go of life even when killed multiple times, and he wishes to become nothing more than the embodied power of death itself, Sin. When his soul is assimilated into Sin, he rejoices, and in being released from his attachments to the world he laments that the spiral of despair will continue without him at its helm.
Yu Yevon is the original anchor of the story, himself anchored by his inability to accept that his city of Zanarkand is doomed to be destroyed and pass into history in the machina wars. Using the remaining citizens of Zanarkand as willing fayths—individual beings who become mediating powers that actualize dreams materially through the manipulation of the pyreflies—he summons into existence an ultimate armor and weapon, Sin, and from within carries out a continuous ritual of summoning forth a dream Zanarkand. In this way Yu Yevon, Sin, and Zanarkand are literally the past which remains present with no purpose. By the beginning of the game Yu Yevon has long forgotten his original purpose and exists as an instinctive activity of summoning. Dream Zanarkand is a city where people live out their lives with no real history and towards no real purpose.
Yunalesca, daughter of Yu Yevon and the first summoner to attain the Final Aeon and defeat sin, refuses to let go of life and her self-perceived role as hope giver. Knowing the true origin and nature of Sin, and knowing that no summon can defeat it permanently, she still remains in the world in order to give it false hope to continue living under the despair of an immortal Sin. Yunalesca as such is an anchor in maintaining the tradition of pilgrimage and the sacrifice of the Final Aeon, and is herself anchored by a desire to give hope to Spira despite knowing it is false.
The Concept Through Groups
Spira, as the world, is the largest group structured by the concept of the game. The world of Spira and its inhabitants as a unified whole form the group within which all the other groups operate. Spira itself is anchored to a past that refuses to go away. Its world history refuses to recede into the past and let go of the present in that the apocalyptic battle of the machina cities a thousand years in the past continues to hold power over the present. The world still lives in its machine rubble and generally knows none of its mechanical knowledge except for the higher orders of Yevon and the heretical Al Bhed. Sin, Yu Yevon’s ultimate armor and final act of war on the rival cities, continues its path of destruction unabated since then. Spira is named according to a major sub-concept: the endless cycle of life and death on various levels. From the lowest beings to the highest, Spira is caught in a spiral of despair. From one level to the next it is only the same cycle on a merely higher order, but nonetheless the same. Spira is meant to repeat, but advance to higher levels with every repetition, however, with the post-war world and Sin it has been repeating on the same level.
Religion of Yevon
Within Spira, we have the religion of Yevon. Its existence is itself an anchor for all of Spira to remain tied to the past. The leaders of Yevon all know the truth of the origin of Sin and its nature as well as the truth that the summoner’s pilgrimage and sacrifice will never defeat Sin. Nonetheless, Yevon and its leaders justify their existence on the premise that they give hope to Spirans that 1) Sin will be vanquished if all of Spira atones for their sins, and 2) that the Final Aeon may one day fully vanquish sin. With the first premise all of Yevon’s followers are saddled with an unknown guilt by inherent association, a guilt they can never know nor comprehend yet which they must nonetheless feel the weight of—all are guilty, but the charges have never been enunciated. Machina and forbidden ideas are blamed, and thus Yevon maintains a tight material and social control which halts scientific developments and cultural advances as it is a government unto itself with its own standing army, and as a real power in the real world it attracts those who seek such real power for their personal ends. With the second premise, Yevon knowingly sends people to die in vain in order to keep up its own appearance as knowing guide and solidify its own political power.
The Al Bhed exist as an opposite balance against Yevon’s reaction concerning technology. They are a people anchored by a history of persecution and therefore distrust Yevon. They freely use technology, salvaging all they can for the sake of learning and hoping to find ancient weapons that may help defeat Sin once and for all. They are aware that the summoner pilgrimage requires them to sacrifice their life; thus, they kidnap summoners to stop them from dying pointlessly—something summoners don’t appreciate even when told the truth of the final Aeon. The Al Bhed shunn religion and tradition, seeking instead to know all they can about the material world in order to conquer material problems.
Dream Zanarkand is the manifestation of the past as anchor itself in its continuing external reality. It is a place that is real in its persisting unreality, a dream—an illusion—which nonetheless appears and can be interacted as if it was fully real. The past which anchors us is something that in a literal sense is nothing but an enduring dream within our minds, its reality being our continuous acting of it. Nonetheless, this past is for us no mere inactive fiction, it is really there so long as we continue to chain ourselves to it. Zanarkand, however, is not merely an external representation of what is otherwise an internal anchor, but is the manifestation of the completeness of the anchor of history from within and without. The past continues to exist and affect us so long as we do not let it go.
Metaphysics of The Concept
To speak of the metaphysics of a world is to speak of its most fundamental structures, implied or explicit. We cannot begin talking about the metaphysical structure of Spira without talking about the ontological entities that play the role of enabling the entire grand metaphysical narrative in the first place: Pyreflies. It is through pyreflies that the magic, afterlife, and the ever present past of Spira are possible. Pyreflies serve as a mediating power between thought/will and material actuality. As a power they grant the capacity to turn the spiritual into existing matter/energy. It is never explained how or why this is possible, but that’s fantasy logic for you. All that is made clear is that pyreflies are very attuned to thought and will and work as actualizing catalysts for the souls of beings, particularly spiritual thinking beings. While focus is required to generate great magic, the quantity and quality of will is important at death in order to determine the fate of the deceased.
Fayths and Summons
Fayths are statues imbued with souls which were transferred from living individuals. They are conscious, but in a dream state, and function as potent manipulators of pyreflies, capable of manifesting their dreams into materiality. Aeons are physical manifestation of the fayths themselves, giving embodiment to their most dominant characteristics. Fayth are seemingly immortal, but are trapped in their statues and unable to rest or die even if they want to. Their anchor in the world is their very state of frozen servitude.
Fiends and Unsent
Fiends are the type of being which all monsters in Spira are. In an interesting take on the monster concept, fiends aren’t monsters as an alien other, but are the material manifestation of souls that remain because they are attached to the world through strong negative emotions. Such souls are bitter, angry, and all too desiring to spread their pain on the rest of the living. These are the souls that cannot let go of these emotional anchors and give in to negative feelings overtaking them. They are not a direct reincarnation of individual souls since they lack any rational self-consciousness and control, rather all that is left is their animal emotional will, and thus their forms are that of beasts.
Unsent are of the same nature as fiends in that they are souls that remain manifest in material form through a strong emotion and will connecting them to the world. The difference from fiends is that unsent maintain their fully human rational will and remain tied not by a blind emotion but by a strong emotion towards a rational goal. Those who die with unfinished business can become an unsent, though they seem few and far between.
Sin is a monstrous armor crafted and controlled by Yu Yevon out of an immense pyrefly manifestation. It is a mindless beast that exists only to guard Yu Yevon as he continuously summons Dream Zanarkand, as well as to destroy the enemies of Zanarkand. In the post machina war world, it spends its time attacking random human settlements. With Yu Yevon, who lost his mind long ago, at its helm, Sin maintains an endless cycle of death and despair for no rational purpose.
The Concept Through Gameplay
Character Type Wheel
It’s common in RPGs to have a sort of character ‘wheel’ regarding types in gameplay as well as psychological profile. Various characters manifest the concept of the game in different ways, to more or less an extent in their own unique individual form for the sake of not just entertainment, but to ease the monotony of a the inevitable one-sidedness of any one character. We have various flavors of the optimist/emotional/hot headed character, the stoic/reserved/cool character, the mysterious (undeveloped) reclusive character, the shy character, etc.
- Tidus = internal struggle = outgoing—gameplay: physical agility melee
- Rikku = external struggle = outgoing—gameplay: technical tinkering
- Wakka = internal struggle = outgoing—gameplay: physical agility range
- Lulu = internal struggle = stoic—gameplay: black magic
- Auron = internal struggle = stoic—gameplay: physical melee heavy
- Khimari = external struggle = stoic—gameplay: jack of all trades/ skill steal
- Yuna = external struggle = outgoing yet reserved—gameplay: light magic
So, we seem to have an even mix between characters that are outgoing and stoic as well as between those with internal and external struggles and as expected we have a mix of melee/range/magic with two characters focused on being unique. The only exception is Yuna, who as a character is designed as an even mix between the rational stoic and emotional outgoing type. All character types emotionally fit their combat role type and their idiosyncrasies flow from their individual histories.
The Sphere Grid
The sphere grid is arbitrary as far as the concept of the story goes, but as far as gameplay goes it offers the structural stat system game within the game. Why spheres? My assumption is blitzball is the driving aesthetic idea. The sphere grid offers the method of character stat progression and skill development which in turn determines items necessary for the achievement of this progression as well as the maximizing of each character’s capacities. While originally giving a determined linear character type path of development that makes sense, the progression of the sphere grid allows for all characters to learn and maximize everything such that eventually everyone becomes an auto-hit machine and magic goes by the way side as it ends up being replaced by auto-x item abilities due to the crafting system.
Rikku becomes a character of gameplay importance due to her being the introduction of the item crafting system which gives a use to all the non-combat items in the game. It is a side-stat game of maximization and customization. As with most games of this nature, despite the immense amount of customization a great amount of it ends up being useless and quickly gives way to the maximized customization options. It is, however, of note that this system enters the game through a character joining the party and is not there from the beginning, and this skill/system is heavily tied to their narrative background; thus, it is not an arbitrary or simply external gameplay system like the sphere grid. It is, however, not used to much effect in developing the character or overall narrative further. Besides one or two quests that require the use of the system it is a mere gameplay system with no meaning to the narrative unity.
The game is a turn based rpg, something decided before its narrative idea arose. Perhaps we may see this as a condition of a general medium type such as paint and canvas under the more general consideration of art, i.e. JRPG under the more general form of a video game. Is it, however, an extension of the overarching concept of the narrative?
The battle order system is, like the sphere grid, a purely gameplay directed consideration that overall is unhinged from the conceptual unity of the narrative aim or flow of events in a narrative sense. Character type, sphere grid abilities and crafted items enter their actuality in the actual battles towards which all these other gameplay systems are geared.
With regard to the Aeon summon progression system as well as their combat system, little is to be said other than that they are properly portrayed as enduring power-houses who manage their business without others getting in the way. While in the bare bones main story playthrough they are quote useful and powerful, they become quite useless once sphere grid maximization is attained due to the capacity to break damage limits with auto-attacks.
With regards to overdrives, signature moves for each character, while they at first quite fit their character types and have a measure of effectiveness roughly equal, the physical ones quickly overtake the magic ones once sphere grid maximization happens and there are simply better and worse characters overall because of this (Wakka and Tidus have multihit physical overdrives). The overdrive system and its charging mechanic itself is simply a gameplay consideration to show how rare and how powerful a move is. As for the inputs of the overdrives, they have some affinity with the moves and characters. Yuna’s focus on souping up her summon, Lulu’s is frenzied casting, Tidus is precision hits with agility, Wakka’s is luck mitigated by skill, Auron is well timed memorization and execution of complex button inputs, Rikku’s is tech item mixing and experimentation.
Overall, the actual gameplay and combat is external to the artistic unity of the narrative, but it need not be. Why tell this story with this kind of game and gameplay? Certainly this story could not be told in other game types, an RPG is something well designed and suited for a large world and a lengthy story with many characters and events to be developed and used. Aside from being an RPG, however, why these combat systems and style? The combat system is simply arbitrary and indeed could have been otherwise with the narrative force intact. The character types and individualities are brought into the determination of the gameplay, but it is in a rather limited way that is undone by the structural systems themselves since they are ultimately aimed at homogenization through maximization.
Even if we disregard the post or extra-narrative gameplay there is still a presence of much abstraction between the gameplay and the narrative unity, and this is because in games in general gameplay and narrative must be split in their developmental aims. Gamplay must be fun and engaging, narrative must provide merely a background for gameplay where the game can be played with much ignorance of this background. This is not a necessity, but it is an easy split for the sake of simplifying the design process in such a way that two systems are developed separately and synthetically united as the gameplay and narrative system for the sake of development ease.
The Factor of Choice:
Real vs Trivial Choices
Choice, some say, is the defining original “artistic” concept of games. Disregarding the truth of this assumption, does this game offer real choices? The answer is that ultimately it does not. One can, yes, be one of those who play games with arbitrary limits as an arbitrary challenge. Don’t use x item, y character, or z attacks, etc. Even without such arbitrary limitations, however, do you not have a lot of choices in the characters we choose to use, stat progression, items bought, and crafting? Yes, these are choices, but they are for the most part choices of convenience and trivial taste which amount to nothing of importance to the narrative even though they do amount to some minor importance to the gameplay. I say minor because ultimately the non-narrative content requires stat maximization which will necessarily push towards one maximal state for all characters and gameplay options.
O’aka is one of the closest things to a real choice regarding your donating to him, but even then it is a choice of luxury items which aren’t that great in the end.
Aesthetics: Visuals and Sounds
Visually and musically the game comes together quite well… except Lulu, her dress and weapons make no sense when compared to the rest of her world. Wakka also makes no sense concerning his accent since no one else sounds like him on his own home island.
Unity of Narrative
The unity of the narrative concept is actually quite perfect. Where the game begins it properly develops organically towards the necessary ending of resolution with some minor moments here and there which are just a bit of nonsense and flashy extravagance for rule of cool.
We begin with Sin, Tidus, and Jecht as the necessary elements bringing us into the story, wherein we find by the end that it could not have been anyone else or otherwise. Sin directly ties Dream Zanarkand to Spira and the wall of fayth on top of Gagazet. It directly ties Tidus the individual to the universal fate of the entire world in personal, social, and metaphysical sense. Sin ties back to the origin of the church of Yevon and the anti-machina stance that pits them against the Al Bhed. Sin ties Yuna and her friends to Tidus and Auron. Sin ties back to the concept of the game by being the ultimate result of someone who refused to let go of the past so strongly that they used a mountain of fayth to keep his past home alive as an endless summoning.
We have the concept, therefore we have Yu Yevon’s instance of the problem, therefore Sin, therefore Yevon against Al Bhed, therefore Braska and his wife’s troubled life and untimely death, therefore his summoner’s journey as an outcast, therefore Auron and Jecht, therefore…all the way until the very end with the finale being: no more Sin, no more Yevon, therefore the fayth no longer dream, therefore the cycle of despair is broken and Tidus disappears since he existed only in and through that cycle. The entire problem is now universally and individually nullified by the problem having produced its own dissolution through a long chain of mediating individiuals and historical events which it could not help but produce.
Jecht’s plan with Auron to bring Tidus to Spira in order to defeat Sin once and for all thus at once sets the conclusion and driving force of the entire story and shares its full concept. Sin is the cause of the problem, provides its own driving antithesis, and brings an end to itself as a positive closure—this mirrors and correlates Jecht’s and Tidus’s own story circle where Tidus is the problem Jecht created unknowingly, but both sides desire reconciliation and closure; thus, the drive of resolution exists and undoes the problem from within.
The game has a good unifying concept for the story, but the concrete presentation ends up failing. In outline the possibilities of the story seem great, but in execution it is far from such. There is not enough detail to many characters, nor to the world as a whole, Spira ends up feeling like a rather empty and dead world even in its major cities. The story is focused primarily on Tidus and he gets good development, but the party is major as well and each get at least enough development to show a problem, working through, and resolution.
Consider the delivery of the story: how much is conveyed through what, how was it conveyed, and was the delivery good? Lots of cutscenes with minimal animation and voice acting that’s mediocre at best. It’s not so much the quality of animations and voicing, however, but the quality of writing and the extent of it which really makes it suffer as a narrative flow. Badly written interactions and staged scenes are simply bad no matter what.
As far as being a unified aesthetic piece, the narrative comes together well and the gameplay comes together well, yet each could do without the other just as well. It is one of the hallmarks of art that any piece cannot be otherwise and yet we can imagine FFX having been otherwise and remained generally as memorable in aesthetic sense regardless of gameplay. Overall, the game is no masterpiece and while decent as a game and story, it really loses steam as both. The expansion of the story outside the game and in the sequel ruins more than anything, and the gameplay after the main story is beat becomes rather tedious and homogeneous.