You’re brilliant, gorgeous, and ampersand after ampersand

Here there be spoilers.

Star-crossed lovers are a pretty common and popular motif. From Romeo and Juliet to Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, we human beings seem to be moved by tragedy when it comes to lovers who are fated to never actually be. Final Fantasy is no exception to this, and particularly Final Fantasy X, where it’s clearly spelled out from the start that this is not meant to be.

The problem is, it did not work for me, and I contemplated why.

Quite some time ago I took a stab at why romances in games generally fell flat. Too often, romance in games tends to be purely mechanics driven, which leaves a feeling that the art of love is nothing more than a chore that does not offer much in return. A player can put into the relationship, but receiving is normally handed back as items or some manner of stat boost. Sentiment? What’s that?

Final Fantasy X operates on a different level, as does most of the series. In a more linear-driven plot, Tidus can only fall for Yuna. Also typical of the series, the two lovers are still teens who must take on the weight of the world, some manner of love between themselves, and deal with their own issues. Again, this sort of trope is hardly rare, and can be seen across any multitude of media.

The story is rather weakly presented, however. We are told they are in love, therefore it must be so. Somehow some level of attraction exists over which we have no control. In fact, the primary plot points, and any romance that occurs, all happen when the controller is out of my hand. The rest of the time I am engaging in any number of activities: fighting random encounters, playing Blitz Ball, capturing enemies for the monster arena, or racing chocobos.

The story wants me to believe that these two people happen to build a love for each other that results in a cut scene that is beautiful in imagery, but empty in sentiment. As Tidus and Yuna kissed, I just looked at the screen, raised an eyebrow, and mouthed, “Oh, really?”

I understand the reasoning behind the inclusion of a romance in the story. It is supposed to pull on our emotions and give us that bittersweet longing for our own romantic escapades. Tidus’s yearning to save Yuna suddenly has an element to it that seeks to humanize him by giving him purpose in a world to which he has no other significant bonds. For Yuna, it offers a respite and a person who is not wholly enamored with her father and is not in awe of her quest.

That makes sense.

Except the characters themselves are not very well written. Yuna is a one-dimensional archetype whose relationship with her parents is never explored, despite her father’s constant presence in the game. It does not help that her voice actress decides to pause every four or five words to try and add some maturity and weight to otherwise fairly straight-forward lines. Yuna is supposed to be contemplative and mature for her age, but often just comes off as socially awkward and bumbling in sentiment.

Tidus has a host of issues surrounding his father and mother, a very blatant nod to Freud. His Oedipus complex branches out to actually seek the destruction of his father, who has become Sin, to not only redeem his manhood, as he hoped to establish through Blitz Ball, but save Spira and prove himself to the woman he loves. Personally, I found the relationship issues between Tidus and his parents more compelling. Within them lies some form of conflict that hopes to resolve itself.

While it would be interesting to view Tidus’s longing for Yuna in the scope of seeking to replace what was lost to him with the death of his mother, she is barely touched upon beyond knowing that Tidus longed for her love, which was always reserved for his father. In such a light, the romance would make sense, but the story is instead bogged down with the impending doom of Yuna, whose relationships with anyone are never actually explored (even with her supposed childhood companions Wakka and Lulu). This death sentence, by all means, is significant, but it serves as an outside agent, not giving us much of the characters themselves with which to work.

In order for the characters’ relationships to work, we need more fully developed characters. The problem in this particular game is that we’re given hints of many other issues, but then never have them explored. Either those loose ends need be cut so as to make a more concise narrative, or those ends need to go in some direction that does more than make us wonder if we’ll ever reach that cut scene explanation.

The reason stories like Romeo and Juliet, Tristan und Isolde, and Pyramus and Thisbe work is because they very clearly set out the love and the conflict, and work out the fight for love despite the conflict (likewise, it does not end well for any of them). Final Fantasy X seems to throw in the love story as a matter of spice, but does not actually ever seek to resolve it within the framework of its own story beyond a wistful glance at the future. When Tidus suddenly vanishes, I found myself wondering if anything ever really happened after that kiss, or if this was supposed to be meaningful. The fact that none of my own actions ever attributed to this romance meant I quickly dismissed it as not meaningful to my own game. They are star-crossed (overseen by a malign star), but lovers? I remain less than convinced.

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About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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7 Responses to You’re brilliant, gorgeous, and ampersand after ampersand

  1. kateri_t says:

    Well, romance is generally hit and miss in FF games. I haven’t played FF10, but FF9 has another romance that never felt remotely realistic to me. And for all that the game is, in general, justifiably glorified, the romance in Chrono Trigger never worked for me either – problem with a silent protagonist? Crappy romances in games are everywhere… but what about the good ones – surely that’s tougher? Thoughts on how it stacks up against the others in the series? FF8, I really liked – the setup was generic but the characters worked together and were believable. And if that’s a good example of a teenage-style romance, then FF7 was one for 20somethings. No, not Cloud and Aeris, that was a red herring. Cloud and Tifa, which some saw as a cop-out, but to me, was the only appropriate/realistic pairing. (Well, once we discover Barrett won’t put out on his date sequence, anyway! :P ) And FF6′s slow-burn Celes and Locke, adults moving on from the loss together, in Locke’s case, the loss of the romantic ideals of his youth. OH TEH DRAMA! – but it works.

  2. Denis Farr says:

    Kateri, I actually want to go back and try FF6 because of that relationship. I recall being suitably impressed at how they handled Locke and Celes’s romance. It was suitably impinged upon by the real world and showed the human sides of the characters.Tifa and Cloud was a stronger relationship because it had a history. The relationship between Cloud and Aeris was, again, very poorly developed, and we’re told it is, therefore it must be so. I believe the outcry against Aeris’s death probably had more to do with the player’s relationship to her than for her relationship to Cloud. That’s the effect it had on me anyway.Also, agreed on Chrono Trigger. I really enjoyed the game my last play through, and I remember making a trio of posts. The love story never made it in just because it was never even developed in the slightest. There’s the initial statement of like and then suddenly at the end of the game there’s a cut scene where they’re married? I missed something. At the same time, in contrast to FFX, I can appreciate that it did not try to wedge in a love story that would have just needlessly thrown in a subplot that would not have aided the main point of their story.

  3. kateri_t says:

    “Tifa and Cloud was a stronger relationship because it had a history. The relationship between Cloud and Aeris was, again, very poorly developed, and we’re told it is, therefore it must be so. I believe the outcry against Aeris’s death probably had more to do with the player’s relationship to her than for her relationship to Cloud. That’s the effect it had on me anyway.”Exactly – this is what I mean by red herring. Aeris loved Zack, and is attracted to Cloud’s emulation of him, and Cloud just kind of goes along with it, we never get any real indication that he reciprocates – but again: silent protagonist. When Cloud is silent, you’re right, the romance with Aeris is with her and the player alone, Cloud as a character’s not involved. All Cloud’s romantic impulses on his own seem directed towards Tifa. Poor old Tifa, gets set up as the Other Woman, but she’s the one who loves Cloud for who he really is, not just the person he’s pretending to be. And he knows it, although the player may not, and be hung up on Aeris, so they dislike that ending – but it’s the correct one. I suspected it at the time, and playing Crisis Core has vindicated that impression.

  4. Great post, thank you for taking the time to deal with JRPG’s. I feel incredibly guilty for not addressing them more often, particularly because I’ve played dozens of them myself, but they are so time consuming that I get bogged down into them.

  5. Denis Farr says:

    Kateri, I’ve yet to play <>Crisis Core<>, but may have to acquire both a PSP and the game to see this out.I was under the impression that Cloud was completely silent, but on replaying, was shocked to find how much of a voice he has. The issue? The voice is one we select, again making the connection between Cloud and the characters one that is personal to us players, not to Cloud himself, only further reiterating our point of why Tifa matters–we don’t have any word in that.

  6. Denis Farr says:

    L.B., thank you. I decided I needed to finally sit down and play this one, and once I started, how could I not talk about it?In fact, after playing it, it seemed I wanted to justify my time by making posts about it. I contemplated one more, and may come back to it, but it’s still brewing.They are a huge investment, though–especially considering how much of that investment is purely ludic and not in any way attached the the story mechanic. I can’t make up a story for why Tidus and crew are grinding, or at least one that interests me. Contrast this with Fallout 3, where I am already creating my own narrative, so such would naturally fall into the flow of things.

  7. Kateri says:

    Denis: “Kateri, I’ve yet to play Crisis Core, but may have to acquire both a PSP and the game to see this out.”Oh, play it. Playitplayitplayit. Trust me on this one. ;)I bought a PSP for it, and wondered if I was nuts even as I did, but it was worth it. Maybe it can be your first paycheck celebration when you get that dreamjob!

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