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.