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Final Fantasy X-2 and Yuna's grief

Ashley Barry wrote a great piece about how death is handled in games. One thing she talked about was the ritual of sending in FFX and how so few games deal with handling grief. That made me think about FFX-2.

Last week, Ashley Barry wrote a piece about the handling of death in games for The Mary Sue. I recommend that you read the full piece, but the gist is that in the real world, after death comes grieving and deathcare, and games almost never deals with those things.


"Rarely do players experience the memorialization of deceased characters, positive portrayals of deathcare workers, open displays of grief, careful and loving care of dead bodies, putrefaction of bodies, ritualistic burials, and so on....

"Rather than focusing on games that adhere to this separation and the stigmas that follow, there are a number of games that do show death and encourage a dialogue about it. Death is more than a stepping stone to the next level or achievement. In Final Fantasy X, a game about a woman’s pilgrimage and a blob-like monster that terrorizes her world, Yuna, the heroine, is so much more than a summoner. There’s an important scene in which Yuna performs a sending, a ritual that puts the dead to rest."

And that got me thinking about Final Fantasy X-2. I don't recall what kind of critical reception FFX-2 got, but I know that my friends were all very vocal in their dislike of the game because it was too girly. I didn't exactly like how girly it was myself; I liked the magical girl transformations (I'm a Sailor Moon fan) but groaned at most of the peppy girl power cutscenes. I didn't really hate the game like my friends did, though. If I gritted my teeth through the girl power tee hee hee moments, there was a great, fast-paced JRPG under there with a good story.

I did have one problem with the story, which is that I didn't think it should exist in the first place. I love Final Fantasy X because it's the story of Tidus going from punk to man in the course of saving the world. He's very self-absorbed at the beginning, but by the end he has learned more about the world and about himself and is committed to a course of action that he is guaranteed not to survive. Most games would cheapen that by finding some hand wave to keep him around, but not FFX. When the game is over, he is gone.

So then you have this sequel come along and it's all about finding Tidus again. So much for not cheapening his sacrifice.

Or so I thought when I started playing FFX-2. Over the course of the story, you find out that the artifacts that allow for the magical girl transformations contain not just the experience and know-how of their former owners, but also some of their memories. The vision Yuna had seen was not of Tidus, but rather of someone who had lived a thousand years before, during a great war that seems to have prefaced the rise of Sin.

I came to appreciate that story and the glimpse it provided of Spira's past, but it wasn't until I read Barry's piece that I realized that Final Fantasy X-2 can be seen as really being about Yuna trying to get over the loss of Tidus. When I played FFX-2, I hadn't yet lost my father and had never really had to watch anyone come to terms with grief. Now, it seems painfully obvious that although the pop star dressphere complicated things by showing Yuna a vision of someone who looks very much like Tidus (and may have somehow inspired Tidus in the dreams of the Fayth), the story of Final Fantasy X-2 is really the story of Yuna coming to grips with the fact that Tidus is really gone.

It makes a great deal of sense that she wouldn't be able to get over his loss easily. For one thing, she'd started her summoner's pilgrimmage expecting not to live to see the other side of it herself. Before she'd met Tidus, she'd never dared dream of life after defeating Sin. In his ignorance of how the whole "defeating Sin" thing worked, Tidus suggested all kinds of things to do afterwards. He helped her dream up an image of what they would do together after Sin was defeated.

And then, in the instant that defeating Sin without Yuna dying became reality, Tidus began to fade away. Literally. So here's Yuna, robbed of her glorious death in the service of humanity and then also robbed of the only person who had ever dreamed with her of doing things after Sin. He didn't even die in the way you usually think of it. No soul to send. He literally just faded out of existence, became untouchable before her very eyes. So of course she has trouble processing his death. And of course when the dressphere shows her someone who looks like Tidus, she has to go looking for him.

In that context, the girl power tee hee hee aspects actually make a ridiculous amount of sense. It's common for women to get together for girl time when they're feeling down and Yuna was lucky to have girl friends who were with her and supportive as she struggled to get over her lost love and find a new place in a world that had changed because of their actions.

Whether or not that was Square's intent in using the girl power, I couldn't say. I think chances are good that they were targetting a specific Japanese audience with their super cute and revealing outfits to try and increase sales of the first direct sequel to a main series Final Fantasy game. Whatever the reason, it's still interesting to think about the grief aspect of Final Fantasy X-2. So thank you, Ashley Barry, for making me think about it.

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