Greetings to all :)
I don't think I have made a post here yet, so I am going to start out with an essay I wrote on FFX for the Religion in the Movies class I took this semester...
I had wanted to post this before I actually turned the essay in so I could use you all as expert editors, but alas, I ended up finishing this just hours before it was due...but if anyone chooses to read it, I would still love constructive feedback...if there are ideas that are underdeveloped, or maybe points I hammered into the ground a bit too much...even glaring grammatical errors (I did shift some sentences between paragraphs since turning in the final, and it's very probably I did not smooth those edits over as well I should have...)
I'm also not going to post my bibliography, but I've left in any internal citations, so if anyone is curious about my sources just ask :)
And finally just a couple of disclaimers for myself...this is about 3500 words (ten pages double spaced), which is much shorter than I wish it could be. Because of the page limit, I could not truly explore many of the concepts I would've liked, and I have left out many, many elements from the game that the FFX community would consider important, so that I could focus instead on my thesis theme...this is definitely not the best essay I've ever written, I think I've probably made more profound statements in some of the comments I've left on here, but, we work under the cirumstances we are given...with a formal paper and an audience not familiar with the game, certain changes must be made.
Also, there is a personal reflection there towards the end...it was part of the paper's requirments, and I was going to take it out to post on here since it isn't really about the game, but the conclusary paragraph relies a bit on the reflection paragraph...so if you choose to skip over that bit, I won't be offended :)
Oh, and though it probably goes without saying...big time spoiler warnings for FFX.
That said, I present...
The Final Fantasy video game series has gained intense popularity since the first game was released over fifteen years ago; currently there are over twelve single-title Final Fantasy games, as well as several other games and films related to the franchise. Though under the same name, unless it is specifically stated as a sequel each game stands completely independent of the others, the only similarities being the production company, several key elements of game play, and some sort of journey or quest. Final Fantasy X incorporates many facets that one would expect from both a fantasy title, and a Final Fantasy title: a love story, predictable character archetypes, and a struggle of good vs. evil; however, it is through this concept of journey, where Final Fantasy X distinguishes itself from other games in the series, symbolically weaving the tale of growth that holds no prejudice for time nor place.
Final Fantasy X (hereinafter FFX) is told through the point of view of a young blitzball player named Tidus. At the beginning of the story, Tidus finds himself drawn into a monster known as “Sin,” to awaken in an unknown location, where a young girl informs him that he is in a world known as Spira, and that Zanarkand was destroyed 1000 years ago during a Machina War. Eventually, he emerges from the water beside a beautiful beach, where he sees several men practicing blitzball. Feeling comfortable at seeing something familiar, he risks asking the leader of these athletes, a man named Wakka, if it is true that Zanarkand was destroyed 1000 years ago. To Tidus’ dismay, Wakka confirms.
Here, the story truly begins. Wakka informs Tidus that he is the guardian of a Summoner; the role of a Summoner is to undergo a pilgrimage across Spira, leading ultimately to the ruined city of Zanarkand, where they will pray for the Final aeon; the only known means of defeating Sin. Only five times over the course of 1000 years has a Summoner succeeded, and each time Sin eventually returned.
The Summoner for whom Wakka is guardian turns out to be a young, soft-spoken girl named Yuna, and Tidus decides to join Yuna and her guardians, hoping that somewhere along her pilgrimage he too may find the answers he is looking for. Along her journey, Tidus and Yuna meet Auron, who was a guardian to Yuna’s father, and Rikku, the girl Tidus first encountered in Spira. Upon finally reaching Zanarkand, Yuna finds the process of the Final Summoning is not the solution she thought it was, but instead what is essentially a very well maintained lie. Appalled that her father died under a false hope, Yuna refuses to continue the tradition, swearing that she will find a way to destroy Sin permanently. Eventually, from inside its armor, Yuna defeats the Summoner of Sin, Yu Yevon, bringing about the Eternal Calm. Without Sin, there is no longer a need for Summoning, and so the fayth who have maintained the aeons through a dream wake up, taking Tidus with them as he was only ever a dream sent by the fayth to help defeat Sin.
The journey element in FFX is apparent immediately in the form of Yuna’s story; her journey is specifically referred to as a pilgrimage. The journey on which Yuna truly embarks, however, is something quite different. While she does reach Zanarkand fully developed and capable of calling an aeon strong enough to defeat Sin, what she learned from her journey gave her an inner strength that enabled her to throw down a tradition she does not believe in, and the confidence to believe instead that she can find an even better way of bringing the citizens she serves out of darkness.
Yuna’s journey follows Underhill's interpretation of spiritual journey, as outlined by Graves, the steps of which include: awakening, purgation, illumination, mystic pain or death, and union. Yuna’s awakening occurs before we meet her, when she chooses to become a Summoner. Her purgation is through her apprenticeship and the initial stages of her pilgrimage: the knowledge of her own death at the end of her journey leads to the forsaking of material possessions, and chance for a life of “normalcy.” Her journey shifts to illumination once she is branded a traitor. When the institution she believed so fully in turns its back on her without a second glance, Yuna is forced to question herself. Her ultimate illumination occurs in the confrontation with Yunalesca (the first Summoner to ever complete the Final Summoning), where she sees the true extent of the corruption in Yevon. Here she learns that the Final Summoning has never held the possibility of truly defeating Sin, but exists only as a means of giving people hope. Instead, Yunalesca turns one of the Summoner’s guardians into an aeon (who upon defeating Sin, becomes the next Sin), and that even through complete atonement, Sin will never truly vanish, contrary to what had been taught by Yevon for years, In The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology, Joseph Campbell credits the serpent as “the master of the mystery of rebirth…of which the moon is the celestial sign” (9). This statement strongly correlates to Yuna’s ultimate illumination, or rebirth: Yunalesca takes on three forms when she attacks, the second of which includes attacking with several serpentine extensions of a bodiless head. Moreover, while Yuna was named after Yunalesca, “yuna” is the Okinawan word for moon. “Tidus” is, in contrast, the Okinawan word for sun, which will come into play below (wikipedia.com). Symbolically, the meeting of these two women in name and appearance suggests the parting of one life (in this case, the Spiran lifestyle of the sacrificial pilgrimage) to be reborn as another (a world in which Sin may be truly defeated). She experiences mystic pain during her time inside the armor of Sin: because Yu Yevon draws his strength from a summoned aeon, Yuna calls forth and defeats each of her personal aeons one by one, and so she is forced to do battle with creatures who had become part of her spiritual self. She finally reaches union after the true conquest of Sin: she has completed her mission in bringing peace and happiness to Spira, and though she suffered a great personal loss, she has found acceptance with her sacrifices knowing that she explored every option she could.
Though not as significant as Yuna’s pilgrimage, each of her guardians also undergoes a spiritual journey of their own. Tidus’ arc is probably the next largest in comparison to the seven travelers, as the elements of purgation, illumination, and union are very apparent in his story. His purgation is thrust upon him when he is drawn out of the “dream Zanarkand” into Spira. He is literally left with nothing but empty memories, and thus has nothing to lose from accompanying Yuna on her journey. His illumination occurs when, via a dream, he is contacted by one of the fayth and learns that since the fall of Zanarkand in the Machina War, the fayth have been keeping it alive as a dream, and that he and his father are from that dream world. Though once again it is an outside force imposing the next stage of Tidus’ journey, his experiences leading up to that point allowed him to believe it. Before this encounter, he had already been searching for a way to prevent the Final Summoning out of a desire to save Yuna from sacrificing herself; now he knows there is a way, even if it means he instead will be the one to vanish. His union occurs at the meeting with his estranged father (Jecht was the guardian Yuna’s father chose to become his Final aeon), when he finally makes peace with his past, and accepts his fate as a dream of the fayth.
Finally, the spiritual journey archetypes cited by Graves are evident throughout the entire course of the story:
1) Challenge or reproof by a young woman, frequently with an aura of supernatural prophecy to her words; (2) guidance from a wise old man or woman, often a hermit or a monk; (3) instances of wandering seen as sin and a diversion from the quest or pilgrimage; (4) the necessity of a test or tests of one's spiritual powers and/or resolve to continue the journey to its conclusion; (5) a precious object and/or person to be found and/or possessed; (6) guardians of the object or person who must be overcome; and (7) helpers who assist the hero/pilgrim!
The first element appears twice; once at the beginning of the story when Tidus meets Rikku and she informs him that Zanarkand was destroyed 1000 years previously; the other at the meeting with Yunalesca. The second of Graves’ archetypes is exhibited in Auron: we find out that Auron was at one point a monk of Yevon who left the temple to serve as a guardian to Yuna’s father. As Auron already knows the truth of the Final Summoning, he helps give Tidus and Yuna the guidance they need to end the tradition. The instance of wandering seen as sin occurs when Yuna defeats Seymour and is branded a traitor, leading her to question her role as a Summoner. The fourth and fifth of these elements are linked; the tests of a Summoner’s spiritual powers and resolve are in the stops at every Temple in Spira: if the Summoner is unable to obtain all of the lesser aeons, they may never reach the Final aeon—which is of course, the object to be possessed. Yunalesca is the guardian of this object, and she sends several trials to journeying Summoners in the form of fiends, before the Summoner is even able to reach her. And finally, a Summoner’s guardians serve to assist the pilgrim, as Seymour states: "’[p]rotect the summoner even at the cost of one's life.’ The Code of the Guardian.”
Victor Turner’s statement, “pilgrimage to a holy shrine where a plenary indulgence might be obtained [is] regarded as a journey to a source of healing,” serves to sum up both the literal and spiritual sides of Yuna’s journey (194). Each temple Yuna prays at is a holy place, but none more so than the temple in Zanarkand. This temple is not active but for the end of a Summoner’s pilgrimage: where he or she obtains the final aeon and then leaves to fight Sin. Rikku even tells Tidus shortly after meeting him, “[o]h and one thing. Don’t tell anyone you’re from Zanarkand, okay? Yevon says it’s a holy place, you might upset someone.”
The element of “healing” also has a duel nature in terms of the journey. The defeat of Sin brings a calm to Spira. Though nobody knows how long it will last, there is always the hope that Sin is truly vanquished. Even without that guarantee, as Yuna says, “[e]ven for a little while…people can sleep in their beds without being afraid. That kind of time is worth anything.” In this way, the Summoner seeks out healing for Spira, giving her peace and hope. Yuna’s quest for personal healing does not truly take shape until she encounters a character named Seymour. Seymour is a newly appointed Maester of Yevon, and both he and Yuna are very well loved in Spira. Not long after their first meeting, Seymour asks for Yuna’s hand in marriage, telling her that with their union, she could help bring Spira an additional happiness through such a moment of joy. Though she initially plans to deny his proposal, after discovering that Seymour is responsible for the murder of his father Yuna decides to accept, hoping to negotiate answers out of him. When she and her guardians confront him about his father’s murder, Seymour attacks; they battle, and he falls. The Guado discover their slain master, and instead of giving Yuna a chance to explain, begin to pursue her. She is put on trial and she and all of her guardians are branded traitors of Yevon. They escape imprisonment, but Yuna is faced with one of the toughest of the many hard decisions her journey presents to her: should she continue her pilgrimage even though Yevon has turned against her? Though she chooses to continue, it is no longer just the final aeon Yuna seeks from Zanarkand: she now has a need for personal redemption, as in becoming a Summoner she promised to give her life for Spira, and now that world calls her an enemy.
As a complete outsider to Spira, Tidus frequently finds himself asking questions of Yevon rituals and precepts, often finding that not even Yuna truly knows the answers. When Tidus asks her why Yevon forbids the use of Machina, she responds, “Ever since I was young, I never questioned it. But now that you ask me if it is that bad or not...I don't know.” When she sees that the Maesters and Priests of Yevon rely on the very machina they teach against, she is at even more of a loss for words. When we first meet Yuna, she is presented as a girl who believes in her faith to an almost naïve extent: she truly believes that in completing the Final Summoning she has a hope of bringing an end to Sin. In her journey she does not lose her faith: she still believes in her duty of saving Spira, she wholeheartedly prays to the fayth, and performs all of a Summoner’s duties, including death rites, to the very end—but in seeing such corruption in the institution she serves, she learns how to believe in herself, not as a Summoner, but as Yuna. She learns how to speak her mind against corruption and injustice, and to doubt methods that present themselves as less than optimal. At the beginning of her pilgrimage, she would have accepted the ritual of obtaining the Final aeon; after witnessing first hand the deceit practiced by Yevon, and having to look at her faith as an outsider, she realizes that there may be alternatives to the practices she was taught, but until the journeyed she was not strong enough to look for them.
Other main themes in FFX that both stand alone and help tell the story of Yuna’s journey, are ritual, symbols and the afterlife. There are several rituals in the Yevon faith, that Summoners especially are subject to. They must undergo a trial in each temple before they can reach the fayth, there is a specific motion that any followers of Yevon use as both a greeting and a prayer; certain towns even have rituals specific to them. For instance, the island on which Yuna was raised has a monument where all travelers pray at for a safe journey before leaving the island. However, it is in death rites that rituals are chiefly symbolic. In the FFX mythos, every living being has within it organisms known as “pyreflies,” which are similar in concept to the theosophical idea of a life force, or an unseen energy that runs inside all species to help determine the proper fusion of genetic make-up. Furthermore, the humanoid races of Spira seem to possess a spiritual life force, or spirit body that appears to exist somewhat separately in consciousness from the physical body (Steiner, 33; 55-57). When a being in Spira possessing a spirit body dies, unless that being accepted death while they were still alive, their spirit needs assistance in reaching the Farplane—a metaphysical landscape made of the pyreflies of the dead—and without that assistance the dead risk becoming envious of the living, falling into a jealous hatred and eventually becoming fiends. Only in very rare cases, usually as the result of a soul with a strong emotional connection to unfinished business, can a spirit linger in Spira in living form (as in the case with Auron, which is how he was able to travel to dream Zanarkand to bring Tidus to Spira). Summoners are responsible for helping the souls of the dead find their way to the Farplane in a ritual known as a Sending. The Sending is reflective of the Voodoo rituals performed by priests at the time of a person’s death, to ensure the union of the deceased’s two souls, and to prevent the person’s unconscious soul from lingering amongst the living as a ghost that can potentially do harm (Novak, 27).
The Sending is symbolically linked to the image of the spiral; J. E. Cirlot writes, “the spiral is also connected with the ideal of the dance, and especially with primitive dances of healing and incantation, when the pattern of movement develops as a spiral curve” (306). When we see Yuna performing the Sending dance, her movements remain very fluid and circular, often rotating her body as she moves her Summoning rod either from up to down, or down to up, creating the appearance of a spiral. The spiral is also considered to represent the orbit of the moon, and serves as a symbol for growth, going back to the symbolism of Yuna as a catalyst for rebirth through the translation of her name. The symbol of the sun, as manifested through Tidus, tends to be associated with the hero, and serves in contrast to the moon: the moon only receives light as reflected from the sun, and while the moon must “suffer fragmentation…the sun does not need to die in order to descend into hell.” Also, certain folklore has described the “supreme good” as the joining of the sun and the moon (Cirlot, 317-320). These elements of symbolism are clearly evident in Tidus and Yuna’s relationship. The life of a Summoner in Spira is akin to the waxing and waning of the moon; at the defeat of Sin, the Summoner dies giving way to a period of Calm, until the next cycle begins by the rebirth of Sin and the further pilgrimage of Summoners. Tidus, as the Sun, emerges in the form of a hero, giving new light to Yuna the moon, so that she may, in her encounter with the serpent, break from the lunar cycle of the Summoner. Thus their meeting is that of sun and moon, giving way to the supreme good in the form of the Eternal Calm. Even though it is the Sun who must disappear so that the moon may shine, in the final moments of the game, after the credits have rolled, we see Tidus floating in a dark expanse with a few stray pyreflies, before he begins to move upward, and the last image we see is of his face emerging from underwater into the open air; thus the sun did not die when it disappeared.
I was immediately drawn into this game when I first began playing it several years ago for a multitude of reasons, though the main thing that has always attracted me is the growth that Yuna undergoes during the course of her journey. As I am certain is true for many, college has presented itself to me as a time for questioning and spiritual exploration. I am fortunate enough to have been raised in a household where questions were accepted and I was never told exactly what to believe; however I was still raised in a Christian family, and for a very long time, I did not fully explore exactly what that meant. I accepted it because it was the only thing I really knew: much like Yuna never thought to question Yevon until she was introduced to an outsider to whom she needed to explain the reasoning behind all of the precepts she obeyed. Whereas her questions came from that need to suddenly not just believe, but to explain, I have found myself over the past several years confronted with many opposing points of view brought forth by my personal lifestyle, and the message put forth by the church. Without getting too political, there have been certain social standpoints supported by the Christian faith that I disagree with; but more so, I have found that it is not through direct religious experiences that I feel any sort of spiritual connection or enlightenment, but by other means I only came to realize after I allowed myself to differentiate between spiritual experience and religion.
Yuna’s story may not directly correspond with the journey that I or anyone else will make in this lifetime. There is no monster known as Sin running rampant destroying cities and taking lives on a moment’s notice, and there are no Summoners who call forth beasts of tremendous power on pilgrimages to save the world. At least, not literally. There may not be Sin, but there is sin no matter to what a person ultimately claims faith. And while modern Summoners may not go on a pilgrimage across large treks of terrain to obtain aeons, there are individuals who wish to rid the world of sorrow, even at personal expense to themselves. Perhaps only five every 1000 years will succeed, and those that do will still find themselves facing great loss. However the element of journey is present everywhere, the spectrum of the search big or small relative only to the pilgrim, with the goal of the quest waxing and waning, and always searching for a way to unite sun and moon.
x-posted to new_shinra87