There’s nothing quite like your first Final Fantasy game. An initial glimpse into the explosively colorful, epically structured, decades-spanning mega-series, fans often say that their favorite game in the collection is the first one they ever played—which makes sense, since that particular installment is what grabbed their attention in the first place. The same has been true for this writer since a fateful New Year’s Eve many moons ago, when a bored friend pulled out his PS2 and a copy of Final Fantasy X.
Set in the beautiful but imperiled world of Spira, Final Fantasy X follows the adventures of Tidus (a cocksure but ultimately caring sports star supposedly teleported 1000 years into the future), Yuna (a quiet but steadfast summoner) and their merry band of fools as they begin a journey to defeat a massive, world-destroying beast called Sin. Along the way, they become tangled in a web of cutthroat Spiran politics, racial cleansing and despotic religious zealotry, which ultimately calls for them to turn their backs on the old, corrupt ways of Spiran society. All the while Tidus and Yuna’s bond grows stronger, until the point that it ultimately saves the world when—SPOILER—Tidus sacrifices himself to save Yuna’s life.
The game was a critical and financial success, earning a 92 from MetaCritic, selling over 8 million copies to date, and getting the promise of an HD remake for its 10th anniversary. It is also the first entry in the Final Fantasy series to spawn a direct sequel—Final Fantasy X-2, set two years after the conclusion of X, highlights new struggles faced by Yuna in a quickly changing Spira with the help of her quickly changing wardrobe. While X-2 was decidedly more divisive than its predecessor (with fans decrying its bubbly and light atmosphere in comparison to X‘s more mature and emotional storyline), there is one thing that X-2 does right, and that’s Yuna’s story. Or, more specifically, it works in conjunction with X to truly emphasize Yuna’s struggle after the end of X, show how she changes and grows, and makes one thing pointedly clear: losing Tidus was one of the best things that could have happened to her. In Final Fantasy X and X-2, Yuna’s story is a journey of the self wherein she needed to lose Tidus in order to be whole.
It is clear from the beginning of X that Yuna has led a carefully-planned life. Emerging from Besaid Temple as a summoner after many years of training, she sets out on a pilgrimage to each of the temples of Yevon to procure their patron Aeons. The journey will ultimately lead her to the ruins of Zanarkand to obtain the Final Aeon, the only creature capable of defeating Sin—an act which will spell her death in the battle between the two. Nonetheless determined to follow in the footsteps of her High Summoner father and bring peace to Spira, Yuna ensures that her life runs a carefully plotted course—when Lulu notes that many summoners lose their way in the Calm Lands and end their pilgrimages prematurely, Yuna answers that she has “always known where to go.” Defeating Sin is, in no uncertain terms, her purpose in life, and she intends to fulfill it at any cost. Even when the leaders of Yevon have turned against her and branded her a traitor, she continues her journey, unwilling to abandon the chance to save Spira from Sin.
However, despite the pre-rendered life path before her, Tidus’ arrival on her doorstep begins to change things in ways she never imagined. Just as she is set to start a journey she has always known she would take, Tidus begins an adventure he never expected to have when he arrives, confused and lost, on the beaches of Besaid. The two become fast friends, Yuna’s fascination with and belief in Zanarkand making Tidus feel at home in her presence.
Over the course of the pilgrimage, they come to mutually admire each other, learning from and adopting aspects of each other’s personalities—Yuna, for instance, learns the value of putting her desires first, and Tidus begins to understand what it means to live for more than just himself. Over time, they become each other’s proverbial rock in the maelstrom. As they witness Yevon’s corruption and disregard for life, and learn that the summoners’ efforts to destroy Sin ultimately lead to its rebirth, the two lean on and support each other in equal measure. Indeed, when Tidus listens to Yuna’s final goodbye to her friends, he discovers it isn’t death that she fears, but the fact that in dying, she will lose him. In that regard, Tidus becomes a fixture in her life that she never expected to have, one that grows to rival her decided life’s purpose.
These factors together—her drive to save Spira, the faith that guides her, and her love for Tidus—are what cause Yuna’s life to come crashing down around her at the end of X. While the discovery of Yevon’s treachery is certainly jarring for everyone in the group, it is nearly catastrophic for Yuna. After losing her father to the summoner’s sacrifice and dedicating her life to becoming a High Summoner herself, the loss of her faith is a devastating blow. Her meeting with Yunalesca is equally overwhelming, when it is revealed that the Final Summoning will do nothing to destroy Sin. However, neither of these things rob her of her purpose. In refusing to carry out the Final Summoning, she tells Yunalesca, “I will defeat sorrow[…]I will stand my ground and be strong. I don’t know when it will be but someday, I will conquer it. And I will do it without false hope.”
Instead, it is ironically the completion of her ultimate task that brings her down. Having long since accepted that achieving her goal would end in her death, Yuna has no plans for a life after Sin. Therefore, when Sin is defeated by means other than the Final Summoning and she lives to see a world without either, she is left rudderless, her purpose in life gone. The next place she seems likely to turn for a sense of meaning is her relationship with Tidus. While her goal to defeat Sin may be gone, she no longer has to fear the separation from him that death would bring . . . or so she thinks. Once it is too late to turn back, Tidus reveals that destroying Yu Yevon—the source of Sin’s life—will destroy him too, as he is actually from an imagined version of Zanarkand that will fade when Yu Yevon is gone. In one heartbreaking moment, Yuna’s world unravels: alive in a Spira where Yevon has crumbled and Sin is gone, she tries to turn to Tidus for purpose and instead watches him him vanish into nothing.
Yuna’s lack of direction persists through the X-2 prologue, Eternal Calm. The short feature shows her living a static life which consists primarily of advising members of the populace on petty matters and practicing holding her breath. She seems to recognize her state for what it is, commenting that, “An Eternal Calm, a slightly chubby Wakka, and my 2 minutes, 41 seconds [breath-holding record]. It’s not much, but it’s enough. Still, it’s okay to want more, isn’t it?” However, Rikku soon arrives with a sphere that seems to show a video of Tidus, and the audience gets their first glimpse of Yuna’s internal struggle. Given the choice between disappointing those around her by starting a new adventure, or yielding to their expectations at her own expense, Yuna is initially unsure what to do. What ultimately provides her with her answer is imagining what Tidus would say, which leads her to choose the “selfish” option, kicking off her sphere-hunting career and setting up the beginning of X-2.
This struggle on Yuna’s part comes to define her character growth in X-2. In choosing to live for herself and do what she wants—a vast departure from her behavior in X—Yuna looks to her memory of Tidus for guidance on how she should behave. Some of the changes she adopts are positive, such as valuing her desires and choosing to expand her horizons by traveling the world. However, in some ways she goes overboard, such as in emulating Tidus’ physical characteristics (from the pendant on her shirt and the way she does her hair to the weapon she carries) and adopting a reckless, devil-may-care attitude.
While these charges aren’t expressly negative, they don’t reflect Yuna’s true self, because they are wholesale rejections of who she once was. While such would be positive if Yuna was unhappy with all aspects of who she was during X, that is decidedly not the case. She still very much enjoys helping others and doing good for the world, which those around her seem to recognize even better than she does. For example, when Yuna pretends to have equal interest in hunting spheres in the Bevelle underground as she does in protecting Spira from Vegnagun, LeBlanc calls her out on it, telling Yuna to admit she’s a “goody-goody.” Rikku and Paine also note that Yuna tends to land herself in perilous situations where there is no obvious benefit to her, only to claim self-interest with an unconvincing excuse. In that regard, both the overwhelmingly selfless personality Yuna held to in X and the selfish attitude she tries to take on in X-2 are inaccurate representations of her true self.
This confusion is tied to Yuna’s sense of purpose. Having never fully regained a feeling of meaning during the two years she spent in Besaid, seeing the sphere of Tidus gives that back, goading her into becoming a sphere hunter to search for clues to the fate of her lost love. Just as he could have been her purpose before, he suddenly is again, giving her something to strive for. However, Tidus is a single person, and placing the weight of her life’s meaning on him is ultimately shortsighted. Just as she must discover that adopting his behaviors wholesale does not reflect who she truly is, she must also realize that she cannot rely on him exclusively for her sense of self-worth.
Late in the game’s 3rd chapter, Yuna discovers that the man in the sphere Rikku showed her was never Tidus, but a similar-looking man named Shuyin who lived in the real Zanarkand a millennium ago. In making this discovery, Yuna comes to admit a hard truth: “So many things seem intertwined. But nothing leads to you.” In turn, she must ask herself the equally difficult question of why she is doing what she is doing, and where she goes from here.
The question of Yuna’s purpose goes hand-in-hand with understanding who she has become. As she continues her journey with the Gullwings and encounters more situations that test the mettle of her selfish persona (such as Clasko’s plea for help with the chocobo ranch, the need for a mediator between New Yevon and the Youth League, or upon realization that Shuyin died never understanding Lenne’s true feelings), she grows more and more comfortable with the idea that fulfilling her own desires and helping others aren’t always mutually exclusive. Throughout the 4th and 5th chapters, she starts behaving in a way that reflects that understanding, holding the concert in the Thunder Plains to help the people of Spira move past their political strife, and traveling to the Farplane to save the world from Shuyin’s wrath.
However, she is also unwilling to let Nooj forfeit his and Baralai’s lives for the effort. Her decision to protect Spira is her own, not influenced by how she believes she should behave, and she demands to set the terms of how it will be done. With the final battle against Shuyin (who is, in a way, the culmination of her own internal struggles; he is at once the shadow that sent her on a fruitless pursuit of Tidus, and someone with whom she can empathize, having lost someone just as he has), things finally click into place for Yuna, and her true self shines through. Under certain circumstances, a very revealing scene occurs when Yuna leaves the final battle–as she crosses the Farplane to return to the surface, Tidus appears to her as a specter. Yuna then says that her love for him is still strong, but she no longer fears living a life without him:
It’s really you. You were with me the whole time. I kept thinking you might be, kept hoping. But you know, I’m not worried any more. You will always have a place . . . here in my heart. We’ll always be connected.
While there are other possible endings wherein this scene does not take place, the sentiment applies across the board: Yuna no longer feels the need to chase after an image of Tidus, and rather than adopting an ill-fitting identity based on how others say she should behave, she finds meaning and purpose within herself.
All that said, we haven’t yet reached the main point of this post, that losing Tidus was a positive thing for Yuna. Surely if he had not disappeared, she would not have experienced the identity crisis she did after X. However, such a statement misses Macalania Forest for the ice trees, because Tidus’ disappearance is what propelled her to discover who she really is. After losing her faith and purpose in life, Yuna was set to turn to Tidus as an example on which to base her identity. He easily could have become her crutch as she adopted his mannerisms and character without being pushed outside her comfort zone. Only when she is confronted with the fact that he is really gone does she start to seriously contemplate what she wants for her life.
Even the games’ symbolism reflects this idea. The name Tidus is derived from the Okinawan word tida, which means sun, while yuna means moon. In X, Yuna shines bright by reflecting Tidus’ light, integrating his revolutionary ideas and partaking of his joy. However, with him gone, she is compelled to find her own source of light, left to the hard work of coming to terms with who she is as a person—and comes out the other side, shining with it. In that regard, Tidus’ possible return at the end of X-2 isn’t a cop-out as some fans have suggested, but the natural progression of Yuna’s journey: once she has discovered who she is on her own, Tidus can do nothing but make her life better and fuller.
During Final Fantasy X, Tidus teaches Yuna, among a myriad of other things, how to whistle. He tells her that if they ever get separated, all she needs to do is whistle, and he will “come running.” In a bittersweet moment after the defeat of Sin, Yuna stands on the docks at Luca, whistling to an empty ocean. She is on uncertain ground, unsure where she will go from that one moment, the life she once knew long gone. But she knows she can’t wait forever, turns and heads toward the stadium—and even ten years later, this writer still remembers the speech she gave, her decree that, “Now we can make new homes for ourselves . . . and new dreams.”
That, through many trials and great uncertainty—and a thousand or so costume changes—is exactly what she does. In Final Fantasy X and X-2, Yuna’s story is a journey of the self wherein she needed to lose Tidus in order to be whole. Over the course of her journey, she comes to terms with her true self, rejecting adherence to an outside ideal, and coming into her own—and once she had done that, there isn’t a thing wrong with getting Tidus back. Or not. She can be with him, or without him, whatever her choice may be. After all, it is her story.
I think we all know which option I picked.