Whether you like it or not, there’s no denying that Final Fantasy X is a sombre, dark game. The peoples of Spira have spent 1000 years living to a strict religious code under the very real threat of wide scale death and destruction by Sin; a creature that can only be destroyed by a Summoner who has completed their Pilgrimage and will always come back when it is killed. There have been four such Summoners in the past 1000 years. Most die on their journey. And when you add into that an evil religion and a genocidal maniac, things don’t get any happier.
A lot of criticism has fallen on the game’s lead character, Tidus. His detractors call him whiny, stupid, vapid and all round inferior to Yuna or Auron, the game’s other main characters. I say no. Tidus may not be a great character like FFIX‘s Vivi, but he is absolutely necessary to allowing a player to experience the world and story of FFX and without him, the plot as is would suffer heavily.
If you don’t have Tidus in there, you need to completely rewrite the script.
First of all, the world of Spira contains a lot of key concepts like Summoners, Aeons, Yevon etc. that need explaining to us, the player. Yuna, Lulu, Wakka, Kinahri, Auron and Rikku already know this stuff ad verbatim and likely have done so since they were tiny children. Tidus serves as our viewpoint. The naive newcomer it’s justified to exposit to.
Imagine if, when setting out on her pilgrimage, Wakka said “So where we goin’, ya?” and Yuna followed up with “Well, you know how I’m a Summoner who is training to defeat that giant monster thingymabob Sin…”
Yeah. Wouldn’t work, would it? But Tidus does more than do the Luke Skywalker/Harry Potter uninformed newcomer role. He’s an important source of levity.
He has his moments of doubt and despair, relating to his personal story of being a stranger in an exotic land, his issues with Jecht and as reactions to Yuna’s Pilgrimage. But these are tempered by him being the only party member until Rikku to show enthusiasm and optimism as a rule rather than as an exceedingly rare exception.
Whether it’s cheering Yuna up with the oft-misunderstood and maligned laughing sequence (they’re meant to be laughing extremely forcedly, and at the end of the scene they break down into genuine laughter) or giving Aruon something to snark at, Tidus does a lot to offer a different emotional tone to a scene or plot point than weary resignation.
Also, without Tidus, how would we get anything out of Yuna? She does open up without Tidus instigating it a few times (notably in her “goodbye sphere” in which she leaves messages for her Guardians to find after her death) but for the most part the Guardians who aren’t Tidus or Rikku are just as resigned to Yuna’s upcoming sacrifice as she is.
Without Tidus they could have focused more on the emotional strain between old friends that this foreknowledge puts on her, but this would negate the emotional sucker punch of finding out about the fact that Yuna has to sacrifice herself earlier and would be a lot darker without as many of the light hearted moments the other, Tidus-oriented approach provides.
As Jim Sterling recently talked about on his web show The Jimquisition, comedy is a very necessary element to tragedy. You need moments of levity and positivity in order to not become some dull depressing affair. He’s nowhere near as good a leading man as Zidane of FFIX, but he allows the tragedy to be stronger through his positive attitude.
Also consider this; Sin is a boring enemy. We don’t actually cares about the giant magic killer whale thingy blowing up towns, because it’s just a big whale monster. The investment comes from the characters, from Tidus’ relationship with Jecht and the corrupt church/crazy Seymour subplot. These are what keep our interest through the slog of going from temple to temple.
Seymour and the Yevon church are stories that operate entirely independent of Tidus, but they also both only engage for so long. The Seymour thread starts in Luca and is basically over by the time you leave Bevelle. Sure, he still turns up to be fought and kill off a shitload of Ronso, but he ceases to factor into the plot in any meaningful way.
This is a shame, as his “kill everybody” motivation could have been replaced by something deeper and he could have been a much more engaging villain with a greater longevity but alas, his potential does get rather squandered.
The other emotional journeys in the game are Tidus’ romantic attachment to Yuna and his relationship with his estranged father Jecht. The romance with Yuna is surprisingly out of focus, more a by-product of his efforts to keep her spirits up than just him wanting to get his rocks off.
But the relationship he has with Jecht, who has since become Sin (or at least the power source for Sin) runs from roughly Besaid up until the penultimate boss battle. Jecht is a constant shadow over Tidus who has helped inform his entire character. While it may mean that Yuna doesn’t get much of a look in in the end-game emotional stakes, it does ensure that somebody does.
I will admit, you could have replaced Jecht as Sin’s heart with Yuna’s father Braska in order to create a a stronger emotional connection for Yuna at the endgame, though seeing as she only has love and not animosity for her father, I feel the Jecht choice is superior as it’s not so emotionally one-note. Tidus’ final conflict with Jecht shows how Jecht has matured, accepted his wrongdoings and that he does love the son he mistreated, as well as allowing Tidues to vent his issues and come to accept his father. And tell me his “I hate you dad” line isn’t also saying “I love you” in the subtext.
You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned the corrupt church of Yevon in the emotional stakes for this game. It does have some emotional relevance for Yuna, Auron and Wakka but Yuna puts it behind her before they reach the Calm Lands and never speaks of it again and Auron’s is more of a “now they finally know” vibe he gives off. Wakka is the only character to be really affected by this and it does serve as a nice little sub-plot for him, but ultimately doesn’t affect the emotional stakes of the game as a whole.
And that’s my thesis. You cannot have the story they told without Tidus, and without his kind of influence, you wouldn’t have a story as good and emotionally complex. I may still have problems with some his characterisation, but I find Tidus to be overall a good character.