Tidus survives being knocked unconscious in the ocean (once again, in a way that’s almost impossible to believe unless he has gills) and then wakes up on a tropical island, where wouldn’t you know it, he’s hit on the head by a Paopu Fruit. Urm… I mean… a blitzball. Sorry, wrong early-2000s Square Enix tropical island.
It seems Tidus has drifted into the middle of a blitzball team’s practice, and is so excited to see his familiar sport that he forgets he was just ripped from the jaws of death and shows off with an overdramatic anime kick. When he finally comes to shore, he meets the group’s flabbergasted captain, Wakka, voiced by John DiMaggio. I thought this was DiMaggio’s first appearance in Final Fantasy, but apparently I missed him in TSW in an uncredited roll as as soldier (possibly the captain of the spies inserted in Gray’s unit?). On the blog, we saw him in an equally brief role as one of the pirates of the Black Pearl in KHII, but you probably know him better as Bender the robot or Jake the Dog. Wakka’s motion actor is Akihiko Kikuma, Laguna’s briefly-seen motion actor from FFVIII.
Tidus is so thrilled to be admired by people again that it only takes a short talk for him to forget what Rikku said, and he starts mentioning Zanarkand again. Yeah, uh, I could maybe forgive one or two of these, but it turns out that Tidus is kind of a blockhead and we’re actually going to be seeing loads more, so you’d better get used to it! Thankfully, he remembers the writer’s convenient excuse about Sin’s toxin, and everyone seems to understand. They even “thank Yevon” using a familiar gesture: the one we saw at outset of the game, used by the kids who asked Tidus for training. Except here, it’s clearly some manner of religious gesture, as will be confirmed in a few scenes. Wakka introduces himself, and the introduces his team as the Besaid Aurochs, and offers to lead Tidus back to town for some food. Kyle turned back instead, and grabbed a key item, the Moon Crest, from a nearby cove. But more on that later. Maybe a lot later.
Tidus has to ask Wakka a question before they start talking: is Zanarkand really gone, like Rikku said? Wakka’s willing to fill in a few of Tidus’ “toxin-created” blanks, both now and in the future, though he’s got a tiring habit of saying something like, “What, did you forget that too?” You’d think he’d get used to it after a while? Wakka identifies the current world by the name of Spira, which is clearly new to Tidus (Tidus strangely only ever addresses his entire world as “Zanarkand,” which might be a localization thing… maybe…). Wakka says that Spira used to be covered with cities and technology, or to use his word, “machina” (MA-kee-na). According to him, Sin came into existence to destroy the machina and the cities that used them as punishment for the people’s laziness, and he points out various ruins among the island. Wakka doesn’t like being punished for something that happened a thousand years ago, but he’s also fairly pious and beliefs he has to absolve all the same. Anyone with even a peripheral understanding of Christian theology will understand the comparison between Sin the monster and the doctrine of original sin.
Wakka may be pious, but he’s also a little mischievous, and dunks Tidus in a large pool of sorts on the way town. He joins you in the water, and you get to explore a linear, water-filled area with the two of you doing underwater battles. By the way: you’ve now met the entire underwater party! Tidus, Wakka, and Rikku, and that’s it! I’ll hold off on detailing Wakka as a party member for a little while yet, once the tutorials finally kick in a few events from now.
Tidus and Wakka have a chat as they swim, and Wakka inadvertently comes to the same conclusion as Rikku: Tidus should go to the city of Luca. Thankfully, he isn’t interrupted by a giant sea-monster before he can explain the comment! It seems there’s a giant blitzball tournament being held in Luca soon, and both characters figure that if Tidus was a pro, someone there is sure to recognize him. Tidus, who doesn’t believe this “amnesia toxin” thing in the slightest, obviously doesn’t agree, but he’s drawn to blitzball and isn’t sure what else to do with himself, so he agrees not only to go to Luca, but to join the Aurochs in the tournament until he finds someone who knows him. It’s only then that Wakka admits the Aurochs stink and haven’t won a game in ten years, with Wakka being their only star player. Even Wakka wants to retire after this season, and was very nearly retired already, but came back for one, last season before a new job that he hopes to return to soon. To his credit, Tidus isn’t all that put off by these setbacks, and encourages Wakka to push for a final hurrah victory.
Along the road, the party encounters two men we saw briefly during Tidus’ arrival. These are Luzzu and Gatta, two of the local “Crusaders.” We later learn that the Crusaders fight against Sin in hopes of distracting it or pushing it back from settlements, though they’re not capable of actually defeating the thing. Luzzu is the senior officer and is voiced by John DeMita, who has to put up with four roles in this game if you can believe it! You might recall DeMita from his role as Valkus in LotC, though if you burned that from your mind, hey, I get it. He was also in some bit parts in TSW that I accidentally overlooked! Gatta, meanwhile, is “Mitch, the naked man” from How I Met Your Mother.
Wakka introduces us to the village, named Besaid (be-SAY-id), but before they can enter, he pulls Tidus aside part-way to confirm he knows “the prayer.” This turns out to be the gesture he showed earlier, which Tidus confirms in his thoughts used to be the expression for “victory” in Zanarkand’s blitzball. Frankly, the game never sells me on the idea that this is actually true. The gesture is too slow to pass as a sport’s fan’s excited cheer for victory. Maybe if Tidus’ version had been slightly more distinct, especially if it were faster and to-the-point. As it stands, this was clearly a prayer gesture that the devs back-ported to the Zanarkand scene.
Wakka goes to make lunch, and you have to go introduce yourselves to the Crusaders and also to the local temple. I’ve already basically covered the former, so we’ll skip ahead to the latter. The temple’s unnamed Summoner, who works as some kind of priest, comes over to speak with you when Tidus takes an interest in one of the idols. This turns out to be a statue of “High Summoner Braska,” who seems like a recent addition to the pantheon, having become high summoner only ten years back. After Tidus’ usual fish-out-of-water screw-ups, the summoner explains that he and the others can Summon creatures called Aeons to protect the people. Somehow, Tidus fails to understand even the basic through-line of the man’s explanation, monologuing about being confused. He reduces the speech to: “we should respect some kinda great men or something like that.” I’m not even sure why he’s so mixed-up about it? This is still a relatively straightforward speech: Summoners protect the people, and so the people like them! While I understand Tidus not realizing that all this talk of Summoning and Aeons is all very literal (the player may know about Final Fantasy summoners, but not him), but that’s not the part that seems to have tripped him up? I think we might have lost a nuance in translation here.
Tidus ends up taking a nap at Wakka’s until lunch, but as he’s falling asleep, the temple’s summoner comes back and suggests Wakka should be doing something else, which they allude to while leaving the player in the dark. Wakka insists tnat he shouldn’t interfere in whatever this is, but at this point, a line from the summoner sends Tidus into a dream and we lose the rest of the conversation. The dream takes Tidus ten years back, when his father disappeared, seemingly at sea. We get voices for both Tidus’ mother and young Tidus here. The former is Sherry Lynn, the voice of Linaly from LotC. Young Tidus, meanwhile, is none other than Cree Summer, known for a wide variety of comic book and children’s media. On one side, we have Catwoman in DC Super Hero Girls gen 2 and Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy‘s TV shorts, while on the other we have Susie on Rugrats or Elmyra from Tiny Toons, et al.
If Tidus’ present behaviour hasn’t tipped you off, young Tidus wasn’t a big fan of his father, even as a child. His mother is kind of shocked by this – actually, Sherry Lynn makes her character sound desperate for her son to feel differently, which is an interesting angle, but with the scattershot delivery you’re going to see in FFX, it’s hard to say if this or any other apparent irregularity is intentional or not. With Sherry Lynn, an incredibly experienced voice actor even at the time, I’m inclined to lean towards “intentional,” but with the poor voice direction plaguing the product, who can say? As an equally desperate compromise, Tidus’ mother says that if Jecht dies (as he apparently did, in the long run), Tidus will “never be able to tell him how much you hate him.”
Tidus wakes to find Wakka gone, and we went to the temple to find him. There, we learn what’s up: it seems an apprentice Summoner went into the “Cloister of Trials” at the back of the temple for an initiation ceremony, and hasn’t come back despite it being a day or so. Wakka’s relatively confident that everything’s fine, since there are “Guardians” inside, and insists it would be forbidden to go, though obviously the summoner in charge is starting to think it’s time for action. Tidus agrees, and unlike Wakka, he doesn’t care about procedure. He decides to charge in before anyone can stop him, insisting the apprentice might be in danger. Too afraid of Da Rulz to follow, Tidus is left on his own.
The Cloister of Trials are a conceptually neat idea, in that they make up a unique, recurring gameplay segment in their own right. Unfortunately, for all I appreciate their mandatory segment, each Cloister also includes a hidden item that you can also unlock, and with few exceptions, these optional puzzles are total ratshit garbage.
The Besaid cloister is basically just a tutorial for the whole system, with no particular complexities of its own, which I guess is convenient for me and this writeup. The cloisters basically boil down to two major, common mechanics. The first are glyphs, which appear as a sort of hologram on the wall that you can (sometimes) use as a button. Perfectly cut and dry, at least until you realize the hidden implication of the word “sometimes” and even of the word “hologram.” But that won’t be for a few cloisters yet. The other central mechanic are spheres. And yes, there’s that shape again, just like the Sphere Grid. Spheres are obviously of some importance in Spira. These spheres come in a mix of varieties and can be moved between slots, causing certain things to happen if you pair the right sphere with the right slot. Usually there are hints telling you which sphere goes with which slot, but at the game’s worst, they often just don’t bother, trying to make a puzzle out of drawn out, trial and error as we watch Tidus’ animations and then get a short camera pan to see… nothing happening! But worse than the animations: for some damnable reason, Tidus refuses to carry more than one sphere at a time! And just to rub salt in it, it never seems like it would have seriously changed the design of the puzzles to allow him to carry more, except for in one cloister I can think of off the top of my head? It’s pretty obnoxious. The cloisters also have stone plinths you can move around (usually with sphere slots on top), using some truly terrible push controls.
Most of the trials have some strong differences from one another to keep things interesting, but our tutorial here doesn’t do much to stand out. You use a “Glyph Sphere” to open a door, and the game gets all mysterious about special “Besaid Spheres,” even though they’re just a different kind of Glyph Sphere. As for the bonus puzzle, it involves a simple slight-of-hand trick, where the game appears to “take” your Glyph Sphere when you put it on a door that opens a little extra-wide, carrying it almost out of view from the fixed camera. But it’s still there! What’s worse is that video game keys usually dissolve when used, so it might not occur to you that it stil exists! Clever, even laudable, from a certain point of view, but in the larger context…
The real problem with this cloister, its bonus puzzle, and all the cloisters for that matter, is FFX’s damnable habit of locking you out of areas without much reason or warning. Sometimes the game doesn’t even give you the basic information that you’re about to move from screen to screen to begin with! Sometimes, interactive elements that seem to just open a door or lower a bridge will follow up by moving you across that bridge without asking your permission! And they punish you really hard for making these “mistakes.” For example, once you leave this Cloister of Trials, you can’t come back until the ass-end of the game, and that turns its little slight of hand with the sphere-key from a cute trick into a serious dick move! Granted, you do get something of a warning that you’re going to leave the Cloister of Trials (this one, anyways), but if you’re playing for the first time, you won’t recognize it, and also won’t know about these bullshit game-long lock-outs in the first place. The game is still in full-linear-tutorial mode, so what do you know? In some of the later Cloisters of Trials, you get no warning, and fuck you for wanting one apparently!
It’s not a problem restricted to Cloisters of Trials, either. Pass through the wrong door at the wrong time and you can be locked out of whole swathes of dungeons or towns, sometimes for a small stretch, sometimes for an unbelievable long stretch, or even forever with missable content! Even more annoying to me personally is that, in many cases, these one-way doors don’t even seem to serve a design purpose or sometimes not even a narrative purpose! It’s just bad design, straight-up. About all they might manage to do is to put you in a state of constant paranoia about whether or not it’s safe to go down this hallway that might or might not lead to a screen transition, which might or might not be a one-way—dammit!
These decisions all feel like when you’re playing a game that pre-dates modern design standards. But that’s just the thing: FFX totally doesn’t predate these standards! They were created in the previous console generation! 3D action-adventure games had already learned these lessons the hard way, and had already established common conventions in regards to the break between puzzles, cutscenes and action. I’m not saying there wasn’t more to go, or that FFX doesn’t tread new ground itself, but much of this bullshit was still bullshit on 2001! Was Square just not paying attention? This was their first Final Fantasy game in a fully 3D environment and it feels like they just… didn’t get it!
So yeah, even Kyle and I, who have played this game before, ended up walking past the innocuous point of no return and had to reload our save. Garbage. We kept our walkthroughs out in all subsequent cloisters. The secret item in this case is an incredibly good weapon for one of your upcoming characters, and we still have it equipped at the end of the session.
Wakka catches up to you just as you solve the last tutori—I mean… puzzle. He says that it’s not terrible that Tidus broke the rules (probably because Tidus’ “amnesia” can excuse his actions), and tries to explain the rules so that it won’t happen again, although frankly they’re obvious at this point: only Summoners and “Guardians” are allowed in the Cloister of Trials. When Tidus asks why Wakka is allowed in here, he explains that he’s one of the Guardians mentioned earlier. It seems that Summoners are expected to go on a pilgrimage around the world to visit each of Spira’s temples, and the Guardians are expected to deal with the wandering monsters one comes across on a trip like that.
We meet the other two Guardians in the very next room, and I’ll introduce them from the off, even though the game takes a little while to get around to their names. The only one to speak at first is Lulu, voiced by Paula Tiso, the voice of Laughing Octopus from MGS4, Fuuka from Persona 3, and Silvia from No More Heroes. Lulu’s motion actor is Yoko Yoshida, known only for this game and its sequel… though we’ll have to discuss that sequel role when the time comes, because Yoshida’s casting in it is a little… say… “on-the-nose.”
Also present is a tall, blue-skinned fellow. He won’t be speaking for a while, with nearly a quarter of the game spent doing the stoic and tough thing, but his voice actor is John DiMaggio again, while his motion actor is Tetsuin “Tesshin” Murata, last seen as Seifer’s motion actor in FFVIII.
Any interrogations will have to wait as, suddenly, the apprentice steps out of the inner chamber beyond this room after her day-long respite. This is our female lead, Yuna. She’s staggered and weak, but announces that she was successful: she’s completed her initiation and become a summoner. Her day-long delay will never be explained, and while I’d like to clock it up as “just one of those things,” it’s not quite the last we’ll be hearing about it despite the lack of explanation. Besides… her stepping out the moment Tidus arrives on scene reveals the whole delay as the writer’s hack that it is. Yuna is voiced by Hedy Burress, last seen in this blog as Agrias in FFT:WotL. Yuna’s motion actor (and Japanese voice actor) was Mayuko Aoki, previously seen as Garnet in FFIX and both Edea and Rinoa in FFVIII. Speaking of credits, Yuna also seems to look a whole heck of a lot like Aki Ross, but don’t quote me on that!
Speaking of FFIX, you’ve probably noticed how a lot of these mocap actors are in both FFVIII and FFX. I think it’s probably reasonable to assume that some of them also worked on FFIX, and not just Mayuko Aoki. Though obviously it’s not possible to prove that from where I am.
A whole crowd arrive to greet Yuna, and the priest even says that they’ll discuss Tidus’ “transgression” later, though this never happens on-screen, and in the end, all that happens is that some locals take a strong dislike to you. Everyone steps outside, where Yuna is going to do a demonstration of her summoning, and it’s a brand new creature never seen in previous Final Fantasy games, which will allow it to serve as Yuna’s special partner as the game goes on, and in future products like Record Keeper. This is Valefor, a bird-like summon, named after the demon Valefar from Christian esotericism (and sure enough, a demon by that name showed up as a random encounter in FFIII). Though you don’t have to call her that! Since the summons basically aren’t mentioned in the voice acting, you get to name them whatever you want, just like Tidus, or in FFVIII!
Later that night, Tidus gets introduced to his new teammates in the Aurochs, and also gets a chance to talk to Yuna, a conversation that Tidus-the-narrator believes changed the course of his life. Hedy Burress’ performance as Yuna is a little spotty, but it’s another of those where you have to wonder if the irregularities are deliberate. In her case I feel they usually are, and so I quite like her performance, but there are definitely slippery bits. Yuna is actually quite naïve and awkward, you see, and strictly formal with strangers, and it leads to a sort of airy, stammering performance that I feel hits a lot of marks. The trouble comes in instances where little bits of that airy awkwardness work their way into scenes where they don’t belong. Usually Burress is able to call up and dismiss the awkwardness, but there are exceptions where she goes too far one way or another at the wrong time. But frankly, no one in this production gets by without a few flubs. Voice director issues? The general state of video game voice acting at the time? I can’t really say!
Let’s use this as a chance to talk about my feelings on the rest of the cast, since we’ve met most of them at least briefly. James Arnold Taylor as Tidus nails the character’s confidence, as well as Tidus’ bite-his-tongue, “How Dare You” attitude when someone blindsides him, but he’s a little wobbly with portraying Tidus in awkward situations, of which Tidus has quite a few. I also find that while Taylor does Tidus’ cockiness quite well, he has trouble mixing that cockiness with other emotions, and so Tidus’ many cocky scenes end up sounding kind of the same.
While today we’d say John DiMaggio is one of the most experienced voice actors in the cast, at the time, he was closer in line with the rest of his cast-mates and he had yet to master his craft. And that’s relevant, because he’s he was stuck with two characters with accents, and I don’t think he was quite ready for either at the time. Accents aside, DiMaggio handles himself well enough, and that’s good, because Wakka requires a lot of nuance. He only slips up here and there.
While we’ve barely met Lulu, Wakka’s description of her is apt: she tends to be one step off of angry at all times. Paula Tiso nails that key trait, but like James Arnold Taylor, she has a little trouble bending that key emotion in the subtle ways sometimes required by the script. Still, the majority of the performance is great. Hrm, the same problem across multiple characters… maybe the voice director could have fixed this with a little more time, but there never is enough time in development! In fact, Matt McKenzie’s Auron has the exact same problem: Auron puts on a constant display of being stoic, and McKenzie doesn’t vary his voice enough when emotion is necessary. That said, he does manage it when Auron wants to make a joke. McKenzie gives Auron a special voice just for jokes, and it’s just what the character needs.
Last up, let’s not forget Rikku. Tara Strong was the single-most experienced voice actor in the central cast at the time (and arguably still today), so I’m surprised to say that I think she’s the furthest off-the-mark? Her voice for Rikku is a little childish, and while that’s a good direction, I don’t know if it’s a perfect fit. Strong is basically doing a slightly more grown-up version of her voice for Bubbles from Powerpuff Girls. Like Taylor, Tiso and McKenzie, the stress on this root character trait turns into a dead-weight that keeps Strong from conveying other moods at the same time as the core playfulness. Rikku’s also got a few moments where Strong’s delivery is out of line with the animation, for whatever reason? Rikku slaps Tidus on the shoulder in hopes of boosting his confidence… but her tone of voice remains the same as the rest of the scene. Rikku tells a group of men under her command not to knife Tidus, and then calmly and coldly walks up and knees him in the balls… all with the tone of an eager kindergartner waving her hand in the air in front of a teacher?
Where were we? Oh, right. Tidus and Yuna get to talking, practically making goo-goo eyes at one another the entire time. They are crushing hard, but aren’t able to talk for long. Yuna says that she’s starting her pilgrimage, and that that means she and the Aurochs are going on the same boat the next day. Tidus goes to sleep and has a surreal dream that’s about him being attracted to both Yuna and Rikku, when who should show up in the dream but Jecht, finally voiced, meaning I can finally credit the guy!
Jecht’s voice actor, as I love to point out to anyone who listens, is Gregg Berger. Berger, the voice of our larger-than-life, incredibly daunting, sports superstar that Tidus loathes with an intense passion… also voices Eeyore the donkey from Winnie the Pooh spinoff products, including KH2 (Bergert mostly fills in for Eeyore in games, but also the oddball “Mini Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” redubs). Transformers fans will know him as the voice of Grimlock in G1, Age of Extinction, and elsewhere. Jecht’s motion actor is Hideki Yamazaki, who isn’t known for much, except for a live role in Free and Easy 18. I mostly bring this up because I was gobsmacked by the fact that that “18” is not an arbitrary numeral: we’re actually talking about the eighteenth entry in a long-running film franchise!
Anyways, Jecht is demeaning and abusive (Eeyore!), and Tidus feels reduced to childhood under the attacks. It seems Jecht has a thing about calling Tidus a crybaby, which contextualizes Auron and the ghost boy’s comments from earlier. Tidus is woken by the dream, and discovers Wakka and Lulu speaking outside. It would seem that the both of them think Tidus looks like someone named “Chappu,” and Lulu thinks Wakka’s only helping Tidus because of this resemblance. This isn’t really fair, but Wakka seems to think she’s right all the same. Wakka comes in and discovers Tidus eavesdropping, and he explains Chappu was his little brother, and that he died fighting Sin with the Crusaders. Wakka became a Guardian as a means of fighting Sin, and feels a little ashamed by his draw back to blitzball. Tidus reassures him that he’s not feeling “used,” and I’d agree if I were in the same position. Sure, Wakka can see his own selfish motivations in his actions, but he really hasn’t done anything a decent person wouldn’t have, Lulu’s anger aside, and Tidus has a lot to feel grateful for.
Tidus returns to bed, the adventure to begin for real in the morning.