Final Fantasy X – On Tidus as a Viewpoint Character

Tidus the Fashion Disaster by Nick Wanserski

A friend of mine is playing FFX for the first time, and he wrote to me to say that he doesn’t understand all the Tidus hate he’s encountered. These are his exact words:

The reason Tidus acts the weird, silly, monkey-like happy-go-lucky way he does is because the alternative – the realistic option – is someone curled into a fetal position and staying that way for the whole game.

I think the main reason people get annoyed with Tidus is because he’s childish and passive. Instead of taking control of his situation, he waits for someone else to save him. Aside from being a doofus and completely shutting down, he’s actually got a third realistic option, which would be for him to pull himself together and stand on his own two feet.

Sure, he’s seventeen, but so was Ashe (from Final Fantasy XII) when she had to pretend to commit suicide in order to become the head of an underground political resistance movement. Garnet (from Final Fantasy IX) was sixteen when she orchestrated her own kidnapping in order to find a means of overthrowing her corrupt mother. Celes (from Final Fantasy VI) was eighteen when she betrayed the Empire. And Yuna? She’s seventeen, and she’s already made the decision to sacrifice her life for the possibility of a peace that she knows won’t last.

On a more personal level, I was seventeen in the winter when FFX was released in the US, and I was going through an extremely tough period. Sure, there wasn’t a giant magic whale destroying my city and sending me a thousand years into the future, but my world had been painfully shattered, and I was more or less on my own. Instead of waiting for someone to come in and fix my life, I got my shit together and did what needed to be done.

The point is not that I’m a special snowflake (although I am a very special snowflake), but rather that I know from personal experience that it’s entirely possible for teenagers to deal with all sorts of terrible circumstances with dignity. Anger and poor decisions are to be expected, but the level of petulance that Tidus demonstrates is unnecessary.

The exact moment at which it became painful to watch him was Yuna’s sending after Sin destroys the village on Kilika Island. Many people lost their lives, and everyone else lost their homes and livelihood. And yet everyone else stood back up and brushed themselves off. Yuna continued on to the temple, and the blitzball team still intended to play in the tournament. Meanwhile, Tidus postures and pouts. Even if the tragedy didn’t strike some sense into Tidus’s head, being surrounded by models of appropriate behavior should have.

I think it hurts the game for the point-of-view character to be so self-centered. There’s a lot of interesting geopolitical stuff going on in the background that eventually gets shifted into the immediate foreground, and the suspense and buildup would be much more effective if Tidus weren’t so focused on himself.

I also think a more comprehensive perspective on the broader picture wouldn’t have detracted from the teenage love story but rather would have served to make it more poignant, as it would have encouraged the player to be more aware of just how brightly the bond between Yuna and Tidus shines against a backdrop of chaotic darkness.

Sin is scary, but other human beings are much, much scarier, which is one of the major themes of this game and its sequel. The best moments in the game are when Tidus removes his head from his ass and pays attention to what’s going on around him, and I wish there had been more of those moments, preferably in the interest of developing the game’s amazing cast of supporting characters.

( Header image by Nick Wanserski’s illustrated essay on the A.V. Club )

2 thoughts on “Final Fantasy X – On Tidus as a Viewpoint Character

  1. Out of curiosity, what are your thoughts on Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion? His character is also criticized at times for being “childish and passive,” and compared unfavorably to more active characters, such as Simon from Gurren Lagann. Would you give the same prescription to Shinji as you gave to Tidus, to just “pull himself together and stand on his own two feet?”

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    1. That’s such an interesting question!

      Although I’ve been exposed to Evangelion my entire adult life, I didn’t sit down and watch the television series from start to finish until the summer of 2013. I was already very familiar with the accusations concerning Shinji’s weakness, and so I was incredibly surprised to find that Shinji isn’t weak at all. In fact, he’s a fairly normal and well-adjusted kid, especially when compared to the women in his life. Misato’s personal life is a mess, Ritsuko is a model for toxic relationships, Asuka can’t handle pressure, and Rei… is Rei. In comparison, Shinji is kind and pleasant and responsible, and for the most part he takes everything thrown at him in stride.

      After some early triumphs, he begins to break down as the external situation becomes more dire. There are some interesting fan theories concerning why this happens, but I think the most solid and useful explanation is that the team of people who worked on the series, who are all huge otaku and mecha nerds, wanted to deconstruct the power fantasy of the hero narrative.

      There has been a great deal of ink spilled on Evangelion (seriously, an entire subsection of one of the fields for which I took a PhD qualifying exam was all Evangelion all the time), and I’m not going to rehash any of those arguments here, but suffice it to say that Shinji’s breakdown is intentional, extremely complicated, and thematically fertile.

      However, I don’t think Shinji is a good comparison to Tidus for the simple reason that, although hero narratives are challenged all the time in video games, the nature of the medium makes it difficult to challenge power fantasies. Even in something as simple as a Mario game, a reasonably decent player is going to become more skilled over the course of engaging with the game. In an RPG, this increase in skill is actually quantified through gaining levels (or skill points, or what have you). Something like Shinji’s eleventh-hour unwillingness to return to battle is very difficult to pull off within that structure of progressive empowerment.

      I therefore think a better comparison might be Cloud (from Final Fantasy VII), who is for the most part strong and capable throughout the first half of the game until he begins to realize that he’s living a terrible lie (and that Tifa and Aeris have known all along). When the stress on his body and mind gradually catches up with him, his confusion and anxiety are fairly reasonably portrayed, especially given the standards for video game storytelling during that era.

      (Sephiroth is just a drama queen though, there is no subtlety there, nope.)

      An even better point of comparison would be Vaan (from Final Fantasy XII), who begins the game not fully understanding what’s going on, gets dragged into something much larger than himself because he doesn’t have too many other options, and gradually matures and learns to accept the tragedies he has suffered. Vaan is silly at times, and at times he acts his age, but it’s difficult to label him as “obnoxious.”

      Also, like Tidus, Vaan serves as a foil to an almost inexorably serious woman, but the relationship between Vaan and Ashe is much more nuanced than the relationship between Tidus and Yuna. As Vaan processes and begins to calm his rage, he helps Ashe to work through what exactly it might mean to restore her kingdom. Vaan’s position as a lower-class outsider allows Ashe to realize that there are actual people involved in geopolitical conflicts, and her interactions with Penelo reinforce and complicate the thematic messages that Vaan is intended to impart. The interactions between Tidus and Yuna aren’t nearly as delicate, and I always got the sense that Tidus is less of a person and more of an object for her. Yuna largely functions independently of Tidus, and it’s more of his existence than his personality that acts as a catalyst for her ultimate resistance against Yevon. Meanwhile, the character arcs of the other guardians were more dependent on Yuna (and Rikku) than they were on Tidus.

      In other words, when compared to other characters from the Final Fantasy series, Tidus’s one-note petulance tends to come off as flat and uninteresting. He gets better later in the game, but then he ruins it by insisting that Final Fantasy X is his story, which it very clearly is not. I feel that, if he had been just a little less childish, and if his characterization had been a bit less cartoonish, the game could have made its way to some really cool places.

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