Final Fantasy X: Bad fashion adventure or jungian masterpiece?

[Editor’s note: Altered Beets made this awesome blog showing how Final Fantasy X fits into Jungian philosophy. I never knew about the Jungian philosophy before so it was nice learning about this in relation to videogames. — CTZ]


I was loathe to try out Final Fantasy X for a long time Everyone hated that game.
Of course, people tend to hate every Final Fantasy game for the first year or two of its existence, but the hate for Final Fantasy X seemed to linger. Too much had changed. The Battle System didn’t feel deep enough, the world was small and linear, the characters largely goofy. I mean, they made a game for nerds star a jock! If that doesn’t spell bad marketing decision then I guess I just did. Like a moment ago. Right above this sentence. Pay attention, geeze.

The time when I played it first though was a particular moment in my life. I was just finishing my undergrad, and had taken my first film studies class. We were looking at the great Jungian film-makers, Fellini, Hitchcock, Kubrick. I was in a film analysis kind of mood, drawing on the terrible ideas of Joseph Campbell.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Joseph Campbell did a great job on the original Star Wars script (JOKE). My problem is that, for such a superstar, I find his system insultingly broad. It fails the Popper test, in that it is unfalsifiable.

What’s that you say? Slow down your moon-man language? Okay. Hit the jump to see what I’m talking about.

For those who don’t know, Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” is potentially the most influential approach to film-analysis and film-writing that exists. Almost all commercial media follows his 12 step program. The steps are based on Jungian philosophy and are as follows:  

The problem I see with this is not that it doesn’t work, as it does. My problem is that in attempting to link Jungian philosophy to the whole world, entire cultural nuances have been ignored. The idea is that this defines EVERY STORY EVER WRITTEN. To prove this, stories have been picked and chosen from world mythology, ignoring the more bizarre myths and focusing on the stories we understand. Everything can be made to fit the hero’s journey, but more often than not, a lot of jiggling needs to be done with the facts.

It’s become the Horoscopes of Psychology. You say it vague enough and it all seems to fit. But it’s not falsifiable. You can’t conceive of a story that couldn’t be adjusted to fit these vague points. I go to the store. I start in the ordinary world, call to adventure, presumably I return, etc.

It’s also true that many works of the last 100 years or so have deliberately followed these 12 steps, made sure their story fit. That’s why commercial films make these 12 steps as obvious as possible. It’s an industry standard, so it’s not surprising that Shrek or Batman Begins obviously fit this model.

But what about FFX? What if I was to tell you that they set out from the beginning to be read in a Jungian way and the writing is all over the wall in huge block letters? That they had major bosses named from his mythology?

Viewing this game with a Jungian/Campbellian framework is not only useful, it’s both obviously intentional and necessary to understand the development of the characters and plot of Final Fantasy X. Trust me when I say if you haven’t done this to this particular game, there is a MAJOR and OBVIOUS (in retrospect) payoff for doing so. How so? Let me explain.

This is a more detailed exploration of the 12 points via Wikipedia (because I don’t have my Campbell on hand, and I’m lazy). It’s actually not exactly 12 points in this version, but the moments correspond to the main 12 pretty closely:

1. The Ordinary World

This is the start-point of any adventure. The hero and his companions are safe. There are two obvious starting points of this and other stories. The ruins (which appear on the title screen and act as a frame for the whole story) and the Zanarkand Tidus begins in.

Note the use of the sphere as a metaphor for home, a classic feminine symbol. It’s really obvious what’s going on when you watch the blitzball tournaments throughout the game.

Oh and the opening scene only gains meaning throughout the game, as when it reoccurs during the course of the game, it is the last time these characters will see each other together on this particular journey, and for them, everything will have changed.

2. The Call to Adventure

The adventure begins with the hero receiving a call to action, such as a threat to the peace of the community, or the hero simply falls into or blunders into it. The call is often announced to the hero by another character who acts as a “herald”. The herald, often represented as dark or terrifying and judged evil by the world, may call the character to adventure simply by the crisis of his appearance.

Now Jung was a dream analyst, which is why this opening is often the beginning of a long dream. So if we were following a strict Jungian myth, we’d expect our hero to pass out and awake in the dream-world. The basis for this is often Biblical, I.E: The Story of Eden. Sin is usually represented in Jungian myth as the father, or Animus, the male side of the hero.

The call to adventure occurs in the in Final Fantasy X, the “herald” is literally Sin.

2. Refusal of the Call

In some stories, the hero initially refuses the call to adventure. When this happens, the hero may suffer somehow, and may eventually choose to answer, or may continue to decline the call.

In fact, throughout the opening cinematics, Tidus refuses the call over and over again with lines like “Not that way, this way!” and many instances of him struggling to get away from Sin, while Auron leads him onward.

3. Supernatural Aid

After the hero has accepted the call, he encounters a protective figure (often elderly) who provides special tools and advice for the adventure ahead, such as an amulet or a weapon.

Auron gives Tidus his father’s sword, which by the way is almost the most classic symbol of this myth imaginable (think Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan).

4. The Crossing of the First Threshold

The hero must cross the threshold between the world he is familiar with and that which he is not. Often this involves facing a “threshold guardian”, an entity that works to keep all within the protective confines of the world but must be encountered in order to enter the new zone of experience.

This is best analyzed as the first battles of the game, where he goes from Blitzballer to warrior. Monsters are literally keeping him from a new zone of “experience” to use their own pun.

5. The Belly of the Whale

The hero, rather than passing a threshold, passes into the new zone by means of rebirth. Appearing to have died by being swallowed or having their flesh scattered, the hero is transformed and becomes ready for the adventure ahead.

Do I have to explain that Tidus is literally swallowed by Sin before being ready for the journey ahead and that he is literally reborn 1000 years later after the destruction of his home? Is that strictly necessary?

6. The Road of Trials

Once past the threshold, the hero encounters a dream landscape of ambiguous and fluid forms. The hero is challenged to survive a succession of obstacles and, in so doing, amplifies his consciousness. The hero is helped covertly by the supernatural helper or may discover a benign power supporting him in his passage.

This is the meat of the game. It’s also known as enemies and allies. In other words, the hero meets allies who assist him on his journey, and enemies who he must fight or otherwise overcome.

This is where the first really, insanely obvious Jungian literalisms come in. Traditionally, the hero must overcome his animus, the male of himself represented by his father or other masculine figures, and his Anima, the female side of himself, typically represented as a mother figure or an old hag.

Now, what if I told you that the main villain, Seymour has a tortured and chained summoning creature actually NAMED Anima, who turns out to literally be his actual mother? What if I told you you actually end up possessing this tortured mother figure during the course of the game.

Let us be clear here. There is no other more famous reference for Anima. The meaning is unambiguous. So there can no longer be a question of accidental or imparted meaning. The game is actually a quest to overcome a highly effeminate villain who has imprisoned his Anima, on your way to conquering Sin.

Did I mention that the original Sin turns out to be your father?

Let’s move on.

7. The Meeting with the Goddess

The ultimate trial is often represented as a marriage between the hero and a queenlike, or mother-like figure. This represents the hero’s mastery of life (represented by the feminine) as well as the totality of what can be known. When the hero is female, this becomes a male figure.

A bit is being skimmed over here. The final trial is usually symbolically in an inner-most cave, where knowledge is kept. Of course, there’s this weird bit of the game right near the end where Tidus enters a cave and learns his world is a dream, right before the final bosses. He meets the faythe here:

This fits perfectly into an interpretation of Jungian dream theory, and explains the heavy symbolism throughout, thus becoming the summation of all knowledge in the game.

He literally meets the Goddesses (Yunalesca) at this point, as the hero has mastered an understanding of his life. According to her “Sin is eternal”:

8. Woman as the Temptress

His awareness expanded, the hero may fixate on the disunity between truth and his subjective outlook, inherently tainted by the flesh. This is often represented with revulsion or rejection of a female figure.

There is the truth, that their world is a dream, and the subjective outlook, that there is evil to defeat. He realizes this in his talk with Yunalesca. This is the final group of battles. You kill the mother of this world, Yunalesca, before moving on to your father, Sin. Yunalesca would also represent an Anima to Sin’s Animus and so would be enemies of each other as well as enemies of Tidus.

9. Atonement with the Father

The hero reconciles the tyrant and merciful aspects of the father-like authority figure to understand himself as well as this figure.

Tidus’s father is not only a tyrant, he is Sin itself. He fights Sin, but through doing so does actually come to terms with his father, and the role of Sin in the world. The final battle with Yu Yevon is actually more of a reconciliation, as you, the player, cannot lose! It’s not a real battle with a winner and a loser, and you come out more with knowledge, and acceptance rather than total victory/conquest.

10. Apotheosis

The hero’s ego is disintegrated in a breakthrough expansion of consciousness. Quite frequently the hero’s idea of reality is changed; the hero may find an ability to do new things or to see a larger point of view, allowing the hero to sacrifice himself.

This is also known as returning with the elixer/knowledge. This happens pretty much exactly as it is written here, more or less 100% literal. He actually does see the larger point of view at the end, and he physically sacrifices himself, back into the dream:

There are a few other points in this version of the journey, but most refer to the trip home, coming back stronger, and with more knowledge. They cut the game off here though, having Yuna take over, becoming the one to spread the word that their world has actually defeated sin for good. X2 is basically the final few points of the Journey. That is also while there is no super-evil in FFX-2. Putting such in the game would destroy the whole point of FFX.

Final Fantasy X is by no means a perfect game. It can be goofy, with poorly written dialogue and cringe-worthy voice-acting, but it is, in my opinion, a fairly transparent attempt to create a clear artistic statement in the Jungian tradition. The myth structure is played out literally, using Jung’s actual terms for the names of characters and some places. It is a Jungian dream-myth in RPG clothing.

By the way, if you’re wondering why all the heroes are half-boy and half-girl in their appearance, it’s probably something stupid like easy character design, but in this game it does have a symbolic purpose. The hero’s journey in Jungian language is a journey to defeat both the masculine and feminine aspects of the self and come to a compromise. Androgyny is believed to be the goal of psychic wholeness. That means men take aspects of their female side, and women take aspects of their masculine side, etc.

So there you go.