“Listen to my story. This… may be our last chance.”
-Tidus, Final Fantasy X
Exactly one year ago today, Jorge Mario Bergoglio ascended to the highest position in the Catholic world. Taking the name Pope Francis in honor of the famed Saint Francis of Assisi, the new Pope has since caused quite a stir in both Catholic and non-Catholic spheres around the world.
Aside from being named Time Magazine’s 2013 “Person of the Year,” Pope Francis has been noted for going against the grain in many respects. Washing the feet of a Muslim woman, kissing and consoling the disabled and disfigured, and saying, like clockwork, what needs to be said. Pope Francis is a different kind of Pope than his predecessor Benedict. These symbolic acts are not only a sign of changing times in the Vatican, but in the world at large. Listen, the story is simple: Love is the Law.
(There are spoilers ahead)
“Outside the dream world, life can be harsh—even cruel, but it is life.”
One of the key protagonists in Final Fantasy X is the young priestess, Yuna. The early part of the story centers around her ascendency as a summoner, following in the footsteps of her Father. The role of a summoner is to send souls of the dead to the Farplane, a mysterious place where souls may achieve a final state of rest.
The context of the world Yuna lives in is volatile. In Spira, Yuna’s homeland, there is a force destroying cities called Sin. Spira is under attack by this force not only in Bevelle but also in Zanarkand. Upon encountering its essence, this persistent fact causes people to fall under a spell of amnesia. They forget what is happening around them, they participate in something vile, and they are ultimately swayed into neglecting the world around them as it crumbles before their eyes. And no, Sin in the game is not a one-to-one correlation to the theological concept.
Sin’s creation came about during an ancient war between Zanarkand and Bevelle. The leader of Zanarkand conjured all the souls of Zanarkand together for a massive summoning which created a “spectral version” of Zanarkand. This was done out of the dreams and desires of all those souls who once existed in Zanarkand’s true state. These identities were transformed into “fayth” in this spectral reimagining of the city, itself.
Sin is the major antagonist of Final Fantasy X. Created in the Machina War, Sin was given two major tasks: protect the dream world we call Zanarkand, ensuring that the reality of its true state is never discovered; and to destroy any city which grew beyond capacity or relied too heavily on technology.
In spite of bringing Sin into the world for noble reasons, Yu Yevon, the creator of Sin, was unable to control it on his own. It became a powerful force which would ravage any city that fell under these two former prospects. The first to go was the true Zanarkand.
Those who were still alive after the transformation desired some sort of rest…a form of salvation. Yu Yevon’s daughter, Yunalesca, believed that if she could summon the final Aeon, then perhaps Sin could be stopped. The final Aeon was born of a different mind than Sin was. Yunalesca, the only one able to bring it into being, forged it by the power of Love.
The idea that Sin could be destroyed by the power of Love was one which gave the people of Spira hope. The form of Sin which Yunalesca battled was weak by comparison to the final Aeon she had summoned. She won, but knew a secret that was perhaps more unbearable than the reality of Sin, itself. While defeating Sin had brought about the Calm the people of Spira so desired, she knew Sin would return. Thus, she knew that this big lie was only in effect so that the people of Spira would not turn away from hope and into despair.
Sin eventually returned. This cycle continued for over a thousand years. Summoners would go on a pilgrimage so that their abilities could be tested and perfected. But there was never a summoner who could bring about the final Aeon which Yunalesca had brought about. Even though each summoner on this quest would give their life to call about the Aeon to destroy Sin, the spirit of Yu Yevon would ultimately possess the Aeon and turn it into a new Sin. The cycle would never end.
Yuna is sent on a pilgrimage to be raised to the state of summoner as her father was. Protected by guardians, there is a cabal of protectors who know the importance of her role in once again calling the final Aeon. Even if it could be for a short while, it was always a noble pursuit to bring about the Calm so the people of Spira could live in hope and not in despair.
The power of Love is the central theme of Final Fantasy X. It is also the central theme that situates against Sin in most literary contexts. Sin is an omnipresent fact—it is the ‘thou shalt not’ principle of reality. While it is commonly considered a Christian concept, it is actually much older than that. It is really an understanding of reality, as it is, via negativity. For example, when one witnesses a murder, there is an inner or moral truth that rises within oneself which informs or alerts you to the fact that, simply, this should not be.
The fact of Sin, however, is that it is. Even when things should not be, they are.
A question arises in the face of such a pressing and malevolent fact: What can we do about it?
As Auron says, outside of the dream world there is a harsh and cruel reality. In our world, a billion people are starving to death and almost two billion are obese—both symptoms of global poverty. There are massive ecological crises on a regular basis and it seems there are people who would rather live in the dream world than face the harsh and cruel reality. But, as he also says, “that’s life.”
Life itself is, in a sense, evil. To live is to be a part of a reality which is filled with the ever-present fact that there are things that simply “should not be.”
We cannot help but see all around us things that make us feel bad about the world. Many people simply ignore reality, continuing onward in the dream state, and fill their time with distractions or technological advances that create forms of comfort. But anyone with open eyes can see that this harsh and cruel reality is closing in on us—and the clock is ticking for us to do something.
Yuna’s quest to summon the final Aeon and bring about the temporary Calm is indeed noble, but all summoners know it is ultimately futile. Temporary calms do not change the fact that Sin will return as Sin always does. Instead, it brings a temporary state of peace that at least allows people to cling to some kind of hope. Even if it is temporary, the idea is still important and the sacrifice of a summoner’s life is just that.
She knows her task is not easy. In fact, she knows she has to give her own life in order to bring the Calm into being. It is not something she does without conflict or with some false sense of personal grandeur. The sacrificial servant is not a title one necessarily wants to bear, but ultimately has to. She says, “it would be so easy…to let my fate just carry me away…following this same path my whole life through. But I know I can’t. What I do, I do with no regrets.”
Life for Yuna would be easier if she just stayed among the citizens, lived in the fear of Sin’s terrorism, and searched for the common good life in spite of it. Maybe she would have children, get a job doing whatever, live in a comfortable house and be distracted by various technological comforts. But if she did that, what would happen?
Maybe it’s hopeless, right? After all, Sin always returns. And she knows this. But for some reason…there is always a glimmer of eternal hope. Indeed, though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill.
The last cycle of summoners involved three characters, one of whom believed Sin could be defeated once and for all. Braska, Jecht, and Auron went on in pursuit of bringing about the Calm, temporary as it might be. Braska believed Sin could be defeated, but ultimately he could not do it. Jecht was possessed by this spirit and took on Sin’s new form which is currently the one terrorizing Spira.
Jecht is Tidus’ father.
Tidus, the main character of Final Fantasy X, is a young blitzball player. He is a jubilant and vibrant young man who is really focused only the mastery of his specific craft. He says, “when you’re playing blitzball, you gotta think about blitz and nothing else. If you do, that’s when you lose.” Early on in the game, however, Tidus is thrust into the mystery and forced on the quest to accompany and protect Yuna as she ascends to summoner on her pilgrimage.
Though Tidus lives amongst those distracted dreamers, it is precisely this unwavering and unflinching attitude which helps him on the quest to save the world. He is not a follower of the religion of his city and does not really care for its traditions. He is basically just a determined, strong-willed young man who is thrown into the thick of things only to ultimately find out that he has a deep personal relationship to the story, itself.
In time, he learns the truth of his father. He learns that his own father is Sin.
While this deters him in some ways, it alerts him to the necessity of his role in saving the world and protecting Yuna, so that they might reestablish the Calm. But beyond this, Tidus and Yuna fall in love. And this is a love which cannot be broken.
Tidus is distraught as he learns Yuna’s mission is effectively to be sacrificed to bring about the Calm. This is something he cannot stand and will not allow. As the plot goes further, he and the guardians devise a plan that may, if they accomplish it correctly, defeat the essential inner spirit of Sin. They wonder, ‘If we defeat the outer shell, wouldn’t Sin just return?‘ Indeed, it does. But what happens if the spirit of Yevon, the one to whom all worship is directed, is the one slain? Perhaps Sin would never return.
Again, this is where the power of Love surfaces. Though Tidus loves Yuna, he has deep problems with loving his own father. Especially when he discovers that his father is Sin. But through forgiveness and understanding, Tidus is able to overcome these barriers and ultimately help in what does, in fact, save the world.
Love is the crucial and binding factor that overcomes Sin. Love is, in a biblical sense, an analogy for being-itself. But it can only be seen that way with a certain perspective. When we look at the world of Sin, we don’t see a world of Love. How can we? There are too many terrible facets of the world that keep it ‘fallen’ in the sense that there are so many things that simply should not be.
But Love, in its proper philosophical sense, is about the pure-gift of being-itself. The fact that anything is at all is, indeed, a miracle.
Why should anything exist when nothing existing seems far more sensible from the perspective of the ultimate? For sure, from our individual sensibilities, we live in a world rife with competition and scarcity, in which we either kill or are killed, surviving to be the fittest. But the paradox here is not about evolutionary facts, but about the purpose and meaning behind it all.
Sin causes the citizens of Spira to fear being-itself. It is precisely what leads them into despair, not allowing them to live with any hope. They cannot exist in a state of peace when there is this omnipresent terrorist invading their Hearts and Minds no matter what they do. Things that should not be are and always are. This is a troubling fact.
Love, then, is the power that helps transcend this state of fear and makes things permanent. Love is the power that binds and unites us through the force of eros, a fiery passion that brings things together when Sin seemingly wants to divide us. Beyond erotic force of passion, the agapic pure-gift of being proves there is indeed a reason we are here at all. Perhaps, like the gnostics thought, it is a punishment to ‘get our minds right’—but what if it’s not?
Yuna and Tidus know, or at least come to know, the state of reality as it is. A world filled with terror caused by Sin. But they will not settle with that and want to bring about the Eternal Calm so that Sin never returns.
Do you think it’s hopeless? Do you think it’s childish or a fantasy? Maybe irrational or illogical? A wish fulfillment?
This story applies to the world we live in just as much as Spira.
Even in the midst of a political conflict between the Al-Bhed and the Crusaders, Yuna acknowledges it is not a futile quest. There is indeed something worth fighting for. It is a noble and necessary pursuit.
She says, “don’t say that it might be a hopeless campaign, and it might mean defying Yevon…the Crusaders and the Al-Bhed…they’re doing their best to defeat Sin. They want to rid Spira of Sin forever. And that’s just what we want too, isn’t it? Isn’t it!?”
To defeat the spirit within Sin, to defy Yevon, may seem like a dangerous quest, but it may in fact be something necessary to bring about the Eternal Calm which the people of Spira so seriously need.
The fact of Sin is something that just cannot be avoided. Not in Spira, not in our world, not anywhere. There are things that actually exist which are antithetical to what we inwardly and inherently know are not Good or Beautiful. People starving to death, living in abject poverty, crying out in despair is Sinful. Destroying our precious resources and ravaging the planet for the sake of profits alone is Sinful. Not loving our neighbor as we ourselves wish to be loved is Sinful.
There is no sense in covering the cycle of Sin with a lie of false hope or fading Love. Only the true power of Love is enough to defeat it once and for all, which is precisely what Yuna and Tidus end up doing.
Yuna says of her own father’s dream, “my father…my father wanted…to make Spira’s sorrow go away. Not just cover it up with lies! I live for the people of Spira, and would have gladly died for them. My father…I loved him. So I, I will live with my sorrow, I will live my own life! I will defeat sorrow in his place, 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.”
Indeed, they do.
Whether you believe the power of Love is the force of God or some natural force does not ultimately matter. Who cares what we believe? The only thing that matters is what actually exists. Even ideological atheists such as Bill Maher unequivocally state that “Love exists.” The fact that Love exists in a world overrun by Sin, in my opinion, proves that there is an essential and higher force than Sin is.
Pope Francis is just one of many signs that the forces which balance the world are tipping in the favor of Love. Will it be a temporary Calm or can we, like Tidus and Yuna, bring the Eternal Calm and give the people what they so desire? This is a problem that faces us all.
Believers and nonbelievers, Crusaders and Al-Bhed…all human beings in the world. We have to face Sin with the only Aeon that can actually defeat it—the power of Love.
When Sin is finally defeated at the end of Final Fantasy X, Yuna says, “Everyone has lost something precious. Everyone has lost homes, dreams, and friends. Now, Sin is finally dead. Now, Spira is ours again. Working together, now we can make new homes for ourselves and new dreams. Although I know the journey will be hard, we have lots of time. Together, we will rebuild Spira. The road is ahead of us, so let’s start out today.”
She also says, “Just one more thing…the people and the friends that we have lost, or the dreams that have faded…never forget them.” Never, ever forget them. Never forget…
We need to start taking seriously the world around us, get out of the dream world, and not be distracted by the comforts and reliability of technology. While some of these things are great, they keep us from establishing the permanent and eternal fact that we are all one and are united in Love.
Let Final Fantasy X and the love story of Yuna and Tidus be a reminder of this fact. That’s the story you need to listen to. The greatest story ever told is the story of Love itself. Only in Love, the true Law, will Sin ever be defeated.
Is Love… a universal story?
As Yuna says to Tidus, finally…”I love you.”
Go and do likewise.