The feelings Tidus has for his father are confusing and aggravating, and Final Fantasy 10 lets him explore that – he was never whiny.
When Tidus reunites with his estranged father, he doesn’t collapse into his arms, finally getting the approval he always wanted. He tells him he hates him. Family confrontations like this are rarely fluffy affairs.
Frankly, Tidus gets a bad rap. As a kid playing Final Fantasy 10, maybe it’s understandable why we looked at this cocky jock and wondered what the hell he has to whine about. But playing as an adult, it’s amazing to see that he had such a good lid on things.
I’m not just talking about the obvious – dad’s a literal monster, he and everyone he knew was a dream, new girlfriend might die, etc – but just the small things, like his parents clearly not being ready to be parents.
Jecht wasn’t earning his dad of the year mug long before he became Sin. He’d berate Tidus for anything, from showing emotions to messing up a Blitzball move.
His mum only sounds a tiny bit better. All we find out about her was that she prioritized her husband over her son; and even when Jecht wasn’t around she missed him so much she would neglect Tidus further.
When we see things from Jecht’s perspective, he clearly doesn’t see much wrong with his way of doing things. But he isn’t presented as your typical neglector. He cares about Tidus, in his own way at least, and he doesn’t actually hate him. He’s just a dad not ready to be a dad. Jecht thought, he could get away with having a kid and acting as if he didn’t.
Volunteering to become the next Sin was undoubtedly brave and admirable, but it’s the sort of the thing you shouldn’t be doing with a family at home. It’s a great inversion of the typical fantasy hero – a look at how you can be selfless and selfish. Yuna and co. speak so highly of the brave adventurer who saved Spira a generation ago, but that doesn’t take away that Tidus’s childhood was collateral damage.
When Tidus finds Jecht’s diaries on the same pilgrimage his dad went on, it isn’t presented as a revelation that he actually cared about his son. It isn’t all “See Tidus, don’t you feel like an ass now? Your dad is actually a hero!” No – Jecht is a hero, but he’s also wrong. Tidus’s pain is valid.
It’s easy to see Tidus and Jecht’s relationship as a reflection of real world family issues. In our own society we’re encouraged to work as much as we can, and that it is a virtue to stay busy, even at the expense of time with the family. Like Jecht, this may be well intentioned, but it doesn’t stop it from being harmful.
Perhaps more topical now than back in 2001 is Jecht’s inability to show kindness. Even when he leaves a recorded message for Tidus, he can’t say “I love you”; being tough and never complaining is the “manly” thing to do.
Given Square Enix’s previous work with flawed protagonists, I don’t think any of this interpretation is a stretch. Take Cloud for example. For most of the first disk of Final Fantasy 7, he’s your typical stoic sword wielder. Yet that’s all flipped on its head when he loses Aerith, and his emotions finally pour out. His “heroic” quality of getting the job done and never complaining isn’t a thing to be proud of at all, it’s a sign of trauma. Just as Jecht’s inability to consider his son in anything he does isn’t something to wear as a badge of honor, even if it does occasionally have good consequences.
It’s a happy ending for the father and son at least, as they silently make amends. Tidus never compromises on who he is, and goes out as the “crybaby” he was taunted for being, accepted for who he is by his new found family. Jecht doesn’t argue when his son screams at him, and embraces him as he too sacrifices himself to save Spira.
Final Fantasy 10 understands the internal anguish of falling out with family more than it gets credit for. In Tidus, we see how it both ages you, and how it makes you childish. We see how outsiders don’t get it; not being able to understand how you could fall out with your own flesh and blood. But most importantly, we don’t get sold a lie of everyone hugging and being friends again. Tidus is allowed to work through his feelings, as loud and ugly as they can get, and it’s a journey that’s only gotten more relatable in the two decades since the game’s launch.
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