“Listen to my story. This may be our last chance.“
Those ten words kick off one of the biggest JRPGs ever. 2001’s Final Fantasy X marked a bold new direction for the franchise, taking cues from the more modern VII and VIII to make something unlike anything the series had seen before. The game, which was Yoshinori Kitase’s last directorial effort before transitioning to a production role, would go on to sell over 8 million copies on the PS2 alone.
Part of that near-universal appeal lies in how effective the game’s opening moments are. As the somber piano track “To Zanarkand” eases players into Final Fantasy X’s world, the camera opens to a sunset over the distant ruins of a burnt-out city. The city is enshrouded by an ethereal glow – a stream of lights that smaller, brighter wisps emerge from.
Right off the bat, the player gets the sense that something’s amiss. This city has definitely been destroyed, and those lights are absolutely something ominous. It’s a classic example of being dropped in medias res – that is to say, thrown in the middle of a story and asked to figure things out from context clues. The impact is almost immediate, as you’re left with numerous questions about the world and the state it’s in.
Then, the camera fades into another somber scene. A group of travelers huddle around a campfire, as players are given several moments to get acquainted with the main characters. You’re not given anyone’s names, and won’t be for several hours, but that doesn’t stop them from being interesting from the get-go. Even though half of their faces are obscured (in fact, you only see Kimahri from behind,) their designs are eye-catching and distinctive. Each party member is such a deliberate contrast from each other, you begin to wonder how this ragtag group came together in the first place. As they sit, solemn and quiet around the fire’s dying embers, a million questions about each character pop into your head. They won’t be answered for several real-world hours, but that hook is already there.
After a few moments, a young man stands up and walks away from the main group. As he leaves, he stops next to a young woman and rests his hand on her shoulder. She looks up at him, sad and quiet, as his touch lingers for just a few more seconds before he walks away. These two characters are Tidus and Yuna, respectively – the two main love interests of Final Fantasy X – and this small moment is among the most important in the game. In the context of the opening, it sets up the dynamic between the two characters, and foreshadows the bittersweet events of the ending. In the context of where it actually takes place in the game, which is roughly in the last quarter, it’s a moment that represents the pain both characters carry with them, and the finality of their seemingly doomed quest.
Tidus walks off alone, away from his companions, and stares out at the ruins of the city. In that moment, you don’t know where he’s looking. You have no idea what this city is, who lived there, or why it mattered to any of these characters. Yet it does matter – you can tell that much. As Tidus looks out at the horizon, the gentle pain on his face says a million words. You can tell this is hard for him to look at, and that the state of this city is a personal defeat of some sort. But the specific details? Those aren’t clear, and they won’t be for quite some time.
Before the scene ends, Tidus leaves the player with two short sentences to chew on – those ten little words. “Listen to my story,” he says. “This may be our last chance.” The screen fades to black, and you’re left with those words simmering in the stew of your conscience. Tidus has promised to tell you the story of how things got so bad, but it’s underpinned by a desolate admittance of defeat. When his story’s over, there’s the implication that he and his friends will head off to meet their maker.
That line puts you in a state of unease. Unlike previous games, this is not a starry-eyed opening to a grand adventure – it’s an epitaph, a memorial to a failed quest. In a move that was fairly atypical of JRPGs at the time, it’s an opening that feels devoid of hope. No matter what you do, no matter how you play, you will end up at this point – whether you like it or not.
To me, this is what makes it the most effective opening in the series. It’s a clever inversion of traditional dramatic irony, as each character knows everything, but you know next to nothing. However, you’re given just enough detail to get interested in the world, its characters, and how everything came to such a desperate point. The tone of the game is set right away, and you’re given an immediate impetus to keep playing just so you can get filled in on everything.
“Listen to my story. This may be our last chance.“
As it turned out, we would listen and remember Tidus’ story for almost two decades.
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Bella Blondeau is a lovable miscreant with a heart of gold… or so she says.
She likes long walks in dingy arcades, loves horror good and bad, and has a passion for anime girls of any and all varieties. Her favorite game is Nier: Automata, because she loves both robots and being sad.
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