In an in-engine machinima Cut Scene which showcased the PlayStation 2's then-astonishing rendering power, seven travelers sit around a campfire, surrounded by shimmering globes of light that swirl in groups. One party member, clad in yellow and blue, stands up and looks out over a ruined city in the distance. He then deploys Squaresoft's secret weapon: Voice Acting.
"Listen to my story. This may be our last chance."
We open on the futuristic city of Zanarkand on the world of Spira. Within, our Player Character, Tidus (No Pronunciation Guide — due to the needs of voice acting, Tidus is always referred to by pronouns — but his Japanese name is pronounced "TEE-da"), is signing autographs. He's the star of Zanarkand's blitzball team, the Abes, and is preparing for another chance to kick ass at underwater soccer. Of course, it's not just any match — it's the opening of the Jecht Memorial Cup, organized in honor of Tidus' Disappeared Dad, a blitzball star who has not been seen in ten years. As the game makes clear, this has left Tidus with numerous daddy issues — especially since Jecht was an abusive father at the best of times.
During the match, a tidal wave smashes down over the city, sweeping away all in its path. Before it, unruffled and unhurried, strides in Auron, a friend of Tidus's father. He rescues Tidus and gives him a sword, a present from Jecht, and the two begin fighting their way upstream towards the source of the tidal wave: a gigantic orb of water floating over the city, sucking everything towards it. "We called it Sin," Auron tells Tidus.note Reaching the epicenter, Auron looks up at the gaping maw of the monstrosity: "You are sure?" And then, as they begin to get sucked in, he looks down at Tidus: "This is it. This is your story."
And Tidus awakens... in a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment. He finds himself in the ruins of a temple, but is assisted in a fight against a monster by a girl who doesn't speak his language. Once she figures this out, she identifies herself as Rikku of the Al Bhed, a culture outcast from the mainstream of Spira because they still use forbidden machina. Tidus identifies himself as a citizen of Zanarkand, which Rikku does not believe: Zanarkand was destroyed a thousand years ago. She wonders if he came into contact with Sin toxin, which causes amnesia. Shortly thereafter, a Sin attack knocks Tidus overboard.
Tidus awakens on a shore. He doesn't recognize anyone or anything around him, but he does recognize the blitzball. After his ball-handling skills catch some attention, the owner of the blitzball, Wakka, welcomes Tidus to Besaid Island. Like Rikku, he distrusts Tidus' claim of hailing from Zanarkand: Sin rose a thousand years ago, destroying the machina cities, including Zanarkand, as a punishment for the human use of machina.
Wakka begs Tidus to join the Besaid Aurochs, the blitzball team he captains — which has not won a game in 23 years. Clearly, they need the help... especially since Wakka himself is about to quit the team to become a full time guardian. Tidus then follows him into Besaid Temple, a branch of the Church of Yevon: the summoner candidate who began her trials yesterday has yet to emerge. Tidus sorts out the puzzle in the temple and arrives just in time to see said candidate, Yuna, emerge triumphant from the inner chamber.
Outside, Yuna proves her control of Summon Magic by summoning her first Aeon, Valefor. (Summons in Final Fantasy X do not merely arrive with a fancy Cut Scene to deliver damage: they take the place of the entire party in battle, can be given direct commands, and have their own Limit Breaks.) She is now ready for her pilgrimage, in which she will visit the various temples of the world, form bonds with their fayth, and attempt to, in the end, pacify Sin. Being a White Mage, she will of course need guardians; in addition to Wakka, a Long-Range Fighter who hits foes with his blitzball and various Standard Status Effects, and Tidus himself, a Lightning Bruiser with all the "Haste" spells, she also has Lulu, a Black Mage, and Kimahri, the Blue Mage, a member of the Ronso people whose unicorn horn has been cut off. Kimahri also occupies a unique gameplay space on the "Sphere Grid," which characters traverse like a board game in order to gain stats. The other characters start in a specific location on the grid, and can only pick up skills from other characters after completing their own areas; Kimahri starts in the middle, with very little space to himself, and is meant to be shifted into another character's area.
This is also a good moment to talk about the game's Limit Break system, "Overdrives." In addition to each character (and Aeon) having a unique Overdrive, the player may decide what battlefield event cause the Overdrive meter to fill, unshackling players from the standard "Only when taking damage, meaning I need to let my Squishy Wizard get beat up" model. New modes include "When my allies take damage," "When I inflict Standard Status Effects," "When I have them inflicted on me," and — vitally for Yuna — "When I use healing magic or items."
The next morning, the pilgrimage begins, with Tidus tagging along because Wakka hopes someone will recognize him at the big blitzball tournament in Luca. (He also, when accused by Lulu, admits to seeing some of his deceased brother Chappu in Tidus — something which Lulu, Chappu's then fiancée, can empathize with.) On the boat, Tidus has a chance to chat with Yuna. She believes Tidus's story, partly because ten years ago a man named Jecht served as her father's guardian. Yuna remembers this man as a hero — which does not jive with Tidus's childhood under a neglectful alcoholic. Yuna is the daughter of High Summoner Braska, the last person to destroy Sin and usher in the "Calm," and Jecht and Auron were his guardians.
During the journey, Sin appears. The party fights it, but fails to stop it from leveling Kilika Port.
In Kilika, Yuna performs the Sending, a ritual that guides the souls of the dead to rest. Those who die in Spira can leave behind pyreflies, the spiritual energy that comprises everything in Spira — the shimmering, glowing things first seen in the opening cinematic. Unless the pyreflies of the dead are sent by a summoner, they can become fiends, the primary monsters of Spira. The next day, the group enters Kilika Temple to gain the aeon Ifrit. Though Tidus was to stay out of the Cloister of Trials as he is not a guardian, he is tossed in by the guardian of the summoner Dona, who sees Yuna as a rival.
The pilgrimage moves to the city of Luca, the second-largest city in Spira, where a blitzball tournament is taking place. Maester Seymour Guado and the elder Grand Maester Mika overlook the tournament, which is being held to honor Mika's 50th year as Grand Maester of Yevon. During the first match, Yuna learns of Auron's presence in Luca: to Tidus he is a family friend, but to Yuna, he is a legendary guardian who protected her father Braska. She has Tidus and Kimahri help her look for him. While Kimahri's rival Ronso, Biran and Yenke, appear to harass him, Yuna is kidnapped by the Al Bhed blitzball team, the Psyches, to force the Aurochs into surrendering the match. While Wakka handles the game, Tidus goes with Lulu and Kimahri to rescue Yuna from the Al Bhed ship, and Tidus learns Yuna is herself half-Al Bhed. Lulu sends a signal to Wakka, who wins the game, ending a twenty-three-year losing streak without Tidus's help. Yuna and Tidus then bond after Tidus teaches her to whistle; she should use it if she needs help, and he promises he'll come running.
The next blitzball match is against the Spiran champions, the Luca Goers. After the match a group of fiends attacks the stadium. Tidus and Wakka fight the beasts, with surprise assistance from Auron. The rest of the fiends are dispatched by Seymour's aeon, Anima, and Yuna is among the spectators left in awe of the aeon's power. Auron explains to Tidus that Braska, with himself and Jecht as guardians, defeated Sin ten years ago. He also claims that Sin is Jecht. Dumbfounded by this apparent impossibility, Tidus refuses to accept it.
After a memetically-awkward scene of intentionally bad laughing, the pilgrimage, now augmented by Tidus and Auron, a Mighty Glacier who has all the "Break" skills that lower statistics, continues up the Mi'ihen Highroad. The party spends the night at Rin's Travel Agency. Yuna tells Tidus about the goal of the pilgrimage: to go to Zanarkand to obtain the Final Aeon, which can destroy Sin. At the highway's north gate, the group is not let through because of Operation Mi'ihen, but Seymour pulls rank to get them through.
The Mushroom Rock Road is under occupation by the Crusaders, the military arm of Yevon's clergy. Under the command of Seymour and his fellow Maester, Auron's former friend Wen Kinoc, the Crusaders join forces with the Al Bhed to defeat Sin. Operation Mi'ihen involves using Sinspawn as bait to draw Sin to Djose, and then attack it with a machina said to be as powerful as the aeons. Wakka, a devout believer of Yevon's teachings and resentful of the Al Bhed, is furious over the plan. Auron stands back, knowing the plan will fail. Sure enough, the operation is a disaster: hundreds of Crusaders are killed and Yuna must again perform the sending. Yevon covers its involvement by blaming the defeat on the Crusaders' heresy. Auron explains to Tidus the reason Sin (Jecht) came to the operation was to see his son.
The party enters the Djose Temple to gain the aeon Ixion, running into fellow summoner Isaaru along the way. Where Dona was standoffish and condescending (criticizing, for instance, the relatively large number of guardians in Yuna's party, whereas Dona herself is making do with just one), Isaaru is supportive and generous. There is a rumor going round that summoners on pilgrimages are disappearing. The party continues to the Moonflow, and while crossing the river on a shoopuf, Wakka points to the sunken ruins of a city as an example of what happens to people who use machina. An Al Bhed abducts Yuna into the water, but she is rescued by Tidus and Wakka who destroy the machina holding her captive. Reaching the other side of the river, they run into Rikku, who was the pilot of the destroyed machina. Not wanting to upset Wakka, Tidus and Lulu keep him in the dark about Rikku and Yuna's lineage. Rikku joins the party as Yuna's sixth guardian, with Auron's blessing (he is also aware of her race); she is the classic Fragile Speedster Thief with the "Steal" command, and her Limit Break lets her "Mix" two items for a Combinatorial Explosion.
The party moves to Guadosalam, the city of the Guado of which Seymour is the leader, as he is half-Guado half-human. He invites the party to his mansion where he tries to woo Yuna and shows them a sphere recording of what appears to be Tidus's Zanarkand: a glittering metropolis from a thousand years ago. Within the vision is the first summoner to defeat Sin, Lady Yunalesca, and her husband Lord Zaon. Seymour proposes marriage to Yuna, but she declines.
The party visits the Farplane, a physical place within Spira where pyreflies gather and coalesce into images of the dead, drawn from visitors' memories. Rikku, believing it to be an illusion, declines, as does Auron for his own reasons. Tidus sees the "ghost" of his mother, awakening his resentments — she lost the will to live when Jecht disappeared. To his surprise, his father's ghost is nowhere to be found, indicating to Yuna that Jecht must still be alive somewhere.
Seymour's father, Jyscal Guado, leaves the Farplane as an "unsent", a ghost created from a person who dies "an unclean death". Yuna Sends Jyscal, and during the ceremony, Auron falls to his knees, greatly weakened. (This will be important later.) A sphere recording appears from the unsent, which Yuna snatches up. While Yuna enters the Guado manor intending to discuss Jyscal, Seymour has already left for Macalania, where the group heads next.
Rikku panics when the group reaches the Thunder Plains, and halfway across they stay at a Rin's Travel Agency to calm her. Rikku has severe astraphobiaa fear of thunderstormsdescending from a past mishap when her brother aimed a Thunder spell at an attacking fiend but hit her instead. While staying at the agency, Yuna privately views the contents of Jyscal's sphere recording. Before the group enters the Macalania Woods, Yuna announces she will accept Seymour's offer of matrimony. Auron guesses Yuna is hoping to negotiate something with Seymour, and that she doesn't want the others involved.
While passing through the Macalania Woods, Auron hacks his way through an overgrown sidepath to reveal a spring whose pyrefly-infused water is used to create spheres. The group discover a movie sphere depicting snippets of Braska's pilgrimage and showing Jecht, a Fish out of Water and alcoholic, slowly reforming. It includes a sentimental message from Jecht to Tidus. Auron explains Jecht had accepted his fate to remain in Spira and assist Braska in defeating Sin, and later tells Tidus that Jecht loved his son, but didn't know how to express it. Tidus is intellectually able to accept that his father performed a HeelFace Turn after coming to Spira, but still has trouble processing his emotions over the father he could never please.
After leaving the woods the group is met by Tromell, Seymour's butler, who leads Yuna into the Macalania Temple to prepare for the wedding. They are ambushed by Al Bhed, Rikku's brother Brother among them, who try to stop the pilgrimage by unleashing a powerful machina. Wakka learns Rikku is an Al Bhed, and expresses his disgust at the "heathen". Angry that no one is taking his side, Wakka heads to Macalania Temple on foot, while the others ride on two-person snowmobiles. Depending on affection levels, Tidus can end up with several riding companions:
- If Tidus rides with Rikku, he will learn Rikku and Yuna are cousins — Yuna's mother was Rikku's father's sister — and Rikku explains why the Al Bhed want to protect the summoners during the pilgrimage, disagreeing with the summoners sacrificing themselves to bring happiness to Spira. (When Tidus asks what kind of sacrifice is involved, Rikku diverts the conversation.)
- Lulu will explain Wakka's hatred towards the Al Bhed, which stems from the way Wakka's brother Chappu died: while wielding a forbidden machina weapon of Al Bhed make. He asks Lulu if a human can become Sin and she finally believes Tidus comes from another world.
- Auron, mostly taciturn, warns Tidus not to overcomplicate things, but also encourages him to take advantage of his youth and make mistakes. (Tidus: "So which is it?")
- Tidus asks Kimahri if he is willing to accept Rikku's presence, and Kimahri admits that he is willing to go against Yevon's teachings in this matter. Tidus suggests Kimahri tell her so directly, surprising Kimahri with his sensitivity.
At the temple, the party comes upon the sphere Yuna had retrieved from the unsent Jyscal, which shows Seymour committing patricide to secure a Klingon Promotion to Maester (and head of the Guado). The party confronts Seymour outside the Chamber of the Fayth and, with the new aeon Shiva, are forced to kill him when he turns on the party. An angered Tromell appears and takes away Seymour's body before Yuna can Send him, and breaks the sphere that proves Seymour's crimes. Now dubbed traitors, the party flees the temple with Guado soldiers in pursuit, eventually plunging through the frozen ice of Lake Macalania.
In relative safety, Yuna reveals that in exchange for marriage, she was hoping to have Seymour turn himself in for his crimes. The ground begins to shake, and the party realizes they had landed atop a docile Sin that had been listening to the Hymn of the Fayth emanating from the temple, a song Jecht used to be fond of. Sin knocks the party unconscious as it begins to stir. Tidus accepts that Sin must be his father.
Awaking on Bikanel Island, Tidus finds himself alone by an oasis. He rounds up his fellow guardians, but cannot find Yuna. Rikku leads the group to the Al Bhed city of Home, which is under siege by Guado forces. Fighting through the invasion, the party finds the summoners Dona and Isaaru taken by the Al Bhed to the Summoners' Sanctum. Freeing them, Tidus is finally forced to confront the Awful Truth: the Calm, which Yuna seeks to create, can only be established at the cost of the summoner's life.
The group makes its way to the Al Bhed airship, the Fahrenheit, captained by Rikku's father Cid. The ship takes off with Tidus's group and most of the Al Bhed on board. Cid blows up Home with the airship's missile system to take out the invading forces, with Wakka, finally abandoning his Fantastic Racism against the Al Bhed, reaching out to Rikku in sympathy. The party learns Yuna has been taken by the Guado to be married to the the now-unsent Seymour.
The party finds Yuna at the capital city of Bevelle, about to be married with Seymour. Tidus and his group crash the wedding and force their way through, and Yuna tries to Send Seymour. Grand Maester Mika stops her, and Yuna's guardians. are held at gunpoint by warrior monks and Wen Kinoc. Yuna threatens to dive off the tower if Seymour won't release her guardians, and Seymour relents. She then dives off it anyway — summoning Valefor in mid-fall and traveling to the Cloister of Trials. Her guardians have to make their way on foot. Along the way to Bevelle's Chamber of the Fayth they discover several machina inside; Auron confirms that this is the "true face of Yevon: they betray their own teachings."
Though Yuna gains mastery over the Aeon Bahamut, her group are immediately put on trial for heresy. When Yuna protests that Maester Seymour is an Unsent, Grand Maester Mika allows that he doesn't care, seeing as he is one himself. They are imprisoned in the Via Purifico, an inescapable dungeon — which, of course, they then escape. The entrance, however, is guarded: first by Isaaru, whose loyalty to Yevon drives him to oppose them, and whom Yuna soundly defeats in an aeon duel; and then by Seymour, disposing of Maester Kinoc's body and absorbing his pyreflies, who engages in a bit of monologuing: his attempt to save Spira involves killing everyone on it, since this will free them from Sin's ravages From a Certain Point of View. The party kill him a second time — though, under the circumstances, they admit it probably won't stick any more than the first time did.
Leaving Bevelle for the Macalania Woods, Yuna, her faith in Yevon shaken, goes off into the woods to be alone. Tidus follows and finds Yuna in the spring. He reveals he knows the truth behind the Final Summoning and apologizes for talking about life "after" defeating Sin, believing he had only depressed Yuna. Yuna says his words had made her happy. Tidus tries to persuade Yuna to quit the pilgrimage and stay with him, and though tempted, Yuna cannot simply allow Sin to run rampant across Spira. She breaks down in tears and Tidus comforts her, and they embrace and kiss.
Yuna's pilgrimage continues through Mt. Gagazet and the Calm Lands. Kelk and his tribe of Ronso give Yuna their blessing after witnessing her resolve and courage. Tidus and Rikku are intent on finding a way to save her. A pursuing Seymour attacks the Ronso and many are slaughtered, including Kelk, Biran, and Yenke. The party struggles through the frigid mountain before they run into Seymour. Despite his growing powers, he is again defeated. After the battle, Yuna and the guardians learn of Sin's identity as Jecht.
Near the mountain peak the group comes across a fountain of fayth lost in dreams. Tidus is struck by a dream of his home in Zanarkand and while there, meets a boy in purple robes whom he saw in the beginning of his journey. This is the fayth of Bahamut, a soul in stasis whose physical body is petrified in the Chamber of the Fayth in Bevelle, but whose spirit is free to wander. The fayth is here to deliver a Wham Episode: he reveals that the Zanarkand whence Tidus and Jecht hail is a dream created by the fayth, a place of refuge for them after the great war 1,000 years ago. To get Spira to leave them alone, these fayth then created Sin, locking the world in Medieval Stasis by means of constant war. But the fayth who created Dream Zanarkand are tired. Jecht and Tidus are real, and only they have a chance of ending the cycle of Eternal Recurrence; but if Tidus succeeds, he will cease to exist. After he returns to consciousness, Tidus keeps what he learned to himself.
The party comes to the original Zanarkand, which lies in ruins. This is where the pilgrimage is to end, as does Tidus's Framing Device of him telling the story of How We Got Here. The next morning, The party enters the ruins where the pyreflies are so numerous that they display visions of past summoners who came through to defeat Sin. The party witnesses a vision of a young Seymour, whose mother had given up her life to become the fayth of Anima.
They meet Lady Yunalesca in Zanarkand Dome, now an unsent after her battle with Sin a thousand years ago. They learn that to create the Final Aeon a guardian must be sacrificed as its fayth. (Lulu volunteers immediately, as does Wakka.) They glimpse into the past into Braska's pilgrimage where Jecht became the fayth for the Final Aeon. The Final Aeon can only defeat Sin for a short time, for after the old Sin is destroyed the Final Aeon is transformed into a new Sin, and thus whoever becomes the Final Aeon will later become Sin, continuing the Vicious Cycle. And of course the summoner him- or herself dies from summoning the Final Aeon — leaving Auron, in the vision, alone and furious; he attacks Yunalesca head on, but is slain. The Auron currently in the party is an unsent.
Tidus insists they don't do it. Just as Jecht himself believed ten years ago, Tidus too believes there must be a way to break the cycle. "This Is My Story. It'll go the way I want it... or I'll end it here." But Yuna decides to come with him: "You say this is your story, but this is my story too, you know?" They confront Yunalesca, who denies that there is any way to break the cycle. Accusing them of throwing away hope, she prepares to attack.
- Auron: Now! This is it! Now is the time to choose! Die and be free of pain, or live and fight your sorrow! Now is the time to shape your stories! Your fate is in your hands!
Kimahri: Yuna needs Kimahri. Kimahri protect Yuna.
Rikku: Well, I'm fighting.
Wakka: I can't believe we're gonna fight Lady Yunalesca. Gimme a break!
Lulu: You can always run.
Wakka: I'd never forgive myself—no way. Not if I ran away now. Even in death, ya?
Lulu: My thoughts exactly.
Tidus: Yuna! This is our story. Now let's see this thing through together.
The slaying of Lady Yunalesca marks an irrevocable end to the Pilgrimage, for only she holds the secret of transforming guardians into Final Aeons. As she passes, she drops one last secret: even if the current Sin is defeated, "Yu Yevon" will merely create one anew.
The Fahrenheit picks up the party and brings them to Bevelle, where they consult Grand Maester Mika. Upon learning that the Pilgrimage has been ended for ever, he pulls a Screw This, I'm Outta Here!, dissolving himself into pyreflies. He is kind enough to at least provide an Info Dump first: Yu Yevon is an ancient summoner hailing from the original Zanarkand of 1,000 years ago, and Yunalesca's father. When he saw Zanarkand was going to be destroyed in the Machina War, he performed a summoning so immense he had lost his humanity: he transformed the remaining citizens of Zanarkand into fayth and used their collective dream to summon Dream Zanarkand so that the memory of the city would be preserved forever. To ensure the summoning would never be halted, he clad himself in living armor made out of pyreflies; this armor became called "Sin". Its purpose is to enforce Medieval Stasis and to make sure Dream Zanarkandwhich was summoned far out to seawould never be discovered by mortals. Whenever a Final Aeon pierces Sin, Yu Yevon will possess the Final Aeon and mold it into a new Sin. This process, which takes years, is the Calm. The Church of Yevon arose to deify the phenomenon, knowing the Final Summoning will never defeat Sin permanently but (evidently) willing to settle for a makeshift solution. What cannot be denied is that nobody thinks there is a perfect solution.
So Tidus, Yuna and the others come up with their own plan: they put out a worldwide memo that, at the appointed day and time, everyone — like, everyone — will sing the Hymn of the Fayth, which has a known calming effect on Jecht; during that time, the Fahrenheit will pierce the Sin armor and deliver the party inside. This works, and aside from one stumbling block — Seymour, who has re-coalesced within Sin and must be put down a fourth time — they make it to the heart of Sin. Seymour, unable to run, also consents to be Sent, finally putting an end to him.
The heart of Sin is appointed like a blitzball stadium. Within waits Jecht, who is impressed with Tidus's progression. Tidus allows, in the few moments before Jecht is fully overtaken by Yu Yevon, that he is proud to be Jecht's son. But then the battle is upon him, as Jecht transforms into Braska's Final Aeons. It's the hardest fight of the campaign — in fact, it's the Final Boss, as the subsequent fights are literally impossible to lose due to the game bestowing your party with infinite lives — but Tidus and Yuna prevail.
Yu Yevon is but a husk of his former self, and what remains of him requires a host to inhabit. It now lingers around Yuna. As she summons her Aeons, Yu Yevon takes them over, forcing the party to — with the Aeons' consent — strike them down one by one. Then they confront Yu Yevon itself. Without a host, the parasite is easily struck down. Sin is over. But Tidus warns his friends that this will be the last time they fight together. "I know its selfish... but this is my story!"
As Spira celebrates below, Yuna Sends what's left of Yu Yevon... Noticing then that Auron is dissolving. Auron tells her to continue, declaring that his mission is done. Then, on deck of the Fahrenheit, she does it again, dissolving her Aeons and the Sin armor... And, as the Zanarkand Fayth also give up their dreams and depart, causing Tidus to begin to flicker in and out of existence. He bids farewell to his friends and begins to walk away; Yuna cries out and runs to catch him — and phases through him. Carefully, oh so carefully, he puts his arms around her one last time... And then, his goodbyes done, he takes a running leap off the deck. As he soars through the air, he passes all those who have gone before him: Braska, Auron, Jecht. And, as he passes, he reaches out to give his father one last high-five.
Yuna stands on a dock, whistling — calling for a response that never comes.
Now High Summoner, she must leave her dreams behind and assume the mantle of duty. Lulu brings her to the Luca blitzball stadium to give a speech to the people of Spira, proclaiming the end of a thousand years of terror, and the beginning of the Eternal Calm:
- Everyone here 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.
Just one more thing: the people and the friends that we have lost... or the dreams that have faded... Never forget them.
The Stinger: Tidus awakens underwater. He stretches and swims towards the camera, smiling in delight.