Final Fantasy IX vs. Final Fantasy X: Antagonists
StoryScan: Versus compares and contrasts specific aspects of multiple game narratives that share narrative features. In this essay, we’re covering Final Fantasy IX (Squaresoft, 1999) and Final Fantasy X (Squaresoft, 2000), two franchise favorites from the same era. This essay will touch on critical plot points from both titles. Players who have not completed these games may want to set this article aside until later, as it contains substantial spoilers for their main storylines.
If there’s one thing that defines the role-playing games of the late nineties and early two-thousands, it’s their unforgettable final battles. Between the bombastic music and the absurd attack animations, these climactic showdowns represent video games at their best. They also represent the culmination of complex narrative arcs, pitting protagonists against the antagonists that have threatened their very existence. In some stories, these enemies share deeply personal connections to the protagonists; in others, the enemies are deities or forces who have no connection to the protagonist yet must be destroyed all the same. Under the right circumstances, both personal and impersonal antagonists can be satisfying opponents, but personal antagonists tend to be more memorable because of the protagonist’s heightened emotional investment. For impersonal antagonists to satisfy audiences, they need support from the rest of the story. If the impersonal antagonist is established as a threat early and built up as the story progresses, then facing off against them can feel as good as fighting someone the protagonist has always known. Conversely, if the impersonal antagonist isn’t given any narrative support, their sudden inclusion can leave players wondering why they bothered playing to the end at all.
Final Fantasy IX (Squaresoft, 2000) and Final Fantasy X (Squaresoft, 2001) are two undisputed classics of the role-playing genre. Released little more than a year apart, the two titles represent both sides of an inflection point in the history of the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy IX was the last of the original Playstation titles, meant to celebrate the franchise’s history, while Final Fantasy X pushed the series in a new direction on the technologically-superior Playstation 2. The two games had different directors, programmers, designers, and composers, and these varied perspectives led to two unique games. Yet despite these differences, Final Fantasy IX and X shared more than a few traits, including final battles against impersonal antagonists. Unfortunately, neither of these battles was well-received. The final confrontation with Final Fantasy IX’s Necron has been dubbed “truly forgettable” and “a letdown,” while Final Fantasy X‘s Yu Yevon has fared little better, being called both “anticlimactic” and “a pushover.”1-3 Each boss has unique issues, but the flaws share a similar source: a disconnect between setup and payoff.
The Forces of Antagonism
To understand why these antagonists are so poorly regarded by fans, the first step is to establish the roles they play in their stories. In Final Fantasy IX, players take on the role of Zidane Tribal, a kind-hearted thief with a prehensile tail and bravery to spare. Zidane’s story begins with the farcical kidnapping of Alexandria’s Princess Garnet, but the lighthearted adventure evolves into a complex conspiracy involving warring nations, parallel planets, and alien life forms. Along the way, Zidane befriends loyal knights, humble mages, and unflappable assassins and learns powerful lessons about identity, destiny, and death in the process. The final antagonist, Necron, is said to be the physical embodiment of death: the fear of loss that Zidane and his friends must conquer to return home. Only by defeating Necron can they prove their desire to live while simultaneously accepting the inevitability of death. In the abstract, this climactic fight is rich with potential; that potential is solidly squandered in the game.
Final Fantasy X takes a more literal approach with its antagonist: the ancient summoner, Yu Yevon. In Final Fantasy X, players control Tidus, an upbeat athlete from the bustling city of Zanarkand. When a great monster known as Sin attacks the area, Tidus is swept up in a storm and sent one thousand years in the future. Although the world of the future is very different from the one he knows, he finds comfort in the company of the young summoner, Yuna, along with her friends and guardians. Yuna and her friends are on a quest to defeat Sin, who still roams the earth delivering destruction wherever he goes. Tidus agrees to travel with them in the hopes of finding a way home, but along the way, he learns that Sin isn’t so easily defeated, and there’s one person to blame: Yu Yevon, the beloved messiah of Zanarkand who secretly created Sin. The only problem is that Yu Yevon is hiding away inside Sin, and to kill him, Tidus will first have to kill Sin’s current incarnation: his father. The stakes are undoubtedly high, and Tidus has every right to hold a grudge against Yu Yevon—but it doesn’t quite turn out that way.
Introducing the Enemy: Setup
Both Necron and Yu Yevon feel out of place as end-game antagonists in their respective games, mainly because they’re not set up correctly. In Final Fantasy IX, death is ever-present in the narrative, but Necron isn’t mentioned once until he appears during the story’s climax. Until that point, the story’s primary antagonist has been Kuja, a powerful sorcerer who orchestrated a global war to kill all inferior lifeforms. Unlike Necron, Kuja is a personal antagonist; he’s not only Zidane’s brother but also the driving force behind the atrocities committed against the other party members. As a character, he’s got his own flaws, but there’s no denying that the characters both know and hate him. There’s also no denying that Kuja is the primary source of their problems. Death is a constant threat, even without a form or a name, but death isn’t the one killing monarchs and burning cities. The story makes it abundantly clear that Kuja is to blame for those crimes, so the characters have every reason to believe that their ultimate goal is stopping him.
Final Fantasy X introduces its ultimate antagonist far earlier than Final Fantasy IX does, but the narrative weight he receives relative to other antagonists makes his climactic role a questionable one. In Final Fantasy X, the summoner named Yu Yevon isn’t introduced until the final act, but the church of Yevon plays an essential role from the earliest scenes. To the people of Spira (the world of Final Fantasy X), Yevon is a god and a prophet whose teachings have shaped the world for centuries. While some cultures reject the teachings of Yevon, others embrace them wholeheartedly, and his influence permeates the landscape through his temples and his followers. This extensive setup ought to make him a worthy antagonist, but the problem is that Final Fantasy X serves up a personal antagonist who occupies most of the screentime: the monstrous Sin, a being of infinite destruction born from Tidus’s father, Jecht. Even though Yu Yevon is responsible for creating Sin, the story spends so much time emphasizing Sin’s destructive powers and Jecht’s destructive personality that Yu Yevon’s involvement feels ancillary by comparison. Moreover, Jecht chose to become Sin, just as he chose to mistreat his family, so the player has as much reason to hate him as they do Yu Yevon. In a way, Yu Yevon’s problem isn’t that he’s a bad villain; he just can’t compete with Jecht.
The Final Battle: Payoff
Setup and payoff go hand and hand, which means that problems with setup invariably lead to problems with payoff. Such is the case with Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy X, where both final battles fail to give players the sense of catharsis that comes from a satisfying payoff. In Final Fantasy IX, the source of the problem is obvious: Necron doesn’t exist as a character until the final minutes of the game—moments after the personal antagonist Kuja is defeated—so fighting him feels pointless. This pointlessness is compounded by the fact that Necron is the embodiment of death, which is a concept and therefore cannot be eliminated. Necron himself reminds the characters of this with his dying words, stating: “This is not the end. I am eternal…as long as there is life and death….” In other words, all defeating Necron does is put off death for today. But death cannot be put off forever (as some characters learn first-hand by the story’s end), and fighting Necron is nothing more than a delay of the inevitable. At best, the fight represents the characters’ ability to accept death as a reality; at worst, it’s an utter waste of time.
Final Fantasy X’s climactic battle against Yu Yevon is an awkward one, as its issues are both narrative and mechanical. From a gameplay standpoint, the fight is unsatisfying because the player characters can’t die, so there’s no sense of challenge and excitement. The battle is also plagued by lengthy, repetitive, and unskippable animations that compound the pre-existing tedium. Realistically, these are the main reasons the Yu Yevon encounter is so disliked by fans, but the fight also has its narrative flaws. It comes right after the emotional high of the final battle against Jecht, whose terrifying powers and terrible parenting combine to create a monstrous enemy for Tidus. Defeating him is immensely cathartic for both the characters and the player, so the inclusion of an additional fight against Yu Yevon disrupts that catharsis. Even though beating Yu Yevon is the only way to end the cycle of violence that has plagued Spira for centuries, getting rid of him feels less meaningful than taking down Jecht. As the resolution to a climax, it could be worse, but it lacks the emotional punch of a true final fight.
Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy X are both enduring classics with millions of fans around the world, but they aren’t without their flaws. The impersonal antagonists that dominate the closing scenes are improperly set up, and they diminish the emotional weight of the victories against more compelling personal antagonists. Writers who wish to use impersonal antagonists in their stories should take care in establishing their roles early on in the story while also making sure that they don’t diminish the conflicts with more personal antagonists.
Protagonists, antagonists, and foils are just some of the characters that feature in fictional worlds.
Setup and Payoff
Using foreshadowing to plant questions, then answering them at the opportune time.
StoryScan: Final Fantasy IX and Character
Vivi the Black Mage is well-remembered because he has strengths, weaknesses, goals, and obstacles.
1 Cross, Dan. “10 Worst Boss Battles In Final Fantasy History – Ranked.” WhatCulture, 2017. https://whatculture.com/gaming/10-worst-boss-battles-in-final-fantasy-history-ranked?page=10
2 The Wild Fighter. “Top 10 Worst Final Fantasy Bosses.” Amino Gaming Community, 202p. https://aminoapps.com/c/video-games/page/blog/top-10-worst-final-fantasy-bosses/JoSd_ulmRBrnmMBelbzgogKJYaVBKv
3 Hawkins, Johnathan. “Final Fantasy: 5 Best Final Bosses In The Series (& 5 Worst).” CBR, 2021. https://www.cbr.com/final-fantasy-best-worst-bosses/
* Reference Footage (Final Fantasy IX): WillJV2. “Final Fantasy IX (PS4) – Trance Kuja & Necron Final Boss Fight + Ending.” YouTube, 2017. https://youtu.be/7yMK1Izl-0g
** Reference Footage (Final Fantasy X): Tsang Sir. “Final Fantasy X Remaster – Final Battle & Yu Yevon.” YouTube, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2SNIvuWIS0