Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster launched yesterday on the PlayStation 4. If you haven't already picked it up for PS3 and Vita, then I recommend checking it out, since it's still a pretty good RPG. But I'm not here to make a recommendation. I'm here to talk about Braska, Auron, and Jecht — three of my favorite characters in Final Fantasy X.
Out of everyone in Final Fantasy X's outsized cast, from Lulu to Yuna and Tidus, they are the three that I find most interesting. They are the original pilgrims. They are on the same journey as Tidus and company, but their pilgrimage is more tragedy than triumph. It's notable enough that it's depicted in a series of spheres left on the trail, which offer some insight into what happened a decade before.
The story that emerges from those spheres is something like a road comedy. We have Jecht, the hard-drinking athlete from another world who Braska has to bail out of jail so he can be his Guardian. We have the leader Braska, a summoner who is married to a heathen Al Bhed wife. And we have Auron, the ultra-serious warrior monk. Someone call Judd Apatow.
The story is told in large part through the eyes of Jecht, who eventually gives up drinking and begins to feel guilty about abandoning his wife and son in Zanarkand, recording video diaries in the hope that they will eventually get back to his family. They're the only glimpse we get of what is, frankly, a more entertaining journey.
Jecht in particular is not the sort of protagonist you usually see in a Final Fantasy game. He's loud and hard-hearted, constantly ragging on his son, prone to screwing up and attacking a shoopuff because he thinks it's a monster. He does grow though, ultimately fashioning a strong bond of friendship with Auron and Braka — enough that he's willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
It's a story I would have liked to see.
All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues
In Final Fantasy X as it is currently constructed, Jecht is reduced to metaphor. He is literally Sin, the manifestation of all the daddy issues that his son Tidus is trying to slay. The real story is about breaking the cycle — the spiral of death, as we're reminded again and again — so that everyone can live in peace.
It's a totally different story, and if you put aside the non-sensical "Zanarkand as a dream city" elements, not entirely without merit. I enjoy stories where a handful of heroes rise up against seemingly implacable institutions — embodied in this case by religion — and succeed. And, of course, I like Yuna and Rikku — richly developed female characters who would have been totally absent in a Jecht-centric narrative.
But at the risk of running into "darker and edgier" territory, I find the struggle of Jecht, Braska, and Auron interesting on their own terms. Ultimately, they realize that the process is corrupt, but they are forced to submit anyway, with Jecht volunteering to become the weapon that destroys Sin... so he can take its place. It's the perfect capper to his development, accentuated by what is really a hopeless struggle.
When it's over, Auron is left alone to find Tidus, who is his only hope for truly breaking the cycle. I might have liked it to have ended on that hopeful note. It reminds me a bit of the ending of The Dark Tower, which, spoiler alert, concludes with Roland being thrown back to the beginning of his journey after finally ascending the tower, but this time with the Horn of Eld in his possession — a talisman that he had lost in previous cycles. It carries with it the promise of redemption.
Say what you want about the rest of The Dark Tower, and I can say plenty, but I always found that to be the perfect conclusion to that story. Done similarly in Final Fantasy X, it might have carried with it a similar hope that the cycle could be broken, with the torch being handed from father to son.
I suppose you could argue that Jecht's story is actually shown in Final Fantasy X, and that many of his adventures are ultimately related in the dialogue, if only secondhand. But I would argue in turn that it makes Final Fantasy X feel overstuffed, and that it results in the story of Braska's pilgrimage getting lost in the mix. It's there, but it might as well be an entry in one of the massive BioWare codexes that no one ever reads. It's strictly background.
I'm a big fan of elegant storytelling, and it would have been interesting to see Square Enix try and build a satisfying adventure around a cast of three characters. It would have hurt the customization aspect — the ability to switch in party members at will has always been a highlight — but it would have kept the narrative focused on the core three, rather than wandering in other directions and focusing on secondary characters (no really, does anyone really care about Wakka?) Final Fantasy X-2, for all its silliness, showed that such an approach can work as long as you properly construct the battle system to fit it. Seeing as the dress sphere system was one of the best parts of Final Fantasy X-2, something similar might have worked well with Final Fantasy Jecht.
In any case, that's all conjecture. The biggest reason I would have liked to have seen Jecht star in his own adventure is that he's easily the most compelling character in Final Fantasy X. When the story begins, he's a broken drunk and an ex-athlete who has abandoned his family, and by the end, he's more or less come to terms with who he is and kicked alcohol. I find that journey more interesting than Tidu' grappling with daddy issues and his crush on Yuna (and his being a dream... which... nope).
It's funny. You don't often find a more worthy story buried within a larger narrative. And god knows that prequels are usually the worst. Still, I would have liked to have taken part in Jecht's journey. There was something great there, and now we'll never really get to see it.
But then, it would have been a crime if we had never gotten the gems of a scene you see below. So hey, maybe Square was on to something after all.