(NOTE: This article contains some spoilers from FFX. In fact, it will most likely only make any sense at all to you if you’ve played it. Fair Warning.)
As gamers I think it’s a fair to generalize us as an action-loving
bunch. Though our high-octane may come in different flavors, be it the
thrill of slaying a dragon with our bare hands or the fast-paced
hand-eye challenge of a puzzle platformer.
I think that’s why when it comes to videogame characters, most of us are
rooting for the badass, and the triple-A development world knows this.
Whether it’s the grizzled grunting of a Marcus Fenix or the stoic
silence of a Master Chief, we tend to prefer our heroes musclebound and
I think that’s why characters like Tidus, the famously whiny protagonist
of SquareEnix’s Final Fantasy X, gets so much hate. Many of us game to
vent real-world frustrations, and Tidus just doesn’t offer that
in-your-face dominance we need to put that uppity 14 year-old only child
from Georgia in his place.
Tidus is whiny and self-absorbed and full of deep-seated confidence and
daddy issues. He might not be what we want from a fantasy protagonist.
He’s also, possibly, one of the best fantasy protagonists ever written.
And here’s why:
The sociopathic “Mr. Plinkett” of Red Letter Media reviews fame put it
best when he said that in science fiction and fantasy genres, we need an
outsider for a protagonist. One who the other characters can aim all
their plot exposition at. We relate to this character, because at first
we don’t understand all the crazy happenings of this new fantastical
Tidus is perfect for this. He literally emerges from a dream of the past
and washes up on the shores of a new world, whose customs and people are
alien to him. Where Tidus really shines as a character, however, is in
how he takes it. That’s right, the BEST part about Tidus is how whiny he
is, because it’s also the part that makes him the most resoundingly
Show me a young man who is thrust into the middle of a life or death
conflict against the ghost of the father who never cared for him with
allies he’s only just met in a world he doesn’t understand who weathers
that all with perfect stoicism and “badassery” and I’ll show you a
completely unbelievable protagonist. It’s just not fathomable. Could you
do it? I couldn’t.
Even after learning about Yuna’s journey, the pilgrimage, and the plight
of Spira, Tidus’s only motivation is getting home. He’s a terrible hero,
which is natural because he’s not a super-soldier or a living God, he’s
a kid who used to get way too much attention for being able to play an
(admittedly awesome) sport.
As the journey progresses Tidus starts to feel a little more comfortable
with the team, but it’s still all about escape for him. He begins to
fall for Yuna during this time and she’s able to draw out of him the
same brand of slavish devotion that the rest of her party shows her. His
affection runs a little deeper, but he’s reserved about showing it. Not
because he has all the social savvy of a wheelbarrow full of sweet corn,
but because he’s still planning on leaving. This is all just a stop on
the road for him.
It’s not until that fledgling love is threatened that Tidus becomes a
hero. This is worthy of note. It’s not a sense of duty or honor or an
innate need to protect the people that drives Tidus to take up the
mantle, it’s that fate is threatening to take away his New World hussy,
and he’s not letting the universe go gentle into that good night until
he’s tapped that quite thoroughly.
Now we come to the crux of Tidus’s hero status, and the portion of the
story that everyone who says he does nothing but whine and complain
about daddy must have either failed to reach or ignored due to
steroid-induced rage coma: Tidus decides to defy an ancient religion,
endanger an entire continent and take on an enemy so large it generates
its own gravitational field, and his reasons for doing this aren’t even
altruistic. He wants to keep the ones who have become close to him, his
adoptive family so to speak, safe. The rest of the world (quite
literally) be damned.
Eventually Tidus figures out that he’s a dream of the Fayth, and that
saving Spira and the woman of his dreams will cause him to cease to be,
but Tidus finally reveals a manly side and decides to do it anyway. He
saves the world, gets to hold the girl mildly-more-than-platonically for
like 45 seconds and then bam, he fades away into nothingness.
It’s beautiful. It’s poetry. It’s damn good fiction, and the fact of the
matter is that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen that much depth of character out of a videogame protagonist. So you can play replay that clip of him laughing on Youtube and poke fun at the daddy issues all you want, but when asked to come up with a list of the greatest videogame protags of all time, personally, I’ll always turn to Tidus.
PS. Didn’t have time as this was already way too long, but someday maybe we’ll talk about THIS guy too: