Let’s start with some obvious news: love is hard. Often it doesn’t work out, which results in little abominations like myself growing up as a child of divorce. This led to a weirder relationship with my dad. It’s not a bad relationship, per se, just the occasionally awkward one. He wasn’t exactly absent from my life, but he wasn’t a part of my day-to-day either. We experienced difficulty discussing some of the important topics conventionally associated with a father-son relationship. Instead, we chose to forgo them entirely and focus on enjoying the little time we had together.
Each time we broached the subject of what I wanted for my future, or girls, or my grades in school, it would be the most cursory of conversations. My dad is the type of person who, like myself, tends to be coy about their feelings. When he decided to move to Florida for retirement, I didn’t even know until a few weeks ahead of the move. Just this last month he had a major heart surgery that I wasn’t aware of until the night before. We’re not always the most transparent. Instead, we leaned towards putting on a movie, watching the Yankees, or ordering pizza. Maybe a combination of all three. We kept it simple, or—whether or not either of us chose to admit it—safe.
But despite all that, one defining aspect of my childhood actually ameliorated some of these issues: Final Fantasy X. The game, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, was one of the more significant releases of the early PlayStation 2 era. Growing up, I almost exclusively played titles of the mascot platformer ilk. Think Sonic the Hedgehog, Crash Bandicoot, or Ratchet & Clank. I barely touched anything else until my adolescent eyes came across the game’s sweet box art. When you’re young, sometimes all it takes to get you invested is a guy holding a liquid blue dragon sword on a beach.
Then, somehow, both my dad and I ended up playing through this adventure together. I can’t remember what prompted it—he was probably in the room and thought the opening cutscene looked cool and decided to stick around—but it was unforgettable. You see, most of the games I played centered on action, quick reflexes, and simply blowing things up. (Don’t tell my parents, but I absolutely snuck in some Grand Theft Auto III in there.) So my dad couldn’t quite participate. Thanks to Final Fantasy X‘s turn-based RPG combat, my dad could easily get involved.
In many ways, the game was better suited to him than it was to me. I usually charged headfirst into my battles and escapades. But let me tell you, this game did not allow for such foolishness. Want to learn new special moves? You have to train your characters for hours to learn them. Want to beat that big boss? You have to strategize and, most intimidatingly, read—my young self’s kryptonite. Thankfully, my dad stayed by my side to pull me through.
We spent hours grinding levels, exploring the environments, and talking to every NPC we ran into in the hopes of gaining an item. My dad influenced the latter. He would make me stop every 15 minutes to check an innocuous wall because he swore that something looked off. His fascination with checking every tiny detail was actually kind of adorable. He grew up playing games with the graphical capabilities of a simple yellow circle eating pellets in a maze. Now, he got to see mythical dragons fly through the sky and characters backed by actual voice actors.
My dad being a newcomer to the modern age of gaming combined with my lack of ability for strategy, or even critical thinking, made Final Fantasy X a true challenge. We were a not-so-dynamic duo adamant about avoiding online guides. Instead, we went into every encounter blind and got our butts kicked a disturbing amount of times before discovering what to do. Every weekend I visited my dad became a new opportunity for us to continue the adventure. Even if it was just us practicing against random enemies to level up our characters.
He even started his own save file because he wanted to backtrack through areas we might’ve missed. One time, we got stuck on a particular boss, the Spectral Keeper. It inflicted a type of damage on our party that made them unable to listen to any commands, and thus attack automatically. By the time I returned to my dad’s after two weeks, he had found the requisite abilities and armor that made fighting the boss a piece of cake. It was like we had solved the equation for life.
Final Fantasy X isn’t exactly the most beloved in the series. Many consider its main protagonist, Tidus, incredibly obnoxious. And the relationship between Tidus and the game’s other main character Yuna feels, well, awkward. The gameplay felt great at the time and served as a splendid showcase for the PlayStation 2, but it lacked the iconic characters and storytelling of previous Final Fantasy entries. But being young, such factors didn’t really affect my perception of the experience. I liked Tidus just fine, which may or may not have had to do with James Arnold Taylor performing the voice. He also voiced Ratchet in the Ratchet & Clank series, my favorite game to this day. And truly, the quality didn’t matter. What mattered was that it was a unique experience my dad and I could enjoy together.
Final Fantasy X served as an icebreaker of sorts for my dad and I to communicate with one another. We were both fixated on this seemingly limitless world, the weird but memorable characters, and combat system. We spent hours on end trying to master the game.
But most importantly, Final Fantasy X gave me the belief that video games can provide a fluffy cushion for any two people. It’s not my favorite game of all time, but it is a precious jewel of nostalgia that I hold very near and dear to my heart. Little did I know that 20 years ago when I first inserted the disk into the PlayStation 2, that I’d actually be going on the adventure of a lifetime with someone that matters so much to me.