Final Fantasy X and Religion
There’s no shortage of allusions to religion and the mythologies of our world in the Final Fantasy series.
Many enemies are based on or pulled straight from legends, series staple eidolons including creatures and gods from Norse and Greek mythology, Hinduism and more. This mix of real world mythologies and religious icons has created a blend that is unique to FF, but its various worlds never used religion as a core plot element – until Final Fantasy X.
FFX features a faith based on the teachings of Yevon, a world-spanning religion whose faithful include all bar one race, the outcast and ‘heretic’ Al Bhed.
The religion operates as Spira’s governing body, headed by the Grand Maester, similar in function to Catholicism’s Pope.
The Grand Maester is a spiritual leader to the people of Spira, guiding them on how to live their lives according to the teachings of Yevon. Supporting the Grand Maester are three other Maesters, acting as individual leaders for the three Yevon-following races: Human, Ronso and Guado.
The Maesters and Grand Maester are supported by a number of priests and acolytes serving throughout Spira in various functions, but it is the responsibility of these four to lead the followers of Yevon.
While the full extent of Yevon’s teachings aren’t explored during FFX, the core function of the faith is vital to the game. It explains the existence of Sin, a gigantic whale-like creature that continually devastates Spira. Yevon claims to offer the means to defeat it.
Yevon’s teachings are most prominent in the temples throughout Spira. Summoners, tasked with the destruction of Sin, pray at these temples in order to gain the aid of aeons and prove themselves worthy of the Final Aeon, the only means to defeat Sin.
With the plot following Yuna’s pilgrimage as a summoner, it is little wonder that religion is so prominent in FFX.
The party interact with priests at every temple, and have several dealings with the Maesters and Grand Maester throughout the game. While the focus of the first half of the game is on Yuna’s pilgrimage, there is a gradual and subtle shift toward examining Yevon and the hidden motives behind the religion as the game progresses.
Wakka is central to demonstrating this to the player; his character progresses from being blindly faithful to Yevon to being a traitor and heathen with trauma and confusion in between.
While the other party members are quick to accept that the teachings of Yevon – and the teachers themselves – are not all as they seem, Wakka continually struggles with the prospect.
Reaching Zanarkand proves to be the turning point for the party as they discover the truth. The real meanings behind the teachings of Yevon were deliberately hidden, Spira’s people suppressed with falsehoods.
Even Wakka is able to admit that they were fooled and the party then decides to cast off the shackles of tradition and seek a true end for Sin.
Their defiance has them excommunicated, but by this point two Maesters – Wen Kinoc and Kelk Ronso – are dead, leaving the remaining Maester Seymour Guado and Grand Maester Yo Mika as unsent.
The solidarity of Yevon’s teachings is obviously shaky when supported by four dead men, the religion’s foundations crumbling as its leaders fall.
On the surface the scandal with Yevon’s teachings might seem like a simple critique of organized religion, however it is far more powerful when viewed as a critique of blind faith of any kind – not just in a religious sense.
Wakka once again personifies this idea: his hatred and distrust of both Al Bhed and machina stem from unquestioned beliefs and superstitions.
Even after Al Bhed Rikku enters the party, Wakka remains staunch in his ways, which leaves him far more susceptible to the lies of Yevon and its Maesters.
Operation Mi’ihen is another example of misplaced faith. The Crusaders and their Al Bhed comrades put absolute faith in the power of their machina, but it of course isn’t enough to overcome Sin, resulting in death and destruction.
Both Crusader and Al Bhed forces are left utterly annihilated - and it is ultimately all thanks to their misplaced faith.
The teachings of Yevon, in addition to being an in-game faith, draw influence from a number of real world religions. The structure, as already noted, is similar to Catholicism.
The very concept of a summoner’s pilgrimage to temples is not unique, with examples found in Christianity, Islam and Judaism, among others. Pilgrims travel to holy places in order to become closer to their god; Yuna and the other summoners travel to gain the strength of the aeons.
There are also constant references to circles, a concept Seymour fixates on. He wishes to end Spira’s cycle of sorrow and death. These, coupled with Sin’s continual reincarnation, are clear allegories to the Hindu belief in rebirth.
FFX maintains the series’ use of real world influences and combines them to create the teachings of Yevon, a religion which functions not only as an in-game theocracy but also as a compelling thematic plot device.
On top of that, it also provides an interesting theatre for critically analyzing some things we might otherwise take forgranted.
Originally published in the Final Fantasy 25th Anniversary fan magazine.