Spira, the world of Final Fantasy X is very much like an old fairy tale. Bright colors bleed across the landscape from far and wide. But at its core, it’s rotten; and in the case of Spira, it’s rotten in every sense of the word.
[This article contains spoilers for Final Fantasy X]
The average life expectancy in Spira is very low. Death is a daily occurrence, even though there is no war. This lack of war is due to the population of Spira having a common enemy. Besides monsters known as fiends that hunt humans, there is one great beast whose only purpose and instinct is to kill; a creature known as Sin. Named such due to the belief that it was birth through use of technology. We allowed robots and machines to do all of our work and for that we must be punished. The deadliest of the seven deadly sins turned out to be sloth.
The truth about the world of Spira is far more disturbing. This is the land of the dead. The people of Spira can consciously and unconsciously fear, hate, fight, respect, follow, and worship death all at the same time.
Everyone is justifiably afraid of death. But unlike our world, the people of Spira know exactly what awaits them on the other side. Upon death your soul travels to a realm known as the farplane and that’s as far as anyone knows. The living were able to construct a portal into the farplane. Once there they saw that it’s a lush place full of beautiful roses and waterfalls. But much like Spira this may be to distract from an awful truth. Your existence within the farplane is as a floating orb of light for eternity. One can only hope that you’ve lost your consciousness and memories, lest you end up trapped within your own maddened mind forever. To distract themselves from this possibility, the people of Spira like to think that the dead go there to “rest”. For the living, however, this delusion is a small price to pay to avoid the alternative. Hatred.
Not everyone who dies in Spira make their way to the Farplane. Some refuse to accept their fate and develop great anger and hatred for the living. Perhaps believing that others should have died along side them or instead of them. This hatred can consume a lost soul and transform them into the monsters known as fiends. Fiends that the living will have to fight and kill, resulting in the people of Spira having to hunt down and kill their loved ones over and over again. Those who fight monsters are quite literally at risk of becoming monsters themselves.
Every lost soul is given the opportunity to stare into the abyss. But if a summoner is nearby, a sending can be performed. A ritual that robs the dead of this opportunity and forces the souls into the farplace whether they like it or not. The summoner dances and twirls as they’re locking the souls away within what is essentially purgatory.
One does not need to be a fiend to be a monster, however. At least, this is what I think the game was implying. Some dead retain their human forms and become monsters of a different sort: politicians and spiritual leaders. The people of Spira respect the maesters, they trust them, and they follow their teachings; even though the maesters themselves won’t. They condone and even look up to the unsent, as their own grand maester is an unsent. They cling to life, but more importantly they cling to power. They knew all along what Sin really is, and knew that they were indoctrinating all of Spira into worshipping their own destruction.
The being, known as Yevon or Yu-Yevon, lives within the monstrosity known as Sin. Yevon created Sin to act as its armor. So afraid of death was Yevon, that he created a housing that sustains his life, and causes mass destruction if any tries to pierce its shell. For good measure, the armor also thins the herd every once in awhile, just in case anybody gets any bright ideas. The people of Spira unknowingly worship this very being. The origins of this reverence, I suspect come from an effort to appease it.
If a summoner completes a pilgrimage across Spira, they are given a final aeon summoning that requires a loved one be offered as a sacrifice. The summoner is subsequently offered to Yevon as a sacrifice, as summoning the final aeon kills the summoner but destroys sin. Yu-Yevon then uses the final summoning as raw material to build a new sin. Almost like a reverse sending, Yu-Yevon transforms the person who is the final summoning into the ultimate fiend.
The killing stops, as Yu-Yevon retreats and takes an undisclosed amount of time to construct the new sin. This moment in time is called The Calm. During this time, the dead still govern the land, Yevon is still worshipped, and fiends continue to prey on the living.
Much like our world, a common enemy was the only thing keeping them from destroying themselves. Once Yu-Yevon was defeated and the eternal calm came, different factions began to rise. With that, the most human thing they could do followed. A reason for conflict was conjured, and the land was brought back to the brink of war.
Something the main character says stands out to me. He’s from realm that’s basically a dream but seems to have the same rules as Spira, minus sin. The city of Zanarkand as it was before sin destroyed it. He’s asked if there are any fiends there. He answers: “Some, it’s a big deal when one shows up though.” Being stuck in time, sans Sin, the city has machines running everything for humanity. It’s a civilization living perpetually at or near the top of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.
Free to engage in scholarly, philosophical or artistic pursuits, among other things at their leisure, the people there are more comfortable crossing over when their time comes. The average life expectancy must be high indeed in a such a society. So when death does come it must usually be at an old age. A time when people feel like they’ve lived a full life. To label such a society a sin feels wrong.