If you can believe it, Final Fantasy X was released 20 years ago today in Japan. When I think of games 20 years ago, I still think we're talking about the 16-bit, maybe early 3D era of our beloved pasttime - yer Final Fantasy VIIs and VIIIs, perhaps. But X? Get outta here. Not possible.
Apart from its 20th anniversary making me feel intensely old and decrepit, though, it also means that it's been two whole decades since the birth of that laughing scene. You know the one. Tidus' forced and slightly crazed "HA, HA, HA, HA, HAAAAAAA" has been engraved into my subconscious ever since I first clapped ears on it, and it's probably one of the most (in)famous moments of the entire game. It's bad, brilliant and bonkers all at the same time, and I wanted to take a moment to celebrate this heartiest of gaming occasions. Here's to you, Tidus and Yuna's baffling bellows. May your excrutiating exclaimations echo throughout time for many more years to come.
For the uninitiated, there is a moment in Final Fantasy X when Tidus, the game's main protagonist, needs a bit of cheering up. This beach-blond sportschap has just found out some shocking truths about the big apocalypse whale plaguing the land of Spira, and he's a bit down in the dumps about it. Yuna, the girl you're accompanying on a worldwide pilgrimage to save Spira from said apocalypse whale, takes note of Tidus' moping, and when they reach the city of Luca she attempts to teach him her own technique for being happy when really all she wants to do is have a good cry.
This technique involves smiling and then making yourself laugh out loud.
What follows is... well, it's best if you see for yourself. I like to think that FFX's now iconic laughing scene was simply a byproduct of the PS2's technical limitations at the time. The moment runs in-engine, so doesn't benefit from FFX's fancy FMV cutscene animation, and oh god, I think I might have to watch the rest of this through the cracks in my fingers. Don't say I didn't warn you.
It still gives me the shivers 20 years on. With its stilted delivery and ridiculous intonation, it's hard to imagine how anyone thought that was "the take" to go for back then, and part of me still wonders how it made its way into the game at all.
Equally, though, as awkward and cringey as it is, there's a part of me that still looks back on this moment with great fondness. An extra 20 years certainly hasn't made it any easier to watch, but when I recently replayed the FFX / X-2 HD Remaster a couple of years ago, I found myself actively looking forward to it nonetheless. Mostly because I was doing a pass-the-pad playthrough with former RPS vid bud Matthew at the time and he'd never played it before, so I was all, "Wait until you getta load of this bit."
In all seriousness, though, I think FFX would be a lesser game without it. Its execution might leave something to be desired, but the sentiment behind it remains one of my favourite things about FFX as a whole. The fact Yuna takes the time to ask about how Tidus is feeling before doing her best to cheer up her budding romance pal is emblematic of what FFX does best, and that's its cast of relatable characters. Its overarching plot might be a bit farfetched (see the aforementioned apocalypse whale), but it's all underpinned by a very human and empathetic group of mates who just want the best for each other. Final Fantasy VIII might be credited as the big Final Fantasy love story of the series, but X's warmth, compassion and heartfelt silliness comes a very close second in my book.
(It also makes my heart break for Yuna, because man alive, the fact she even has a coping technique for the times she feels sad speaks volumes about her character as a whole).
Producer Yoshinori Kitase summed it up perfectly in an interview with Game Informer back in 2019. Looking back on the game's laughing scene, he said:
"Even in the real world, actions taken by two people in a budding romance are generally embarrassing memories when you look back on them. I believe that this scene depicts that mental state very well. This scene of course is still made fun of by fans, but I imagine that it is because it greatly touched “something” in everyone’s heart for it to be such a memorable scene even after 18 years."
And I think that's the crux of it. It might be one of the most agonising video game scenes of all time, but there is something very touching about it as well - especially the way they break into genuine laughter right at the end, as if they, too, know that their awful performance of this fake guffawing is completely ridiculous. I love that it exists, and I'd hope that whenever Square Enix inevitably get round to doing an FF7-style Remake of Final Fantasy X in 55 years time for its 75th anniversary or some such event that they reenact this scene shot for shot without changing a thing. It's too special to meddle with, and it's my sincerest hope that we'll be able to carry on hearing Tidus and Yuna's howling HA HA HA HAHs until the end of time.