I recently just replayed both of X’s games and VII, because hey, they are my favorite Final Fantasy games. With the exception of direct sequels, most Final Fantasy games are completely independent from each other. That’s not always true—we have the Ivalice Alliance games such as XII and Tactics that both take place in the world of Ivalice, albeit a thousand years apart from each other. But unless we’re specifically told otherwise, it’s always been safe to assume that the Final Fantasy games have no impact on each other. At least, that was the case until X-2 happened. During an interview for Final Fantasy X-2 Ultimania, Nojima confirmed that X and X-2 are prequels to VII. While the stories in the games are still more or less independent from each other, this connection allows for some interesting social and religious implications, specifically for the Al Bhed.
Final Fantasy X takes place on the world of Spira, the Al Bhed’s home planet. We learn pretty early on that the Al Bhed are a technologically advanced group and also a persecuted minority because of it. Near the end of X-2, a young Al Bhed boy named Shinra tells Yuna that the energy from the Farplane—the land of the dead—could be harvested into electricity, which many of us noticed was something that the Shinra Electric Company does to the Lifestream in VII.
When I first played X-2, I honestly didn’t think much about this conversation. I just thought that Shinra’s character was being used as a shoutout to VII. At least that was the case until I read the aforementioned interview. This is information that’s been around for a while, and talking about it now makes me super late to this party—but now that the VII remake has been announced, I’m in a Final Fantasy mood, so talk about it I shall. X being a prequel to VII is something that I full-heartily embrace. I like stories that take place in the same universe, spanning over multiple years, with different characters. It’s one of the reasons I adore Star Wars. You just get to learn so much more about the universe in question, and it’s always fun seeing how younger characters interpret older events and how their culture changes.
Because these games are connected, a lot of things about them end up making so much more sense. Unfortunately, I’m quite certain that this was not planned when VII first came out. That doesn’t surprise me, considering how old VII is, compared to X. Pretty much, what happens is that Shinra fails in his plans to harvest the Farplane. However, what scientific accomplishments he does make have so much of an impact that his name becomes his descendants’ family name. About a thousand years after the events of X and X-2, the Shinras and the Al Bhed become technologically advanced enough to travel to other planets, which they do. They leave the world of Spira and settle down on Gaia. And that just about consists of what we know about the situation. Almost everything else is speculation.
As I said, VII definitely wasn’t planned with this connection in mind. There is nothing in the game to hint that Spirans—let alone Al Bhed Spirans—are a part of Gaia’s history. Despite that, VII’s backstory does deal a lot with space travel, and so this is the one game that this connection really works with. We find out that the Cetra, an ancient and near extinct people, were an itinerant race who would settle planets in search of the Promised Land. This probably means that the Cetra are Al Bhed descendants. As I said earlier, what we know about the Al Bhed is that they’re an oppressed group whom no one likes. People blamed them for their technological advancements keeping Sin alive and resulting in numerous deaths planet-wide. At one point during X, we witness an act of genocide against the Al Bhed. During X-2, the Al Bhed seem to be much more accepted by the rest of Spira, but a millennia of hate and oppression can’t be erased in just two years. Arguably, no one goes after them in X-2, because all the other Spiran factions are two busy fighting each other and trying to fill the power vacuum left by Yevon’s downfall.
I was quite disappointed in X-2’s take on the Al Bhed because of this. Their massacre at the hands of the Guado is a huge plot point in the first game and not something that should be so easily ignored. Instead, X-2 focuses on another group, the Ronso, and their hatred for the Guado. While the Ronso did suffer because of the Guado, it was nowhere near to the same extent as the Al Bhed. The Ronso didn’t face a near genocide, their home wasn’t destroyed, and they didn’t have to put up with a millennia of violent oppression and hatred at the hands of the Guado and other religious groups. And unfortunately, the Al Bhed for their part don’t even seem to feel that much resentment toward anyone else in Spira for all the atrocities they went through. Neither do we see their psychological trauma. X-2 pretty much erases this issue, and that’s a huge failing on the story’s part.
However, if the Al Bhed are the Cetra, that opens up some interesting possibilities. It’s entirely possible that the Al Bhed do continue to face persecution in the future and that their exodus from Spira had something to do with it. Most of the remaining Al Bhed are looking for a place to call their new home, preferably someplace no one would try to kill them—in other words, they’re looking for a Promised Land, just like the Cetra.
This theory becomes stronger when you consider that both the Cetra and Spirans had natural connections to the Lifestream/Farplane and afterlife. Supposedly, everyone else on Gaia used to be Cetra as well, but when they settled down and took up technology, they lost their connection to their more spiritual powers. I don’t believe that for a second. I believe everyone else on Gaia were native to that planet and never had such spiritual powers. The Al Bhed still had the same capabilities as any other Spiran, despite rejecting Yevon and not actively being spiritual themselves—and also despite being technologically advanced enough to travel through space.
VII and X also have a lot of interesting parallels to each other, and the themes in X perfectly fit with the Cetra’s ultimate extinction. To start off, Yuna and Aerith, our Christ-figures who save their prospective worlds, would both be half Al Bhed. Yuna goes on a pilgrimage fully expecting to die in order to save the world and ends up surviving, while Aerith goes off to save the world not expecting to die but is instead killed. Spira is so named because Spirans are trapped in a spiral of death. Regardless of whether or not Sin is around, something is always trying to kill them; not two years after Sin’s demise, Yuna has to face off against Vegnagun and Shuyin. After the Cetra arrived on Gaia, Jenova showed up and murdered them all.
When it comes to Yuna’s and Aerith’s heritage, it’s also interesting how their worlds treat them. Despite being saviors, they are not exempt from prejudice. Yuna spends the entire first game not telling anyone about her Al Bhed heritage, because as a Summoner of Yevon, that wouldn’t go over well for her. We find out that her father, despite being a High Summoner himself, got a whole bunch of shit thrown his way when he married an Al Bhed woman. As such, after Yuna moves towns as a child, to a place where no one knows her, she tells no one about her family, because this prejudice is so strong that not even her father being a respected hero exempts her from it.
Aerith has almost the exact opposite problem. The Promised Land doesn’t exist—it’s an idea of a perfect place—but the people on Gaia think the Promised Land is real and that Aerith has some divine purpose to lead them there. Aerith’s personhood is stripped away from her, and she spends the game being kidnapped and treated as nothing more than a science experiment who doesn’t deserve bodily autonomy. Like the Al Bhed, she’s not seen as a fellow human being. In fact, people often act as though her Cetra heritage makes her another species entirely.
There’s a lot more I could go into when it comes to these two games—spheres vs materia, both planets being alive, the realms of the dead being harvested-able, or even, oh my God, does this mean Rufus Shinra is part Cetra? Though it was confirmed and is now canonical that VII and X are connected, their stories don’t really have an impact on one another. They take place on different planets, a couple thousand years apart. In some ways, I wish they would do more with their connection, and who knows, maybe they will hint at it more in VII’s remake. Regardless of all the inevitable plotholes that connecting these two stories would create, this is still something that I like, especially since it can potentially expand on some of the horror the Al Bhed go through, and that thousands of years later, Aerith still has to deal with. The religious persecution that the Al Bhed face is one of X’s stronger points. It’s an issue that a lot of people can relate to, and it’s definitely something X-2 shouldn’t have completely written off. So I hope we see and learn more about this sometime in the future.