Best Bits: Operation Mi’ihen, FINAL FANTASY X

Beware - this article contains major spoilers for FINAL FANTASY X
By Duncan Heaney

In Best Bits, the Square Enix Blog team looks at some of our favorite moments from Square Enix games, and why we think they stand out. To be clear, we’re not declaring them to be the pinnacle of the game, merely one of many moments that we love. So don’t get upset with us if you disagree, okay?

One thing that makes FINAL FANTASY X such a distinct game is its tone. While there’s plenty of humor and high adventure to be had, there’s also a thick undercurrent of melancholy.

The specter of Sin hangs over the world of Spira at almost all times - the aquatic monstrosity devastates life, and people rely on summoners like Yuna to earn the power to stop it. And as Yuna and her Guardians are all too aware - that ain’t easy.

All other attempts to stop Sin typically end the same way - death and carnage. Operation Mi’ihen is one such disaster.

What is Operation Mi’ihen?

Yuna’s pilgrimage takes her to the Mi’ihen Highroad. The highroad’s a flurry of activity, with soldiers and chocobos scurrying around to prepare for a large-scale assault against Sin.

The party discovers that this is an unprecedented collaboration between the Crusaders (an anti-Sin military force), and the technologically-minded Al Bhed. What’s more, it will be witnessed by a major bigwig - Maester Seymour Guado himself. Seymour takes a shine to Yuna, so he invites the gang to come watch events play out.

The Crusaders plan to gather multiple Sinspawn - the monsters that emerge from Sin’s body - and use them to lure the moist menace to the area. The Al Bhed will then use powerful cannons to blast it away once and for all.

As plans go, it’s simple and to the point - what could go possibly go wrong? Other than, y’know, everything.

The aftermath

Firstly, the Sinspawn escape confinement, which forces the team to wade into the fray. After defeating a monstrosity, the heroes watch in horror as Sin withstands the powerful attack, and retaliates with one of its own.

When the dust is cleared, hundreds of Crusaders are dead, the party is scattered, and another Sinspawn boss is on the prowl. Fortunately, Seymour is there and, assisted by Yuna takes the beast down without too much trouble.

So what exactly is it that makes this section so memorable?

It’s thematically rich

Let’s go back to the subject of tone. FINAL FANTASY X is not a bleak game, but it is a sad one. Beneath the people’s enthusiasm, the friendships, the family, and the laughs is a gnawing sense of inevitability.

Sin is an unbeatable force of destruction. Even when a summoner’s pilgrimage is successful, it only marks a temporary reprieve. Sin always comes back. So too are the Crusaders’ operations doomed to failure. As one character explains, they exist to drive Sin away from settlements - but they’ve never succeeded at actually hurting the beast.

Operation Mi’ihen drives this home in most vivid way possible. The assault on Sin is doomed to failure - Auron knows it, the Maesters know it and we, the audience, know it, too. It’s never overtly stated, but you have to imagine that a number of the Crusaders know this also. But they go ahead anyway, because it’s better to do something than nothing at all.

Sure enough, the operation is a bust, and hundreds are left dead or injured. Nothing is left but for the survivors to pick themselves up and move on. After all, that’s what you do in Spira. It’s inevitable.

It helps us start investing in the questing

The early stages of FINAL FANTASY X take place largely from Tidus’ perspective. We follow his struggles, learn about his childhood, and get introduced to the world through his eyes.

Even when he becomes a Guardian, Tidus does so without any deeper understanding of the pilgrimage’s implications. So, there’s a risk that the complex religious and political aspects to Yuna’s pilgrimage could become little more than a backdrop to his struggles.

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Fortunately, the developers are smarter than that. By giving us a close-up look at Sin through Operation Mi’ihen, Yuna’s story moves to the forefront of the game. We’re reminded us that stopping Sin really matters, and that helps us invest in the quest.

It makes the world richer and more cohesive

Stop me if you’ve heard this before - the ‘world is a character in its own right’.

It’s not the most original statement, but I maintain it holds true for FINAL FANTASY X. One of the greatest things about it - at least from my perspective - is how fleshed out Spira is. It’s a fully-realized place, not just in terms of the lands and races, but society itself.

For example, there’s a persistent tension between the devout followers of Yevon, who see the use of machina, or machinery, as taboo, and the Al Bhed, who tinker and use machina as a matter of course.

This is alluded to throughout the early parts of the game, but Operation Mi’ihen swings the spotlight directly onto it.

The Crusaders’ collaboration with the Al Bhed and their technology is a source of major controversy - many of Yevon’s followers are horrified by it, particularly Wakka.

When it all falls apart, many of the survivors face something of an existential crisis, and believe that their failure to follow the tenets of their religion is to blame. Many head to the temples after the battle to work with the priests and atone for their sins.

Getting such a detailed look into the relationship between Yevon and technology enriches our understanding of the world.

We see the power religion has over all aspects of society. We see the role old technology plays in this land. We see how the followers of Yevon resent and mistrust the Al Bhed.

Thanks to Operation Mi’ihen, Spira feels like a fully-formed place for the characters to inhabit.

It builds character through gameplay

We already know that Seymour is powerful - we’ve seen it earlier in the story. But by putting him under our control, we get a sense of just how capable he is.

Every member of your party has a specific role to play in battle - Yuna’s a white mage, Lulu’s a black mage, Wakka specializes in ranged attacks and so on.

So it’s eye-opening when Seymour joins your party. He’s got powerful offensive magic, he can heal, and he hits like a tank. He’s a jack of all trades, and a Maester of most of them.

Combined with his elevated position in Spiran society, it hammers home a key point - this is a dude you should take seriously.

Despite his reluctance to button his shirt up.

So those are some ruminations on one of our favorite parts of FINAL FANTASY X - but we’re sure you have your own. Share them in the comments, or on social media: