The worst of the lot is X’s Tidus. X is Yuna’s adventure. She’s the one on the epic quest who loses her faith (and her fayth). She’s the primary driver of the plot and the one who really goes on an emotional journey as she tries to be the hope of Spira while realizing that the religion she has dedicated her life to is a toxic lie.
Tidus, for all that he talks about this being his story, is little more than a distraction to the party. His romance with Yuna is touching, but it feels like one part of her reason to make her ultimate choice to reject the Yevon church rather than the main event. In the end, all Tidus does is decide maybe being mad at his absentee father all the time isn’t the most important thing in the world. When the sequel rolls around, Yuna is chasing Tidus’ shade, but here he’s even more dead weight as she is actively being a public figure fighting off a new threat that doesn’t revolve around some dude who wasn’t all that important in the first place. The special ending you get for 100 percent completion just isn’t worth the hassle. Tidus doesn’t matter compared to the space he takes up. Yuna’s relationship with her cousin Rikku is ten times what Tidus’ crush is from a development standpoint.
He’s not even particularly useful in the party. There at least, Zidane from IX beats him. Another summoner, Dagger, is at the center of that drama. Both she and Zidane are searching for their real identities, though you could argue that only Dagger actually completes the crusade. She goes from shy, awkward girl to competent regent of a realm. Zidane kind of just has a breakdown before remaining the kind, cocky adventurer he always was. The Zidane that helped get Dagger out of danger in the beginning is the exact same person who goes back into peril to rescue Kuja at the end.
Dagger is not particularly fun to play as, which is why she isn’t a terribly good protagonist, but she is the reason for 90 percent of the game’s action. Zidane is just comedic relief along for the ride most of the time.
And then there’s Vaan in XII. I’ve read that he was sort of an afterthought. The game wanted Basch or Bathier to be the main character, with the latter being the one most people I know consider the real hero. He does get all the good lines, but, again, he barely drives the plot. The main character should be Ashe, another princess with deadly power... which I just realized also partially includes summoning.
It takes a while for her to join up, but once she’s there literally everything the party does is about her. They’re going to get crystals or magic swords or form alliances so her kingdom will survive the upcoming war. Three of other characters are actively her lawful subjects, beholden to her rule in theory if not actually in reality.
Vaan is there as Ashe’s moral support, nothing more. He does get to explore his anger for having lost his brother in the war that cost Ashe the throne, but once he resolves his conflict with Basch he virtually disappears from the plot. In the climatic ending, which I still say is one of the greatest video game endings ever made, Vaan is hardly in it. It’s all about Ashe reclaiming her throne, establishing mankind as the masters of their own destiny outside the Occurian overlords and ultimately achieving the peace her wedding was supposed to bring years before. Vaan literally just drives the ship.
It’s like at this time in the franchise history they were trying their best to recreate previous heroes like Cloud and Cecil, but they kind of forgot to give them anything really to do. Both of those protagonists had long character arcs that were essential to the overall game, whereas Zidane, Tidus and Vaan are ancillary cast given inexplicable top billing. Only Zidane comes close to holding a candle to someone like Cloud, and even he wouldn’t have any reason to be in the game if Dagger wasn’t there. It seems like Final Fantasy would have been better off just making Dagger, Yuna and Ashe the stars, but you have to give the boys their main playable slot or they can’t handle it. Shame, because they would have been better games.