As I’ve mentioned in the past, usually the religions in video games inspired by Catholicism only resemble it superficially, copying the look and feel of the religion without any of the actual content that matters. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever find anything better than a superficial but positive portrayal, but that changed last year when I started playing through the Legend of Heroes series. This JRPG series started in 2004 and is ongoing to this day. The two main selling points of the series is the large, interconnected story in all the games of the series (the main plot is supposedly only 60% done) and the great world building enabled by NPC dialog that is constantly updated as you progress regardless of if it relevant to what you are doing. Like most fantasy games it includes a fictional religion resembling Catholicism- the Septian Church. Unlike most games, however, it goes much deeper than a superficial resemblance. I wanted to spend some time talking about the Septian Church in this game and its similarities and differences to Catholicism.
To start off, I want to talk about the similarities between the Septian Church and Catholicism. The world in the game is kind of loosely inspired by Europe in the mid 1800s, but with monsters and some new technology that is making things advance quickly to the present’s level of tech. The various countries in the game are clearly inspired by those of the time, for example, Erebonia is basically Imperial Germany, Calvard is basically the French Republic and Liberl is basically Switzerland. One country mentioned but not focused on in the game is Arteria- a city that is the center of the church (clearly a reference to the Vatican). Each city in the game has a church that resembles a Catholic church in terms of architecture as expected with an assigned priest (or bishop in the big cities) that runs it.
A lot of the terms used by the church associated characters are Catholic instead of simply generic religious terms common in most games. For example instead of “going to church” there is “going to Mass” and there are references to groups like the “Congregation for the Sacraments” back in Arteria. The churches even have “Sunday School” where they teach the kids both religion and general knowledge in lieu of a modern school system. While all this would make it resemble the Catholic Church more than most games, it would still be superficial. What really sells it for me is the dialog of the church affiliated characters. As I mentioned before, one of the big selling points of this series is that the NPC dialog is constantly updating as you play, often unrelated to the plot. As I was playing the game, the dialog of the church affiliated characters impressed me with just how Catholic it sounded. One incident in particular that stood out to me in Trails in the Sky SC. Relatively late in the game, a town is attacked by the villains and the market that is the center of the town is completely destroyed- leaving the townspeople distraught and unsure of what to do. If you take a detour during this event and go talk to the town’s priest he’ll talk to you about suffering and the power of redemptive suffering. I remember at the time thinking that the dialog sounded straight out of a Catholic homily on suffering. This kind of dialog is found all throughout the series and really makes the Catholic connections obvious.
While the Septian Church is clearly Catholic inspired, it’s still in a fictional world so there are some differences. Probably the biggest is the Gralsritter- the church’s secret special ops team protecting the world behind the scenes. Because there are dangerous magical relics from the beginning of the world (for example, an item that stops time for everyone but its user or an item that turns whatever it touches into salt), the church established the Gralsritter to retrieve these relics and store them safely away where they can’t be used for evil. Obviously since there isn’t anything similar to those relics in Catholicism, there is no need in the real world for such an organization. On top of that, at least one member of the Gralsritter is basically an assassin. While some of the people he kills in the game could arguably fall under the Catholic Church’s teaching on the death penalty, I can think of at least one that wouldn’t. Beyond the Gralsritter there are other small differences. One is that the church is much less hard on animism- the game’s equivalent to paganism. People in the world are welcome to worship the wind for example, as long as they also worship the goddess of the Septian Church. This is in contrast to Catholicism, which clearly states that it is wrong to worship anything other than God (it doesn’t get more direct that the first commandment). Another small difference is the role of nuns in the church. In the Septian Church, the role of nuns is similar to that of permanent deacons- they kind of help out the priest in charge of the church, whereas in Catholicism nuns are parts of religious orders rather than directly tied to a local parish. From what I understand, this difference comes from a cultural difference between Japan and the west. For whatever reason nuns are associated with old Shinto shrine maidens so even if a character is supposed to be more of a Catholic nun, their role will be more along that of the shrine maiden (while I’m not a huge fan of the site, TV Tropes does have an article explaining this common difference pretty well- https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NunsAreMikos). So while the Septian Church is significantly more Catholic than most fictional game religions, differences do exist.
Overall, I was extremely impressed with how religion was portrayed in the Legend of Heroes series and how close it was to real Catholicism. It’s honestly really refreshing to see a church portrayed in such a positive light and relatively accurately in contrast to the negative, superficial portrayal much more common in games. When I first played the games, I honestly thought these associations were made by some Catholic localizer in order to give some added realism to the church’s dialog, but it turns out I was wrong. In an interview with the president of Falcom (the creators of the series), he revealed that the Septian Church was created to be a Japanese view of the Catholic Church- something mysterious and exotic but overall trying to do good in the world. After reading that interview, I have to say they absolutely succeeded. While the series isn’t complete yet so there is still a chance for things to go south in the future, for now I extremely like what was done with religion in The Legend of Heroes.
Song of the Post-
Trails in the Sky the 3rd