It’s been a while since I’ve had any ideas to write about here. I went through all the initial ideas I had in the first few months and none of the games I was playing at the time gave me any new ones. One game that kept coming to mind was Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (the newest game from the producer who made Xenogears) but I dismissed the idea because the game was so long that I didn’t feel like putting in the time playing it to refresh my memory. However, recently with the rerelease of Xenoblade Chronicles 1 on the Switch, I saw a discussion about Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s localization that mentioned how some references to Christianity were removed. After reading that discussion, I decided that maybe I should finally replay the game after all. Well 100 hours later and I can say that was absolutely the right decision, although not for the reason I initially thought. So today I’m going to talk about religion in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and some Catholic ideas that show up at the very end of the game (so MAJOR SPOILER WARNING to anyone who hasn’t played it or other Xeno games yet).
First off, how close is the religion in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 to Catholicism? Honestly, it’s not that close. The religion is pretty clearly inspired by Catholicism visually and in terminology, but in practice it’s your standard generic religion found in any fantasy setting. In the game, the main religion is the Praetorium led by the Praetor (basically the pope). The Praetorium is clearly aesthetically inspired by Catholicism with their characters in vestments and their buildings looking very cathedral-like.
In the main plot, you honestly don’t see any religious practices (they really only show up in some dialog with a few NPCs in the Praetorium), but you do get the sense of the Praetorium’s diplomatic role in the world. At one point, Praetor Amalthus steps in to stop a war between the two major powers, Uraya and Mor Ardain. This is kind of similar to the political role of the pope in the real world when Europe was a Catholic society (think middle ages). It kind of makes sense that we don’t really see any religion in the main story, because Amalthus himself is a nihilist. When you get past his facade he seems to think his role in the world is to wipe out mankind (which he sees as a mistake due to events in his past). The little bit of the religion we do see mentioned in the game is that the creator of the world is known as the Architect who lives in Elysium on the top of the world tree in the center of the world. This is where those localization changes I mentioned come into play- in the original Japanese the Architect is explicitly called the “God of Creation” and Elysium is referred to as “paradise.” There is even a myth at the start of the game about how mankind lived in Elysium with the Architect before being cast out in the past, a pretty explicit reference to the beginning of Genesis. Overall, this religion is pretty standard of fantasy games, where there is a visual inspiration from Catholicism but not a whole lot to the religion itself. That said, when you finally get to the end of the game and meet the Architect the most interesting Catholic ideas (in my opinion anyways) show up.
At the end of the game as you climb the world tree, things take a turn towards the scifi (as you might expect if you have played any of the other Xeno games at this point). It turns out Elysium is a space station at the top of the world tree, which is a bunch of plant life surrounding an ancient orbital elevator. The Architect himself turns out to be a man named Klaus, an old scientist who in trying to create a new universe, accidentally wiped out the existing one.
As a side effect, he had essentially become immortal as long as the power source of his experiment was still around (although it is about to leave and cause him to die due to events in Xenoblade Chronicles 1). In a standard JRPG, this is where you would fight Klaus in order to free the people of the world from his control, like you do with Deus in Xenogears or Zanza in Xenoblade Chronicles 1 but Klaus is different. He tells you how he realized the huge mistake he made and how he set out to try and recreate the world using nanomachines he had made to convert matter from the old world into a new one based on his memories. By recreating the world and suffering through being alone for the millennium it took for this process to take place, he hoped to atone for what he had done. This idea of redemptive suffering is a major Catholic idea, seen all over the place but most obviously in the Passion. This idea of redemptive suffering was in fact what kept the idea of Catholicism in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 in the back of my mind all this time. That said, when I played through the game this time, something new stood out to me in the ending that has stuck with me for the past few days- the idea of why I exist.
Throughout the game there are two major characters trying to reach the Architect- Malos, the main antagonist and Pyra, one of the main protagonists. They are both Aegises- basically super powered beings that were the first created by the Architect (and in the sci fi reality, they are supercomputers originally used in Klaus’ experiment that were turned human in the new world). The reason they want to see him is the same- they want to know why they exist and why the Architect created them. The game itself doesn’t have a super concrete answer (it just kind of happened as part of him recreating the world), but discussing the idea got me thinking- what is the Catholic answer to why we exist? I knew that creation was good (from Genesis), but I realized I couldn’t come up with a concrete answer off the top of my head for humanity as a whole or for me as an individual. After going back and researching the answer (thanks again to Bishop Barron and Word on Fire), here’s what I found. Humanity as a whole was made for God to manifest and share his glory and that the act of creation was an act of love (after all, God doesn’t need humanity to exist, but wills us to anyways out of love). On a more individual level, every person has a longing within them to return to Him (hense St. Augustine’s famous “Our hearts are restless until they rest with you”), with the specifics on how different for each person (that’s where you get into talk on things like vocation). When I heard that idea of longing to return to God, I immediately thought of Malos and Pyra and how they are drawn to the Architect despite not really knowing why and in their own individual ways. I honestly can’t think of any game that shows the Catholic idea of why we exist better, because in most games the creator is villainous. It really is cool seeing something different like this game that does a good job of showing an idea even if the developers may not have intended it that way.
So there are some Catholic ideas in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. I thought it was super cool how the first time I played the game I didn’t really focus on the idea of the purpose of my life but this time around I did. I’ve since realized that I first finished the game in January 2018, but originally started thinking about the purpose of my life and why I exist around February 2018 (just missed it the first time lol). It’s something I’ve been struggling with a lot the past two years, so wanting to know why you exist was super relatable this time around and has been on my mind since I finished the game a few days ago. The result is that I’ve written a much different post that I first imagined when I started planning this a month ago. I guess it’s just one of those cool times where you have a plan, but God ends up leading you in a completely different but much better direction.
Song of the Post-
Xenoblade Chronicles 2