Ys 9

Ever since I finished Final Fantasy 14 last October, I’ve been struggling to come up with new ideas for this website.  I’ve played a lot of games since then, but most of them either didn’t have any obvious relation to Catholicism or were gameplay focused (so there was nothing to write about).  That was until I played through Ys IX:  Monstrum Nox.  Like most Falcom games, there was a church standing in for Catholicism and like modern Ys games, there was a lot of inspiration from European history.  So today I’m going to talk about religion in Ys 9 and the Hundred Years’ War.

There are two religions in Ys 9.  First, there is the Hieroglyph Church, a stand in for the Catholic Church, with the standard hierarchy of priests and bishops, a big gothic cathedral, support for the poor and even a military religious order called the Hieroglyph Knights to protect the city (kind of like the Knights Templar were in Jerusalem after the First Crusade).  

Second, there is the old Nors religion, a stand-in for paganism in general but Norse mythology in particular (with Grimnir and Luki taking the place of Odin and Loki).  

In the game, Gllia (basically France) followed the Nors religion in the past but switched to the Hieroglyph Church after being conquered by the Romun Empire.  In fact, one character suggests that the church itself is just there to politically unify the country and pacify the conquered Gllians.  But how does this compare to reality?  First of all, when the Roman Empire was still conquering, the unifying political religion was the cult of the emperor.  In fact, a large part of why Catholicism was constantly persecuted was precisely because it wouldn’t submit to this cult, as worship is for God alone.  This additionally ties into the whole idea of religious indifferentism you find throughout the Ys games, this one in particular.  In these games, most religions have a basis in reality (with the possible exception of the Hieroglyph Church), with Adol getting involved with the gods of a region’s religion in a given game.  Off the top of my head, Ys 7, 8 and 9 all deal with a different religion that is true (in 9’s case, the Nors gods existed in the past but died off around 500 years ago).  In a world like this where all religions are true, it makes sense to suggest that one is not better than another and that people shouldn’t try to convert others to their religion.  In reality, however, only Catholicism is true.  As a result, Catholics should actively be trying to convince people to convert to Catholicism and not just let them continue in the error of their false religion (on top of being told to do so directly by Jesus in the Gospels).  This is why, for example, the Spanish explorers of the 1500s included religious who worked to convert the natives of whatever land they were in.  This idea that one should convert people to Catholicism isn’t very popular in the modern political landscape, but it is no less true now than it was back then.  So while the game does have some superficial aspects of religion based in reality, it doesn’t line up with the real world in a deeper sense.



Next, I want to discuss the Hundred Years’ War.  The political landscape of the world in Ys 9 is that of Europe around the 1500s, with the exception of Rome and Carthage being new and at the height of their power.  Centuries before the events of the game was an event called the Hundred Years’ War between Gllia and Britai.  

During this war, Gllia was almost conquered by Britai before a girl named Rosvita (Saint Rosvita in the game’s present) led a counterattack that started driving them off.  At some point she was captured and executed as a heretic, but Gllia had recovered enough to finish driving off Britai.  If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it is inspired by the real Hundred Years’ War between England and France in the 1300s and 1400s.  

The war was basically a war of succession where the King of England claimed to be the successor to the Kingdom of France, whereas the French nobles claimed someone else.   England invaded and actually came close to controlling France, although over time as leaders died and were replaced they eventually were driven off.  One of the most famous stories of this war is that of St. Joan of Arc, a girl called by God to fight off the English.  She was much more successful than anyone predicted and started the French success that would eventually lead to their victory.  At some point she was captured by the English and executed as a heretic, although since she is venerated as a saint now we would say that was incorrect and wrong to do (most likely it was politically motivated).  The game actually follows these events fairly closely, with Britai, Gllia and Rosvita standing in for England, France and St. Joan of Arc.  The biggest difference is that in the game, the war is really a proxy war for the Nors religion between Luki’s Britai and Grimnir’s Gllia (with the two gods dying in the war), with the Hieroglyph Church showing up hundreds of years later with the Romun invasion.  This difference leaves out probably the most interesting religious point of the real Hundred Years’ War as pointed out by Warren Carroll in his History of Christendom series- the story of St. Joan of Arc is as far as we know the only instance of God calling a Catholic to fight Catholics.  We can only speculate on why that is, with the only good guess based on known history is the fact that England eventually became Anglican (and thus a conquered France would have as well).  If you are interested in more info on the war, check out volume 3 of the aforementioned History of Christendom called The Glory of Christendom.

So there is a brief discussion on religion in Ys 9, religion indifferentism and the Hundred Years’ War.  It seems like out of all Japanese developers I’m aware of, Falcom does the best with religion in their games (although they did a better job in the older games- compare the extremely Catholic Septian Church of Trails in the Sky to the much less so Septian Church of Trails of Cold Steel).  Of the Ys series, 7, 8 and 9 have the most religion and are each mostly stand alone, so if you are curious pick one up and try it out!  Not only are they fun, but you might get hints of the truth in there too.

Song of the Post-

Thus Spoke an Alchemist

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox

Organs can also sound spooky. I blame Dracula.

Final Fantasy 14: Heavensward

As I continue to make my way through Final Fantasy 14, I’ve been taking a bunch of random notes about potential topics to write about on this site.  A lot of them are just throw away lines that reminded me of some Catholic idea, but a few parts of the game inspired a large number of notes.  In particular, I wrote down a lot about the first expansion, Final Fantasy 14:  Heavensward due to its general aesthetics as well as the direction of the expansion’s story.  So I decided today I would sit down and compare the Ishgardian Orthodox Church of Heavensward to the Catholic Church (major spoilers below!)


The Ishgardian Orthodox Church aesthetically is one of the closest I’ve seen to Catholicism in any video game.  The actual religion itself gets almost no focus in the game at all (we know there is a goddess named Halone the Fury, there was reference to the 1000 year ongoing war with the dragons and that a teaching on equality that was controversial but that’s about it).  That said, the look and feel of the religion is super Catholic.  The main town of the expansion, Ishgard is basically all gothic architecture clearly inspired by the medieval Catholic buildings.  For example, there is Saint Raymanaud’s Cathedral with its large stone walls and its bright stained glass windows

Another example is the first floor of the Vault, which is basically the equivalent of St. Peter’s Basilica in the game:

And from the outside, you can see the gothic influence as well

In addition, the music in all these areas sound extremely Catholic due to the prominence of the organ in the various songs (I highly recommend checking out the Heavensward soundtrack, with Solid, the Song of the Post, being one of my favorite songs on it).  The church itself is set up hierarchically like the Catholic Church, with the Archbishop leading and with priests working “in the field” so to speak.  The clergy are trained in the Scholasticate, which seems to be based on the early Catholic universities in the 13th century and similar to a modern seminary.  The equivalent of the pope is Archbishop Thordan. Much like in the Papal States, the Archbishop is both the religious and civil ruler of Coerthas. He is elected by the clergy when the previous archbishop dies, but unlike Catholicism there doesn’t seem to be a group like the College of Cardinals set up for the election.  His vestments look like they were taken straight from the pope and put on an elf:

Like in Catholicism, the clergy are supposed to be celibate but things don’t always work out that way.  In fact, one of the main characters of the expansion is the illegitimate son of Archbishop Thordian, which is as scandalous in the game as it was when it happened in real life (look up Pope Alexander VI and Cesare Borgia if you are curious).  So overall, the aesthetics and general organization of the Ishgardian Orthodox Church are extremely similar to Catholicism.  With that being said, what are some differences?


While the aesthetics and organization of the Ishgardian Orthodox Church are extremely similar to Catholicism, there are some major differences in beliefs, two in particular.  First, the church is extremely focused on the ends justifying the means.  There are two big examples of this in the story.  First, like many video game religions, a good chunk of it was made up to cover up some dark deeds in the past.  In this case, it was that the cause of the thousand year war with the dragons was not the aggression of the dragons, but the murder of a dragon by the leader of Ishgard in order to steal the powerful eyes of the dragon.  The church leaders since have kept this secret in order to maintain public order in the country and prevent the people from despairing over the revelation that they are fighting and dying for a bad cause.  The second example is in the goal of Archbishop Thordan, who has himself and his personal guard turned into super powerful beings in order to crush anyone who would oppose him and create a forced peace using this power (which is why you have to fight him at the end of the expansion).  As I’ve discussed before, the ends justifying the means goes against Catholic morality.  You simply can’t do a bad action in order to produce a good outcome.  The second major difference is related, namely the fact that a large chunk of the religion was made up to preserve order.  At the end of the expansion this is revealed and the people of the church really have no idea what to do going forward.  In fact, a sidequest chain that takes place in the Scholasticate deals with the fact that many people have begun to feel that if some of the scripture is false, why can’t the rest of it be as well?  The situation isn’t really resolved by the time you move on to the second expansion.  In contrast, Catholicism has always maintained that truth cannot contradict truth and as a result, if science goes against small t tradition (AKA something commonly believed but not required to be believed by the church), it concludes the small t tradition was wrong.  This was,  for example, why Galileo was asked to present his beliefs as a theory until more solid evidence could back it up (Galileo got more in trouble not for what he said but more the way he said it, but I’ll save the details of Galileo for another post).  Another example is that when evolution became more widely supported, a literal interpretation of the beginning of Genesis became much less popular in favor of a more allegorical one (the allegorical reading didn’t come out of nowhere, going back at least to the time of St. Augustine in the 4th century since its mentioned in his Confessions, but it definitely became more common in the present as a result).  All these examples show that while aesthetically the Ishgardian Orthodox Church is extremely Catholic, in its beliefs and legitimacy it really isn’t.


So there is an overview on the Ishgardian Orthodox Church from Final Fantasy 14:  Heavensward and how it compares to Catholicism.  I definitely recommend checking the expansion out if you are into MMOs, although you’ll have to get through the more generic base game to get to that point (which took me about a month).  I’m still working my way though the rest of the game (I’m about a third of the way into the second expansion, Stormblood as I write this), so expect more FF14 posts in the future.


Song of the Post-
Solid
Final Fantasy 14:  Heavensward

Organs make everything sound more Catholic

Xenoblade Chronicles 2

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-

Drifting Souls

Xenoblade Chronicles 2

The lyrics of this song made way more sense to me this time around

G Gundam

One of my favorite series outside of video games is the anime series Mobile Suit Gundam.  It’s basically the origin of the “real robot” mech genre (as opposed to the “super robot” genre), mainly focusing on war dramas that feature robots instead of tanks and planes.  In addition, the fact that I like to build the model kits of the robots in the show probably increased my love of the series (I may or may not have come up with the idea for this post while trying to find an excuse to post a picture of my models lol).  One entry, however, is pretty strange in that it is actually a super robot show- G Gundam.  It actually has an interesting and unique world and plot as a result, so I thought I could talk about how the Catholic Church would respond to the world of G Gundam.

First, I’ll give a quick overview of the world of G Gundam.  At some point in the future, the world has become pretty run down due the abuse from mankind.  The countries of the world, rather than try to fix the problem, decide instead to just abandon the planet and go live in new pristine space colonies instead. 

However, not everyone could make it onto the space colonies before they left, so most of humanity was left behind on Earth.  While not 100% abandoned, they are clearly third class citizens and the governments really dont care about their people still on Earth much.  In addition, the countries of the world realized that war in space is a really, REALLY bad thing (for evidence of that, just go watch any other Gundam series lol), so to avoid war, they decide instead to have a tournament every four years to decide which country will rule the planet called the Gundam Fight.  During the Gundam Fight, each country sends its own giant robot called a Gundam to fight in a tournament with the planet as the arena  Some rules include destroying the head of an opponent’s Gundam eliminates them from the tournament, deliberately killing an opponent is forbidden (although it can occasionally happen on accident) and fights can happen anywhere on earth, including the places where people still live.  This universe is actually pretty interesting and unique, in contrast to how goofy the rest of the show is (for example, each Gundam is basically a bunch of National Stereotypes.  Neo America’s Gundam is a football, surfing, cowboy boxer for example). 

So how exactly would the Catholic Church respond to a G Gundam type situation?  I think it would in kind of a mixed way.  I’ll focus on the abandonment of Earth and the Gundam Fight itself.

I feel like the abandonment of Earth would likely be frowned upon by the Catholic Church for a few different reasons.  First of all, the Catholic Church would be against letting Earth get to the point where countries feel the need to just leave.  While not against using the resources of the Earth, the Church is against abusing them with no concern for others or the rest of God’s creation.  After all, if we go by Genesis, humans are the stewards of the Earth, not its dominators.  Pope Francis has talked about this a decent amount during his pontificate if you want to look into the topic more.  Beyond that, I don’t think the church would be for a plan to abandon the planet unless there was no other choice.  Yeah, if there was a Krypton type situation where the choice was leave or die, I think they would be ok with it (because human life is so precious), but in G Gundam that is not the case.  I feel they would instead try and convince everyone to stick around and help clean things up.  Finally, I feel that the church would be extremely hard on abandoning the rest of the people on Earth after going to the space colonies.  I don’t think there is a problem with space colonies themselves, but ignoring the suffering still going on on Earth would not be ok.  If the governments of the colonies were still working to help the people of their country still on Earth, either by trying to get them to the colonies or by supporting them in other ways, I think there would be much less of a problem.  Overall, I think that everything involved in the general abandonment of Earth would be frowned upon by the Catholic Church.

Next, let’s talk about the Gundam Fight itself.  I think that the idea of avoiding war by instead having some kind of sports like tournament would likely be celebrated (assuming of course, enough limits on the ruling country to prevent them from enforcing unjust laws).  While the Catholic Church isn’t completely against war (check out the Just War doctrine), it is definitely something to be avoided as much as possible.  That being said, I think I could see a few potential issues with it.  First, the fact that the fight takes place on Earth is just not ok.  Not only are you wrecking an already wrecked planet, you are also puting the people still on Earth in harm’s way and increasing their suffering by potentially destroying their homes.  On top of that, the Gundam Fight is basically an MMA tournament in giant robots.  On the one hand, the objection’s I’ve heard to MMA (which aren’t universal but are common in Catholicism) don’t apply to a giant robot fight (as a robot being injured is different from a man being injured), but at the same time, since the cockpits are in the robot, there is still a chance of accidentally being killed if hit in a bad way.  I could see the church preferring some other kind of competition instead.  So overall, I think the Catholic Church would be OK with the Gundam Fight, but with some tweaks to make it more acceptable.


But the real question on everyone’s mind- would the country of Neo Vatican City participate in the Gundam Fight?  In universe the answer is yes just because of how everything is set up, but in real life, I think the answer would be no.  I feel that history has shown that when the pope has temporal power (as he would if they won the Gundam Fight), things start to go bad in the hierarchy with people becoming clergy mainly for control of Italy.  This is part of why the popes of the 20th century have been so good- the papal states were taken by Italy in the mid 1800s so the pope had no more temporal power.  Instead, I see Neo Vatican City having more of an advisory role, kind of like they do in the UN today.  That being said, I still want to see what kind of goofy, stereotypical Gundam they’d come up with and how they’d get a pilot (my guess is a new Gundam Fight focused religious order lol).  This brings me to what really inspired this post.  When the show aired there was a contest to design Gundams for countries not in the show.  One of the higher placed designs was for Neo Vatican City- a bishop looking Gundam in this image-

This kind of design would absolutely fit in the world of G Gundam and I love it.



So overall, I think the Catholic Church would be against the abandonment of Earth but ok with the Gundam Fight with a few changes.  It’s kind of interesting to think about how the Catholic Church would respond to crazy fictional scenarios, so I might do this a few more times in the future as well.  Finally, I’ll leave you with a picture of my High Resolution Burning Gundam model (Neo Japan’s fighter and the main Gundam in the series) because now I have the excuse to show it off lol.




One final note- this is the last of my original writing ideas, so updates will be slower in the future, just showing up as I think of things to write about.



Song of the Post-
Burning Finger
G Gundam

This hand of mine is burning red!

Xenogears

This past December I finally got around to playing Xenogears.  It’s a pretty famous JRPG from the PS1 era known for its mature story, good music and the fact that the second half of the game turns into a visual novel because the developers didn’t have time to finish it.  I’d been meaning to play it for some time but just never got around to it (I didn’t really have access to Playstation until late PS2 era and at the time I was way more concerned about getting caught up on Final Fantasy).  Not too long ago I saw a video discussing the development and story of the game by Resonant Arc on Youtube. One of the things he mentioned was the game seriously discussed religion and was critical of Gnosticism (something I’d heard about the game back in the day as well).  Since I’ve really only heard Gnosticism talked about in the context of church history, I got suspicious that it was probably a politically correct way of saying the game was critical of Christianity and decided to finally check it out for myself. So what’s the verdict?

The game is fun but a bit dated.  The story itself was overhyped in my opinion.  I wanted to take some time to discuss some of the religious aspects that do show up in the game.

Spoiler warning for the full game

I think when people say Xenogears is critical of Gnosticism, they are mainly referring to how religion is portrayed in the game.  The main religious organization is a group called “Ethos.” They are your classic fictional church aesthetically modeled after Catholicism (big churches, stained glass, similar hierarchy, etc., they even have a confessional in their headquarters).

In addition to being a religious organization, they are excavators.  As a result, they effectively control the super advanced ancient technology found underground which I believe is the secret knowledge people use to claim it is criticizing Gnosticism.  Before you reach their headquarters, it wasn’t really obvious that it was a religious organization (I personally thought they were only excavators), but once you get there the religious connection is made very clear.  After a certain point in the game the big plot twist with the organization is revealed- it’s literally an organization created by a hidden, super advanced country to control the masses (straight out of Karl Marx). This kind of plot twist has become such a cliche in modern media that it is actually more surprising when the organization is legit rather than secretly evil, but when this game came out I’m guessing it was much less common (the 1990s PS1 games were when video game storytelling really started to push its boundaries).  My guess is that for many people this was the first time they encountered what seemed like a serious atheistic story which kind of blew their minds. For me personally, this was actually pretty tame compared to what I was expecting based on how hyped up the game was. I mean yeah, the game is critical of organized religion but its not like the way the religion is set up in the game has any real bearing on how something similar is in reality. This is in contrast to stories that will explicitly call something the Catholic Church and have them do something that doesn’t work with Catholicism.  

Another religious feature of Xenogears is that there are many random references to Genesis.  From what I have read, religions like Christanity and Judaism are uncommon enough in Japan that they are seen as weird and exotic groups to throw into media even if it may not make sense, kind of like Buddhism and Hinduism are for western countries.  The result is media like Evangelion and Xenogears that will just randomly refer to these religions just to seem cool. This is how the references to Genesis in Xenogears work- they’re just kind of there without any real purpose. Here are a few examples.  Early in the game you meet an old man familiar with the backstory of the world in which the game takes place. The way he describes it is essentially the fall in Genesis with humans being expelled from paradise for some sin. Later in the game we find out that story is an abstract way of referring to a space colonization ship that tried to control a dangerous superweapon but was destroyed and crashed on the game’s planet.  Another example is the Omnigears. Around halfway through the game you start encountering the 12 powerful Omnigears (basically super powerful mechs). While these robots have names your party uses, but the names the antagonists use are various children of Israel (for example, the main mech Weltall is referred to as Naphtali). There doesn’t seem to be any real point to this reference, but to be fair it is possible the intended meaning was lost since it shows up in the rushed second half of the game.  One last reference is to Cain and Abel. Late in the game, you find out that the main character is a reincarnation of the sole survivor of the spaceship crash 10000 years ago. When flashing back to his previous lives, one of them shows him (named Abel at the time) being hunted down and killed by Cain, the emperor of the super advanced country from earlier in the game. Once again, this seems to just be a superficial reference to Genesis without any real purpose. There are many small references like these that show up throughout the game.  I could see how someone who wasn’t super familiar with the stories would think it was pretty cool and had some deep meaning, but I feel that anyone who has actually read Genesis would notice pretty quickly that the references really have no point other than just to be there.

Lastly, I want to talk about how the god in the game is portrayed.  Like most games with a fictional religion, the god of the religion is the final boss of the game.  This is a pretty common trope these days. After all, if the game wants to give you a sense of accomplishment and power, it’ll have you defeat the most powerful thing the writers can think of- a god.  Xenogears is a bit different in that instead of it just being like a Greek god (basically a super powerful person), it’s a super advanced bio weapon that created life on the planet to repair itself over millennia.  If that was all there was to this god there wouldn’t be much to comment on, but what makes it different is the intention of the writers. From what I’ve read, during production of the game the intention was to make the villain explicitly the Christan God, but this idea was localized out when the western branch of the company got involved to avoid controversy.  You can still kind of see traces of it here and there, from the superficial Genesis references that would then have a point to various names used to describe the creature over the course of the game (Deus being probably the most common one).

This kind of explicit reference to Christianity isn’t super common in games (probably to avoid controversy leading to lower sales) but it does show up every once in a while (the Shin Megami Tensei games being the most prominent examples).  The problem that stories with this portrayal run into is that the way they try to portray God isn’t really what He is. This is actually a pretty common problem with media in general, not just in games. God isn’t a competitive being that only has power by keeping down humanity, but the act of to be itself.  God doesn’t need humanity at all, whether for prayers or power or repairing a broken body, but still wants us as an act of love. It gets pretty hard to discuss what exactly God is without accidentally saying something wrong, so rather than try to continue explaining this myself, I’ll refer you to Bishop Barron who talks about this topic pretty frequently in his various Word of Fire videos and explains the topic significantly better than I do (for example, see this:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zMf_8hkCdc).

Overall, Xenogears is a decent game that seriously discusses religion even if it doesn’t do a great job at it.  I don’t think I’d recommend it to brand new players like myself, but if they ever remade it with some quality of life changes and a finished second disk it might be worth checking out.  I think a large part of the reason the game didn’t bother me as much as I expected it to is the fact that the whole “religion is secretly evil” idea is so cliche now that the game feels pretty par for the course at this point.  The developers went on to make Monolith Soft whose games have similar ideas if you are interested in checking out some others. I personally think Xenoblade Chronicles 2 did a better job with religious themes than Xenogears did if you want to check that one out (although it’s been a while so don’t expect a post on Xenoblade Chronicles 2 until I finally get around to replaying it).

Song of the Post- 

In a Prison of Peace and Regret 

Xenogears

Harpsichord always sounds more religious for some reason

The Legend of Heroes

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-

Aster House

Trails in the Sky the 3rd

This was the most Catholic sounding song in the series I could think of

Castlevania

Probably the earliest games to have any kind of references to Catholicism were the Castlevania series.  Originally premiering on the NES with the game Castlevania, the series was a set of typical action platformers, but with a classic horror twist (so instead of fighting mushrooms/turtles and aliens, you were fighting bats and mummies and demons and, of course, vampires).  The basic plot for most games in the series is simple- some member of the Belmont clan of vampire hunters must fight his way through the titular castle and defeat the evil Dracula. While it has never been the main focus of the series, the Catholic Church has always been featured in the lore as the group organizing the fight against Dracula, usually by supporting the Belmonts or supplying other combatants while that family is missing.  I figured I could go through a few games in the series and discuss the role of the Catholic Church in each specific game (spoilers inbound for each!) Also note, this post won’t really go into Catholic theology at all, just the role of the church in various games.

Castlevania III- Dracula’s Curse

First up is Castelvania 3:  Dracula’s Curse for the NES.  The basic story of the game is that once again Dracula has shown up to wipe out humanity and this time it is up to Trevor Belmont to stop him.  Along the way he recruits the help of other people he meets including Dracula’s son Alucard, a pirate named Grant Dynasty and a magic user named Sypha Belandes.  Not a whole lot of Catholicism on the surface, but the connection is made clear in the lore within the instruction manual. Before Trevor Belmont, the Church sent soldiers to defeat Dracula themselves (as they mistrused the Belmonts) but failed.  After that failure, they finally agree to send Trevor and support him. In addition, Sypha Belandes is actually an agent of the Catholic Church. When she was a young girl she was being raised by evil witches, but after they were defeated she was taken in by some nuns.  Once she was older, she decided to use the magic from her childhood to fight for good. While these two references to Catholicism are pretty simple, it is a lot for an NES game as religion was typically removed from the western releases of games at the time.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Next I want to talk about Symphony of the Night.  Released in 1997 on the PS1, it focuses on Alucard as he tries to figure out why Richter Belmont is trying to revive Dracula a year after defeating him.  This game is actually pretty light on the references to Catholicism, but I still wanted to mention the game because it will matter a little later.  Over the course of the game, you get a flashback to Alucard’s childhood where a mob burns his mother at the stake, believing her to be evil for marrying Dracula.  It’s important to note that it is a local mob that does the killing, not the church. While some superstition seems to have motivated the mob, there isn’t really any explicit connection to religion in this execution.  Other than that, there are a few visual references to Catholicism (such as the chapel area of the game) and some easter eggs (like a confessional for ghosts you can visit). Many people consider this one to be the best in the series, so while Catholicism may not come up much it still is worth playing.

Castlevania- Order of Ecclesia

Next I want to talk about 2008’s Order of Ecclesia for the DS, my personal favorite in the series and the game that most prominently features the Catholic Church.  The game takes place in the 1800s while the Belmont family is missing. Without the Belmonts to fight Dracula, the Catholic Church created the titular Order of Ecclesia to train fighters defeat him on when reappears.  The main character, Shanoa, is a nun raised by the order for this purpose (side note- one of the only good redesigns for the Castlevania Judgment fighting game was Shanoa’s which gave her more of a nun look than the original game did).  Over the course of the game, you come to discover that the leader of the order is just trying to use Shanoa to gain Dracula’s powers for himself, leading her to have to defeat both him and Dracula when the order is destroyed. One of my least favorite plot twists these days is the whole “good religious organization is actually evil,” but honestly it didn’t really bother me that much in this game.  I think the reason is that it’s not that Catholicism or even the order itself that is evil, but the leader who was using it for power. Still pretty cliche, but it didn’t bother me like it normally would.

Castlevania- Aria of Sorrow

Next is 2003’s Aria of Sorrow for the GBA.  The game takes place in 2035 after Dracula was finally defeated for good in 1999.  It follows Soma Cruz as he is sucked into the castle during an eclipse and tries to find a way out.  Most of the heroic NPCs in the game are church agents sent to investigate why the castle has returned, including Yoko Belandes (a descendant of Sypha), Arikado (actually Alucard) and the mysterious J (actually Julius Belmont with memory loss).  After it turns out that Soma is actually the reincarnation of Dracula, it is the church characters that work to bring him under control and prevent him from giving in to evil and losing his mind (or if you get a bad ending, you can play a separate game mode mirroring Castlevania 3 where Julius, Yoko and Alucard have to fight Soma as Dracula).  While the Catholic Church isn’t mentioned much directly in this game, the characters associated with it are portrayed in a heroic light, in contrast to many other games out there.

Looking at these games, you can see a basic theme running across them.  The Catholic Church is the heroic organization preventing evil from wiping out humanity.  This role essentially the same as that of the Catholic Church in exorcism movies, the group that fights evil in the world (you don’t go to a Prodestant minister for an exorcism after all).  I imagine the reason for this connection in the game is because of the series’ ties to classic horror. If the game was just about random monsters, there wouldn’t really be any need to include religion and potentially risk alienating some of the audience (like in Zelda or Contra for example).  That said, I’m glad it worked out this way. Since so many games portray Catholicism (or its surrogate) in a negative light, it’s nice to have at least once game in our favor.

Castlevania Netflix

Lastly, I wanted to mention the Castlevania animated series on Netflix.  This show was a massive, MASSIVE disappointment to me that can be tied to the head writer, Warren Ellis.  Ellis is a pretty radical atheist which really shows in the various work he’s done in comic books. The big problem with the series is that Ellis took the plot of Castlevania 3 and changed what was unique about it (Catholicism good) into something super cliche (church bad, poor o’l Dracula misunderstood).  There are a few different examples. First, Alucard’s mom is explicitly killed by a church leader (eventually Bishop) for being thought a witch. This change was particularly obnoxious to me since it’s pretty ahistorical. The inquisition types were actually the original fair legal system, with most of the negative actions people attribute to them really belonging more to local powers.  On top of that, they can’t even use the excuse that they are trying to be more realistic because it takes place in the 1400s in Eastern Europe, which would need Eastern Orthodox characters involved rather than Catholic if you were going that route. Second, they changed Sypha’s backstory. Instead of being a magic use raised by nuns, she’s now more like a science gypsy that knows magic because her people ignored the church when they tried to suppress the knowledge.  This change was annoying both because it was a very explicit change to get rid of a positive Catholic character as well as because it’s preaching the modern, ahistorical idea that the Catholic Church was suppressing science and that humanity be way more advanced without them. Anyone who studies the history of Europe would know the modern sciences developed explicitly because of Catholicism, not in spite of it (it is no coincidence academic regalia makes professors look like priests and religious).  The funny thing is despite most of these changes, the show still kind of accidentally implies Catholicism is true, as holy water blessed by a priest is effective against the demons and more that one character seems to know for sure that God exists, so it doesn’t even really go full atheist in spite of Ellis’ best efforts. And lest you think I just don’t like it for making changes to the story, I will mention one real quick I like. They explain that the reason so much modern technology is in Castlevania is because Dracula is kind of a scientist and has developed it centuries in advance due to his immortality.  I like that idea since it’s a clever solution to why the castle has so many anachronisms and why Alucard’s mom would seek him out. Overall though, I dislike the Netflix series for taking one of the few series positive on Catholicism and turning it on its head in the most cliche way possible.

So barring the Netflix series, Castlevania probably has one of the most consistently positive portrayals of Catholicism in all of video games.  While it may not really go into the religious aspects of Catholicism at all, the fact that the church is acknowledged as a force for good is already a much better portrayal than other games.  It really is too bad that Konami has basically left video games, limiting the chance of future installments in the series. On the bright side however, the Bloodstained series by Koji Igarashi (who made many of the more popular Castlevania games) seems to be keeping the church in a positive, background role.  It’s nice to have at least one thing that isn’t trying to convince everyone that you were actually the true evil all along.

Song of the Post-

Bloody Tears

Castlevania:  Rondo of Blood

Pipe Organs somehow make Bloody Tears sound more Catholicy

Overview of Catholicism in Video Games

When an average person thinks of video games, religion is one of the last topics to come to mind.  Reasons include the fact that the kind of people who are religious tend to be older with a 1980s view of video games and the fact that religion is such a touchy subject people wouldn’t expect companies to risk alienating customers by including the topic.  That said, the Catholic Church itself is actually relatively common in games, although not always how you’d expect. It typically appears in one of two ways- either in a game with a historic setting featuring Medieval Europe (where you can’t avoid mentioning the church) or one in a fictional fantasy setting with a religion clearly inspired by the Catholic Church.  I figured as an introduction to the topic I could discuss these two ways Catholicism shows up in games.


First, you have the less common of the two- a historical setting that can’t avoid the Catholic Church.  As surprising as it might be, games that take place in Europe before World War 2 are actually not that common.  When one does show up, however, the Catholic Church usually has some kind of presence in the game. The most common example of this type of game would be the various grand strategy games where you control some small of Europe and expand your control through battle and diplomacy.  In these games, Catholicism is typically present, but it is mainly abstracted into a tool of diplomacy. For example, in Civilization 4, all religions including Catholicism will give you a bonus to negotiating with civilizations of the same religion and a penalty to negotiate with those other religions.  In much less abstract example, the game Crusader Kings 2 will occasionally have the pope tell you to go on crusade whether you are actually interested in it or not (this isn’t quite how the crusades worked in real life but it is there to throw a wrench into your game plan). The other, much less common kind of historic game is a more story based game with a very concrete Medieval European setting.  The only two games I can think of like this are the Assassin’s Creed 2 games (which takes place in late 1400s Italy) and Kingdom Come: Deliverance (which takes place in Bohemia in 1403). In Assassin’s Creed 2, you spend a lot of time uncovering a conspiracy in the church, climaxing in a final boss fight with Pope Alexander VI in the secret Vatican Vaults.

Assassin’s Creed 2

The game is kind of a negative portrayal of Catholicism and implies that the only reason Catholicism exists around is because of ancient alien mind control technology controlled by the church (side note- it always amuses me when people decide that the religion which cares so deeply for free will uses mind control to assert dominance).  Kingdom Come, on the other hand, is trying much harder for a super realistic historic setting. As a result, most of the random people you encounter will have a clear concern for their faith as you’d expect from people living in 1400s Europe.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

For example, sometimes if you try to do something violent or threatening in front of others, they’ll be shocked at someone acting so unChristian like.  It’s actually pretty cool to see a game take the religion of the people so seriously, even if there are other questionable aspects of the game (one quest involves convincing a priest to break the seal of the confessional so you can track down a criminal).  So overall, if you have a historic setting in Europe, you are likely to encounter Catholicism in some fashion.


Second, there is the much more common incorporation of Catholicism into video games- a fantasy game with a fictional religion clearly inspired by Catholicism.  This has become a staple of the RPG genre going all the way back to early video games with the Wizardry series (which inspired Dragon Quest and the JRPG subgenre), which in turn was inspired by the tabletop RPG Dungeons and Dragons.  The settings of these games tend to be essentially Medieval Europe but with magic and monsters, so it makes sense that some kind of religion is present. On top of that, Catholicism is a very visibly and audibly impressive religion that makes for cool set pieces like its massive churches with stained glass, its fancy vestments, its cool chanting music and its clerical hierarchy.  Writers typically take advantage of the fictional setting to get rid of any real world references to the religion and instead just keep the cool aesthetics as an inspiration for some new, fictional religion. This has two advantages to content creators- they can avoid upsetting people by discussing religion and they can work the religion into the plot without accidentally creating any inconsistencies.  The one big disadvantage however is that it is all too easy to turn this control into a super cliche plot twist- the church is secretly evil. In almost every game with a fictional church, at best the equivalent of the cardinals and the pope are super corrupt and at worst the entire religion is straight up evil. This has become such a cliche that people are actually shocked when a religion in a game ends up simply being what it claims to be.  Because games with fictional churches inspired by Catholicism are pretty common, I’ll just mention a few prominent examples. First, the granddaddy of JRPGs, Dragon Quest, uses the church as a revival place- if your characters die they can be brought back to life by the local priests.

Dragon Quest IV

Another example is Final Fantasy X, where the Yevon faith guides most of the characters you encounter and a few of the main cast (which naturally devastates them when they learn the “shocking” truth late in the game). On the more recent side of things, you have the modern Elder Scrolls games like Oblivion and Skyrim where the churches are mainly used for healing status ailments.  Finally there is the Septian Church in the Legend of Heroes series, which is the closest I’ve seen to real Catholicism in any fictional church in a game (I’ll probably write on that series specifically later). I could keep going, but honestly any fantasy RPG you can think of probably has some Catholic inspired religion in the game, showing just how common Catholicism is in games “from a certain point of view.”


So overall, Catholicism in video games is a lot more common than one might expect.  While it isn’t always directly present, you can see fictional religions drawing from Catholicism all over the place in games.  While much of this inspiration is pretty superficial, it makes for a good starting point for discussing Catholicism in games. I plan on using a lot of these games as the starting point for future discussions, so look forward to that down the line.


Song of the Post-

Baba Yetu

Civilization 4

Apparently “Our Father” in Swahili