Final Fantasy 14 Tidbits

It took me 2.5 months, but I finally got caught up on Final Fantasy 14.  The whole time I was playing I took random notes to use for ideas for this website, but apart from the Inquisition and Heavensward, nothing was really fleshed out enough for an entire post.  That said, there were a lot of good ideas, so I decided today to briefly discuss many smaller topics instead of one big one.  So here are some Final Fantasy 14 Tidbits (spoilers throughout, although nothing too major this time).

Early in the game, you go visit each town and hear a speech where a leader talks about the town, its culture and its current problems.  When you get to the merchant city Ul’dah which is known for its wealth, one of its leaders, Raubhan, mentions in his speech that the wealth of the city is not its money but its people.  This reminded me of the famous story of St. Lawrence.  During a time of Roman persecution, he was told to bring the treasure of the church to the Roman officials.  He then brought them the poor of the city and presented them as the treasure of the church.  Naturally, the Romans weren’t happy and had him roasted alive.  While he was dying, he was said to have quipped, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.”  He’s now the patron saint of both chefs and comedians.

During the paladin storyline, one of the points made to the characters is that “Honor is a means to an end, not the end itself.”  This reminded me of honor as a happiness substitute (as discussed in the Yakuza 3 post a while ago).  The simple version is that honor is a sign that you may be virtuous, but it is not the virtue itself.

In the Crystal Tower storyline (which is heavily inspired by Final Fantasy III by the way), you encounter the leader of an ancient civilization named Xande who you are trying to stop from regaining power and returning to take over the world.  Xande has become functionally immortal- though there are some steps in the process of returning from death (the final goal of the questline is to stop the source of his immortality).  While discussing why he cared so much about staying alive, he mentions “What worth is wealth and power when all must be consigned to death and loss?”  This is actually a pretty common theme all over the Bible.  One place that comes to mind in particular is the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) where a rich farmer builds up a new barn to store even more goods only to die before he can use any of it.

In the Stormblood expansion, the people conquered by the Garlean Empire are routinely treated as animals beneath the Garleans.  They are consistently mistreated and abused all throughout the expansion as you try to liberate them.  There is an inherent dignity to all human life which is why the abuse of the conquered people is wrong.  This is why, for example, the church argued against the mistreatment of the Native Americans by the Spaniards (which admittedly wasn’t always successful).

At one point in the game, the leaders of the various countries of Eorzea meet with the Emperor of Garlemond in an attempt to reach a peace agreement before war breaks out again.  One thing that the emperor mentions is that his people in the past were from Eorzea before being driven out because they couldn’t use magic.  He then says “After centuries of exile, reclamation may be mistaken for invasion.”  This reminded me of the Crusades, which is presented by modern historians as an invasion rather than a reclamation of old Christian lands.

In Shadowbringers, the monsters tormenting the world called Sin Eaters work kind of like zombies- if someone is hurt by them they may start turning into one.  Since the injured people can’t control this, they are mostly shunned by society as no one wants to be there when they turn into a monster.  That said, there is a colony of them at the south edge of the world map where a few kind souls take care of them while they suffer, until poisoning them with their favorite food right before they transform.  This reminded me of how lepers were treated in the Bible and by the church (check out St. Damian of Molokai for example).  You can also see it with Mother Teresa’s Little Sisters of the Poor in modern times.  The one big difference is that last part where the person was poisoned.  Catholicism is against euthenasia.  This is due to the dignity of human life I mentioned earlier, as well as the church’s stance against the ends justifying the means as I’ve mentioned in many other posts (so preventing more suffering from killing someone who will become a monster is not ok).

Finally for a more comedic example, in Shadowbringers you find that your ally Urianger, like Alphinaud, can’t swim.  Rather than learn, he decides it’s a better use of his time to learn how to walk on water via magic.  This works for a time before he loses concentration and starts sinking and needing rescue.  This reminded me of when Jesus walks on the sea (Matthew 14:22-33).  Peter says “Lord, if it is you, bid me to come to you on the water,” to which Jesus replies “Come.”  Peter starts walking before he notices how windy it is and he starts sinking due to his doubts.

So there are a bunch of random Catholic ideas I noticed while playing through Final Fantasy 14.  It’s definitely got a great story for an MMO and for a Final Fantasy game, so it was easier to come up with ideas than it would have been for many other games and especially for other MMOs.  If you have the time and patience to get through the slow paced base game, I’d definitely recommend checking it out (although do remember it’s basically got 7 years of content now, hence my 2.5 months of playing catch up).  You might even notice random Catholic ideas that I missed since the game has so much going on now.

Song of the Post-

Answers

Final Fantasy 14

The Inquisition

I recently started playing the MMO Final Fantasy 14 (I’m Daniel Bishop on the Hyperion server if you play as well).  I’d heard really great things about the expansions (there was even a user comment on one of Fr. Blake Britton’s Word on Fire posts praising the story) and that they were speeding up the start of the game, so I figured I could finally sit down and try it out.  While I’m still working my way to those expansions (and hopefully some interesting topics to write about), I did encounter one thing in the base game that I felt I could discuss.  So today I’m going to explain what the Inquisition is.

The Inquisition as portrayed in fiction is almost universally negative.  Typically they are shown as some form of legal institution (usually religious) that acts as judge/jury/executioner to weed out heresy.  They almost always are portrayed as super irrational and believe that the ends of rooting out a heresy justifies the means of killing potentially innocent people.  Here are a few examples in fiction.  In Final Fantasy 14:  A Realm Reborn there is a section of the game that takes place in Coerthas, a mountainous region that is extremely isolationist from the rest of the world.  During this section, you uncover evidence of heretics to the region’s religion, leading to an inquisitor arriving to execute the accused as soon as possible.  While the people of the land accept the ruling of the Inquisitor, the main character as an outsider doesn’t and discovers evidence the accused is innocent.  When presented to the Inquisitor, he still insists that the accused be executed until an attack in person proves him innocent.  As you continue through the region the Inquisitor keeps telling people not to trust you making progress difficult.  In the end you discover the Inquisitor was actually a heretic impostor taking advantage of people’s faith in the position to execute innocents.  In the super extreme case, you have something like Warhammer 40K, where the fight against chaos is so extreme that even the chance of its existence is enough for an Inquisitor to justify burning an entire planet to the ground with everyone on it.  

Last but not least, you have the famous Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch that comes about as people are getting heavily questioned and reply “I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.”

All of these examples show the Inquisition as a group of irrational zealots who care more about removing the chance of a problem than finding the truth of the matter.  This view comes largely from propaganda against the church that has come up over the years, usually from Prodestant or Enlightenment thinkers in the 16th century.  But you might wonder, what exactly was the Inquisition?

It may surprise you, but the Inquisition was actually the beginning of modern legal systems (inspired by the then rediscovered ancient Roman ones).  Rather than the irrational hunters portrayed in the media, the Inquisitors were the equivalent of modern judges and lawyers who were there to determine the truth of some religious matter, typically determining if someone was a heretic (and consequently trying to convince them to come back to the truth).  For example, the infamous Spanish Inquisition existed largely to ascertain the truth of accusations where someone was accused of faking a conversion to Catholicism for political and economic benefits (remember, this was taking place in the early 1500s, right after the end of the longest war in history between the Spanish Catholics and Muslims over the Iberian peninsula).  In order to determine the truth of the matter, the Inquisition would hold trials where Inquisitors would ask questions (hence the name) to determine the truth of the matter.  There were systems in place to try to make the trails as fair as possible.  One example- when accused, a person was asked to present a list of enemies/people who would benefit from accusing them.  That way, the testimony of those on the list would be ignored to help keep things fair.  Most of the horror stories people refer to related to the Inquisition aren’t from the Inquisition itself, but from the secular powers dealing with the results of trials (in fact, the church explicitly was not allowed to execute someone as the result of a trail, punishments would be something more like excommunication).  For example, in the case of the Spanish Inquisition, Muslims pretending to convert to Catholicism were considered a national security threat by Spain (due to aforementioned war) and thus were seen as traitors or rebels and pushed accordingly.  Even with that fact in consideration, the amount of executions by the secular government was relatively small (about 2000 or 5% of the accused in the 200ish years of the Spanish Inquisition).  As countries in Europe became secularized and the church lost its temporal power, the various local Inquisitions lost prominence.  The main Inquisition in Rome, however, stuck around for internal church legal matters.  It actually still exists today and operates largely in the same manner, but was renamed since the term “Inquisition” has such a negative connotation these days.  Now it’s called the “Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.”  In fact, Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) was the equivalent of the High Inquisitor back when Pope St. John Paul II was pope.  Nowadays, it mainly looks at theologians that people feel have questionable writings and restricting their ability to teach if necessary.  So in conclusion, the Inquisition was not an irrational religious organization but an early example of a fair legal system that continues to this day.

I hope this post was able to clear up some of the myths surrounding the Inquisition.  There’s a lot of information and misinformation on the topic out there so it can be a bit tough to get to the truth.  Most of what I wrote came from an interview with the church historian Professor Steve Weidenkopf if you want more information (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqYr3bz8sP4) so check that out if you are interested in the topic and want to explore more.

Song of the Post-

Fealty

Final Fantasy XIV:  A Realm Reborn

Definitely has the vibe of a cold religious institution

Translation

You can’t go very far on the internet without running into some kind of argument or debate.  This is especially true in the video game community which has been fighting over everything since the internet first began (console wars, what games are good, what are bad etc).  Even the Catholic online world isn’t immune, with arguments on traditionalism vs liberalism being fairly common.  What is interesting however, is that there are even some debates that are common between the two groups.  In particular, one of the big debates in both circles is the right way to translate something.  I thought I would discuss and compare this debate today in both communities.

The right way to translate video games has been an issue going all the way back to the NES era when Japanese games became common.  The two extremes in the video game world are known as a heavy localization and a direct translation.  A heavy localization would be when a translator drastically changes what a game actually says but still tries to convey the meaning.  A direct translation tries to be as close to the original as possible even if it means sacrificing readability.  As an example, there is no real equivalent to Japanese honorifics in English (kind of a suffix to add to a name to indicate your relationship with the person).  A localization would completely drop the honorifics and try to convey the meaning (for example, in a game I’m playing right now, Robert-san was translated to Mr. Valetz instead).  A more direct translation would just leave them in and let the player figure out what it means.  Which of these two styles is more popular has changed over the years.  In the early days of video games, localizations were popular because games were seen as for kids, so translators needed to remove anything that might upset their parents (religion, sex and cursing mostly) while still keeping the general meaning.  For example, see this infamous scene from Final Fantasy 6:

Due to the heavy censorship of the era, there was a backlash in the late 90s that led to more direct translations for about a decade.  More recently, however, localizations have come back in style once again for censorship reasons (this time it’s more censoring things that might upset the politically progressive translators rather than conservative parents buying the games) or because the translators want to “spice up” the dialog.  This happened frequently in the controversial localization of Fire Emblem:  Fates.  For example, a discussion between two quiet characters on how many people they have killed was changed to just silence as a joke:

While more popular with the translators themselves, gamers today tend to prefer direct translations because they want the game as the developer originally made it, not the game the translators think they should have made.  It’s become a pretty heated discussion due to the current political landscape and due to the increasing divide between people who translate the games and the people who play them.  I remember a few years ago when this debate picked up again in earnest kind of laughing because the Catholic Church has gone through the exact same debate over the course of history, especially in the past 50 years.


In Catholicism, translation is incredibly important.  Most of the sources of the various texts like the Bible are in Latin or Greek, so translating them into the various languages of the world is especially important (as pointed out in Vatican II’s Dei Verbum).  Instead of localization and direct translation, translators have what is called dynamic equivalence (convey the meaning) and formal equivalence (translate the words directly).  The benefit of dynamic equivalence is that it can make the meaning more clear to the reader, but it risks being flat out wrong if the translator doesn’t understand the text themselves.  The benefit of a formal equivalence is that there is a much lower chance of conveying something incorrectly, but it may be a pain to read.  While in video games this debate ultimately doesn’t make a huge difference (people might just miss out on a small part of the game), in Catholicism it is vastly more important.  If someone makes a mistake while translating, they can convey a completely different meaning than what was originally intended, leading people to error.  The classic example is the origin of the phrase “what a difference an iota makes.”  Back during the Council of Nicea when the Latin and Greek fathers were trying to iron out Arianism, the correct term used was “homoousious” meaning consubstantial, but was sometimes mistranslated as “homoiousious” which had a meaning more in line with the Arian heresy (AKA an ‘i’ was all the difference between the truth and heresy).  In more modern times, you saw this with the English translation of the Mass.  When it was first made back after Vatican II, dynamic equivalence was used.  The result is that there were some parts that didn’t really line up with what was supposed to be said.  This discrepancy is why in 2010 a new English translation was made using formal equivalence so it would be much closer to correct (and why the term “consubstantial” is now part of the Nicene Creed).  From everything I’ve read online, it seems like formal equivalence is significantly more popular in Catholic circles these days and probably will be in the foreseeable future.


So there is a discussion on translation both in video games and in Catholicism.  It’s interesting to me how both circles have basically come to the same conclusion (translating as close to word for word as possible) but for different reasons.  It’ll be worth watching to see if the debate settles down in video games like it mostly has in Catholicism or if it keeps cycling between the two for the foreseeable future.


Song of the Post-

Dusk Falls

Fire Emblem:  Fates

Thankfully Fire Emblem: Fates’ great soundtrack wasnt localized out of the game

Suikoden 2 and the Morality of War

As I’ve mentioned before, I have been playing through many famous JRPGs I missed in the late 90s that people online insist are the best in the genre.  I recently finished playing through Suikoden 2, which is often cited as one of the best JRPGs ever.  I wasn’t sure what to expect because the original Suikoden was a bit too simple for my tastes, but now that I’ve finished it I can safely say Suikoden 2 is great (it’s basically a fleshed out version of the good ideas in Suikoden 1).  It’s a much more grounded story than most JRPGs, with a focus on politics and military strategy over saving the world.  As a result, it lends itself well to discussing the morality of war from a Catholic point of view (so some spoilers below, although less than normal).

The overarching plot of Suikoden 2 is relatively straight forward, with the complexities in the details.  The main character and his friend Jowy are part of a youth brigade of the Highland military, which is at war with the neighboring Jowston city states.  

After a peace treaty the brigade is about to head home when it is suddenly attacked, resulting in the death of everyone but the main character and Jowy.  It turns out the Highland prince, Luca Blight, decided to massacre the brigade and blame Jowston to justify restarting the war.  The two friends end up pulled into the war on opposite sides, with the main character leading the Jowston resistance to stop Luca, and Jowy ending up one of Luca’s soldiers to try to stop him from within his army.  Most of the drama of the plot comes from these two friends ending up against each other due to the circumstances of the war, but what I want to focus on is the Catholic “Just War” theory and the idea that the ends justify the means.

The Catholic idea of a just war (one that can be morally fought) is in the Catechism on paragraph 2039 (here’s a Catholic Answers link that quotes it:  https://www.catholic.com/qa/what-is-a-just-war).  There are four main criteria for a war to be a just war:

  1. The damage done by the aggressor must be lasting, grave and certain.
  2. Other ways of ending the war are impractical or ineffective.
  3. There must be a serious chance at success.
  4. The war must not cause greater evils than those being stopped.

It’s actually pretty tough to meet these conditions.  For example, World War 2 is only debatably a just war (the first three points are all met, but the last one is debatable when you consider that all sides had no problem attacking civilians).  So what about the war in Suikoden 2?  I actually think it meets all four criteria and thus would be a moral war for the main character fight.  First, Luca Blight is a monster that enjoys slaughtering the people of Jowston.  The first thing he does after restarting the war is murder everyone in nearby villages and burn them to the ground. 

 Later in the game he sacrifices the entire population of a major city to get some great magic power.  It is clear that if Luca has his way everyone in Jowston will be killed, thus the damage of the aggressor is lasting, grave and certain.  Trying to end the war through peace treaties also hasn’t worked, as Luca immediately broke the treaty at the start of the game.  The third criteria is the least certain.  Early in the game, it doesn’t seem like there is a serious chance at success, as each city in Jowston is mainly interested in protecting itself rather than working together to push back Highland.  The result is that at the start of the war, it doesn’t appear like Jowston can do more than temporarily hold off Highland.  That said, the fact that you do manage to win in the end after reuniting everyone means there was a serious chance at success even if it didn’t seem like it at the start.  Finally, the main character’s army doesn’t seem to be causing any more evil than the fighting itself, meeting the final condition.  Thus, I’d argue that all four conditions are met and the war in the game is a just war.  Now that we’ve discussed the war in the game from the protagonist’s side, let’s look at it from Jowy’s perspective and the idea that the ends justify the means.

Early on in the game, Jowy gets captured by Highland and ends up joining them.  His idea is that if he can gain Luca’s trust, he can one day stop him from within.  To facilitate this, he assassinates a Jowston leader, starves out a Jowston city to let him capture it, helps Luca assassinate the king and ultimately tricks Luca into falling into a trap and being killed by the main character.  After Luca is dead, however, Jowy continues the war instead of stopping it because he believes that the war will inevitably restart unless one of the two countries is completely conquered, forcing the main character to continue fighting.  Jowy’s entire mindset after being captured resolves around the ends justifying the means.  Specifically, he believes some killing now will ultimately lead to a greater peace in the future.   The Catholic Church has always been against the idea that the ends justify the means.  It is not ok to do an immoral act so that a greater good may come from it.  For an extreme example, consider the idea of paying someone to kill everyone as they walk out of the confessional.  If you were to kill someone right out of confession, they would die in a state of grace and thus would ultimately end up in heaven, a greater good than the evil of murdering them, but that clearly is not acceptable.  For a more serious and controversial example, look at the use of the atomic bomb in World War 2.  The justification of its use has always been that ending the war fast would ultimately save more lives than were lost due to the bomb.  In addition, you can argue that ending the war fast prevented the Soviet Union from invading and leading to half the country being suppressed under communist rule for the next 50 years.  Both of these are good things, but despite that it is still immoral to kill innocents in a war, let alone hundreds of thousands.  This is one of those teachings that can be kind of hard for a modern person to take in, as doing bad acts for the greater good was super common in the 20th century and is super prevalent in our media.  So despite Jowy’s good intentions, his actions during the game are ultimately immoral.

So there are some thoughts on Suikoden 2 and the morality of the war in the game from a Catholic point of view.  I think of all the PS1 JRPGs I’ve played recently, this one holds up the best so I’d highly recommend playing it if you get the chance (Suikoden 1, while not as good, is short if you want to check it out first).  I’ve actually avoided talking about spoilers from the end of the game for once so you’ll still be able to experience most of the plot.  If you are looking for a much more grounded take on war, I can’t think of a better JRPG.

Song of the Post-

Battlefield Without Light

Suikoden 2

This song actual reminds me of modern Fire Emblem music, so that’s appropriate

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

Heretics

If you were to look at the religion shelf on my bookshelf, it would become clear pretty quickly that I’m interested in church history.  There is something about seeing how things work out just right in history that is cool to me.  One major set of topics that shows up in church history is the various heresies that pop up periodically.  While studying this topic is nice because by learning what the church says is wrong you also learn what is right, today I want to focus on heretics themselves.  Specifically, I want to talk about how heretics are presented in games and what a heretic is (and isn’t) in real life.

The term heretic is actually pretty common in various games and fictional settings.  In pretty much any setting with a religion (especially an fanatical one), characters that come into conflict with the religion tend to be branded heretics.  For example, I’ve been recently playing Final Fantasy Tactics.  About half way into the game, the main character Razma ends up fighting Cardinal Draclau who has taken the princess hostage. 

The cardinal uses magic to turn into a monster, but Razma and his team defeat him.  As a result, the church declares him a heretic and the people of the world are told to capture or kill him on sight, despite the fact that the cardinal was the one in the wrong.  This kind of setup is common, and is often used with the “church is secretly evil” plot twist to make the player character enemies of the world.  Another minor example from a more recent game is Fire Emblem:  Three Houses.  Early in the game, some members of the western branch of the Church of Seiros plot to rebel against and attack Archbishop Rhea.  As a result, they are branded heretics and you the player have to fight them, eventually leading to their execution.  In probably the most extreme example, there is the world of Warhammer 40000, where anything going even slightly against the Empire of Man can be considered heresy.  It’s so over the top in this setting that in extreme cases it is justification for wiping out an entire planet.  It’s so extreme that Warhammer heresy memes and jokes are pretty common online.

Even looking at The Legend of Heroes series, heretic is used to denote enemies of the church, although in that case, it is limited to rebellious and out of control clergy.  So as you can see, most fantasy settings with a church will simply use the term heretic to refer to an enemy of the church.  But what exactly is a heretic in real life?

Simply put, a heretic is someone who has an incorrect belief, is told that belief is incorrect and to stop believing it by some kind of authority, and choosing to believe it anyways (I believe the term “obstinately” shows up in the official definition).  The important parts of this definition are the second and third parts, namely that a heretic has been corrected by some authority and still deliberately chooses to be wrong anyways.  This is important because it means that someone who is wrong about something isn’t a heretic, just someone who is wrong.  For example, the church father Origen had many beliefs that the church today would consider wrong, but we wouldn’t call him a heretic because no one corrected him at the time (as the doctrines in question weren’t fully developed).  On this flip side, Arius would be considered a heretic, because even after the Council of Nicea said his beliefs about Jesus were wrong, he still continued to preach it.  This also explains why the church would consider the original Protestants heretics but not modern ones.  The early Protestants were under the authority of the church who told them they were wrong but chose to ignore that.  Modern Protestants however were raised outside the church and thus lack that authority correcting them.  The next question would be once someone is a heretic, what should be done about them?  In most fictional settings, the answer is almost exclusively to execute them.  In real life, execution was indeed an option, but typically only after spending considerable time convincing the person to give up their incorrect opinion.  The justification for executing them would typically be to prevent the incorrect belief from spreading and leading more people away from the church and to give them a clear period of time to help them repent (similar to the Catholic justification for the death penalty).  This is the justification used (whether right or wrong) to execute Jan Hus, one of the proto-Protestants.  So overall, heretics are people who are wrong, told they are wrong by a church authority and choose to remain wrong rather than simply any enemy of the church.  And while they have been executed in the past, it is typically as a last resort, not an automatic response.

So as you can see, heretics in fictional religions don’t really align with the real thing.  As I mentioned earlier, I believe the reason the term heretic is thrown around in games so often is that it is an easy way to get the world to turn on the player even if they are the hero, especially in conjunction with the church is secretly evil trope.  I’ll admit, while I’m completely sick of the church being secretly evil, I tend to be more ok with the main characters being branded heretics because it tends to lead to interesting gameplay (as being on the run usually limits your options).  I just hope people understand that fictional stories don’t necessarily correspond to reality.

Song of the Post

Apoplexy

Final Fantasy Tactics

For some reason the best songs in Final Fantasy Tactics are named after medical terms

Mass Effect

One of my favorite games in more recent years was Mass Effect (the first one, not the second that most people prefer).  It’s a space epic with a cool story and moral choices that at least appeared to matter at the time (part of the reason why people didn’t like Mass Effect 3- they really didn’t).  In particular, I liked the world building done in the game and all the extra information on the various alien races which wasn’t really needed, but I thoroughly enjoyed (in fact, part of the reason I didn’t like Mass Effect 2 as much as most people is that they went back on that lore a few times for gameplay reasons).  Today I want to talk about my favorite scene in Mass Effect and how it ties into Catholicism (note- this is kind of a big reveal scene near the end of the game so SPOILER ALERT).

At this point in the game the player character Commander Shepard has gone against the wishes of the galactic government in order to continue investigating  the threat of the Reapers- giant inorganic life that periodically comes into the galaxy to wipe out all organic life. Shepard goes to the hidden Ilos where an artifact called the Conduit is supposed to be.  While fighting through the planet, he and his team are temporarily trapped and redirected down a side passage. There, they meet Vigil, an ancient computer program created by the Protheans- the alien race that previously dominated the galaxy before being killed off by the Reapers. 

Vigil reveals that when the Reapers attacked the Protheans 50000 years ago, the people working at the research center on Ilos were put into cryogenic sleep to hide as records of life on the planet had been destroyed in the initial attack.  By the time the Reapers finally left the galaxy, there were only a few of the researchers left to revive on the planet. These researchers, knowing that there wasn’t any hope to revive the Prothean race, decided instead to spend their little remaining time helping the people of the future. 

They created the Conduit- a mass relay that would send someone to the location where the Reapers first appear and made some changes to delay the Reapers return (which is why in Mass Effect 1 you are only fighting a single reaper rather than all of them). They also created Vigil, an AI that could explain what was going on to whoever eventually showed up on the planet many millennium later.  After talking to Vigil, Shepard and his team use the Conduit to go to the Citadel and stop the one Reaper from bringing in the rest, ending the first game. I remember when I first played Mass Effect, this scene with Vigil cemented it as one of my favorite games of all time. For some reason, I always enjoy stories where some people in the past do something to help the people in the future they will never meet.  Now you may be wondering, how does that story connect to Catholicism? The answer is actually my favorite bible verse.

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).  This is probably my favorite passage in the Bible, from the end of the Gospel of John. It’s effectively the same idea as the story of the creation of Vigil in Mass Effect. Some ancient people left behind a record that will help save people of the future they may never meet.  There is however, one key difference between the two- the Gospel of John is real and was written for me, rather than some fictional character. Think about the early Christians. Many of these people went to their deaths proclaiming the truth about Jesus to lead others to him in the future (this is where the term Martyr actually comes from- it means witness).  Without them, Christianity as we know it really wouldn’t exist today (barring supernatural means of course). If these people had kept it to themselves rather than spreading the Gospel, it probably would just be a minor footnote for in depth textbooks on the history of Rome or Judaism instead of the most common religion in the world. Because of the actions of these people 2000 years ago, I am able to know the truth today.

So as you can see, the story of the Protheans on Ilos can show the importance of the works and witness of the early Christians.  As someone who honestly isn’t a very emotional person, thinking about the Bible verse I mentioned still always gets to me because I know it actually is addressing me in particular (in addition to everyone else).  I think seeing some of your favorite elements of fiction in real life can have a real effect on people (for example, JRR Tolkien converted CS Lewis to Christianity when he explained how the Gospels were like all the myths the two liked, but the Gospels were actually true).  This effect is honestly probably a large part of why Mass Effect was so memorable to me and why 13 years later the scene with Vigil still stands out so clearly in my mind.

Song of the Post-

Vigil

Mass Effect

One of the most hopeful sounding songs I can think of in games

Yakuza 3 and Happiness

One of my favorite new series of games is Yakuza.  I had heard about it a long time ago, but never got around to playing it until Yakuza 0’s US release a few years back.  The series is basically a combination of a serious, manly Japanese crime drama main story and a bunch of super goofy side quests.  Recently, the Yakuza 3, 4 and 5 collection released on PS4, giving me a chance to play the last few games in the series I’d missed (I had already played 6 since it released on the PS4 earlier).  I just finished up Yakuza 3 as I’m writing this and it’s ending stuck out in my mind. So today I’m going to discuss the ending of Yakuza 3 and how it relates to happiness (spoilers obviously).

For the final showdown in Yakuza 3, the main character, Kazuma Kiryu is rushing to a hospital to rescue his protege and the current leader of the Tokyo underworld, Daigo Dojima (who is recovering after being shot at the start of the game) from Yoshitaka Mine, who is planning to kill him and take over the crime organization.  After fighting his way through a hospital filled with Mine’s underlings and black market partners, he finally reaches the depressed Mine on the roof with the unconscious Daigo.

Mine explains his backstory. He became an orphan at a young age, with his father’s last words encouraging him to use his bright mind to make something with his life.  Mine then spends his childhood and young adult life working extremely hard to become a super successful and rich investor. Having accomplished all his goals, Mine realizes that despite all his achievements, he still isn’t happy with his life. He then decides to join the Yakuza, figuring that the power that comes with being part of the underworld will make him happy.  Now a super successful leader in the Tokyo underworld, Mine realizes he still isn’t happy. He decides that maybe the honor and respect that will come with replacing Daigo as the leader of the Tojo Clan will finally make him happy. To accomplish this, he has to kill Daigo, the only man he truly respected (which is why he’s so depressed when you finally reach him). Kiryu insists Mine is wrong, and the two have their dramatic shirtless fight to finish the game (as is tradition in the Yakuza series). 

After being defeated, Mine realizes the error of his ways and sacrifices his life to protect Kiryu and Daigo from his black market partner that decided to betray and kill all three of them. Yakuza 3’s story isn’t necessarily as good as some of the others in the series (I feel it had higher highs and lower lows), but this was probably my favorite set up for a final fight in the series. But what does it have to do with Catholicism? To answer that, we have to look at what exactly is happiness.

So what is happiness?  St. Thomas Aquinas discusses this in question 2 of the first part of the second part of the Summa Theologiae (here’s a link if you want to read it yourself, but be warned it can be tough if you aren’t familiar with Aristotelian Metaphysics: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2002.htm).  St. Thomas’ answer is ultimately God, which explains why we can’t be truly happy until we are in heaven (even if we can get some degree of happiness on Earth).  He then discusses various possible sources of true happiness and why they are wrong. The four you typically hear on this topic are wealth, power, honor (which should sound super familiar after finishing Yakuza 3) and pleasure (which Mine wasn’t interested in so I’ll skip it for today).  Wealth can’t make you happy because artificial wealth (money) is just a shorthand to make acquiring natural wealth (things you need to live) easier while natural wealth will only make you happy to the point your basic needs are met. This argument has been backed up by modern studies, which show that more money will increase your happiness until your needs have been met, and any additional money after that won’t increase happiness.  Power can’t make you happy because power just enables you to accomplish other things, which may or may not lead to happiness. To put it another way, having power won’t make you happy, but using power to do good things will lead you towards happiness (which wouldn’t really help Mine anyways since he’s getting underworld power). Finally, honor won’t make you happy because honor isn’t a good, it is merely others recognizing a different good within you.  The good itself may lead you to happiness, but others respecting it ultimately doesn’t make a difference. All of these alternate possible sources of happiness (pleasure included) are super common in today’s world and it’s all too easy to see that none of them work. Looking at it from a more Augustinian angle, people are trying to fill the infinite need for God with various finite things, so they are never satisfied. Happiness ultimately comes from being with God, not with various items in the world.

As you can see, Mine is looking for happiness in the world that will never be able to truly make him happy.  When I was first watching that ending, I remember being amused that not only was he going through the classic happiness substitutes, but he was even doing it in the same order as the Summa I linked before.  I honestly wasn’t expecting to come up with any ideas for this blog while playing the Yakuza games, so it was a nice surprise. I hope you can learn from the example of Mine and remember that true happiness ultimately comes from God.

Song of the Post-

Fly (Final Battle Version)

Yakuza 3

A cool new intro can turn a normal battle song into final boss music

Free Will

One of the more amusing things about being a Catholic interested in nerd media is you find a lot of inaccuracies that go unnoticed because no one else involved in the production or fanbase is even a practicing Christian, let alone Catholic.  For example, there was one anime I watched where a character worked for the bishop of the English Puritan Church. When I heard that, I started cracking up, thinking “Ah yes, the English bishop of the people that thought Anglicanism was too Catholic, got kicked out of England and ended up in the new world where they were known as the Pilgrims- that makes total sense.”  Today, I wanted to talk about one of the more common incorrect ideas that shows up in various media- Catholics mind controlling people into being Catholic.

Catholic mind control shows up in many stories, especially ones where the Catholics are the antagonists.  I’ll mention two examples. The first is in Assassin’s Creed 2. At the end of the game, you find an ancient alien device that mind controls the people around you to do your bidding. 

As it is found under the Vatican and is used in one DLC by a monk to cause a zealous mob to riot in Florence, it is implied that the reason Catholicism was established was not because it is true but because Catholic leaders have been using this relic the whole time.  Another example comes from the same show as the English Puritan Church I mentioned earlier- the anime A Certain Magical Index. This show alternates between story arcs where magic is the focus (with the Catholic Church being the main antagonist) and science is the focus (where the government of the super scientific city is the antagonist).  In one arc, a few Catholic mercenaries are sent to the science town to use a relic of St. Peter that will make everyone in the town believe they were Catholic all along.

I can kind of see why mind control is such a focus in a series with Catholic antagonists.  Part of it is probably atheist writers expressing how they felt growing up and projecting their feeling about organized religion on to Catholicism regardless of where they originated (as I mentioned in the past, if you are going to include a religion you’d include Catholicism for the aesthetics).  The other part is probably that if a goal of an organization is to convert everyone into following it, it only seems natural that mind controlling people into believing it would be the fastest way to accomplish that. This however, is where the lack of understanding Catholicism shows itself- Catholicism deeply cares about free will.

So why does Catholicism care so much about free will?  It clearly isn’t an obvious connection because so many writers believe it would be natural for the Catholic Church to just mind control everyone into submission.  The answer is love. You can’t have love without free will (if you don’t believe me, you can look into stories where mind control is used to make someone love another- the person forcing love always comes across as abusive and creepy).  God wants everyone to choose to love Him, and you simply can’t have that without the free will to make the choice. This reality has many implications. One is part of the answer to the problem of evil (although only a small sub part). Why would an all good God allow people to do evil acts in the world instead of just removing the ability to do so from all humanity?  The answer is that without free will people can’t do the good of choosing to love Him. This is why, for example, the church has always condemned forced conversions and baptisms (even if some people ignored that rule and did it anyways)- you can’t force someone into wanting to love God. This is also why some people believe that in the Garden of Eden story (which doesn’t need to be taken literally by the way) the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil was even an option- so that Adam and Eve could choose to obey God and not take it.  Finally, free will is often used to reconcile the idea of Hell and an merciful God- someone with free will can still choose to reject that mercy even if it is offered to them. So as you can see, free will is extremely important to Catholicism and Catholic theology and answers many major questions people have about the faith.

In the end, it is quite hilarious that Catholics in various stories will use mind control to forcibly put humanity under the church’s control.  Removing free will is something that goes against so much of what the church teaches that mind control makes it extremely clear that the writer doesn’t know anything about Catholicism.  Still, if nothing else, it can give you a nice laugh now that you know what the church actually believes. You’d be surprised at just how enjoyable that accidental comedy can be.

Song of the Post-

Venice Rooftops

Assassin’s Creed 2

I had forgotten how good the Assassin’s Creed 2 music was before writing this post

Ys 8 and Prayer

This past December I took it upon myself to play through the entire Ys series available in the US (8 games in total, but most are relatively short so it didn’t take too long).  This is a series that has been around forever but never really caught my attention until I got into Falcom’s other big series, The Legend of Heroes. The series follows the adventurer Adol Christin and his various travels.  The games don’t focus much on story (especially compared to the Legend of Heroes series) but are still fun to play. As a result, not a whole lot came to my uncreative mind with respect to religion until I got to Ys VIII -Lacrimosa of Dana-.  Today I’m going to talk about Sister Nia and what exactly is prayer.

Ys VIII is probably the most plot focused game in the series, but the premise is relatively simple.  Adol is working on a passenger liner to travel to a distant land when the ship is attacked by a giant squid and wrecks on a “cursed” island.  The basic goal is to find the other castaways and find a way off the island while uncovering the island’s mysterious past. One of the castaways is a nun named Sister Nia, who was on the boat returning to the town where she teaches.

Once you find her on the island and she comes to your castaway village, she spends most of her time praying for a way off the island while helping around the village.  After making some progress in the game, she asks you to escort her to a tall nearby mountain. Once there, she decides she needs to not spend all her time praying for her god to get her off the mountain but instead to work towards that herself, symbolically removing her habit.

For the rest of the game when you talk to her she essentially says she hasn’t given up on religion and praying but is focusing more on helping everyone get off the island.  I can see what the writers were trying to say with this storyline- that you can’t just sit around waiting for someone else to save you. It reminded me of the classic homily joke where a man is praying for God to save him from a natural disaster and ignoring the various rescue vehicles that come by to help.  That said, the execution felt off to me. It really felt like the game was saying prayer was pointless despite the game’s attempts to insist that wasn’t the point (after all, it would have been pretty easy to have her work and pray at the same time like real life religious typically do). I knew this point was wrong, but I realized I couldn’t actually explain what the point of prayer was.  I knew that prayer was important (after all, Jesus spends a lot of time praying in the Gospels and saints are always talking about how important prayer was) but I couldn’t really tell anyone why. So I decided I wanted to do some research and find out.

So what exactly is prayer and what is the point?  I admit, I don’t think I can do a good job explaining this idea but I’m going to still try (for a better explanation, see this Word on Fire Show episode on the metaphysics of prayer where I got my information: https://wordonfireshow.com/episode169/).  So what is prayer?  It is “the raising of the heart and mind to God.”  Ok, while that does feel like an accurate definition, it may feel kind of abstract and unhelpful explaining prayer to others who aren’t already invested.  So instead let’s focus on the point of prayer. Prayer doesn’t change God- God is unchanging (side note- why does God seem to change in response to prayers in the Bible?  According to St. Thomas Aquinas it’s just a metaphor). God doesn’t need prayers either, unlike say the gods of Greek mythology. So what is the point? The point is that prayer changes us.  It helps the prayer become more attuned to God’s will and purpose. This is part of why persistence in prayer is important. As St. Augustine puts it, by continuing to pray the heart and soul continue to expand outward to receive the gift God will give us.  After all, the heart may not be ready initially, but after a period of waiting it becomes prepared. I admit, this explanation feels abstract and a bit hard for me personally to explain, but it does help me grasp why prayer matters. By praying, I start to focus more on God than on myself.  If we go back to Sister Nia and try to view it in this framework, the point of her prayers would be to help hear realize her god wants her to help work to get off the island (not saying something like that would necessarily happen in real life, just trying to apply the real ideas to the fictional setting).

I realize this probably wasn’t the most satisfying explanation out there, as I’m still learning myself.  That said, I hope that this has led you to start to kind of see why prayer matters even if you still feel you need more on the topic.  If you do want more information, I really would encourage you to listen to that podcast or look into the writing of the saints who do a much better job explaining prayer than I do.  Prayer is important, so learning more about it can only be a good thing.

Song of the Post-  

Sunshine Coastline 

Ys VIII -Lacrimosa of Dana-

The most upbeat “stranded on an island” song