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

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