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 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

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

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

Podcast Episode Recommendation

No new post this week (Im currently out of ideas lol). Instead, here’s a link to an episode of the Burrowshire Podcast with Brandon Vogt and Fr. Blake Britton on Video Games and Culture that came out this week:

https://burrowshirepodcast.com/video-games/

Hopefully I’ll have something new from me for you soon!

Song of the Post-
Halo Theme (Mjolnir Mix)
Halo 2

Brandon Vogt mentioned that this was the first Gregorian Chant he heard

What Would a Catholic Game Look Like?

Back when I first started writing here, I did some research online to see if anyone else was doing anything with video games and Catholicism.  While my search was mostly fruitless at the time (although I’ve since found a few others like Fr. Blake Britton with Word on Fire), I did manage to find a topic in a discussion forum trying to think up how to make a good Catholic video game.  I thought it was a pretty interesting discussion back then, so today I figured it would be interesting to talk about the challenges with making a Catholic focused video game and discuss the one really good idea I saw someone come up with online.

So why is creating a Catholic video game so hard?  Even if you ignore the fact that discussing religion seriously would shrink your potential audience, it still is hard to imagine a video game with a major focus on Catholicism.  The problem is the need for some kind of gameplay.  Most games out there deal with some kind of conflict or fighting, which doesn’t work nearly as well for a Catholic story as it does for a general one.  You could try to use an historical setting (for example, the Crusades) like you see in the few games out there where the Catholic Church present, but when you do that there is a real temptation to just remove the focus of religion entirely (like in the original Assassin’s Creed game). 

You could also do some kind of grand strategy game where the focus is converting people to Catholicism, but when you do that the religion itself tends to get abstracted out completely and as a result, it could be about any religion.  And while you could make a cool story about Catholicism, if there isn’t any kind of game that to go with it you might as well write a book or make a TV show.  There simply isn’t much gameplay out there that could work with a compelling Catholic story.  That said, there is one type of game that could work well for a Catholic story- a stealth game.

The one idea for a Catholic game that I’ve seen that feels like it would actually work is a stealth game playing clergy during a time of great persecution.  The example I originally saw online was for a game about a priest trying to minister in Elizabethan England (where being Catholic was considered treason), but really the idea could work for other times of persecution as well, such as the French Revolution Paris or Soviet Poland.  The gameplay would then be something similar to the stealth parts of older Assassin’s Creed games or something like Metal Gear Solid (just without the combat). 

The player character would have to sneak through dangerous areas filled with people on the lookout for them by hiding in the shadows, blending in with others, or if you want to go full Assassin’s Creed, parkouring all over the town.  With a setup like this, suddenly a Catholic focused story no longer feels tacked on.  In fact, it is enhanced by it instead, giving people a sense of the tension people went through during these times in a way that a book or show couldn’t.  I remember when I first read this idea being really impressed because up to that point I honestly didn’t think a video game about Catholicism could be done without either skimping on the gameplay or the religion.  So overall, I feel that if someone really wanted to make a video game focused on Catholicism, a stealth game would absolutely be the way to go.

In the end, while I believe in general it is particularly hard to come up with an idea for a Catholic focused video game, you could at least make it work in the stealth genre.  All that being said, there realistically isn’t much of a chance of a game like this being created.   Making AAA games costs hundreds of millions of dollars and companies simply wouldn’t be willing to invest that much money on something that could alienate a large chunk of their potential audience.  And while you could potentially find a small indie game team to create it on a much smaller scale, in my experience the indie game crowd tends to pretty heavily overlap with political activist types that hate religion and wouldn’t be interested.  I guess I’ll just have to wait another decade or two for enough Catholics who like video games to actually have a small group willing to try.  

Song of the Post

Encounter

Metal Gear Solid

The classic gotta go hide song

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