Monday, August 16, 2010

Review of FFX

Final Fantasy X was one of the most successful in the Final Fantasy series, the first for playstation 2, the first to feature voice acting, the first to do away with the much loved world map and the first of countless other things I suppose. Is it however, most importantly, the first of the FFs to support a Catholic worldview or morality? One Catholic minded review praises the fact that the opening quest of the game is that of making a pilgrimage to all the temples across the fantasy world of Spira in obedience to the received religion, is this then the game to give to your younger bro to try and inspire him to come to the next WYD or something? Let's see, let's analyse the game according to sound criteria and discover whether it is the kind of thing that will fuel a Catholic worldview and morality or whether it will mock basic morality and present false, inadequate responses to the most important questions of life. (Spoilers contained more or less throughout)

Reality of Objective Moral laws.

The first section of the game could be themed "Relativist Tidus in the religious land of Spira". Tidus essentially sees the world in the same way as your average young worldling out in Croydon on a Saturday afternoon. Spira the land to which Tidus is pulled into, at least to being with, seems to have rules, objective morality, hierarchical authority and religious rituals. Tidus, the protagonist, that is, the voice of you, responds to all this with cynicism and derision.

He joins a band of guardians protecting Lady Yuna, a summoner, on her quest to perform a pilgrimage culminating in her self- sacrifice to temporarily destroy the wicked monster "Sin".
The obvious baddy, Seymour, one of the religious authorities, from quite early on shows how the whole religious system and morality is in fact totally arbitrary as he is willing to tolerate the use of illicit weapons in the fight against Sin- there is a sickening moment when he says something like "after all, using this wicked weaponry is for the greater good and so it is fine". Tidus agrees with his thinking and even supposedly pious Yuna sees some sense in it. Surely if something is intrinsically evil, it is evil regardless of the supposed good that will come from it? Indeed, ultimately no good can come of it because you offend Almighty God, the infinite Good and reference point to all that is good. The philosophy is preached loud and clear though, apparently objectively evil acts can be performed intentionally to achieve a supposed "greater good".

Of course over time it becomes clear that the acts were not in fact evil but rather indifferent because, guess what, Tidus and Seymour are both in fact correct- things are neither good nor bad in Spira, the only certainty is death.

Interior Struggle to pursue the good.

Many of the characters, even within the team are thoroughly nihilist- they don't accept that there is a good let alone that one needs to conquer himself in order to attain it. Before the shock revelations that the whole religion is a sham and that Yuna has been wasting her whole life and that her supposed vocation is a sham she really embodies a noble conquest of self- the weaker side of her nature wants to cling to romance with Tidus but the greater side overcomes and doggedly insists that she must continue to her vocation.

Divine Providence working through free will.

Free will is taken as a given through the game. There is some sense of providence. Tidus knows the game is "his story". and that he is going to end the cycle of sin in Spira. Is Tidus free? Is Tidus a one off? Could other characters have been dreamed into existence to destroy Sin? The last section of the game seems to be one of Tidus resigned to his necessary fate rather than freely being an agent in a grand story beyond him but requiring him.

Self Sacrifice for others

The initial religious plot is quite noble. The evil monster sin can be checked for a period of time by a summoner, after having made a pilgrimage across the world, sacrificing him or herself in a one on one show down. Yuna, the summoner in the party is undertaking this quest and is quite willing to give of her life for the people. This is wonderful and I found myself egging her on. She has a clear sense of vocation, a higher calling, that her life must be given up for the sake of others. Some of the others also seem to embody self-sacrifice- Kihmari for example, who is clearly dedicated to his role as Yuna's guardian and totally willing to die to allow her to fulfil her vocation. Tidus is opposed to Yuna's sacrifice as is Rikku. Yuna ought to say "get behind me Satan!" but she allows them to continue with her! Eventually the plot spins around as Tidus realises that he is in fact some kind of character being dreamed into existence and with the death of sin the dreamer ceases to dream and he will disappear. Tidus accepts this and ceases to exist as sin dies. There is wonderful Orpheus and Eurydice moment as Yuna clasps in vain at the dissolving phantasm of Tidus!

Basic Christian Theodicy- Monotheism, Goodness of creation, understanding of eternal reward/punishment based on moral behaviour.

This is where the game suffers big time, typical Square 'eh? It seems that people have souls and when they die and have a ritual performed over them their souls go off into a spiritual world. If the ritual is not performed the individual can remain in an undead state or gradually turn into a monster. The whole problem with all this is the absolute indifference of the whole thing. Seymour the wicked baddy dies, so does Auron, apparently good, so does Ject, another baddy, so do a few other good characters and what happens to them all? They all float of neutrally into some kind of existence- What then is the whole point of anything?! There has to be a judgement! The existence of evil, if we are able to name such a thing (and the game does name evil) demands that evil must be punished. The good and evil character cannot indifferently drift off into eternity. Furthermore there seems to be continued existence but there is no God sustaining all of this! It is all very soccinianist, the "soul" isn't so much immaterial as subtle matter that seems to just float off.
There is no God to whom the souls are presented before, there is no God at all. For a while we think "Yevon" is a kind of deity who is utterly indifferent to the cries of his people but over time it becomes clear that Yevon is not the creator at all but simply a powerful human being living inside of Sin. How can any positive worldview contemplate existence without a creator? What fools!


FFX is in many ways technically very good. It is probably the first in a run of new "interactive movie" FFs where the game is made up of linearly progressing cut scenes with lots of optional side quests at the end. I have to admit that I do prefer the old style where you have the world map, the ability to jump a little ahead and the alternative of deviating into side quests at every step of the game. The towns have very little character which is a great pity, there seems no reason to return to them after they have been visited and the NPCs are, excepting 'Cid', all pretty dull.

I really liked the battle system, totally turn based with some really tactic-based battles. I think the difficulty level was just right, the game isn't a walk over and some random encounters can cause trouble- I like that though, sometimes it is refreshing to have an enemy successfully cast death on your whole party ;) I'm was not all that keen on the "sphere system", after a while I started wishing the game would just do all the levelling up automatically rather than giving the option of which stat to increase. It was a little tedious really.

The beauty of the graphics opens up the issue of pornography and I think at a few points the game edges close to the mark. Some characters are absolutely and ridiculously immodest even more than Tifa in her dumb cowgirl outfit in FFVII ;) At one point it is suggested that Sin is a punishment for the vanity of the people. This seems totally ridiculous though as the religious authorities seem to be doing nothing to get people covered up!

Fundamentally FFx carries a worldview that is relativistic, materialist and ultimately nihilist. The game concludes with Yuna proclaiming that the wonderful people of Spira can now build a wonderful peaceful world now that they have redeemed themselves from Sin. Religion was a farce and man has saved himself. It seemed very Rousseauian, that naturally benign man was now going to have paradise on earth now that the religion has been cast aside and the external foe defeated. The real truth about sin though is that it is not some external creature that can be eradicated from the earth in a puff of smoke, no, sin is reproduced by our own wills and to some extent its seat will remain within our hearts until our wicked nature has been made anew in Christ. May the Blessed Mother form Him inside of us through grace here and now that even before the final resurrection we may live free from sin grafted totally into Christ.

I am glad that I played FFX, hopefully writing this review has engraced the act in some way ;) I wouldn't recommend it to anything more than a mature Christian who is capable of mocking the plot for what it is. There are some poisonous ideas more poisonous that Sin's toxin that can easily infect even the aveThe gameplay is really something and there are some great music tracks. Square-Enix have got some really talented guys on their staff, it is a pity, a crying pity that ultimately their games seem to be one after the next supporting godless empty philosophies that leave their depressed teenage audience utterly uninspired.


Anonymous said...

I think you touched on something in regards to your view on the rather empty and hollow ending/moral to the story.

I think this sort of story theme is mostly a cultural phenomenon.

Western stories nearly always have an ideal ending, the good guys win, the bad guys lose and all of the loose ends are neatly tied up (unless they are left open for a sequel).

In contrast, Japanese stories typically end in less than ideal circumstances. Rather than victory, equilibrium is often the goal. The good guys don't always win, the bad guys don't always lose (and some times are found not to be all that bad). Japanese stories tend to reflect the uncertainties and complexities of real life by leaving many threads in a plot unresolved. This is often done to lend realism to the plot -- and to some extent, it does.

Unfortunately, a vast majority of games put out by both Japanese and western developers lack philosophical or moral substance at best and are morally corrosive at worst.

I think there is a real opportunity for game developers to introduce some profound lessons about the dignity of humanity, the light of redemption, and the aspiration and celebration of the virtues; much like Tolkien did with Lord of the Rings. A game like that would be a refreshing change and it would easily transcend the moral ambiguity that permeates the industry today.

dustin (The 16-bit Catholic) said...

This got me thinking, is there any room for a Christian RPG? Let's say you control a priest. You level up by administering sacraments, helping people, etc. I know there's Priestville on Facebook that does this sort of thing, but I'd love a full-blown RPG with a world map, NPCs, etc.

Andy Kirchoff said...

I'm trying to figure out why people like me love these types of games so much even though almost every single one is laden with thematic elements completely antithetical to our religious beliefs.

Miles Mariae said...

Anon made an interesting point about how Japanese traditional morality provides a lot of the moral lessons in these games.

I think you are probably right there, equilibrium does often tend to be the moral 'result'.

Is this good? You suggest that it may be argued to reflect more faithfully the complexities of life than the good always triumphing.

I think someone arguing from a secular worldview can claim this, because for them, as with the traditional Japanese religions, there is no final judgement and no absolute point to make universal moral claims from.

From a Catholic worldview, a redeemed worldview, we counter the claim that exstitentialist, morally indifferent conclusions reflect the 'complexities of life' by responding that they in fact betray the fundamental simplicity of life which is covered up by trivialities and moral diffidence. For in fact, acts are not indifferent, they are moral and, as even Plato recognised to perform an evil act is worse than to be victim to one, the continual performance of such acts perpetuates evil and makes a character wicked, such wickedness is contrary to the goodness of creation and the Creator. The wicked are doomed to be destroyed.
An underlining Christian narrative will reflect this fundamentally simple worldview it ought to because THIS IS REALITY. It may not be immediately obvious, in fact it isn't- read the complaints of the Psalmist! But we must remind ourselves what is really going on underneath the banner of 'enlightened morality' or 'complexities of life'.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I just found this blog, and decided to send you a message just to tell you how happy I became in finding that the Holy Church is being defended above ours passions.
I truly love games, but almost everyday I find an anti-christian ideal on them. So this space is a bless. I'll pray ask for God to keep you always with that courage and willing to show the true. Also, do you hape a list of games that, as you could observe, teach cristians values?
Best Regars of a friend from Brazil.
PS. Sorry for any possible errors with the writting.

Miles Mariae said...

Thank you for your message Ricardo,

I don't know of any list of video games that observe/ teach Christian values.

I think many games are neutral because of their genre (sports games, puzzle games, Racing games)

when it comes to RPGs (the genre I am interested in) in terms of games from the last 10 years I think the list would be quite small. Do you have any suggestions? The games have to be good as well! That is vital.

Andy Kirchoff said...

For rpgs, I would recommend The World Ends With You for the Nintendo DS, along with Dragon Quest IX.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but that game is a lot worse than you make it out to be. Take this from an avid Final Fantasy fan. I'm a bit surprised the game wasn't put on the churches blacklist haha.

The following link leads to an essay by a guy who really did his research on this game, clearly against christianity, but he has a right to his own opinion:

The one thing I disagree with on your post is that the characters are "thoroughly nihilistic." I have no idea where you got that from.

Anonymous said...

Edit: I was the last person to post and need to add one more thing.

The game does sort of establish something analogous to heaven and hell, or at least the idea behind eternal torment as opposed to some level of spiritual continuation. Because this game is actually a the distant past of final fantasy 7 I think many of those ideas can be applied to 10. The only thing lacking is a divine entity watching over this realm, and I suppose the claim could also be made that we just haven't seen it yet. Either way the real blasphemy of the game is not that trifleing aspect of the universe, it is that it implicitly accuses of the church to being like Yevon with false teachings upholding the advancement of civilization.

Luis said...

In terms of philosophy and cultural background FFX is more complex, it has some interesting christian metaphors:
Every period of time, Sinh is temporarily defeated by a sacrifice and always come back because of the sins of the humanity (even Yunalesca responds Wakka that humanity cannot achieve purity, so Sinh will always return(she says that instead of denying that sins are the cause)).
So that have some resemblance to the Israel people and their constantly broken pacts with God.
That happens until Tidus sacrifice himself to stop Sin permanently, and also, it happens that Tidius is a dream of Yevon (very similar to be a son of Yevon).
The last scene it's very vague, but can be interpreted like that Tidus resurrected in the sea (also, in the sequel Tidus resurrected).
Still, you are right about everything that you said of FFX it's fundamentally against our christian morality; I just think that it's necessary to point this christian reference.

Miles Mariae said...

Interesting thoughts Luis,

thanks for sharing them.

A more optimistic take on the game.

It just seems though the characters, summoners included, were not striving at all for purity and sinlessness! The official dress for the summoner seemed to be not much more than a bikini.