Notice: This article contain spoilers related to the storyline of Final Fantasy VII. If you're looking to replay this game (about $10 on Playstation Network), you should really skip this article until you finish the game.
A friend of mine, who is the father of two, recently gave me some sound advice.
"Do everything you like to do now," Chris told me a few weeks ago when I asked if he had any parenting advice for me (my wife and I are expecting a baby girl in late February). And when it comes to video games, I've taken that advice to heart. I spent five-and-a-half hours completing Super Mario Bros. 3 without any warp whistles back in August, knowing full well that 330 minutes of uninterrupted gameplay will not happen with an infant in the house.
I then extended that logic to Final Fantasy VII. I've been playing that nonstop on my PSP. I never finished the game when I first played it in 1999, nor did I finish it when I tried again in early 2010 (foolishly selling my PSP for a DS, only to turn around and sell the DS to get a PSP 15 months later). This time though, I was determined to win the game.
And not just win the game. I wanted to get all the secrets. I wanted to actually succeed at that stupid Chocobo breeding, get the crazy awesome materia that I was too lazy to get on previous playthroughs, and feel a sense of unrushed accomplishment when I finished the game.
And I succeeded, well, for the most part. I did get that Gold Chocobo through breeding (his name was Neil), which allowed me to get the good materia, like Knights of the Round, but I didn't waste my time killing those giant monster weapons that roamed the planet (with the exception of Ultimate because I needed Cloud's ultimate weapon).
And last night, at 3:00 a.m., after nearly 50 hours of gameplay, I finally defeated the game. Were my Catholic sensibilities assailed throughout this game? Actually, I was able to find some positive elements in the game. Yes, a game that deals with people dying and returning to the planet's lifestream is far from what Christianity teaches. I realize that. But if you look past that, you can find elements and ideas our Faith would support and champion.
• Life is sacred. The game shows why we should not try to "play God" when it comes trying to create life through artificial means. Professor Hojo tries to create clones of the main antagonist Sephiroth on two characters, Cloud (the main protagonist) and Zack. The result is a painful discovery by Cloud that many of his memories are falsely implanted. The game would agree with paragraph 2273 of the Catechism, which states "Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being's right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death."
Sephiroth himself was created through natural conception, but during the pregnancy gets injected with "cells" from an alleged supernatural being. Again, I see this is as a definite violation of the Church's teaching that the integrity of a person should be respected.
Later in the game, Hojo tries to convince Cloud that he's nothing more than a failed experiment. But that line of thinking fails when Cloud's friends convince him that he's not a failure. Cloud realizes that, which to me says that no matter what bad things have happened to us in the past, we can still rise above those misfortunes and honor God with our lives.
And while not specific to FF7, the characters all feel the need to save the planet and it's people.
• Good intentions do not justify evil acts. In the beginning of the game, Cloud joins a terrorist group named AVALANCHE, which is made up two other main characters, Barrett and Tifa. The group is labeled a terrorist group because they end up destroying a MAKO reactor due to the (rightful) belief that the corporation SHINRA is killing the planet by using MAKO energy for electricity.
And while the group had good intentions (taking down Shinra), they soon realize that maybe they weren't doing the right thing after all. The Church would agree, as paragraph 1753 says "A good intention (for example, that of helping one's neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means."
Barrett and the group later realize that by destroying that reactor, a lot of innocent lives were lost, and that their terrorist actions made them no better than Shinra.
• Church is a sacred place. Early in the game, Cloud meets Aeris (I named her Sarah) inside of a Church. Despite the decrepit slums that surrounded the church, flowers managed to grow and look beautiful in this building. Even one of the villains orders his troops not to step on the flowers. I liked this respect that this church was afforded in the game.
• Our abilities are gifts from God. While the Materia system in this game is inherently flawed (you can just slap any of the materia onto the characters and they immediately know the magic) and not nearly as good as previous job systems like in Final Fantasy V, I think it subtly shows that the talents that we have are a gift from God. God, not ourselves, is the source of our talents and abilities, just like Materia was the source of the characters magical abilities. Take the materia/God away, and we're left with nothing. Yes, God gives us the opportunity to hone our abilities (much like you have to build up the Materia), but we should always give thanks to him for what he has provided.
• The power of Prayer. When Aeris decided to stop Sephiroth, she didn't take any weapons. Nope, she just prayed. And while she ended up dying while praying, it was her faith and prayers that made it possible for the characters to defeat Sephiroth in the end.
Yes, there are things that you could find objectionable to our faith, such as the lifestream and cross-dressing (done for humor purposes, not erotic), but you almost always have to look past those things when playing a Japanese RPG. You aren't going to find explicit faith in most of these games. But, as the Busted Halo Show teaches me on Thursday nights, it is possible to find positive spiritual messages throughout our pop culture, including video games.
I thank you for joining me on this faith-filled look at one of the most hyped RPGs of all time. Anyone have any suggestions for another RPG to occupy the next few months of my life? I'm thinking either Final Fantasy IV or Lunar?