Monday, June 1, 2015

Final Fantasy XIII- Catholic review and analysis

As generally a retro gamer, it has taken me a long time to get around to playing FFXIII, and I just completed it earlier this week. My younger brother finished this game back when it was first released and from conversations with him, as well as with other Catholics, I could see that the game had a lot in its plot and underlying philosophy that was worth thinking about in the light of Catholic truth.

I've got to say I wasn't wild about a lot of the aspects of this game's gameplay- I lamented the loss of towns, NPCs, puzzles, and, overall, the presence of gameplay elements beyond fighting or watching cut-scenes! The game is clearly more ordered to a world that is dominated by FPS games and a lot of people enjoyed the movement of the series into new avenues. I thought the battle system was well crafted and whilst the crystarium system was a bit tedious to constantly update, it allowed for serious gamers to craft out clever strategies and characters with interesting stats. The upgrading of weapons and accessories worked fairly well, but it unfortunately made gil (money) farming through repeated battles a major necessity if you wanted to fully upgrade everything.

30 hours in the game and you can finally explore!

Anyway, my reviews aren't really on that kind of thing and I've probably written too much on those aspects of the game! What I really want to talk about is, can we see Christ in this game? Can we learn of Almighty God in a parable form? Do we find a worldview expounded by the characters that resembles a Christian philosophy? Does playing the game make me want to strive towards virtue and sacrifice? Do I fear hell and offending Almighty God, do I desire to pursue His will above all things? Let's have a look via the usual categories.


Character and identity

So, here we are considering, does the game acknowledge the way in which character is formed by acts of the will, making him, as a result, either good or evil. We are also considering whether the game supports a worldview of 'vocation'- that each one of us has a certain 'telos' or end written into our souls an end we need to reach in order to fully flourish in this life and to reach the beatitude of heaven. For Christians we understand that this telos or vocation is a reflection of a particular attribute of Almighty God, which we are called to embody. Bound up in embodying this attribute of God will mean 'becoming who I was born to be'.


Final Fantasy XIII features a set of demi-gods who give characters a "focus". a mission they need to fulfill, in order to achieve eternal rest and, which if they fail, leads them to transform into a zombie-like creature.

Now, this whole focus business could have been a really interesting Christian parallel, a bit like being given a vocation by Almighty God. However, the game makes it clear that having a focus, a definite mission given by these demi-gods is a cruel form of slavery and that the paradise of completing the focus is really just being frozen in a crystalised stasis.
Of course, Crystalised Serah is completely naked
(even though she had clothes on when she was changed into a crystal.)
The game therefore takes up as its main refrain "we are free, we have choice, we will not be bound by destiny or by a mission given to us by a higher power". Of course, in the case of XIII, the higher power is, in fact, in some way malevolent, but the refrain is seriously anti-Catholic in its tone. Certainly, we are uniquely endowed with freewill, but for humans free will only leads to flourishing when we use freedom in a way that accords with our fixed human nature and the fixed ultimate telos that God has given to each of us. 

But perhaps underneath the focus that the demi-gods give the characters, they recognise a more fundamental vocation? In some sense that is true, they decide among themselves that they must save Cocoon, the world they inhabit, and rescue certain friends of theirs that have been 'enslaved' in the eternal rest of crystalisation, and in particular, a girl called Serah. But the problem is their mission to save Cocoon is depicted throughout as their choice, their defiance against destiny, the triumph of their free will over a quasi-divine order (even though in this case the divine order is malevolent). Hope Estheim seems to be the main voice of the game's philosophy throughout and it is he that cries out to the demi-god "We'll decide our own destiny".

Fang- anti feminine. 
In terms of battle system, there are some positive elements for characterisation insofar as there are characters which are clearly ordered to one fighting style over another (basically like the job system in earlier ffs). However, it seemed to me slightly odd that two of the young female characters are physically the strongest, this contradicts the God given order of femininity. In RPGs female characters should ideally be most suited towards a healer/white mage/summoner role rather than the knight or sentinel. In some sense the game promotes therefore an anti-women ideology that opposes true femininity. The female lead character of Lightning is particularly cold and unfeeling, she is a little like a female Squall but without a Rinoa to soften her edges. In many ways she is an anti-woman, and another party member, Fang, is also very masculine in personality. Female characters are also generally depicted as dressed immodestly, so they are basically male personalities with immodestly revealing clothing and long hair. This situation isn't completely true as Vanille certainly has more feminine personality qualities, but then again we have a bizarre situation with Hope's parents where his mother has taken the role as a gun-wielding rebel while his dad seems to be 'mr. sensitive stay at home dad'. So, in sum, a lot of the characters present a distorted image of gender roles in a way which doesn't reflect the general reality of the created order established by Almighty God.
    

Reality of Objective Moral laws.
Does the game ultimately accept that there is a moral order and that if a character violates it he or she damages himself in some way? That's hard to say. The characters are certainly driven by the desire to do good, but what is the good for them? Hope says at one point "There's no way of knowing what's right. All we can do believe on ourselves.... I might not make all the right choices. But as long as I'm the one who decided what to do, there's nothing regret." That seems to be the message of the game regarding moral laws- so long as you are the one who decides for yourself and you do so with the right intention, that's all that matters. Ultimately, we are dealing with a very shaky grounds for a morality here that brings everything back to a fuzy feeling and the sacrosanct nature of individual autonomy. 

Snow the determined hero
The best lived out lesson in morality is in the part of the story when Hope attempts to kill Snow. In this section we see the silencing of Hope's conscience in a way that is clearly irrational and disordered, this is presented well for the audience and they are made to see how revenge is not the route to human flourishing and that hatred perverts an individual's character. Snow throughout wishes to protect Hope and even after Hope has tried to kill him remains a model of forgiveness and of being faithful to a vow he has made to keep him from harm. 

Interior Struggle to pursue the good.
So, are the characters depicted as having to overcome evils within themselves and even to go against their own advantage in order to pursue what is fundamentally good for themselves and others? In one sense the characters are going through great difficulties in order to rescue Serah, this is most evident in Snow, who is perhaps the game's most traditionally heroic character. He clearly has a deep affection for his Fiance and when she is crystalised he is completely fixed on rescuing her, he protests to Lightning saying "Serah's my bride-to-be. I promised to be her's forever.I don't care how long I have to wait".(In an early cut-scene we watch Snow and Serah engaging in a mortal sin of a romantic kiss proper only to those who a married, so maybe that whole "don't care how long I have to wait" isn't completely literal, for Snow is already taking more than he has a right to under God's law.)

There is another instance which depicts the struggle to pursue the good even when it is not followed, this is in Vanille's continued struggle to reveal to Sazh how she was responsible in part for leading his son to be turned into a crystal. She doesn't own up but we catch a glimpse of the struggle. We see a triumph over the struggle when Sazh makes the choice not to take his own life in despair but to continue onwards to help others.

Divine Providence working through free will.
FFXIII is a game which seriously opposes providence, fate, vocation and destiny with free will. The game repeats a refrain that there is no such thing as purpose, and no grand design, only free choice. A Christian philosophy would always show how evil destroys itself by it's own disordered choices, we don't really get this coming across in XIII. The Christian philosophy acknowledges that Almighty God can and does include miracles as a part of His providential unfolding of His plan for the universe, FFXIII mocks the concept of miracles, we hear Vanille saying "Miracles are things we make for ourselves", and again " Wishes can come true, but not if you wait for miracles".

Self Sacrifice for others
As has already been mentioned, we get a glimpse in Snow of a character who is willing to sacrifice himself for others. The greatest point of self sacrifice is at the end of the game when Vanille and Fang allow themselves to complete their focus and begin to destory the world only so as to become crystal and preserve it from falling out of the sky and being utterly destroyed. Their self sacrifice however is lessened however given the fact that they aren't actually sacrificing their lives, they will be crystal for some time, but it is pretty obvious that in their case they will return to normal after some time. Even so, perhaps being held in crystal for a few hundred years isn't exactly fun!

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

This is where the game really scores badly, while it doesn't necessarily come across in the game, the lore around the game tells us that the universe the game exists in has a multiplicity of gods, and gods of the manner of ancient pagan deities that are at war with each other, that give birth, and that can be destroyed by humans! It should be obvious that a harmonious and law governed universe such as that which the characters of FFXIII inhabit doesn't reflect or support a polytheistic universe which, far from being harmonious, would be driven this way and that by the caprice of these conflicting deities.
The Primarch= The Pope= Bad Guy
The main bad guy of the game is the equivalent of the pope, the leader of the worship of the gods. We don't actually see any places of worship in the game or anyone actually engaging in worship of the gods, so what he actually does on a day to day basis isn't clear, what is clear though is the message religious authority= secret evil controlling despot. We don't get any glimpses of eternal life or eternal punishment in hell, which is deeply lamentable and so there is no sense in which wicked acts have eternally damaging consequences for their actors. 

Conclusion

Final Fantasy XIII as an RPG is alright, the gameplay, for me, never reaches the battle and strategy heights of X, nor the side-quest and exploring heights of VII, nor the freedom of VI. The game seemed way too linear and the story, for all its philosophical flaws, was fundamentally dull and uninspiring. 

As an embodiment of the Christian worldview it fails even more dramatically. In many ways the refrain is similar to that of X. I'm not sure which is more harmful to the faith, X is poisonous in it's de-construction of a religious and objectively moral society into a complete farce, vindicating freedom above morality. XIII makes similar points but comes at them from a different angle, with XIII there is an absolute glorification of a false understanding of human freedom cut off from human nature- as if humans could find fulfillment and flourishing by asserting themselves over the divine order, as if human free-will was the true source of what men of the past considered miracles.

X is certainly a better game and its story is told in a much more engaging manner, I think that probably makes it more dangerous. XIII never grips the player in the way that X does and never really makes the player reflect too much on his own life and world. So it isn't a great game, but in fact, from our standpoint, that might in fact be its saving grace.

6 comments:

Azaleah Banks said...
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Zanjiieh said...
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Caesar W.Lun said...

Hi Guys,maybe you can try to play the Final fantasy XII,for i felt that somewhat have a few of the christian or catholic elements within this,.......just i feel,maybe you can try that......

Caesar W.Lun said...

Hi gamer,maybe you can try to play the Final fantasy XII,for i felt that somewhat have a several of christian or catholic elements within this,........ just i feel,maybe you can try that ........

Melanie Cruz said...

There has to be no coincidence that I found your blog. Final Fantasy XIII has peaked my interest since the first time I saw the trailer. I watched some of the cutscenes and that made me want to play the game so much. About a year later the interest lessened and I couldn't understand why, but the game gave me the impression that something was missing, that maybe it wasn't so great after all. I'm a senior in highschool looking for what to do with my life. Because of my interest in computers and video games, I found University of Advancing Technologies online. It just so happened there is a game design program and that interested me along with computer science and networking. Yet, doing game design for life I feel as if it would be lacking and I think you've answered what I was searching for.

Miles Mariae said...

I'd love to hear more from you Caesar W.Lun about Final Fantasy XII, I have to admit, I tried to play the game through but quit about half way. I found the story difficult to get into and I found the lisence points system tedious. I liked the battle system though, it was a good experiment.