Monday, July 28, 2008

"Bid Farewell to your Bloodstained Past!"

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis effectively demonstrated that high fantasy could be used as a form of Christian witness. Both of these writers used their mythic worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia to allegorically present Salvation history and the mystery of faith (among other things). Unfortunately, despite the fact that the video game market is saturated with games featuring settings that, in terms of scope and size, are not at all dissimilar to those of Tolkien and Lewis, these games rarely if ever communicate the values and deep mysteries of the Catholic faith. In fact, it’s not uncommon for the inverse to be true –the Playstation 2 game Xenosaga, for example, is teeming with scriptural allusions, but ultimately presents a Gnostic thematic completely contradictory to the truth of the Catholic faith. Still, some of these games do present some themes that, if not always explicitly Catholic, are powerful reminders of certain Christian virtues. Some of you may remember my entry about The World Ends With You from last month in which I praised the game’s story for presenting a powerful message of the dangers of self-destructive envy.

Final Fantasy, the forefather of fantasy role-playing video games and generally the most well-known and critically acclaimed of the genre today, has a mixed record in terms of compatibility with Catholic values. For example, Final Fantasy XII, the most recent mainline entry in the series on the Playstation 2, has a morally problematic narrative which culminates in a “kill God” conclusion (borrowing from Nietzsche’s infamous “God is dead” Nihilist writings); conversely, the story of Final Fantasy X (also for the Playstation 2) has been compared to a religious pilgrimage and appropriately concludes with the defeat of a monster called Sin.

I’m currently playing through the fourth entry of this acclaimed video game series (first available for the Super Nintendo in 1993 and subsequently released on the Game Boy Advance and, as of last week, on the Nintendo DS, which is the version I’m now playing), and it seems to hold the most promise of any narrative in any Final Fantasy game I’ve played. Having played through about three quarters of the Game Boy Advance version of the game about two years ago, I’m quite familiar at this point with the game’s main character, Cecil, a Dark Knight who, after destroying villages and taking lives by order of his King, eventually undergoes a sort of conversion experience, casting off his armor of Darkness and becoming a Paladin of Light. Recalling the words of Archbishop Sheen, St. Francis of Assisi, and many other holy men and women, I thought this moment not only served as a reminder that we are to be of the Light (and not the darkness), but the way in which the scene is presented mirrors the Sacrament of Reconciliation – the advertisements for the game itself echo the same theme: “Bid Farewell to your Bloodstained Past.”

There is the caveat that this moment of conversion and forgiveness does seem to lack the most important element: God Himself. Scripture itself attests that God is the one who shall take our hearts of stone and place new hearts within us; Final Fantasy IV seems to emphasize the inward human self more than the salvific presence of a Divine Savior, even in the vaguest of terms. Still, I never did complete the game the first time, and the revamped presentation and translation of this Nintendo DS version may shed new light on the deeper intricacies of the story and its relevance to the mystery of sin and God’s forgiveness.

Those who read this blog often know all to well by now the erratic infrequency of my posting here, and this game promises to retain this trend. To be quite blunt, this game is difficult – very difficult. Having just completed the extremely easy Rocket Slime, adjusting to this game is naturally going to make the experience even more prolonged. I may end up posting multiple player diary entries for this one; stay tuned until then.

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