One of my most visited posts on this blog is one that I published last June called “Is Final Fantasy Anti-Religion?” I wrote it as a response to a video I came across on Youtube that suggested there’s a persistent theme throughout the series of presenting organized religion and personified concepts of the Divine as antagonists. The video was pretty fun, and my response was largely a result of my feeling like I had to somehow put some distance between a series I enjoy and a message that I found troublesome at the time.
Anyone who has finished Lightning Returns can probably guess where I’m going with this.
The setup for this game is that Lightning, following a five hundred year self-induced crystal sleep, has been chosen by the supreme god of the Fabula Nova Crystallis universe, Bhunivelze, to be his champion and the savior whose job is to usher the souls of the saved into a new world that he’s going to create once the Chaos which was unleashed by Caius Ballad’s machinations at the end of the Final Fantasy XIII-2 has swallowed up the world and destroyed it. As an incentive to make sure Lightning helps with this task, he promises to resurrect her sister Serah, who died suddenly after Caius’s defeat in the previous game.
Naturally, the fact that Bhunivelze feels the need to bribe Lightning to help people suggests more about Bhunivelze’s motivations than Lightning’s (very early on, it becomes clear that this feels more like a hostage situation than anything), and before the game clock runs out, we learn pretty definitively that Bhunivelze’s plan for the new world is really crappy, and Lightning needs to rebel against him in order to fix it.
It breaks down like this: Bhunivelze’s nature makes him incapable of understanding the inner workings of the human heart. Humanity was created by the death of Etro, one of the three lesser gods that Bhunivelze created to do his bidding. After Etro’s death, she became ruler of the realm of Chaos and gave humanity hearts made from pieces of the Chaos, which Bhunivelze can’t comprehend (because the Chaos realm is hidden from him). Additionally, she oversaw humanity’s transitions between death and life (reincarnation’s totally a thing in this universe) until she was ultimately destroyed by Caius’s schemes. With Etro’s destruction, the cycle of death and rebirth was halted so that people stopped aging and dying, and new people ceased to be born. The souls of people who died after Etro’s destruction became trapped in the Chaos, and because Bhunivelze can’t see them, he thinks they’re worthless and should be eradicated so that the remainder of humanity can be eternally happy in the new world without their memories of the people who have died (memories of the dead are what sustain their existence in the Chaos and vice versa so destroying the souls of the dead would make everyone forget they ever existed).
It’s a pretty bad plan.
It’s also, if you strip out the underlying mythology and the bits about reincarnation, very similar to a strain of Christian theological thought on the concept of heaven and hell. To keep it brief, the thinking goes that the only way to make heaven palatable for people who go there is for God to make them somehow oblivious to the suffering of people who don’t receive salvation. Whether that’s achieved through making them forget or erasing the existence of the damned is up to whatever particular version of hell a person might prefer, but the important point is that in this system, God’s methods are monstrous and require on some level a violation of the principle of human free will that undergirds most systems of Christian theological morality (in short, if people can’t choose for themselves to do God’s will, then the distinction between Creator and creation is diminished to a triviality). As a universalist, I prefer the system that says that God intends to reconcile with everybody, and he’s willing to go to extraordinary lengths to give everyone as much opportunity as they need to get there. Consequently, Lightning’s plan of rebelling against Bhunivelze and finding a way to save all of the souls sits pretty well with me.
I think what I’m getting at with all this is that Lightning Returns has as its culmination a full on rebellion that ends with the main character killing the god of the universe, declaring that humanity doesn’t need him anymore and I’m okay with that. Bhunivelze’s a pretty terrible god anyway (also, the new world that he creates for everyone is supposed to be our world, so clearly he really screwed that part of salvation up too).
I think I have one more post in me about some other aspects of the game which aren’t directly related to how it handles religion (which on the whole I think is pretty good for a story that was written with a teenage audience in mind). So we’ll be revisiting this topic again.