Inerrancy and Final Fantasy Tactics

Okay, I know that I said I was done with Final Fantasy Tactics after my last post on it, but good games are good, and I’m still mired in my current playthrough right at the point when the Glabados Church’s conspiracy to seize power has been uncovered by Ramza and company.  It’s at this point in the story that Ramza acquires a book known as the Germonique Scriptures, which has been long hidden in the library of the monastery where Princess Ovelia has been secluded.

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Just like in the real world, there’s a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over a certain book. (Image credit: Final Fantasy Wiki)

This book’s a big deal, because it offers an alternate history to the one officially accepted by the Glabados Church wherein Saint Ajora Glabados wasn’t a divine figure who was born performing miracles, but a spy for enemies of the dominant power at the time, the Holy Ydoran Empire.  Germonique, who in the Church’s history was a traitor who sold Ajora out to the authorities, was actually an agent of the Empire tasked with monitoring Ajora’s activities.

Obviously, these conflicting accounts pretty heavily mirror the difference in events between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of Judas (it’s not a perfect parallel, but the idea that one of the divine figure’s disciples who is known as a traitor held some kind of secret history fits closely enough).  This is significant because the crisis of faith that comes with entertaining the possibility of a different version of events is one of the greatest fears people have (this crisis extends even to people who don’t exercise any kind of faith, as conflicting narratives are endemic to our conversations about what’s happening around us, and being confronted with information that undermines any narrative, be it ideological, theological, or even historical, inevitably creates a sense of distress), and Final Fantasy Tactics just drops that problem right in the middle of a story that’s mostly been about political intrigue.  Ramza, who admits that he’s not a terribly devout person, has a small crisis of faith after reading the Germonique Scriptures; the scandalous nature of Germonique’s account (Ajora was not only not divine, but also a sort of revolutionary) combined with the fact that the Glabados Church has been hiding it for so long weighs heavily as it eats away at all the cultural stories that he was raised on and had integrated as just part of history.  Suddenly he’s not just fighting against a plot to destabilize all of Ivalice at the expense of its most vulnerable citizens; he’s contending with a corrupt church which promotes a faith that might all be a foundational lie.

So, I bring all this up because it reminds me of several conversations I’ve followed recently regarding various kinds of narratives.  In the realm of Christianity, I’ve become interested in the ‘controversy’ (anything which is controversial in Christianity is simply something that defies the most prominent cultural narratives of the faith) surrounding the band Gungor and their coming out as non-literalist Christians who acknowledge that evolution is true.  Gungor has received a lot of flak from the white evangelical community because of this public disclosure, with many lamenting how the worship band has fallen away from the truth of scripture.

You guys know how I feel about that kind of talk (it’s bullpoop).

Nonetheless, this casting out of former tribe members emanates from the same kind of crisis of faith that Ramza experiences in finding that book in the bottom of a monastery.  To suggest that there’s another way to look at a narrative invites scorn and derision, especially when it’s one so foundational to identity like a faith narrative (it’s ironic then, in Final Fantasy Tactics, that Ramza is branded a heretic before he discovers the Germonique Scriptures, and that his loss of faith in Glabados is primarily motivated by the constant persecution he receives from the Church).

I think that’s part of the reason inerrancy has become so prevalent in evangelical culture.  People of faith have a strong motivation to maintain their faith as part of their identity (even looking at myself, this is why I try to push back on people claiming that there’s only one kind of authentic Christian; my faith is an important part of my identity, so I’m invested in protecting my claim on it), and creating a narrative where the faith’s scriptures are not only important, but inerrant, reinforces that narrative against any counter claims that might incite a faith crisis.  Of course evolution is a lie; if it weren’t then Genesis would be wrong, and Jesus wouldn’t be necessary, and Paul’s claim that “we are of all people most to be pitied” would be true.

God forbid someone pity us.

I’ve probably written this before in some shape or another, but I think it’s worth repeating: clinging desperately to a narrative in the face of counter evidence is not real faith.  Put another way, faith is not about sticking to beliefs that are verifiably false, but holding to unverified beliefs.  I don’t believe the universe was created in literally six days; that is verifiably false.  I do believe that the universe was created by a benevolent, loving God whose character was revealed in the person of Jesus Christ; that is presently unverifiable (and, I think, never will be).

Given all that, Final Fantasy Tactics‘s detour through the problem of the Germonique Scriptures strikes me as a particularly insightful bit of storytelling.  One of the game’s core mechanics is how every character has a faith stat (this stat determines how effective the character is at delivering and receiving the effects of magic; characters with zero faith are actually immune to magic-based actions).  After reading the Germonique Scriptures, Ramza begins to lose faith in Glabados, but his faith stat is unchanged.  He has discovered something that disrupts the narrative he knows, perhaps incontrovertibly (it’s important to remember that Ajora’s status as a divine incarnation is left ambiguous within the game; his relationship to the Lucavi Ultima is unclear; all we know for certain is that Ultima posed as Ajora at some point in the past), but this change in perspective doesn’t impact what he really believes.  Even if the Ajora story isn’t factual, Ramza still adheres to higher ideals of what is good about his universe.  His faith remains intact.

Revisiting Final Fantasy Tactics (Part 5)

In the opening scenes of Final Fantasy Tactics there’s a moment where Delita has to punch Ovelia in the stomach in order to get her to stop resisting him.  It’s portrayed as a generally brutal moment and foreshadows Delita’s extreme pragmatism in trying to achieve his goals, but I remember it more for what Delita says in response to Ovelia’s protestations.

In the original translation for the Playstation version, Delita says this:

Tough. . . Don’t blame us.  Blame yourself or God.

That’s one of those lines that stuck with me, because it points pretty strongly towards one of the major themes of this story (it’s also constructed with the kind of brute terseness that suggests Delita’s a jerk; that’s an interesting case of the shortcomings of the translation shading characterization, because Delita’s not nearly as rude in the newer translation, even though he still hits all the same plot points).  The Glabados Church is rather central to the plot, and it’s the source from which a lot of the strife emits.  It’s because the Church wants to create more unrest among the nobles that the War of the Lions occurs, and it’s the Church that intends to seize power once everyone is too exhausted from fighting to resist.  Even the Lucavi, who have their own plan and are only using the Church as a cover, have as their leader Ultima, who possessed the Church’s figurehead when he was alive.  It’s perfectly rational to say that in this game, every bad thing that happens can be traced back to the Church.

That covers the God half of Delita’s assessment of what’s to follow.  When he says “Blame yourself,” he’s addressing Ovelia directly.  It’s kind of clunky in the old translation because Ovelia has about the least agency of anyone in this story; the newer version better explains:

Forgive me.  ‘Tis your birth and faith that wrong you, not I.

First, note that Delita’s a lot more considerate after having just punched Ovelia in the gut.  More importantly, this translation clarifies that it’s Ovelia’s nobility that’s the root of her problem, not anything she’s done herself.  This clarification helps a lot, since it highlights that where the Glabados Church isn’t at fault, the nobility is (if not for Larg and Goltanna’s desire for more power, the Church’s machinations probably would have failed).  Delita sees these problems clearly, and every encounter with him for the rest of the game highlights that he knows what’s going on, and he only intends to play along with these oppressive forces until he has an opportunity to make his own way.

The irony for Delita’s approach is that he wants to change the system by taking it over, yet when he gets to the top, he finds he’s betrayed everything and everyone that he cared about to get there.  In taking control of the system, Delita gets corrupted by it.

And that’s at the heart of Final Fantasy Tactics‘s theme.  This game tells a story about systemic oppression where everyone who is supposed to be responsible for caring for others utterly fails as they get caught up in their own powerplays.  It’s a great thing that feudal systems of government aren’t the norm anymore, and I don’t have any illusions about the problems of such heavy power imbalances, but the theory behind such systems is that people who are privileged with the power have a responsibility to take care of the well-being of all the people beneath them; this story highlights how those systems fail, both in the form of the Glabados Church and the nobility.

I think it’s important to point out here that the critique in Final Fantasy Tactics is being leveled against corruption in organized religion, and not faith in general.  Back when I saw the video discussing the general attitude of the Final Fantasy series towards religion, my major complaint about that reading was that it seemed to be suggesting that faith of any kind was under attack (it was also the video that got me seriously thinking about Final Fantasy Tactics again and what precipitated this series).  It’s a common critique that’s been leveled at Final Fantasy Tactics in particular for as long as the game’s been out.  I remember reading tons of arguments accusing this game in particular of being anti-Christian because of the corruption of the Glabados Church and the demonic influence of the Lucavi.  What often gets overlooked in these critiques of the game is the fact that the Zodiac Stones, which serve as the media through which the Lucavi possess their hosts, are portrayed as morally neutral relics.  At the same time that they enable the Lucavi, they also demonstrate other, more miraculous powers, like resurrecting someone from the dead.  It’s clear that in the world of Final Fantasy Tactics there is a higher power of some sort; whether the Glabados Church has ever represented that power is more ambiguous, although I think that issue is irrelevant to the story’s central purpose.

The whole problem of Delita’s corruption actually reminds me of an article that I read recently regarding Snowpiercer.  I like the interpretation of that movie as a gnostic parable, though this article sees the film as an allegory for capitalism.  The central point there is that trying to take over a system, particularly one that’s designed to concentrate power at the top, is an essentially dicey task, as you can never know if your coup is being co-opted.  I see the parallel there with Delita, since he moves from being at the bottom of the system to the top, but in playing the nobles’ games, he becomes no better than them.

It’s no wonder than the game’s last image is of Delita standing alone atop the metaphorical heap of bodies and asking Ramza if he got what he was looking for while acknowledging that all he’s reaped is death.

Revisiting Final Fantasy Tactics (Part 3)

Story time.

Back in 1998, when I was still in middle school and going nuts over how good this game was, I spent a good bit of time dabbling in video game fanfiction.  There was some that I tried to write myself (it was never very good), but mostly I wanted to read what other people wrote.  Sequel-type stories were typically my speed, but occasionally I enjoyed reading short vignette style stories about moments not depicted in the games themselves.  I came across one particular story about a moment from Final Fantasy Tactics that’s always stuck with me, but not because I remember it as some amazing piece of fiction (I think my tastes are a little more refined now than they were when I was twelve, but I still don’t know that I have particularly good taste in writing).  See, this piece was about a character moment between Ramza, the game’s protagonist, and my personal favorite character from the game, Mustadio (he’s a sniping mechanic; you don’t get better concepts than that).  Now, as is common in fanfiction, this story had some markers on it to indicate what kind of story it was, and one of those was a yaoi tag.

When I was twelve, I did not know what yaoi was.

For anyone also not familiar with the term, yaoi is the word for the Japanese romance genre of “boys’ love.”  More broadly it serves as a marker in fanfiction that the story’s going to include some guy-on-guy romance.

So, needless to say, I read this story completely oblivious to what I was getting into, and at the end of the piece Ramza and Mustadio kiss.  From what I recall, it was a very sweet moment.  Of course, my immature middle school brain couldn’t help being skeezed by the fact that I’d just read a story where the protagonist and my favorite character were really into each other.  It was beyond my ken, you could say.

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I later realized he’s just wearing armor designed for mounted combat, but it’s still an odd detail. (Image credit: Final Fantasy Wiki)

Now, setting aside the fact of my own immaturity, I remember that story because it fit the context of the game so well.  Ramza has no apparent romantic interest (highly unusual for a JRPG).  He’s pretty focused on just helping people out and saving his sister (also, and this is a really unfair thing to use as evidence for a reading of a character’s sexuality, but remember, middle school brain, he wears extremely tight pants so that his character sprite clearly has an apple bottom; no, I am not making this up).

I remember being a little disturbed by the idea that Ramza could be read as gay, but it never affected my enjoyment of the game and the story.  I realized after a while that Ramza’s sexuality doesn’t have a bearing on the story being told (although reading him as gay does enhance the outsider status that everyone rushes to confer on him when he transgresses against the rules of his society), so it didn’t matter if he was straight or gay.  Of course, I still tried to reassure myself of a heteronormative reading by looking at other fanfiction that paired him with the various women who join his party (one particularly memorable piece paired him with a woman with darker skin; it had never occurred to me before that that character and her brother might read as black; that piece also highlighted some assumptions I had about what normal relationships looked like), but as I’ve grown older I’ve become more comfortable with the idea of Ramza as gay.

I think nowadays it’s how I prefer to read him, particularly since there’s nothing within the text to contradict it.

This kind of thing is a big deal, because representation of positive gay characters in video games are pretty scant, particularly in terms of gay protagonists (the only two I can think of off the top of my head are Ellie from The Last of Us, who’s revealed to be a lesbian in that game’s DLC expansion Those Left Behind, and Tony from the Grand Theft Auto IV DLC The Ballad of Gay Tony).  Mainstream games have very poor representation of gay people, and there’s something exciting about the possibility that a game like Final Fantasy Tactics, which was released back in the PS1 era, could have a gay protagonist.

As for Mustadio, the other character featured in that fanfiction I mentioned, he’s totally straight.  Prior to the re-release of Final Fantasy Tactics on the PSP it was still ambiguous, since Mustadio (like all the characters who permanently join your party) gets virtually no more development once his part in the plot is finished, but with the re-release an extra scene was added that shows Mustadio has a crush on Agrias, a female knight who joins the party to try to rescue Princess Ovelia.  It’s not a bad pairing, but it does squash the possibility of that one story.

Revisiting Final Fantasy Tactics (Part 2)

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Delita (left) and Ramza (right), the game’s two main characters. (Image credit: Final Fantasy Wiki)

I mentioned last time the complexity of the plot in this game, so I wanted to take a minute to break down just how many factions you have to keep track of as the story progresses.

  • Ramza and his companions are our heroes.  Initially, Ramza receives orders to take his company of military cadets on a mission to rescue an important noble from a group of peasant rebels who have kidnapped this noble as a bargaining chip in getting their fair pay from the war that they just helped fight.  When this whole episode goes south and ends with most of the rebels killed and Ramza’s friend Delita (and his sister Tietra) apparently dead thanks to his own brother’s ruthlessness, Ramza becomes disillusioned with the nobility and takes his companions with him to become mercenaries.  The rest of the story plays out from Ramza’s perspective as an outsider.
  • The Corpse Brigade are the aforementioned rebels who hatch the plot to kidnap the Marquis Elmdore.  Their leader, Wiegraf, is an honorable man who disapproves of the kidnapping plot.  His sister Milleuda dies during the events to quell his rebellion, and he eventually joins the Knights Templar, the military branch of the Holy Glabados Church.
  • The Order of the Northern Sky is the army under the command of Zalbaag, Ramza’s older brother.  They’re loyal to Duke Larg, who rules the province of Gallione in the west of Ivalice.  Larg’s sister is the current Queen of Ivalice, and he supports her infant son’s claim to the throne (the previous king was in poor health and died suddenly, leaving some speculation that the Queen’s son is illegitimate).  Larg’s most loyal adviser is Dycedarg, Ramza’s eldest brother.  At the culmination of the War of the Lions (the conflict between the Northern and Southern Skies, whose standards are a white lion and a black lion respectively), Dycedarg betrays Duke Larg, seizing control of Gallione and the Northern Sky for himself.
  • The Order of the Southern Sky is commanded by Count Orlandeau, a former comrade of Ramza’s father Barbaneth.  Orlandeau is loyal to Duke Goltanna, who rules an eastern province in Ivalice.  Goltanna promotes Princess Ovelia, the late King’s adopted half-sister, as the rightful heir with the intention of becoming her regent.  Late in the story Orlandeau is framed for betraying Goltanna and is forced to go on the run with Ramza.
  • The Holy Glabados Church is the dominant religion in Ivalice.  It heavily mirrors Christian Catholicism in tradition and history, and is a major power in Ivalice.  The High Confessor Funebris wants to consolidate all power in Ivalice under the Church, and he manipulates events on both sides of the Lion War to weaken the rival armies.  The Church also declares Ramza a heretic and puts a bounty on him after he begins interfering with their plans.
  • The Knight Templar are the Church’s military branch.  They’re led by Folmarv, and appear sporadically throughout the story to nudge the nobles towards actions that will be favorable to the Church in the long run.  This was a the faction that confused me the most the first time I played the game, because Folmarv shows up everywhere and I never really understood why he was helping both sides in the war.  I also originally thought that Delita was associated with them (largely because of the poor translation, and because Delita’s sprite after the first chapter bears some similarities to the uniform of the Knights).
  • The Lucavi (these are the real villains of the story, despite all the previous excellent candidates) are a cadre of demons who over the course of the game take possession of several key players in the story’s events.  As far as anyone can tell, once a host is chosen by a particular Lucavi, that person is effectively dead, and the Lucavi is the one in control of their body.  The Lucavi possess people who bear an affinity for the Zodiac Stones (the story’s MacGuffins).  The Lucavi’s acting leader is Hashmal, the demon controlling Folmarv (most of the Knights Templar are secretly in league with the Lucavi, although surprisingly few of them appear to be possessed), and he’s working to find the right host for Ultima, their true leader.  Ultima’s last host was St. Ajora Glabados, the figurehead of the Glabados Church (it’s unclear if the Church actually knows about Ajora’s possession), and the current best candidate is Ramza’s sister Alma.  Basically, Folmarv goes along with the Church’s plans as long as they align with his own (Ultima’s revival happens to require tons of bloodshed, so a war’s good for that).
  • Delita’s a free agent in all of this chaos.  He initially appears to be working for the Southern Sky in helping to secure Princess Ovelia, but then it’s revealed that he’s a secret agent working for the Church (this also contributed to my initial confusion about his alignment).  Delita apparently has no knowledge of the Lucavi’s plot, but he’s working on his own scheme to come to power (by the time the story finishes most of the nobility involved in the Lion War are dead, and Delita stands alone as the leader of the Southern Sky and Ovelia’s husband).  His plot is essentially the frame for the whole story, since we’re being told of these events by a historian recounting Ramza’s previously unrecorded involvement in the events leading up to Delita’s seizing the throne.

It’s layers on layers of plots all the way through, and I love this game for the complexity of the story.

Revisiting Final Fantasy Tactics

Some background: In 1997 I got a Playstation for Christmas.  Along with it came Final Fantasy VII, a game I had been excited about for what seemed like a really long time then, but was probably more realistically a few months.  It was a good game; I enjoyed it.  Not long after playing through Final Fantasy VII I became aware of Squaresoft’s latest entry in the Final Fantasy series: Final Fantasy Tactics.

Final Fantasy Tactics Logo

Original game logo. (Image credit: Final Fantasy Wiki)

Being something of a Final Fantasy fanboy at the time (this was back when the series was still the gold standard for console RPGs in North America), I had to have this game.  I didn’t know a thing about it, and I had never played a tactical RPG before, but it had Final Fantasy in the title, and it was a game that had just come out for my shiny new Playstation, so I got it.

There are two things to remember when discussing Final Fantasy Tactics.  First, it is absurdly easy (there is a wealth of artificial challenges players can impose on themselves to make the game harder), and second, its story is absurdly hard to follow (at least, it was for my tweenage brain back in ’98; this was also largely due to the horrible English translation the game received when it was originally localized).  Such a game, that offers little in the way of game play challenges and hand-holding through the narrative, should on the face not be one worth revisiting.

And yet, I’ve completed this game probably five or so times in the sixteen years since it was first published (that’s a lot when you consider that a single playthrough can easily take 60 hours to finish).  I can’t get enough of it.  When Square Enix re-released the game on the PSP with extra content, animated cut scenes, and an updated translation back in 2007, I didn’t hesitate to buy a copy (and subsequently spent a straight week playing it at work; looking back, that might have been a little irresponsible, except I had literally nothing to do at my job that week).  I enjoyed the game so much that as soon as I beat it the first time on PSP, I immediately restarted so I could do a single class challenge (the game’s biggest draw is its highly flexible job system, which allows for tons of permutations on classic Final Fantasy classes; a single class challenge is therefore a playthrough where the player limits themselves to only using a single class for all of their party members).

Of course, I’m not the only crazy person who loves this game so much.  In discussions of the Final Fantasy series, this is the only non-numbered entry that frequently gets included and referenced with the same deference as the really famous entries like Final Fantasy VI and VII.  It’s an odd phenomenon, because everyone also knows that Final Fantasy Tactics is an unabashed ripoff of an earlier tactical RPG called Tactics Ogre (Squaresoft famously hired the chief developer of Tactics Ogre following that game’s success and put him to work developing FF Tactics), but the derivative nature doesn’t detract from the quality of the product.

Okay, so there’s all the background about this game.  Let’s talk about the story (don’t worry; I’ve played it enough to know pretty much all the ins and outs of what’s happening now; also, the PSP translation is absolutely outstanding, which helps leaps and bounds with narrative clarity).  The protagonist is Ramza Beoulve, the bastard son of Barbaneth Beoulve.  We meet him in the middle of a job that he and his fellow mercenaries have taken to escort the Princess Ovelia Atkascha back home from the monastery where she has been staying.  The monastery is attacked and Ovelia kidnapped, with Ramza catching a glimpse of his childhood friend Delita in the chaos.  Once everything’s calmed down, Ramza sets off with his companions and Ovelia’s personal bodyguard in pursuit of Delita and the princess.

So here’s where the story gets weird, because we flash back to about a year earlier when Ramza and Delita were still cadets at the military academy in Gallione where Ramza’s elder brothers are respected officials of that region’s Duke.  The reason this is weird is that in the original translation this tense shift wasn’t very clear at all, so I was all kinds of confused about Delita kidnapping Ovelia, and then suddenly being in my party with no mention of what I had just seen happen (complicate that further with yet another flashback within this flashback to explain Ramza’s relationships with his elder brothers and his sister; thankfully that one only lasted for a scene and not an extended chunk of play time).  It turns out the entire first chapter of the game is just a flashback explaining Ramza and Delita’s relationship (Ramza’s the black sheep of his family because he and his sister have a different mother from their elder brothers, and Delita’s a commoner who was adopted by Barbaneth to be Ramza’s companion after his parents died of plague) and establish character motivations for the remainder of the story (Ramza becomes disillusioned with the power games that the nobility plays at the expense of the peasants, and turns his back on the whole system, while Delita disappears following his sister’s death and looks to get revenge on the nobility by beating them at their own game).  There’s little connective tissue between the first chapter and the rest of the game, and this disconnect, combined with the original poor translation, left me really confused about what was happening (I spent a long time hoping that Delita would rejoin my party because I thought he was cooler than Ramza, then when I finished the game and saw what Delita eventually becomes, I despised him, leading me to abuse him as a party member during that first chapter even though the whole point of the sequence was to establish why Delita is sympathetic despite his later decisions).

Anyhow, the story proceeds from that flashback to follow Ramza chasing after Delita and rescuing Ovelia (who naturally gets captured again not long after being rescued).  The broad plot deals with the machinations of two rival noble houses who are fighting over control of the two heirs to the throne (Ovelia is one; her baby brother whom we never see is the other).  In addition to that plot, there’s also a conspiracy being enacted by the world’s church to try to consolidate power in the hands of the High Confessor (basically the Pope).  On top of that is Delita’s personal plan to rise to power which involves mounds and mounds of backstabbing.  Oh, and there’s demons trying to kill everyone, because political intrigues aren’t enough.

And all of this is experienced from the viewpoint of Ramza, who’s an outsider to the whole mess and takes forever to figure out who exactly is allied with whom.

Like I said, the story’s a real challenge to follow.

Is Final Fantasy Anti-Religion?

To start, yes, this is kind of a silly topic.  Yes, it’s been revisited many, many times before.  I remember reading editorials online about how Final Fantasy Tactics was a slam on Christianity way back in middle school (yes, we did have the internet in 1998).  And yes, I think that the general tone of the video that I’m responding to is meant in good fun, and shouldn’t be taken extremely seriously.

Let’s get things started by giving you folks a link to the video that I’m answering.  It’s about eleven minutes long, so watch it first.

Okay, we good?  Let’s go then.

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“You know, technically this marriage is against our religion, what with you being dead and all.” “Shut up, Yuna.” (Image credit: Final Fantasy Wiki)

First, let’s do a closer examination of Final Fantasy X, since that’s the game that gets most of MatPat’s attention in this video.  His summary of events in the game is pretty accurate (Yu Yevon, a powerful and respected summoner from the historic Zanarkand, asks the city’s citizens to sacrifice themselves to become the medium through which he can sustain Zanarkand’s memory and create an Aeon powerful enough to end the war and keep anyone from ever becoming technologically advanced enough to start another conflict on the same scale; this plan goes south as Yu Yevon loses himself in the process and becomes consumed with the basic idea of preserving Zanarkand’s memory and maintaining an Aeon that will prevent technological advancement; flash forward a thousand years and the game’s protagonists discover all this and decide to put an end to the cycle, drawing the ire of the world religion that’s sprung up around Yu Yevon’s desire to stagnate technological development).  Besides the background story, which doesn’t really come majorly into play until near the game’s end, there is an ongoing conflict between the heroes and the church of Yevon where the upper echelons of the church hierarchy are revealed to be extremely corrupt.

I don’t have a problem with stories that suggest religious organizations can be corrupt; that’s true enough in real life that I think it’d be absurd to ignore it in fiction.  However, I do think it’s a stretch to suggest that the core plot of Final Fantasy X supports MatPat’s argument about the series being anti-religion.  On close examination, the plot of this game follows a version of Gnostic cosmology (which modern Christians would dismiss as heretical, even though we’re pretty bad at separating concepts of gnosis from our own religious practice) that’s built around the usurpation of power from the true god by a false one.  To keep it brief, Yu Yevon represents the demiurge, a being in Gnostic thought that created the physical world as a lesser version of the spiritual one (either out of ignorance or spite, depending on the interpretation), Sin is representative of the inherently flawed nature of the physical world and the consequent suffering that ensues, and the journey of Yuna and Tidus to destroy Yu Yevon represents the acquisition of special knowledge (gnosis) necessary for salvation and a return to the way of the true god.

This isn’t a story that attacks religion; it just presents one that’s not such a major part of the popular consciousness anymore.

The second game that MatPat discusses is Final Fantasy Tactics (which is, objectively, the best game; I am not being hyperbolic).  This one’s a lot harder to argue against, because the basic plot revolves around a corrupt church that has all the trappings of Roman Catholicism, and it turns out that the figurehead of the religion, Saint Ajora, really was possessed by the demon Ultima after looking for the power to carry out a revolution (this story eventually gets eclipsed by a mythological narrative of salvation and divinity on Ajora’s part, similar to how proponents of texts like the Gospel of Thomas suggest that Jesus’ divine nature was a later imposition on the story of a revolutionary teacher).

It’s true this game isn’t kind to Christianity, but it should be pointed out that in this case the target is again simply organized religion.  The Glabados Church is corrupt, and its figurehead is a false god, but that’s not an indictment of divinity in general (within the narrative, we only receive confirmation that Ajora was possessed by Ultima; other details about how his story grew into the Glabados Church are obscured).

Following that, MatPat spends a short amount of time discussing Final Fantasy VI.  This game’s first half is lifted more or less whole cloth from the plot of Star Wars, but its second half deals with the heroes gathering together to destroy Kefka, who’s usurped the power of magic from the Warring Triad, a trio of deities who stirred up a pretty catastrophic war in the past, but who also aren’t necessarily the only divinities in this world.  It’s true that Kefka does steal all the power of magic from the Triad and in fact become the God of Magic, but he’s an ascended deity with only a single aspect; killing him is about restoring the world to order.  The Christ imagery that MatPat talks about is definitely present, but that should be viewed as a revelation of Kefka’s own twisted self-image, not evidence for the game’s ultimate disdain for religion.  Heck, the defeat of Kefka is treated as something bittersweet, where magic (the game’s analogue for faith) disappears and the world, though capable of moving on, is diminished by the loss.

As for the final game that MatPat discusses, Final Fantasy Legend, well… yeah.  The final boss is supposed to be God, and you do kill him for being a jerk who causes human suffering for his own amusement.  No argument with that one (except that technically that game’s part of the SaGa series; it only has the Final Fantasy title because Squaresoft thought the game would sell better in North America with the name recognition).

So is Final Fantasy, as a series, against religion?  I guess it depends on what your definition of anti-religion is.  On the one hand, yes, there are a couple games in the series that have plots revolving around rebellion against corrupt organized religions (Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy X are the most salient examples although Final Fantasy XIII has some similar overtones), and yes, there are a lot of games that involve combating an entity that represents God or someone aspiring to become God (Final Fantasy IV, V, VI, VII, IX, X, XII and probably more if you look at them the right way).  However, I don’t think the series is opposed to religion in general.  Fighting against cosmic (and pretty much always unjust) forces makes for a good conflict in an RPG.  The gods that get struck down by Final Fantasy‘s heroes are not being attacked because of their divinity; they’re being attacked because they happen to be evil (or in the case of Legend, just a jerk).  I don’t see that as being anti-religion; I see it as being anti-evil (deities who don’t jerk the heroes around typically get treated with a lot of respect; see for example Lightning’s devotion to the goddess Etro in Final Fantasy XIII-2).

Being anti-evil is a good thing to promote in your narrative.  It follows logically that if you set out to eliminate evil, and you discover in the course of your quest that there’s a divinity which is evil, then you should eliminate it.  None of the gods that get put out of their misery in these games are gods that a rational human being should want to follow in the first place.  As a Christian, I look at these stories and I think, “Well, I could see reason to get upset with the message here, if I thought my God resembled these gods, but I don’t think that.”  My God isn’t a psychopath who inflicts suffering for the sake of his own satisfaction; if he were then he wouldn’t be my God.