Tag Archives: gods

FGC #263.1 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a marvelous game, and, unlike so many recent games, it is amazing almost exclusively for its gameplay. There’s no third act swerve, no meta commentary on gaming, and no “we’re secretly all Bokoblins” twist awaiting the player; the magic of Breath of the Wild is simply in everything Link can do, and this amazing world he gets to explore. There are surprises (“Did… did I just tame a bear?”), but it’s not a surprise-based game. In other words, for once, it really is all about the game, and not the plot.

So, naturally, I’m going to talk about the plot.

… What? It’s surprisingly interesting!

Link is indisputably the hero of Breath of the Wild. Link must venture across Hyrule, unearth mystical shrines, free friendly ghosts, and eventually confront (Calamity) Ganon, the dark smoke piggy. Even if the player doesn’t get to name our hero, Link really is a “link” for the player inhabiting Hyrule, and, save a crushing princess or two, Link is almost entirely a blank slate. He doesn’t even have a buddy on this adventure! Kinda. You, player, are Link’s buddy, and you’re the one saying, “hey listen” when you want your elven friend to sneak around an enemy encampment instead of slaughtering the whole lot of ‘em with a stick. It’s Link against the world, and you’re his only reliable ally.

But the story of Breath of the Wild is undeniably the legend of Zelda.

If you’re worried about spoilers, don’t click here.

FGC #251 Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters

Here comes the heroSuper Kid Icarus would have been amazing.

I feel like Super Mario Bros. 2 defined how Nintendo makes sequels. Which Super Mario Bros. 2 am I talking about? Both! Super Mario Bros. (1) was an unprecedented success that led not only to Nintendo’s dominance of the videogame market, but also roughly ten billion imitators. Run, jump… who cares if we get the physics right, it’s all the same, let’s snipe some of that sweet Mario money (coins?). Thus, Nintendo had to create its own Super Mario Bros. sequel to maintain its grip on “this is how it’s done”. And Super Mario Bros 2: The Lost Levels (let’s just use that title so I don’t have to awkwardly type “J” repeatedly) was born. The Lost Levels was, in essence, a continuation of Super Mario Bros, with (pretty much) the same sprites and physics, just greater and deeper challenges for a population that had already mastered Mario’s first adventure. And… Miyamoto didn’t like it. So when Super Mario Bros. 2 came stateside, it was a totally different game, with a full cast of unique characters, magical dream worlds, and a giant frog instead of a giant turtle. Yes, it was, basically, an “official” rom hack of another game, but this is what America saw as “the second Mario game”. And, of course, it was successful.

And it seems like that trip to Sub-Con set the tone for future Nintendo franchise sequels. Super Mario Bros. 3 returned to “old” Super Mario Bros. gameplay… but with the notable addition of flight and frogs. And completely new sprites. And practically every opponent using new patterns or skills. Super Mario World again changed the game in every conceivable way, and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island changed so much that it’s barely even considered a proper sequel. Meanwhile, Link went through three very different iterations between The Legend of Zelda, Link’s Adventure, and A Link to the Past. Even “lesser” franchises and characters follow a similar arc, whether it’s Donkey Kong (1) vs. Donkey Kong (’94), or Kirby’s Dreamland (a suck and spit adventure) vs. Kirby’s Adventure (meet the copy ability). While Nintendo is consistent with its franchises offering the same general gameplay across sequels (almost consistent, look forward to the next entry…), there’s often more innovation than iteration than seen in other companies’ franchise sequels. Or, put another way, it’s difficult for the untrained eye to distinguish the difference between a Mega Man 4 and Mega Man 5 stage, while no one is going to mistake a SMB3 world for a SMB1 world. Heck, I think there’s so much nostalgia for Super Mario Bros. 1-1 in later Mario games because we didn’t revisit that same basic layout for, what, twenty years? Where have you been, old friend?

DIE!Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters seems to follow this template. KI:OMAM could easily have been a straight NES-to-Gameboy port (not like the NES original was all that complicated from a graphical or bytes perspective), but, no, like a tiny, gray version of Super Mario Bros. 3, we’ve got a game with all new sprites, all new enemies, and all kinds of interesting gameplay improvements. Remember how every last item is completely unexplained in Kid Icarus? KI:OMAM actually involves NPCs that explain how extra weapons work, where secrets may be hiding, and whether or not that off-color water is lava or a healing spring. As someone that has never seen a Kid Icarus instruction manual, this is a Palutena-send. And, despite the cramped Gameboy screen, it seems like fewer monsters spawn directly atop poor Pit. Hooray! And, even better, you can actually duck without instantly dying, as most platforms are now completely solid, and you can scroll the screen down without repercussions. Everything wrong is right again!

And, while the bosses of the original Kid Icarus seemed like mythological (and generally misspelled) names randomly applied to blobs of pixels (how is this smoke monster supposed to be Pandora again?), there is much more of a myths and monsters bend to the creatures of KI:OMAM. “Kid Icarus” absolutely should fight a minotaur, and, look, here’s one at the end of the first stage. And a flying skull with wings might not be the most Grecian thing in the world, but, hey, I’m going to go ahead and say it’s more of a “monster” than that attempt at a dog sprite from the first dungeon of Kid Icarus. And the final boss might not be Medusa, but it is basically the Roman version of Satan. This makes him a tweeeak more threatening than a giant eyeball and its accompanying lazy snake. Dude has horns for days!

WeeeeWhen you put it all together, you get an experience very much like Metroid II: The Return of Samus. Metroid 1 was good, but flawed, with far too many opaque systems and items and Jesus Christ what do I have to do to get an auto-map?! Kid Icarus was very similar in his maiden voyage, and, while his adventure was filled with buttheads, there was a glimmer of a more refined experience in there. Kid Icarus: OMAM is that refined experience. And, more than anything, it’s a fun, “new” sequel that borrows from the old but winds up being a distinctive, excellent experience.

But, for confusing reasons, Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters was never released in Japan. It’s a first party Nintendo game, but it never saw its native shores, only America and Europe. Likely for this reason alone, when Mario, Link, and even Little Mac were all getting their 16-bit makeovers, Pit was left out in the cold. The Hero of Angel Land never saw a Super Kid Icarus, and we’re poorer for it.

If Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters was the template for the future of the Kid Icarus franchise, we lost something special when Pit never ascended with his Nintendo brethren. Super Kid Icarus could have been another Super Metroid, and, heck, if it hit that echelon, it could have chiseled out its own genre. But, no, we are forever denied that beautiful, fictional version of 1994.

But at least we got a pretty good Gameboy game out of it.

FGC #251 Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters

  • System: Gameboy. It also saw some Virtual Console love, mostly as a canny way to promote our next FGC entry.
  • Number of players: Pit is a solitary hero.
  • He's hairy, tooFavorite Boss: The final battle with Orcos is pretty dang epic, and almost reminds me of Super Kraid. This is something of a major achievement on the Gameboy, even if it’s abundantly obvious that no more than one “part” of Orcos can appear on the screen at one time. Hey, it’s rough being a colossal boss on a system that can barely generate four shades of gray.
  • Other Improvements: The three treasures of Angel Land now enhance Pit’s natural abilities, and don’t transform the final stage into a completely other genre. This feels a lot more appropriate than Kid Icarus’s finale.
  • Makeover, Makeover: Palutena’s hair is canon gray for this adventure. Yes, it’s a Gameboy game, but she’s rocking the gray locks in instruction manual illustrations, too. This is probably because no one working on the manual finished Kid Icarus, either.
  • Did you know? When Orcos appears, he turns Palutena to stone. And all the centurions have been similarly transformed into a more statuesque form. That move made a lot more sense with Medusa…
  • Would I play again: The mystique of this game is all wrapped up in what could have been next. The actual game is a step in the right direction, but, like Metroid 2, kind of difficult to revisit after decades of innovations (mostly innovations in screen size). So, while this game is good, no, I don’t think I’ll be playing it again.

What’s next? You know the answer to that one.

Away!

Xenosaga Episode III Special 3: Xenosaga (and me) and Religion

Previously on Xenosaga: After over a year of writing (kinda) objectively about Xenosaga, I figure I’m entitled to one rambling, semi-autobiographical entry about Xenosaga and religion. This one is gonna be short on screenshots and heavy on words…

My first job was at a church. Specifically, it was a non-denominational, Christian church that was only open during the summer. Why was it seasonal? Simple: I lived (and live) in a shore community, and (while this isn’t strictly true) it’s generally assumed the area is deader than Jin the minute the beach becomes unviable. Restaurants close, entire swaths of the island are empty, and, in my youth, they even used to turn off the traffic lights the minute fall hit. It’s gotten better in recent years (mainly because the local chamber of commerce has done its best to extend the season in every conceivable direction), but, even now, that same church stops its Sunday services once the leaves start falling.

But during the summer? Then that church is popping.

This has always been “that church my grandmother goes to in the summer” to me, but it might be nationally famous. At the very least, it gets nationally famous speakers for every summer Sunday. In my first year working there, we had the spiritual advisor to Bill Clinton, the head organists for Radio City Music Hall, and Elizabeth Dole. And those are names I can remember off the top of my head. I’ve never been a big… Christian fan? Like, I don’t know who is big and famous in the evangelical circuit, and I don’t think I have any of the Earth’s Mightiest Methodists trading cards, but even I was able to see that this church was capable of corralling the titans of the Christian “industry”. Or maybe I just thought that because a few speakers required their own security detail…

Regarding my own job at the organization, though, I started as nothing more than a lowly weed-picker. There was a pile of manure with my name on it, literally, at one point. But I quickly rose in the ranks thanks to a combination of endless bragging and generally showing up on time more often than my contemporaries, and, before I knew it, I was the first “kid” working within the office of this church. I was the first web guru/network admin for a 120 year old organization. Woo! Also, to date this ridiculous story, my first task was to make sure the creaky MS-DOS database that contained the congregation’s contact information was updated to account for the upcoming Y2K bug. Sigh, memories.

Despite the seemingly national scope of this church, the office staff was generally limited. There was a “ruling body” of trustees, but they only met once every two weeks or so. The actual day-to-day interests of the church were managed by an operating president, vice president, accountant, secretary, and assistant secretary. There was also a complete grounds staff, but nobody let them inside. I was in that office, though, as, what, did you expect ‘em to keep the computers outside? Bah! I was inside with the big boys, and, as a result, was privy to all the goings-on of what keeps a nationally recognized church operating.

And it changed my outlook on Christianity forever.

Remember how I mentioned that this church got famous speakers from all over the world? Well, those people don’t just call you. A significant amount of effort was expended by the office staff “booking” these big names. Yes, some speakers were “locks” year after year, but there was still a lot of scheduling negotiation involved in even the “easiest” speaker. And then there were the fees involved. Some speakers, some good, Christian speakers, would preach the Word of God for nothing, or next to nothing. It was not uncommon for a speaker to ask for nothing more than airfare and a hotel room. Occasionally, a speaker would ask for those usual amenities, and some level of “base” fee, all the while making it clear that this is how he (inevitably “he”) lives, and it’s only proper to ask for a small donation. And then… then there were a few of the… “other” speakers.

I’m very deliberately not naming names in this article (or even completely identifying the name of the church, as you’ve no doubt noticed), but some particularly famous Christians would speak at the church, some even possibly from churches or ministries you might recognize, and their riders would be… in-depth. I can immediately recall one speaker that was internationally famous as a pillar of the Christian community… and his every appearance demanded a contribution of “the best hotel room available”, a limo from the hotel to the church, a stocked fridge of preferred drinks at the hotel and the church, a limo from the church to the beach after the service, and, of course, $3,000. This was a speaker that would get up every Sunday morning, preach about charity, love, and being a good Christian, and then hop into his limo so he could sip his favorite wine at the beach. Again, some speakers were free, but this guy would score 3K to open his mouth for forty minutes.

Oh, and there was the one time he reflexively spit on a random kid. That was something to see. Do not get that guy decaf. I think it was in the rider.

What I’m getting to here is that, in my teenage years, I learned something important about Christians: some of them are dicks. And I say that as a Christian (oh my God, I might be a dick, too).

I’ll say that again: I’m a Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ, and a healthy percentage of the Bible. I also feel like I have to immediately apologize for my beliefs, because, look, I’ve seen what’s happening to the polar ice caps, I know what’s going on with our environment, and I don’t believe the friggen garbage-based apocalypse is “all part of God’s plan”. But I certainly know Christians that do. I know Christians that will fight to the death to “defend the sanctity of marriage”. I know Christians that genuinely want to see practically all of what we consider to be science abolished. And I know Christians that think it is okay to literally kill to protect fetuses. I… I don’t even know the proper word to use here… I‘m “ashamed”? It’s something like that, but can shame also contain pride? How sinful is that? Whatever the case, I suppose I’m ashamed to be part of a group that is so publicly (and in some cases, proudly) holding back societal progress. Is it a catch-all shield to defend prejudices and indolence, or is it genuine beliefs fueling hate that could last for centuries? Does it matter? In the end, it’s assumed that if someone is willing to say, “I’m a Christian”, then it’s likely going to be followed by, “And that’s why I believe you should have fewer rights.” Paraphrasing.

And, in a weird way, working at that church taught me that that’s… okay.

To revisit the speaker that would require $3K to publicly cough, he was one of my grandmother’s favorite speakers. Since the time I was like ten, my grandmother would tell me about this great minister, and would drag me along to her church every time he spoke. My grandmother was not a very excitable woman, but she would get genuinely enthusiastic about this guy, and, if you believe in being “filled with the spirit”, this guy did it for her (phrasing). I’ll reiterate that this guy once spit hot coffee on a random teenager, and then offered a half-hearted apology that sounded more perfunctory than anything, but my grandmother, someone I genuinely trusted and admired, thought he was the greatest thing since a bowlful of M&Ms. So here was a guy that was a complete asshole behind closed doors, but a perfect Christian pillar for the community. And here I was in the middle of that, trying to reconcile the holy man with the asshole jerk.

And that’s when I realized the moral of this article: there are good Christians that are good people publicly and privately, and there are “good” Christians that are good people publicly, but terrible people privately.

And Xenosaga seems to understand that.

Here’s a fun fact about Xenosaga: there are only Christians and atheists in this cast.

Okay, that’s not exactly true. While it’s not outright stated, Jin Uzuki appears to be a practicing Buddhist. And, while that doesn’t preclude him from having additional Christian beliefs, it’s pretty clear he’s the only guy in the universe with beliefs that aren’t wholly Christian. The rest of the party (save chaos, Shion, and KOS-MOS) seem to be confused by key passages from the Bible, so they’re theoretically not Christian, and, considering they don’t seem to express any other beliefs, we’ll just label them as atheists. Actually, Junior was born and bred to kill God, so he might be agnostic.

But the bad guys? Almost all of them are Christian, albeit a future, perverted version of Christianity. Margulis, Pellegri, Richard, and Hermann are all completely willing to die for their faith, which, again, is stated to 100% trace back to “the Messiah”. Albedo quotes the Bible regularly, and, while it may just be an affectation to match Junior’s “well read” mentality, he is shown to have a certain weakness for holy imagery. And Wilhelm, like chaos, was a contemporary of Jesus, and started the whole Ormus thing that got (his form of) Christianity through the cosmos. You’re still spreading the faith even if you’re spreading a slightly murderous version of it… right? Even Virgil seems to come around to the cross thanks to Feb, and it’s clearly implied by his final fate that he’s found some form of “the Light”.

But this is all par for the course with a JRPG, right? “Fighting an evil religion” is a trope practically as old as the medium itself, and it’s never a surprise when the final boss of a JRPG is “god”. It’s just normal progression, right? Fight a few cardinals, move up to the pope, and then battle god for supremacy of the universe. Afterwards, it’s revealed that god was really holding humanity back, and everybody goes out for fajitas. See also: Breath of Fire 2, Final Fantasy 10, and, I dunno, Demon’s Crest. Wait, which one lets you kill god with a chainsaw?

Except Xenosaga does a few things differently.

For one, this is not some random “mythological” religion, this is Christianity, complete with a guest appearance by Jesus. And this isn’t even a Final Fantasy or Neon Genesis Evangelion situation, where names and themes are reused, but it really has as much to do with Christianity as Quetzalcoatl and Odin ruling over the world of Final Fantasy 8. You’ve got “the lance that pierced Jesus on the cross”, but it’s a giant pitchfork that is capable of being hurled at the moon by a giant robot? Okay, guys, sure. I’ll check the Bible for that bit about an angel that is a bulbous black orb sent to menace teenagers with Oedipus complexes. What’s important in Xenosaga is that this isn’t The Church of St. Generic Badguy, it’s Christianity, with crosses and Bibles and an apostle or twelve.

Which actually neatly brings me to my next point. The Zohar and Zohar emulators of Xenosaga are gracefully named after Jesus and his twelve apostles. At first blush, this seems like another Eva-esque bout of “hur hur, here’s some religious symbolism for you”. However, as the plot progresses, we find that the Zohar was studied extensively by Joachim Mizrahi, and he built the twelve Zohar emulators. And named them. And why did he name them after the apostles? Simple: he’s a devoted Christian, and figured devices meant to speak to God may as well be named after people who literally spoke to God. Mizrahi is, basically, a Jesus fanboy.

And that’s important.

Dr. Mizrahi is Christian, and he’s a good guy. And a scientist! Febronia is Christian, and she’s a good guy. And a Realian! chaos is Christian, and he’s a good guy. And a party member! And Shion is Christian, a good guy, and the main character! Oh my gosh, we’ve got bad guys that are Christians, and we’ve got good guys that are Christians. It’s almost like it’s reality!

And, yes, there are shades of gray even in the good guys. Mizrahi decided to endanger an entire planet for the sake of potentially saving the universe, and he was believed to be a mad man for decades. chaos is constantly doubting himself, and people around him have suffered for it. And Shion… well, I think I already threw a couple thousand words at how she’s got problems dealing with friends and enemies. There are good people in the Xenosaga universe, but they’re flawed, and they’re incidentally Christian. Feb seems to be the only “immaculate” Christian in the bunch, but we mostly only see her through the eyes of her child protégé (Shion) and lover (Virgil), so it’s likely she’s just as much of a sinner during her time off. And she did spend most of her afterlife advocating for the death of her sisters, which seems morally dubious.

So, yes, Xenosaga is a JRPG where Christian symbolism is common, and eventually, yes, you fight a controlling “god” for the right for humanity to live a truly free existence. But what’s different here is that there are NPCs and party members that are Christian, and they all express their faith in different ways. Shion and Margulis believe in the exact same savior, but Shion tries to help the living while Margulis fights to be a martyr. Mizrahi seemingly came to his faith while trying to cope with the death of his daughter, while Pellegri sees her religion as an inescapable, inherited fate. And chaos, the guy that actually got to pal around with Jesus Christ, has apparently spent the last 6,000 years as a directionless loner, but, thanks to Christian teachings, at least tried to do his best as a friendly fellow during his off time.

chaos believes in a universe that involves the freedom of… chaos. chaos believes in a world that could equally love or crucify a savior, just so long as it is the choice of the people involved. That… sounds vaguely familiar.

So Xenosaga does something different from most JRPGs: it actually takes the time to examine the faiths of both sides. It doesn’t blanket call religion bad, nor does it make every religious member of the party a perfect example of heroism. Christians in Xenosaga are like Christians in the real world, simply people trying to do what they think is right. Some of these people are obviously wrong, but that doesn’t change their faith, or what they believe. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter, they can still inspire others, they can still spread their principles, and, end of the day, they can still say they believe in the same Messiah. There are all kinds of people, good and bad, that believe in the same things, and Xenosaga isn’t afraid to show both sides.

You slay a lot of gods in JRPGs, but it’s rare that you find characters that believe in something. Yes, usually there are the old standbys like “friendship” or “the resistance” or “for GP”; but consider that your average JRPG hero is in a literally life or death situation. Isn’t it a little… odd that you have no idea what Cecil Harvey believes will happen to those black mages he killed? Is it weird that 21 year old Cloud Strife is introduced to the concept of an afterlife a few days into a world tour with random eco-terrorists? The world of Final Fantasy 13 has an army of random gods, so Lightning kills ‘em, and then we’ve got two games and 1,000 years where, what, people just believe in sexy sisters that turn into motorcycles? That is a poor foundation for a belief system.

Xenosaga gives you people that believe in a religion, and it gives you good people and bad people that believe in that. And you’ve got people, good and bad, that do not believe in that. And, in the end, neither side is right or wrong for their beliefs, they’re heroic or villainous for what they do with those beliefs. Like in reality, beliefs and religion are just one aspect of a person.

And, yes, in real life there are people that will try to limit your rights because of their faith. There are people that will try to tell you that Jesus saves, and that includes the o-zone layer. There are pastors that absolutely will spit on your friends because they got the wrong coffee. These people might be terrible, and you absolutely should fight against them, but that doesn’t make everything they believe in wrong. Faith is different for every person, and every person is different. Christianity itself is neither good nor bad, but the people that believe in it can be.

Oh, and what I learned at my first job? There are Christians that can be dicks, and it’s your responsibility to be one of the good ones. Always do your best to be a chaos, not a Wilhelm. That’s what’s going to make the universe a better place, regardless of your faith.

Next time on Xenosaga: Xenosaga, where are they now?