Final Fantasy X and The Reformation

This is an idea that has been at the forefront of my ‘video games are more than mindless button mashing, Grandma’ argument. Final Fantasy X was the start of what I term as the ‘third generation’ of Final Fantasy fans, and like the generations before them, they hold up one game above all others as the greatest in the series, and have a fanatical devotion to that game. At a basic level, the game is very enjoyable. It has colorful characters, and a relatively short, accessible story (as far as Final Fantasy goes; most stories average 60+ hours, while the main story of FFX could be completed in under 40 hours) filled with drama, tension and romance.

Thus, Yoshitaka Amano's icons for FF went from 'Large' to 'Gargantuan', constituting a size increase of two categories; it's natural reach is now 15 feet.

A comparison can be easily drawn between the plot of Final Fantasy X and the Christian Reformation. For this to be easily seen, one must first understand, however, that Final Fantasy X is NOT the story of Tidus. Tidus is merely a biographer, a vehicle for us to witness Yuna’s story. The game is really about her, and I could probably write a whole other post about how more Final Fantasy games have stories driven by heroines rather than heroes (more than just VI and XIII, certainly!). Yuna is the main character of Final Fantasy X. All of the other party members are in her service, and she is the one who will defeat Sin; not Tidus, not Wakka, not Lulu or Auron or Rikku or Kimahri. Yuna is the only one who can.

I'm still wondering how her obi musubi is even *possible*.

Left, a hero. Right, THE hero.

Once the reader/player is convinced of Yuna’s place as main character of FFX, my statement starts to make more sense. Yuna starts out in the game as a Christ figure. She takes up her duties as a Summoner knowing that, if she does her job right, she will die doing it. (And if she does her job wrong, she’ll probably also die doing it–either way, Summoners die.) It is a testament to her strength of character that she can face every day smiling, and has such a drive to help people. When juxtaposed with the story of Jesus, the two seem very similar, even with their ‘walking on water’ tricks aside.

Every Summoner can perform this funeral rite, which here includes a 'walking on water' component.

Christian doctrine has held for over 1600 years that Jesus was God and Man, and that he went down to Earth specifically to be killed to save mankind from sin. Yuna was half Al-Bhed (a race considered by the Yevonites to be heretics, who live sinful lives by using forbidden machina), and her father was High Summoner, the last person to defeat Sin and bring peace to Spira. She inherited her father’s legacy, and though she has one green eye, evidence of her Al Bhed heritage (though it lacks the distinctive Al Bhed spiral pupil), nobody except for Rikku, her cousin, knows her to be half-Al Bhed; one could say she is ‘untainted’ by their sin. Yuna began on the path of the Summoner at a younger age than her father, and despite being young, she managed to succeed in her Pilgrimage. She ultimately defeated Sin, and she did so more completely and totally than any of the High Summoners before her. Not only that, but destroying Sin didn’t kill her, as it did every other High Summoner–Yuna is a ‘living savior’.

This is Sin in Final Fantasy X. Just confirming that 'Sin' is not an abstract concept in Spira, but an anti-matter-breathing Cloverfield monster. Carry on.

Yuna begins the game as a Christ-like figure, a future martyr for the Yevon religion, the daughter of one of it’s five greatest saints. As the story progresses, however, she uncovers great corruption within the church. Slowly, her character shifts from being a naive Christ figure to being a female Martin Luther. She recognizes that only Summoners can defeat Sin; this grain of truth has remained in the Yevonite teachings, but she learns of how the Church of Yevon adopted traditions from their competitors, the Summoners of Zanarkand, 1,000 years prior to the events of FFX. Traditions such as the Yevonite prayer symbol, the Hymn of the Fayth, and faith in Yevon are all doctrinal remnants from the people of Zanarkand. The survivors of the Zanarkand-Bevelle War adopted the practices of their enemies in hopes of appeasing Sin, the entity who ultimately ended the war by destroying everything it approached, erasing Zanarkand, and obliterating the Bevelle armies. Rather than recognizing the true origin of Yevonite teachings, however, Yevonite revision places Zanarkand as the holiest city of them all; the Church of Yevon successfully co-opted Zanarkand and transformed the dead nation from bitter enemy to holy ally through their teachings.

Sin can out-Godzilla Godzilla.

Left, Zanarkand, before Sin. Right, Zanarkand, after Sin.

Yuna also comes to discover the great levels of corruption and hypocrisy within the Church of Yevon. No less than half of the Maesters of Yevon (analogs of the Catholic Pope and College of Cardinals) are maintaining their positions while being dead, a state that automatically disqualifies them from the offices. Upon arriving in Bevelle on her Pilgrimage, Yuna also discovers that Bevelle makes extensive use of Machina, the chief sin among sins in the Yevonite doctrine. While in Bevelle, Yuna even finds herself put on trial for her heresy (essentially a trial for papacide against Maester Seymour Guado), and she is essentially excommunicated and sentenced to death for her crimes against Yevon. She goes on, however, to complete her Pilgrimage and defeat Sin (much like her father, who was stripped of his priesthood for marrying an Al Bhed, but later returned to the good graces of the Church by becoming High Summoner).

Yuna's trial

Martin Luther underwent a similar journey, though with admittedly less magic-casting and airship technology. Martin Luther started out as a monk, and was relatively content with the positions of the Church before he was sent to Rome. There, he discovered the incredible hypocrisy of the Pre-Reformation Catholic Church, such as the paying of indulgences, paying for entrance to pilgrimage sites, and brothels set aside for use by the clergy. Further corruption was quickly uncovered, leading to Martin Luther becoming disillusioned with the Church, and subsequently writing the 95 Theses. Martin Luther, however, at no point wanted to destroy or dismantle the Catholic Church, and he certainly didn’t want to form his own. He only wished to fix what was so broken in the existing Church. The formation of the Protestant sect of Christianity was necessary after Luther’s excommunication. However, even after Luther’s excommunication and the split between Catholic and Protestant Christianity, his reforms were realized; the Catholic Church reformed.

Ultimately, the Church of Yevon is unable to recover following the Eternal Calm, and dissolves, although the principles of the Yevonites remain with the rise of the New Yevon Party, a splinter group of the Church of Yevon which left behind the religious practices and ritual in favor of living according to the rules laid out by Yevon (rather like the Protestant Church’s belief in Grace by Faith and the abandonment of the practices and rituals of the Catholic Church).

Yuna’s transformation from a Christ-like figure to a Martin Luther-like reformer, and the parallels to past real-world events indicate the depth of story available in most RPG games, notably among the Final Fantasy titles.

Though The Catholic Encyclopedia has very thorough (and, on the whole, factual) articles on Martin Luther and the Reformation, the tone is incredibly biased, having been written for a Catholic audience.

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    • bboessen
    • February 10th, 2011

    Now content.

    This argument makes a lot of sense to me (assuming you’ve got the details of the game narrative itself correct). And some of the parallels seem downright uncanny in their resemblance.

    What I’m thinking about after reading, this, though, is what benefits this structure might have for, a), the player’s enjoyment of the gameplay, and b), the player’s overall sense of the game as engaging and “fun.” What are your thoughts on the game *as a game* in light of this fairly in-depth narrative analysis?

    • I’ll be sure to edit my existing pieces, and keep these pointers in mind for future updates.

    • bboessen
    • February 10th, 2011

    OK, I’m going to do this in two posts: one that responds to the content, and another regarding its form. First, form.

    It is clear that you are very familiar with the details of the content of the game, but without external material to help your reader, it is hard to follow. For example, a few screenshots pulled from a Google Image search of the main character and other players involved would help us visualize the narrative you’re analyzing more concretely (this could also be achieved with links to such images). Another useful tool in this regard would be links to fan sites or wiki pages that provide more depth so that you don’t have to include so much detail in your post (instead, you can direct your reader to those existing, external sources).

    In addition, you make some claims about historical details of the Reformation that your reader may also not be likely to know. Again, links out to external sources, both for citation of the claims you’re making and a place to go for more detail, will help bolster your argument and allow you to stay on task with your analysis.

    I general, try to stay focused on a single point: the first couple of paragraphs are really about the FF series, not FFX in particular, and could probably have been excised (or moved to another post) for brevity and clarity.

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