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Come for the great writing, stay for the lovingly orchestrated and animated cover of a slightly obscure SNES RPG. It’s a win-win.
The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so.
Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.
Mild Trigger Warning: this blog delves into topics of faith and spiritual identity. We believe these are important parts of life and identity, but as always, we have no desire to push these beliefs on other people.
The mage. The myth. The legend. You are truly in for a treat today. I must admit, though I try not to play favorites, I have truly been looking forward to publishing today’s piece.
I’m a proud patron of The Well-Red Mage, and for good reason. He leads an army of bloggers to writing critical long-form pieces about video games, and they must be seen to be believed. Each piece he publishes is well-paced and deliberate, refusing to let the sensationalism of modern-day journalism (in)sensibilities seep in. You’re about to see some of that in action, after which you might be interested in some of these:
- My One-Hundred Eleven Favorite Games!
- Asking Big Questions #011: “Is Game Quality Improving?”
- Super Mario Bros. (1993) [Film Review]
He has been so supportive of Normal Happenings since all the way back to when I published the retrospective on my first video game. Since then, we’ve built up a truly great blog partnership. While I’m dragging my feet (for now) on becoming a mage, mainly because I get obsessed and am worried I wouldn’t be able to devote the time to make the pieces as complex as I would like, we still work together on a multitude of projects. I was recently on MAGE CAST, the Well-Red Mage podcast, discussing Sonic the Hedgehog 1, with a rumored Sonic Mania podcast in the future. Meanwhile, his retweet support is helping both Normal Happenings and this collaboration find new audiences. I’m looking forward to all the tasks we’ll be working together on in the future.
For now, however, let us begin! Please enjoy this next chapter of The Games That Define Us!
– Matthew, Normal Happenings
The Well-Red Mage @ The Well-Red Mage
For the warriors of light.
Game: Breath of Fire II
Release Date: December 2, 1994
The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.
-John C. Lennox
I want to thank Matthew from Normal Happenings for asking me to be a part of this collaborative undertaking. I’m not always able to dig into the fun community events happening all over WordPress, but this one was normal enough to be irresistible! My heart is in this community of writers and I wish I could clone myself for more time to be everywhere, read everything, and interact with everyone. Until that technology is invented and the inevitable clone wars begin, this stopgap of an article will have to suffice. I’ll treat it as a love letter to this great and welcoming community.
So anyway I was asked to talk about (not review) a game that means a lot to me personally. The title of the project is “Games That Define Us”, after all. To prevent myself from running my mouth dry about Chrono Trigger yet again, or any of the other games I never shut up about, I decided I’d talk about Breath of Fire II and how it played a major part in my life’s journey so far, specifically regarding theology. I don’t want anyone to feel shanghaied into reading this under different expectations: I am about to talk about my perspective on God and religion, topics not always for the faint of heart, but ultimately, this is a post about my life and how I arrived at certain philosophies and systems of thought which I maintain to this day. You don’t have to agree with me; that makes us individuals, but I’m going to talk about my life, nonetheless.
Whiff of Fire
If I remember correctly (though if I have to have a past I prefer it to be multiple choice), I first randomly encountered Capcom’s JRPG epic Breath of Fire II at my friend Jacob’s house. He had a Super Nintendo before I did, and spending the weekends there was a big factor in why I love the SNES so much and got one of my own eventually. We played a lot of Earthworm Jim, Street Fighter II Turbo, Chuck Rock, Mega Man X, and Rock n Roll Racing among many others. There was some PC gaming that went on, too, with the likes of Duke Nuk’em and Another World.
There was one of his cartridges, however, which stood out to me. We never played it together and I didn’t know why, especially since we traded off or played co-op with pretty much all the other games in his collection. Since I spent so much time there, and since it rained so frequently, we eventually got to the point of boredom where I could play whatever I wanted with or without him. He let me have access to his entire library. Generous guy! I went straight for that cartridge and plugged it in… the familiar 90’s Capcom logo warbled on a black screen, followed by the title screen (the incendiary insignia of a dragon’s silhouette). An adventure then began, the likes of which my young mind really was not prepared for.
After a haunting, if not terrifying, opening sequence with a talking eye, I followed a little boy named Ryu in search of his sister. He finds her but when he returns to his village, nobody recognizes him. So begins a story bigger than I could’ve imagined. Breath of Fire II involved lots of dragons, a catgirl, a dog-man, a human armadillo, a monkey, a tree sprite, a French frog, an exile with black wings, a huge fantasy world, many monsters galore, and… church?
I was kind of surprised to see it there.
See, I grew up in the church. Sometimes you see that phrase passed around. It doesn’t really mean anything other than my parents made me go to a place I didn’t want to go every Sunday. I drew pictures and learned some stories without any indication of their meaning or relevant significance, and more than a few times I drew from my tiny cache of childish wiles to get out of it. Once, I put bubble gum in my hair to try to stay home so I could play The Legend of Zelda. I just ended up with a new haircut and all the old women who smelled like hair and muumuus complimented me.
Anyway, I was still going to church with my mom when I played Breath of Fire II. I eventually got to the part in the game where the Church of St. Eva (more on that here) became antagonistic, its hypnotized congregants shepherded by the literally diabolical high priest Habaraku. Turns out (spoilers, I guess) the Church of St. Eva was actually a front for demons. The Church was siphoning the prayers of its parishioners and converting them into power for its slumbering demon-king, Deathevan. This was fairly typical for the JRPG scene at the time, which had a tense relationship toward depictions of Westernized religion, at best, stemming from what appears to be a distinctly Japanese perspective.
This concept terrified me when I first encountered it, though. It was an entirely new idea to me that a church could be actually evil. I went to church only begrudgingly back then, had the occasional stirs of inspiration when a song I liked was sung (“My Sheep Know My Voice” since I loved animals when I was very young), and I don’t remember having any meaningful tie to the church I went to. It was a place to play and see friends. That’s it. But I never thought of it as an evil place. I felt the people were nice and the food was good and it was peaceful.
The idea that the church could be worshiping evil instead of Good never left me, and as I grew up into high school age, it was one which continued to haunt me now and then. I had the occasional nightmare about it. In reality, what it did was provoke me to research. I remember growing up that I spent a lot of time alone in nature; being by myself in the forest or at the beach let me think on my thoughts. Growing up, I told a few people who didn’t know that I got dragged to church that I was an atheist, my young life punctuated by the divorce of my parents and a subsequent perspective of the universe as capricious, cruel, and meaningless: the atheistic admixture.
However, it was in nature that I reached a point in my life when I had my inciting incident. I realized if the God they talked about in church was real then that meant everything in my life had to have meaning, significance, and a fundamentally different reality than the one I usually considered: being an unwanted accident. But if God didn’t exist or worse, if he was actually something else entirely, then that meant something, too.
All Things Permissible
I began to feel like Ryu and his party creeping down the Infinity Dungeon step by step, plagued by random battles, toward the inevitable end as the daunting scope and resolution of my studies ahead settled in on me. Still, I felt the task was unavoidable. I had to figure these things out. I couldn’t just live as if they didn’t matter.
I later read about how C.S. Lewis, the most reluctant convert, came to believe in God and fought against it with all the intellectualism he could muster until the horrible, irresistible, pacifying realization came down on him like an avalanche and he had no choice to accept. Why the horror? Well, to accept that there is an infinite Mind watching you from conception, more powerful than anything else in existence, is and ought to be a humbling realization, at least. That’s why I take some irritation with some who treat their believing in the existence of God with frivolity and indifference.
And only does taking the next step further toward personal explanation on the part of that God as loving dispell any of the horror of that belief. I’ve heard Christianity described as a fairy tale for those afraid of the dark, but God’s not a teddy bear… He’s pictured as a consuming fire, someone who won’t be mocked.
Questioning the Unquestionable
It’s okay to question, be curious, skeptical, doubtful, and then search for an answer.
As a boy, I remember being fascinated with folklore and mythology but that doubled after playing Breath of Fire II. Thanks to my local library (I didn’t have internet access in my home back then), I could study as much as I wanted.
I dug through the pantheon of the Greeks and Romans. I picked up some Japanese vocab to delve into the myths of the rising sun. I felt the ice of Norse eschatology. I looked to the heavens with Native American beliefs. I even learned about the ancient tales of the Hawaiians, my own people, but, becoming rapidly superstitious, I avoided learning Hawaiian chants and prayers in some of the schools I attended, even though I remember standing at the seashore and cursing Nāmaka the goddess of the sea just to see what would happen. People are complicated contradictions, I guess. To me, those things were real until I reached an age when I learned to study if they really were.
Hawaii is both a very superstitious and spiritual place, come to think about it. As a place where the fusion of cultures functions rather well, foods of all kinds are in abundance, as are traditions and religions. Within the small circle of my friends, I knew an atheist, a Buddhist, a Christian, and a Mormon. Hawaii had a lot of religions going on in just a small plot of land.
It was in this realm of fusion and confusion that the roots of my interest in spirituality and religion was cemented, but I realize I can trace that interest back to Breath of Fire II. It wasn’t until I moved to California and went to college that all the questions I’d ever asked came to a head and I found myself the disinclined convert made inclined. In other words, I couldn’t think of a way out of it. That’s my story, trying to rationalize God because of a video game.
How do you rationalize God? Lots of people say that the Christian monotheistic model of God is so supreme so as to be disprovable (invisible, all-powerful, all-knowing, beyond physical reach, etc.), the equivalent of “Well I’ve got a dinosaur who eats forcefield dogs!” I don’t think that’s the case, though.
Antony Flew, when he was still an atheist, attempted to demonstrate that the Christian God is an inherently incomprehensible concept by suggesting God’s attributes are incompatible with each other (grace and justice, for instance). He later discredited his own work on the subject but at least he established the honest potentiality for disproving God if He could be demonstrated to be fundamentally inconsistent: the theological equivalent of a zero-sided square or other such nonsense.
What Breath of Fire II did for me was it prevented me from taking anything at face value, not accept that church or God were good just because my parents went there for a time. I had to dig into these things myself and try my best to see and study and research the reality of things, if there indeed was any at all. I had run the gamut from Buddhism to Shintoism (two faiths which grabbed my attention when I was younger) and an array of others in books in full circle back to Christianity.
Really, I couldn’t be more grateful for what Breath of Fire II did for me, indirectly.
Could I have encountered God without it? I don’t know, but if I had, maybe it wouldn’t have been in the same way where I came to think of the Uncaused Cause as logically coherent within Himself, not that there are no more mysteries or that I have no more doubts (wrestling with the nature of reality is what religions are about), but learning to be assured is something that’s been a crucial part of finding meaning in my life.
Now, I’ve experienced a lot of joy, done a lot of cool things, and met a lot of incredible people that I never would have without the experience that Breath of Fire II led me toward. Literally, I wouldn’t be the same person, spiritually, certainly, and those of you who are spiritual reading this will know that that speaks to a core part of your being. If you’re not at all interested in that sort of thing, at least you can get a glimpse of what video games can do and how they can impact people, provoking them to ask questions about epistemology, psychology, history, sociology, anthropology, eschatology, and theology itself. I don’t have all the answers, just as no one in any other field of study has all the answers, but I’ve rarely been so impacted by other samples of entertainment.
Because I believe in a personal God now, I’m impressed at the sagacity in using a simple 16-bit video game to get to me. I’ve been able to find this meaning that has carried me through the later, harder parts of my life thanks to this game. Sure I discovered that meaning a little later in life but it was just like waking up on a Saturday and having breakfast at noon.
This is the second time I’ve connected Breath of Fire II to my faith in writing, so I hope it’s not old hat at this point. Thank you for reading my story!
- 0 | Adventure Map
- 1 | Mr. Backlog · Mr. Backlog | The Bard’s Tale
- 2 | GG · Hungrygoriya | Faxanadu
- 3 | Kim · Later Levels | The Secret of Monkey Island
- 4 | Matt · Normal Happenings | Sonic the Hedgehog 2
- 5 | The3rdPlayer · 3PStart | Zombies Ate My Neighbors
- 6 | Amanda · Imaginating Life | Myst
- 7 | Justin · TWOTALL4UFOOL | Donkey Kong Country
- 8 | The Well-Red Mage · The Well-Red Mage | Breath of Fire II
*YOU ARE HERE*
- 9 | Shauna · HideNGoShauna | NIGHTS Into Dreams
- 10 | Murr · geeksleeprinserepeat | Pokemon Red/Blue
- 11 | The Gaming Diaries · The Gaming Diaries | Crash Bandicoot
- 12 | Ryan · Games With Coffee | Final Fantasy VII
- 13 | Luke · Hundstrasse | Resident Evil 2
- 14 | Ellen · LividLightning | Banjo Kazooie
- 15 | Megan · A Geeky Gal | Spyro the Dragon
- 16 | Victor · The Modern Gafa | Digimon World
- 17 | Alex · The Purple Prose Mage | Warcraft III
- 18 | Jan · The Life of Jan | World of Warcraft
- 19 | Heather · Just Geeking By | World of Warcraft
- 20 | Nikki · Normal Happenings | Animal Crossing
- 21 | Chris · OverthinkerY | Kingdom Hearts
- 22 | Ian · Adventure Rules | Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
- 23 | Pix1001 · Shoot the Rookie | Guitar Hero
- 24 | Michael · Git Gud at Life | BioShock
- 25 | KT · Wintendo 64 | Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
- 26 | Kathy · Krysanthe | Wizard 101
- 27 | Khinjarsi · Upon Completion | Fallout 3
- 28 | Ruubin · FTWRuubin | Borderlands
- 29 | Will · geeksleeprinserepeat | DayZ
- 30 | Alyssa · Nerd Side of Life | The Sims 4
- 1 | Zerathulu · The Zerathulu View | Starcraft
- 2 | Imtiaz · Power Bomb Attack | Super Metroid
- 3 | Teri Mae · Sheikah Plate | Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- 4 | Skylar-Mei · gamergal.exe | Guild Wars 2
- 5 | Matt · Normal Happenings | Final Boss ► Stardew Valley
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This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!