The Games That Define Us: “Breath of Fire II – Breakfast At Noon”

The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.
-John C. Lennox

 

 

This article originally appeared as “BREATH OF FIRE II | THE GAME THAT DEFINES THE WELL-RED MAGE”, part of a fantastic collaborative project, The Games That Define Us hosted by Normal Happenings, artisan, fellow blogger, and a supporter of TWRM. Follow the link to his site for the incredible articles.

“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.”

PREAMBLE RAMBLE

I want to thank Matthew from NH 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 and religion. I don’t want anyone to feel shanghaid 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.

Consider that how you will.

WHIFF OF FIRE

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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 JimStreet Fighter II TurboChuck 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.

ENCOUNTERING RELIGION

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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 (spoilery, 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 ARE PERMISSIBLE

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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 but 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

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It’s ok 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.

PERSONAL DISCOVERY

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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!

-Moses

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ADVENTURE MAP

 

PATREON

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9 thoughts on “The Games That Define Us: “Breath of Fire II – Breakfast At Noon”

    1. Thank you. To be honest, I wasn’t with Him when I started. I resented going to church and I didn’t like many Christians (sometimes I still don’t). I would’ve considered myself an atheist at that point in time, “at enmity”. What brought me around was thinking in terms of which worldview is the most plausible. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yay! I’m glad you liked it. Honestly, I had a lot of apprehension writing it and sharing this part of my life specifically and that journey on this site, and that increased in anxiety as the day approached to participate in the collab. But everyone has been very gracious about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s quite a personal piece, and as someone who played and was influenced by this game’s take on religion as a youngster I can’t help but appreciate another take on the game. I mean, I played this with the same amount of childlike fascination and joy as an 8 year old watches The Never-ending Story for the first time. I’m glad you shared it!

        My experience with religion from yours is worlds apart, but its actually why I like your piece so much. It gives me a lot of insight into people who are on different paths than my own, but who love similar things (in this case Breath of Fire 2).

        I can honestly say I loved the game when I was a teen. I didn’t really have as strong a taste in games as I do now, when I first played it. I was around 16 years old. I just remember being amazed by its world and whenever I fired it up, and of learning to trust that it was going to be a solid game all the way through. It continually impressed me until the end. Now that I’m older I think I was spoiled by games like this that were just so well-crafted, like a nice pocket watch or something. Not a lot of games I’ve played since can compare to the complete package this game in particular, and some select others of the era, had offered.

        As for the religious influence, it just gave me a more critical understanding about how any kind of teaching could pull the wool over people’s eyes, en mass. I wondered about the institutional mechanisms and processes of how large groups of people could be duped into believing in things that were bad for them. I didn’t really have words for all that at the time, but this fascination has lived with me all my life.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s interesting to know we visited the same game around the same time. I walked away with the same take and it was horrifying, which as I explained was part of what motivated me to do my research. I think research into one’s beliefs is essential to find out if or why you’re going to believe something at all, and a large part of me wanted to come to the end of it and find there was a trick door in the bottom that let the rabbit into the hat. What I came into thinking eventually was how much like the church of the dark ages the St Eva church was in BoF2, where whatever it said went and there was no source material for the curious or the critical to inspect in their own language or with their own scholarship to see whether it was exegetical or eisegetical. Now, if someone is going to tell me they believe something or try to commit me to believing it, too, I need to hear some kind of reasoning from them, so I thank BoF2 for that. I’ve not been religious all my life but even though I am now (much as I hate to describe myself as religious because of all the inherent connotations involved) I still find myself disagreeing with people and institution’s oversimplifications, contradictions, misinterpretations, misquotations, intentional deceptions, and so on. Studying church history was fascinating to in discovering just how many times those institutions ran directly counter to their own source material! I might have written this article, but I’ll be the first to point out how many times religion has been abused and turned into tyranny of all sorts. THAT is the kind of stuff that I wish people with beliefs of any kind would begin to think about so it doesn’t happen again and again and again. If a belief system can’t hold up to scrutiny, then why believe it?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I’m sure the first time I truly understood we, I, could be completely blinded, I was horrified as well! This happened as a kid when what I learned from my Native family clashed with what I learned at public school. But, I wonder how many people let themselves be horrified by this sort of revelation, by starting at it, as opposed to memefiying it for easy consumption or whatever. I don’t think I even had the luxury of being able to avoid this horror, as I grew up in the gutted, bombed-out gulf between the Native American dream and the American Dream, so to speak. Trying to reconcile this is a wicked problem to end all wicked problems, but somehow we are all asked to face this alone and way to early for us to even grasp its magnitude. I found solace wherever I could and BoF2 was one I really appreciated, as it tackled issues I could relate to, even in a very abstract form.

            The word religious has gained so many connotations that using it pretty much asking to be misunderstood. I’m going to go ahead and use it too. 🙂 I’m of the perspective that everybody is religious, some just don’t know they are. So I use it in that we all have formed a framework and only some have put their own perspectives under scrutiny. Its nice we have reason, to do so. I know we’ve chatted a little about this in the past. But nobody, not people who believe in reason or science or religion or political philosophy “XYZ” should feel confident they are fortified from this same horrifying reality. People who are smug in their unquestioned beliefs are just too afraid to stare at it head on. Maybe? Not to say its necessarily bad to be afraid… but unfortunately living in these times it is almost a requisite to be able to understand beliefs, where they come from, how we acquire them and in general how to be critical thinkers (and feelers). Otherwise we are surely giving away our freedom to someone or something else (I’m looking at you, institutions) that will gladly take it, exploit us and use our own agency against our will.

            I think its an easy out when people say they aren’t religious. It’s like a short-cut, but it comes with a lot of downsides. Claiming to not be religious might give someone a sense of moral superiority, but this doesn’t magically shelter you from any sort of the existential or “spiritual” tribulations life, the universe, or whatever, puts us through. You could say the same for self-acclaimed religious folk as well, but I’ve worked in education all my adult life and I have more conversations with the former.

            A sure sign of someone who really has gone through the ringer is a good touch of humility and a sense of humor. I’d also add sincerity into that as well. Even having not gone through all the trials and tribulations, you can tell if someone is sincere and that’s the only way to get through it really. You also have to have some amount of confidence or bravery, to kick off that journey. Sometimes even that’s stolen from us at a young age. Coming back to games, I remember that end boss battle you put a screen cap up on your piece for. Games like this are nice training grounds for being able to face our fears. I was seriously scared of that monster! Even at 15 or 16 when I played it . When I beat it I felt proud of myself, like I was just a bit better equipped to face life’s challenges. As an adult beating Bloodborne I had the same feeling! It has a similar base theme to BoF2 in fact too, although in a very different genre of game and story world. Spoilers, my interpretation of it is basically we are being controlled by things larger than us, but at first we are totally oblivious. As we gain insight we are slowly understanding the bigger picture and are able to first see, and then confront those things (in the case of Bloodborne, ancient beings). If you play well enough, research deeply enough, you can get to the secret ending where your player character transforms into an ancient being, symbolizing (for me) a truer form of agency, no longer at the will of other beings. Like BoF2, it instills grit, is an opportunity to face your fears and simulates escaping.overcoming a world where everyone has gone mad.

            Okay, I’m done, whew! I hope this stuff isn’t burdening you or taking up too much or your time/energy.

            Peace!

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Profound, as always. I have to apologize for taking so long to return with a reply of my own, and I’ll admit I haven’t kept track of running conversations as I should have been, so I’m sorry for that.

              There’s so much in your recent comment which I appreciate: particularly, the suggestion that everyone is religious, if religion is defined as a kind of system of beliefs. In other words, everyone has their beliefs, scrutinized or not, and I think that’s why some people may be more comfortable saying they’re spiritual than religious, or perhaps “aware of or holding spiritual beliefs and ideas” over any kind of religious affiliation. It’s that affiliation part which can catch and overrun a conversation, and steer it in a direction it never really needed to go.

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