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Feature Video

Final Fantasy X, Noah, and Bringing Religion to the Masses

A wing and a prayer.

Religion can be a dangerous topic. By discussing a subject that many hold passionate beliefs about, you risk alienating people with a few inopportune words. But we shouldn't shy away from religion because it's difficult; instead, we should find ways to bridge the gap between opposing ideologies. This weekend I saw a movie that deftly accomplished this tricky task. Noah debuted on top at the box office, but its greatest achievement isn't how much money it raked in. Rather, it's how smartly it treated its morally charged material, never shying away from its underlying message while still avoiding preaching. What most surprised me is how similar this tale is to Final Fantasy X HD's, a game I'm now playing for the first time. Experiencing these two well-constructed religious stories has given me a new appreciation for how popular entertainment can broach such complicated issues.

Noah tells the story of when the creator (the movie never uses the word "God") cleansed the earth of the heathens running amok. The world resembles what we've grown to expect in postapocalyptic scenes. Barren plains stretch endlessly in every direction, devoid of life because the few remaining people have decimated everything that draws breath. Noah represents the lineage of the chosen; he and his family are the lone survivors who respect the earth. The rest of the people--nomadic savages--resort to violence when threatened, and sacrifice future health for present rewards.

Noah deals with a subject that could alienate those who don't conform to the moral beliefs that Noah holds. But the movie avoids evangelizing or portraying Noah as a paragon of virtue amid a world of sinners. So I could relate to him more easily than if he were without flaws. How can one know the wishes of the creator when there's no direct communication? Complications arise as Noah tries to realize what he believes the future should hold, and there are tense scenes as his family opposes his goals. Noah charges its thematically rich story with a tense family drama. It's entertainment that uses its religious message to further the plot instead of forcing such ideas down your throat.

And then there's Final Fantasy X. It, too, tells the story of a world populated by people who have dangerous ideals. Nature is once again at the forefront of the struggles. Those who have turned their backs on simple living, who have tried to tame the world rather than live harmoniously with it, have provoked the anger of an all-powerful being. Machines (or machina, as the game calls them) are the sign that a society has turned its back on a proper way of living. We see Zanarkand in the game's opening, a huge metropolis overflowing with towering skyscrapers and automated conveniences. And then we see Sin rise from the ocean, a leviathan that destroys the city with a tidal wave.

A thousand years in the future, the world of Final Fantasy X (called Spira) resembles what we see in Noah's representation of a doomed land. So frequent are Sin's attacks that cities have become a rarity, and when they do exist, they are far more modest than what we saw in Zanarkand. It's also a postapocalyptic world in which people live in constant fear of being killed by Sin. The water is a threatening force in both stories, an ominous warning to live with nature, rather than fight against it. And, like in Noah, we're able to see this world through the eyes of a savior. Yuna has the burden of being the one who must stop Sin and save the innocents from the cycle of death he creates. Her journey is more grounded than the high stakes hint at, though. Like Noah's tale, Final Fantasy X's story centers on close relationships, so the focus is on the back-and-forth between characters instead of the spiritual undercurrent.

The movie avoids evangelizing or portraying Noah as a paragon of virtue amid a world of sinners.

It's not just the basic plot points that both stories share, either. It's the way they're told that really resonated with me. The characters are so earnest in their beliefs that I understood their feelings. There's no irony here, no winks that they have some crazy ideas that must be mocked. Nothing of that sort. It's real and genuine. We question the characters when they make poor choices, because they're imperfect. They're just people, after all.

Final Fantasy X and Noah showcase the rites that are common in both worlds. Noah explains to his sons why some people eat meat, and how wrong they are to do so. Yuna performs an elaborate greeting each time she meets a new person on her pilgrimage, one in which her arms and body move in unison as Yevon, the god-like presence of her world, demands. These elements and many more are fundamental to who these people are, so it's impossible to ignore the spiritual beliefs the characters have. Following such a strict regimen could be off-putting for those who question why said structures exist. But the stories move beyond these ideas to broadcast a message that goes deeper than the rituals that lie on the surface.

Unity is at the core of what these stories hold dear. Yuna and Noah haven't been chosen to save the world from doom because of superficialities. It's because they're able to push selfish desires down, to focus on the greater good. They must make difficult choices to see their goals through, and they're often wrong in what they decide. So even though they have strength of will far beyond my own, they're still such grounded, real human beings that I can understand who they are and what makes them tick. That's incredibly important in creating something relatable amid the religious symbolism that both stories use so extensively. These heroes are damaged and optimistic, scared and inventive. They're not inherently good, just respectful, so I grew closer to them.

There is one key difference between Noah and Final Fantasy X. Noah lays bare its religious themes. There is no doubt what the source material is, and Noah's greatest achievement is how it so willingly embraces those with different beliefs. Final Fantasy X doesn't do that. It hides in a layer of abstraction so that its biblical connection is not readily apparent. It's impressive how a mainstream game could successfully tread ground that's still considered taboo. But I'd love to see another step forward. The industry is ready for blockbuster games that are openly religious. We've seen how well received a spiritually charged game can be, and popularity could still be achieved even if it were more blunt in its beliefs. Yes, religion can be a scary subject, but if it's handled in a frank and honest way, no one has to feel excluded.

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Discussion

201 comments
CalculatorRamza
CalculatorRamza

I'm sort of hoping for a follow-up article once the author finishes FFX.

sdkingsht
sdkingsht

Final Fantasy was a great game. Not the best FF but still a fun experience and great addition to the series until they made a million sequels. 


Noah on the other hand was not a great movie. It was like something out of Middle Earth. the only thing it had in common with it's source material was a boat, a flood and a man named Noah. I think if we are so adamant about movies like Hunger Games or Harry Potter staying true to their source material than we should hold movies based on biblical stories to the same standard. It was a veiled attempt to push environmentalist views while being so far left field of the source material that it was almost a slap in the face to the source material. there were too many liberties taken to name it after the source material. I have no problem with someone making the movie they want to make but if you're going to base something on a given source then at least respect the source enough to stay true to it. it's misleading and honestly a pretty big disappointment overall. 

limbo12
limbo12

Love all this tip-toeing around religious backwardness.

stavrosmccloud
stavrosmccloud

Can you explain how you managed to write this article and not mention Xenogears even once? I mean, it's the most controversial Square RPG dealing with religion... and also IMO the best Square RPG ever made.

For those who don't know, the basic story of Xenogears goes like this:

Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and gained knowledge. For this, God cast them from Eden. Angry, they built gears (mechs) and fought God. After a massive battle, they were defeated, but God was heavily injured. Several thousand years later, mankind begins to unearth the gears, using them for battle.

If you've never played this game, I highly recommend it. It's on PSX, if you can't get a copy you can buy it on the American PS Store. Xenogears is the defining game when it comes to religion, for sure.

jonny_dutch
jonny_dutch

You haven't finished FFX have you Tom? I wouldn't say it supports atheism, but it utterly slams religion. If Yuna is chosen it's by Sin himself. The whole "machines are evil" doctrine is shown to be base superstition caused by wrongly associating the appearance of Sin with machine based warfare. It's been a while so I won't go on in case I make mistakes, but yeah, it feels like you're taking Yevon at face value, and you definitely aren't supposed to.

zirkhamel21
zirkhamel21

I think it's pretty clear that the story of FFX is an argument against religion and the mass delusion that follows. And to say that openly religious games are somehow a step forward is just wrong. The nature of every religion is summed up in a collection of taboos and rules that limit human endeavor. Video games should open the mind, not constrain it

jeanlucforever
jeanlucforever

I wish we could get Mark Walton to weigh in on this.

Ripper_TV
Ripper_TV

But what are your beliefs, McShea?

musalala
musalala

This Noah film is confusing, Who are they trying to appeal to? the fundamentalist don't gve a crap about it because it strays to far from the source material and non-religious people could give two craps about it for obvious reasons  and Darren Aronofsky fans will be extremely disappointed as this is his worst film to date.



resorber
resorber

There is nothing delicate about religion. It's fiction/fantasy and should be treated like any other topic or genre.

Gears189
Gears189

How to piss off atheist.  First mention religion.  Second mention that atheism is a religion, that really pisses them off but guess what its true.

geniobastardo
geniobastardo

*insert big paragraphs about why religion is unnecessary*
*insert an even bigger paragraph why I love FFX*
*insert 3 lines about why we should not talk about religion*

*yawn* 

Lightning__Evil
Lightning__Evil

No one has to feel excluded or offended you say? I don't disagree but this is the internet and there are bound to be those that do. Also, for any of those questioning the Noah film or its ties to the bible don't get too ahead of yourselves since this version is based off a graphic novel involving 6 armed rock angels, humanity destroying nature/the planet through industrialization, and features the theory of evolution in the creation story so it can drum up its own controversy without any ignorant comments on its subject matter. 

geraldsanduski
geraldsanduski

the movie is rediculous, why would god kill all the people before the flood came? whats the point of the flood?

anshanlord
anshanlord

Final Fantasy was a great game despite how idiotic I thought its hidden message was...as for Noah, well....Meh....I hate religiously themed films(Especially those inspired by Abrahamic religions).

I don't mind them existing though; I'm an atheist and most of the time can't stand religion or religious material but they exist and they should exist....who would we make fun of if not the religious?:D

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

If guardianofhonor is still around, that "pious" bastard would be frothing in the mouth. ;P

ExtremePhobia
ExtremePhobia

It''s funny. I've always told friends and family alike that FFX was an important argument in the development of my personal beliefs. I don't think that it really helped form any of those beliefs so much as it gave me new considerations and reaffirmed certain things I had thought.

I'm glad to know that others find it to be of religious significance, regardless of the manner.

SSJ4Goku2
SSJ4Goku2

The noah movie is actually based more around the original Summerian Source for Noah, Utnapishtim, who is a central part of the Epic of Gilgamesh and which many of the other aspects of the movie such as monsters and so forth can be found, and not from the Bible. So this movie is not based on the Bible, I hope many don't become confused.

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

I stay away from people (or movies or games) who bring religion to others, but I respect those who share their faith with others.

noandno
noandno

I'm afraid to read the comments......

Ryukenshii
Ryukenshii

 I saw FFX more as a critic to religion. Same with Lightning Returns, only this one is more direct. 

Lord_Sesshy
Lord_Sesshy

 *Spoilers*

I love FFX and I must say that I think it actually pokes fun at religion. Because all the people who believe in "Yevon" (the church/religion in the game) think that they can atone for their sins and become pure which will get rid of Sin (the monster destroying the world). But by the end of the game you learn that Yevon is corrupt and that prayer doesn't really do anything to save anyone at all (just like real life lol) and that the only real way to defeat Sin is with your own strength and determination.

jeanlucforever
jeanlucforever

@TomMcShea,

* Spoilers *

 "There is one key difference between Noah and Final Fantasy X. Noah lays bare its religious themes."

That's not how I remember FFX. Don't they renounce their religion by the end, kill sin and the creator of sin (like killing god) for good and usher in a new era, where machines are legal?

AyatollaofRnR
AyatollaofRnR

Noah largely side steps the religious implications of the original story, by turning Noah into a vegetarian eco warrior and the flood about environmentalism and not sin.



zintarr
zintarr

Drugs are an amazing thing.

chuckles471
chuckles471

*Spoilers*

Have you completed it?  You do know that Yevon is a total misunderstanding of the world by people?  And the reason Sin is stopped is because an outsider said "this is stupid". 


Tidus goes through the whole game questioning the practices of Yevon, Auron encourages him.  The first time I played it, I pretty much guessed after besaid that there was something fishy about Yevon.

cjimrun
cjimrun

Lightning Returns was pretty direct in it's religious themes.  A savior chosen by God to usher-in the new world by salvaging the souls of the damned.  Despite the negative review, I thought the plot and presentation were brilliant and am on my third playthrough (platinumed on second).

robotopbuddy
robotopbuddy moderator moderator

Well, to start with - Noah also appears in most other monotheistic religion's holy scripts/books, including Judaism and Islam...considering they all have the same roots if you trace back far enough, that's not really much of a surprise though. There's probably even some truth in the story somewhere, merely twisted and exaggerated over time to make Noah fit the needs of each religion,much like other religious figures.

The main reason religion has become such a taboo though is because of preachers and evangelists that are blind in their faith to the point of not even listening to reason, instead ostracising or just outright irritating those that refuse to agree with them. Even if they're not the majority, they're enough to give religion in general, especially the large monotheistic ones, a bad reputation. Ironically, the vast majority of Christians also know next to nothing about their own religion, which obviously doesn't help matters.

Taoism and Buddhism (for example) on the other hand are almost never treated so badly - partially because they're somewhat more grounded in reality, but also because the teachings focus heavily on acceptance, rather than this bizarre concept of trying to spread their religion to others against their will...which I'm fairly certain isn't even taught in the monotheistic religions, they just do it anyway.


That said, as long as blind religious preaching never starts getting treated by the industry as a good thing I couldn't really care less personally; preaching in general has no place in games really, and never will for that matter. Religion? sure, feel free, as long as it doesn't ruin it. Spiritual stuff has technically been a part of games for decades already anyway, whether people realise it or not, a little more can't hurt, so long as it's done right.


However, I view Yuna more as a typical shrine maiden role from Japanese culture, in the usual extraordinary world that Japanese RPGs and animes tend to use. There tends to be a strong spiritual connection whenever shrine-maiden roles are involved in a Japanese game, and while FFX certainly has some references to monotheistic religions, which is a little abnormal for a Japanese game, the vast majority of the spiritual stuff in the game can still be accounted to the vast Japanese mythology and other spiritual things not normally associated specifically with religion - everything from the fayths, the dream world of Zanarkand and Tidus himself, the aeons, dark aeons, penance, (the many) Sin(s) (and by extension Yu Yevon) represents Yamata no Orochi and Tidus represents Susanoo too, as evidenced from the original concept art of the game which had sin looking much like Orochi and the sacrificing of loved ones (the Final Aeon in FFX's case, and much like the daughter's to Orochi, unwillingly at the end) to do little more than restart the cycle (of building/destroying Spira in FFX's case).

There's really not that much special about it beyond the way it's portrayed, which is admittedly a pretty big deal because it ultimately makes up essentially an entire game world's lore aside the little bits like Yu Yevon starting the whole thing yet being praised due to lack of knowledge.


Sure, you can draw out things like Sin's name referring to the religious concept and the whole faith of Yu Yevon giving reason for people like Yuna to continue trying hard in the face of imminent destruction by Sin (representing natural disasters, such as floods), and the whole 'creator' of the faith also being the destroyer of existing civilisation, much like Noah's story (which isn't enough to call anything biblical, as it's common to pretty much all abrahamic religions (which variations, of course), which make up the majority of the modern monotheistic religions), but focussing on that alone would be like skim-reading a book - it sets a base story and trials of faith push it a little for Yuna, but pretty much everything else can be boiled down to the vast Japanese mythology. Let's not forget the critical difference of Sin and Yu Yevon being very much tangible opponents in the end, unlike a 'creator' that is rather intangible.

Oh right, the yevon script alphabet in FFX has religious connotations too - Yu Yevon is the start (of the religion, the alphabet and the cycles..) and Sin is the end (of the alphabet, of each cycle and a destructive force to end 'technology' in general) iirc. That said, most alphabets in reality have no such blatant relation to religion.


...it seems I've rambled on a bit much once more...oh well, not like people have to read it if they don't want to.

xkrnwannabx
xkrnwannabx

@stavrosmccloud  What the heck are you talking about? That is NOT the 'basic story' or premise of Xenogears. You simply repeated what Balthasar told Fei and Bart in the stalagmite cave--it was a tale he made up there and then--there's no truth to it.

nt00mdnrkist
nt00mdnrkist

@jonny_dutch  Well said. Reading the article I can understand that a first time player would get that impression and connect those similarities... 




but from those that have actually played through it organized religion (Yevon) is revealed to be a corrupt fearmongering sham. As far as the hatred of machina it goes much deeper than what is stated above.

virtualskill
virtualskill

@resorber Oh so you know how the Universe began and how organic life came from non-life though there is no scientific evidence for that, currently? I'm so glad I have a gamespot forum troll to educate me!


: P

zerofrust
zerofrust

@Gears189  

After having my fair share of time on both side of the fence. I was a catholic, (baptized,communed and confirmed) until my 20's(hell i even sung like a little bitch at the choir when young lol). Sorry mate but atheism isn't a religion:

-It pretty much goes against dogmatism which is what religion is about and ask you to question everything which doesn't have proper evidence. 

-There is no holy books or texts or oral incantations which are held more valuable than people themselves and can't be questioned without punishment.

-There is no afterlife reward system

-There is no place of cult

-There is no records of atheist performing actions which violate every fucking laws of natures known and studied by humans...

-No one is asking me to worship shit

-More importantly, no hard ass nun trying to beat the devil out of me LITERATELY, for asking common sense questions...


I'm going to use that cliche expression: "Atheism is a religion the same way not collecting stamps is a hobby".

anshanlord
anshanlord

@geraldsanduski What's the point in the same guy killing off/saving a species? shit just doesn't make sense:D

ziproy
ziproy

@anshanlord Lol I love how you said Abrahamic.....Cuz Jewish and Islamic films are just exploding at the box office right now.......

ExtremePhobia
ExtremePhobia

@SSJ4Goku2  Except that almost all cultures have a flood story similar to those. I believe Utnapishtim is the oldest that we know of (and predates the Bible considerably). To some, you find several retellings of the same event from different point of views, passed down through different bloodlines. To others, you find a legacy of inspiration that was left behind in these tales. If we assume that the story of Noah is more fictional story than actual events then I don't think it's innacurate to say that the movie was getting at the roots of the Noah story.

The Bible just kind of... rebooted the story (if we were to believe this theory).

chuckles471
chuckles471

@jeanlucforever @TomMcShea  I don't think Tom has seen X-2 and what becomes of the world.  I also think he hasn't seen the ending...  Actually scrap that, I don't think he has made it past bevelle.

Darth_Tyrranus
Darth_Tyrranus

@robbristow I'm sorry to say this, but I get the feeling that you are talking out of your butt for much of your post.  I live in Japan, and while most Japanese people you ask will say they are Buddhist, for 99% of them that just means going to the shrine on New Years day and they don't really know anything else about it.  I've only met two real Buddhists here.  One was a priest, and the other was actually in a Buddhist cult, so I'm not sure if that counts.  But, no, ignorance about one's religion is a pretty universal concept.


Also, I find it highly ironic that you claim Buddhism is more grounded in reality when it's the religion that says nothing is real and that everything is an illusion.


To answer the topic you put forward, why is religion hated by so many?  In my opinion, it's because for most religious people, religion is nothing more than a self-salvation project.  All you have to do is follow rules A, B, and C, (you fill in the blanks here) and then you can enter heaven or achieve nirvana, etc.  God is just a means to an end. And since these kinds of religious people are still inherently selfish and prideful and don't really have changed hearts, they often lord their self-righteousness and piousness over irreligious people, despite the fact that their character really isn't any better.

zirkhamel21
zirkhamel21

@ExtremePhobia @zirkhamel21If the point was made that it's a fiction than perhaps. But openly religious games would be just like the source material, dogmatic and propagandic.Every religion sustains itself on hindering dis confirming information and manufacturing its own. I don't see anything frank about that.

zirkhamel21
zirkhamel21

@virtualskillThe point is that no one knows yet but just because we don't have a scientific evidence for it now, that somehow translates to you has always? Lack of evidence isn't proof for one out of x number of fairy tales to be true. The Scientific method is the best way humans have to gain any real knowledge of this world. Not presupposing stories, made up, around the world when human knowledge was at minimum.

nt00mdnrkist
nt00mdnrkist

@Lord_Sesshy @jeanlucforever @TomMcShea  But Yevon's god personality, Yu-Yevon, resides within Sin. So it is their god who has set the death star on auto-pilot and comes back to rebuild it every time some meddlesome kid destroys it.

jeanlucforever
jeanlucforever

Crap. Hopefully Tom didn't read past spoilers. If so, I immensely apologize.

robotopbuddy
robotopbuddy moderator moderator

@Darth_Tyrranus @robotopbuddy  Unfortunately it appears livefyre had automatically marked this as profane and removed it (probably because of the term 'butt', livefyre is a bit ridiculous like that at times). But anyway, going through some of my old messages I noticed it and brought it back (well, 1 of the 2 - they basically say the same things), albeit rather late; Apologies for not realising sooner, but better late than never I guess.


You bring up some good points. I will say a few things though - I singled out Christianity because it is the most widespread religion, but yes a lot of people claim they belong to x religion but know almost nothing about it. People buy into anything that promises them salvation of any form rather easily, but rarely actually care enough to go through the process of learning/following any related doctrines.


Personally I'd call myself an atheist in the end, and care little for religions themselves, despite agreeing with many of the general teachings of some of them I don't really care to look into the finer details. I do have quite a lot of interest in the stories that are used in them and also in mythologies however, and most of my post was based on such things - so it's not so much that I was talking out of my ass as that I was simply missing some information. Most of it is based on Japanese folklore in this case after the 1st half of the post, which is incredibly vast and isn't really related to Buddhism as far as I'm aware.


I was not aware that was the case for Buddhism - and I doubt many are for that matter. I'm aware of the idea of Buddhists considering the death of the Buddha to be an illusion, but that was as far as the whole illusion thing went as far as I was aware; and really that's no different from the concept of a soul or any other form of after life - something that appears in pretty much every religion ever conceived in one form or another.

What I was referring to primarily when I said that it's 'more grounded in reality' is the nature of meditation, which has been proven to have health benefits (primarily things like concentration and decreased anxiety), as opposed to praying in a church to some almighty being. The concept of enlightenment itself is already a sort of exaggerated epiphany to me, but that still beats praying to/conversing with some omnipotent being that never does anything in my mind.


I wouldn't say the whole world being an illusion is any more far-fetched than a single omnipotent 'god' figure though. Several scientific theories even have similar merits to the illusion thing: the holographic universe and the computer simulation universe most notably. Even the multi-verse theory is a little crazy at a glance tbh, but they're backed by evidence and do at least acknowledge that they're basically science fiction until they can be proven correct, or at the least, a likely scenario.


Anyway before I get sidetracked (or make this more pointlessly long, I doubt anyone will read it anyway): I'd say that's a pretty sound answer to why it's so hated actually, and it's a shame livefyre messed up a chance to get a proper discussion out of that one. I'm sure some people would've disagreed and tried to refute it at least, that's always the case when religion appears. Perhaps they'll be another opportunity in the future.

nt00mdnrkist
nt00mdnrkist

@zirkhamel21 @ExtremePhobia  Just look at the Call to Abraham video game. They were looking to create something that is very literal to their scripture with little to no deviation. Frank, but no discussion.

jeanlucforever
jeanlucforever

Right, I think any god that needs to make up this concept of sin and punishment in order to get it's people to behave morally is a fake one and should not be trusted.