Thursday, April 17, 2014

Finding Christ in the Classics: Wiz n Liz: The Frantic Wabbit Wescue

Note: Finding Christ in the Classics will focus on finding Christian elements in old games. Not going crazy with it, such as comparing Mario's coin collecting with the Israelites collecting gold to melt into an idol, but just a general Christian theme. Hopefully I'll run this once a week. Here is a link to two other games I did in this series on my old site.

If I could only have six or seven games from the 16-bit era of gaming (1989 to 1995), Wiz n Liz: The Frantic Wabbit Wescue, would be put in the same cupboard as classics like Super Mario World, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and SimCity 2000. This under-appreciated gem from Psygnosis, the folks who brought us Lemmings and would later go on to do the Wipeout Series, is an odd but charming little game for the Sega Genesis and Amiga that sees you running across the screen to catch rabbits and letters before the timer runs out. At the beginning, you only need to catch letters, but after a few rounds, you'll lose if you don't collect all the rabbits.

After the level is over, you can take the various pieces of fruit you've collected and mix them together for zany spells, such as all the rabbits turning different colors and bonus games, among other silly things.

Simple? Absolutely. Challenging? Very. Especially when you're running out of time, and there's that one last rabbit you need to escape the level. With your character moving at Sonic-like speeds, this can get really frantic.

I remember seeing this game advertised in the pages of Sega Visions magazine, but didn't pick it up until I was living in Pittsburgh a few months after graduating college. Instantly I was blown away. I shouldn've been surprised, as I loved Lemmings and Puggsy, two other games from the same company.

So what positive faith lesson did I take out of this simple game starring a wizard and his wife rescuing rabbits? For this, I look to the Gospel of Luke, specifically Christ's parable about the missing sheep.

In Luke's book of knowledge, Jesus tells us of a shepherd who would go looking for one sheep out of a 100, saying that heaven rejoices over one sinner repenting more so than 99 righteous people who aren't in need of grace. I thought of this Bible verse as I frantically scrambled for that last missing rabbit. In this game, it doesn't matter if you have 37 rabbits when the time runs out: If you don't have that 38th rabbit, you still lose. That missing rabbit is just as important as the rabbits you've already rescued.

There are other nice things to take away from this game. The fact that Easter is just a few days away and this game features a smorgasbord of rabbits! It's also a great two-player game that lends well to sitting on the couch with your friends or younger relatives (non-violent, another bonus for those with younger children). But the biggest thing for me is that reminder that we are all important to God.

And that's a nice thing to think about as we head into Easter. Christ died for that one sheep out of 100. And that 38th rabbit, not to mention that rotten person like me.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

8-Bit Catholic T-Shirt

I received an e-mail today from a guy who has produced an 8-Bit themed Catholic T-Shirt, he is selling them in order to try and raise money for his parish- this looks like a great thing to support. I'd also be interested to know of any other 8-bit Catholic T-Shirts, comment if you're aware of any.

The T-Shirt could be a nice way to celebrate Easter and to proclaim it around you.  It's an adaptation of Mario by the looks of things, where, whenever you complete a castle, as far as I can remember, you get told something along the lines of "Thank You, but the princess is in another castle".

Monday, February 10, 2014

Final Fantasy IX- some reflections

I recently finished playing Final Fantasy 9 from the Playstation Network and had a number of thoughts on the themes of the game from a Catholic perspective.

Character and identity

A large and recurring theme in the game is that of identity, and to its credit the game features some well crafted characters that are appealing and interesting. The game's leveling up pathways for each characters differ, as does the equipment they can wear and the abilities they can learn, something that I really like as I think it reflects faithfully the principle that each individual is created by God for a definitive role or purpose and that they find fulfillment in living according to their design.  

Ultimately every human person has been known by God from eternity inasmuch as God has known Himself from all eternity and each person reflects or embodies in creation an attribute of God Himself. In the loving gaze of the Son proceeding from the Father is contained the blueprint for all created persons. When we speak of vocation it is the objective fact that God has designed you to encapsulate in your life and personality a certain fundamental truth about Him. 

We find this in FF9 in a way we don't see in FF7 where Cloud can essentially be molded by the player into whatever role the player wishes, or in later FFs where over time characters move out from their given roles. In FF9 there is an understanding that it is good to have an identity, that the quest of finding out one's identity is a worthwhile project and that fulfillment is somehow to be found through living in accords with that identity.
Each character in FF9 struggles with these issues of identity and almost half of the characters realise that they weren't who they thought they were to some degree, they then have to adapt to the reality of who they really are and discern how this is to be lived.

From a Catholic perspective some come through this crisis better than others. I think Garnet comes out very well, she integrates the fact that she is a summoner and not the biological child of the queen very well, she is honest with herself and those near to her that her background is more complicated than it seemed and yet she realises that 'who she is' is shaped by more than just biological factors and that her calling is nonetheless to be future queen.

Steiner comes through his crisis fairly well as he realises that essentially to be a good knight requires him to serve the crown faithfully but that of even greater importance is to obey the moral law written in his heart.
Vivi is a very interesting character and probably my favourite character in the game, he has the most explicit identity crisis when he discovers that he is manufactured and manufactured to carry out an immoral purpose. 
Vivi doesn't at this point reject the fact he is a black mage, something which could have happened, or alternatively decide that he has to be an evil black mage. Vivi seeks to realise how being a manufactured black mage need not mean living a destructive life. Vivi's powers and abilities which being a black mage endows him with, can be used in a good means.  In both the case of Vivi and Zidane the ability to make friends, to experience loving relations, seems to bring life to their unfortunate inherited natures of being creatures intended to destructive purposes.

Here is a glimpse of the reality that each of us, regardless of how messed up our family background is, possesses a fundamental vocation to love and that in loving others the meaning of our lives in illuminated. When we love and give ourselves in love we come closer to enabling who we really are, in God's plan, to surface.

Reality of Objective Moral laws.

Final Fantasy 9 actually does fairly well here, much better than 10 or 12, there are clear “conscience characters” such as Vivi and Steiner who are reliable in asserting the moral order. Everyone knows that the mage-manufacturing is objectively wrong, that it is an undignified way to come into the world and a perversion of the natural creative order- it doesn't need to be vocalised, it is presumed quite rightly that what is going on is wrong and that an objective moral law that is being broken.  

Interior Struggle to pursue the good.

We don't see too many occasions where characters have to fight their fallen side and selfish inclinations to do what is right, perhaps in Steiner as he vows to rescue to princess or fights to the end to try and defend the castle. The good characters generally find it easy to pursue the right course. When it comes to the struggle to remain pure and live a chaste life, there are some problems with modesty on behalf of Garnet and clearly Zidane has issues with the ninth commandment. Overall however the game is not generally impure, even if there is no recognition of the battle to remain chaste which we must all undertake and the virtue in being victorious in this fight. That Cid experiences a punishment for his womanising behaviour is treated with humour, but certainly it seems that after the experience of having been a variety of different creatures, he is quite sure that he is now going to remain faithful to his wife, nor does he have any resentment towards her but realises that her punishment on him had been deserved in some sense.

Divine Providence working through free will.

There is no reference to providence or the concept that there is higher power at work in bringing about the good. There is some irony in that Garland's instruments to destroy Gaia end up destroying him. That evil destroys itself through its wicked schemes is an important truth that the game seems to echo a number of times.

Self sacrifice for others

On quite a number of times we see characters choosing to stay to fight with their friends when the friend wishes to go on a solo vendetta. There is a very strong emphasis on the value of fighting for the good and being willing to join another in his own personal struggle for what is right. At the end of the game we even see Zidane wishing to undergo great danger to be with Kuja, and even possibly to save him, he does this on the basis of understanding that he could have easily become like Kuja, and also after recognising that Kuja has been responsible for teleporting the party into safety. 

Basic Christian Theodicy- Monotheism, Goodness of creation, understanding of eternal reward/punishment based on moral behaviour.

 After having commented on how supportive the game is to a basic Christian worldview we finally come to its major weakness! Unfortunately, the game has major problems in the area of the natural theology. Only gradually do the problems become apparent and they are generally confined to the last disc. I will outline three problem areas.

1) The game has the typical FF poison of viewing souls as recyclable, the idea that, after you die, your soul returns to the planet, to then, at a later point be given to another individual. This idea essentially does away with any concept of reward or punishment for good and evil, and the fate of each is exactly the same- essentially annihilation. This means that the whole emphasis on identity and character present throughout the game is rendered rather meaningless for ultimately you have no lasting identity, you are a recycled soul that will, very soon, sink back into the mush of soul energy. The nature of the soul is even more problematically presented as the game explains how the souls of the dead that are inside the planet can be sucked up to be used to power airships, and indeed to animate artificial creatures. This undermines the previous strength of the game in emphasising the dignity of the individual as a person with a unique identity and so the player is ultimately left very confused as to whether his life has any meaning at all, or indeed, whether his life actually is uniquely his own or is some kind of reincarnation job.

2) Then there is the problem about how the game answers its own ongoing question of "what is the meaning of life?" The issue is significant for Vivi because he does not have a clear identity/ character which can easily offer his life meaning. Vivi, at one point in the game, perhaps its highest point, considers what it means to die and whether life continues after death, the moment is profound and well crafted. 

Sadly the conclusion he comes to at the end of the game and the solution that the game promotes is the following: A) that 'our memories live on'   and B) that we should live life “to the full” while we can. With respect to the first 'solution' (A) the game proposes a bizarre theory that all life, apparently having evolved from space dust, has a connection to each other and that the connection carries the memory of lower life forms- I'd like to see how consoling that doctrine is to someone on their deathbed. It is philosophically ridiculous for obvious reasons. Even if we take the view that memories have a physical side to them and are in some way impressed upon the brain, it is certain that a rock or a particle in space cannot possess a memory, Furthermore, even if memories are simply physical qualities of the brain, the brain is not, in its entirety transmitted in sexual reproduction. Aside from the nonsense pseudo science, at its most basic sense, Vivi's first solution is not evil and it has some basis in scripture. In the Old Testament there is a strong sense at times that it is a good thing to be remembered as an honorable person in order to be an example and encouragement for future generations. The point is however; our memories do not live on somewhere out there, floating around in the sky. Our memories do live on, in as much as God wills it, as infused knowledge in the separated soul that has gone forth to be judged by him

The second solution (B) is much more pernicious and undermines a lot of what is good about the game, it is fundamentally the assertion of atheist existentialists- that life is meaningless but enjoy the ride and forget about how meaningless the whole thing is.
What should have Vivi said from his position as living before divine revelation? Well, ideally Vivi could have concluded A) our memories live on and B) Our lives have value from the good we achieve in them. C) The good we perform goes with us into the unknown of the next life to bring us some kind of reward.
3) Finally, in terms of natural theology, the game suffers, in its closing few hours, from a bizarre theological idea that all life, all souls, all existence, somehow depends on this giant space crystal and that if the space crystal is destroyed everything falls into annihilation.... The Almighty space crystal which is completely inert, indifferent, unthinking, rock is somehow the source of the existence of life- both spiritual and physical. Furthermore, the Almighty space crystal needs its creatures to defend it! Finally, the fact that the crystal is a thing, existing in the universe, causes anyone with a little bit of philosophical reasoning to realise that a thing, existing in the universe, itself composed of parts cannot be the eternal uncreated, source for the universe. Because the crystal is a material thing we can reasonably ask "how, indeed, did this crystal get there?"- Things don't simply exist they require an explanation. Even if the space crystal is the cause of other material life, the space crystal needs an uncreated, eternal, spiritual, immutable cause.

Overall I enjoyed playing FFIX- from a gamer’s point of view the game has a lot going for it- the music, the battle system, the lightheartedness, the character development. The game is also the very peak of the psx graphical capabilities. The battles system had fewer cracks in it compared to 8, which could easily be broken by the gamer and the summons are a lot shorter to watch! I’m probably rate it above ff8 and ff12 but under ff7 and 10.As the game went on I was disappointed with the nonsense Japanese new agey stuff that infects the otherwise healthy portrayal of characters trying to work out their place in the universe. The plot isn't as insidious as FFX, Xenogears or Final Fantasy Tactics but it isn't a preparation for the Gospel by any means.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Captain Falcon: Roman Catholic?

This fascinating bit of gaming trivia brought to you by the fine folks over at The Gamer's Atlas, who hosted a gaming trivia quiz show panel at ACEN this past weekend: Captain Falcon, Nintendo's iconic F-Zero/Super Smash Bros. mascot, is a Roman Catholic.

Skeptical? Incredulous? Well, so was I. When I pressed the panelists for a source for this information, I was told that one of the Game Boy Advance F-Zero titles lists Falcon's religion in the instruction manual. A quick google search neither confirms nor denies this, but Captain Falcon's Catholicism is apparently well-known to Super Smash Bros. fandom. Behold Brawl in the Family's "Captain Falcon at Church," completed back in 2009:

All silliness aside, I think that Catholics could do worse than having Captain Falcon as "token" gaming representation. Certainly, given his character development in F-Zero GX, we should be downright thrilled. If anyone can find better verification of Falcon's Catholicism, I'd love to see it! 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Fire Emblem Awakening Review

Shipping delays notwithstanding, the release of Fire Emblem: Awakening couldn't have come at a more opportune time for me. It's been years since I played a Fire Emblem game. It's also been years since I wrote a review for Catholic Video Gamers (shame, shame on me, I know). As an added bonus, I also get an excuse to brush the dust off my Nintendo 3DS. Trifecta!


Despite my years-long hiatus from the series, I recognized the game's many features almost instantanously: the rock-paper-scissors weapon mechanic; the (slowly) expendable items; the Final Fantasy-esque class system. These were all features of the first Fire Emblem I played on the Game Boy Advance years ago, and features I am thrilled to say have survived the test of time. Yet I also noticed significant changes and new features to the gameplay, as well. For example, the class system is greatly expanded from its previous incarnations, allowing greater flexibility in character development. There's now multiplayer battles and a plethora of downloadable content. The “tutorials” (if one wants to call them that) are integrated seamlessly so as to allow players familiar with previous Fire Emblem games to quickly immerse themselves into this version without needless hand-holding, while providing for quick, rudimentary lessons for newcomers. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the series' signature gameplay mechanic, permadeath (in which characters that fall in battle can NEVER. COME. BACK!!!!) is now optional in Awakening. Purists may lament this alteration, but neverfear, traditionalists: you can still play the old fashioned way if you want.

Presentation-wise, Awakening is something of a watershed moment for the series. Graphically, the game looks just slightly less impressive than its console brethren; were it not for a few pixelated character models, I'd presume I was playing a Gamecube or Wii game. There's a supplemental first-person camera for the game's battles, and players can re-watch the game's numerous cutscenes – both Fire Emblem firsts. Perhaps the most singularly spectacular element of Awakening, however, is its musical score. It features fewer tracks than most other JRPG soundtracks, but it's a worthy trade-off: Awakening's musical score is the epitome of quality over quantity.

Multiple critics have compared this game, in positive terms, to a Soap Opera. I'm not sure how that makes Awakening different from any other Fire Emblem iteration, or any other SRPG for that matter. In terms of story, Awakening provides the usual JRPG fare: a campaign setting, static characters, and melodramatic plot developments. Without spoiling anything, the plot isn't entirely linear, and it's engaging (though not quite engrossing): there are a few "wow" moments, but they come less frequently (and, perhaps because of their infrequence, seem less contrived) than the Deus Ex Machinas in, say, Downton Abbey. There is a recurring Christ-figure trope that finds a particular resonance by the game's finale, but the nuances of this thematic element are left mostly unexplored. On the whole, Awakening's storyline is fractionally better than the standard JRPG narrative - which isn't saying much, though it is saying something.

Having spent 40+ hours during the past 2-3 weeks completing the game, I can say with surety that Awakening lived us to its name, especially if you're a sedated 3DS fan looking for an excuse to boot up your system. It's not quite the quintessential gaming experience that its metacritic score would suggest it is, but it is nonetheless a well-produced title that represents an organic evolution of a solid gaming franchise. Worth playing.  

Final grade: B

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Belated GOTY Post

2012 has come and gone, but that doesn't mean its too late for a reposting of Adam Shaw's Catholic guide to the best games of 2012. It was originally featured on the Catholic News Service website, but it seems to have been taken down. While the lack of Xenoblade Chronicles makes my heart sink, the inclusion of Kid Icarus: Uprising almost makes up for it. Almost.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Abobo's Big Adventure = Greatest Flash Game Ever.

This isn't a religious topic, other than the fact that I shouted, "THANK YOU GOD!" upon discovering this.

Abobo's Big Adventure.

Sweet mercy this is an incredible game. You control Abobo, who is the iconic boss from the Double Dragon series, and embark on a journey to save his son. The first stage is the first stage from Double Dragon, only you control Abobo and fight a wide variety of NES characters, including Goombas, Donkey Kong, and thugs from Kung Fu. From then, it gets nutty: one level has you swimming through level 2-1 of Super Mario Bros. while eating enemies a la Yoshi, while another puts you in a Zelda-style game.

It truly is a letter of love to any NES fan, and I had such a blast playing this last night.  Parental guidance suggested: it does contain some gross humor and gratuitous violence (eating mermaids can be gruesome), so exercise caution when playing this in front of your children.

Abobo. You are cherished.