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LONG BLOG

"What Would Mario Do?": Messianic Characters in Video Games.

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Spring is upon us here in the Northern hemisphere, and with Spring comes warm weather, MTV showing footage of topless, underage girls on break, hay fever, and of course Easter, which is officially celebrated tomorrow. This holiday represents different things to different people, but in the Christian tradition it’s regarded as the celebration of the day when Jesus Christ came back from the dead after dying on the cross. Make as many jokes about “Zombie Jesus Day” as you want, but the Messianic archetype has been around almost as long as the heroic tradition itself. And, as a medium of storytelling, video games are no different. “Messiah” essentially means “chosen one” in Greek, and the characters that fulfill this role generally are half-human, half-divine, and often have to save the world through a great sacrifice. While there are numerous examples of characters that fit these qualities in games, this list will outline the ones that I believe best qualify for this role.

This list will be full of spoilers, naturally. You have been warned.



Colette, Tales of Symphonia

Colette is first introduced in Symphonia as a sweet, polite young girl who has been chosen to regenerate the dying world of Sylvarant. Oh, and she’s rumored to be the daughter of an angel, Remiel. Despite the hardships on her journey, she always remains optimistic and cheerful, willing to sacrifice her humanity to become an angel in order to restore Mana to her world.

However, Colette is an arguable deconstruction of this archetype. She hides the true cost of her journey from the rest of the party, and accepts her fate, even though everyone else tries to dissuade her and is horrified at the personal consequences of her journey. This normally would be a sign of great inner strength and determination, except that her sacrifice ends up leaving her a shell of her former self, with no love or empathy left for any other living being. Not to mention that succeeding in her quest means dooming a different world, Tethe’alla.

Not all sacrifices are for the greater good, and Symphonia hammers home the fact that one needs to understand both sides of a conflict, instead of blindly following what you’re told to do. Colette is still a good example of a Messianic character, but the unfortunate consequences of her journey and sacrifice put a different spin on what is supposed to be a heroic figure.



Serge, Chrono Cross

Let me state this for the record: I really, really hate the plot of Chrono Cross. It’s overly complex and stuffed full of needless symbolism, pseudo-philosophical bullshit, and unimportant characters and side plots. However, despite my personal feelings for the game’s story, Serge is a pretty blatant messianic figure. Although things start off simple enough with the main character just trying to find a way to get back home, it quickly spirals into an epic journey to save all worlds and timelines.

“But how can Serge be on this list?” you might ask, “He never dies, unlike Chrono in the original game!” That’s a good point, but not all sacrifices have to involve death in a literal sense. Serge sacrifices himself by losing his identity by having his body switched with Lynx (who is also his father, I think….somehow). He then is “resurrected” by being reborn into his old body, after proving that he is indeed the one who is capable of saving the world.

However, the most notable reason why he’s on this list is the way he defeats the final boss in order to receive the “best” ending. If you simply whack the Time Devourer with pointy Rainbow weapons over and over again, you defeat it and save the world, but kill Schala for good in the process. The best ending is achieved by redeeming the ultimate cause of destruction instead of simply obliterating it. By playing the Song of Time, you finally free Schala from her madness and hate that possessed her while she was merged with Lavos.



Aeris/Aerith Gainsborough, Final Fantasy VII

Do I even need to describe this one? Aeris is the purest of the pure in world of Final Fantasy VII, especially when compared to the other party member’s motives like revenge, or money when the game first starts. The symbolism is pretty obvious too. She’s half Cetra, is raised by a humble foster family, and is even first encountered sitting in a church in a beam of light with flowers growing around her! Her death at Sephiroth’s hands is still regarded as one of the most moving moments in video game history, and deeply impacts the other characters for the rest of the story. However, it’s also heavily implied that by dying she became one with the Lifestream, allowing her prayer to finally stop the meteor Sephiroth summoned.

Although she’s not resurrected like many other Messianic characters, she lives on in what the ancient Greeks would call “commemorative immortality”. The impression she left on Cloud and the other characters still remains, even though not even phoenix downs can bring her back physically. This appears in the movie Advent Children, where she appears to Cloud numerous times, and helps to guide him through his recurring angst.

Final Fantasy loves using this type of character, and the series has many examples from other games. I could write a whole article just naming examples from this franchise alone, but Aeris is really the best known, and most fitting one.



Minato Arisato, Persona 3

If there’s one franchise that loves Messianic characters more than Final Fantasy, it’s the Shin Megami Tensei series. Nearly every single game from SMT1 onwards involves you playing the role of a character that must pay a great sacrifice in order to free the world from the tyrannical rule of Chaos or Law. However, the sacrifice of Persona 3 is much more meaningful because of the inclusion of social links. By getting to know on a deeper level the people you are fighting to save, Minato’s (or whatever name you gave him) sacrifice to seal away Nyx at the end of the game strikes the player on a deeper level. The thoughts and prayers of everyone that you have formed a personal, unbreakable bond with gives you the strength to save them all from complete obliteration.

I really think that Persona 3 uses this archetypical character the best out of any other video game. In a series rife with religious symbolism (Hell, one of Minato’s ultimate personas is even named “Messiah”) and theological debate, the inclusion of such a symbolic sacrifice fits in a more organic fashion within the context of the game, and doesn’t feel forced. Plus, the addition of increased player immersion by directly controlling the character and choosing which social links to pursue also makes the ultimate conclusion of culturing such connections more emotionally compelling.

So regardless of your religious beliefs or affiliation, the Messianic archetype is widespread throughout storytelling tradition. Whether used metaphorically or literally, it will most likely remain a recurring trope in great epics for as long as such tales of sacrifice and redemption have the capacity to move us. Happy Easter, everyone!
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About SWE3tMadnessone of us since 6:04 PM on 01.10.2008

-About Me-

A recent graduate in Biology, neverless my first love in entertainment and media has always been video games, even though I don't get a lot of time to play recent ones now. I still enjoy following the industry and gushing about the latest Nintendo releases.

A Critical Ear: Analyzing Music in Video Games

If there's one thing that I like more than talking about video games, it's talking about music in video games. As a classically trained pianist that has been playing for more than twelve years, I take a look at some of my favorite soundtracks and how they contribute to the gaming experience as a whole.

#0: Introduction
#1: Villain Themes and Leitmotifs (April, 2010)
#2: Anti-Music (June, 2010)
#3: They Wasted a Perfectly Good Song (July, 2010)
#4: Fight On! (August, 2010)
#5: More Than Just Noise: Nostalgia and Homecoming (September, 2010 Monthly Musing)
#6: While I Play Unfitting Music (November, 2010)
#7: Thinking Outside the Soundchip (December/January 2010)

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