By Caroline Furlong
The Final Fantasy video game series is something this author only gained an interest in recently. Video games have never been her preferred milieu, and so she usually eschewed them for books, films, and television. But it seems Someone wanted her to take a closer look at them, as He set her on the path to discover the famous Final Fantasy JRPG series.
I will save you the description of just how I stumbled onto the videos made by youtuber Ikkin about Final Fantasy XV. The important point is that listening to her series of reviews about the Catholicity of FFXV solidified this writer’s interest in the franchise and gave her an insight into Evangelizing Fandom. (Warning, spoilers will follow!)
Prompto Argentum, more than the other characters in FFXV, has received a great deal of fan admiration and love. He is an endearing fellow primarily because of the cheerful attitude he shows to the world, particularly his friends Gladiolus (shortened to Gladio), Ignis, and Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum. Along with these three Prompto sets out on a roadtrip to a neighboring country to attend Noctis’ wedding to the princess Lunafreya. Not long after they leave the kingdom of Lucis, however, the evil Niflheim Empire conquers it, killing Noctis’ father in the process. On the run, the four young men must collect ancient weapons and convince their reluctant prince to accept his inheritance.
Having never played this game, I am not fit to comment on its strengths and weaknesses as a game. Nor can I make any strong claims as to how good its story is; from my outside perspective, it is quite engaging. I rate it highly on my personal list of favorite stories based on the cutscenes and what Ikkin has described. So while gamers find it a flawed gem at best, my personal opinion remains unchanged.
One reason I have for this view is the story arc given to Prompto, who is revealed to be a clone of Niflheim’s chief scientist, Verstael Besithia. The happy-go-lucky goofball of the team, Prompto acts the way he does largely in an attempt to forge meaningful connections with other people. This is in sharp contrast to Verstael, a transhumanist scientist seeking to supersede his humanity through a combination of science and magic. Verstael supplies the Empire with Magitek soldiers – clones of himself that have been corrupted and zombified in order to serve as infantry troops – and resides in a secluded lab cut off from everyone else in the world.
Ikkin draws a great deal of meaning from this as she explains how the story of Final Fantasy XV is basically a representation of salvation history, specifically the parts following Our Lord’s life on earth. It is not a perfect transliteration, of course, but the fact remains that Prince Noctis is demonstrably a Christ-like figure in the story, and that several other characters are representative of Biblical figures. The soldier Nyx Ulric has some characteristics of an Old Testament Prophet, while Ignis has a resemblance to both St. Peter and John the Baptist. (If you watch the Kingsglaive movie and the “Episode Ignis” cutscenes with an eye for Biblical references, the similtude is darned hard to miss.)
While Ikkin goes into more detail about this in her videos, I think she misses one key point with regard to Prompto and his relationship with Noctis. This item has great bearing on sci-fi and fantasy writers trying to evangelize fandom for their readers. And it has to do with the fact that, unlike Gladio and Ignis, Prompto is not a normal human being. By the standards of some, he may not even count as human.
A friend of mine often says that clones are “born insane.” The reason for this is that they cannot answer the fundamental questions, “Who made me and why am I here?” in a healthy manner. Christian children with studious parents learn the answers to these questions are: “God made me to know, love, and serve Him in this life so that I can be happy with Him forever in Heaven.” A clone only has his programmed desires, duty, and/or the residual memories of the person of whom he is a copy to supply the answers for his existence and purpose for this life.
Dean Koontz shows just how much this harms a clone’s psyche in his Frankenstein series, and Timothy Zahn touched on it in his Star Wars novels Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future. Many other sci-fi/fantasy writers, however, don’t bother to consider it. Making a copy of a human being, in most speculative fiction, is like producing a certain amount of paper sheets. We make them all the time without worrying about their reason for existence. Why would making human life in a lab be any different? And how immoral and psychologically destructive could such an action actually be?
This, for me, is where Prompto shines brightly in Final Fantasy XV. Rescued from his “father’s” Magitek assembly line and brought to the kingdom of Lucis as an infant, flashbacks set before the game starts and during the story itself show that Prompto spent most of his childhood alone. His foster parents were not present or particularly loving, meaning he ate his meals on his own and did not exercise much. When they meet as children Noctis has to struggle to help Prompto stand up because the other boy is so rotund.
Embarrassed that the prince has to comment on his weight at this meeting, Prompto works on getting into shape so he can make a better impression on Noctis and become his friend. He thereby puts effort into establishing the connection with others that he desperately desires but which Verstael considers unimportant. In this he succeeds, as he is one of the three people chosen to accompany and protect Noctis on their roadtrip, where he attempts to extend his connection to humanity by flirting with members of the opposite sex – with the comical results one sees from someone who is “trying too hard.”
But as the game story progresses, players and viewers see that there is something which Prompto does not want his friends to discover. This is made plain not only in his (sometimes forced) good cheer and playfulness, but by how he walks. Throughout the game Prompto keeps low to the ground, tending to scuttle or “crab walk” toward the other protagonists in the game. He also makes flighty gestures and seems constantly nervous. In this, he resembles a whipped dog trying to make friends, while still expecting to be slapped away with a harsh word at a moment’s notice.
Although he does not recall the lab, Prompto knows he was not born in Lucis. He also, as we learn later, has a barcode tattooed on his right wrist that he has tried to get rid of and now keeps covered. When Prompto is separated from the main group, he is discovered by the Empire’s forces and brought back to his “father’s” lab. While working to escape he learns his origins and finds out the meaning behind his tattoo.
Confronting a decaying Verstael, Prompto has to kill the scientist who constructed him to save himself, an act which nearly undoes his own sanity. Only the timely arrival of a former enemy turned ally, Aranea Highwind, saves his mind from breaking. She then helps him confront and overcome his fear of rejection, culminating in a final battle with his “father,” as Verstael transferred his mind to enormous machines before he died and thus “surpassed” his humanity. As she observes when Prompto decides to return to his friends, “The boy has become a man.”
One has to wonder how any of this relates to Evangelizing Fandom. If you look at Final Fantasy XV from the Christian point of view, the answer presents itself fairly quickly. Noctis is a Christ-like figure, one meant to save the world of Eos, much as Aragorn is a Christ-like figure (along with Frodo and Gandalf) who is meant to save Middle-Earth. The connections are more explicit and less subtly orchestrated in FFXV than in The Lord of the Rings, but the endpoint is relatively similar.
Based on that fact, the decision to make Prompto a clone searching for connection with the Prince specifically takes on a whole new level of depth. Prompto, as we have seen, desires what Verstael hates: to be a member of the brotherhood of man. He wants friends, brothers, and a girlfriend; in essence, he desperately wants to be human. And he fears, for a reason he cannot explain until the truth is revealed, that this can never happen. That he will be abandoned by those he has sought to befriend and connect with for so long once they know where he came from and what he actually is.
Fittingly enough, it is the Prince himself who dismisses this fear. When Prompto finally reveals his tattoo in order to help Noctis and the others enter an Imperial facility, he explains that the Magitek drones all have tattoos just like his. “Really?” Noctis replies. “Never noticed.”
After Prompto soldiers on and explains the rest of his story, as well as admitting to his hopes and fears, Noctis comes back with this response: “Since when does where you come from matter to you? You never once treated me as a prince.”
“Huh. He’s got you there,” Gladio chuckles. “Not even so much as a ‘Highness,’” Ignis agrees with a smile.
“We’re done here,” Noctis adds, with the finality of an order that won’t be gainsaid. “C’mon, Crown citizen.” (Native residents of Lucis are referred to as “Crown citizens.”)
On its own, the dialogue is just three brothers assuring their kid sibling that he is a member of the family no matter what. In light of the theological depth implicit in the game, however, the exchange takes on a more meaningful tone entirely. Noctis, as a Christ-like figure, not only claims Prompto as a friend and brother but as a citizen of his kingdom. How Prompto came to be is less important than what he has chosen to be: a follower and companion of the True King. The lost lamb was actually not truly lost at all. It is a touching presentation of the words: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Techniques for evangelization can come from unexpected quarters. Who would suspect a JRPG, let alone one from a series often steeped in Gnosticism, of offering a story capable of being used to spread the Word of God? And who would think said game could point out a way for Christian authors to do it in their own works?
Yet that is precisely what Final Fantasy XV does, intentionally or not. It takes a casually misused Western trope meant to praise the power of Man and admits that his strength pales in the face of the might of God. And it does so in an engaging format that Western writers and artists can absorb easily – once they know what to look for.
So if you played Final Fantasy XV and found it wanting, take another look at the game. Players, artists, and writers may want to try it out as well or at least watch the cut scenes. It is not perfect, but it is good, and not strictly in the material sense. And it may offer the armament you need for your next foray into the evangelization of fandom. 😉