Thursday, February 24, 2011

Holy Warfare: Top 10 Judeo/Christian Final Bosses!

If you've played through your fare share of Japanese role playing games, or JRPGs, then you've likely slain your fair share of gods. And how could it be otherwise? RPGs are designed for 50+ hours of gameplay, and as the character keeps leveling up and gaining ever more awesome stats and abilities, the game developers must give them increasingly awesome baddies and bosses to righteously impale on their super-awesome +25 swords of judgement, or scorch to high heavens with a level 4 flare star. Thus, the player starts beating up slimes and hired goons, and ultimately challenges the forces that control life, death, and the fate of the world itself.

What may be shocking to those unfamiliar with the conventions of Japanese culture is the spiritual nature of these big baddies. At the highest levels, Japanese final bosses tend to be Judeo-Christian in nature. This trend is especially prevalent in the games of Square spanning from Final Fantasy IV through X, but can also be seen in the works of its contemporaries, most notably in Capcom's rival Breath of Fire series. The games produced during this era show a surprising amount of depth, and a large amount of this is derived from through standing the tropes of Western spirituality on its head, and painting the Judeo-Christian messiah figure as the game world's supreme villain.
(Keep on running Fei...but you can never escape from...yourself!)

Are these games saying that it is bad to be good? That it is good to be bad? Or do they transcend dualistic theological concepts entirely? Are these final bosses supposed to be criticisms of deities that exist in modern culture, or are they meant as cautionary tales against those who long to tap into the power of the spirit to fulfill their own private ambition? Many of the games are ambiguous, and leave it up to the informed player to decide. Now without further adieu, sit back, relax, and pull out your Squaresoft brand communion wafers, for its time to give this legion of explicitly ecclesiastical baddies their last rites!

Next up: Villain #10: KEFKA!
(Final Fantasy VI)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Programming from the Game World

In a slight departure from previous entries, I'd like to talk briefly on the effectiveness of videogames as neural programming tools. The compulsive gameplay of good videogames, high replayability, and engaging storylines leaves a huge mark on the developing brain. Add in additively engaging reward structures in the form of level-ups or rare item drops, and you have a system that can leave its marks, whatever they may be, on the very foundation of human consciousness, lingering for years after the a player has put down a controller. As videogames have only been around in their current form since the late '80s, research on their effects on the brain has been limited. But it doesn't take a WoW junkie to tell you that video games can have a profound effect on the human psyche.

That said, a child's exposure to videogames necessarily cuts both ways, and its effects vary wildly depending on the type of game that is played. Video games are brilliantly effective at exposing children toalternative worldviews and systems of thought. Instead of opposing dominant cultural tropes outright, good videogames invite players to engage willingly in a series of worlds where they can spend hundreds - if not thousands of hours of their time acclimating themselves to alternate worldviews, beliefs, and futures. Though the vast majority of players consider these conventions to be entirely fictitious, many players internalize these systems on a subconscious level. Those who resonate with the thematic material then have a basis in their childhood to try to change the world as adults, a drive which has been supported by a rigorous system of self - directed training which lends itself to practical advancement in a variety of systems and fields. If this sounds strange to you, realize that the same policies are being carried out by the US Military through its explicit support of games such as CounterStrike and Modern Warfare, as well as developing its own game for the purposes of recruitment. In the modern military, soldiers often train themselves for thousands of hours on store bought simulations, paying handily for the privilege.

The brain is inherently programmable - it will form deeper grooves in its cranial folds through repeated exposure to similar data. This fact has been known to magicians for years, who undertake their own reprogramming with knowledge, will, and secrecy. However, with the unlimited freedoms of the internet, this veil is beginning to rise, and the weight is ever greater on the consumer to program their own mental currents, and determine the person that they wish to become.

I am only glad that some companies such as Square and Disney used this technique to expand the knowledge base of its most perceptive young consumers, rather than channeling it into the technology of destruction.

Many thanks to these awesome companies for the work that they have done, and for bringing some positive software into our systems!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chrono Trigger Part I: Zealots Abounding

Chrono Trigger, released in was a great triumph from the wizards at Square.

Chrono Trigger's graphic design was made by Akira Toriyama, the same man who designed Dragonball Z, and the interconnectedness of Japanese children's entertainment shares parallels with many esoteric systems. In future posts I will examine this connection in greater detail, but on to the game!

In Chrono trigger you gain control of Crono, a well spoken (actually, completely silent) young man who is soon pulled into a time vortex. You and your anachronistic party of adventurers, who span from a prehistoric cave-girl to a futuristic robot strive to avert the apocalypse by destroying Lavos, an alien force who is slowly devouring the world from within, utilizing it as fuel for its offspring. In order to do this, they must pass through time gates and travel through the various ages of man.

One of the most interesting parts of the game is the party's journey through the 'Magical Kingdom of Zeal.' This land, similar to Final Fantasy VI's 'floating continent,' soars above the clouds in perpetual bliss, powered by magical energy.
The Magical Kingdom of Zeal, in full glory.

The rest of humanity is stuck on the ground, freezing through the remnants of a terrible ice age. However, in her lust for power and immortality, Queen Zeal decides to tap into the power of Lavos with the 'Mammon machine.'

This ill - advised ploy causes Lavos to awaken prematurely, and the resultant energy shock obliterates the entire kingdom, leaving the scattered survivors to unite with the commoners in a world newly bereft of magic. The in-game date for all this was 12000 BC.

There is compelling evidence that the 'Magical Kingdom of Zeal' is analogous to the Lost City of Atlantis. Many esoteric traditions firmly believe in a lost civilization that dominated the prehistoric world through the use (and eventual abuse) of high magic, and Chrono Trigger's 'Kingdom of Zeal' lines up with their descriptions on a number of key points.

First off, in Gnostic alternative histories the kingdom of Atlantis was a glittering synthesis of high technology and magic, with airships, gilded palaces, and luxury as far as the eye could see. Atlantis was at first a benign government, but eventually its rulers became corrupted by the magic they sought to control, and were corrupted into pacts with dark energies in a source for ever greater power. This lust for power corrupted their civilization and brought the world out of balance. Eventually, the priest - rulers of Atlantis summoned a force which spiraled out of their control, and the resultant cataclysm wiped their civilization from the map in an explosion of fire followed by a great flood. What few survivors of the great cataclysm struggled to rebuild civilization relying only on their wisdom and mechanical knowhow, but without the power granted to them by their black magic, efforts were labored at best.
The kingdom of Zeal, after the Fall.

Let's continue with the date given by Square for the fall of the Kingdom of Zeal - 12,000 BC. Keep in mind that Chrono Trigger's 'present day' is 1000 AD in the game, so if their world is analogous to ours, it would correspond to 11,000 BC. All this still puts Zeal's fall well before any established civilization, at least as far as modern archaeologists are aware, as the earliest cities are currently dated only to 8,000 BC. As the fall of Atlantis supposedly predated the establishment of our modern world, the timeline holds up.

For harder data, let's look at bestselling author Mark Booth's The Secret History of the World, a work that purports to chart an esoteric history of man from the dawn of our conception of time until its inevitable dissolution thousands of years into the future. In his history solid matter was not fixed into its present Newtonian state for some time, and before this event took place, the ancients were free to manipulate matter to suit their whims. According to many Gnostic and esoteric groups, Atlantis' great works could be seen throughout the far corners of the world, from incredible stylae in southeast Asia to the engineering feats of stonehenge and the pyramids, to the 200 ton stones at Maccu Piccu that even our largest modern cranes could not budge. Booth puts the solidification of matter at the Sothic cycle marking the Age of Leo, or at 11,451 BC. In Booth's history, the Sphinx was built to commemorate this event, the decline of the age of magic and the rise of the age of matter. Geological data may actually support this timeline, as the Egyptologist and geologist Schwaller de Lubicz first noted over a dentury ago and several other geologists have corroborated. The erosion on the Sphinx shows telltale signs of severe water damage, and the climate shifted from jungle to desert at around 7,000 BC. From the amount of erosion that has taken place, a build date of 10,000 BC or earlier is well within the realm of possibility.

Plato put the fall of Atlantis at around 9,600 BC, reliant only on the testimony of the Egyptian priestcraft. However, Booth claims the literal 'fall' of matter took place two thousand years before. Both dates inter mesh nicely with the current archaeological data (or lack thereof). However, I am not trying to make any substantitive claim as to the origin of the Sphinx or the fall of Atlantis in this blog, but merely that both dates line up with the story of the Kingdom of Zeal presented by Square in Chrono Trigger. From this, I gather that they are either conversant with the mythology and are using it to add gravity to their storylines, or that someone within the company is trying to express their esoteric beliefs of world history in the mechanism of a fictional world. Of the two possibilities, I think the latter is far more likely, given the depth of the esoteric, gnostic and kabbalistic symbolism contained within Squaresoft's works, especially in the fecund period between 1992 and 2002.

For more on the deeper meaning of Chrono trigger check out this excellent blog. Written from an existentialist perspective, it offers incredible depth and clarity through a comprehensive analysis of Square's epic work. Blogger K. Newton offers an academic level analysis of Chrono Trigger's most pervasive themes, and if he hasn't been published yet, he deserves to be.

Many thanks to square for making this amazing game and for Masato Kato for composing the storyline, and for K. Newton for his awesome blog and brilliant in-game screenshots. Great work all around!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Breath Of Fire: Unleash the Dragon Within

The very first RPG i got into as a kid was Breath of Fire. First released stateside in 1994, the original title was a classic Japanese style RPG. You start as Ryu, a blue haired hero who is the last of the light dragons, a clan capable of transforming, as their name would suggest, into dragons, granting them access to immense powers. You are opposed by the dark dragons, who rule the world through their evil Empire. The game itself is a standard JRPG level grinder, with slimes and wizards and a fairly generic storyline. So why make this post? Well, for a couple of reasons.

Even in this relatively innocent game are some hard-wired cues into Eastern spiritual practices. Let's start with the name itself. The "Breath of Fire" is a breathing technique designed to augment the adherent's chi, or spirit energy. It is performed through actively breathing in through the mouth and breathing out through the nose, using the diaphragm as a 'bellows' to force the air out in a burst of rhythm. And as in my recent DragonballZ post, it all relates to Kundalini yoga, the practical method of raising the serpent energy.

Check out this post from the Kundalini yoga website on the subject:
"Breath of Fire will entirely charge the nervous system, causing the glands to secrete and purify the blood. When it is done with certain postures and movements, which are meant to put contracting (drawing in) or expanding (releasing) pressure in nerve plexuses and glandular centers, those areas are made to fire and become completely charged.

As an area becomes charged, the sexual (seminal) fluids are released into the bloodstream and flow to those charged areas, so that gradually those areas will maintain that charge and pranic pressure builds throughout the body converting Bindu (Tamasic and Rajasic energy) to Ojas (Satvic energy), which fills and permeates the entire body and mind.

The practice of Kundalini Yoga with the natural awareness and rhythm of the diaphragm in Long Deep Breathing and Breath of Fire allows the postures and kriyas to have the greatest and most complete effect in bringing the satvic field to the point where the Self recollects Itself."

The Breath of Fire unleashes one's inner serpent energy, while the game of the same name is about transforming into a dragon. Well named, but there's more.

Though Ryu's initial dragon transformations are fairly innocently named, such as SnoDr (Snow Dragon), FirDr (Fire Dragon), and BltDr (Bolt Dragon), His final two dragon forms are the Hindi 'Rudra' and Agni.

According to wikipedia, Rudra (Devanagari: रुद्र) is a Rigvedic God, associated with wind or storm,[1] and the hunt. The name has been translated as "The Roarer",[2][3] or "The Howler".

Breath of Fire's "Rudra"

Agni is even cooler:
Agni (Sanskrit: अग्नि) is a Hindu deity, one of the most important of the Vedic gods. He is the god of fire[1] and the acceptor of sacrifices. The sacrifices made to Agni go to the deities because Agni is a messenger from and to the other gods. He is ever-young, because the fire is re-lit every day, and also immortal.

Breath of Fire's "Agni"

In the Rigvedic chakra system, both the Rudra and Agni centers are located at the third chakra, which is the solar plexus and belly. The Kundalini raising 'breath of fire' technique stimulates this chakra intensely, as it places a huge emphasis on breathing through the diaphragm.

Though the Agni transformation resembles Sumerian reliefs

more than its hindi counterpart,

the rest lines up pretty elegantly. Add that the final boss is a goddess who turns out to be an alien in disguise,
and that one of the most powerful characters is Blue, a sorceress whose character design was clearly inspired by serpent energy,

and this simple little game shows a surprising amount of depth. Kudos to Capcom for making it, and Square for adding some spiritual continuity into what is otherwise a fairly generic translation. Stoke your Breath of Fire and keep unleashing them Dragons!

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Sacred Wisdom of...DragonBallZ?!?

His power levels are off the charts! KAKARAT!!!!

When you think DragonBallZ it is only natural to think of epic, ridiculous battles, and spirit bombs that take an episode and a half to charge up, and orange- skinned musclemen with spiky tips. But this isn't about DragonBallZ's similarity to the Jersey Shore, no no.

That would be another blog entirely.

Seriously now, DragonBallZ was made in Japan, a country that has made a fortune in videogames and anime by tapping into esoteric beliefs and Eastern religious tropes. In DragonBallZ Goku and the gang are on a hunt for the elusive Dragon Balls, seven mystical orbs that, when gathered together, summon a fearsome serpent who can fulfill their every desire.

Both good and evil characters wanted to summon this creature to fulfil their whims, which provided the bulk of the series' conflict. Only the strongest and smartest of warriors could complete the quest to collect the dragonballs, and the quest to raise the dragon was the plot of many of the series' early seasons.

The operating principle behind the original DragonBall series borrows hugely from eastern religion, specifically Tantra and the Hindu Chakra system. The Chakras are seven energy centers which are located along the spine.

In Tantra, the practitioner is trying to raise the divine serpent Kundalini, who sleeps in the first chakra, muladhara.

This serpent will raise the practitioner's 'power levels' immensely if it is awakened, but the practitioner must first have aligned all seven of his or her Chakras, or else the serpent will not ascend.

White Tantrics, who raised this power for good, often opposed black Tantrics in their lusting for power. The use of the number seven, the shape and nature of the Dragon, and the series' Eastern origin all indicate that the series is at least superficially linked to Hindu Tantra.

So the next time you Unleash the Dragon, remember that people have been raising their power levels for over 2,000 years! And if you are doing so too, then please remember to be a good saiyan, and use your power responsibly.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Disney "Cult Classic!"

Do you enjoy magickal geometry? Do the ancient Greek Mystery cults set your Trojan Horse at a gallop? Is your foyer spackled with neatly scryed pentacles? Even if you only have a soft spot for Walt and the gang, this little gem's for you.

The above is a clip from Disney’s 1959 featurette, “Donald Duck in Mathemagic land.” In this short film, a skeptical Donald journeys back to ancient Greece to meet the “chief egghead” Pythagoras, the ancient Philosopher and arch-mystic who illumined the magical properties of numbers. Pythagoras’ cultic activities are not omitted, and the film lavishes time on his famous pentagram sigils, which would laid the symbolic foundation for Western high magic. Donald does not leave ancient Greece empty handed. He has joined Pythagoras’ secret fraternity as a fellow initiate, and boasts a fresh pentagram sigil inscribed on his hand as proof!

I think this is awesome. The interweb could stand to have a little more 'pronoia' with regards to our old pal Walt, and anyone with the balls to advertise pentacles and Pythagoras to America's youth - in the groupthink miasma of the late '50s no less - has my full vote of confidence.

RIP, Walt. Neva' listen to the haters. Ya done good.