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Erik_Twice
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Anti-religious and anti-Christian themes in JRPGs

by Erik_Twice Sat May 02, 2015 5:10 am

Many old roleplaying games released in Japan often have anti-religious if not an explicitly anti-Christian themes. Evil churches are common, killing God or evil Gods are also very common and it seems odd to me because it's such a specific topic so I wonder, why are these themes so common?

Is it something common in Japanese media? I know anime often had similar themes (Eg. Neon Genesis Evangelion). Is it a result of one game copying another? Or was it something that evolved out of D&D, Wizardry and Ultima?

Sorry if the OP itself is not very well-written but I think it's a really interesting topic.
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ZeroAX
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Re: Anti-religious and anti-Christian themes in JRPGs

by ZeroAX Sat May 02, 2015 5:18 am

Well when your hero can summon the devil to fight for him, you better have a worthy adversary, AKA a god.

Jokes aside, about evil churches, maybe it has something to do with mistrust of religious authorities in general? Though I have no idea how religious the modern Japanese are, and it's probably impossible to tell unless you're from the country.

And fighting the gods has been a theem in mythology for thousands of years, so I don't think it's so much anti-religion, as storytelling trope. How to raise the stakes? Fight the ultimate being.

(btw, fighting the gods: we INVENTED it)
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Sload Soap
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Re: Anti-religious and anti-Christian themes in JRPGs

by Sload Soap Sat May 02, 2015 8:55 am

As far as I was aware, while Japan is one of the least religious places on earth it does have a history of persecuting Christians. Maybe it's a peculiar blend of Japan's former hostility to outside cultural influences and their general malaise towards religion and dogma on the whole.

Or maybe they just think drawing evil angels with fifteen different faces and ten pairs of wings just looks really cool. :?

Interesting question though. I remember being taken back a bit by how heavily Grandia 2 went for the for the whole "evil catholic church" angle.
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Re: Anti-religious and anti-Christian themes in JRPGs

by Xeogred Sat May 02, 2015 8:57 am

I always love this stuff in Japanese games for some reason.

All the Xeno games are usually very heavy on this, as were Quintet's games.
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Re: Anti-religious and anti-Christian themes in JRPGs

by Anapan Sat May 02, 2015 9:00 am

I'm probably gonna regret posting in a religious themed thread but I'll give my drunken 2 cents;
I always thought it was a natural progression of the media's power quest theme. The manga and anime always go way beyond any other media's depiction of ultimate power. When the American norm of machine guns is approached, the Japanese media invents a gun that hads 20+ telescoping tank turrets with 15 scopes in a handheld weapon (awesome scene in Dead Leaves). The end result of an early RPG had your character or party far surpassing the power of whatever deity went rogue and threatened the planets existence. Religion in japan isn't quite the same as USA's doctrines, the same can be said of a lot of nations. For most of Japan's history there was a predominantly Shinto and Buddhist mix of religions, and Christianity being somewhat welcomed just sorta got mixed in as far as popular media (games included) was concerned. I saw a picture of a giant crucified grinning Santa stuffy in a mall in Japan in the early 80's not trying to be anti-christian but just trying to follow misunderstood traditions. The whole evangelion thing seems to just be fully misunderstood jargon thrown together to make for a thrilling dramatic mindf@ck. I don't think there was any malice toward the religion intended. I think of it sorta like a cartoon about racing cars that the writers and animators have no idea what actually goes on in an engine; They just want to make their animated cars seem really fast so they throw a bunch of technical jargon together and tell the storyboard artists to draw it. (Remember the movie Transformers when they open Bumblebee's hood and say it's a Double Pump when it's clearly Fuel injected).

No malice, just trying to portray incredible power without any understanding of the underlying subject mater... It makes for enjoyable entertainment for the masses who don't take that stuff too seriously. It also makes for good conversation! I know I spent far too long online trying to make sense of Rei's jello boobie before I realized the futility of making any sense of that madman's creation.
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Re: Anti-religious and anti-Christian themes in JRPGs

by marurun Sat May 02, 2015 11:05 am

As someone who spent time in Japan and has studied Japan... Think of our occasional fascination with Jewish mysticism and eastern mysticism.

It's not so much that Japan isn't religious, it's just that religions, especially in Asia, are so wrapped up in daily life and culture that religious aspects lose that separation from life. People in Japan regularly claim not to be religious (because the translated term means something more like singularly devout), but Buddhist and Shinto religious elements pepper their lives. They will go to all sorts of religiously-based festivals and pray at shrines and whatnot. They don't see it as being religious. They see it as much more of a mundane, cultural thing.

As for Christianity, they were introduced to it rather late, all things considered. It's VERY different from their native Shinto and adopted Buddhism. It has the sheen of "The West" but it also seems weird and strange.

And Japan has a long history of ghost stories, so they took quite well to western tales of the supernatural as well, and many of those tales have religious overtones. Dracula was cursed by god, holy symbols and water burn the undead and werewolves and the like. So really, they kind of see Christianity as bound up in a lot of these supernatural tales. Their own native conceptions of ghosts and spirits are often tied up with Shinto and Buddhism, but they have a cultural history of other associations as well. Christianity doesn't have that cultural impact in their society, so it's much easier for them to see it as a crazy collection of ideas that are ripe for storytelling.

Churches aren't always evil, either. Look at how often RPGs feature healers who have a Christian cross on their chest and look like bishops.

Without that cultural connection to Christianity, it's just some collection of weird and foreign ideas that are really easy to mine for story ideas, much like what we did with various African traditions during the pulp era and what we do with Asian traditions today.
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Re: Anti-religious and anti-Christian themes in JRPGs

by Gunstar Green Sat May 02, 2015 12:25 pm

It's not so much that Japan isn't religious, it's just that religions, especially in Asia, are so wrapped up in daily life and culture that religious aspects lose that separation from life. People in Japan regularly claim not to be religious (because the translated term means something more like singularly devout), but Buddhist and Shinto religious elements pepper their lives. They will go to all sorts of religiously-based festivals and pray at shrines and whatnot. They don't see it as being religious. They see it as much more of a mundane, cultural thing.


Well that's not really religious then, they're right in saying they aren't. It's more tradition and if taken far enough, superstition.

I'm an atheist but I still celebrate Christmas because it's my tradition to do so and it's a big cultural thing in the west. It doesn't make my act of celebration a religious one.

Churches aren't always evil, either. Look at how often RPGs feature healers who have a Christian cross on their chest and look like bishops.


I agree, I don't think Japanese games necessarily point to "religion = evil" and I feel it's more often represented in games as a power dynamic with large organized religions being corrupt. Grandia 2 is a good example of the religious beliefs themselves not being evil, but the church being completely corrupted.

JRGPs don't often like to tell black and white stories either, which is why you've often got traditionally evil characters like demons in sympathetic roles.

I also agree with the idea that from their perspective, Christianity is just another mythology to play around with and many game designers and manga/anime artists have said they like to use Christian imagery because it's "cool" even though they don't have a complete understanding of it all the time.
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Re: Anti-religious and anti-Christian themes in JRPGs

by samsonlonghair Sat May 02, 2015 12:33 pm

Gunstar Green wrote:
It's not so much that Japan isn't religious, it's just that religions, especially in Asia, are so wrapped up in daily life and culture that religious aspects lose that separation from life. People in Japan regularly claim not to be religious (because the translated term means something more like singularly devout), but Buddhist and Shinto religious elements pepper their lives. They will go to all sorts of religiously-based festivals and pray at shrines and whatnot. They don't see it as being religious. They see it as much more of a mundane, cultural thing.


Well that's not really religious then, they're right in saying they aren't. It's more tradition and if taken far enough, superstition.

I'm an atheist but I still celebrate Christmas because it's my tradition to do so and it's a big cultural thing in the west. It doesn't make my act of celebration a religious one.

Churches aren't always evil, either. Look at how often RPGs feature healers who have a Christian cross on their chest and look like bishops.


I agree, I don't think Japanese games necessarily point to "religion = evil" and I feel it's more often represented in games as a power dynamic with large organized religions being corrupt. Grandia 2 is a good example of the religious beliefs themselves not being evil, but the church being completely corrupted.

JRGPs don't often like to tell black and white stories either, which is why you've often got traditionally "evil" characters like demons in sympathetic roles.

Likewise, I don't believe in luck or superstition, but I still wish friends "good luck" on New Year or graduation day. I don't believe there's such a thing as luck. I just say it because it's rooted in our culture. If you surprise me I may exclaim, "Oh my god," irrespective of any religious beliefs.
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Re: Anti-religious and anti-Christian themes in JRPGs

by BogusMeatFactory Sat May 02, 2015 12:37 pm

Hey, if there weren't any Christian churches in jrpgs then how could we save our games, or resurrect our fallen comrades?
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Re: Anti-religious and anti-Christian themes in JRPGs

by flojocabron Sat May 02, 2015 1:30 pm

I think its just a romanticized exchange of cultures.

In the US, we love anime tropes and culture.

Cant the same be said for Japan?

Asian locales, peoples and stories are very exotic to westerners.

What about the opposite? Do the Japanese love our tumultuous Western history? The dark ages, inquisitions, witchcraft, Pirates, cowboys, knights and religion?

I think I described most Japanese anime in that sentence.

So what I'm trying to get at is that Japanese folk find our mythology and history just as exciting as we find theirs. Its a new and interesting perspective as seen by eastern eyes.
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