Final Fantasy XVI is a quintessential epic fantasy game, but in the midst of a story filled with warring nations and larger-than-life gods there is an ideological rift that mirrors a central divide in American Christianity during the Civil War.
On the twin continents of Valisthea, “Mothercrystals” allow people to use magic. “Bearers,” however, are born with the valuable ability to conjure magic without crystals. While this may sound like a trait that elevates their status, Valisthea’s culture crafted a narrative that turned this condition into a curse, making Bearers “something other than human.” What makes their situation even worse is that using magic without crystals causes their bodies to gradually petrify into stone. Nevertheless, everyone—regardless of class or kingdom—uses up and disposes of Bearers for their life-draining labor.
One kingdom attempted to draft legislation for emancipation. And there is a religious group that medically cares for Bearers left for dead upon signs of petrification. Well intentioned as these actions are, they’re still half measures. One character remarks, “Oh, there’s plenty who pity a Bearer’s plight . . . but so long as we’re content to sit around, weeping for those on whose broken backs we’re carried, we aren’t going to change nothing.”
No one embodies actionable zeal for this perspective more than Cid. An outcast who abandoned his military position and reputation, Cid created a hidden refuge “where it doesn’t matter what you are, but who you are.” However, he realizes that few can imagine a world without crystals and magic, a world where Bearers aren’t needed for basic societal and economic functioning. For Cid, violence isn’t the ultimate answer, but the destruction of the crystals. “Maybe the truth was inconvenient,” he muses. “So, if we have to bring the old world crashing down in order to build us a new one . . . What say you?” The main protagonist you play as, Clive, answers this by taking up this mantle of responsibility to free the Bearers. “This world judges that a crime punishable by death,” he says, “which is why we’re going to change it.”
It’s a pretty obvious parallel to the Civil War. While comparing Bearers and enslaved African Americans is an imperfect one, Final Fantasy XVI recalls the reality and rhetoric of Christians who defended chattel slavery in the nineteenth century. While the Christian faith was central to abolitionist causes, it was also used to justify slavery. Preachers like James H. Thornwell said this of abolitionists: “In the sacred names of religion and liberty, private efforts have been made to turn the hearts of servants against their masters; and public institutions . . . have been treacherously converted into engines of sedition and organs of tumult. [...] At this moment, the Union is shaken to its centre by the prevalence of sentiment over reason and truth.”
On the other hand, abolitionists claimed that literal readings of the Bible can be deeply sinful, ignoring the “spirit” of the text. When biblical scholar Karen Keen engages with Black theologian Esau McCaulley, she says how he “notes that the difference between slaveholder interpretation and Black ecclesial interpretation is that the former centers proof texts, while the latter looks for the holistic thrust of Scripture.” When slave owners looked at Israelites having slaves as property or Paul telling slaves to submit to unjust masters on multiple occasions, they miss how these are inherently contradictory and incomplete steps toward honoring the God-given human worth and dignity required for human beings to be in truly just relationship with each other.
Later on in Final Fantasy XVI, Cid says, “I learned it wasn’t a good death we should be fighting for, but a better life. It’s all very well a man reclaiming his fate . . . but if he can’t choose how he meets it . . . what’s the point?” When Martin Luther King Jr. was imprisoned in Birmingham, facing opposition for his civil yet disruptive protests from Christian constituents, he wrote, “I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. . . . We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”
Christians shouldn’t temper their advocacy for God’s ways, even when we cannot fully comprehend them. Rather, Jesus tells us all things are possible with God, so we must steward the building of heaven on Earth with aplomb, willing to turn the world upside down for God’s upside-down kingdom. This is what Clive does by destroying crystals one by one, using his magic against people who would exploit Bearers, and then bringing the Bearers into the fold of a hideaway that acts as a shining city on a hill. “Though every soul in the realm may judge my actions heresy,” Clive says “I am certain my cause is just.”