Petty Godhood

Praising petty godhood in RPGs.

Japanese role-playing games have a fraught relationship with gods. In the Dragon Quest series, God revives your party members and helps you save your game. In Xenogears, “God” is a biomechanical superweapon that the party must defeat to save humanity. Whether good or evil, these are all-powerful beings the player must serve or surpass.

Akitoshi Kawazu, creator and lead developer of the SaGa series, has always seen things differently. He was inspired by Tanith Lee’s Flat Earth novels, where the gods are powerful but self-centered. In SaGa 2, the Norse god Odin revives the player upon death on the condition that they owe him a duel. Hours later, Odin calls in his favor. He immediately presents himself as a capricious deity of Norse myth.

The “villain” of the latest entry, SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions, is a god named the Firebringer. Mechanically, he’s a tricky boss who becomes even more difficult when certain conditions are met. But in terms of story, he challenges humanity to inspire them rather than destroy them. Once he visited the region of Marchiam Bicyniro to spread rumors that became reality. He frustrated the populace and yet ensured their safety by throwing local demons into disarray. “Ever since then,” says the Minstrel, “the people of Bicyniro have been in love with pointless tripe and gossip.”

The Firebringer’s choices may be the result of great wisdom. They may just as likely be pique. The genius of SaGa is that the truth is left to the player’s interpretation. They must draw their own conclusions through the systems and the numbers, which operate like cursed tabletop die. Not everybody appreciates the fickle math of these games. Yet, I love that the SaGa cosmos is governed not by elemental forces, but by petty jerks with their own wants and needs.

By Adam Wescott

Adam W is a bookseller and freelance writer. You can find him on Twitter @wendeego, Cohost @pig, or via his portfolio He also writes the newsletter ANIWIRE

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