Video Games and Norse Mythology!

The Norse were frickin’ amazing. A thousand years ago they were regaling each other with stories of Odin’s many glories and drinking lots of mead. The beat the crap out of each other, each with hopes of being killed in glorious battle and being taken by a beautiful Valkyrie to end their days at Valhalla… drinking mead… and fighting. I don’t really think they noticed that their concept of heaven was exactly what they were doing here in the first place… But hey, if that’s where your religion is at, more power to ya! Now, in terms of video games, the Norse religion has absolutely nothing to do with this lovable genre about which I blog, right? You say contemptuously, “Fool! I fight with my enemies in the hope of NOT being killed in glorious battle! Valhalla awaits me not, only the depressingly beautiful music of the game over screen. And none of my characters drink mead! When I’m playing video games, the only mortal imbibing that liquour of the gods is me!” (I certainly hope you actually say it like that. It’d make my day). But you’d be wrong anyway! Except about the mead thing.  Norse mythology is so much a part of video games that often they’re quite inseparable. I’m going to talk about three RPGs, however, because Grand Theft Auto actually lacks much of a mythological theme. These RPGs are Final Fantasy, Tales of Symphonia, and World of Warcraft (yes, I know. It gets old after a while).

Final Fantasy used to flippin’ rock. I haven’t played one since they released X-2, because I frankly found that irreconcilably stupid. And now they’re releasing XIII-2. As if they didn’t have enough numbers already. Anyway! Let’s start with Final Fantasy IX, because it had the most of all of them, in my honest opinion. A couple of FFIX’s characters had the ability to summon powerful monsters. Now, we have Shiva, and Ifrit, which are pretty standard, really. But you have Fenrir, who, you know, is a Norse monster, and Odin, who is quite clearly the head honcho of Norse gods. In a cutscene, he rides down from heaven on his 6-legged horse (it’s supposed to be 8-legged, but who’s counting? [besides me]), and throws his mighty spear, another Norse-appropriate object, into the city of Cleyra, pretty much wrecking it. Cleyra was the home of one of your characters: Freya. Yep, that’s a Norse god too. Only she is generally considered to be a goddess of love and beauty, whereas the FF character is… well, neither of those. She’s just good with a spear. Way to go.

Final Fantasy VII begins in a place called Midgar. According to the Norse, the realm of men is called Midgard, fashioned from the eyebrows of the dead primordial giant Ymir. I can’t make this crap up. But there’s no coincidence. Tifa and Cloud, the two main characters, were born in a little town called Nibleheim, which sounds strangely like Niflheim, a rather cold place where those Norse people who die unheroic deaths go to chill out. Haha. It’s a pun! Anyway, there’s also this whole thing with the character Gilgamesh, who is another part of Norse mythology.

In Final Fantasy VIII, they must have taken a break with the whole Norse thing, because there’s not much to speak of except for the monster summons. Same thing with FFX. Maybe it’s just every other game they decide to make it awesome and Norse-y.

So the next game I mentioned was Tales of Symphonia. This thing is like an enormous Frankenstein-monster of the entire Nordic religion. In the first game, the only important part is the Yggdrasil, which they take verbatim, as being the life-giving world tree from which all goodness flows. Or something. But in the SECOND game… It’s just ridiculous. The main character, Emil, is given some superpowers by becoming a “Knight of Ratatosk.” Apparently Ratatosk is this all-powerful deity that is responsible for all the other mini-deities around. Truth is, Ratatoskr is a squirrel that runs up and down the length of the Yggdrasil to deliver messages between worlds. Congratulations, dude, you’re the official representative of the mighty messenger squirrel. But it gets better! In a wonderful continuing abuse of everything accurate about Norse mythology, Ratatosk’s power must reseal the Ginnugagap (which is in reality the primordial pre-world where nothing existed), to keep demons from coming into the regular world. You know, so the Ginnugagap is now a portal to (wait for it) NIFLHEIM, which instead of being a rather icy world of icy ice, is a realm of demons. Yep, demons. All the Vikings playing this are going “What? How’d they get there??” At least they got the idea right that Yggdrasil is a tree. Oh, but wait! In Tales of Symphonia history, Yggdrasil was actually a person. They’re just batting a thousand, aren’t they?

But it’s okay. Because World of Warcraft does it right. Sort of. You have Teldrassil and Nordrassil, which are both giant trees, cleverly making reference to the Yggdrasil… probably. It says so in Wikipedia, so it must be true! And that’s just the start. In the land of Northrend, you have Jotunheim, Dun Nifleheim, and a whole bunch of other norse-referencing places. You fight the Vrykul, which are quite similar to Vikings, and their female counterparts are basically Valkyries. The houses are based on ancient Norse architecture, the ships are based on Norse shipbuilding, the names are Norse… it’s like they decided to make a fantasy game out of Medieval Norway. And it worked! One of the main enemies you face up there is called the Jormungar. By the way, one of Loki’s children was called the Jormungandr, and it was a giant worm. Just like the ones in WoW. And here’s where it gets uncanny. You have two warring gods: Thorim and Loken. Could have been a bit more creative there, Blizzard. They go into this place called Ulduar, where a brainwashed Thorim meets up with his dead wife, Sif (also Thor’s mythological wife), Freya (who is exactly the same as in the myths), and Mimiron. Mimir, an ancient mythological personage, was revered for his wisdom, and was the guy Odin gave up an eye for to gain the wisdom of. He was later beheaded and Odin carried around his severed head to speak wisdom to him. Ironically, the head of Mimiron is a flying mount in WoW.

Now, after all that ridiculous amount of Nordic-ness… do you know who brainwashed all of these gods into fighting you? An Old God by the name of Yogg-Saron. Which, if you don’t know, is a pretty blatant appropriation from H.P. Lovecraft’s creepy stories. Just when you think Blizzard has got a thing going, they screw it ALL up.

But anyway. There you go. Three games. But I know you’re thinking that it doesn’t prove anything. Well. How about dragons? Dragons are an ancient mythological creature created by the Germanic and Norse mythologies. (Not like Chinese dragons, which are generally spirits of wisdom and benevolence). And how many dragons are in video games? I’m sorry, did you say thousands? Did you mention King of Dragons, Dragon Warrior, Dragon Age, or Dragon Quest?  Not to mention the hundreds of other games in which you fight dragons? Yeah. It’s pretty pervasive.

But that’s not enough, even! There is one man that is more responsible for this immense amount of Nordic mythology in video games of any fantastical variety: J.R.R. Tolkien. He singlehandedly created such an immense amount of lore, and his books were (and are) so popular, that the Norse elements of them are ever-present in anything fantasy today. Namely, dwarves and elves. They’re everywhere. And it’s all because of J.R.R. Tolkien. He studied the works of Germanic and Norse literature exhaustively, and even wrote articles and books that shaped their treatment of the ancient lore. This more than anything influenced his lore in The Lord of the Rings, which more than anything influences the lore of fantasy today. Way to go, man! The Vikings are probably buying you a round of mead in Valhalla right now.

Well, I know it’s long, I know there are no flash  games or pictures for you to play, but this blew my mind, and I thought it might blow yours too. Everyone knows all these fantasy creatures and things, but has no idea where they originated. In traditional Paul Harvey sense: Now you know… the rest of the story!

Happy Monday,

Another Gamer

P.S. (The days of the week are also of Norse origins. They worshipped the moon, so technically today is Moon-day. Happy Moonday.)

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About Isaac Smith

I write about music, technology, video games, and probably many other subjects that don't bear mentioning here. Either way, most of it's worth reading, and you may even enjoy yourself!

Posted on May 7, 2012, in Miscellaneous and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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