Making Sense of Xenoblade’s Ending, Part 4

Once more with spoilers!

The Problem of Evil Wishes

Last time, we launched into a flashback showing the origins of the Xenoblade world: an experiment gone awry replaced the previous universe with a new one in which Zanza, who initiated the experiment, and Meyneth, who wanted to stop him, were recreated as gods as the only living beings. They created life, but Alvis explains that over time the awareness of Zanza faded.

My first question is why. Zanza has a physical, observable form and Alvis is talking about a period before the High Entia sealed him away (or Zanza willingly entered sleep; I still can’t figure out which actually happened), so it’s not like he was a distant, invisible figure. How did awareness fade while he was still present?

But then things get stranger. Alvis implies that Zanza feared that if the people forgot about him, it would lead to his annihilation. I can’t even begin to understand that. Reality is what exists independently of whether anyone believes in it. For example, bacteria were reality long before microscopes were invented. I know about stories with characters who only exist as long as they’re imagined, so maybe Zanza’s one of those, but here’s the issue if that was the case: destroying every person on the planet would be committing suicide because no one would be left to believe in him. This annihilation idea can’t be true anyway, though, because there was already a period where Zanza and Meyneth were the only beings and he seemed to be fine.

Anyway, Zanza created something like the oscillating universe model except that instead of alternating the Big Bang and the Big Crunch, where the entire universe is “destroyed” (pulled back into a state of effectively infinite density) and recreated, he only destroys and recreates life. So at 4:54 Shulk laments that it might have been possible for Zanza and them to coexist. It’s a little late for that now, buddy. Alvis says the old god was defeated by the new god that he created, Zeus-to-Cronus style, but I still say that Alvis played the biggest role in defeating Zanza because he limited his power. Also, a passing thought: if Zanza had attacked the party with the Bionis instead of with his own smaller body, wouldn’t they have been hopeless?

Alvis reveals that he was originally a computer. I take away that just like Meyneth and Zanza were recreated as gods, Alvis was recreated as an even higher tier of god. To put it another way, Meyneth and Zanza had some of the greatest power within the laws of the universe, but Alvis was capable of rewriting the laws of the universe. In any case, at 5:37 Alvis tells Shulk that the world has expired and asks “its new god” what he wishes.

You have one wish, Shulk. Get it right.

Nobody in fiction ever does, though. When Link finds the Triforce, why doesn’t he wish for the end of suffering? When Aladdin finds the Genie, wouldn’t eliminating evil from the hearts of people make him a more noble character than wishing to be a prince so he can impress a girl? (Insert the Free Will Defense against the Problem of Evil here.) Kyon knows that Haruhi at least doesn’t want anyone to die, so if he did inform her about her powers, wouldn’t she create a fun but ultimately safer universe?

I do understand that a person, when suddenly faced with the prospect of omnipotence, might kind of black out and not come up with the greatest possible wish that will establish harmony in the multiverse for all of time. Maybe they won’t think of creating infinite food sources across the planet or initiating contact with every friendly alien race or giving people the power to freeze their biological age just by willing it—or whatever. I also understand a reluctance to make sweeping global changes because of the classical utilitarian dilemma that you never know what nasty form of unintended consequences will come with an apparently positive change; for example, giving everyone eternal life means that dictators and tyrants have it too and could even lead to the possibility of more of them since they now have nothing to lose or fear other than imprisonment. Or it could lead to a certain existentially-terrifying scenario presented in Mother 3.

However, even with only one shot at a wish, I do believe most people would come up with something at least pretty good. You can pick on the Dragonball cast and say they should have been using the Dragon Radar left and right to get rid of war, famine, and disease, but rather than making the perfect the enemy of the good, we can at least say they had the decency to wish people back to life after villains committed murder or genocide. What does Shulk do? Alvis shows him what the other party members would want and at 8:21 Shulk says that “The future should be decided by each and every person in the world,” then at 8:34 he makes his wish: for a world with no gods, just like Meyneth suggested back at 27:31 of this video:

I have two problems with this: First, Shulk wishes for something he already has. Second, Shulk is doing exactly what he just said he didn’t want.

That second one isn’t a unique quirk in the story of Xenoblade; it comes up all the time and I always dislike it. (Looking at you, Arc Rise Fantasia.) The claim that the future should be decided by everyone isn’t compatible with a story where a single person recreates the universe. At absolute most, the future was decided by seven party members, which sure isn’t “each and every person in the world.” I mean, now that everyone’s thrust into an entirely new world, they’ll need to redraw all their maps, figure out the new fishing and hunting and farming spots, probably relearn the star charts… A new world is paradise for the adventurous, but everyday citizens might have enjoyed their old life.

As weird as I find that, though, I find it far, far stranger that Shulk is wishing for a world with no gods. First, the only gods he knows about are Meyneth and Zanza, who are already dead. If they were the only gods, then he’s making a pointless wish for something he already has. If they weren’t the only gods, then who are the others who he’s trying to wish away? Maybe Alvis, but I don’t believe Shulk would want to get rid of him. Is Alvis such a higher tier of god that he’s exempt from the wish? Will Alvis even be in the new universe?

Let’s say Shulk now qualifies as a god by his own definition. He can’t be wishing away himself because we see later that he still exists. He might be wishing away his powers, but why do that either? He’s been running into level 99 and level 108 and level 120 beasts out on the Bionis, all far more powerful than Zanza, so if any of those things make it into the new universe, then he better hope they’re not interested in eating people since he couldn’t do much to stop them without the Monado. Unless those beasts also qualify as—no, no, I’m not even going there.

Third possibility: what if there are other gods who aren’t Meyneth, Zanza, Alvis, or Shulk who the story simply never introduced? That would be pretty gruesome since Shulk would be wishing people to death even though so far three of the four gods have been decent. Is he totally sure none of the other scientists from the space station became gods and are just hanging around on some unexplored area of the Bionis or Mechonis?

Does sufficiently-advanced technology count as a god, Arthur C. Clarke style? Alvis became providence (or something) because he was a hyper-advanced computer, so the answer seems to be yes. If the Homs or Machina ever develop that level of technology, do they have the potential to destroy the universe again to create new providence and new gods, or did Shulk’s wish preemptively prevent that possibility? Shulk is kind of a machine-loving geek, so it would seem to go against his character to stop the advancement of technology, but maybe protecting the universe overrides his love of metal things.

Shulk could at very least wish for the Telethia to return to being High Entia. I know the guy prefers Fiora to Melia, but he could throw the poor 88-year-old girl a bone and resurrect her entire species. It may not be the best possible wish, but I would have understood the benefits. It seems like all he did with his actual wish was get the entire world out of an expiring universe, which is fine, but it seems like Alvis would have done that no matter what Shulk wished for since he didn’t even ask for it specifically. How about “I wish for a world where the High Entia can continue living as High Entia”? That would have also been a new universe.

That concludes my tour of Xenoblade—an amazing game but a really baffling story toward its end.

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