***Spoiler Alert: The articles contains spoilers for Octopath Traveler 2.***
“Doubt is what I do.”
So says the skeptical Inquisitor Temenos in Square Enix’s Octopath Traveler 2, a Chaucerian fantasy that takes the concept of evil quite seriously, weaving together eight characters’ disparate stories into a larger narrative about resisting the darkness to defend the dawn.
He’s not lying.
Upon beginning his story, the player immediately enters a boss fight and plays as the god of light, Aelfric the Flamebringer, against the dark god Vide the Wicked. As Aelfric, at the end of his strength, falters and summons his power for what is clearly meant to be one last desperate strike in the name of faith, he fumbles his speech and seems to forget what he’s saying at the pivotal moment:
“Burn bright, O Sacred Flame, from our hearts…from our hearts…”
The camera pans out and away from the epic showdown, and the fight between Vide and Aelfric is revealed to be OT2’s version of a flannelgram, with the Inquisitor Temenos crouched behind it to perform the drama for gathered children. To the glee of his audience and the mild chastisement of the sisters, he’s forgotten—either accidentally or on purpose—the lines that everyone should know, the pivotal call-and-response narrative of faith.
This theme recurs throughout Temenos’s story. By turns sly and serious, calculating and playful, the Inquisitor refuses to play the scripted role laid before him by the church. Yet this priest with fractured faith pursues the truth and defies the darkness not in spite of his doubts, but because of them—and as a result, OT2 offers players invested in his narrative a raw exploration of the relationship between doubt and faith.
As Temenos’s story progresses, three distinct tragedies define the dimensions of his doubt.
Two of these tragedies—the murder of the Pontiff Jorg and the disappearance and presumed death of Temenos’s friend and fellow Inquisitor Roi—occur at the beginning of the game or prior to it and have transformed Temenos into the doubtful man the player meets at story’s start. Wounded by these losses, Temenos has through them come to discover corruption in the church and now confesses in conversations that he finds it best to depend on himself rather than the unreliable benevolence of his gods.
But the third tragedy, which plays out in the third chapter of Temenos’s story, cuts deepest, not least because it centers on the man Temenos has playfully and affectionately nicknamed “his little lamb”: Crick Wellesley, a newly anointed knight of the church’s Sacred Guard.
With a strong sense of righteousness and a deep and abiding faith, Crick plays the earnest straight man to Temenos’s doubts. His struggles to believe Temenos’s assertions about corruption in the church, and his perpetual horror over the priest’s blasphemies, provide much of the comic relief in the narrative.
Like a medieval Watson-and-Holmes, Temenos and Crick journey through the narrative debating their views and seeking out the Pontiff’s murderer. Temenos finds Crick too rigid and naïve in his beliefs; Crick finds Temenos too heretical by half. But they are fond of each other, allies in their efforts to solve the mystery, and by the third chapter of the narrative, they have grown into friends with a deep respect for each other.
Unfortunately, that mutual affection cannot prevent the inevitable. After an intense conversation with Temenos about faith and his own naïveté, Crick admits to himself at last that there is corruption in the church. Investigating on his own, he discovers that the root of the corruption hides in the Sacred Knights he serves—and the knowledge, as well as his attempt to convey the discovery to his friend, costs him his life.
His death is a pivotal moment for Temenos, whose clear grief upon discovering Crick’s body betrays the depths of his affection and of his sorrow. Interestingly, though, the loss does not lead Temenos to abandon the church. Rather, he doubles down on his role, dedicating himself to the pursuit of the truth and asking for Crick’s spirit to watch over him as he “shed[s] enough light on the church’s misdeeds for both of us.”
Throughout OT2, evil seduces through nihilism and despair. In the game, the dark god, Vide, is called the devourer and proclaims itself as one who desires to consume all things. For Vide’s followers, this is a feature, not a bug: several of the men and women who serve and sacrifice for the darkness do so because they have suffered greatly and find nothingness preferable to endless war, or fear, or pain. This is, for them, salvation: the promise, mere as it is, of an end to all things.
Temenos, too, knows suffering. That suffering has carved deep fractures in his faith: he doubts both the institution he serves and the benevolence of the divinity he claims to worship. His less-than-rousing declaration when he joins the party sums up his attitude in both manner and mood: “The Sacred Flame shall light our path. …Probably.”
And yet Temenos never despairs. He never turns his back on his faith, though countless others have. Instead, he acknowledges his doubts as he encounters them and lives in the tension that results. He doesn’t deny the existence of the Flame, but he’s not exactly sure it’s going to help, either. He doesn’t know what the gods are doing, but he believes in the light enough to offer even the captain who killed Crick an opportunity to repent. He criticizes Crick’s earnest righteousness but admires and cherishes it.
And in the end, despite his doubts, Temenos chooses hope.
The finale of OT2, achievable only if all travelers’ stories have been completed and certain quests accomplished, depicts the inevitable: Vide’s followers succeed in summoning the dark god to Solistia. The travelers, charging forward to prevent a cataclysm, encounter one of Vide’s followers, Oboro. Defiant, the man who has summoned a cataclysm throws a challenge at the group that might resonate with any believer who has suffered greatly:
“Can you tell me, without a shade of a doubt… that the dawn is worth all you have endured?”
Every character in OT2 offers a different answer, unique to their circumstances. And here, Temenos’s response is most telling: “Well… It’s true that my journey has been fraught with loss. Yet hope still burns. Just as brightly as it always has. Does that answer suffice?”
The doubting priest hopes. And the doubting priest hopes because, in his doubt, he still believes.
The difference between Oboro and Temenos here is stark. Both men have suffered. Both men have borne witness to the deep corruption and darkness in the human heart. Both men have nothing left to lose. But while Oboro despairs, Temenos hopes. While Oboro’s doubts lead him into darkness, Temenos accepts his as they are—and still defends the dawn.
The great promise of faith is always that the believer will receive what is promised. For the Christian, the promise is that Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection will and has redeemed all those who believe and set before them a hope and an eternal future. And part of this promise is that the pain and suffering inherent to life on earth—the sickness, the death the sorrows, the worry and the grieving—will be temporary, and that even the deepest hurts will be redeemed.
But profound pain has a way of complicating those promises. Loved ones die. Good people suffer horrible things. Tragedies happen that seem as though they shouldn’t. Prayers appear to go unanswered. The flawed church itself fumbles and fails. And the believer doubts. Wonders. Asks. Waits. Grows weary in the waiting.
Scripture is replete with such moments. Elijah collapsed and asked God to let him die. Jesus asked for another way in the Garden of Gethsemane. Thomas refused to accept the good news, resisting even the emphatic testimony of the other disciples: “Unless I see the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Yet confronted with the presence of Christ, he immediately utters a simple and full confession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” (28).
Doubt and faith can live twinned. Or perhaps it might be more accurate to consider doubt in certain contexts as what N. T. Wright referred to in an interview as “chastened faith”—belief that has encountered the mystery and complexity of the world and has faltered as a result, that has discovered the slogan “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” may not prove to be an adequate comfort in all circumstances.
OT2, of course, is a game that merely borrows the trappings of a distinctly Catholic Christianity as a vehicle for its own religious mythos. But the game’s compassionate focus on Temenos’s doubt traces out that concept of chastened faith: the struggle of a man, who has lost much through suffering, finding his path forward to the light. Compassion leavens his irreverence. Genuine affection mingles with his skepticism. His weariness with institutional corruption is supplemented by his deep love for truth.
Most importantly, though he claims doubt as his nature, he never permits doubt to overwhelm his love for the light.
And so, too, the Christian believer struggles forward. Those for whom “faith does not come easy,” as Philip Yancey puts it, stumble and struggle and test and question and wonder and falter. In a church where “Christians tend to be propagandists . . . [who] want to convince others, put on a good face, inspire” voicing even the hint of such a feeling can feel like an unforgivable lapse. But the narrative of the doubting priest in OT2 serves as a helpful reminder for the Christian that God can use our honest doubt, offered freely, to draw us closer. Can transform the heart of the wary, the cynical, and the weak. And can transform doubters into dawn-keepers, too.