I am a firm believer in the power of stories; one of the best ways for us to process our own struggles is seeing them reflected in a character’s arc, along with their turning points and growth. Watching a character experience something we have also gone through, then prevail as a wiser person, can help us reflect, grow, and share our story with others. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is one of those stories that continues to hold a special place in my heart for that reason.
Odin Sphere is a role-playing video game that follows five different protagonists as they travel throughout the land of Erion and ultimately become entangled in a prophecy regarding the destruction of the world. The first protagonist is Gwendolyn, princess of the kingdom of Ragnanival, ruled by the Demon Lord Odin who is known for his savage conquest of the other kingdoms.… when did I first start to view that approval I so craved as godlike?
Gwendolyn is duty-bound to follow Odin’s orders as he is her king and commander, but more than that, she desperately craves her father’s approval, as proof that he truly does love her. As a result, her choices are driven by what she hopes will win his approval, yet they cause little more than pain for her since Odin only acknowledges her as a soldier that he expects to obey his every order.
Shortly after the beginning of her story, Gwendolyn is alone in the halls of the castle. Her beloved older sister Griselda has been killed in battle and her father’s only concern is preparing to join the fight. As she prepares to make her way back to the battlefield, she struggles with her innermost thoughts, shown as a ghostly blue bird flying overhead taunting her:
“You seek death, so that you may earn the love you so desperately seek…Giving your life for your father will not make your death worthwhile. You’ll die, just like Griselda died.”
Gwendolyn finally collapses, nearly in tears, trying to drown out these words by consoling herself.
“If I sacrifice myself for my duty, Father will surely show his love for me.”
It is the story of Gwendolyn that struck a chord for me while playing Odin Sphere. I have also done whatever I could to gain the approval of someone I respected, craving that as a form of love or even salvation. I was particularly critical of myself and my efforts when it came to academics; I would view the subjects I was good as a reason why I deserved approval and the subjects that were difficult for me as proof that I was worthless or a failure. I would continually be disappointed by myself when I failed to meet my own standards or by others when their approval left me unsatisfied, yet I kept running back to the same old routines, just as Gwendolyn kept running back to her father for his approval, regardless of what it cost her. It wasn’t until I was in college that it came to an end. I was pursuing a degree in accounting, a subject I felt apathetic about, for the sole reason that I felt that it was what would make my parents proud. I thought that if I excelled in my courses and graduated with honors then I would prove my worthiness and earn their approval. In the middle of my second semester as a sophomore, however, I failed a core class and was ejected from the professional accounting program I had originally qualified for. It was this incident that finally opened my eyes to how self-destructive I was being, as I locked myself in my room to think about what a failure I was. It was almost like being struck by a bolt of lightning; when did I first start to view that approval I so craved as godlike? How could I have possibly expected myself to maintain these standards I set for myself for the sake of getting the “right” reaction from others? My way of thinking had been warped over the years and I had finally become aware of that fact. I had to train myself to change the way I thought about why I wanted to do the best I could, no matter the task.
The good news is that we don’t have to slave away for the approval of others; our Heavenly Father offers us unconditional approval and love when we accept the gift He offers through His Son, Jesus. God has taken the burden off of each and every one of us, that even if we fail (and we will), He still loves us (Eph. 2:8-9). There is a freedom when we can accept that we will never be perfect at anything we do and it’s not necessary for us to try to be. We already have someone who is perfect that wants to free us from that pursuit.
For Gwendolyn, it is when she receives the unconditional love of someone who was once her enemy that she finally stops chasing the approval of Odin. She no longer fears missing that unattainable standard or compromising what she values most. Through her flourishing, she is finally able to defy her father for the sake of the man she loves. Gwendolyn’s story reaches its pinnacle by literally defeating Death. We too can claim that victory when we seek the approval of the One who is truly worthy of our efforts.