Memories and fear of change - The themes of Jin
In Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Jin is the central antagonist who clashes against the main cast during several occasions. While the party wishes to reach the paradise Elysium and create a place for everyone to live, Jin wishes to destroy the entire world and the forces that created it. Similarly to Pyra and Mythra, Jin is a being plagued by feelings of despair which has lead him to wish the world`s destruction. Like the Aegis he too is shaped by a horrifying past. However while Jin is similar to Pyra and Mythra, I think the themes around him are intertwined more into memories and the idea of change. Jin laments the nature of Blades who forget their memories as they die, and thus are not able to grow unlike humans do. However paradoxically I think Jin is also afraid of change when it comes to memories. I will begin the post by giving an outline of Xenoblade 2`s world and Jin as a character. After that I will move on to the specific themes that I think Jin`s character explores.
I will quote my previous meta about Pyra/Mythra, to give an general idea about the world of Xenoblade 2:
“The world of Xenoblade 2 is surrounded by massive sea of clouds called the Cloud Sea. The Cloud Sea acts like an ocean of water and on this ocean, massive creatures called Titans live. The Titans swim and move around the Cloud Sea, circling a massive tree like structure called the World Tree. It is said that on top of the World Tree a paradise called Elysium lies, which forms the main objective for the characters. Humans and most other creatures are unable to live in the Cloud Sea, so they make their homes on top of the Titans. Along with humanity beings called Blades exist. Blades are weapon-like lifeforms, with consciousness and emotions. Blades are formed when their Core Crystal resonates with another being. This being is called a Driver. Only Drivers with a specific aptitude can awoken Blades.”
“Blade`s are beings who are tied to their Drivers. If the Blade or Driver is wounded fatally, the Blade returns to their Core Crystal. After a while the Core Crystal can be re-awakened and the Blade emerges, but the Blade`s memories are wiped clean, making them essentially a new person.”
Jin is tall, white haired Blade who sports a rather calm and collected attitude. While this might make him seem a bit cold and gloomy, in reality Jin cares a lot of the people close to him, especially his Driver Lora. Amon all Blades Jin is known as one of the strongest, and his Core Crystal belonged to the royal family of the Kingdom of Torna. Around the time of the Aegis War, this Core was stolen by a man named Gort, who sought to claim Jin`s power for his own. However instead of Gort, Jin was awakened by a girl named Lora who bonded with him. Furious about this, Gort was about to kill Lora but Jin intervened by cutting the man`s arm off.
After that day Jin promised to protect Lora, and they have been travelling together for 17 years.
During the time of the Aegis War, Jin believed in the bond shared between humans Blades. The nation of Torna also shared this sentiment, and Torna wished for Blades and Humans to co-exist in harmony. However this dream comes to an horrifying end during the final moments of the Aegis War. Near the climax of the war the heroes of the past confront the other Aegis named Malos. After his awakening Malos brings chaos and destruction upon the world, creating an apocalyptic atmosphere. The heroes manage to drive him back but with a terrible price. After the destruction of Torna`s capital under Malos`s attack, Mythra goes berserk and uses the full extend of her powers. While this leads into the defeat of Malos, it also leads to the complete destruction of Torna, and most of its inhabitants. Traumatized by this Mythra, now donning the persona of Pyra, goes to sleep. During the aftermath of the destruction and Pyra`s disappearance, the Praetor of Indol sends out troops to wipe out humans and Blades. Jin and Lora attempt to escape this hell, but Lora is deadly wounded.
Lora dies during Indol`s attack and in her final moments she says, how the idea of Jin forgetting her feels like her heart is being ripped into two. To prevent this, Jin becomes what is called a Flesh Eater. Flesh Eater`s are Blades who have infused human cells into themselves. Jin stabs Lora`s with his hand and fuses her heart with his body.
That way Jin manages to hold on to his memories of Lora, and gain phenomenal powers. This catastrophe and its aftermath forms the foundation to the themes of Jin`s character, which will be explored in the following sections.
Despair and fear of change – The foundation of Jin
Indol`s attack and the chaotic fighting between humans in the aftermath of the Aegis War, shapes Jin in several ways. First it leads to the eventual pessimistic and resentful attitude, that Jin adopts towards humans. Earlier Jin believed in co-existing between humas and Blades, but that comes to an end. Instead Jin believes that humans will only uses Blades as tools. They are slaves and humans their masters, humanity and especially Indol controlling the very moment of their birth. Jin contrasts humans and Blades by saying, that the accumulation memories is what allows mankind and all life to grow. They are able to change and evolve, but Blades who are fleeting and who`s memories are wiped away, are not. Their growth is “snatched away”. Mankind however passes on their memories and grows as a culture.
Jin also pessimistically believes that humankind will not change in a meaningful way. At first this sounds like it contradicts Jin`s previous statement, but I believe what Jin means is something like this: indeed human culture evolves thanks to the accumulation of memories and information. Humans invent new wonders and technologies. However while humans change, Jin likely believes that there are also ugly elements in humanity that will never go away. Humans are prone to violence and savagery. They hurt and kill each other in vast volumes.
Humanity was a monster 500 years ago, and they still are to this day. Because Jin has observed them for years and seen this ugly face of humanity, he believes that they will never change in a meaningful way. Opening Elysium simply means that human will eventually ruin it, because that is what they do.
These two elements which are expressed by Jin are crucial themes, and I will first explore the idea of accumulating memories. Jin is torn about the fact that Blade´s forget their memories as they die, and because of this they are unable to grow and change. However ironically, I think Jin is also afraid of “change”. During a flashback we see an earlier version of Jin writing in his diary. In his writing Jin ponders, that when he returns to his Core Crystal and eventually re-awakens, he is unsullied by the death of his former Driver. Jins asks himself if he will be the same person as before when he awakens. He ponders what or who he is. Later on Jin finds this diary when he travels with Lora and Lora ask about it, curious to learn about the old Jin. The Blade however denies that he found anything and instead says, that he does not change and that he is who he is.
Because of this I think Jin´s act of fusing with Lora`s heart is explained by several factors. First and foremost, Lora was the person Jin cared about the most, so he did not want to lose or forget her. Jin wanted to preserve their bond no matter what. Adding to this, I think Jin fused with Lora because he was afraid of the change that her death would force upon him. According to Addam, Blades begin by being “unpolished”, but as they gain experience with people, their nature and feelings change and grow. However the death of a Driver also introduces change, but something that negates things. You forcefully become someone different. In a technical level Jin A is not the same as Jin B, because Jin B does not have Jin A`s memories or experiences. The next Driver could also be sinister person who shapes you in bad way. This transformation along with the fear of forgetting Lora, is why I think Jin becomes a Flesh Eater. Jin wants to hold onto Lora, but also preserve the identity that he has been accumulating for the past 17 years. Jin feels that he will lose this if he forgets Lora.
This is an interesting contrast to Mythra and Pyra. As mentioned above during the end of the Aegis War, Mythra goes berserk and destroys Torna to fight against Malos. This act traumatizes Mythra and she seals herself away. Mythra enters a state of sleep while conscious activity is conducted by her alter-ego Pyra, who`s personality is a contrast to Mythra. This way Mythra`s coping mechanism to her tragedy is to force a change, to transform into someone else, because she fears and feels guilty about her status as the Aegis.
Thus Pyra and Mythra`s arc is about accepting this never changing part of their identity, and bridging the split caused by the change of personality. She needs a person who helps her shoulder her own fears. Meanwhile Jin does not want to lose himself and the person close to him. He keeps holding onto his identity by any means necessary, to prevent him from changing. Jin laments how Blade`s lose their memories, while Pyra in the beginning thinks that maybe forgetting is a blessing, if your heart is filled with bad memories across eternity.
While this act is understandable, unfortunately Jin dooms himself into a form of a stagnation. His views on things change yes, but in away he is stuck. In the past before the climax of the war, Jin spoke with the Titan Azurda. The two talked about the nature of Blade`s and Titans, and Azurda explains that as an immortal being, he learned that after many years he would be ready for new relationships. Jin thinks about this and says, that he does not wish for an eternity. He only wants to spend the time with the person he cares about. By coming a Flesh Eater, Jin attains a cruel version of this wish. Jin keeps a hold of his memories of Lora, but Lora is not there anymore, and thus Jin is unable to be by her side. Jin is doomed to live a long life (if he is lucky as a Flehsh Eater) without the person he cares about, her memories being like an echo or a spectre. After this Jin became so full of despair that he no longer wanted anything. He did not want to be part of the world or to live anymore, but because he had Lora`s heart within him, he could not die. Like Malos says at the end of the game, it is like Lora´s words became a curse that tied Jin into the world.
Jin also keeps Lora`s body inside ice as a reminder to not believe in the Architect, but it also acts as the perfect metaphor for himself. Like Lora, Jin is stuck in “ice”, unable to move or to attain change. He wished not to change, to not become someone else when he forgot Lora, but now it is hard for him to move on, to become anything else than his current tortured soul.
Ice that carves the path to future – Conclusion of Jin`s story
How does the story resolve these tensions and what is the conclusion of Jin`s story? First the narrative points out that Jin´s idea about the world and humans is extremely limited. While it is true that humans are capable of much evil, the story makes it clear that human nature is nuanced and multifaceted. During the discussion where Zeke asks Rex`s thoughts about humanity, Rex answers that there are both good people and bad people. The point of life according to Rex is to take the good with the bad, and thus endorse the world and humanity`s complexity.
Earlier in the game Rex also call`s out Jin´s wish to destroy the world. While he hates humans, interestingly the other antagonist of the game, a human named Amalthus, also wishes for the world to disappear. This way Jin is being no better than the people he hates, and the person who had a hand with Lora`s death. This similarity is also important for another reason, which I will return to a bit later.
Jin`s views about the rift between humans and Blades is also questioned. While there are people who treat Blades poorly, and earlier Jin thought that Rex was simply another fool who gave him false hope, Rex has learned from his mistakes. Now trough empathy he is able to understand Jin, something he was unable to do before. Rex noticed that during their earlier battle, Jin´s facial expression was full of sadness. This made Rex think of Pyra when they first met on the green fields of Elysium, and it reminded him of someone who wished to die. Someone who was cornered and who had no way out. So Rex, a human, comprehended Jin`s who is a Blade.
It is also worth to note that while the people of the past are here no longer, there still are individuals who treasure the bonds between Blades and humans, just like Lora did.
The conclusion of Jin`s story and the apex moment of his character comes during the final clash between him and the main group. While he is more hesitant to fight the party, he still engages in combat. With their combined efforts the party defeats the Blade, who was once known as the Paragon of Torna. Rex strikes the sword out of Jin`s hand and engages in conversation. Jin questions Rex`s wish to open up Elysium to humanity, because Jin thinks humans will simply ruin it, like they have done in the past. However Rex counters this by saying that he won`t let it happen. However the life span of humans is short, and Jin asks who will stop the inevitable when he dies. In Rex`s mind that is the purpose of Blades. When a person dies it is the end for them, but as Rex says their memories and thoughts will always passed down to someone else.
While Jin thinks that Blades and humans are different, Rex disagrees with this view. In his opinion Blades and humans are similar, and like humans, Blades past selves get passed down to someone else, and they become their new selves. Humans and Blades are not so different.
This way Rex counters the views hold by Jin in two ways:
1) Jin is envious of humans because they grow as a culture, since they pass on their thoughts and memories, while Blades forget when they die. Culture evolves because the amount of information grows, and the person can live on as their will and memories are carried forward, and remembered by someone else. Even if an individual is ephemeral, this way they transcend death. The cycle of Blades is not so different from this idea. By passing on Blade`s past self, I think Rex means: A) People and other Blades having memories of Jin A even after he returns to his Core means, that like humans, his will and thoughts is passed on even if the individual dies.
B) Literally Jin A`s past self is passed down to a new Driver, who grows to be Jin B. Both Jin A and Jin B seemed to have had the desire to protect their Driver, so maybe they are not so different. All in all, this transfer and continuation hinges on the co-existence of humans and Blades, and it is well illustrated trough a character named Roc. Roc was Vandhams`s Blade and Vandham influenced Roc greatly. However near the beginning of the game, Vandham dies and Roc returns to his Core, forgetting his previous Driver. However Rex and the party still remember Vandham, and by relaying information about him to Roc, the previous Roc`s and Vandhams´s will can be passed on. Roc B comes to resemble Roc A, and could be seen as a similar person.
2) Because humans are fleeting, Jin thinks that there will be no one to stop humanity from ruining things, even if good people exist. However Rex thinks that this is where Blade`s come in, and when Rex is unable to stand by them, someone else will. Indeed, near the end of the game it is revealed by Klaus, the Architect of their world, that the point the Blade system is to help humanity from repeating the mistakes of the past:
What if the world repeated our mistakes? To stave off these doubts I implemented one final measure. And so the Blades were born.
The Core Crystal of each Blade are tasked with relaying all kinds of information to Logos and Pneuma. About the selection process of the outside world, and the biological status of their bonded human… but also the experiences and emotions they share.
As data continually accumulates, new evolutionary code is set back to the Core Crystals and this Core is sued to create new, further evolved Blades.
While individual Blade`s forget, the Blade system as a whole accumulates data and helps things grow, just like humanity with its ability to pass on memories and their will to one another.
When Jin reconciles these facts and stands down, the party is ambushed by Amalthus. The Praetor of Indol has fused himself with countless Core Crystals, and now stands on the way of the party.
Amalthus wishes to reach the Architect and destroy the world with his own hands. The appearance of Amalthus here is important because I think he is a more warped reflection of Jin. They are not identical copies as Amalthus represents the oppression of Blades, that Jin despises. However Amalthus embodies both the distaste towards humanity and the world of Alrest, and he refuses/fears the idea of change like Jin does. Amalthus says that no matter how many millennia will pass, mankind will not change. However Rex refuses this idea and says that it is Amalthus who won´t change, and that the Praetor hates those who try to. Amalthus echoes this sentiment back:
And why should I have to change? If I change, I lose everything. I lose my very self! Who on their right mind would accept such a fate?!
Here Amalthus sees any form of change as threat to his sense of self and identity. It is likely because of this very reason, that Amalthus is the same desperate man that he was 500 years ago during the Aegis War. Similarly as I have stated in the previous section of this post, I think Jin too was afraid of potential change in his identity, after the death of Lora. However while he managed to keep on hold to Lora, Jin is in a state of stagnation, similar to Amalthus. While change is frightening and it can be seen as an obstacle for one`s own identity, it is also necessary for growth. Where Amalthus fails this, I think Jin succeeds. When Jin decides to sacrifice himself, and thus give up the memory of Lora, Jin invites changes. He says to Amalthus that their duty has been passed down. This way the current Jin will cease to exist, but his will and thoughts are carried on by the people of the present.
Rex and company will accomplish Jin´s wish to stop Malos, who according to Jin is still searching for his own identity. This way I think Rex`s statement of how Blades pass on their old selves which became their new selves holds true.
Instead of the world, Jin defeats Amalthus who is the symbol of stagnation, and carves a path to Rex and his friends, aka the future generation. If Jin had destroyed the world instead, this type of continuation and change would not be possible. There would not be a world or people to change, or to pass on his will onto. It would truly have been an end, the ultimate negation of life. Lora was a person who wanted to alter and change things in a good way, and this idea is also carried forward by Rex and others. I like that Jin defeats Amalthus by using his ice power. Now the power that was the symbol of his stagnation, becomes a power that carves a road into the future.