[Part 1 here. Read Part 1 first if you are unfamiliar with the story of Eternal Sonata. ]
For ease of understanding, let us adopt the use of the following terminology for this article only:
‘World-ES’ refers to the world which Polka and co. lived in. World-ES originally begins as a dream of Frederic Chopin, but its metaphysical status changes at the end of the game.
‘World-R’ refers to the “real world” where Chopin is a famous pianist and composer, and where places like Poland and Paris exists.
‘Metaphysical Status’ refers to how “real” that world is. A world with high metaphysical status is considered to be more “real” than a world with low metaphysical status.
Origin of World-ES
Though not explicitly explored by the game, we can assume that Frederic has had the same dream of World-ES for perhaps several hundred nights. It is possible that Frederic had been having the dream since the death of his Emilia sister when he was age 17, but the dream more likely started later in his life, after the Polish rebellion (themes of rebellion and war were quite prominent in World-ES) and maybe even as late as after his relationship with George Sand has ended (i.e. the last 2 years of his life), as Falsetto was likely to be a manifestation of George Sand.
Metaphysical Status of World-ES
As explained in Part 1, at the ending of Eternal Sonata, Frederic decided to consider World-ES to be of equal metaphysical status as World-R. Both were equally real to him. It is worth noting that this is in contrast to something like The Matrix, which clearly considered “real life” to be of higher metaphysical status than “life within the matrix”.
What is particularly bewildering is not just the fact that both worlds have the same metaphysical status, but rather, high metaphysical status was only conferred to World-ES only after Frederic decided to consider it as “real”. (This conferring of metaphysical status is also what allowed for Polka to live beyond 14 years old, apparently the main reason why the world had to repeat itself, and thus breaking the never-ending 10 year loop.) Prior to this conscious decision by Frederic, World-ES remains a dream with low metaphysical status. In other words, the metaphysical status of the world is directly determined by Frederic’s perception of that world. This is “reality is what you make of it” taken absolutely literally.
This may seem preposterous, but there are at least two schools of thought which say similar things. Idealist philosophers claim that reality is fundamentally made up of ideas, and not made up of material stuff which exists outside of us. This may sound nutty, but their key observation is quite true: we cannot perceive of the material world directly, but can only perceive them through our senses, which is hard to separate from our minds.
Also, one also detects elements of postmodernist thinking here, although it may be too difficult for me to attempt to construct a postmodern metaphysical model. (Read this if you are keen to explore these difficult ideas further). “Life is what you make of it” is a common postmodern mantra after all.
Metaphysical Status of World-R
This is not directly explored in the game, but could be implied by the game’s philosophy of metaphysics. There was also a very interesting scene at the ending credits where Frederic’s “spirit” rose up from his body and started to play the piano, with Delfina Potocka (in real life Paris) singing along to his music. We can assume that this is not really Frederic’s ghost (if so, Potocka should really be screaming instead of singing), but some kind of “extended reality”, probably created in Potocka’s mind, just like World-ES was created in Frederic’s mind.
What does Eternal Sonata comment about the metaphysics of World-R, our real world then? If it is to be considered “equally real” as World-ES, and since World-ES is a dream, perhaps this implies that all of life is a dream (again, possible postmodern influences here). Recall the famous lullaby “Row, row, row your boat” which ended in “life is but a dream”. What did that last line of the lullaby mean? Paul Schumann understands it to have somewhat idealist connotations: i.e. we make up reality as we continue to experience it, no different from how we experience a dream.
Death and Immortality
Frederic’s monologue at the end of the first credits sequence gives us a hint about how Frederic breaks the never-ending 10 year loop:
Death is a reality which is far too real. But I’ve walked this dream-like journey within a dream, so that once-and-for-all, I could accept it. And now the time has come. Everything shall come to its finale!
Frederic’s “far too real” acceptance of his impending death was what prevented him for accepting World-ES as “real”. In the ‘finale’, he could somehow accept World-ES as real, and perhaps it could be deduced that he thus denies the reality of his death (in Paris). For Frederic’s case, if indeed reality is what you think it to be, then if you don’t think you are really dying, then you really are not dying. It is as though the reason why we die is because we think we would die. If we would stop thinking so, we would live forever.
Themes of immortality are also prevalent throughout the whole game. Polka jumps off a cliff but never really dies. Waltz has a preoccupation with leaving an immortal legacy even if he cannot physically live forever. And even in World-R, we are reminded about the immortal legacy of Frederic Chopin in the form of his piano works, some of the enduring pieces of music in the world. Finally, the never-ending loop itself, and the hint provided in the title, that this sonata was meant to be eternal.
A Christian Response
As Christians, it is obvious that we have to dismiss Eternal Sonata‘s ridiculous metaphysical claims as hogwash. The Christian understanding of reality is neither idealist nor postmodern; we believe that there really is a physical material world, and it was created by God (Gen 1-2, Job 38:1-7). When Jesus comes again, there will be a new Earth as well as a new heaven, indicating that even in future glory, there will be a physical material world, albeit a glorified version (Rev 21). Similarly, Christians have to dismiss the audacious claims about death and the cause of death. The bible is clear that the origin of death is sin, not the failure of our imagination (Rom 6:23).
That said, I believe that there are at least 2 small truths hidden in Eternal Sonata’s complex metaphysical philosophy which point us towards the Christian God. First is the concept of creatio ex nihilo, i.e. the creator creates a complete universe out of nothing (Rom 4:17). Frederic is somewhat a God-figure (though a rather confused one), being able to not just create a new universe out of nothing, but also having the ability to bestow metaphysical status of the said universe. As Christians we believe such immense power does exist and was exercised when God created the world, with nothing but the power of His word.
Second is Eternal Sonata’s preoccupation with immortality. This is perhaps best explained by this verse:
… he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end
(Ecclesiastes 3:11b ESV)
God has “put eternity into man’s heart”. Which is why humans have an intuitive sense that something is deeply disturbing and wrong about the concept of death. This is also why practically all cultures in the world have myths and stories of life after death. Even today, an expression of this are the many works of fiction (including Eternal Sonata) which explore different ways and means to obtain immortality. But God’s real intention is to point us towards what ought to be, both before the Fall, and also what will be restored by Christ. We were meant to live eternal lives. Eternal Sonata has got this completely right.