I would like to give credit to ProfessorTofty, who transcribed the entire Eternal Sonata game into text, without whom I would have much greater difficulty writing this series of articles. Original source here.
In my research, I came across a 2009 article written by Johansen Quijano-Cruz in the academic journal Eludamos. Quijano-Cruz’s thesis was that computer games can be a valid form of social commentary, and Eternal Sonata was used as an exemplar. Much of the ideas expounded below were influenced by Quijano-Cruz’s article.
“There are many things in this world that can charm people’s hearts, just like the moon charms the sea. Things like wealth, vanity, status, image, and power. People who are drawn to these things create waves and the fear in their hearts makes the waves grow bigger, and stronger.”
There is a huge amount of dialogue in Eternal Sonata commenting on the human heart and the state of society. Most of it was not flattering. We’ll explore a few key themes below:
Selfishness and Mistrust
Right from the start of the game, Eternal Sonata gives rather heavy handed commentary that people are inherently selfish, and tend towards being fearful, suspicious and distrustful, even when there is no reason to be so. This is most evidently seen by how the townsfolk treat Polka (suspecting her from having a contagious disease for being a magic user), and further reinforced with the symbol of the Heaven’s Mirror, a flower which blooms only at night. Despite the flower’s beauty, townsfolk prefer to call the flower ‘Death Lights’ as they view the flower with suspicion, believing them to be a bad omen. This symbolism is evoked prominently at the end of the game, when Frederic chooses to call Polka a ‘Heaven’s Mirror’, instead of a ‘Death Light’.
A cruel and striving society
When selfish and distrustful men gather, a cruel society is formed where there is much struggle to even live. This is both commented on directly through dialogue, but also displayed through the town Ritardando, where the most vulnerable in society (orphans) are not taken care of, and need to resort to stealing bread to survive.
Ambition and the Desire to be Remembered
Unlike most games, much attention is given to the antagonist’s motives for his villainous acts, which Count Waltz justifies by his desire to be remembered by history:
“When you die you disappear, and eventually, you’re forgotten. Nothing of you remains. Humans are so unfeeling that way. That’s why I must have power. Enough absolute power to carve my existence into the very fabric of this world. As long as I have that…”
Waltz’ exposition reveals that underpinning his militaristic ambition to gain power is his insecurity of his own mortality. This is also a hint as to why the townspeople were so similarly distrustful and suspicious – they too were insecure about their own mortality. Why would they fear Polka if they had come to terms with what it means to eventually perish?
The Inevitability of War
At one point in the story, Prince Crescendo, the leader of Baroque, withdrew his support for the rebel group Andantino and their mission to assassinate Waltz. His reasoning was that history would repeat itself and another tyrant would rise in Waltz’s place. There would be no end to conflict and tension between the two nations, if peace was gained through blood. The idea that history repeats itself and nations continue to go to war is further reinforced by the subsequent dungeon Lament (only in PS3 version), which explains the thoughts of the Baroque and Forte leaders 2 generations prior, whom also went to war.
It is worth noting that despite Crescendo’s noble intentions to find “true peace” between nations, he never succeeded in doing so. This is perhaps the bleakest message for us: such is the nature of international politics. Every nation seeks their benefit only, and conflict, perhaps even wars, are inevitable.
The Tragedy of Innocence Lost
This isn’t explicitly expounded, but is implied through the too-innocent remarks made by Beat and Salsa, the youngest two characters in the group. Beat assumes the best of people even when there is contrary evidence otherwise (e.g. he assumes Count Waltz had altruistic reasons for introducing mineral powder into Ritardando), and his trusting nature is a direct contrast to how the game portrays the townsfolk. Beat’s childish squabbles with Salsa, while endearing, is almost jarring when juxtaposed with the dire situation the rest of the party is in.
This effect can also be seen across the whole party of characters. The youngest characters (Beat, Salsa) are naive and innocent, the older characters (Polka, Allegretto) are more disillusioned but still maintain some idealism, while the oldest (Crescendo, Jazz, Frederic, Falsetto) are those with the grimmest lines of dialogue. It is also significant to note that Polka succeeds in gradually making Frederic more positive as time goes on, reversing this process of losing hope.
The Astra and the inherent goodness in man
While Eternal Sonata’s social commentary is largely negative, there is a hint that there is some inherent goodness in man, as shown in the concept of the ‘astra’ (or ‘trusty’ in Japanese version). Every person has an astra, although not all shine as brightly (and Polka’s shine the brightest). This implies that every man was born with inherent goodness, or at least the potential to do good, but that was somehow “corrupted”. It is also significant to note that the game’s characters needed significant amount of convincing that the astra is a real thing, and not just some fairy tale. It speaks to perhaps how society has become so caught up with self-serving concerns, that it no longer recognizes its own ability to do good.
A Christian Response
Much of Eternal Sonata’s social commentary is similar to what I previously discussed about in my article on Tokyo Jungle – left to their own devices, mankind tends towards selfishness and cruelty, motivated the pursuit of idols (wealth, vanity, status, image, and power) in their hearts. Quijano-Cruz, despite writing for an academic journal, could not help but describe Eternal Sonata’s society as “fallen”.
The term “fallen” is telling, because it speaks of an inner realization that we have fallen from somewhere. When we come across instances of cruelty, exploitation of the disenfranchised, or selfish ambition, we intuitively know in our hearts that this isn’t meant to be. There is supposed to be a better way, a better life, to live. While for some this may be a permanent sad reality, as Christians we have the hope that we will be restored back to the place where we had fallen from (or an even a better place).
This brings us to the astra, or the inherent goodness in man. As Christians, we also believe that there is some inherent goodness in all men, as all men are Imago Dei, made in the image of God and have the potential to reflect God’s good character (Gen 1:26-27, 1 Cor 11:7, James 3:9). This explains why non-Christians are capable of doing great good despite not knowing the Savior. However, without the saving knowledge of the gospel, all men are slaves to sin, and persist as corrupted images of God, presenting a distorted reflection of God (Rom 6:16). Even as Christians, on this side of heaven, while no longer slaves to sin, we still struggle with sin in the flesh, and still fail to present a perfect reflection of God. (Rom 7:14-20)
Only one man ever existed which was free from sin (2 Cor 5:21). In a similar way, only one character in Eternal Sonata had a “perfect” astra. And what was demanded from both these individuals were the same – they were to sacrifice their own lives such that the rest of the world might be saved (1 John 2:2). We’ll explore these ideas further in Part 4.