An Exegesis of To The Moon (Part 4) – A Life Worth Living

[Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here. Also, spoilers below.]

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There is a moving scene in To The Moon where Johnny, in the midst of building the cabin overlooking the lighthouse, talks to Isabell about his wife, River. He reveals to Isabell that River is dying of a terminal disease, and they don’t have enough money to both treat her illness as well as build that cabin. Johnny knows that River would insist on building the cabin rather than treating her illness, and he breaks down and cries, upset that his feelings has no say in the matter. It would later be revealed that Johnny had forgotten his initial encounter with River (when he gave her the platypus) and the cabin was part of River’s attempts to help him remember. It appears that River would rather not live if Johnny cannot remember this important precious memory.

At the end of the narrative, where Neil and Eva successfully altered Johnny’s memories such that he goes with River to the moon, Johnny finally dies. The feel of success at this point seems to indicate that successfully altering Johnny’s memories is a big deal, i.e. it is a big deal for Johnny to achieve his aspiration before he dies. For both River as well as Johnny, the game seems to imply that happiness is a big deal, so the point where life is not worth living if you cannot achieve that happiness.

To some extent, this sentiment feels somewhat obvious. If we don’t exist to pursue happiness, for what purpose should we exist for? This attitude may persist in the church even: “surely God wants me to be happy and blessed, Rom 8:28 says so!”. And for some churches (i.e. those who preach prosperity), it is the foundation of their faith. “Come believe Jesus, and you will get wealth, health and prosperity – and won’t you be happy?”

As a teacher in a high school, I find a common sentiment being preached to the students: “Do you want to obtain happiness? If so, then you must work hard to obtain the results you want”. By saying this, we tie our happiness is tied to our achievements, our careers and our possessions. Indeed, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10:35-39 ESV

Jesus says extremely harsh words here, to the point where a non-Christian might think Jesus to be a lunatic or some kind of terrorist. But this really cuts down to what the Christian faith really is about – is Jesus your most precious treasure? Is Jesus more precious to you than your possessions? More precious than your relationships (even family)? Your achievements? (Your videogames?) More precious than all of these things on earth which can make you happy?

It feels hard to be critical of River because it feels wrong to criticize someone who suffers from Asperger’s, but River was wrong. Her life is not meaningless if Johnny cannot remember how they met. Even if their marriage was never what she thought it to be, Johnny still genuinely loved her and they still had years of memories of married life together. Was that suddenly worthless because of her present unhappiness? Honestly, I thought River behaved in a self-centered and unloving manner to Johnny, causing him to be in much distress and guilt for many years even after she died.

We have many aspirations in life. We want many things, tangible or intangible. We believe that if we obtain these things we would be happy. Failure to obtain these things would rob our lives of happiness, and hence, of meaning. But the cosmic irony is that only if you choose to say “Jesus is more precious to me than all my aspirations” will you truly obtain true happiness. This is the true secret to happiness: you will only be truly happy when you live your life not for yourself, but for the sake of Christ, his kingdom and his glory.

Than to be the king of a vast domain
And be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

An Exegesis of To The Moon (Part 3) – Death & Mortality

[Part 1 here. Part 2 here.]

to the moon

Johnny Wyles lay dying on his bed.  Dr Eva Rosalene and Dr Neil Watts rushed to his bedside to fulfill his dying wish – to make him dream of accomplishing the most important thing he failed to do in real life, and thus die a happy man.  [Spoilers] Eventually they succeeded, and Johnny died a happy man.

It is unquestioned by the game that what Eva and Neil do is beneficial and compassionate to Johnny. Late in the Neil had an emotional argument with Eva and said that he liked his job because he found it meaningful to help the dying this way. At the climax of the story [spoilers, duh] when Neil and Eva disagreed on how they should interfere with Johnny’s memories, it felt like a serious and weighty issue because this would be Johnny’s last conscious experience, and how that plays out feels weighty and important.

Here’s an apparently dumb question: why are our dying moments so weighty and important? Should it really be so? What makes them any weightier than any other moments of our lives? Is the middle 30 minutes of our lives less significant than the last 30 minutes of our lives? If so, why? 30 minutes is 30 minutes right?

The answer of course, has much to do with how we view mortality and dying. [It’s also got much to do with what makes our lives meaningful, but we will discuss that further in Part 4, God willing.] It isn’t immediately obvious, but the worldview presented by To The Moon is distinctly humanistic – when Johnny dies, it is implied his consciousness just disappears.  There is no hint of an afterlife whatsoever.  Yet his life is presented as intrinsically valuable and important. His dying moments represent the time just before something immensely valuable and important (i.e. life) is about to go out of existence. This is what makes a person’s dying moments weighty and precious.

Such a worldview is so subsumed into our culture that many Christians might even think it incredulous to be otherwise. Certainly, human life is immensely valuable and important. Certainly, a man’s dying moments are extra precious. Both statements are certainly true, but a Christian’s reasons for believing so are vastly different from a humanist’s. The way a Christian thinks about death has to be vastly different.

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

(Philippians 1:18-23)

As a Christian, I believe that this earthly life is not my final destination. There is a far greater and much more wonderful place where all my longings will cease and all my desires will be fulfilled. And my death will be the first step there. Yet, like most Christians I suspect, I often forget this. I get attached to this world and I don’t want to leave it.

Christians believe that when we die, we do not go out of existence. Sure, there is sadness when loved ones pass on, but the sadness is not due to their existence being terminated, but because the presence of loved ones will be missed, and only missed temporarily if they also happen to be Christians. Christians believe that we should continue acts of compassion to the dying not because something immensely precious is going out of existence soon, but because we are called to love and comfort those in need – and often the dying are the most in need. Christians believe that human life is valuable not because human life is the most precious and valuable thing in the world, but because humans are made in the image of God, and God is the most precious and valuable entity in the world.

NBA star Dwight Howard and terminally ill Kay Kellog (who has since passed). One of my favorite stories of reaching out to the dying.

NBA star Dwight Howard and terminally ill Kay Kellog (who has since passed). One of my favorite stories of reaching out to the dying.

When Christians lay dying on their bed, unlike Johnny Wyles, they shouldn’t have to seek happiness on their deathbed. They shouldn’t have to seek to live out an artificially created reality where they can deceive themselves into a few final moments of temporal happiness.  That’s because they already have assurance of an eternal happiness which awaits them on the other side.

I hope and pray that if one day I lay dying on my bed, I may be so filled with gratitude of what God has done for me and so filled with anticipation of being with Jesus that I have no choice but to be happy. I hope and pray that each and every day, I can fight to remember that this world is not my home, and that my heart will fight to truly believe: to die is gain.

There is a hope that stands the test of time,
That lifts my eyes beyond the beckoning grave,
To see the matchless beauty of a day divine
When I behold His face!
When sufferings cease and sorrows die,
And every longing satisfied.
Then joy unspeakable will flood my soul,
For I am truly home

An Exegesis of To The Moon – Part 2: Love and Romance

[Part 1 here.]

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[Spoilers] A typical love story with a happy ending usually goes like this:boy meets girl.  They fall in love. They encounter obstacles. They overcome obstacles. They finally get together.  Happily ever after.  To The Moon tells a love story – but hardly a typical one.  Yes boy met girl. Yes they fell in love (at least the girl did). They encountered obstacles (like the boy forgetting the girl). They finally got together (and got married). But it wasn’t happily ever after. In fact, they never really overcame the initial obstacle, and the girl died with this obstacle unresolved.

Yet, To The Moon has a happy ending. An ending so moving that many have confessed to crying when they experienced it. What gives? What about the ending makes it so moving – and so romantic – when deep down inside we know that what we’re seeing is but an illusion, and the real River had already passed away never finding her fulfillment?

Certainly the science-fiction nature of the narrative has something to do with it.  I had come across similar science-fiction romantic stories where the science-fiction elements had messed with the usual romantic narrative, e.g. the Japanese films Love Letter and Be With You, the Korean film Il Mare (later re-made into The Lake House starring Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves), as well as the 1980 Christopher Reeve film, Somewhere in Time. [The Time Traveller’s Wife may qualify, but I haven’t seen the film or read the book].

I know I’m a little under-qualified to talk about romance, but I want to offer a counter-proposition: perhaps what makes a story romantic and moving is not necessarily the final outcome of the story, but rather how the beauty of a relationship between two individuals is revealed to the audience.  It is both the substance (i.e. the nature of the relationship) as well as the form (i.e. how masterfully it is revealed to the audience).  If this is true, then “happily ever after” is not what really makes for romance, but rather the realization of how beautiful a relationship is (or was) which makes for romance.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

(Ephesians 5:22-33 ESV)

Momentary MarriageMy views of Christian romance, dating and marriage have been largely shaped by 4 books: I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Boy Meets Girl (both by Joshua Harris), What Did You Expect? (by Paul Tripp) and John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage (click here for free pdf).  From this tradition, we understand romance as part of (or working towards) marriage, and our earthly marriage as a symbol, a reminder, and a foretaste of the final and ultimate glorious marriage we would take part in – as the bride of Christ.

Perhaps this is the reason why our hearts are moved when we see a beautiful and intimate relationship revealed through a film, a book or a videogame.  At the end of To The Moon, when we see Johnny reach out and hold River’s hand as the moon comes into view, our hearts resonated with that scene, because when God created us, he designed us for romance.  We were all designed for the loving and intimate relationship – with Christ as our groom.

Previously, I have suggested that “happily ever after” isn’t what makes a narrative moving and romantic.  This has to be true in some sense, after all, surely all romantic couples know that eventually one day they must part – till death or divorce.  But yet, that is not true in another sense – our marriage to Christ is eternal. And that is truly happily ever after.

An Exegesis of To The Moon [Part 1 – Memories and Forgetfulness]

To_the_Moon-launch-poster-medIf you have not yet played To The Moon – why haven’t you? It’s easily available on either Steam or GOG.com, it only takes about 4 hours to complete, runs pretty much on any computer, it’s inexpensive and worth every penny.  Trust me (and every critic who has reviewed the game) – go play it; it’s worth your time.  But in case you still don’t want to do so, be warned – MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD.

My original intention was to do a single article on To The Moon, but despite its short length, the themes touched upon by the game were so deep and rich, I felt that it deserved a more detailed treatment.  Lord willing, we will discuss the following in Parts 2 to 4:

Part 2 – Love & Romance
Part 3 – Death & Mortality
Part 4 – Happiness & A Life Well Lived

***

I just got posted to a new high school this year and I’m still learning my new colleagues’ names. This morning I walked into class with a colleague as my co-teacher, and I said to the class: “Could you please greet Ms Melissa Goh and then greet me?”.  Ms Goh very gently turned to me and said, “erm…actually, my name is Michelle”.

It is embarrassing to forget things, particularly important things such as names.  Ever since I entered my 20s, my short term memory started to degenerate, and nowadays I can hardly remember any task which I do not ask my phone to remind me (Thank God for technology!).  I sometimes wondered if one day I would get married and consistently forget about my (hypothetical) wife’s birthday, our anniversary, or how we first met.  That would be more than just embarrassing – that would be heartbreaking.

[FINAL WARNING – MASSIVE SPOILERS ALERT]

In To The Moon, Johnny Wyles forgot a very precious memory.  It wasn’t his fault – his memory loss was induced upon him by drugs administered to him.  But the fact remains that Johnny Wyles forgot how he first met River, the woman he would later marry.  This tragedy was further compounded by River’s condition (some form of autism or Asperger’s), as she never realized that he had forgotten until they had been married for several years (maybe decades).  This must present the uncomfortable question to River – who was this man that she married, if the various things she held dear (such as the platypus and the lighthouse) never held the same significance to Johnny?  If she did not marry the man she thought she had married – does this not make the marriage void?  Later on (chronologically), River was dying, but she refused treatment in order that the house next to the lighthouse could be built – if her husband would not remember, she would rather not live (more about this in Part 4).

River asks Johnny if he remembers a rabbit with a yellow belly - he doesn't.

River asks Johnny if he remembers a rabbit with a yellow belly. He doesn’t.

Much in the same way, is our relationship with God.  Our relationship with God is built upon what God had done for us.  Most of us had experienced how God had delivered us from points of downfall in our lives – perhaps some of these experiences are precisely why we are Christian today.  Aside from our experiences, there is also knowledge of what God had done in order to secure our salvation and our blessings – the work of Christ on the cross.  Yet all too easily, we fail to remember.  We fail to remember when we get preoccupied with the daily grind.  We fail to remember when we get preoccupied with our current obstacles and conflicts.  We fail to remember when other people sin against us and we feel the need to vent.  We fail to remember how much God had done for us.  We fail to remember our infinite indebtedness  to God.  We fail to remember to be grateful.  We fail to remember that our purpose is to live for God.  We fail to remember the cross.  We fail to remember Christ.

“People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed” – Samuel Johnson

It is not too far a stretch to say that forgetfulness is the primary reason why we as Christians continue to struggle with sin.  We have already tasted the goodness of Christ.  We have already obtained salvation by faith.  We already have the hope of future glory. Yet our flesh continues to tempt us with worldly desires and self-preoccupation.  So tempted are we, that we forget what we have tasted, what we have obtained, what we have to hope for.  How amazing then is the grace of God, that time and time again He would draw us back to Him when we forget Him, instead of just letting us get what we deserve for deserting Him.

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Memories and mementos are the central motif of To The Moon; this is emphasized even in the game mechanics – a memento needs to be “activated” each time before the game can advance to the next “level”.  In the same way, our remembrance of God, particularly what had been done for us at the cross, should be the central motif of our lives. But to push aside the self-centered clutter of our daily lives, we will need to daily “activate” our memory of what God had done.  We need to preach the gospel to ourselves each and everyday of our lives, so that Christ be kept the the center of our lives.

Lest I forget Gethsemane,
Lest I forget Thine agony;
Lest I forget Thy love for me,
Lead me to Calvary.

An Exegesis of Eternal Sonata [Part 4 – Sacrifice and Redemption]

Part 1 – Plot Summary
Part 2 – Metaphysics
Part 3 – Man & Society

***

[Spoilers for Eternal Sonata‘s ending]

eternal sonata polka and frederic

As explored in Part 3, we’ve seen that Eternal Sonata portrays a society which is fallen, where men are overcome by their greed, vanity and lust for power.  Yet against this grim backdrop, stories of hope emerge, providing a glimpse that all is not lost.  That despite how fallen mankind has become, there is a hope that there is a source of goodness which is greater than the evil and failings of man, a hope that there will be a better ending.

These stories emerge through the tales of redemption of the various playable characters of Eternal Sonata.  The personal stories of characters like Jazz, Claves, Falsetto, Crescendo and Serenade all contain elements of loss, salvation and redemption.  However, the main thrust of Eternal Sonata’s narrative was always about the two main protagonists: Polka and Frederic.

Polka

The game starts with this narration from Frederic:

“Why? Why did it happen? Why was she destined to die? What crime could a girl like that have possibly committed to deserve such a grim fate?”

And thus we were introduced to Polka, the innocent girl who was destined to die.  Later in the game we were told that Polka was different from others in that she was the only person with a perfect Astra; this was like saying Polka was the only “flawless” person in the universe of Eternal Sonata.  At the end of the game, we would be told that Polka was the destined one, who’s role was to sacrifice herself (by jumping off a cliff) and this sacrifice would restore the scorched and damage land back to its original lush glory.  But her sacrifice accomplishes more than just this, the universe is “restored” in the most literal of senses – everything is reversed, including time, and Polka is “reborn” as she falls from the sky in this newly restored world.

The parallels to the redemptive work of Christ are striking; like Jesus, Polka was destined from the beginning to be saviour.  Like Jesus, Polka was blameless and “flawless”.  Like Jesus, Polka’s death was a willing submission for the greater good of others.  Like Jesus, Polka’s dealth brings restoration of the land, and of people.  Like Jesus, Polka is eventually “resurrected”, although “born again” might be a better description for Polka.  These parallels are so striking that one wonders whether the Japanese creators of Eternal Sonata are Christian (unlikely), or that the tale of redemption is so pervasive, so universal and so true, that it just keeps cropping up in works of narrative fiction across all media.

But there are differences between the sacrifice of Polka and the sacrifice of Christ.  Just by turning back time so that history can play itself out again could be considered “restoration”, but that was hardly salvation.  It could even be considered a cruel joke, a curse.  There was no real hope.  No many how many iterations we go through, there cannot really be hope if there was no better end in sight,  This is where Frederic comes in.

Frederic

Frederic François Chopin was a dying man.  What was hinted by his biography (and the narration of the story), was that he was not a happy man lying in his deathbed.  He was dying young, barely into his prime as a world-renown pianist and a composer.  He was dying lonely, with several failed relationships with women, never been married and with no children.  He was dying homesick, never been able to return to his native Poland due to the political strife of that era.  He was dying without hope.

Yet the irony of the story was that the one who was without hope would be the only one who could offer hope. It was Frederic who broke the never-ending cycle by affirming Polka as a “Heaven’s Mirror”.  It was Frederic who realized that despite his hopelessness (in real life), there was a rich beautiful world with people he loved on “the other side”, and this realization not only brought himself hope, but it created hope and life for everyone else as well.  It was Frederic who broke the rules – Polka, as well as the World can be saved, not just either/or.

When Christ was denied three times by one of his dearest disciples and laid hanging on the cross, the most shameful instrument of death in the Roman era, it appeared all but hopeless.  Could this truly be the messiah whose was prophesied to save Israel from its bondage?  Yet, the irony of the story was that the One who appeared hopeless was actually the true hope provider.  That only through His death on the cross, could there be hope for Israel and for the rest of humanity.  It was Christ who broke the rules – God’s justice as well as God’s love was displayed, not just either/or.

Conclusion

Polka was the destined sacrifice, the blameless lamb to be slain.  Frederic was the true hope-provider and the true life-giver.  As Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ was both. For those of us who are Christians, let us not regard too lightly this coming Christmas the true significance of Jesus the Messiah being born into this world, and the great joy and privilege we have to live for His glory alone.

From heaven you came helpless babe
Entered our world, your glory veiled
Not to be served, but to serve
And give your life, that we might live

There in the garden of tears
My heavy load, He chose to bear
His heart with sorrow was torn
Yet not my will but Yours He said

This is our God, the Servant King
He calls us now to follow him
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to the Servant King

[Addendum: Read also Richard Clark on Christ and Pop Culture regarding the meaning of Christmas]

An Exegesis of Eternal Sonata [Part 3 – Man and Society]

[Part 1 here.  Part 2 here.]

Acknowledgements

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.

***

Solfege, saying way too complex stuff to a 4-year old Polka

“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

Heaven’s Mirror / Death Lights

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.

Agogos glow in reflection of the brightness of Polka’s astra.

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.

An Exegesis of Eternal Sonata [Part 2 – Metaphysics]

[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.

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[Spoilers alert]

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.

Yeah Beat, you’re not the only one confused.

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.

Also a quote attributed to Marilyn Monroe, expert on postmodern metaphysics and all-around good role model.

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.

Alternatively, the lullaby could be about 4 animals sitting on the moon rowing across the clouds.  [Painting by Sundara Fawn]

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.

Pretty hard not to be immortal when you have a whole museum dedicated to you [Muzeum Fryderyka Chopina in Warsaw, Poland]

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.