“Killing God” seems to be one of the most popular tropes in JRPGs. From the SaGa franchise to Lufia, from Xenogears to Final Fantasy, players are going to defeat some kind of unusual sky. However, as a concept it is a very attractive thing to look at. Some see this as an attack on Christianity, given Japan’s past persecution of Christians.
However, it is not that deep. For JRPGs, the theme of “killing god” is more about a few ideas and concepts, rather than “god is evil”. The concept of God in one of these games isn’t someone who starts out as a powerful entity in many cases.
Note: This is just one writer’s opinion on the subject of JRPGs killing God. Your opinions and thoughts on this matter may vary.
It’s not always “kill the god” in the traditional sense in JRPGs
In most JRPGs, modern or otherwise, your primary duty isn’t to literally kill God. At the very least, not the God worshiped by Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Rather, it is often some mystical force from beyond the stars, some kind of epistemic entity. What mission is more extreme than defeating a god?
Instead of seeing this as a position of Jesus, YHVH, or another major monotheist, consider this. The word “God” means not only the creator and ruler of the universe. In other religions and settings, it is simply a supernatural personality, some divine power beyond the comprehension of mankind.
In some cases, the person who is ultimately the god who is killed, doesn’t even start out as a god. Take Kefka Palazzo in Final Fantasy 6 for example. He is just a person dressed as a jester – a court official and counselor. Through the events of the story, he becomes both a god and a maniacal villain.
Admittedly, this is not always the case. For example, in Shin Megami Tensei 2, you fight an entity based on the Judeo-Christian God and can team up with Satan/Lucifer. This is a very common trope in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise.
The Megami Tensei games focus more on gnosticism – the idea that the supreme being who created the world is neither kind nor forgiving. It is more distorted and incomplete. Chrono Trigger, one of the most popular JRPGs of all time, focuses on the killing god trope in its own way.
You have the Seal Queen who desperately seeks godhood and immortality, but she’s not really the final boss. Ultimately, the unthinking, reckless, emotionless Laos is your final boss. It is a powerful parasite that goes from planet to planet, spreading its young and leeching on that planet’s life force. When there is nothing left, it moves.
It is indeed a godlike, unstoppable force of nature. It kills Chrono, no thought about it. When Laos appears in 1999, it breaks the entire surface of the planet. World domination has no plan, no ulterior motives – just destruction.
The “Killing God” JRPG trope is more exaggerated
Not every final boss of a JRPG is some unknown god force that players must overcome. It may be a person who has acquired incredible powers, or perhaps a force behind the scenes. Some of the greatest RPGs involve some sort of god, but that’s not always the case.
Take the Yakuza franchise (now as a dragon). Yes, it’s a JRPG franchise. Specifically, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a literal turn-based RPG set in Japan by a Japanese developer. The final boss is never a godlike being – only super powerful or influential humans. Sukoden didn’t often go to the “god-killing” well.
The Fire Emblem franchise avoids fighting God in many cases. Often it is a very powerful dragon. However, Radiant Dawn forces you to fight the Goddess of Order.
The popular Super Mario RPG/Paper Mario franchise also doesn’t use this trope. Interestingly, Final Fantasy 15’s “God Boss” was the next to last fight – with Ardyn taking the place as the last encounter.
Yes, it’s not uncommon to see a primitive creature as the final battle in many JRPGs, and that’s not always the case. It’s an interesting trope to think about, but there are many series that go down a different path.
Breaking the bonds of fate through friendship is a powerful motivation
What could be more interesting than the idea of breaking fate and making your own way in the world? I think that’s the real reason we see killing God as a trope in many JRPGs. People often feel like life has dealt them a hand. It can feel cruel and often unfair.
In JRPGs, you see these stories where a group of friends or allies come together. They break the chains of fate and defeat the supernatural godlike force that holds them back. That way they can make their own destiny and live the way they want.
For example, in Final Fantasy X, they literally defeat the god of the world who has kept them in a cycle of death and misery. What could be more metal and more satisfying than killing a godlike figure? What could be more climactic than that at the end of a long, story-driven JRPG?
There are plenty of JRPGs that focus on killing a god and don’t. However, it would be a mistake to say that this is the only option or that there are no games that don’t do this. Some titles portray organized/Western religion negatively; Breath of Fire 2 is a perfect example of that.
While this is a common trope, it’s one that isn’t welcome anytime soon. There’s always a new way to approach that kind of story.