Phantasy Star IV is the platonic ideal of the JRPG. Dragon Quest may have laid the foundations for the genre, and a lot of Final Fantasy entries have certainly pushed it further, but PSIV is the one I’d point to if someone wanted a sample of what it was all about. It’s got satisfyingly crunchy dungeon crawling and turn based combat mechanics, an intriguing overworld to traverse (or, more accurately, overworlds), a compelling cast of characters, and some very unique, top-notch 2D aesthetics.
It’s the final entry in the original Phantasy Star series, and forms a sort of trilogy with the first two games (the third is more of a side story). The overarching story, which is set in the fictional Algo star system, centers around the fight against Dark Force, a malevolent entity that tries to influence events in a sinister direction. PSI has its heroes fight against a fascist dictatorship whose leader is revealed to be possessed by Dark Force; PSII‘s twists and turns also has Dark Force eventually revealed as a principal antagonist.
PSIV begins on a similar note—a sinister cult promoting a religion of death and destruction is arising on the planet Motavia, and it looks like Dark Force is to blame. But by this point, the developers were keen enough to notice that the Dark Force reveal was no longer exactly a surprise, and that it was a bit strange that the thing manages to keep coming back again and again, so this time it gets revealed that there is indeed a dark force behind Dark Force, called The Profound Darkness. It turns out that something called The Great Light defeated and then sealed away The Profound Darkness, which has since been manifesting itself as Dark Force in an attempt to break free. But The Great Light has also arranged things such that there would always be a group of heroes who would rise up to defeat Dark Force, and the cast of PSIV in particular are the ones ultimately tasked with dealing the final blow to The Profound Darkness itself.
The game does a good job of tying the whole series together, but it has me semi-jokingly wondering if it isn’t turtles all the way down: maybe The Profound Darkness came from a Profounder Darkness, and The Great Light from a Greater Light, and so on, ad infinitum. To paraphrase Aristotle, it’s in our nature to want to know things. As such, the idea that something exists “just because,” doesn’t sit well with us, especially when applied to fundamental questions about why things exist at all—it suggests that the world is not, at its core, a fundamentally rational and understandable thing.
This leads us to make all sorts of physical/astronomical investigations into the history and origins of the world, exploring the big bang, the possibility of multiverses, and so on. But the more explanations we get, the more it paradoxically seems like that more fundamental question—why do things exist at all—has only been pushed further back. Again, it seems like we’re faced with the choice between saying that the chain of explanations has no end, or that it ends in some initial state of the world that exists for no reason (even a nothingness from which something could spontaneously come out of raises the question of how “nothingness” has that kind of potential to begin with), both of these options conceding in a roundabout fashion that there ultimately is no explanation.
Does the existence of God fall into this trap? It depends. The question, “who created God?” is a bit of a cliche, but isn’t without some merit, in that it points to a flaw in some ways of thinking about God. If we imagine a list of everything that exists, and place God on that list as the thing that existed first, and as the most powerful and best thing on that list, then it seems to me that we’ve also shirked the question of why things exist, providing a “just because” response of our own. More than that, I find something theologically unsettling about this line of thought: it makes the difference between creator and creature to be merely one of degree, and I don’t think that that difference is enough to justify worshiping such a god.
But that isn’t what most mainstream monotheistic traditions have traditionally understood God to be. God, as traditionally understood, is existence itself, with individually existing entities existing only relative to him, by a kind of relative participation in his Being. Thus God isn’t an entity in the world, but rather the ground which makes it possible for there to be existing things in the first place; he is, thus, both unfathomably transcendent while also extremely intimate to us.
This idea isn’t without its own controversies, and, suffice it to say, it’s impossible to cover all its nuances in a short blog post. Great thinkers like Aquinas and Maimonides have devoted hundreds of pages to it, and my own attempt here is going to look pretty flimsy by comparison. But I do find it to be an elegant solution to the conundrum I mentioned. Behind individual beings is Being itself, which by its very nature must exist, with the world we live in being a kind of metaphor for that Being, which we see through a glass darkly.