“God is dead,” declared philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “… and we have killed him” (1887)—a proclamation that numerous video game protagonists could aptly say by journey's end. The prominent god-slayer trope in video game storylines casts the gameworld's god(s) as the final boss, to be slain by players, inviting connection to real-world religious ideas. Adequate scholarly attention has not been given to the musical features of the god-slayer trope—specifically, the bosses’ unique battle tracks—to discover what the music's meaning contributes to the trope. Quantitative analysis of video games featuring the god-slayer trope reveals that the bosses’ battle tracks may strategically combine rock and sacred music topics for significant semiotic effect.
This article explores the meanings associated with rock and sacred music topics, using analytic methods from the burgeoning field of musical semiotics. By invoking music-theoretic work in topic theory (Monelle 2006, Hatten 2004), agential modalities (Tarasti 1994), and virtual agency (Hatten 2018), I argue that the rock and the sacred music topics initially appear to conflict—but the trope serves as a hermeneutic premise for a meaningful and productive synthesis uniquely fit for the narrative god-slayer trope. Xenoblade Chronicles (2010) forms a striking case study, with its tracks “Zanza” and “The God-Slaying Sword” exemplifying the sacred-rock trope and its semiotic meaning in relation to the game's plot—a narratively apt battle hymn for the game's god-slaying protagonists. Using a cultural-historical lens, the conclusion explores connections between the narrative god-slayer trope and the descent of Japan's god-emperor from divinity to humanity.