In many mythologies around the world, the idea of an eternal return, or a cycling of the wheel of time, is a central concept to a culture's understanding of the earth and its natural phenomena. Early man was keen to understand that the progression of the seasons and stars was both repeatable and predictable. These realizations were codified in myth, notably the myths of the dying harvest gods, such as Persephone's descent to Hades or Ishtar's lament for the dead Tammuz, who represented the cycle of grain and other yearly crops that were essential to the survival of early cities and civilizations.
Noted mythologist Mircea Eliade saw eternal return in human terms: to him, the rituals and religious practices enacted by man were more than just mere rituals, they were living reenactments of the various mythological events. For example, when the Babylonians began their new year, it was begun with a ritual reenactment of Marduk's slaying of the chaotic mother goddess Tiamat, whose body he ripped apart and used to form creation. Repeating this act through ritual symbolized that the coming year would too be able to come into existence; a guarantee that the seasons would cycle once more. The previous year, represented in this case by Tiamat, was filled with chaos and death and thus cast away in anticipation of this "new creation."
Exceptions to the concept of eternal return are the Abrahamic (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and Zoroastrian religions, which each feature a linear, more historical concept of time with a definite end point, such as Armageddon or the final vanquishing of Ahriman by Ahura Mazda. After this final, eschatological event, the nature of existence will have forever changed into one of paradisal bliss, never to return to the previous primordial state.
In Shin Megami Tensei
With a thematic basis in mythology and religion, the Shin Megami Tensei series features many callbacks to the concept of eternal return, in the form of repetition of specific events from various mythologies.
The games' use of the Law-Neutral-Chaos alignment system is also notable in that the Chaos alignment calls for a return to primordial chaos while the Law alignment proposes a final paradisal state; the very difference between the cyclical versus linear historical traditions noted above.
Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
The destruction of the world and the formation of the Vortex World by Hikawa at the beginning of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne is the essence of the eternal return. In addition, Chiaki Hayasaka, who ultimately represents the chaotic Reason of Yosuga, wishes to form a regressive world ruled by might alone.
In Devil Survivor and its upgraded port Overclocked, one of the key events of the game is a reenactment of the death of Baldr (Beldr) by Loki. Guided by a man only known as "Gigolo" (who is really Loki in disguise), the main character and his compatriots are guided towards the "devil's fuge" or mistletoe, the same plant that kills the nigh-invicible Baldr in Norse myth.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey's setting, the Schwarzwelt, is an expanding void and creation of Mem Aleph, who, in her disappointment with how humans have treated her (as symbol of Mother Earth), wishes to return the world to a primordial state so it can begin anew. This is ultimately accomplished if the protagonist assumes the Chaotic alignment with Jimenez.
Strange Journey's various side-quests also feature the concept of various recurring mythemes.
- A mission to find and free the Japanese goddess Amaterasu mirrors her mythological flight into a cave.
- The sidequest to free or enclose the demiurge Yaldabaoth retells the Gnostic myth of his creation by Sophia.