On Nihilism and Time: Analyzing the “Chrono” Games


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EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is an in-depth discussion of both Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. Anyone who has not played both games in their entirety should probably stop reading before they even begin, because this article will not hold back when it comes to SPOILERS for both games.

 

The sound of the ticking clock that intertwines with A Premonition is probably one of the most nostalgic in all of gaming for me. The two “Chrono” games shall forever be considered ‘historic’ in the realm of gaming for their sense of artistry, their music, and their collective narrative—much less how the two games handle their own history and lore. I have little doubt that the majority among us considers Chrono Trigger an absolute blast to play, a timeless classic. And even though Chrono Cross carries much more controversy with it, and I’m not the world’s biggest fan of its new direction… it certainly has its strengths.

Most of us have powerful memories of these two games. But has anyone stopped to consider…what the two games represent? Chrono Trigger and its sequel offer two completely different philosophical points of view when it comes to the nature of time (and the connections it creates). What you’re about to read shall examine several plot points and character connections across both titles in order to create a mosaic of what the passage of time actually reflects in the two games.

Chrono Trigger: The Revival of the World

During the first few major sequences in the game (Millennial Fair – 600 AD – The Trial), the player is immediately offered a glimpse at the consequences of traveling through time. Marle’s existence is ever so quickly erased, then restored. Crono sees the effects of Garudia implementing a criminal justice system first-hand. And, of course, the player (not so much the characters) immediately begins to expect the Chancellor from 1000 AD to once again be Yakra in disguise. These influences, while noteworthy, seem rather small in the grand scheme of things compared to what comes next.

After seeing the future in 2300 AD via the visual record of the Day of Lavos…this group of kids seems somehow convinced they can change the fate of the entire world, just because they can travel through time. The game’s cast fights to achieve this seemingly impossible goal under the premise that knowledge is power. I’m not going to outline every single event that’s altered because of Crono and company, but…they are numerous. And despite all of this, the party is completely annihilated and the main character of the game is killed when facing against Lavos for the first time.

Chrono Trigger has its fair share of bleak moments, especially during the climax of the game (I consider this to be everything from the party’s first battle with Magus to the death of Crono). But its characters and hidden forces seem to convey a message of hope. Against impossible odds like giant reptilian beasts, a seemingly all-powerful wizard that controls an entire army of monsters, and a sentient being that’s survived for over 65 million years… this group of kids manages to accomplish everything they set out to do and more, besting everything that comes their way.

When it comes to how the characters interact with time in Chrono Trigger, there are virtually no barriers. Any consequences of their actions all generally point to a positive outcome by the time the game’s credits roll (assuming you, the player, accomplished all the side-quests and major story arcs). Crono even manages to overcome death itself.

The Black Wind Howls

During the lapse in time between when Marle’s existence is erased and restored, she briefly contemplates if what she felt was indeed death. I find it interesting that a character that was literally wiped and recreated from the universe only contemplates the nature of her predicament for a tiny line of dialogue.

As we all know, though—Marle isn’t the only one who manages to conquer death. Crono, despite being obliterated by Lavos, manages to switch places with a life-sized doll in order to thwart death—but just this once, according to the properties of the Time Egg. How delightfully convenient! I suppose Crono can’t remark about how he felt his life flashing before his eyes, since he spends the entire game as a mute. I find it remarkable that Crono’s experiences with death resonate exclusively with the player. I remember what it was like having to wander around with a party of three that did not feature my strongest, most-developed character. I remember my initial reaction to his death and revival. But we don’t get to hear a thing about what Crono actually thinks of all this, despite seeing a window into the lives of every other character.

   

Every playable character in the game has a fully developed story and faces his or her share of personal problems, as well as both personal and interpersonal growth. But Crono…he’s just along for the ride. He gets to risk life and limb, to stare death in the face and then suddenly be saved by his friends. The player is the person who grows in place of Crono, especially in seeing how Crono’s friends react to his death. I suppose this is why I forgave Masato Kato for never allowing Crono to develop as a person. I believe that Crono is one of the strongest possible examples of a living projection of the player in video games.

The Entity: Memories and the Will to Change the Future

After the player completes the ‘Fiona’s Forest’ sidequest, some of the most monumental scenes in the entire game take place. For the first time in their entire journey, the main cast of Chrono Trigger is together in a place that is not The End of Time. If I’m not mistaken, both this scene and the game’s ending (once again, where all the characters are together in a single era) create major plotholes (no more than three people can travel through a gate without winding up at The End of Time). Obviously, the game’s ending can overlook the nature of my complaint, since the gates are closing and time itself appears to be wibbly-wobbly dealing with the defeat of Lavos.

But… why choose the forest scene to break the rules for the first time in the entire game? The answer: convenience. Robo clearly had a lot to share from his 400 year forestry project, and the End of Time is quite dull in comparison to a calm, quiet forest with revelations by the campfire. Now that’s out of the way: what were these revelations?

Robo stipulates, for the first time, that Lavos may not be responsible for the gates. An entity (hereafter: the planet) is responsible instead; one that’s been fighting Lavos since this alien parasite first took root. Chrono Trigger isn’t about the memories of the player (outside of Crono as a conduit to the player); Chrono Trigger concerns the memories of the planet. The planet, who sees its life flash before its eyes, attempts to use Crono, Marle, Lucca, and everyone else to right the wrongs of its history…and ultimately succeeds!

Also of note is the way the planet tends to Lucca’s personal history in exchange for their efforts. The scenes involving Lucca’s mother Lara and making her able to walk again, beyond all doubt, collectively are the only time in which the planet ever directly interacts with its saviors. Because of the precedence set by these hopeful, ever-positive folk: Lucca is able to go back to a precise point in her life (that’s not established by any of the game’s many “eras”) and change it for the better.

Essentially, Chrono Trigger embodies hope. Throughout the entire game, negative is turned to positive. Everything ends on the happiest note it possibly can, and despite its inconsistencies, the plot wraps itself up as neatly as it possibly can.

The only open end lies in the case of Schala, who will play a monumental role in Chrono Cross. Schala is truly the most tortured character in the entire game, because her final interaction with the other characters is one of extreme remorse over Crono’s death. That remorse turns into a deep-seeded sense of nihilism, brought on by her mother’s corruption and everything she came to witness before and after merging with Lavos. Schala is the tiniest shadow in a game whose positivity and light almost overwhelms. Perhaps that’s why its sequel tends to exude…quite the opposite of light.

Onward, then! 

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About Jonathan Higgins

[Former Staff] You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @radicaldefect