These decades later, 1995’s Chrono Trigger stands as the capstone of the 2D JRPG genre. You could argue that Final Fantasy VI, released the year prior, is the better game on aesthetic or technical grounds. But at least in North America, CT marked the end of an era when console gamers rightly expected Japanese developers to outdo themselves with each new release.
Though a stunning artistic and technological achievement, Chrono Trigger owes its enduring legacy to its generational themes
– and the uncanny foresight with which it anticipated the future of gaming and the world.
Perhaps it’s inevitable that a game about time travel would deal with cultural transmission – or the failure thereof – between generations. But it’s hard to revisit the game and not pick up a number of plot threads that resonate today.
Consider the recurring theme of intergenerational conflict. Marle’s rebellion against her emotionally distant father is her impetus for getting involved in the story. The same goes for Magus and his mother, whose power lust rapidly plunges her into madness. A later side quest even reveals tension between Robo and his “mother”, who’s intent on destroying all humans.
Time and again, the protagonists are shown to be children of an older generation whose failure to master their vices led to global disaster.
Chrono Trigger was released in 1995. Its target audience of late life cycle SNES owners mostly belonged to Gen X and Gen Y. The question that arises now is, did Square Soft create one of the first and grandest anti-Boomer memes?
Consider the game’s main character, Crono. He’s shown to have been raised by a single mother with no mention made of his father. His mom is consistently depicted as oblivious to the earth-shaking events surrounding her son’s destiny. Instead, she’s wholly engrossed in a solipsistic world of domestic trivialities. Crono himself is a blank slate who never speaks a single line of dialogue. He’s a screen onto which the player projects himself.
And the only time he overtly reacts to a story event is when his mom stumbles into a collapsing time gate – at which point he performs his battle victory animation.
That’s not even touching upon the apocalyptic threat looming over the entire game. The characters’ jaunts through time eventually reveal a hellish future where mankind, and the whole planet, are slowly dying in the aftermath of a nightmarish cataclysm.
The cause of the apocalypse is finally identified as Lavos, a parasitic alien that burrows deep into its host worlds like an interstellar tick. There, Lavos feeds off the planet’s mineral, biological, and energy resources, growing and building copies of itself, only to burst forth eons later in a civilization-ending event.
Anyone under 60 who’s spent time on the internet lately can see clear parallels emerge. Not only is Lavos a parasite that greedily consumes the earth’s resources, he stands atop the pyramid with a tyrannical grip on power. Lavos’ arrival warps society to unconsciously feed his lusts, forever altering the course of civilization.
It gets worse. Later generations who set out to end Lavos’ destructive reign face a terrible dilemma. Their only hope of defeating Lavos lies in their recently awakened magical powers. However, the source of those powers is strongly hinted to be Lavos himself. The power upon which mankind’s most advanced civilization rests will depart with the parasite which is slowly undermining the same society.
If Chrono Trigger has one flaw, it’s that the game hand waves that compelling dilemma away. Xers, Ys, and Zoomers won’t have that luxury as we grapple with the multifaceted disasters unleashed by the Boomers.
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