Chrono Cross and the Haunting Power of Our Choices
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition is out now, and with it, a whole new generation of people will be able to meet its quirky cast and delve into its intriguing story. It’s been over twenty years since I walked its sandy shores, but even now, I can hear the music for Arni Village echoing in my ears. While I have many pleasant memories of this game, that doesn’t mean it didn’t ask some questions that have haunted me for years. Questions about choice that still bounce around my head after all this time.
Spoilers ahead for Chrono Cross and Chrono Trigger.
There is a location in the game that has always stuck with me: the Dead Sea. Within it, there’s a world trapped during an apocalypse. Frozen in the midst of it, with waves crashing against buildings and structures. Strange phantoms and broken devices fill the halls and walk along the hardened waves. It remains one of the eeriest places I’ve ever explored in a game. It’s that moment of death drawn out into eternity. That moment of suffering as you cross over into darkness, but are never, ever able to make the jump. Just endless pain and terror.
But this apocalypse never actually happened. Sort of. The Dead Sea is the result of the heroic characters from Chrono Trigger and the doomed future they stopped. When Lavos was defeated in that game, the apocalypse no longer happened. However, the Dead Sea was born from that future which never came to be. Chrono Cross has created a small world out of a future that never happened. A place where one future died due to the choices some people made.
In the words of the characters you meet at the Dead Sea: “But in saving our planet from the death Lavos was going to bring about, they also changed the course of history…” “At that very moment, this whole future time axis ceased to exist. Call it cause and effect…” I had never thought about the weight that a single decision could have on the world. Sure, the decision to save the world from a space-faring parasite isn’t a hard one, but it did make me pause and think of other ways the tiniest of decisions could shape a life. Or could doom a whole future.
“Each choice you make creates a new world and brings forth a new future. But at the same time, you’re eliminating a different future with the choices you didn’t make. A future denied of all existence because of a change in the past… A future that was destroyed even before it was born rests here… condensed into the Dead Sea.”
How many things in your life can you distill down to a single decision you made? I can track the current arc of my whole life down to one moment. One tiny thing I decided to do over twenty years ago. That call would lead to a series of events that would put me squarely where I’m at right now. Similar seemingly insignificant things would give me the friends I’ve had for most of my life. Would put me on track to the work I do with my writing. Chrono Cross asks us to examine the weight of those kinds of decisions.
The thing is, most of us aren’t choosing whether to save the world. We’re young and playing this new “video game” thing at a cousin’s house. Deciding to take a first job. Choosing whether we really want to take a class. Join a sport. Walk down the street on a given day. The smallest of decisions we make can lead to an entire shift in our existence. For good or bad, too. How many disasters can you trace to a single bad decision? One you may have made decades ago?
Chrono Cross is a world where that dead future wants revenge. “But the future that was supposed to have disappeared is about to be restored here…The future destruction of our planet is going to become a reality in this world once again…” “The vengeance of the future we killed is about to begin…” It’s a terrifying possibility for a video game hero, isn’t it? That the world you saved is doomed to destruction because the future you ended demands to come to pass? That you can work so hard to save things, but the apocalypse comes anyway?
More unsettling to me, though, is the question of the lives you end by undoing the apocalypse. The Dead Sea presents a world in continual death, but it was still a world that, at one point, was set to exist in time. A world of lives that may have only existed had Lavos scourged the earth uninterrupted. In Chrono Trigger, the world moves on after Lavos has done its damage to the planet. People still have lives and families that exist within that particular timeline. How have you reshaped their existence by defeating Lavos?
I’m not saying that I feel like we should have let Lavos destroy the world. I’m not second-guessing my desire to beat Chrono Cross. However, it did make me pause to think about those lives that would be changed by my decision. The lives that wouldn’t exist if we had done something differently. That doesn’t mean I regret stopping a monster from killing almost everyone on the planet. It’s only that the question makes me uncomfortable. I’m haunted by the lives that I scoured from time by what I did.
Ever since I learned the meaning behind the Dead Sea, I’ve been incapable of viewing time and decisions without this thought. Loved ones have asked me I would do if I could change any element of my life. All of the awful things that have happened to me lead me to where I am now, though. To the family and friends I made. To the life I carved out. And I wouldn’t change anything, no matter how terrible, because it was those small moments that carried me here. And I can’t bear to think of a future where a single decision left all of these people behind. A future where my children don’t exist because I made one call differently.
Chrono Cross presented a world where our unmade decisions are given form. A place where thousands die from the calls we didn’t make. It asks us to consider the ways our lives have changed based on what we do. How our tiniest, most forgettable actions one way or another can shape the world. It’s frightening in its repercussions, and for me, will always make me appreciate how my life, even at its worst, has lead to where I am now.