Pinballing around the internet, a blog post caught my eyes, because the headline was “Motherhood in Geekery” and the image underneath was a Chrono Trigger screenshot. Motherhood! In Chrono Trigger! This is exactly a topic I’d been thinking about lately. Chrono Trigger and parenthood in general, actually. There are several moms and dads in the game. Anyway, the article itself covered a lot of different canons, but only discussed Chrono Trigger briefly, with one sentence about Crono’s mother, so it left me bubbling with “But what about — you’re forgetting about — and couldn’t we also say that —“, and I’ll release these thoughts into the wild in a blog post of my own:
Parent-child relationships in Chrono Trigger!
(Very major spoilers for Chrono Trigger, and some for Chrono Cross in passing.)
Families in videogames often follow the “one parent is enough” rule. This sort of streamlines a character’s family situation. It might seem lazy on behalf of the writers, but keeping things simple is a good rule, especially when you have to work within a budget, have a deadline or file size limitations. A single parent is sufficient to explain a character’s background and situation most of the time: orphaned when parent tragically died; messed up because of abusive parent; determined to find missing parent, or normal kid with unremarkable and nice parent. Chrono Trigger mostly sticks true to this one-parent-family rule, with the exception of Lucca, who is the only character in the game who has a stable family with two living parents — whose names are not “mom” and “dad”, but Lara and Taban. Chrono’s mother is unnamed in the English version, but has a name in the original Japanese game. I’m not sure why this was changed, but I don’t think it matters that much. She’s still not doing anything but be busy with housework. Yes, her overall role is to stay home and care in a purely passive and very stereotypical way, while her son is out “playing with his friends” as far as she is concerned. I don’t feel too bothered by Crono’s mother being so unimportant. Crono is just a silent protagonist after all, without an interesting personality or unique backstory. He’s the normal one, the blank slate, the typical teenager with the typical teenage life and typical parent-child relationship. And … Crono’s mother is not the only mother that shows up in the game, and I think it is fair to say that all the other parent-child relationships are more complex than mom/Crono. Crono is, after all, not a real character at all, so why would his mother be more than the most basic idea of a mom?
As mentioned above, Lucca is the only character with two living parents. They form a “traditional” family consisting of father, mother and child. but like I said, this type of family is actually unusual in videogames and anything but traditional in this context. Lucca takes after her father, who is also an inventor and who is introduced working alongside her on that teleporter that sets the story in motion. Later in the game, he will supply Lucca with weapons, which means that unlike Crono’s mom, he’s not only aware that Lucca is fighting a serious battle, but actively doing his part to help. Lucca’s mother is more passive. When the game starts, she is not even with her family at the Millennial Fair, but sits around at home. Later, we learn that she lost the use of her legs in an accident when Lucca was still little, and Lucca was unable to prevent this. In a pretty cool sequence, Lucca can travel back in time to that moment, for a shot at saving her mother’s health, and making her already pretty happy family even happier.
Like Crono, Marle has to make do with a single parent. But while Crono’s father is never referred to and unimportant, Marle’s deceased mother is actually talked about. Her death, and the king’s perceived or real handling of it, influence Marle’s relationship with her father. He, the king, is also the first parent in the game who is not supportive, but an obstacle, causing problems through overprotectiveness (and because he’s being manipulated by a monster). The relationship between Marle and her father is repaired over the course of the game, the misunderstandings cleared up. But in the beginning, it definitely looks like the king is in the running for the Worst Parent Ever award. Of course,this award is ultimately won by Queen Zeal.
Queen Zeal is the only parent character in the game who has more than one child. We learn that there used to be a king, but he died, which was apparently when the queen became obsessed with harvesting the powers of Lavos, and with gaining immortality. She changed from — I assume — a loving and caring mother and decent ruler to a power-mad tyrant who exploits or neglects her own children. Her older child, Princess Schala, is tragically incapable of defying her. Schala wants to keep believing in her mother, cannot say no to her, and thus allows the queen to use her powers to set something in motion that eventually leads to the destruction of the Kingdom of Zeal, and a lot of death and misery. On the other hand, her younger child, Prince Janus does not consider the Queen to still be their mother, and can only be described as a deeply troubled, gloomy kid. Maybe Schala and Janus’ different attitudes can be explained by their age. Janus might be too young to have many memories of the time before his mother’s madness, unlike his older sister. It’s harder for her to accept that her mother has changed. It’s easy for him to completely reject her because this cold-hearted and cruel woman may be all he ever knew. It could mean that Schala still got some decent care and attention from her parents, which made her grow into a gentle and sweet person who knows right from wrong. Janus, well, grew up to be Magus.
Note that Marle’s mother also died in the past, and that this also played a role in her worsening relationship with her father. Being a single parent is hard. At least Marle’s father didn’t go insane on top of that. While Marle and her dad overcome their problems, there is no reconciliation between Queen Zeal and her children. She barely reacts to their sad fates.
Mad queens are common in JRPGs. I don’t have actual data to back this up, but I suspect they are more common than non-mad queens, and more common than mad kings. (Final Fantasy IX had an insane queen, who was also the mother of a main character. Final Fantasy V also had a mad queen, though she was no mother.) Usually (I think?), these mad queens used to be good people (and good mothers) before an outside force drove them insane and made them turn on their children. This presents bad/abusive queens/mothers as an aberration. Normally, queens are good, mothers are nurturing, and if that’s not the case, there must be something that caused it.
I think a hunger for power, or the wish to harvest a specific energy source, is usually what leads to the queens’ madness. That’s something to think about: Is it generally portrayed as a bad thing for a female ruler to want more power? Are ambitious kings treated the same way? (Hmm. A lot of JRPG kings just sit around on their thrones and do nothing. I’m not sure if that’s a better portrayal.) I’ll have to think about that some more, because it’s an interesting topic.
Mad queen trope notwithstanding, there are two other, non-mad female rulers in Chrono Trigger: Ayla and Azala. In the Prehistoric Era, they both are leaders of their respective species, and locked in a battle for survival and dominance over the world, until Lavos’ arrival settles the matter in favour of the humans, probably by sheer coincidence. Ayla and Azala could probably be described as the “mothers” of their respective species, who are dedicated to giving them a future.
Since we are now leaving the literal meaning of motherhood to use the term more loosely, we can also speak about the evil computer system Mother Brain … and Robo, who has another quasi-mother: Lucca, who repairs him and inspires him to learn to develop emotions and become more “human”.
If we take Chrono Cross into account, Lucca suddenly becomes a very interesting figure when it comes to “motherhood”. Without biological children of her own, Lucca still fulfils a mother role: she runs an orphanage post-CT, and adopts Kid, the rebirth/clone of Schala. I find it interesting that Lucca, the nerdy girl who is less “feminine” than her female co-lead Marle, who does not get the guy and whose interests lie in machines and technology, ends up with a positive mother role in the post-CT world. Lucca is a fascinating character. A scientist who thinks about the consequences of her actions, who feels the moral dilemma inherent in the game’s time travel plot: If we change the future, even if it creates a happier future, we will still wipe out the existence of countless beings, prevent lives from being lived. And that’s terrible. It’s the raising of these concerns that give Chrono Trigger so much depth.
In tentative conclusion, I don’t really feel confident to make a clear statement about the game’s attitude or message concerning parenthood, let alone the related gender aspects. But I do feel that the sheer amount of parent-child relationships, and the different flavours they come in, suggest that this is something important to Chrono Trigger overall. Something that goes beyond an unreflected use of tropes, as Crono’s bare minimum of “mom” might suggest at first glance. It makes sense to me that a game about time travel would feature so many families. This gives the main characters a place where they belong (or choose not to belong), it roots them in a specific era, it gives them a history of their own, and time travel is all about history. Many of the main characters’ families are tied into the game’s plot, or shown to be affected by it in bigger or smaller ways: You almost wipe out Marle’s ancestors, you prevent a tragedy in Lucca’s family history and you sadly shake your head at Magus’ total failure to stop the trainwreck that is his family dynamics.