In my mind, video games and theology go together like pie and ice cream, and I’m always happy to see when a game subtly takes on real-world religious themes and puts them into a game. Sometimes they might talk about the existence of an unloving god and what that might mean, or take a few religious figures and translate them into a few characters on the screen.
Before we continue, please be aware that there are unmarked spoilers throughout this article. Proceed at your own risk!
Chrono Trigger explores a few themes, mostly familiar to those who have a basic knowledge of Western religions, but then leaves on question mostly unanswered: the question of the Entity.
But let’s get the easy parts out of the way first.
The symbolism of a chosen hero sacrificing himself only to be raised from the dead is… well it’s sort of familiar to anyone who has ever heard of Christianity.
Or have heard of Osiris, the Egyptian god who was killed and brought back to life by his wife, Isis, the same way Marle fights to have Chrono brought back. Or it might be familiar to the people who have heard of the Greek titan Prometheus, who brought light to the world, only to be sacrificed for it over and over again. Or to those who know Aravan of Hindu religion, who sacrificed himself to ensure victory for his people. Or to anyone who knows that all the Aztec gods gave their lives so humans could live.
Okay, so this idea of death followed by thankful, beautiful life is a pretty familiar religious symbol.
But what fascinated me about Chrono Trigger was that this symbolism, which is incredibly familiar if nothing else, was not the one that it focused on. Instead, Chrono Trigger focused on the apocalypse.
Bullet Points of the Apocalypse
The Number Seven
The first point that is of utmost importance to remember (both for this and for the second set of religious symbolism) is that the number seven plays a fairly prominent role in the Book of Revelation. John – the man who sees and records his vision – is instructed to send the epistle to the seven churches of Asia. Seven Seals bind a scroll that holds information only God can know until the Lion/Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes opens it. There are seven years of judgment, seven crowns, seven angels. Seven is a very important number in the Book of Revelation.
It also just so happens to be the number of companions who follow Crono on his adventures.
Often, the number represents completion. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is because the seventh day was the one on which God had completed his work, and thus rested. There is some colloquial thought, as well, that seven is a magic number because it is the sum of four and three, with four being the four cardinal direction, and the three representing father, mother, and child (or the Holy Trinity, if you’re so inclined), thus being the perfect and “complete” number that can unify all life, heaven and earth.
The Four Horsemen
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are probably some of the best-known imagery associated with the end of the world, at least in the Christian tradition. And with good reason: four horsemen riding out into the world, each bringing some form of destruction, are sure to grab and keep people’s attention.
For those who might not remember, the four horses have four distinct colors: white, red, black, and pale. While these four riders are disguised in Chrono Trigger, they’re still there.
First is the White Rider, often seen as a conqueror. Recently, this horseman has taken on another symbol, as he is clothed in white. The only other folks in the Bible ever clothed in white are holy figures, most famously Jesus. New theories propose that the “conqueror” is actually Jesus, who rides out at the end of the world to conquer it with the Word of God (read: conquering evil, at least the way Christianity teaches it).
With this adapted view in mind, the White Rider corresponds nicely with Magus, the character once seen as evil, who instead lays down the frightening reputation he has in an attempt to conquer the evil that is Lavos. Like the interpretation of the White Rider, Magus is originally seen as dangerous, but his motivations are much more benevolent, at least insofar as although he’s out to destroy things, the things he wishes to destroy are evil.
The second horse, the Red Rider, is symbolic of civil war descending upon the land. Without going in to too much detail about how the conflict between the Mystics and the humans echoes the Christian-Islam conflicts of old*, the important point for this article is that Ozzie fills the space for this second horseman, pulling Magus up to lead the Mystics to greatness during the civil war with Guardia and the other humans.
You’ve probably guessed by now that Magus’s two other henchmen, Flea and Slash, are the remaining two horsemen. And you’d be partly correct. The Black Rider, or third horseman, is a bringer of famine. Famine can be a shortage of food or other resource, and can also represent hunger. Flea fits into this horseman nicely, as evidenced by her hunger to be all things, both male and female.
And just for the record, yes, I am absolutely ignoring the insinuation the game is making about how being trans* is bad/unnatural.
The final horseman, the Pale Rider, is the bringer of death. Slash seems to fit this, as he holds a blade the same way the Pale Rider holds a sickle, and he certainly tries to bring about death, but there is one other character who, to my understanding, is more connected to death than he is.
Queen Zeal has an obsessive drive to conquer death for herself while bringing destruction to others. And, like the Pale Rider, she is not so easily dispersed. As the only one who stands between Crono and Lavos at the end of the game, Queen Zeal is primed to be representative of the final horseman standing between humanity and the end of the world.
And so Chrono Trigger shows us the four harbingers of the end of the world: the conqueror, the rabble-rouser, the famine-bringer, and the death knell.
But the game doesn’t stop there with its apocalyptic symbolism.
The Whore of Babylon
Schala’s connection to the Mammon Machine was far too fascinating to go unnoticed. After all, the imagery of a woman and a demon-like creature and pushed in the player’s face again and again; there must be something to it.
I was initially disappointed that the connection Schala had to Lavos and/or the Mammon Machine wasn’t explored further, but upon researching for this article I found that there is a boss that only appears in the DS version: the Dream Devourer. But let’s back up.
The Whore of Babylon is a character that show up in revelation, riding the Beast and, with the name of Babylon attached to her, representing the opposite of God’s grace and goodness. Babylon was often considered the opposite of Jerusalem, with “Jerusalem” representing God’s pristine holy city and “Babylon” representing the exact opposite. So, in essence, we’re talking about someone who is at odds with the good guys, to say the least.
Although today the word “whore” has a certain connotation, in a Biblical sense the word “whore” could infer someone who is unfaithful, or who is an idolatress (a person who worships idols).
Oh, and the Whore of Babylon rides on the Beast. That’s probably the imagery that everyone knows.
You might be wondering where sweet, kind Schala fits in to all of this. While I think her kindness softens her a bit, she does match some of the core attributes of this Idolatress. First of all, she follows her mother relentlessly, even when she knows that her mother has gone mad and is wrong, so in that way she follows, for want of a better term, an idol or “false god.” Schala helps activate the Mammon Machine and prepares the world for Lavos to fully return. She is, at the end of the day, at odds with Crono, his friends, and even her brother, Magus, who we’ve already talked about as a conqueror of evil.
After watching the Dream Devourer battle, she also has an interesting conversation with Magus, during which she expresses that she wished for the end of the world to come, and so the very power of her desire for all of existence to be blinked out caused…
Her to become one with Lavos, riding on top of him. I think we’ve seen a similar image to this.
So, while Schala might be kind, her desire to destroy existence because of her own difficulties with coping allies her with her mother and Lavos the same way the Idolatress from Revelation may be a woman representing a kingdom, but has been carried away by the beast.
It’s Crono! No, I’m just kidding. Lavos, the devourer of worlds, is representative of the great Beast in Revelations. Aside the obvious comparisons, Lavos has several forms, which is reminiscent of the few Beasts who roam the earth, one who is the actual Beast (the one from the sea/abyss [Revelation 11:7]) and the false prophet Beast (who comes from the earth [Revelation 13:11-18]). His final form, much like our contemporary view of Lucifer/Satan, is part man and part beast. Where Lucifer began as an angel, and so has the body of a man and wings like an eagle, Lavos has a head like a man, winds like chicken, and various other parts of humans and animals, cobbled together into a perversion of all the creatures he has destroyed.
He is, without a doubt, the beast that rules the world for a certain period of time before being conquered by the savior and his army.
Which is Crono and his gang, in case you were wondering. And with that, we bring the end of the world to a close. But there is still more to unpack.
Who is the Entity?
As the game progresses, the crew wonders if Lavos is the one who has been opening all the gates for them to pass through. However, later on, Robo mentions that over his 400 year service to Fiona’s forest, he began to believe that there was another being, an Entity, that wished for them to see the events as they played out. This leads to a discussion that hints that perhaps this Entity is in its final stages, and its life is “passing before its eyes” before it expires. After all, as the crew observes, the final memories can often be ones of regret.
But even though the crew may feel that the Entity is finally at peace at the end of the game, they never answer the question of who the Entity actually is.
Is it the planet? Lavos himself? The player? Someone else?
Each is as likely as the next. Let’s entertain each, and then let me know your thoughts in the commets
The Earth as Entity
This is an interesting idea, and also possibly the blandest idea. The earth would certainlyl “be at rest” at the end of the adventure, but that doesn’t seem to fit in with the “life flashing before the eyes” discussion the characters have. Is the earth dying and flashing back to these moments? What would the purpose be of showing these memories to someone else?
…unless the game pulled some real alternative-reality voodoo and the characters were part of the memories being replayed, but, like when one is in the throes of deja vu, they had a certain level of awareness of themselves as being both part of and separate from their reality. But that starts to get into the nature of time, consciousness, and reality, which is a talk for a different day.
So while for the purpose of this particular article the earth isn’t the top contender for the Entity, it does provide an interesting framework for other philosophical discussions. But back to the matter at hand.
Lavos as Entity
This strikes me as the more likely scenario, as Lavos is defeated in the game, and so the entire adventure could be a “flashback” that Lavos experiences before his final demise, full of regret at perhaps not squashing his foes more effectively. In regards to concrete being that is introduced in-game that we know exists until the end of the story, Lavos fits the bill pretty well, although there are two other contenders who pose a slightly more interesting twist.
Schala as Entity
This might be disproved by the events of Chrono Cross, but after seeing the Dream Devourer boss battle from the Nintendo DS version, it’s possible that Schala is the Entity that the companions speak about. She is, after all, an incredible powerful mage, and it is during the events in Zeal that the player encounters a character who questions the nature of reality, specifically in relation to reality potentially being a dream.
To my eye, it appears that Schala was absorbed into Lavos (ignoring any events in Chrono Cross), so, with his demise, she may have possibly been freed, and therefore been put “to rest” by the events at the end of the game. After all, the Entity isn’t spoken of as definitively being a god, but rather simply a being in whose final memories the companions find themselves. In keeping to the literal conversation of what the companions say, specifically that the final memories are often ones of regret, Schala is a strong contender, as it is very possible she would feel regret for not standing up to her mother, enabling the return of Lavos, and allowing herself to be consumed by the monster.
…to finally feel relief after the events of the game are over and she is released from the life she so desperately didn’t like.
The Player as Entity
While this is somewhat glossed over if you look at the Chrono Trigger Wikipedia pages, this is one of the more nuanced options. Not only does it nicely break the fourth wall, insinuating that it’s the player feeling relief or a sense of completion at the end of the game, it also toys with the idea that the unknowable, powerful or godlike Entity is in fact nothing more than a mere human. While I just spoke about how the Entity does not have to be a god, but merely godlike in power, let’s assume for a moment that “godlike” and “a god” are the same.
If that is the case, then the player being the Entity begins to pull into question the relationship between God and humans. It’s a commonly held belief that humans were made in God’s image, but there is also a school of thought that poses the opposite: that humans created God (or the gods) in our image.
Psychology research tells us that humans can be very selfish when trying to imagine the thoughts and potential actions of other humans. And, if we are to look at the development of religion across cultures from a purely historical point of view, people who have claimed to speak for/to the higher powers in the universe were often granted a little more power in the tribe/society. And so, in a nutshell, our thoughts became the thoughts of our god(s). There’s a reason Greek and Roman gods were so humanlike, and why Norse gods were so fatalistic: they are products of their people and of the societies they sprouted up in. Why, then, should we think that any of our modern religions are different?
I don’t say this, of course, to dissuade anyone from their own religious beliefs. But it’s within this framework that I’m operating for this particular Player as Entity idea.
We are, as a species, creative. We create stories, art, laws, social structures, other humans. We create video games, and we bring those stories to life when we play them. It’s this creative link that begins to put the player as Entity. By having the power to play out the story, to create or enable the path the characters will take, gives the player a great deal of godlike power in the eyes of the characters on the screen. The player is, after all, all-powerful and unknowable to Crono and his friends. The player is, for all intents and purposes, a god in this situation.
While the player might not feel regret, he or she might definitely feel relief or a sense of accomplishment at the end of the game, or a sense of satisfaction at having brought the story to (one of) its (many) conclusion(s). The player is the unknowable Entity beyond the comprehension of the companions, and the one who can control whether or not they exist…
So… Who’s the Entity?
To me, any narrative that tries to flip a commonly-held belief around and ask “what if it was the other way around?” is interesting. And while I’m more of a fan of Schala as Entity, the Player as Entity’s ability to bend the fourth wall and question the nature of an entity begins to hint that there is more to the “reality” of the game than first meets the eye.
If you ask me, I would say that Schala is the Entity. Like a benevolent god, she is powerful and kind, but she is also mortal and succumbs to Lavos. She would understandably feel regret about the story, and relief at its conclusion. And I think she would be powerful enough to create a reality of her own in which the characters sucked into it might realize that they are actually in a dream composed of final moment of one tormented soul.
After all, as Ozzie says, “The past is a dream.”
But that’s a thought experiment for a different time.
What do you think? Who is the Entity? Is it a mortal being or an immortal one? Do you think Chrono Trigger retells the story of the apocalypse, or is it its own story? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
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