Chrono Trigger, the Bible, Capitalism and Legitimacy

When questioned about the possibility of a sequel to Chrono Trigger, Shinji Hashimoto, vice president of Square Enix, replied, “If people want a sequel, they should buy more [copies]!” (Reilly, 2009). This acerbic response typifies the relationship between producers and consumers in the video game market. Game studios, such as Square Enix, will create games to fulfill the needs and wants of their audience not only in order to provide a satisfying and engaging experience, but will do so in hopes of reaping profits and converting them into becoming repeat customers. The final product will also be assessed differently by both the consumer and the producer. The consumer will judge a game based on its narrative, gameplay, graphics, etc. Essentially, their enjoyment of the game will derive from the experience it provides them. The producer will judge the game on how effectively the satisfaction of the consumer translates into profitability, not enjoyment. For a game that was not a profitable enough to warrant a sequel, according to Hashimoto, the question remains as to why their is such a vocal demand for people wanting ‘more’. What is it about Chrono Trigger that resonated with its target audience that generated such a vocal minority? Is it because of its seemingly apparent tributes and references to classical literature? Its possible that when a narrative is based upon common, traditional stories that it creates a sense of familiarity towards cultural values for the consumer. Aside from narrative, the game mechanics of Chrono Trigger provide an engaging and familiar environment for the player to interact with. The progression system, the ability to ‘level up’, is also reminiscent of the capitalistic system wherein the player will accumulate wealth, represented by levels, in order to provide the opportunity to fulfill their goals. The question remains as to the socially constructed conditions that caused Chrono Trigger to feature allegories of the Bible and capitalism.

Incorporating familiar stories and their tropes into a video game not only serves a narrative purpose but also acts as a marketing tool. Having video games feature literary devices that remind players of classic literature creates a familiar environment for them and will aid in their immersion. For instance, due to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings saga incredible influence on the fantasy genre, its story and characters have spilled over into other mediums and stories. The majority of successful fantasy games such as Dungeons and Dragons, Skyrim, World of Warcraft and The Witcher. owe a great deal of debt to Tolkien. Amy Hennig, who formerly served as Creative Director for Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, claims that “Many elements of the most popular games have classic roots and when we play these games we are interacting with worlds that are timeless. I believe that classic literature, myths, and legends endure because they are a reflection of something deeply embedded in our collective consciousness” (Perry, 2006).

One of the potential factors that could effectively explain the reverence towards Chrono Trigger is how heavily influenced it is by classic literature. To briefly summarize, the game is set in an Earth-like world where the three main characters, Crono, Marle and Lucca, use time travel in an attempt to discover a way to prevent the future destruction of their world. The one threatening this destruction is Lavos, an alien parasite who arrived in Crono’s world via a meteor. Since the arrival of Lavos, it has been draining the Earth of its energy resources with the goal of producing off spring that will continue doing this to other planets. This plot of bears a close resemblance to the Book of Revelation from the Bible. In Revelation, Wormwood falls from the heavens and infects all of the rivers and springs and causes many people to die. ‘A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.’ (English Standard Version, Rev 8:11) The character of Crono also features many parallels to Jesus Christ. Two particularly notable similarities are that Crono sacrifices himself to save his party and is later miraculously resurrected, similar to Jesus dying for the sins of everyone, and also the fact that he manages to feed an entire military with a few pieces of beef jerky, much like when Jesus fed hundreds of starving people with a few morsels of bread.

There are many other references to literature throughout the game consisting of everything from The Frog Prince, represented by the character ‘Frog’, and Isaac Asimov’s ‘Three Laws of Robotics’, as represented by the character ‘Robo.’ It is difficult to say whether these additional references to literature are implemented intentionally or have simply become traditional storytelling tropes due various forms of legitimacy. What is questionable, though, are the seemingly intentional and constant references to the Bible throughout Chrono Trigger. It is possible, though, that this can be attributed to social constructs that Japan has faced due to their relationship with Christianity. In order to understand this, one must understand Japan’s historical context.

The inception of Christianity in Japan began with the arrival of Francis Xavier in 1549. Roman Catholicism, at this point in time, began to develop a large role in Japanese culture; this was represented by nearly half a million followers. Despite adversity from the Council of Five Elders about Portuguese intervention in Japan, they allowed it to continue due the trade that was facilitated between the two countries. However, once the council was eliminated after the Battle of Sekigahara and the Tokugawa shogun lineage began, this attitude changed. This new government viewed Christianity as a threat to the political unity of Japan and eventually outlawed it in 1638. Despite this, Christianity managed to survive in contained, secretive community spaces.  By the 19th century, the ban was lifted in order to facilitate religious tolerance within Japan and to have a positive relationship with the United States, who were critical of the persecution.

Out of the three main religions in Japan, Shinto, Buddhism and Christianity, the latter seems to have a great influence on Japanese culture, despite only comprises of about 2% of the population. “Christians are strongly represented among the best-educated, leading elements in society and therefore exerted a quite disproportionate influence.” (Jansen & Reischaver, 213) With this, Christianity had a major influence on Japanese ethics which caused Japan to adopt many attitudes that were representative of occidental values. To emphasize, Christianity’s effect on ethics overshadowed the impact that Shintoism and Buddhism had. It is therefore not a coincidence that contemporary Japanese games, or specifically, Japanese RPGs feature Christian dimension.

For what reason has the Bible become culturally legitimate? Why did Christians yield such a large amount of influence? Why, after so many thousands of years, are certain texts considered to be valuable? When there were attempts by Portugal to colonize Japan through the use of Christianity, the reason why it was tolerated and not immediately sanctioned was due to trade. If Japan allowed Christian influence, they would be reciprocated with a lucrative trade route provided by the Portuguese. With this relationship, Christianity gained a sense of legitimacy due to the fact that the religion and its teachings were associated, by both citizens and political figures, with prosperity. This is a possible reason as to why the Bible is culturally relevant and legitimate to Japanese culture and a reason for Chrono Trigger’s allegorical nature. In addition to this, since religion has a strong correlation with values and opinions, it is plausible to say that featuring religious motifs in Chrono Trigger can function as a marketing tool to elicit an emotional response. Robert Rosenthal writes on the subject of consumer behaviour, “Studies have shown emotional and psychological appeals resonate more with consumers than feature and function appeals.” (Rosenthal, 2014).

Similar to real life, the goal of the player in Chrono Trigger is not only to defeat the final boss, but to accumulate wealth along the way. In the game, prosperity is represented by “levelling up” and measured by acquiring as many valuable items as possible. If, however, this yearning for prosperity become a player’s priority, they can be inclined to ignore the main objective of the game. Instead, it is possible that they will be enamoured with their own character’s accumulation of capital assets that they focus solely on upgrading their perks, collecting loot, managing their expenses and time, trading with store clerks, finding hidden treasures and clearing maps. Instead of completing the story, the player acknowledges the opportunity cost and finds it more desirable to focus accumulating wealth. However, it would not be a fruitless endeavour since the game does reward the player for the time that they invest in their characters. If one player puts 50 hours of gameplay, and another only puts 10 hours, which one player is more likely to be possess more items and be more skilled? 

Progress is defined by how much time you invest into your party, and that time invested reflects the capital that you gain. It is similar to the capitalist ideology where it is believed that a person’s wealth is represented solely by the time and effort they put into attaining it. A person is rich because they worked hard to generate wealth whereas a poor person did not; this interpretation does not, however, acknowledge systemic prejudices.

Since Chrono Trigger is an open world RPG, the decisions are left in the hands of the player and it is their duty to traverse the world in order to complete the story. The world is the free market, without any intervention from the game. The only factors that define which of the twelve endings that the player receives is defined by the choices they make. These choices manifest themselves by the strategy the player uses the time travel aspect of the game in order to defeat Lavos.

At one point in the game, there is an option to use the epoch, the time travel device, in order to visit the near future. When the player arrives in this area, it turns out to be a dystopian future. The humanoid robots have taken over and humans have become extinct due to starvation. This seems to mirror what many people fear the future holds for the world if capitalism, in its current form, continues to exist. Automation has taken over and humans have become obsolete; it is all self inflicted.

Even in 2015, Chrono Trigger still holds a dedicated fan base and has been re-released on the Nintendo DS. It is praised for its multiple endings, engaging story and overall quality. It considered by many members of the public to be one of the greatest video games of all time. Despite the fan base and how effectively the game acknowledges many topics from the Bible, to capitalism, why would this not be considered for a sequel? The term ‘success’ is not as simple and concrete as it seems to be. From the consumer point of view, based on the games merit, it is considered to be a success. From the point of view of the producer, it is considered to not be successful due to its profitability. Is a game’s overall success determined by its merit or its sales figures?

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Terence Gogarty

Juliano Lepore

Hannah Abarca

Sean Humphrey

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  • Damodaran, Aswath. “Return of Capital (ROC), Return on Invested Capital (ROIC) and Return on Equity (ROE): Measurement and Implications.” Stern School of Business. 2007.
  • Lindley, Craig; Nacke, Lennart; Sennersten, Charlotte (November 3–5, 2008). “Dissecting Play – Investigating the Cognitive and Emotional Motivations and Affects of Computer Gameplay”. Proceedings of CGAMES 08 (Wolverhampton, UK: University of Wolverhampton).
  • Jansen, B.M & Reischaver, O.E., (1977) The Japanese Today: Change and continuity. Harvard University Press.
  • Rosenthal Robert. Fast Company. Mansueto Ventures LLC, n.p. Web.
  • Perry, Douglass C. “The Influence of Literature and Myth in Videogames.” IGN. Ziff Davis., 18 May 2006. Web.
  • The Holy Bible: The English Standard Version. Crossway Bibles, 2001.  Web.
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One thought on “Chrono Trigger, the Bible, Capitalism and Legitimacy

  1. – What other games function as an allegory for the Bible?
    – How is legitimacy defined? Who determines, with what criteria, cultural value?
    – What are some interpretations of success?

    Like

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