THE CAUTIONARY TALE OF THE HYDRAS
The story of Chrono Cross (2000), in which a young boy finds himself transported to an
alternative dimension in which he drowned, is one of loss of self and consequences of being. The first time this is really felt is when the main character, Serge, is tasked with rescuing the life of Kid, a girl he had just met and who was poisoned by her nemesis, Lynx, a human-cat hybrid. To do so Surge has to find a way to collect a humour of a Hydra, a creature thought to be long extinct in the world he finds himself in. Surely, one can easily assume what the hero is attempting to do here is noble and just. But Chrono Cross gives us pause, first by asking us whether we want to rescue Kid at all and by then taking us down a road of reflection and grief, by the end of which we feel more broken and lost than we have before all this. Surely, we don't play games to feel like this?
Like many RPG's Chrono Cross features a very colourful cast of characters and monsters, we got pirates, fairies, dwarfs, clowns, you name it. What makes it stand out is the setting of the world, a chain of islands which were inhabited by demi-humans in great numbers before the islands were colonized by humans from the main continent. These demi-humans have varying appearances but many assume a hybridity between humans and various animals. They are rarely encountered and have been forced to relocate to even more outlying islands to live in peace. The significance of this setting is crucial both to our perception of ourselves in the game, which begins as a bright-eyed kid living on a carefree tropical island and our changing perception of the world, as exemplified by the Hydra quest.
Since Hydras have been hunted to extinction because of their valued body parts, the only way to locate one is to travel to another dimension where they live on. We actually learn about the location of the Hydras from a dwarf in a tavern. Oh the irony! When we arrive at Hydra's Marsh we find a whole bunch of hostile and voluble dwarfs who do not hold back in warning us to leave their home and the Hydra alone. 'Prepare to receive the anger of nature you so deserve! Hi-ho!' Their comedic and incessant tone is so 'game-like' that one continues to push forward and beat them out of the way. But there is also a nagging feeling that there is truth in their outrage. Are words less true if spoken by a big-nosed angry dwarf? Well, to humans they probably are and this reveals the discriminatory nature of this quest. Here you are, doing what so many others have done in another dimension, invading their territory to hunt a Hydra because of its properties. History repeats itself because of you.
With the Hydra killed, the dwarfs issue a warning and flee. There is a feeling of indifference, it seems like the game wanted you to feel conflicted about all of this but surely you just need that item and to rescue a poor girl on her deathbed. It seems to be screaming at you while you're doing what you needed to do anyway. It is only in the next quest that consequences of your actions hit home. You travel to an island in search of the Water Dragon who can help continue your quest of revenge. The island is also inhabited by tiny fairies, born of morning dew, who glide among the greenery and blue waterholes. Upon arriving you find a massacre taking place in all this tranquility, the dwarfs, forced to leave their home, have invaded. Fairies lay dead all over, their small stature and purity making you all the more angry at the dwarfs. 'You humans have taught us that the world is built on the dead bodies of other species...' The dwarfs bark at you and you realize you cannot argue with that. No matter, another being of great purity, the water dragon is in danger so you finish off these genocidal dwarfs once and for all. The water dragon himself does not thank you however nor does he mince words with you. He gives you want you seek and what you have fought for. You then hear his voice talking to you in the darkness. 'Wilt thou live on with thy mother planet...Or wilt thou turn thy back on the planet and tread another path...' As well as the dragon's warning, the remaining fairies turn their backs on you, blaming you for what has happened to their kind and their home. Their tears make Kid, the girl you rescued, think about her own tragic past, as she collapses from the strain. Listening to Kid later, tell her story by the fire, you feel broken, life goes on for you but it has left so many in sorrow. Kid is set to continue her path of vengeance, using the analogy of a cruel world where only the winners prevail as a guide.
The lesson of the Hydras is perhaps best expressed by the old fishing man who brought you to the island. Previously he has spoken words of wisdom to you about the sea such as: 'In due course, your time will also come to return to the sea, young man...' However this time, he just tells you: 'I guess you did what you needed to do?...But you guys look a little gloomy for it to have gone so well...' In a game filled with powerful metaphors about mankind and the sea this is one hits as the most relatable to what we are experiencing today in the world. But unlike Serge, we can't travel to another dimension and get our Hydras back, this is all we have...
Waterdragon Island, beautiful but lifeless without the fairies and dragon...