The idea of “spoilers” comes up a lot these days. In an era where our abundance of information, freely available and shareable, expands more and more every day, it’s increasingly difficult to avoid learning something you might not want to know. These can range from the ending of a show to a character death, or even to a big moment in a classic like Chrono Trigger.
What a spoiler entails can truly run the gamut of all possible, conceivable information about an event or story. And as many spoilers exist in the world, there are also concerns about how much to say, or what truly constitutes a “spoiler.” Some are immediately recognizable, while others become so engrained in culture that they are, quite frankly, idiomatic.
Say “no, I am your father.” It’s a phrase we hear repeated, referenced, and lampooned throughout culture, thanks to the massive impact of Star Wars. Does knowing that dampen the impact of the moment when Vader confirms it to Luke?
It’s something I’ve been thinking about as I play through Chrono Trigger because, as I said before, I was largely unaware of even some of the most basic information about Chrono Trigger going into it. There’s a guy who looks like Goku with red hair; a frog and robot show up; and there is time travel of some sort. But following games long enough, I had at least gleaned some pieces of info that bubbled up from years of lurking GameFAQs and forums, wondering if I had some premonition or if I truly knew something was coming.
[Also, we’re going to talk overt spoilers for Chrono Trigger up through the Ocean Palace and the events soon after. Fair warning.]
Into the ocean
It was at some point, fighting a boss earlier in the landmark SNES RPG Chrono Trigger, that I made an offhand comment about the lead party member Chrono falling in battle. And like a bolt of lightning, neurons fired all in succession to lift something out of my subconscious: “Wait, does Chrono die in this game?”
This uneasy feeling sat in my stomach as I gradually piecemealed my way through the journey, eventually reaching the Kingdom of Zeal. A frankly incredibly setting in games, Zeal did not abate my fears, as one character whispered to my characters that one of us would perish soon. At this point, I felt like all my fears had been confirmed. And in some ways, I was disappointed.
After all, isn’t the twist an exciting moment? The point in a story where everything goes from idyllic to disastrous, or when a mask is thrown away to reveal a true perpetrator, or a great betrayal gut-punches the main hero, is something a lot of fans treasure. Communities will frequently safeguard these instances, too. Game of Thrones book readers went way, way out of their way to keep HBO viewers from learning too much about the Red Wedding. And Warframe players have gone to lengths to not discuss a major plot point in the long-running live game’s story, either. Surprise is an impactful tool in the storyteller’s arsenal.
But as time moves on, some twists gradually fall into the lexicon of the medium. I’m sure, by now, at least one person is yelling “Aerith dies” at their computer screen. It is so infamous now that I’m sure there are some people who are playing the Remake series of Final Fantasy VII who never played the original, yet still know that’s going to be a massive question mark for Rebirth.
Spend long enough in any medium, studying it or simply engaging with it, and you’ll start to uncover just as much. The rules around what these are shift, too. It’s not even a fiction thing, either. There are those who consider the results of tape-delayed sporting events spoilers.
Really, I’m not here to debate what a spoiler is or isn’t—that will always, for better or worse, be in the eye of the beholder. What I am here to talk about is whether knowing this information, through cultural osmosis or just seeing it pop up on the internet, dulls the impact. So let’s go back to Chrono Trigger.
After climbing the chained Mountain of Woe, freeing the guru, and descending down into the Ocean Palace—an elemental oil rig harvesting the energy of the world-ending catastrophe Lavos—the party faces off with the evil queen of Zeal. She brings Lavos to life and, subsequently, blasts the party into the next week; even the sudden reveal of Magus, who is trying to kill Lavos and not summon it, cannot stop the cosmic horror.
The group falls, and their limp bodies are slowly being pulled into the gaping maw of Lavos when the player gets control of Crono. The hero is able to muster one last bit of strength, and in this moment, is faced with a choice: to give their all one last time, or watch everyone—his friends, his world, and all time therein—be consumed by the flames. And so, in one last desperate attempt, you sacrifice Crono.
It’s all in the details
Even having the creeping suspicion, which soon felt all but assured, that Crono would die, this moment still hit me like a brick. Knowing the end was coming is one thing. But the slow, creeping realization that this was it, this was the moment, and then being handed the controller and told to seal it in ink? Incredible.
I mentioned offhand, later, that Chrono Trigger “has taught me is that it’s very easy to glean big ‘Aerith dies’ moments from cultural osmosis but there’s something real neat about finally getting it all in context.” It is one thing to know how it all happens. But seeing the how, and why, and gaining the emotional investment built up in getting there really cements it. Knowing the big spoiler didn’t make the moment any less impactful.
Part of me wonders if I’ve left Chrono Trigger, and so many other games, lingering on my backlog for so long precisely because I thought I “knew them already.” It’s really easy to boil a text down to its most pertinent plot points, its biggest spectacles, and its most surprising reveals. Bruce Willis was dead all along, Snape kills Dumbledore, Viggo Mortensen really did break his toes on that helmet, etc.
But those Wiki-fuel bullet points aren’t the encompassing totality of their respective works. These pieces are about much, much more, filled with narrative moments, themes, ideas—something my AP English teacher liked to call “nibbly bits”—that inform the work as a whole. If we let the power of something hinge on whether or not its surprise has been perfectly preserved, then it boils the impact of that text down to just a single detail.
Chrono Trigger, and others, are so much more. In Chrono Trigger, I’ve seen how interactions can feel recognized and responded to by the narrative systems. I’ve been drawn in by the imposing threat of a bucket. And even within the Ocean Palace, I got my triumphant revenge over a twin set of golems that had previously walloped me. In the moment where Crono had to make his great sacrifice, I was the one who maneuvered him into position and made it happen; knowing it was going to happen didn’t dampen my involvement, and if anything, heightened it.
Tale as old as time
This isn’t me pushing anyone to spoil themselves on everything, though. Some twists are worth preserving. And like I said before, we are all the arbiters of our own spoiler tolerance levels. If you don’t want to know an outcome, or an eventual character death, then build up your spoiler walls and mute your terms on social media. I’m grateful, really, for a lot of the ways in which social media has tried to adapt to the ease with which information spreads on the internet, whether that’s Discord implement click-through spoiler text blocks or fans using specific hashtags to discuss spoilers for the latest episode or chapter.
My encouragement is this: Just because you know how a big thing happens, doesn’t mean the impact of it will be any lesser for it. This goes for Chrono Trigger as much as it goes for Hunter x Hunter, The Prestige, or Game of Thrones. (Well, at least the early seasons of GoT.) Knowing the who, what, where, and when is one thing. But the how, and the why, can still hit hard.
If anything, I now have a renewed drive to finally play some games I’d let slide down my backlog. Final Fantasy VI, another game I know largely through osmosis of its most key events (ruined world, Kefka bad, suplex a train), is now at the top of my to-do list. Maybe you’ve got a few, like Knights of the Old Republic or BioShock, that you’ve put off because you already know their biggest surprises. Well, I’ll tell you: it’s worth seeing them in their context, and understanding why these moments are just the cherries atop their respective works.
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