I think one of the most incredible moments of wonder and awe I had when it came to any narrative growing up was coming across the sky kingdom of Zeal and finding out how their hubris caused them to destroy their world (with its parallels to contemporary society). As some of you know, I’ve been writing a retrospective for Tor.com, and my favorite part of this whole replay has been going through it with Angela and experiencing it anew through her eyes. I also get into one of the darkest moments in JRPGs- exterminating an entire race that leads to the rise of the humans.
Today we’ll get to the single greatest moment in my 16-bit gaming experience—discovering the Kingdom of Zeal 12,000 years into the past. Coming right after the plunge into a prehistoric 65 Million BC and stopping the Reptites attempt to wipe out humanity, this ice age was a cold awakening. Snow blasting across your face, a destitute, miserable arctic landscape. Then, paradise, a city in the heavens, grander than ‘a castle in the sky.’
The music was arcane, mysterious, and yet full of hope. The technology and artistry complemented each other perfectly, just as magic had driven the culture to new heights. Zeal was where “dreams could come true.” I was both confused and in awe. How did this world connect with the rest of Chrono Trigger? Sages and strange creatures challenged me with ontological questions about existence. Trivial human needs were scoffed at. Objects I’d seen in the future had their roots here. More than any world in gaming, I wished I could travel here.
It’s a rare game that’s able to connect these disparate worlds so seamlessly while maintaining their individual identity. I was surprised to discover that my battle with archvillain for the first half of Chrono Trigger, Magus, had its beginnings all the way back to this strange wonderland.