The next episode is kind of a strange one in Chrono Cross‘s narrative, but I found that I really enjoyed it on this playthrough. After saving the S.S. Invincible from the ghost ship, Serge and friends get a tip that Mt. Pyre’s a super hot volcano, and they probably won’t be able to stand the heat on their own. It’d be great if they could ask the Water Dragon for help with this problem (I don’t really know why it is that anyone presumes they can just go talk to a dragon and ask for assistance like it’s no big deal; actually, strike that, I think I do know why anyone in game would suggest this is a good idea, but I can’t mention it just right now because it would be very spoilery).
The only problem is that no one’s seen the Water Dragon for years now.
Flash forward to the party going back to Guldove where they recover Kid’s amulet (and Kid and Doc if the player takes the warning about heat in Mt. Pyre seriously and doesn’t try to go there first), which is the thing we need to finally travel across the rift between the two worlds (speculation about why Kid has the artifact that makes this possible may begin now). Seeing as no one’s seen the Water Dragon in Another World, we might as well jump back to Home World and see if we can find it in that reality instead.
This section serves as a fun, but brief, chance to explore a little bit the differences between the two worlds (unfortunately, the party hasn’t acquired a boat in Home World, and the Porre Army is busy investigating Fossil Valley, so our range of exploration is limited to the southern half of El Nido’s largest island). The most significant points of interest are the Hydra Marshes (if we had chosen to help save Kid, we would have come here in search of the cure to her poison) which have been recently cleared of Hydras by hunters looking to capitalize on their valuable body parts, Cape Howl where if you have Leena in your party you can see a brief scene in which she wonders at the fact that she and Serge are a happy young couple in Home World, and of course Arni Village where Serge can have a few happy reunion moments seeing people who actually recognize him for a change (also, you can have your first “meet yourself” moment between the two Leenas, which everyone really takes in stride despite the weirdness of it all).
Also in Arni Village, you can hire the old guy who’s normally sleeping at the dock to take you out to Water Dragon Isle, which is located just to the south of the big island.
This is where things get really strange.
In the world of Chrono Cross, it’s important to understand that there are several fantasy races trying to coexist. The two most prominent are humans and demi-humans, but you also get occasional glimpses of other more traditional fantasy types like fairies and dwarves. They’re depicted as pretty cutesy, and tend to show up more for the sake of flavoring the world than having anything important to do with the story, but Water Dragon Isle is the one place where the fairies and dwarves are placed front and center.
Water Dragon Isle is the home of most fairies in El Nido, and that home is in the midst of invasion when our heroes show up on the scene. A clan of dwarves are busily murdering fairies in their efforts to take over the island after they were driven from their own home in the Hydra Marshes (the dwarves are apparently protectors of the Hydra that used to live in the marshes, but with their recent extinction, the dwarves decided to leave). Obviously these dwarves are a bunch of jerks who don’t understand the concept of hypocrisy, so the party sets about trying to save the remaining fairies, and everything culminates with a fight against a dwarven tank. Once the dwarves are defeated, their chief has a dying rant about the problem with humans not respecting the natural order of things which seems a little reminiscent of Azala’s dying soliloquy in Chrono Trigger, except that here the chief’s completely oblivious to the fact that he just did the same thing he’s accusing humans of doing. Unfortunately no one in the story seems cognizant of this very clear parallel, and the surviving fairies demand that the party leave once they complete their business with the Water Dragon (who’s actually a very helpful chap who gives the party its ice breath and our first summon elemental along with some cryptic questions about whether we’re going to live in harmony with the planet or bend it to our will) because this whole mess is the fault of humans (the dwarves apparently get a free pass on their hand in the tragedy, because reasons).
This episode is the first (and maybe only; I can’t remember if it will come up again later) time that Chrono Cross confronts the player with its theme of humanity creating havoc in the world by working against nature for its own purposes. It’s kind of a sloppy object lesson, since the dwarves’ involvement muddies the waters and makes it easy for the player to focus more on the immediate wrongdoers instead of traveling back up the causal chain to see what the original sin was (given this is a game that’s supposed to be exploring the consequences of distant, seemingly insignificant points of causality, it’s a shame they didn’t nail that point more clearly). The humans versus nature motif will come up later on in more subtle ways, but this is the big point where the developers were supposed to stick that idea in the player’s mind, and I can’t help but feel like it’s just not clear enough. Much of what I’ve read about Chrono Cross by fans of the series take this episode as kind of broken in its delivery, since the dwarves’ own actions are so clearly in the wrong. Perhaps this is a case of wanting players to think more deeply about the nature of cycles of violence, but because we’re so poorly trained in thinking beyond our immediate history (if you’re so inclined, think briefly about the United States’ involvement in the Middle East for the past few decades and our seemingly interminable failure to recognize that we helped destabilize the region in the first place) the fairies’ very legitimate point that it’s human greed that led to their slaughter gets overlooked because no one’s apportioning any blame to the most obvious aggressors.
Anyway, following this segment, Kid has a nightmare about Lynx burning down her childhood home, which features children’s artwork of Lucca and Robo. She expresses a bit of hardened cynicism about how the world works because she’s had a rough life, and Serge listens sympathetically. It’s a nice friendship moment.
Next time we’ll finally get to Mt. Pyre.