After the exposition bomb that is Chronopolis, Terra Tower is almost a welcome change of pace in terms of story as we get some time to process all the revelations that we got in the last couple hours of gameplay. I only say “almost” though, because Terra Tower is so starkly absent any further plot developments before the boss fight with the Dragon God at the end that it becomes a slog of pure dungeon crawling and miniboss fights (there’s one scene about halfway through where the party gets contacted by a mysterious entity who’s been trying to communicate with Serge for a while; this person will be revealed after the final dungeon’s finished). Though it didn’t particularly bother me on this playthrough, Terra Tower also has the distinction of being the one area in the entire game that lacks background music (there is a track that plays in the area, but it more simulates ambient sounds than any kind of song), which, after you get so used to always having good music playing while exploring Chrono Cross‘s world, is more than a little unsettling.
In the course of climbing the tower we do encounter Belthasar one last time, and he explains how he’s been manipulating the conflict between FATE and the Dragon God in order to harmonize the world’s timelines and prevent the creation of the Devourer of Time (a creature who gestates in the Darkness Beyond Time as the synthesis of Schala and Lavos from an alternate timeline where Lavos wasn’t defeated by Chrono’s party). It’s a major headscrew that comes out of virtually nowhere, and probably the most difficult plot point to wrap your head around, given the general lack of development prior to Chronopolis (at this point I think it’s safe to say that most of Chrono Cross‘s relevant plot gets stuffed into the last five or so hours of gameplay, which is unfortunate given just how convoluted the series of background events is).
Belthasar also takes some time to explain how the Dragon God is a sort of avatar of the Reptite-descended Dragonians, who were pulled into the same time period as Chronopolis from a different timeline (if you’re having trouble keeping track of all the alternate timelines, then you’re doing exactly as well as can be expected) after the Time Crash as a defense mechanism employed by the planet.
See, this is where that environmentalism motif that first appeared way back during the sequence involving the fairies and the homicidal dwarves finally gets drawn back into the plot. In the Chrono universe, it’s posited that human evolution was jump-started by Lavos’s intervention in the natural processes of the planet when it first crash landed, and so humanity is actually an aberration from the planet’s natural life cycle. This alien nature explains why humans tend towards subjugating the environment instead of harmonizing with it (the concept’s epitomized by Chronopolis, where a group of humans wanted to discover a way to manipulate the entirety of spacetime according to their own will).
This point about humans being an extension of Lavos’s corruption isn’t exactly a new one for the series. Chrono Trigger‘s final battle with Lavos begins with the party realizing that Lavos has been manipulating the course of human civilization in order to feed its own power, so there is some precedent for the idea; it’s just that in Chrono Cross humanity moves from being unwitting pawns to being a metaphysical extension of Lavos. Yep, we’re in cahoots with the bad guy.
This heel realization for humanity is an interesting one, because it highlights a general trend that comes up pretty often in JRPGs. I recently read an article about a game development team based out of Cameroon who are working on a game built around story tropes that figure prominently in various African traditions, and one of the designers made an observation about the kinds of stories that RPGs from different regions of the world tend to tell:
“American RPGs are based on conquest or saving the world for justice or peace,” says Meli. “European RPGs, even if they draw upon Greek or Nordic mythologies, are often based on Christian philosophies and focus on prophecies of a chosen one. Japanese RPGs are based on the Hiroshima trauma. The hero tries to avoid a big explosion.”
That note about Japanese RPGs growing out of the Hiroshima bombing can expand a lot further, as I think the majority of Japanese sci-fi and fantasy of the last century has been influenced by that event. It’s pretty well-documented in various cultural touchstones like the Godzilla movies, which deal with anxiety surrounding nuclear power, and Akira, which has as its starting point the eradication of an entire city following the exploitation of a poorly understood new technology. The Japanese have seen firsthand that humanity has a serious destructive streak, so carrying it to its logical conclusion in Chrono Cross is not a difficult step to take, even if it’s not well-developed prior to this point in the story. What is odd is that after asserting this version of human nature, the game backs off and moves forward with the plot about saving the timeline where Lavos is destroyed and humanity remains ascendant. I suppose it would be too much of a downer for the heroes to reach the end of their quest and discover the best thing to do would be wipe out their own timeline.
Anyway, the party arrives at the top of Terra Tower (after many aggravating minibosses) and finds the Frozen Flame being guarded by the Dragon God. A fight ensues (in which the Dragon God is improperly named the TimeDevourer) and the conflict between the rival factions of FATE and the Dragons is ended.
And still, even though this was the final dungeon, the game is not yet over.