Note: I refer to Lavos as a “he” in this rant. I do this out of habit, and the fact that it’s a lot clearer when writing about “him” than speaking of Lavos as an “it” would be. Also, Lavos is automatically referred to as a “he” by a lot of people and even official sources, including the game itself, to my recollection. Still, I recognize that Lavos is much more accurately an “it” unless actually proven otherwise,* so cut me a break on the nomenclature, alright?
I’ve discussed more than once my love for Chrono Trigger and the many reasons why it’s an excellent specimen of the RPG genre: its story, its creativity, its quirks, its characters, its themes, and so on. 1 thing I’ve never mentioned before, though, is that it’s also a game that allows for its fans to theorize quite a bit, striking that difficult balance of being open and subtle enough for theory, yet never seeming vague or lacking appropriate detail and background in its storytelling. I daresay, in fact, that it was perhaps the first RPG which garnered a significant amount of fan theory attention. Nowadays, it’s nothing unusual to see a lot of fans debate the possibilities and lore of an RPG in forums dedicated to, say, Dragon Age, Fallout, Kingdom Hearts, Pillars of Eternity, Shin Megami Tensei, or even something as light as Borderlands...but back in the day, that sort of heavy intellectual response in the fan community didn’t really happen to a great degree, at least not that I saw. It was Chrono Trigger, in my observations, that got players to really think about an RPG’s lore potential for the first time in such a way as is commonplace now. I remember Icy Brian’s RPG page, which you might say was my internet place of birth, as a hub for all kinds of theories and ideas on Chrono Trigger (and other games, but CT was the sun around which the other games seemed to orbit), pursued in forum discussions, fanart, and, of course, especially fanfiction. Icy’s has sadly been defunct for quite some time now, but The Chrono Compendium is still a pretty fun place for Chrono Trigger nerds like myself to occasionally waste a couple hours reading up on theories, so the old game’s still got a community out there posing questions to itself and coming up with answers, and that’s kind of fun.
One of the many questions apparently still somewhat debated at the Chrono Compendium is just why Lavos was so damn ornery when he busted out of the ground in 1999 A.D.** Well, they have their theories, and I’ve got mine, and theirs and mine don’t reconcile too well, so hell, why not make a rant about my thoughts on the matter, right?
Oh, stop complaining. At least it’s not another DLC rant that’s over 10 years past its expiration date.
So, the answer given at Chrono Compendium about why Lavos destroyed the world in 1999 A.D. is, primarily, that the level of technology was probably approaching the point where it could be a threat to him, and he sensed this and decided to eliminate the problem of humanity before it could become dangerous to him.
The problem I have with this theory is that it assumes a few things that don’t stand up so well, at least not in my eyes. The first is that the level of technology really was getting anywhere near the point where it was dangerous to Lavos. It’s not impossible that this is true, but one has to look objectively at just how unimaginably advanced that technology would have to be to become a clear threat to him. Lavos is a creature that survived a global-extinction-level event, who in fact was at its ground zero: namely, his own arrival on the planet. He lands on the CT world with enough force to create an impact explosion of such magnitude that it leads to an ice age, much like the theoretical extinction event of our own world that wiped out the dinosaurs. The majority of Lavos’s outer shell is, therefore, able to tank an explosion that makes nuclear warheads look like those little toy bang pouches that kids throw on the ground to make a loud snap. Offensively, Lavos is capable of raining nuclear-level devastation across the globe in a matter of seconds with his spines, and the force and structural integrity of those spines is such that they can actually tear through...how thick was the landmass of Zeal? It certainly looks like the kingdom’s floating foundation is several miles deep. Lavos’s spines sliced straight through that solid rock. To say nothing of the sheer magical and dimensional power Lavos wields--his very presence is so powerful that it warps space and time. So tell me, exactly what insane level of technological sophistication would human society have to be close to reaching in order to threaten a creature with this level of invulnerability and widespread lethality, who exists in a form of radiating power so beyond comprehension that it disrupts the fabric of reality itself?
Yes, you can argue that the head of Lavos seems to be a weak spot, which Crono and company exploit, but even that weak spot is certainly insanely dangerous, and Crono and his gang are only able to actually reach Lavos to exploit this weakness because they have a time portal that leads to the exact place and moment in time in which Lavos emerges. The window of time to reach Lavos before he can fire off his world-ending spine salvo is less than a minute--without instantaneous time and space travel, how could the people of the world possibly create an offense that would reach Lavos’s head in time? It’s not even like Lavos’s movements can be anticipated if you could somehow track him in the earth--from all evidence, he moves fast enough when he’s emerging that it only takes a minute or so for him to surface. You could have an army stationed exactly where he’s coming out and still not have enough time for them to react to stop him once he’s ready to do his thing.
You can also argue that the Epoch is able to penetrate Lavos’s shell somehow (probably through the head area, but we can’t say for sure), so clearly it IS possible to construct something that can do so. Well, I would point out that the Epoch is an implement fashioned from more than just 1999 A.D.’s technology. Belthasaur, its creator, is one of the former gurus of Zeal. He doesn’t just have access to all the records of science left from 1999 A.D. He also possesses the incredibly vast knowledge of magic and reality-altering powers of the Kingdom of Zeal, and the Epoch is a combination of these two heights of knowledge, plus his own considerable intellect (he’s the Guru of Reason, after all). The knowledge of Zeal is completely lost to the world after its fall, to the point that by 600 A.D. (and probably considerably earlier than that), it’s not even known to the world that it ever existed. And by 1000 A.D., magic itself seems practically unknown, certainly not possessed by humans. The Epoch may be able to penetrate Lavos’s shell, but it is an amalgamation of technology with arcane arts that the people of the future would never be able to duplicate. Whatever technology the future people of the world were going to create, it wasn’t going to be the Epoch, so we’re left once again with a daunting question of what level of technology they could have been headed for which would threaten Lavos.
Another problem with this idea is that it depends on Lavos even caring whether human technology is powerful enough to threaten him, assuming that it ever could be. Even if the world could pose a threat, Lavos is a secret buried within the planet. How would the people of the world even known to focus their aggression on him to start with? By 1999 A.D., Lavos hasn’t done anything for almost 1,400 years. The last time he did anything was in 600 A.D., when Magus summoned him in a failed attempt to destroy him. And even then, pretty much no one in the world even knew about that, just Ozzie and maybe his cohorts. I suppose somehow there must be SOME record of Lavos’s existence in 1999 A.D., since that director guy speaks his name during the game over sequence, but that doesn’t tell us enough to safely extrapolate anything. Is Lavos a known entity by the governments of the world? Does the director just have some ancient knowledge passed down to him from his ancestors? Is he naming his destroyer and coincidentally giving it the same title that Ayla did billions of years before? Who knows? Whatever the case, even assuming that the people of the world do somehow know about Lavos’s existence, they hadn’t attacked him and we’re given no indication that they meant to, and frankly I don’t know exactly what kind of attack they could have mounted anyway, had he stayed buried where he was.
One more thing about this theory I don’t like is Lavos’s being able to determine an upcoming threat to begin with. Now, I actually don’t have a problem with Lavos’s being able to monitor technology. We see in the battle between his head and Crono’s team that Lavos can incorporate technology into himself just as much as he can organic creatures: of the many bosses he mimics, the Dragon Tank and the robotic guardians of the future are actually the first. Lavos seems as able to adopt technological blueprints as he is biological ones, so he must be able to somehow sense technology. But being able to sense it and incorporate it is different from being able to make judgment calls on when it’s too close to being dangerous to him. That requires a level of intelligence that we just don’t have any reason to think Lavos possesses. From all the clues that Chrono Trigger gives us, even including the lore from the remake and from that shitty sequel, Lavos could be sentient, but he could also be acting on nothing more than animal instinct. The most we have to go on is the newer game’s information that indicates that Lavos has felt rage and a desire for revenge...but animals are quite capable of feeling the emotion of anger, and frankly, we think of revenge as a concept born of intelligent understanding of emotion, but when you get right down to it, it can and often is just an instinct born of anger, so that’s really no proof, either. So in order for the theory that Lavos can anticipate levels of technology dangerous to himself to be true, you have to assume that an entirely different theory that is equally debatable is also true.
Last problem with this theory: it’s saying that Lavos was judging a potential threat from human technology in the future, and attacking in advance...yet the Kingdom of Zeal was actively using his power for their own purposes, AND were able to directly interact with him in the Ocean Palace, with the intent of controlling him. Yet Lavos only punished them for this once they had actually made their move on him! Where was this foresight then? He can anticipate a problem from a populace that’s doing absolutely nothing to him, yet a populace that’s actively feeding off him decides it wants to control him and he doesn’t lift a spiny finger until they actually go and do it? Assuming Lavos even was the one calling the shots at that point--for all we know, Queen Zeal the power-hungry psychopath was controlling Lavos at that point, and it was her idea to blast her kingdom to rubble, and he didn’t even make that decision. She clearly didn’t care for it whatsoever, so it’s not at all unlikely.
...This rant is becoming a lot longer than I thought it was going to be. Oh well, on we go.
The Chrono Compendium has one more theory to share on Lavos’s actions in 1999 A.D. under this first one that I’ve been attacking. The gist of this one is that Lavos emerges in 1999 A.D. as per a standard part of its life cycle: he’s ready to create his spawn, and he’s had 65 billion years’ worth of eating evolution so he’s probably full and doesn’t need the creatures on the surface any more, so he bursts forth to clear the planet of any potential threats to his kids (who are far less invulnerable and deadly than he is), and competitors for resources they might need.
This is a much better theory. First of all, it bases itself in known facts instead of “probably” and other unproven theories. It’s a fact that Lavos eats evolution (how he does this is, of course, considerably less clear). It’s a fact that Lavos did create spawn, as they are seen at Death Mountain in 2300 A.D., and the only reasonable recourse is to assume that he spawned after his emergence in 1999 A.D., since we don’t see Lavos Spawn any time prior to the future*** and it doesn’t seem feasible that they’d be kicking around on the surface without humanity wigging the fuck out about it. This theory does not require Lavos to be sentient, nor does it require him not to be, so it does not have to stand on top of another unproven theory. The theory is also considerably more sensible as a whole: it’s a lot more believable that Lavos would eliminate humanity because it was a threat to his children than because it was a threat to him.
In fact, I don’t really have any argument to make against this theory. It’s solid. I will, however, provide an alternate idea that I think is roughly as reasonable.
Part A: My theory begins with a question: what is the defining knowledge we have about the being known as Lavos? We know several things about what he does--the fact that he comes from space, the fact that he is so powerful that he tears holes in space-time, the fact that he can and does destroy continents and even the entire world, the fact that he creates spawn, and so on. But there is only a single, vital knowledge we have of Lavos that strikes at the core of what he is. The whats, we have lots of those, but the why, that is what matters most in understanding everything else. And that knowledge is this: we know that Lavos devours evolution. How, we do not know. What specific aspect of evolution, we do not know. All we know for sure is that Lavos’s overall behavior is significantly tied to a thirst for the mutation of life. All beyond that is a mystery. That is all we have on Lavos’s motivations, and so that is what I work with.
The theory of a natural life cycle including worldwide devastation to create a suitable playpen is a good one, as I say. It’s sensible and it fits with physical evidence. But it does still suppose a motivation that we do not have official confirmation of: an instinct (or conscious choice) of parental obligation. That theory makes the (reasonable) request that we suppose a theoretical motivation.
But mine does not. Here is my theory: Lavos erupts in 1999 A.D. and destroys the world because the world no longer provides him enough evolution for his purposes.
Part B: In 1999 A.D., human civilization is at the strongest it has ever been, save for the Kingdom of Zeal (and I’ll cover that in a second). Further, its strength lies in civilization and technology, as does our own. The Chrono Trigger world intentionally mirrors our own in several respects (dinosaurs in prehistoric times being wiped out by an extinction event, an ice age that followed, a medieval-styled era, etc), and so it’s reasonable to expect that their civilization advances in a roughly similar fashion as our own does. We conquer and expand in our own world using the power of community and knowledge, and from what we can see, this seems to occur with the civilization of CT.
Well, here’s the thing about our own world: our reckless expansion and complete disregard for nature has devastated the life diversity of the planet. It is a scientific fact that we are in the early stages of a major extinction event in our world, with entire species dying out on a daily basis. Our pollution, our wastefulness, our horrible fucking geoengineering, they have doomed our civilization, and we’re pulling down every other species with us. While evolution still works to keep some species kicking--gotta love those super bacteria we’ve been creating with antibiotic overuse--there’s nonetheless an increasingly smaller pool of diverse organisms for evolution to work with.
Even assuming that the people of Chrono Trigger’s 1999 A.D. were not so incomprehensibly stupid as to geoengineer their own climate into utter chaos, an expanding, technological civilization that in any way resembles our own is still actively altering the life diversity of its planet. By changing more and more environments into ones suited for human beings, fewer and fewer creatures and plants can exist which do not have the physical and behavioral adaptations that can survive in human-manipulated environments. As human civilization in CT advances, it is reasonable to expect less species diversity as fewer diverse, non-human-manipulated environments exist, and with fewer species to play with and fewer diverse environments to be adapted to, there is less evolution.
We can even see this, sort of, in CT’s world. In 600 A.D., there are many areas through which Crono and his friends travel, and in these places there are often many monsters taking many different forms. 400 years later, however, with civilization having advanced considerably further, we see very few areas with monsters in them, and a more limited diversity of monsters within those areas. Already diversity is lessening.****
Now, you can say that the civilization of Zeal was as successful, if not more so, as the folks of 1999 A.D., and the planet had even less diversity going on at that point, being all covered in ice. Good point. The difference there, though, is that Zeal wasn’t messing with the surface of the planet to any great extent, so for the most part, what few opportunities for evolution were there wouldn’t be hindered by Zeal. Also, the ice age is, we can assume, beyond Lavos’s ability to influence. His arrival is what initiated it, but he's not Takeshi Kitano; it’s not like he can just torpedo the wind patterns of the world. It’s not a situation which he could change to suit his hunger, unlike the situation of 1999 A.D. which I have described.
You can also point out that this theory might need to imply a level of intelligence that I’ve mentioned we have no idea whether or not Lavos possesses. I would counter, however, that estimating the direction of technology is a much, much different thing for Lavos than estimating a current level of evolution. It takes much more intelligence to anticipate an impending situation than it does to assess a current one. We know for a fact that Lavos feeds on evolution, while his relationship with technology is nebulous--clearly he cannot be entirely unaware of it, as he incorporates it into his defensive behaviors, but beyond that we cannot say what his relationship to it is. It would be well within the behavior patterns of a non-self-aware creature to recognize a dwindling food source, and Lavos’s solution to this problem (blow everything the fuck up) is, for him at least, a pretty simple behavior algorithm: surface, shoot spines everywhere, dig back down. Ants have more complex instincts than that. Recognizing a current situation regarding its one food source and taking a simple action can be the act of a sentient or non sentient organism--anticipating the development of a form of intelligent culture is another story.
Alternate Part B: Lavos’s decision to emerge and rustle up some grub could tie back to that second theory on the Chrono Compendium page. Maybe the evolution of the world wasn’t slowing, as I’ve theorized, but Lavos was getting ready to spawn, and as such he needed to intake a lot more evolution than before, and/or needed to create an evolution-rich environment for his newborn children to feed well within. As I’ve stated, we know that Lavos has children in 2300 A.D., we can only reasonably assume they weren’t present before 1999 A.D., and an educated guess would say they eat evolution, too (it ain’t like it’s a solid food or something). What’s enough evolution for one Lavos throughout history may not be enough for a Lavos close to giving birth, and is even less likely to be enough for a Lavos AND its litter of hellspawn. And the side benefit, of course, is that raining spikey nukes on the world also makes for a lot fewer threats to his kids. In fact, in this possible scenario, my theory isn’t different from the better one on the Chrono Compendium so much as it is an expansion of it. Well, that works for me, so onward to the next part.
Part C: But why would he rain destruction on the world of 1999 A.D. over a case of the evolutionary munchies? Surely destroying the majority of the world’s life in a single go isn’t going to help the situation? Ahhh, but it does. Observe the evidence of 2300 A.D. What do you see? Destroyed cities, robots running amok, humans dying out, grotesque and bizarre mutants everywhere, debris everywhere, Artificial Intelligences seeking to--
Oh wait, hang on. Back up a couple of examples. Did somebody say mutants?
Yeah, 2300 A.D. is lousy with weird, freakish monstrosities. Even the occasional “normal” creatures, like rats and frog monsters, may have evolved the ability to speak and reason. And you know how mutants come about? Evolution. And by the looks of these freaks, evolution must’ve been going at it like there was no tomorrow (which there sort of wasn’t). Lavos’s purge may have wiped out a hell of a lot of life, but what was there was left with a twisted, dire, extreme environment that required a hell of a lot of changes to adapt to. As evidenced by the state of life forms in 2300 A.D., Lavos’s eruption in 1999 A.D. led directly to an enormous, not to mention extremely rapid, explosion of evolution. 300 years of evolution is usually, what, a slightly longer beak? A different fur pattern? A new toe, if you’re super lucky? Lavos’s armageddon gave him a BUFFET of evolution to devour.
So that’s my theory. You can decide which of the middle scenarios I’ve envisioned you like the better. Or maybe you can come up with one yourself. But you do have the beginning fact that Lavos eats evolution, and you do have the ending fact that 2300 A.D. is inhabited by grotesque mutants that evolved because of an environment Lavos created, and that their evolution happened in extremes of magnitude and speed. Fill in the middle how you like, but when a creature feeds on evolution, and creates a scenario resulting in a relatively immediate explosion of evolution, chances are pretty good that those 2 facts are related.
...Man, look at the size of this rant. You know, when I started this, I set out to make something simple in an efficient amount of time...you’d never guess I’m from Massachusetts, huh?
* This is not an invitation for Lavos Rule 34 links.
** And in 1200 B.C., too, but I should think that’s a lot simpler to answer: his awakening in 1200 B.C. was caused by a kingdom trying to directly control his power, and upon that awakening he was immediately attacked (remember, even in the pre-game timeline without Crono and company’s interference, it’s relatively safe to say that Magus was still present to make his own attack on Lavos). Seems pretty likely that Lavos’s attack on the Kingdom of Zeal was a retaliation against that aggression.
*** The Lavos Spawn seen in the Black Omen really can’t count. It’s clear that the Black Omen exists as an anomaly in time, and pretty much everything within it is separated from the regular dimension and time of CT’s reality.
**** I’m aware that it is highly unlikely that this was intentional by the creators of the game. From their perspective, there’s just fewer monsters because there aren’t many quest areas in 1000 A.D. Doesn’t change what’s there, though, intentional or not.