Chrono Trigger fan art by Julie Dillon

The 8 Craziest Japanese RPG Fan Theories

From dead Squall to post-war Kanto, you’ll never look at Final Fantasy VIII, Pokemon, or Chrono Trigger the same ever again.

Aidan Moher
May 26, 2020 · 19 min read

Who doesn’t love a good fan theory?

(Besides George R.R. Martin because it makes finishing his series so much more difficult.)

Fans have been speculating about their favourite books, films, and TV shows for decades, and gaming is no different. From theories about Majora’s Mask and the five stages of grief, to the indoctrination of Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard, to companion cubes being full of people, there’s no shortage of crazy theories concocted by fans to fill plot holes.

Japanese RPGs like the Final Fantasy series and Masato Kato’s work on Chrono Cross and Xenogears offer some of the most complex stories in gaming, rivalling even epic fantasy novels in pure word count. These huge worlds and twisting stories are ripe for fan theories, and the Internet has not disappointed over the past two decades.

I’ve gathered several of my favourite fan theories about Japanese RPGs — from fun speculation about secret identities to truly canon-altering stuff that makes A Song of Ice and Fire theories look like child’s play.

This article contains spoilers for Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy X, Pokemon Blue/Red, Suikoden II, and Suikoden III.

Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X are set in the same universe

Screenshot via Inverse

While the Final Fantasy series is known for reusing names all the time between games, (Hello, Cid!), this long-running rumour based on a minor character in Final Fantasy X-2 named Shinra was confirmed by Kitase in 2017!

“I won’t completely come out and say that it is the same world,” Kitase said. “However.” Final Fantasy X-2’s scenario designer Kazushige Nojima liked the idea that Shinra would “grow up and start the Shinra company.”

Kitase refused to definitively link the two games, but the theory was further solidified by an easter egg in Final Fantasy VII Remake:

“In Chapter 16, while you’re taking the tour of Shinra, there is a photo of Shinra employees. If you look closely, you will see a man in the middle of the photo, who is clearly wearing what looks like an Al-Bhed mask. This is possibly the biggest Easter egg in FFVIIR, as this is the closest thing we have to an in-game confirmation that FFVII and FFX do in fact take place in the same universe.”

While the original speculation was that Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X took place on the same planet, it’s more likely that Shinra, or one of his ancestors, used farplane energy to travel from Final Fantasy X’s Spira to Final Fantasy VII’s Gaia, where he established the Shinra company we all know and loathe today.

Chrono Trigger is a biblical retelling

Image from Mega64’s Let’s Play Archive

I eased you in with something fun, and now here’s a doozy.

While Xenogears might be Square Enix’s most biblically allegorical opus, this exhaustive theory called “The Chrono Trigger Testament” might just be proof that scenario writer Masato Kato’s desire to recast the bible with martial artists and robots might’ve started earlier than gamers realized.

Developed by Xathael (who emphatically has not worked for Square Enix), this theory attempts to analyze Chrono Trigger’s many events and themes through a lens of comparison with the Christian bible (and, later, Greek mythology and Judaeism.) Xathael describes his revelation in the introduction to a website dedicated to the theory:

Upon further examination, research, and meditation on the subject, I began to realize that a vast new world existed beneath the surface of Chrono Trigger — one so well masked by its beautiful storyline that one could be exposed to it repeatedly and not even begin to have a clue as to what the probable truth behind Chrono Trigger really is.

What am I talking about? Biblical symbolism — and it certainly runs deeper than the sea in this work of art. This is the sole topic of this website as of now, so if you came here looking for F.A.Q.s, original game artwork, music files, or fan fiction, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place. There is a plethora of excellent webpages out there that cover such other areas in great depth.

Chrono Trigger, believe it or not, is strikingly similar to some of the more prominent stories in the Bible, spanning from the Book of Moses to the Book of Revelations. Most of the characters in the game, be they playable or not, are directly parallel to a Biblical character in more than one way.

While many elements like Crono’s sacrifice are obvious to anyone remotely familiar with the Bible, Xathael blows the scope of the theory out of the water from there on out. Remember that time Crono used a single piece of jerky to feed an entire army?

One of the miracles of Jesus Christ was his taking one piece of bread, and somehow feeding hundreds of starving people with it. When Crono travels to 600 A.D., he recieves [sic] one piece of jerky and somehow feeds an entire regiment of starving troops with it. This tidbit is also a bit of a longshot, but still considerably suggestive enough to wonder about.

Or how about that scene around the camp fire where Crono and his team mates discuss “The Entity”?

In the Bible, Jehovah rarely interacts with his creation. He mostly either watches or subtly guides individuals through feelings, dreams, or visions. This is similar to The Entity in Chrono Trigger, never really showing itself definitely, but being more of a mysterious force that makes itself known only through feelings and emotions.

And then there’s the allegorical weapons:

The rainbow that ended the Great Flood was a symbol of an act of God. Similarly, the Rainbow Katana is a weapon that only Crono (Jesus, the son of God) can weild [sic].

Xathael also addresses the connection between Chrono Trigger’s development team and writers and those who worked on Xenogears, which is overtly biblical:

Consider Xenogears, another Squaresoft release that was worked on by most of the Chrono Trigger team. Xenogears is chock-full of Biblical allusions, names, and symbolic roles. If you know anything about the Bible and have played Xenogears, you know what I’m talking about (the Three Magi, the angelically-named Neo Elements who serve the pseudo-gods, crucifixion, baptism, Cain and Abel, Time of the Gospel, mankind’s fall from grace, etc.). The fact that much of the Chrono Trigger team worked on Xenogears shows that they definitely have strong interest in Biblical stories, strengthening the probability of Chrono Trigger’s countless parallels having been intentional. Christianity has existed in East Asia for hundreds of years, since missionaries went to spread it in the 19th Century. In fact, issues of Christianity were what fueled the Taiping Rebellion, a fanatical pro-Christian rebellion against Imperial China, and the Boxer Rebellion, an anti-Christian rebellion, both of which took place in the late 19th/early 20th Centuries.

Have you tasted of the blood of Crono?

Shadow is Relm’s Dad and Gogo is Setzer’s dead lover

Art by Rawbot

Final Fantasy VI is famous for its ensemble cast of characters, and one of its most mysterious is the semi-optional ninja assassin, Shadow. Many players made it through the game hearing only rumours about Shadow’s past — that he’d slit his momma’s throat for a nickel — but more astute gamers eventually connected the dots between Shadow’s past and one of the game’s other playable characters: Relm Arrowny.

When the player sleeps at an inn while Shadow’s with your party, they have a random chance to see one of a series of dreams revealing Shadow’s tragic past as a bandit named Clyde. This story isn’t told anywhere else, and it reveals that after the death of his partner Baram, Clyde retreated to a quiet life of solitude in the village of Thamasa. He settled down with a nameless woman and sired a girl, but he could not escape the ghosts of his past and eventually left the child in the magical village — becoming the familiar assassin we all know today.

Shadow’s Dream #1 via Fantasy Anime

While it doesn’t outright confirm that the girl he left behind was Relm, there are several clues scattered throughout the game, including the dog Interceptor’s acceptance of Relm and an accessory equippable only by Shadow and Relm that bears the following description: “Mother’s love protects from fatal magic attacks.”

To add fuel to the fire, Shadow is also mistakenly referred to as a women in an optional piece of dialogue in the Super Nintendo version of the game, causing some fans to wonder if Shadow wasn’t Clyde but Relm’s nameless mother. I’ve always thought this was a fun idea, and it was part of my head canon for a long time, but the typo was fixed in subsequent localizations, more or less killing the theory (for less than a nickle.)

Gogo’s connection to Setzer’s lover, Daryl, is more tenuous. Fans connected the two characters because Daryl’s airship crashes on Triangle Island, which serves no other significance to the game’s plot and is also where the player can recruit Gogo. Thin as it is, this has always been one of my favourite fan theories for Final Fantasy VI because Daryl is a great character and I love the idea that a swashbuckler like her fled her old life for a new one. It also explains why Gogo joined Setzer and the rest of the Returners without much reason.

Final Fantasy director and producer Yoshinori Kitase has more-or-less debunked the “Gogo is Daryl” theory, though not definitively. One could argue that Kitase revealing Gogo has no official backbround story makes them even more of a cipher for the player to project onto.

The mercenary Queen in Suikoden III is Princess Jillia Blight from Suikoden II

Illustration by atmo Draws

Few of us will ever forgive Suikoden II’s Luca Blight for the horror he wrought during the Dunan Unification War, but his sister Jillia, the disgraced princess of the Highland Kingdom sent by Jowy Atreides into hiding in Harmonia, was an empathetic and caring leader who lost everything thanks to her half-brother’s actions.

To see her pop up as a grizzled fighter among Geddoe’s mercenaries in Suikoden III would be a surprise to many fans, but the pieces fit according to this 2003 theory from Suikox:

We must consider the fact that Agaras Blight's wife, Sara, is a Harmonian. It is possible that Sara Blight is originally a member of the Sanadian Royal Family. That would not be far-fetched as a political strategy of Harmonia to keep ex-royals out of thier homeland at the same time strengthening ties with Highland-- thier vassal state.

Jillia may have thought of Sanadia as her actual homeland due to her mother's background (that is, IF Sara is from Sanadia). In that case, her loyalty to a nation that was destroyed before her birth makes sense.

Who knows how the weak-willed princess may have turned into the strong-willed swordmistress who stands at Geddoe's side at all times. Perhaps the fact that she understands Geddoe's pain as a true rune bearer comes from the fact that she once loved Jowy Blight, who was tormented by a similar fate.

One of the Suikoden’s many defining elements is the way it weaves character stories throughout multiple games, and the idea that Jillia would become a mercenary feels appropriate for the tone and tenor of a series that focuses so heavily on the emotional cost of war.

Rufus Shinra was actually a good guy in Final Fantasy VII

Getting back to Shinra, how about this speculation from Reddit user Kage_Lockheart that Rufus Shinra, the main antagonist of Final Fantasy VII’s Midgar section was actually a rogue agent working to help Cloud and AVALANCHE all along.

Rufus is a smart guy, he knows that even if he came right out and said, “Let me help you,” that none of them would trust him anyway. It is my belief that the battle of Cloud vs. Rufus is merely Rufus trying to gauge Cloud’s strength and ability to defeat Sephiroth. I further think that Rufus was unimpressed with Cloud’s abilities and at that point doesn’t believe he can defeat Sephiroth, so he later tries to gather all the resources he can while still playing the role of the apparent bad guy.

Rufus has always stood out as one of Final Fantasy VII’s more complex characters, and this well-developed fan theory might explain why. As a stand-in for Shinra, Rufus is ostensibly the villain of Final Fantasy VII until Sephiroth shows up, but his actions seem less dogged and more chaotic than you might expect from a simple lackey acting on behalf of a mega-corporation (and his father, the Shinra President.)

“Perhaps Rufus felt guilty that his father had founded such a corrupt company, and as a way of redeeming himself, sacrifices himself.”

Pokemon takes place in a post-war world

If Suikoden is about what happens during war, what if Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue are about what happens after war?

The Pokemon world seems to good to be true, right? Everything is peaceful, everybody’s happy. Well, this long-developed fan theory supported by many Pokemon fans suggests the original Pokemon games for the Game Boy take place in a Kanto region that has just ended a long and costly war.

Vice points to a video on PBS Idea Channel that explains the theory:

Pokémon war theorists cite the odd lack of adults in the Pokémon world — everyone is either a kid or an old guy like Professor Oak. This is seen as evidence of warfare that wiped out the adult population. There’s also the focus on battles and training, and dialogue from a gym trainer that says “Electric Pokémon really saved me during the war!” There’s no infrastructure in Kanto, and communication between regions is difficult.

Reddit user Kuiper goes even further, suggesting the end of the war came to an end thanks to Professor Oak’s Mewtwo Project, drawing parallels to the development and use of the atomic bombs at the end of World War II:

The Mewtwo project was an attempt at creating a doomsday weapon to end the war. Lt. Surge’s words suggest that the war was fought primarily with Pokemon, so it would make sense that the “ultimate weapon” in such a war would be a genetically engineered super-Pokemon.

This is why everyone in Red and Blue’s world has Pokemon, including small children. They’re seen as a vital means of self-protection in the event of a conflict. (Somewhere, there is a Bill of Rights with a statement reading, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and train Pokemon shall not be infringed.”)

Mewtwo succeeded in ending the war, though not in the way that Kanto hoped. The Mewtwo project backfired, but the disaster was so widespread that it affected both sides. While Cinnabar (the site for the Mewtwo project) is pretty far east in Kanto, Bark Town was largely obliterated by the Mewtwo disaster, and it wasn’t until years later that “New Bark Town” was founded on its remains. Both sides of the conflict suffered heavy casualties and were forced to unite in order to subdue Mewtwo, putting an end to their conflict.

There are… holes in this theory, specifically that nobody but Lt. Surge talks about the war, many adults exist in other games, and there are absolutely no post-war signs as the player explores Kanto, but it does make one wonder if the Pokemon-filled utopia is quite what it seems.

Chrono Cross’s Serge is actually Magus from Chrono Trigger

Everyone’s heard the speculation that Chrono Cross’s mysterious magician Guile was originally going to be Chrono Trigger’s vampiric bad guy-turned-good guy Magus. It all made a sort of sense, since Magus is searching for his sister Schala, around whom the Chrono Cross plot revolves, but it ended up being more of a what might’ve been than a true possibility, according to Chrono Compendium:

Magus was originally planned to be in Chrono Cross as Guile, but this was scrapped after the designers realized his story would be too difficult to integrate. In the Chrono Cross Demo, Guile is referred to as Gil (Magil’s name in Radical Dreamers) in the debug room, a relic of this plan.

What happens when you take that theory and apply some galaxy brain thinking? You get Jarin Jove’s theory that Magus isn’t Guile, but someone much closer to Chrono Cross’s main narrative: the game’s protagonist, Serge. Jove claims this theory is backed up not only by Chrono Cross but also by the additional story bits included in the 2008 Nintendo DS remaster of Chrono Trigger.

Let’s step back a bit and look into what particularly the context of the Fall of Guardia was from what little Kato bothers to tell us about it. Evidently, Dalton led a successful invasion and destroyed Guardia within a year’s time. When fans asked how this could be possible with Lucca, Marle, and Crono having been strong enough to destroy Lavos to save the future. The only explanation given was that some Overlord / Emperor from another timeline helped Dalton to destroy the entire Kingdom of Guardia within the sole year of 1005 AD. This explanation sent a huge backlash of negativity from ardent Chrono Trigger fans and even from Chrono Cross fans who love both games. After all, how could some Overlord from either the future or an alternate universe be more powerful than Lavos? How could that make any reasonable sense? The most glaring flaw of this is that we are never given any further details than that. What was the motives of this Overlord? Where did this Overlord come from? Why did this Overlord take an interest to destroy Guardia? What reason did Dalton have to attack Guardia? No explanations were ever given until Chrono Trigger DS, where we see Dalton in a pocket dimension due to a Time Vortex where he makes his plans clear, but it’s passed off as a joke. No other explanation for what motivated Dalton for this and no evidence for this supposed Overlord from another timeline or the future. How does any of this make coherent sense? Chrono Trigger fans hate Chrono Cross for this reason and Chrono Cross fans can’t really explain it well other than to bash Chrono Trigger’s plot or argue gameplay and story aren’t related, thereby inadvertently bashing Chrono Cross’s own element system as a plot point which was important for the True Ending of the game.

A horrible answer came to me for the duration that I played Chrono Cross the first time. The close friend who told me his opinion of how Lucca’s Letter basically confirmed to him that Serge was Janus was also on the forefront of my mind. However, I was ill-equipped to explain my reasoning to the broader Chrono Cross community, despite the fact that many who just finish Chrono Cross and get the true ending also claim that the game strongly implies that Serge is Janus. Older fans repeatedly try to dismiss this as a misinterpretation that makes no sense, yet this interpretation is the most prevalent among people who have the game fresh in their memory. Nevertheless, old-time fans are strident in their demands that Serge can’t be Janus because of trite arguments about age and time in a game about time dimensions, potential time paradoxes, and soul-shifting from bodies. Nevertheless, Serge being Janus can be explained and it makes sense; terrible, nauseating sense that leaves the most ardent Chrono Cross fans stupefied and aghast as they’re quite adept at understanding the horrifying implications of what Chrono Cross really was if it was truly a love story of a boy meeting a girl as Masato Kato envisioned . . .

Over the course of nearly 13k words, Jove explores entire intricacies of the Chrono Cross timeline, piecing it together toward a truly labyrinthine conclusion that… goes places.

In short, the twisted, disturbing incest love of nobility is more important than the lives of the commoners whom Serge and Kid / Magus and Schala sacrifice for their bloodlust and unrestrained, incestuous sexual thrills for each other. The last image of the game is Schala “Kid” Zeal and Janus “Serge” Zeal living happily ever after just as FATE, Balthasar, Magus, and Schala had planned and wanted after mercilessly sacrificing the lives of countless innocents who would be thrown into the Darkness Beyond Time (which must still exist, since Kid was in a different timeline from Serge before the final scene); the important aristocrats finally achieve their goals of living their grim and twisted incest dream into reality. The last scene of Schala looking towards the beach is her bated breath before this picture finalizes the moment; turning the ending into a reverse type of revelation. In which, the finalizing image is actually this picture of Janus and Schala living happily ever after.

I think this makes my brain hurt more than the actual Chrono Cross storyline.

Squall is Dead in Final Fantasy VIII

Outside of Mass Effect 3’s indoctrination theory, this is quite possibly the most complex and intricate gaming fan theory that doesn’t fall apart in the details. First posited by a forum user named Duckroll, the “Squall is Dead” theory was expanded upon by Rahul Choudhury and Diedra Rater on a dedicated website.

Near the end of the Final Fantasy VIII’s first disc, protagonist Squall Leonheart and his team are facing off against the sorceress and principal antagonist Edea on a parade float in the city of Deling. The heroes appear to defeat the sorceress, but before she falls Edea impales Squall with a magical ice spear. As Squall falls from the parade platform, he sees his friend Rinoa reaching for him. His eyes close and he dies. This theory suggests that Squall remains dead at this point, and the remainder of the game is a dream or “an extension of the ‘your life flashes before your eyes’ concept.”

The entire dream takes only a matter of seconds, but for Squall is passes in real time. For Squall, it’s about the endless possibilities he could have seen realized. Squall explores the questions that were raised on the first disc but he was not able to answer in his lifetime. These questions include, but are not limited to:

Who is the Sorceress Edea? What are her goals and motivation? Where do her powers come from? Why was Seifer in the parade with Edea when he was reported executed? Who was the girl (Ellone) that Squall and Quistis saw in the Garden training center? Who is Laguna and why did Squall, Selphie, and Zell all have the same dream about him? And, most importantly, who is Squall? Who were his parents? Why did they leave him at the orphanage? Where does he come from, and what would he have done with his life had he not died?

Choudhury and Rater provide an enormous amount of supporting evidence, including dialogue transcripts, analysis, and some truly creepy screenshots:

This shot keeps me up at night. Seriously.

So far, the best analysis I have this for this screenshot is that Squall feels empty, that he losing his sense of self and everything that comes with it. He’s having trouble visualizing his memories, or even remembering reality from fiction. Think back to what Ultimecia said, at the end of the last battle. “Reflect on your… Childhood… Your sensation… Your words… Your emotions… Time… It will not wait… No matter… …how hard you hold on. It escapes you…” His life is fading from him. You can’t hold on forever.

Despite all of this evidence, Choudhury and Rater conclude that there is not enough substantial hard evidence to prove the writers intended for the audience to interpret the game’s story in such a way.

However.

“I choose to believe that this is how the game was intended to be understood because, to me, the game makes no sense otherwise,” Choudhury and Rater say, jointly, “Everything that happens to the characters after the first disc is ridiculous. The ending is like recapping the game on acid. There has to be something more to the story than a simple ‘Hero Takes All’ plot.”

What does it all mean? Are fans being overzealous as they search for hidden storylines and allegory in their favourite games? Or is the relationship between a fiction’s creator and audience too complex for a one-size-fits-all answer?

“Everyone’s thinking too deeply, reading between the lines too much,” Kitase told Kotaku when Jason Schreier asked the director about many of the crazier Final Fantasy fan theories, including “Squall is Dead.” “That makes it difficult because if you think about it that way, we might have to make it that way. That’s definitely not true.”

Most recently, however, Kitase had an opportunity to revisit one of his most revered games in Final Fantasy VII Remake, and even he was unable to resist the temptation to deconstruct the story and create something new. As Kitase himself tells it, he wanted to make even more changes to the storyline, but co-directors Tetsuya Nomura and Naoki Hamaguchi talked him out of it, arguing that fans would expect to find the things they love in a remake of such a revered game. Stories grow in the telling, but they also grow with each new person who enjoys them because we all bring something new to the experience. Even Kitase himself can’t help but tinker with the canon he created because his perception of the story, characters, and themes have changed as he’s changed over the years.

One of the most exciting things about being a fan are those long discussions with other passionate people that lead to crazy theories. Whether they come true or not (*cough R+L=J cough*), the questions are often more fun than the answers. RPGs have some of the most complex (and overwritten) stories and lore in all of gaming, making them ripe for zealous fans to pick through the details and arrange their findings in ways that shine new light on familiar stories. Does it matter if Squall is officially dead or Kitase admits to Rinoa being Ultimecia? Not really. Once it leaves the creator’s hands, fiction takes on a life of its own and there becomes a joint ownership between the creator, the fiction, and every individual who consumes it. It’s why J.K. Rowling drives us all nuts when she reveals silly little things about Harry Potter. And why George R.R. Martin has to be so careful that he doesn’t adopt fan theories into canon. They create boxes that didn’t exist before, and being a fan is most fun when we can let our imagination out of the box to run wild.

The major takeaway here, folks, is that if you’re going to partake of lysergic acid diethylamide while gaming, make sure you bring a notebook so you can write down all your galaxy brain takes before you forget them.

What are your favourite gaming fan theories?

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Old games, new thoughts

Aidan Moher

Written by

Hugo Award-winning writer with work in Kotaku, EGM, Uncanny Magazine, and Tor.com. He lives on Vancouver Island with his wife and kids.

Insert Cartridge

A blog about old games, JRPGs, and gaming as an adult.

Aidan Moher

Written by

Hugo Award-winning writer with work in Kotaku, EGM, Uncanny Magazine, and Tor.com. He lives on Vancouver Island with his wife and kids.

Insert Cartridge

A blog about old games, JRPGs, and gaming as an adult.

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