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Chrono Trigger’s “Corridors of Time”: The melancholy of magic

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Note: We're still accepting entries for our music-centric Bitmob Wants You writing prompt. Click here for details. This is my contribution.

The Kingdom of Zeal is a place of wonder, mystery, and magic. Cities and landmasses float unaided in the sky. Waterfalls crash through lush, verdant grasslands before tumbling off the edge of the earth. And the citizens within are as strange and beautiful as the landscape.

Yet behind this beauty, you can sense that something is not right. The land is too perfect, the cities too pretty, the people too powerful. Surely, you think, this place is hiding something.

These conflicting emotions, the marvel and the menace, are hard to convey simultaneously. But the SNES masterpiece Chrono Trigger manages it. And the main reason is composer Yasunori Mitsuda's incredible music, entitled "Corridors of Time."

 

The composition centers around an echoing melodic percussion line — like steel drums but stranger — that repeats through the whole song. The main melody soon joins in, played in a minor key on an Asian stringed instrument, sounding at once familiar and foreign.

The tune is sparse, though; it never quite obscures the rhythmic ripples of the mallet line. They're like the waterfalls — they keep tumbling off into nowhere, forever.

As the organ and choral lines add in, they evoke a melancholy that belies Zeal's beauty. It's as if the voices know their magic has come at a cost, and the bill will be due soon.

If you've played Chrono Trigger — and seriously, if you haven't, what's wrong with you? — you know what happens next. You know where Zeal's magical power comes from: Lavos, an alien force of nature and the ultimate destroyer of the earth. You know that Zeal will soon be gone; it's the one place in the game you can't return to later, even with the Epoch time machine.

I hear all of that when I listen to this music. It's a melody too beautiful and strange and dreamlike to endure for long.

All the more reason, then, to enjoy Zeal while it lasts, bittersweet though it may be.


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