I’ve been replaying Chrono Trigger on my DS. The last time I played it I was much, much younger, and to say I’ve read a few things since would be one way of putting it.
Ayla, chieftain of the Ioka tribe, is a character who was almost always in my party (right there with Magus). Replaying the game, a few things have struck me (HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!).
The first two characters one meets after being introduced to the silent male hero Crono are Lucca, Crono’s lifelong brainy scientist friend, and Marle, the tomboy princess of Guardia. Both are better suited to casting magic, and the two serve as the respective brains and heart of the team that finds itself hurtling through time to fight an ancient parasite. While their ages are not revealed, it is pretty safe to assume they’re teenagers.
It is when one travels back to prehistoric times, 65,000,000 BC to be exact, that one encounters Ayla. The initial encounter sees her battling back reptites to give the suprised party time to prepare for battle. Upon the battle’s conclusion, she beckons them to follow her to her village. It is here that we learn the Ayla is a no nonsense type of person who values strength above all else, which works in her favor, as she cannot acquire magic abilities, not being part of the evolved humans who learned to harness such power.
This is where things becoming intriguingly complicated.
To obtain the item the party is seeking, Crono enters a competition against Ayla. Instead of just a direct battle, however, one finds a drinking contest being performed. Skull-smash is the amusingly named concoction, and one repeatedly presses a button to consume more of it than the opponent, thereby winning the Dreamstone necessary to repair Masamune. While I was slightly surprised to see this played out, it is set against other events rather well: Ayla is constantly striving to get the pacifist village to fight against the reptites, she pushes Crono forward and is often telling him to show no fear, and is generally the one raring to fight at every opportunity.
Ayla is chieftain, but upon going to rescue Crono’s Gate Key, she explains that Kino, who precipitated the loss of the Key, has no need to be jealous of Crono. She will bear Kino’s children, who will continue to rule the tribe. This is hardly surprising; it is much more practical (and has historical precedent) to recognize the mother as the direct line of descent in ruling families. Kino is set as the submissive in the relationship, and Ayla’s childbearing intrigues me. This is not a woman who is thinking of much beyond the continuation of her race, having been embroiled in a battle against the Reptites for dominance of the planet.
She’s the only one in the party who can in a game which pushes forward the theme of the survival of the human species and the planet it inhabits.
Crono, Lucca, and Marle are all a bit too young for us to comfortably discuss their having children yet. Frog is… a human-sized frog during the story of the game. Robo is a robot. Magus (an optional character) is a manchild obsessed with revenge and seeing only his sister Schala or Lavos in front of him at all times. He’s never fully matured, and was brought up in a non-human environment, effectively making him an asexual, antisocial megalomaniac bent on Lavos’s destruction. He’s not having children.
Given this cast of characters, Ayla is the one who is already a leader of a group that has not been destroyed. Perpetuation of her race and tribe is of course on her mind, and she sees herself as the cream of the crop. She has to pass on her genes.
And she does. To the royal women of Guardia, including Marle herself.
In fact, early on Marle is kidnapped upon falling into the first time gate encountered that sends her back 400 years, to the Middle Ages. During this time we see many strong women, who keep transitioning and growing up to become proper, prim, and ladylike from seemingly tomboy beginnings (the supposed “feminization of civilization”). Marle’s headstrong conflict with her father the king and unwaivering will can be seen as direct traits that passed on through the years.
One thing that strikes me about Ayla as discongruous is her tech abilities, among them Charm. It’s essentially a ‘steal’ option, but it seems largely out of place with the character. Sure, she is charming in her neanderthal, assertive ways, but she does not strike me as a woman who would seek to charm someone out of his or her items. Especially with hearts, winks, and pink. It seems in direct opposition with the characterization that has built up before this point.
Right behind this ability in puzzling me is Kiss, which effectively heals a party member. Contrast this to Frog’s Slurp ability, whereby he licks someone to heal him, her, or it, and we have a lot less creepy option (I certainly don’t relish being licked by frogs). The two can even combine this to to provide a Slurp Kiss, which is accompanied by a ring of hearts expanding across the screen (I’d argue this should just be slobber dribbling down the screen).
Given these two abilities combined with how she is clothed and her comments on baby-making, Ayla is a sexualized character. This is not necessarily negative. However, this is very confusing, as her sexuality seems to be assertive and direct, as presented through her dialogue, and then cutesy and girly in her abilities (which are still primarily strong, bruising hits, kicks, and charges). Her outfit makes sense as a pragmatic outfit for a rather sweltering prehistoric climate, but also serves to further an image of a sexualized woman. In context, it makes sense, but I can only imagine the reactions people of future ages would have of her walking about clothed as such (especially the men who’d also like to make some babies).
Provided all this, she serves to be a very confusing character in her design choices. On the one hand, she is an immensely hardy, stubborn character (not just female, but character) who is also sexualized, as we often see with strong women–but she is still fully characterized, humanized, and is not a smoldering sex kitten.