There’s a key scene in Chrono Trigger that involves a password, a mother’s name, and the buttons on the game controller.
This scene also comes with two extra translation surprises: the mother’s name was changed during the game’s localization, and language differences might have given English-speaking players an advantage at getting the password right.
A side quest in Chrono Trigger involves going back in time to save Lucca’s mother from an accident that left her debilitated. To save her, you need to figure out that the password is her name within a time limit and somehow enter it even though there isn’t a password entry screen.
Clever players quickly realize that you can type the name using the buttons on the controller. Pressing the L Button will input “L” and pressing the X Button will input “X”, for example. Entering the correct password will save Lucca’s mother, but getting it wrong will leave her disabled for the rest of her life.
The Japanese Password
This is where things get interesting. Because there’s no real distinction between the L and R sounds in Japanese, ララ can be written in English letters several different ways, including:
With so many possibilities, how would a Japanese player know which one is right? And which one is right?
It turns out that the correct answer is LALA, so to save Lucca’s mom in the Japanese version of Chrono Trigger, you press the L Button, the A Button, the L Button, and then the A Button.
I’m not really sure how Japanese players were supposed to know which spelling was right, though. Who knows, maybe it was meant to be a 1/4 chance sort of thing even after you figured out the whole “Oh! I gotta type it with the controller!” trick.
The English Password
In any case, changing the mother’s name meant that the game programmers had to change the password to match. So if you play the English release, you’ll have to spell out the name “Lara” by pressing L-A-R-A on the controller.
English-Speaking Players Might’ve Had an Advantage?
As we’ve seen, Japanese players had four potential passwords to choose from. But because the mother’s name is clearly written as “Lara” in the English version of Chrono Trigger, and because those letters map directly to buttons on the controller, there’s no ambiguity about how to spell her name. As a result, it’s possible that English-speaking players failed less often than Japanese-speaking players!
A Rare Sight
As a translator, this password puzzle almost feels like seeing a rare bird in the wild. In Japanese, the mother’s name is unquestionably meant to be “Lala”, while in English it’s unquestionably “Lara”. It’s actually rare for Japanese-to-English translators to say “unquestionably” when dealing with L/R issues in names. Even official name lists can end up defying expectations:
This password thing is also a neat little localization change that I wasn’t expecting. They didn’t have to change the mom’s name – they could’ve easily left it as “Lala”, which also would’ve saved the programmers time too. I guess the translator just felt that strongly about this scene!
In English, the password is clearly spelled out: L-A-R-A. In Japanese, the password is different. There are four possible spellings, but only one is correct: L-A-L-A. The other three combinations end in failure. As a result, Japanese players might’ve had a higher failure rate.