I was very concerned as I crossed the 10-hour mark in Chrono Trigger. Those first ten hours were amazingly good on so many different levels. The game had actually managed to deliver everything I wanted and anticipated. I loved the characters, the story, and all of the artistic elements that brought the package together. I commented that after sequences like the raiding of the Fiendlord’s Keep, I was afraid it had blown its proverbial load already, and while the rest of the game would probably be “good”… it would whimper on to the end like many RPGs of the day, hindered by an ever-growing cast of characters, poor pacing, and extraneous side-quests.
Thankfully, my fears were completely unjustified.
(OK, minus this “Inner Sanctum” area which was apparently new for the DS version. That’s pretty awful.)
To be fair, the second ten hours are not as good as the first ten. The game introduces so many of its iconic styles and mannerisms that even when variations on them are introduced with perfect execution later on, they do not have the same impact as the first go ’round. Do not misunderstand — like I said, the game has been amazing, and a “Not Jaw-Droppingly Amazing Chrono Trigger Sequence” is still leaps and bounds above most of the other garbage I have tried before.
It is with this game that I continue to question my gaming habits and supposed preferences. I have dabbled into so many different genres and play styles in the last two years that I no longer feel like I have any particular allegiance to a type of game, or even specific franchises. I joke to the wife how there was a monkey bridge in Link’s Awakening… lo and behold, monkeys come to the rescue as I watch her replay Twilight Princess. I look around in shock, wondering if I’m the crazy one that does not love the play style of New Super Mario Bros. with its floaty-controls. I compare the two above examples, coming down harshly on one series for recycling an old trope, while simultaneously criticizing another for not being familiar enough, and wonder how I can be so hypocritical.
That may be the subject matter for another article in the future, though. For now, Chrono Trigger is the sole subject of my attention. I sit wide-eyed on the train, during lunch, and on the couch at home as I clutch my DS. A game from 15 years ago — a game that I should have played and yet continuously overlooked — is one of the reasons I have been questioning my supposed gaming affiliations. With 20 hours now sunk into the game, here is a list of things that have blown me away in those second 10 hours. Spoilers are in full effect.
I’M A LITTLE SHORT ON CASH
Perhaps it is an extension of not having to endlessly grind (and being encouraged not to grind, something I spoke about after my first 10 hours with the game), but I often find that I do not have much cash to spend. There are always extra bits of armor and weaponry that are just out of my grasp due to their price. After being so used to buying whatever I felt like in various Final Fantasy games, it was a shock to have to actually ration my purchases, only buy essentials, and maybe even sell back obsolete weapons.
EXTRANEOUS CHARACTERS ARE NOT EXTRANEOUS
Magus is Janus all grown up and mighty pissed off. Melchoir, the man who fixed up Masamune for Frog so much earlier in the story, is the “Guru of Life”. The weird old guy at the End of Time is actually Gaspar, the “Guru of Time”. Belthasar created a “puppet” for himself to help you at various points throughout the game. Every named character, while not necessarily being essential to the story, plays a larger role than you might otherwise think.
TACTICAL BOSS BATTLES
There is definitely something to be said for boss battles that, no matter how “leveled-up” you are, still require you to think strategically. The concept was introduced early on with the dinosaurs — stun them with lightning to lower their defenses, and then whack away. My favorite battle so far has been Retinite in the sunken desert. Plenty of hints are dropped about using water on the sand dwellers, and with Frog being a perpetual member of my party, that was not an issue. The back-and-forth game of balancing water attacks to lower his defense and then the physical attacks both dealing damage and raising his defenses back up at the same time… well, that took some effort. It was not difficult by any stretch of the imagination, but it was different enough to make it special.
One battle that was difficult was against the Golem Twins. The amount of damage being dealt to me was overwhelming, and after various attempts at combination strategies, I found that the best tactic was to back out and level up a little bit. It was a strange plan, especially since it goes against everything I have been saying about the game and its insistence on not “leveling up”. Perhaps if I switched out just one more character and tried just one more tech attack I would have figured out a better way of approaching the battle, but so far it has been the only instance of getting fed up with the situation enough that I felt the need to grind.
Marle’s temporary disappearance near the beginning of the game due to grandfather-complex situations was only the tip of the iceberg. After playing games like Final Fantasy IV and VI, I tend to expect a 16-bit RPG to have that one moment where the world “changes”. Chrono Trigger certainly has that in 12,000 BC with the summoning of Lavos, and of course in 1999 AD with Lavos wreaking destruction across the world. With time travel being such a huge aspect of the narrative, though, it is inherently impossible to have the world “change” for good. It has to change in other ways that do not effect the world at-large, but rather in tiny ways that show just how intertwined these characters and their journeys truly are.
One of the tiny ways the game accomplishes this is with the beef jerky. That one special bit of food could change the entire demeanor and therefore conversations of a family throughout the ages shows just how much the developers cared for the world they created. As far as I can tell, this grant of food out of the goodness of my heart has no effect on me as a character or the greater story… but that does not matter in the least. It proved yet again just how “real” this world is by tossing the Butterfly Effect into the mix.
A fantastically endearing moment was the decision to leave Robo with Fiona in 600 AD to regrow the forest. I found myself caring so much for the world in all of the different ages, and I wanted to help in any way that I could — making 600 AD a better place meant that 1000 AD would be a better place. We have learned so much about Robo at this point that it could not have made any more sense than to leave him behind and make the world just a little more green. Jumping 400 years ahead in the blink of an eye to see Robo patiently waiting for your return, having accomplished his task and hanging out semi-deactivated, served the purpose not only of solidifying the relationship between the cast of characters, but yet again proving just how “real” the world truly is. Characters live and die, and yet their legacies remain throughout the ages, fondly recalled by the general population. As a minor aside, I find it hilarious to return to 600 AD with Robo back in your party… only to find the previous Robo cultivating the land. What would happen if the two were to meet…?!
A second example falls between “Cause and Effect” and the next category I will be writing about, though. It was not so much a “decision” as it was an “action” — of course you want to save Lucca’s mom from losing her legs. I was not quick enough on my feet, though, and watched as she inched her way underneath the contraption as the screen went black. I heard her scream. I watched as Lucca, shaken beyond belief, came back to her friends.
This all makes me question the free will of the characters. If changing these events in the past in such minor ways could theoretically have greater ramifications later on (such as, ya’ know, going back to destroy Lavos)… is destiny pre-written? Are certain events guaranteed to happen, no matter how much effort we put into changing or avoiding them? Perhaps I will learn more about this, especially through repeated play throughs…
I have, much to my dismay, had several things spoiled for me about Chrono Trigger and other games that have severely affected how I would otherwise interpret events or even play the game in general. I knew the two of them would turn to stone in Final Fantasy IV. I knew that I should wait for him in Final Fantasy VI. I knew that sword was coming down in Final Fantasy VII. These events all still affected me on some kind of emotional level, however, because it was not just about the raw fact that the event happened… it was the journey to that point that made the event so significant.
Only one of those three events was a “choice”, though. Family Guy‘s joke about choosing the soup or the salad that got away rings all-to-true in these situations. How would the game differ if I did not wait for Shadow? How would the game differ if I did not choose to fight Magus?
I knew he would be able to join up with me at some point. I have no idea how I learned this, but that is what happens when you wait 15 years to play a game, and especially a game so closely related to several other interests. What I was not expecting, however, was exactly how this choice would be presented to me. In fact, I still assumed Magus would return later on (as he tended to do) to offer his services as a crucial point.
It made narrative sense to me to have Frog do battle with Magus (and with him almost always being in my party, he took the conversational lead with Magus). Frog still seemed somewhat obsessed with seeking vengeance for Cyrus, and Magus did not appear to have shown a complete change of heart or overwhelming sense of regret. He was a broken man, and Frog seemed content (and willing) to put him in his place. It was not until I started collecting weapons and armor that were not usable by any other character that I sensed something was amiss. I ran a quick search, read a few words, and sat back in my chair.
I lost my chance.
I am conflicted over my decision. I am completely enthralled at how nonchalant the game was about introducing this “choice” to me. I had absolutely no idea I was making an irreversible decision about whether or not a character remained in the storyline. I already feel like the game was stretching its cast of characters and how able I was to truly care about each of them individually; adding another one to the pile seemed as if it might overwhelm me. I get thinking, though… How would Magus have reacted to such-and-such? How would the other characters interact with him? How would he fit in with my play style? I recently learned so much about him (as “Janus”), that to have him depart so soon left a hole in my gaming heart.
I already know what my decision will be on my first New Game+.
ROBO’S CONTINUOUS GROWTH
I did not think that I could love this character any more than I already did. Then I did his side quest.
I do have some reservations about his growth. I mean, he was reprogrammed by Lucca to be the way he is now. If he was never fiddled with, would he have turned on us when Atropos entered the scene? Just how much did “Mother Brain” alter these robots? How much of it was true in the first place?
I think these reservations only add to the character development, though, even when I am unsure about which elements to accept as truth. More than any other member of the core group, Robo is an amalgamation of his surroundings and experiences — he must be, since that is all he can be as a robot. His unwavering loyalty, from the very first hints at the factory in 2300 AD all the way up through his side quest at Geno Dome, makes this robot as much a friend as anyone else. The fact that he nearly breaks down in tears every time another character expresses these same feelings, such as when Lucca reemerges from saving / not-saving her mother’s legs, makes him the most endearing character of the bunch.
I will try to stop using the word “endearing” every time I mention Robo.
(I said I will try. I will probably fail.)
BEAT THE GAME WHENEVER YOU WANT — I CHOOSE NOT TO
From the very first drop into the End of Time, you have the choice of fighting Lavos. Yes, you can go fight the final boss whenever you want. The magical pot is sitting right over there. Just go up to it.
I don’t want to.
I am at a loss for words. The game presents the final boss to me as a choice, effectively plopping the ending to the story (which I want so badly) right on my lap. At the same time, it dangles exposition and growth through further game play right over here — just keep playing!
How did they construct a story that interconnects and refers back to itself so tightly… and yet so loosely… that I can go about completing it any way I choose…? Why is it that I want to know how it all ends, but I don’t want it to end…?
I suppose the answer to all of these questions is simply that it’s a well-written game created by talented people.
In an attempt to at least bring some amount of fairness to the table (the game is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination), here are a couple things that did not blow me away:
Crono’s “Death”: This did not shock me because I had it spoiled for me, plain and simple. I have no idea how different it would be to not see it coming. Would I be sad? The silent protagonist has such little growth that it is hard to care about him as a character — it is more about those that surround him, rather than Crono himself.
12,000 BC: I expected another time period, and I got exactly what I expected. The idea of an advanced civilization with technology and knowledge far beyond what we can perceive today is a common one. It works perfectly in the context of Chrono Trigger‘s world, though… so while it did not amaze me, it also did not negatively affect the game.
Favoring Certain Characters: I hardly ever use Marle or Lucca at this point. I love that a male character can act as the traditional healer (it is usually Frog for me), totally going against the grain for every other RPG of the time that I am familiar with. I just… I don’t know…! Neither of them are doing anything for me right now. They were introduced at the very beginning of the game, seemed to serve their purpose (giving me technology and a reason to time travel), and have been tossed by the wayside. There are more side quests coming my way, though, so hopefully Marle will at least be somewhat relevant to something in the near future.
It should be apparent that I absolutely adore Chrono Trigger. Each time I play I am reminded of how foolish I am for looking past it for fifteen years.
Speaking of “foolish”, I have pre-ordered SoulSilver. Other than downloading the event critters from GameStop and Toys”R”Us, I have not actually played a Pokemon game since around September 2008. Since I will clearly fall off the wagon next month, that gives me a set amount of time to reap as many rewards from Chrono Trigger as I can. How many New Game+ play throughs will I manage? Will the game begin to bore me as I plow through for a second time? Will I even bother to “finish” the first play through?
I don’t want it to end…! Can I please just be 13 years old again and discover it for the first time…?