In part 2 of our Chrono Trigger play through, Writers James Roberts and April-Lyn Cauette and editor-in-chief Drew Dixon, wax nostalgic while also taking notice of the more narratively dissonant aspects of the game. While we are all still enchanted by CT’s charms, we all feel a little too old to neglect to mention some initial problems with the game’s narrative and characters. This exchange occurred after completing the Guardia Castle escape quest (roughly the first 3 hours). Read Part 1 of our Chrono Chronicles series here.
My initial impression of Chrono Trigger is that it absolutely oozes with nostalgia, and I can almost feel that much younger version of myself sitting cross-legged in front of the television. But how can I experience nostalgia for a game that I’ve never even played before?It didn’t take me long to realise that for all of its differences, Chrono Trigger is effectively the template for what I expect and remember from an early to mid 90’s JRPG. It triggers many of the feelings that I had when I was playing through Final Fantasy VI for the very first time without really creating any of its own, as though I’m just mentally making a list of all of the elements that make a game of this genre and am ticking them off one by one.
That’s not to say that I haven’t been enjoying the game, because to be truthful I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. But so far it has done very little to stand out to me. I like the fluid feeling of the combat as the enemies are moving about the battle field, and the lack of disconnect that I would usually get from random battles in other games of the genre. The combat, if a little too easy, has impressed me more than any other element, which is funny to me since that’s what I was least interested in. I am hoping it gets more complex and varied as I progress–that Dragon Tank boss didn’t stand a chance!
What’s most surprising to me is that the younger version of James in the back of my mind is crying out to play more, and that is interesting, because I have a horrible penchant for playing games and then never finishing them. Yet here is a game nearing twenty years old that has me wanting to load it back up again and keep going. I had to actually stop myself knowing that if I had kept playing I’d likely finish it in a few days unintentionally and render the point of this experiment moot! I’m still not really sure what it is about Chrono Trigger that is making me need to keep playing. Part of me thinks that it’s the older, cynical me crying out for that feeling of nostalgia again which could just as easily be served by playing another game of the time, another thinks that actually there’s something about this game that I just haven’t been able to identify yet.
If there’s any hope I have going forward, it’s that the story of Chrono Trigger starts to come together. It’s the element that I’ve most anticipated and been excited for, and has been the thing I’ve felt is most lacking. The time travel plot mechanic is interesting, but it hasn’t really gripped me in any meaningful way. Though I suspect that funnily enough, that will come with time.
Its interesting to me that playing Chrono Trigger has you waxing nostalgic when you never played it as a kid. What you remember about playing mid 90s JRPGs, I remember specifically about Chrono Trigger. I remember my heart pumping as Chrono jumped inside that portal to rescue Marle and I remember nervously attempting to sneak past the guards in Guardia Castle only to be forced to fight them to the death.
Remembering those feelings and knowing that the plot of the game is about to get more interesting, is what keeps me playing. If I didn’t remember those feelings, I am not sure I would be all that excited about playing Chrono Trigger again for the first time in 15 years.
When I led Lucca and Crono to the end of Gaurdia Castle, I was reminded of that scene in Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail where Sir Lancelot gets a note that he believes to be from a princess who is being held captive and forced to marry against her will. Lancelot storms the castle and brutally murders dozens of servants and wedding guests as he ascends the tower only to find that the princess is not who he thought she was. Lancelot then apologizes to the Lord of the castle and leaves quietly as dozens of wedding guests weep as their loved ones lay bloody and dying in their arms.
Fifteen years ago, these thoughts never would have crossed my mind, I would have just been glad that Marle stuck it to her overbearing father and that Crono reached level 9. Fifteen years ago, I was convinced that Crono and Lucca were heroes. Now, I can’t help but realize that I led a teenage boy and his best friend to slaughter dozens of guards who were merely doing their jobs.
If there is anything noble about the characters of the game, it is that they are unshakably loyal. They are deeply committed to one another. Crono doesn’t hesitate to jump into the time portal to search for Marle who he has just met. Lucca seeks to save Crono when he is arrested. Marle leaves her family to join Chrono and Lucca. Frog trusts Chrono to join him on his quest seconds after meeting each other.
Perhaps that thing that you can’t quite identify, James, that you like so much about Chrono Trigger is how endearingly optimistic it is. I still find the character’s commitment to one another appealing, I just can’t help but notice how blind their loyalty is.
April-Lyn, you mentioned in our first post about wondering how the game would portray its female characters. I would be curious to hear your thoughts on that element in particular in your initial experience of the game.
Well, keep in mind this is the portion of Chrono Trigger that I’ve played multiple times in the past, so none of this was entirely new to me. But I’d forgotten large parts of it. The Dragon Tank, for example, was a hilarious surprise. They sent a tank against me! They drove a tank onto the tower bridge! How did they even get it up there? So far my favorite part of the game is its sense of humor, from the rude gestures the imps make at you in combat to the absurdity of Chrono’s trial for being a supposed seditionist. And, oh yeah, to quote James: “THERE IS A FROG WHO TALKS LIKE AN OLD TIMEY KNIGHT?!?! THIS GAAAAAME!”
As I always expect from an RPG of this era – or for most any JRPG – the characters are all fairly one-dimensional. They represent archetypes rather than fully fleshed-out personalities. I noticed some pretty interesting departures from the normal “types” I would expect, however.
First: Crono’s best friend and the second playable character we meet is a girl. Not just a girl, but a talented, creative, curious, brave girl who takes responsibility for her mistakes instead of leaving it all up to the “hero”. I was also touched that Lucca’s father obviously dotes on her and supports her creativity, despite not having tremendous faith in her abilities as an inventor or mechanic.
Next, the first playable healer character (Frog) is both male and is also a fighter. This breaks two common molds in JRPGs: one, that you have separate fighter and healer characters, and two, that healer characters are female. It also challenges the cultural notion that a “protector” figure should protect mainly through violence, and suggests that protection can also involve a more nourishing aspect.
So, to answer your question, Drew: on the one hand I’m impressed by the departures from the stereotypes I’ve come to expect from RPGs. On the other hand, the characters have plenty of traits that fit the stereotypes. All the melee fighters are male; all the female characters rely on magic or gadgets. The female characters are noticeably weaker in combat, and in Marle we have the expected “healer” type. Speaking of Marle, she is so far my least favorite of the characters: she is headstrong, naive, recklessly disobedient, and careless. I hope to see her grow up as the story progresses, because while her antics would have definitely appealed to younger me, adult me is annoyed and frustrated. So far CT is the story of an epic journey caused by one spoiled teenage princess’s rebellion against her parents.