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Published January 25, 2009

– Team up for devastating double and even triple attacks!

– Artwork by fan favorite Akira Toriyama!

– Unleash the power of the Epoch to travel to the end of time… and back!

– Over 60 hours of mind-blowing gameplay!

– Multiple endings mean the story never ends!

Since the rise of the RPG in the western world, marketing divisions of software companies have forever been parading out similar claims formatted as bulleted lists on the back of game boxes.  One game will supposedly keep you enchanted for hundreds of hours while another will blow your mind with a new exciting spin on the classic turn-based battle system.  It wouldn’t take any seasoned gamer long to figure out what game the “back of the box” blurbs above are describing.  However, there’s something different about Chrono Trigger: a game that holds a special place in the heart of almost everyone who has played it. What sets it above its contemporaries?  What makes it so memorable that it barely takes more than two notes of the introductory music (or a literal swing of a clock’s pendulum) to send you back to a place where a 15″ color TV and grubby gray Super Nintendo controller were the truest definition of happiness?

You could cite any number of things: the active time battle system that allows you to see your enemies before initiating combat with them, the aforementioned double and triple techs, the memorable characters and unique time-travel based plot, the gorgeous music and graphics, etc. but at the risk of sounding like the back of a box – nothing more than an attempt to “sell” someone who hasn’t played the game yet or heard of it before. Suffice to say, all of us on The Rumble Pack have played this game at some point in our lives. Instead of telling you what an amazing game it is or why we should treasure it as a classic, I’d like to share some of the reasons the game is so memorable to me. Surprisingly enough, most of them are small details that seem dwarfed, even insignificant compared to the grandiose claims made above. The point I’m trying to make is that there is a lot more to some games than one can describe with a list of features, an assessment of how good these features are, and a letter grade or number.

[Note: contains a fair amount of spoilers, mostly minutia, and is not intended for those who have not completed the game.]

1. The Millenial Fair

It’s a known fact that institutions like this tends to destroy me when it comes to RPGs.  I’ve gambled away my last gold coin in the casinos of Dragon Quest more times than I can count, and as far as I’m concerned Final Fantasy VII comes to a satisfyingly happy ending the moment you reach the Golden Saucer.  There’s something about visiting these places that sets them apart from being just another town or village to upgrade your equipment at, and I can’t stop until I’ve done everything there is to do. I feel like I’m doing my characters a favor, letting them relax from beating up hobgoblins for a few hours to guzzle some sodas or get laughed at and subsequently japed by a floating clown face.

The fact that I could get all of this over with at the beginning of a game instead of the middle makes me owe Chrono Trigger a debt of gratitude – otherwise I don’t know if I ever would have completed it. To put it simply: I barely remember the whole reptite subplot or the fact that Schala was Magus’ sister… but I’ll be damned if I can’t sing Gato’s song on my death bed and distribute 15 silver points (later revealed to be dollar bills with my face pasted on them) with my final breath.  Honestly, the best part about the entire fair, I daresay entire game, is eating that old man’s lunch.

No holds barred lunch munch extravaganza

The lunch that launched a thousand ships…

            To put it into perspective, there was a fountain in the original Final Fantasy that, when “spoken” to, said something like “COME! HOW FILTHY YOUR FACE IS.”  (Which as a kid, delighted me to no end… was this supposed to be the fountain chiding me in the booming voice of an aquatic god or merely the reflections of my own apparently filthy-faced party of three warriors and a monk? No other inanimate object in the game spoke to you like this, and in a game where most of the dialogue consisted of “WATCH ME DANCE” and then a twenty second long unskippable jittering of pixels, this was a mystery worth considering.)  I would talk to that damn fountain at least a dozen times every time I visited the village it was in. Well, to me, that guy’s lunch held the same allure. Often while traveling through time, I would purposefully make a pit stop in 1000 AD just to eat it. Which bring me to…

2. The Trial and Subsequent Prison Escape

…the fact that there were consequences for eating that lunch. As a kid, this shocked me.  Typically when playing RPGs, as the hero your behavior consists of barging into as many residences as possible, smashing every treasured family heirloom and clay pot you come across, jumping into unknown beds fully clothed in your dirt-caked leather armor, and stealing absolutely everything that wasn’t bolted down. Which, other than that one bald shopkeeper in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (who MURDERS YOU if you steal from his shop… talk about scaring the bejesus out of a 8-year old kid) most NPCs seem to be completely chill about. But in Chrono Trigger, when you are tried for bogus charges of kidnap, the fact that you acted like a dick comes back to bite you. I loved playing through again and again trying to see all of the different testimonies leveled against you by other people at the fair or to try and get a not-guilty sentence. It still kills me that this feeble old man would haul his ass all the way to the courthouse to testify for your execution for eating his lunch, bag and all.

The only consolation being that, as a dear colleague of mine once said: “After you escape from the prison, the game pretty much becomes a no-holds-barred lunch munch adventure.” Case in point, my countless pit stops in 1000 AD I’m sure Crono found difficult to explain to his comrades were completely justified to me. The rest of the busting out of prison sequence is especially memorable for the bridge battle against the tank dragon, which takes place on a 2D plane instead of an overhead view. Like I said before the list, nothing startling by today’s standards or even those of yesteryear, but these are the things that really stick with me 12 years after playing.

Dr. Wily???

I half expected Dr. Wily to pop out of this thing after you defeat it…

3. Robo’s 400 Year Wait

            RPGs have a way of trying to make you feel for the characters which sometimes works and sometimes does not.  It’s a given that, during the course of a long game, you will grow to like certain characters and not care about others.  It’s a matter of personal experience, but I was never particularly attached to Aeris or some of the other obvious love interests/tragic figures these games try to scrape off on you.  But man, do I remember Robo. Even though I never really used him in my party (let’s face it… he was kind of shitty…shh, don’t tell him) I thought he had some of the best story scenes.  My favorite being when he agrees to stay in 600 AD to help replant a forest while your party travels into the future, agreeing to meet up with him later.  After he leaves the party, he appears on the world map, chugging away and clearing space for a forest to be seeded.  Then it’s just a matter of jumping through the Epoch to 1000 AD to re-collect him.  Now, to the player, Robo only leaves your party for a few minutes. But I could never help but imagine the implications of his 400 year wait… did he ever wonder if Crono and the gang would get sidetracked or just plain forget about him?  (One can’t help but think of the scene from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where the robot Marvin is forced to wait until the end of time itself to meet up with the main characters again.)  Plenty of RPGs are full of omnipotent or immortal characters who have lived for a very long time and who are very eager to tell you all about it, but Robo carries with him a sort of quiet grace. He was given a job to do and he did it.  When you do finally come for him, now battered, rusty and enshrined in an overgrown temple, a touching scene follows where he gives Lucca a piece of pressure-hardened amber he created over a hundred years, which always implied to me he never lost faith that his friends would come back for him. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I’ll take this over a hundred Aeris-bucket-kicks anyday.

4. The Fake Save Point

I would love to see some kind of callback to this in a current-gen RPG, I just love how cheeky this concept is. Your battle-weary party slogs through the sewers and finally, spotting the hopeful glint of a save point in the distance, makes a break for it. But the second you touch it, a bunch of monsters pop out and rape you instead. Brilliant! I like the ways you could interpret this – either the enemies are clever enough to set a trap for you and bait you in with a decoy save point (as in this case) or, pushed by positive natural selection in an RPG universe, a monster eventually evolves to resemble a save point that lures in weary travelers.  It’s taking the concept of a Mimic Chest just one step further, I love it.  I guess that would be kind of like an animal that evolves to perfectly resemble a Taco Bell and waits off the side of the highway for hungry drivers to pull over… OH GOD WAIT, what if there was a monster that evolved to resemble that old man’s lunch at the beginning of the game and…okay, sorry, I’m done.

5.  Crono’s Clone and the Titular “Chrono Trigger”

            Character deaths are nothing new in video games, but few games have the balls to outright kill off the main character, which might as well be “you” in general.  Especially for players who always name the main character after themselves.  But the fact that you can go back in time and replace Crono, moments before the fatal blow strikes him, with what basically amounts to a mannequin made of straw, a bucket, and an old spiky mop is hilarious.  It’s like in those really cheesy B-movies where it shows a character about to get hit by a car or something and then cuts away to a soft cloth dummy being hit instead.  It’s literally one of the oldest tricks in the book and Lavos falls for it.  Not only that, but it completely pats you on the back for being enough of an idiot to waste the first half of the game testing your luck in Norstein Bekkler’s Tent of Horrors.  For  me, a great personal victory, as I was afraid the only thing I would have to show for this “hard work” was a house stuffed to the brim with cats.

The game also gets huge points in my book for the title actually meaning something.  I know there are plenty of straight-forward game titles (Elevator Action, Mega Man, Duck Hunt, etc.) but it always irks a tiny part of my soul that I never found out what The Illusion of Gaia really was or why there are now thirteen Fantasies that cannot logically be Final.  Shit, I never even really understand what The Secret of Mana/Evermore was supposed to be.  That the mana tree was still alive?  That a dog, when transformed into a toaster, is capable of wreaking havoc in ways not previously thought possible?  Hell if I know.

That's no way to get ahead in life

A very real man (not a dime store mannequin at all) being destroyed in a manner most brutal.

6.  Jerky: The World’s Most Precious Natural Resource

            This is one of my favorite “out of the box” solutions to be featured in an older game.  The setup: you place something called the Moon Stone in a spot of eternal sunlight in the distant past, then travel forward into the future to re-collect the now fully powered Sun Stone.  The problem: it is now gone, somehow falling into the hands of some town Mayor who attempts to hide it, ignoring the fact that his house is pouring out enough sunlight to build hydrogen into helium at a temperature of millions of degrees.  The solution: BEEF JERKY + TIME TRAVEL.

baconbaconbaconbacon... it's BACON???

The solution to all life’s problems… that’ll be $10,000 please.

            Yes. Instead of traveling back in time far enough to before the mayor was born and nabbing the stone or fooling him with some whimsical Robo-induced distraction long enough to find it in his house and grab it, you instead travel back and give his ancestors beef jerky.  Apparently this beef jerky is encrusted with precious jewels or something, because it sets you back 9900 GP, roughly the cost of 990 tonics.  If each tonic heals 50 HP, the jerky should presumably heal almost 50,000 HP when eaten.  A metaphorical “spicy meatball” indeed.  But his ancestors, so moved by your act of jerky-giving, promise to teach the value of sharing down through posterity. The result? When you travel forward in time again to meet the mayor, he happily hands over the stone. For keepsies.

7.  Catching the Gold Rock

            This is a quick one, but it always makes me smile when I think about it. In the Denadoro Mountain area, there are these enemies on the map that throw rocks at you to initiate combat.  However, if you visit after Frog receives the upgraded Masamune (a completely arbitrary requirement) you somehow become enough of a bad ass to catch them instead of being pelted mercilessly.  Apparently some baller-rich baddies live in this area and are fans of “making it rain”: not content to throw regular pebbles they instead hurl rocks of solid gold that allow Marle, Robo, and Frog to team up and do the Grand Dream triple tech.  2D RPGs have somewhat of a tradition of allowing limited interaction outside of the battle screen (a pre-emptive “SHUT UP” to anyone who mentions Final Fantasy Mystic Quest) and this is a notable exception which results in a most pleasant surprise.

8.  The Developer’s Room

Speaking of thins I’d love to see again in a current-gen RPG, not only did Chrono Trigger have over one million god damn endings* but if you were enough of a pimp to defeat Lavos at the very beginning of a New Game+ (or in the Ocean Palace when you are supposed to lose to him) you are taken to a secret area where you can speak to all of the people who worked on the game.  I love to see things that pay tribute to underappreciated staff who work hard but don’t garner the same fan following as the big wigs like Mitsuda, Kojima, Uematsu, Miyamoto, Sakaguchi, etc.  They really went the extra mile by literally placing themselves in the game to wish the player well, a strengthening of the bond between creator and player that isn’t often seen and a reminder that teams of real people work on these games we love so much.


Oh Keisuke, you kidder!

* Okay, only a baker’s dozen of endings. Plus the new one they added. Still, that’s a lot.

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