SNES

It is finished.

I finally beat the game that has been plaguing my past—the game that refused to be forgotten in the shadowy folds of my memory. That game, of course, is Chrono Trigger. This game is often touted as one of the greatest RPGs of all time, and (with my very limited knowledge) I can understand why. This game offered so much to me, the gamer. I was able to customize, explore, build my party, and change my party. The story was so vast and complex, giving the sense of reality and finality to the narrative. It was a truly unforgettable experience.

But above it all stands one element that needs to be focused on: the characters. Character seems to be my focal point whenever I play a game. I love to look at the people that make up the story of a game and how they develop. I am taking time to look at each playable character in Chrono Trigger individually. There is much talk about this great game, but I want to put the spotlight on the true heroes of the game.

Crono

It is imperative to talk about our main hero first. The opening of the story centers in on this young teen, and (unless you don’t bring him back to life later) you stay with him till the end.  Crono, like many main characters, is what I like to call the “silent-self” character. You see this throughout many games. Every character in the game will have a voice, but the main character will remain silent (Link, Mario, etc.). As I have elaborated in previous posts, I believe this silent-self character exists in order to immerse the player into the story. This actor in the story you are playing is silent; therefore, you are entering into the role of this character.

To be honest, entering into the role of Crono was awesome for me. He is certainly one of the most powerful characters in the game and has some amazing abilities. When Crono floated into the air to do his thunder magic, I rose off the seat slightly. I had a mini celebration every time I (Crono) did a critical hit and was able to slice up the enemy twice. Crono was an amazing character and, like all people, I wanted to be amazing.

Then something terrible happened… Crono dies. You see, I probably should have mentioned this earlier, Crono appears to be entirely motivated by a sense of duty. He is the altruistic character of the story, and in that form he offers his life to save everyone else. And in that moment I lost my conduit to this fantasy world… To be honest I was dumbstruck. What do I do now? I’m no longer in the game…

Chrono Trigger challenged my original notions of games and forced myself to find identity through another character. I kept switching between Marle and Frog as a cheap substitute. It was like eating a veggie burger on the Forth of July (To my non-American readers: I do apologize for this alienating comment). It wasn’t until I met a darker character (look at my twitter pic) that I was able to fully identify with a character other than Crono.

This teen is thrown into this time warp abyss and is unwittingly given the responsibility of the fate of the world. It is heavy, but Crono is true through and through. I have to be honest here: Crono is a bit flat. It is mostly due to the fact that he doesn’t speak and only communicates through exaggerated gestures (Insert shocked Crono sprite here). I defend Crono though, because he is needed. He is the backbone of the story, he is the glue that connects these characters, and he is they’re leader. He only feels shallow when he is taken away from the other dynamic characters and the rich world that he is in. Crono needs to be in the story because me, the player, wants to be that hero. And I want to be altruistic… that is until I met another character… (more on that later)…

To me Crono is the mirror that can put me into the game. Crono is the vessel that I loved being a part of. He is an honorable character that should be given the respect he deserves.

Marle

You first meet this fun loving character when Crono bumps into her at the millennial fair. She is a high-spirited individual who quickly becomes the “damsel in distress.” She is accidentally warped into the past by Lucca; and Crono, being the valiant hero that he is, travels through time to save her. It is soon discovered that Marle is a princess… of course she is.

What is it with video games and saving the princess? Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior… it is already a tired trope of video gamedom. And yet, this game throws the proverbial monkey wrench into the cogs of our rote RPG conventions and gives us a compelling character—one that could play a main role in any game. Marle takes our notions of kidnapped princess and throws it out of the window.

How does she do this, you ask? Because she is represented as a person rather than a goal. Marle has her own motivations: she wants to be free of her royal responsibilities and make her own decisions. Marle can hold her own on the battlefield: she is a sharp shooter with unmatched magical prowess. And Marle never acts the victim. She is not the arm-flapping Toadstool in the clutches of a beast, but rather she is always right next to the action.

I always kept Marle in my party. She has amazing talent and brings a supporting role in the game, but I wanted her in the team because she is always compelling as a person. She was a female character respectfully presented that always added a comedic element to the action.

 

Lucca

I feel terrible for this, but Lucca was a character that I generally ignored. I never found her compelling and thought of her as a plot point. It seems that most of the things she does simply helps the story along: She makes the warp that steals Marle, she Crono save the princess, she fixes Robo constantly, fixes the Epoch so that the characters can fly around and travel through time, etc. etc.. Lucca is always there spinning and adjusting her glasses ready to help. And, sadly, I ignored her.

Then two things happened simultaneously. I was on Tumblr looking at the Chrono Trigger feeds and noticed that the community has a huge obsession with Lucca, touting her as the best nerd girl ever. And at this same time I was feeling bad about not using her in my party. She had the lowest level and was only good at throwing fire balls. I decided to give her another go.

            It was during the section where Crono had died and the party was off to save him. Lucca was being the firecracker that she is (pun intended) and she was leveling quickly. It was during this time that I discovered why people loved her so much. It is because Lucca is an unashamed nerd. Lucca is intelligent and has no need to hide. And the majority of the people playing this game in 1995 were probably that nerd. RPGs weren’t huge at this time (it was prior to FF7) and those who were playing CT were probably intelligent and may have been scorned for that. Lucca made it cool to be a nerd and probably inspired many to embrace their nerdhood.

            And on top of all this, Lucca has a striking family dynamic. Her crippled mother sits alone in her room obviously ignored by her husband and child. Her father dotes on her and Lucca obviously has this guilt on her shoulders. In addition to that when I brought Crono back to the land of the living, Lucca replaced Marle in that famous scene by the dead tree...

And for a moment, I thought Marle might be competition for Crono’s heart?! The whole moment was a shock for me. Lucca was a deep and compelling character… one that could be examined on a psychological level (how has her family dynamic made her the way she is? Etc.). I now have a deep respect for Lucca, and in my next eventual play through, she will not be ignored.

Robo

“After 400 years of experience, I have come to think that Lavos may not be responsible for the Gates… I have come to think that someone, or something wanted us to see all this…”

            These are not the words of a mere walking computer. These are the words of Robo, the electronic enigma of Chrono Trigger.

You first meet this automaton in the bleak future, a glimpse of what the world will be after Lavos. This droid becomes very useful in this apocalyptic cyber world where broken down computers are the norm. Robo becomes not only useful in helping the plot move along, he becomes helpful in the party. When he joined my team he had the strongest hit and soon gained healing abilities.

            While his use in the plot and party are valid, I find the most intriguing element of Robo is his development. At first he is a short-circuiting bot that does what it is told, but by the end you have a character who has gained the uniquely human ability to feel.

            Lucca is crucial in Robo’s growth. On two separate occasions(as far as I can remember) she fixes his broken state. At the beginning she restors him to life, and during a later secret side quest Robo is restored from a shrine after helping rebuild a forest for 400 years. There is this mutual adoration between these two characters that I see as a creation/creator love. Lucca is proud of Robo as her accomplishments and enjoys teaching her (Robo credits Lucca as the one who help teach him how to feel). And Robo will do anything for Lucca. When Lucca travels back in time to be given the opportunity to save her mothers legs I failed to complete the task. But robo was quick to offer his legs to Lucca’s mother.

            These honorable acts of sacrifice and devotion make Robo another altruistic character. He is always ready to help not because he was programmed to do so, but because he has developed a soul. While the idea of a robot having emotions is far from new, Chrono Trigger never belabors the point. He has become a character in the story rather than a tool to be used. This troubles me slightly. I cannot wrap my mind around the idea of a walking computer having feelings. Because of this, I subscribe to the belief that Robo is not a robot, but was a man at one point. I’m not into fan fiction, but if I was, I would love to write/read that story. Robo is to compelling of a character to just be a moving computer. He has depth to him and I think there is more depth than the game lets on.

Frog

I was listening to a podcast a while back. If I remember correctly it was Retronauts… but they were discussing Chrono Trigger and one of the contributors went off about how much they hated Frog. This individual found his dialogue to be annoying and was not compelling compared to the rest.

I was taken aback. At this point Chrono Trigger was a game that I remembered as poorly as last nights dream, but my one clear memory of this game was Frog. I remember, back in the 90s, having Frog appear in the Sanctuary and save my team. As a child I found him compelling, but to be honest I found most things fascinating as a child. So maybe this love of Frog was just childish ignorance. In this play through I made it a point to examine this character and see if he was as compelling as I remembered.

And for the first time my childhood memories were correct. Frog was, is, and always will be a compelling character. His dialogue was strange, and possibly suffering from translation difficulties (although, in general, I found the translation was done very well). And this character was not one dimensional, but, it can be argued, that he is the character with the most depth.

Frog is given the most back story out of all the characters. When you meet him he is, of course, a frog shaped man. It isn’t until later that you find he was once a man by the name of Glenn. He and his friend Cyrus were determined to destroy Magus. Cyrus was killed and Glenn was turned into Frog. And to be honest, Frog is more of the “Hero” than any of the other characters. He is the one who carries the Masamune; the one who is destined to complete his quest.

On top of all this, he is a very contemplative fellow. He is often deep in remembrance of his lost friend Cyrus. He doubts his own calling and abilities. And he never appears to complain despite his terrible circumstances.

Even though Crono has a very clear lead in the game, Frog passes him up in regards to the story. It seems that Frog should have been the lead character, but you as the player (Crono) get to see his actions from the outside.

The game also breaks with the norm in that Frog does not turn back to a human (I guess there may be a way to do this with the different endings, but I don’t know for sure). When I was playing the game I was waiting for some princess to kiss the frog and have him turn back into his former hero self… but it never happened. Frog, it seems, has accepted his curse as his burden to bear. This compelling character still feels responsible for Cyrus’s demise.

I don’t care what people say, Frog is amazing.

Magus

I have an affinity for Magus. I am often drawn to the darker characters in video games. I enjoy a character that has a level of mystique.

If you met me in person you might be surprised by this. I am a nice guy, I think, and would never…ever be mistaken for a lover of anyting gothic. I usually wear bright colors and a smile on my face. But… I do have a side of me that I keep hidden. Magus has this aloof nature that I identify with. He is always brooding and has a very, very dark side. I love this about him.

Let’s look at Magus’s dark side:

You meet Magus as a child in the medieval era. Basically he is a snobbish brat. I wish there were a kick button, because I would have kicked him and his stupid cat. His mother is one of the worst characters in the game. She is responsible for the destruction of the future and awakening Lavos. He has no father, as far as I saw, so I’m sure he has daddy issues. His sister was abused by his mother and this sister warps away, or something. I forget the details. This guy has baggage… major family problems. Ladies, you do not want to date Magus. You will fall in love and he will hurt you… physically, mentally, emotionally...

As the game progresses Magus appears to be the main villain. You fight him and his cronies a couple of times and at one point he summons Lavos. And when Lavos appears… Magus tries to destroy the very creature that he just summoned. I was flabbergasted when this happened (“what the what?!”). He is not a bad guy after all. Or is he? Remember: this is the guy who took part in Cyrus’s death and Glen being turned into Frog. In a story where everyone is selfless and sacrificing, Magus stands out as the selfish one. Everything that he does is to serve his own purpose. He does nothing “for the greater good.” Frog, Crono, Robo are all complete opposites of what Magus displays.

I never knew how to feel about him. I never fully trusted him. “Is he going to change his mind?” But I always tried to keep him in my group. I didn’t have him in my party because of how powerful he was, but rather I identified with him.

I feel like we all have a dark side to us. Some of us hide it more than others. I wanted to be the white knight Crono, but I knew that I had the dark Magus part of me as well. The game needed this balance. And I needed this balance as well.

Ayala

I’ve reached the final main character in Chrono Trigger. Ayala: the BC girl with deadly fists…

I have to be honest. There is a reason why I had Ayala last. I truly do not like her. These past weeks I have been trying to dissect her character and motives but all my attempts have fallen flat. I find very little redeeming parts to her. She is not evil, good, or interesting. She barely is a plot point. I never had her in my party because I never cared what she had to say. If she was taken out of the game I would not miss her.

But who knows, maybe I am being unfair… I leave it to you, dear reader, to convince me that Ayala is a deep, multidimensional character. I don’t see it, but I would love to hear your thoughts..

While Ayala may not have compelled me, she was one medium level character in gaggle of greats. Chrono Trigger is one of my favorite games, and what sets it to the top is its characters. I would be shocked to find a game with this much emphasis and love towards its characters.