Chrono Trigger: Goodbye and Goodnight

It took me a while to complete the side-quests to my satisfaction, and it’s entirely due to one area: a lost city peaceful reptites (humanoid dinosaur-folk, seen elsewhere as enemies) that managed to survive in a hidden valley until medieval times. What happened to them after that, I don’t know. These reptites host a seemingly endless series of fetch-quests in their hidden valley over the course of two eras, but they don’t really have enough land to support it. Consequently, they send you running through the same few areas over and over, running into the same few unavoidable encounters along the way. It seemed very much against the spirit of the game as described in my previous post, and it turns out there’s a good reason for that: this entire section is an after-the-fact addition. It’s extra content put in for the Nintendo DS version, which is apparently what the iOS port was ported from. In other words, it’s there for the True Fans who love the game so much that they just want to keep playing it indefinitely, not for newcomers like myself for whom seeing new stuff is part of the appeal. So I ditched the reptites and got on with the main quest.

I still did things the long way, mind you, going through the final dungeon known as the Black Omen to reach Lavos instead of just time-jumping directly to him. It’s a pretty long dungeon, and it leads into what has got to me some kind of record-breaker for the number of distinct stages in a single boss fight 1I guess it’s got some competition in Final Fantasy VIII, though, which essentially makes its entire final chapter into one long unbroken string of boss stages. This makes me suspect that later JRPGs which I haven’t played may take things to even greater extremes. (some of which, I understand, are skipped if you take the shortcut in). It starts with a difficult-to-survive fight with Lavos’ chief minion, then repeats every single gimmick boss you’ve fought in the entire game before pulling out a couple of new tricks. Between stages, you get to take a break and apply restorative items, like a boxer going back to his corner at the sound of the bell, but you don’t get to save the game until you’ve reached the end of the recapitulation sequence. I imagine it would be quite frustrating to lose at the final stage of that sequence and have to start it over from the beginning. That may be why the deadliest part is in the very beginning, and also may be the reason the designers let you short-circuit most of the encounter.

After winning the final encounter, there’s a certain amount of ending material, and it’s pretty satisfying stuff. Two of my favorite types of endings are ones where the story comes full circle, putting you into a similar situation as the beginning, and ones where there’s a big party in celebration of your victory. Thanks to the Millennial Fair, Chrono Trigger gets to do both at once! It’s nighttime at the fairground now, time for christmas lights and fireworks, and ultimately time to leave the fair and go to bed. Thematically, playtime is over. Even if Crono and crew deny this with their actions: playtime is never over when you have a time machine! And I suppose this is mirrored in the way that winning the game immediately opens up “New Game +” mode, even conspicuously showing a cutscene of new time rifts opening.

Speaking of bedtime, there’s a loose theme of dreaming around the whole work. The mystics of antiquity have an entire city devoted to the art of dreaming, with people asleep in beds out in public, a juxtaposition that would be dreamlike even if it weren’t specifically about dreams. Conversations in that place contain odd comments about how creatures born of dreams must return to dreams and such, which seemed at the time like it might be leading somewhere. And I didn’t much like where it seemed to be leading. The game starts with Crono waking up at home to the pealing of bells, and this is echoed a couple of times later in the game — in particular, right after defeating Magus, there’s a brief scene of Crono waking up at home in a world where he’s apparently married to Marle and trying to hold down a job instead of having adventures. Was the whole story a dream, and that moment our only glimpse of reality? It would make a certain amount of sense: with time travel, you have the possibility that most of the story will have been wiped from reality by the end, so who’s to say that it was ever more than a dream? Fortunately, the game doesn’t take it that far. The dream stuff is left vague; saving your state at the end for New Game + yields the description “Dream’s End” in the save slot, but to the extent that the story is a dream, it’s all a dream, all equally unreal.

This also explains the existence of New Game + mode.Just one more thing I’d like to note before bidding Crono goodnight: there’s more to the nostalgia factor than I was aware of when I wrote about it previously. One of the side-quests triggers a conversation about the origin of the time gates, in which it’s speculated that they were created by some entity’s desire to see “the days of its past”. It’s a hint of a mystery. What entity? Given all the folding-back of plot elements, it feels like this should be resolvable by attentive consideration of what we’ve seen. But consulting the Internet, that appears to not be the case. There are fan theories, but nothing definite, even after two sequels. I guess it’s just there to let you know that you don’t know everything, no matter how many times you’ve replayed it.

But then, the expectation that you’d replay brings to mind the meta possibilities, such as that the “entity” is the player. This doesn’t fit the first time you play the game, of course. But even I, a person who doesn’t really intend to replay the game at all, have played about half of it twice (not counting micro-restores resulting from TPKs). This fits with the dream stuff, too: if the whole story is a dream, surely it’s the dream of any real person experiencing it.

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1. I guess it’s got some competition in Final Fantasy VIII, though, which essentially makes its entire final chapter into one long unbroken string of boss stages. This makes me suspect that later JRPGs which I haven’t played may take things to even greater extremes.

2 Comments so far

  1. malkav11 on 8 Oct 2012

    FWIW, I’m pretty sure new game plus is when you’re intended to go and defeat Lavos early for those additional endings.

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 8 Oct 2012

    Yeah, it all makes sense now.

    Hey, that reminds me, I can go look at that rot13’d comment from a couple of days ago.

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