Chrono Trigger: Nostalgia

I’m guessing that most people who bought Chrono Trigger on iOS are people who have played it before. Heck, I qualify at this point, but I’m really thinking of the people who played it as children, back when it was new. And happily for these people, Chrono Trigger, whether by accident or design, has a certain amount of nostalgia appeal baked in.

The bombastic main theme is first and most commonly heard within the game in a variant played on tinkly piano and pennywhistle, a wistful piece in a minor key suggestive of childhood memories. Which is appropriate, because the core crew consists of children. Crono, Lucca, and Marle, the first three player characters you get, all live with their parents. Crono’s mother in particular treats your adventures as if you were just going out into the yard to play with your friends, and honestly the whole story seems like the sort of thing that children at play would make up — particularly since most of it, taking place in other time periods, is unconfirmable.

Further playable characters, while not necessarily children, still have childish characteristics. Frog, we learn, was just a squire to a great knight before his transformation. Robo, a robot that Lucca repairs, is a new mind in an unfamiliar world. The first adult to join your party is the prehistoric warrior-woman Ayla, who’s still childish in her ways, particularly her emotional directness: she declares that she likes Crono seconds after meeting him. She’s definitely not the grown-up of the group, but I call her an “adult” because she looks like a Playboy model in animal skins, probably inspired by Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C.. I’m impressed, by the way, with how much distinct characterization this game manages to put into so few pixels: Crono’s rambunctious forcefulness, Lucca’s awkward grace, and Marle’s cheerleaderish enthusiasm all read very clearly in their posture and movements. With Ayla, its innocent sexiness and an improbably immaculate blonde coiffure.

Which brings us to the essential element of nostalgia: the sense that things are better in the past. Ayla and her people are strong enough to fight dinosaurs, and the equipment you can obtain from them, despite being ostensibly primitive, is far more effective than stuff from the present or future. Even a mere 400 years in the past, when the last great war against the fiends took place, was a time of valiant knights and glorious battles, which the humans ultimately won. Soldiers from the present wouldn’t stand a chance against the monsters back then. We know this because we’ve fought both. The future? The future is broken. The domed cities lie in ruins, where the scattered survivors of the human race lie slowly starving to death. Once you see what lies ahead, your goal is to prevent it. To make the future more like the past.

2 Comments so far

  1. Healy on 4 Oct 2012

    That piece about the music actually reminded me of one of my favorite things about the Chrono Trigger soundtrack: musical motifs tend to recur throughout the game, which makes most of the soundtrack, and by extension the game itself, cohere in a way that few other vidya games achieve. I remember that the main composer mentioned in an interview that most of the music in the game were unfinished pieces he polished up for Chrono Trigger (this was his first major project), so this whole schtick might have been a way for him to overcompensate for that.

    Anyway, that thing you mention, about the past in Chrono Trigger being better than the future/(present?), actually got me thinking. Knowing the full arc of the game, I can’t say that’s unilaterally true, but you do have a point. There’s an area of the game coming up that could be read as proof of the past=good/future=bad dichotomy, although nowadays I read it as a symbol of how the past, and people in the past, can cause most of the problems of the future. I’ll be looking forward to your reaction to it.

  2. Healy on 4 Oct 2012

    Fffffffff, and when I check the main page again I see you’ve already gotten past that point. That’ll teach me to be more current on your blog, I guess.

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