Chrono Trigger: Twists

Yesterday yielded good progress. I’ve got to the point where, like in every Final Fantasy, you acquire a flying machine that allows easy access to the entire map. Unlike the typical Final Fantasy airship, this one is a time machine as well, meaning you don’t have to go trudging back to the rifts any more and can easily scan through the same location in different periods like it’s Time Zone or something. You actually get access to the time travel capabilities before the flight, and when the characters learn it can fly too, they’re surprised. The player is not. It looks like it should fly. I was surprised when it didn’t fly right away.

I’m pleased by the way the plot is turning out at this point, and so I’m going to spoil it heavily. (I’m also going to spoil a few Final Fantasy games for comparison purposes.) Like in the best time-travel stories, everything is folding together. Things that seemed arbitrary turn out to have histories. Characters you meet in one era turn out to be older, time-displaced versions of people you’ve met elsewhere. When an amulet that’s been in your inventory since near the beginning of the game can be charged with the same magical energies as one held by a forgotten monarch in ancient times, it’s not a coincidence: it’s the same amulet.

There are two particular twists that I want to describe. One is something that I was anticipating: Magus, the putative mid-game bad guy, joins the party. This is probably the hardest spoiler to avoid in the entire game. Any article or wiki page that even just lists the playable characters is going to give this one away. Anyway, it got me wondering: are villains who join your party a JRPG thing? FF7 and FF8 both had brief sections where you adventure with the enemy, albeit the FF7 one was in a flashback to before he went bad. It also got me wondering if Chrono Trigger was the one that did it first, but apparently the Fire Emblem series had been doing similar things for five years already. Feel free to correct me on this, though.

Magus can’t really be said to “switch sides”, though, any more than the superheroes in the classical mistake-each-other-for-criminals scenario switch sides when they team up afterward. For all his gothness, he’s really just misunderstood. Mind you, he’s mainly misunderstood by his supporters. In Chrono’s home era, in the unaltered timeline, the monsters of Monster City revere Magus as a hero for almost managing to summon Lavos, the apocalyptic monster responsible for destroying the world in the future. They talk about finishing what he started and sending Lavos to destroy humankind for them. But Magus wasn’t summoning Lavos to use it as a weapon. He was summoning it because he wanted to kill it. He understood what Lavos really is: a planetary parasite that fell to earth eons ago, burying itself underground to consume the planet’s energy from within, then controlling people who sought its stolen power.

Also, it’s the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. But apart from that detail, this story reminds me a lot of Jenova in FF7. Or, to be honest, it reminds me of what I read about Jenova after the fact. When I actually played FF7, I didn’t get a very clear idea of Jenova’s backstory, and when I encountered detailed explanations elsewhere, they left me wondering just where all this information came from, whether there was stuff in the game that I had missed or whether it was all out-of-band. Right now, I’m starting to suspect that other people picked up on the story more easily than me because they had already played Chrono Trigger, which tells it much more clearly. Chrono Trigger lets you witness the backstory firsthand, including the bygone-era parts.

The other twist I want to mention is the big one: the death of the main player character. This actually took me somewhat by surprise. Oh, I knew that someone was going to die. I had seen some mentions here and there of how fans were unprepared for the death of — and then I’d turn away sharply before reading any further. Even if I hadn’t seen such things, the imminent death of an unspecified party member is prophesied within the game itself. But I was really expecting it to be Marle.

Why Marle? Largely because Lavos had got me noticing similarities with FF7, and Marle seemed similar in various ways to Aerith, FF7‘s party member who dies. Marle and Aerith are both healers, they both have a significant family background that they’re keeping secret (Marle’s a princess, Aerith is the last living descendant of the Ancients), and they’re both strangers who attach themselves to the party after meeting and flirting with the protagonist while he’s alone (and sprawled on the ground). On top of that, rescuing Marle when she’s in danger is the initial goal that sets the whole story into motion, so it seemed like her death would be the one of greatest dramatic significance. Well, except that of the protagonist, I suppose, but how likely is that?

Losing Crono is an explicitly temporary thing: no sooner is he gone than the other playable characters start trying to figure out how to resurrect him. But in the meantime, you have a sudden shift in the nature of the game. Up to this point, Crono had been a constant presence, the one character who was always available for use while others shift in and out. You come to rely on his abilities, like how he has really useful combo moves with everyone. With Crono and Marle together, I had a cheap and oft-used way to give light healing to the entire party. I kept looking for that in Marle’s combo menu for a while when it wasn’t there any more. Magus essentially replaces him in the party roster, but doesn’t get any two-person combos at all, which says a lot about their differences in character.

3 Comments so far

  1. Healy on 4 Oct 2012

    It strikes me upon reading your first guess how cliche killing off Marle would be. Admittedly I’m not sure how common killing off the main female character was when Chrono Trigger was first released (early jrpgs just weren’t that big on killing off characters period), but ever since there’s been a trend towards killing the female main for cheap heat. All the more reason I’m glad they went with offing Crono.

    And now that you’re past that part of the game: boy, do I ever HATE Zeal. (The place, not the lady, although she is a stupid jerk too.) The older I get, the worse those guys come off. Entitled new age-y 1% jerks who literally oppress the common people with their magic sky castles. I’m sad they took most of their cool stuff with them, but not exactly sorry to see them go.

  2. Mark on 5 Oct 2012

    There are several secret accessories, colored gemstones, which are necessary to access all of the triple techs which don’t involve Crono; one of the three characters in your party needs to have it equipped in order to initiate it. One of them is usable by Magus, and that’s the only combo tech he can use.

    The 2008 Nintendo DS remake of 1990 NES game Dragon Quest IV featured an additional chapter in which you can convince the misguided villain to join you in defeating the entity behind him. As you mention, Fire Emblem routinely has you recruit enemy soldiers who are fighting you despite their own reservations. It’s not just a Japanese thing, either, as Baldur’s Gate 2 gives you a chance to recruit the first game’s villain. But it doesn’t seem to happen in very many games.

  3. Carl Muckenhoupt on 5 Oct 2012

    If killing off the main female character is a cliche in JRPGs, I’m guessing that Aerith was the founding example. That would make it not a cliche yet at the time that Chrono Trigger was released.

    The kingdom of Zeal reminded me a lot of the story of Atlantis being destroyed in punishment for its pride. Now that I’m thinking about it, it makes me wonder about the lost civilizations of magically-powerful ancients whose ruins and relics you can find in most of the Final Fantasy games. Some of them even have flying islands like Zeal did. Were we supposed to imagine them all being like this?

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