I love Chrono Trigger. This is not a particularly groundbreaking sentiment, given that this game came out in the waning days of the Super Nintendo and it served as a sort of capstone on Squaresoft’s record of excellent RPGs during that period in gaming. Lots of people love Chrono Trigger.
The funny thing is that Chrono Trigger‘s not a really niche game. Well, it wasn’t designed to be a niche game, but everything that came out before Final Fantasy VII blew the market wide open on console RPGs tends to be slightly obscure to people outside a certain generation of gamer. What I’m trying to say is that Chrono Trigger is one of those games that’s remarkably easy to play. It’s designed as an introduction to the JRPG genre, with minimal difficulty spikes throughout the game that allows for an essentially continuous narrative experience (almost no grinding is necessary to keep pace with the game’s challenges on a first playthrough). For any other game that’s not ‘hardcore’ this ease of entry would likely be seen as a major flaw by a certain subset of gamers, but with Chrono Trigger it’s just part of the charm.
So to get down to things, here’s a very brief overview of the game’s plot, which I’ll be discussing in some depth in this post and perhaps future ones (never underestimate the potential to over-think a story that involves time travel). You play as Chrono, a teenager from the kingdom of Guardia who has little to say but lots to do. Through a series of bizarre coincidences, Chrono gets drawn into an adventure spanning the entire history of his planet as he learns that in the distant future the world will be ruined by an evil creature known only as Lavos.
Now, here’s the part of the story that has been stuck in my head for the last couple days: Chrono and his friends know that Lavos isn’t scheduled to wreak havoc until a thousand years after their own heyday, but they decide to do something about it anyway. This is not your typical save-the-world scenario where the threat is imminent and somebody has to do something or else everyone is boned. No, the only actual victims of Lavos’s wrath are the people on the tail end of a sixty-five million year span of history. It’s not that those people don’t matter, but it would be understandable if our heroes, upon learning about how temporally distant they are from the cataclysm, just shrugged their shoulders and went back to living their lives.
I mean, that’s a fairly common attitude to real world issues that are going to come back to haunt humanity in the future, after all.
In the last few days, as I’ve been mulling over this time-travel-apocalypse narrative, I’ve had a realization: this is a story that flies in the face of everything that’s idealized by Rapture stories. Our heroes know the end of the world is coming, and it’s coming a long time after their own lives will be played out, but instead of accepting that that’s how things are meant to be, they fight tooth and nail against it (literally in the case of the cavewoman Ayla). Our heroes have no personal stake in fighting Lavos, but they do it anyway because it’s the right thing to do. Contrary to the typical Rapture-driven ethos of “I can’t stop things from getting worse so I’m not even going to try,” Chrono and his friends get right down to the business of making the future better, regardless of whether they’ll feel the impact in their lifetimes.
Now, I’ll grant that because this is a story about time travelers, you do have to factor in the whole “With great power” maxim, since pretty much no one else has the ability to combat something like Lavos, but that always struck me as more a necessity of the story, since it’d be pretty weird to have time travel not be something really extraordinary and special that only the heroes can participate in (also, just imagine how many paradoxes would likely get introduced by having other people zipping back and forth through time; actually, don’t do that, because it can give you a headache).
Still the point stands that Chrono Trigger is a game that doesn’t believe in the idea of somebody else’s problem. Every problem that the heroes encounter requires their intervention simply because these characters can’t turn away from a problem, regardless of the impact it would have on them personally.
It’s kind of refreshing to revisit a game with such idealism.