Strange that I should complain about a nonlinear path in a game about time travel, but that’s my primary gripe with Chrono Trigger.
Chrono Trigger is an action-adventure RPG from the 90s that features the artistic ability of Akira Toriyama (creator of Dragon Ball) and the titans of JRPGs, SquareSoft (now -Enix). It’s a teamup on par with America’s Batman and Superman (the team, not the movie).
Unfortunately, I never completed Chrono Trigger on my phone and it’s in large part due to the nonlinear path to completion. At first, I blamed it on the syndrome many of us RPG players are painfully familiar with, i.e. I stopped playing it for so long that, when I resumed the game, I had no idea what was going on. And while that was a reasonable enough excuse in my youth to start over. As a adult — and soon to be father — that’s not an option.
So why did I stop playing?
I stopped playing because Crono dies and I had zero interest in moving forward with my ragtag heroes.
I liked Crono and successfully gravitated to him. He was sufficiently developed and his actions are justified. He’s motivated, he’s a fish out of water, he’s naive — it’s all the things I need really. When he died, it wasn’t simply heroic, but bold. I was genuinely taken aback.
So then, when our band of misfits manage to regroup… I hesitated picking up the controls. I hadn’t actually connected to any of these other characters. And when their mission changed from preventing the destruction of the universe to the all-consuming revival of Crono, I was uninspired. They failed to prevent the destruction of the universe, that’s why Crono died, so now we’re hopping on a side quest to revive him? To what end?
And then my question became, who should I put in my party to revive Crono? And this led to me putting off playing the game until I eventually deleted it from my phone.
I did not want to continue.
Small Digression on My Experience that Leads into Why I Stopped Playing
I did try to pick up where I left off. I found a walkthrough online and I was relatively close to the end of the game (the Time Egg, right?), but that’s when the whole game started to unravel (for me).
It turns out there are multiple endings, and not just minor adjustments to the story, but significantly different endings. In addition, it turns out there are side quests for each of your characters that helps develop them more and impacts the ending, but these side quests are optional. The problem for me is I don’t want character-developing-side-quests to be optional. I think they should be mandatory.
The Dilution of Character
Contrary to all reason, I assemble a party in RPGs based on characters and relationships — even if they’re assumed. Someone could be level 900, efficient, and a total badass aesthetically… and I’d still pair the will-they/won’t-they couple together.
Case in point, Magus joins the party after Crono dies and he’s superior to all other characters in every way… but it’s uncanny how forgetful he is. In a game like Chrono Trigger, this problem is magnified a hundred fold since who you have in your party determines the exchange of dialogue.
Each character has a particular way of speaking, so the dialogue is always different… unfortunately, this means you never develop different relationships with the various characters since they need to be interchangeable.
This means characters are diluted to their one-dimensional traits. They’re unable to form relationships and make profound discoveries about themselves because the game doesn’t know who is going to be in your party.
So instead of compelling characters, you have one-dimensional characters like Robo — a robot — and Ayla — a Tarzan-surrogate. Even the love interest, Marle, is diluted from a conflicted love interest to the cheerleader with pep in her step! This is what turned me off of continuing to play the game: these characters have no reason to be together.
Marle is initially crushed at Crono’s death… but that’s why the very next cut scene is “Hey, we can bring him back to life.” In other words, they asked, how can we keep her dialogue peppy and upbeat so we don’t need to come up wth entirely new dialogue strings? Give her absolute faith that Crono can be brought back to life. So instead of getting a girl on the cusp of suicide, or a girl whose grown jaded with giving mercy to monsters, you have the same peppy girl you’ve always had.
The beauty of Crono was he was always in your party, so you could measure relationships in regards to him. Without Crono, these characters are placeholders. (In fact, this game would’ve benefited from the Kingdom Hearts mechanic where you can only pair with characters from other timelines in their respective time periods.)
So when I saw that there are side quests where characters get some development and resolution, I was offended. Why isn’t that mandatory?
The one reason I can think, and perhaps it’s the crux of any/all time travel stories, is because, should Crono and the gang be successful, any corrections to others’ time periods becomes void. The task, although world-changing… is not life-changing; suffice it to say, I want the latter.
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