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  • Game Narrative Review: Chrono Trigger

    [10.28.09]
    - Michael Brannan

  • Breakdown

    Chrono Trigger's story is a massive, sweeping story that spans a world consisting of several kingdoms across five distinct time periods (not counting the Day of Lavos in 1999 and the End of Time). In a nutshell, Chrono Trigger follows Crono's journey through time, beginning the morning of the Millennial Faire celebrating the beginning of the year 1000 AD and follows Crono and the allies he meets on a quest to stop the Day of Lavos from occurring in 1999 AD.

    Of particular note here is that Lavos appears rather early in Chrono Trigger's story. In a game that typically takes over twenty hours to complete, the player learns about the Day of Lavos -- the day Lavos surfaced and destroyed the world in 1999 AD­ -- a little over two hours into the game. Crono and co. vow then and there to defeat the monster and prevent the Day of Lavos. At this point, barely over 10% into the game, the player already knows their ultimate goal, with the consequences of failure clearly laid out: the utter destruction of the planet.

    However, the player has no idea how to accomplish that goal. Eventually the player receives a hint that Magus, a sorcerer who waged war against the humans in 600 AD, created Lavos during the war to wipe out humanity. After a sidequest to reforge the Masamune, a legendary sword with the power to defeat Magus, Crono and co. storm Magus's castle and fight the sorcerer in a climactic battle. However, as it turns out, Magus did not actually create Lavos, but rather summoned the creature in order to destroy it.

     This false climax (crisis) marks the first in a series that lets the player get inches away from completing their ultimate goal, but pulling them away at the last moment. This provides a very active overall plot arch with several moments of high emotion and periods of falling action while maintaining a visible goal throughout the vast majority of the game. Chrono Trigger creates its tension not through the usual mire of ambiguity and slow, gradual revelation of mysteries, but instead provides a clear goal and builds tension by setting obstacles in the player's path toward achieving that goal.

    Chrono Trigger's story and gameplay both center on time travel. Any action Crono takes in an earlier era affects the world in later periods. For example, if Crono takes an item from a chest in 600 AD, that item is absent from a chest in the same position in 1000 AD. Conversely, if Crono takes the item from the chest in 1000 AD and then travels back to 600 AD, he can take the item from 600 AD, as well, effectively gaining the same item twice. The first and most visible example comes from Crono's actions during the Millennial Faire. Nearly everything Crono does at this stage affects the trial after Crono is arrested after returning Marle to Guardia Castle.

    Probably the best example of Chrono Trigger's time travel system and its affect on story comes from the quest to save Fiona's Forest. This quest sequence first introduces itself without the player knowing it when, early in the game, Crono and co. come across a large desert in the middle of the southern continent in 1000 AD. Later, in 600 AD (remember, there's time travel) they discover a forest in the middle of where they remember a desert to be and meet Fiona, who mentions that she is protecting the forest that surrounds her house in memory of her husband, who hasn't returned from the war with the Mystics.

    Crono and co. are unable to do anything with this information until much later in the game, after they receive and plant a seed in 12,000 BC. This action in the distant past has unforeseeable consequences in the future. When Crono and co. return to Fiona's Forest in 600, they discover that a strange sand portal appeared near Fiona's Forest. The source of this portal is a giant desert monster drawn to the powerful life energies surrounding the forest caused by the seed planted in 12,000 BC. Crono and co. must defeat the desert monster sapping the forest's strength.

    After defeating the monster, Robo volunteers to stay in 600 AD and help Fiona cultivate the forest. Crono and co. can then travel to 1000 AD and find that the desert that once covered the southern continent has become a vast forest with a chapel in the middle. There the player finds Robo's rusted hulk. The Crono team all camp out in Fiona's forest while Lucca repairs Robo and a scripted sequence wraps up the quest.

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