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Chrono Trigger Day#1: My First Time (with a JRPG)

Being in Argentina obviously kept me from being able to play AC2, but I took my DS with me and did something I never thought I would do: play a JRPG. Several people kept telling me to try Chrono Trigger, so I picked up the re-release for my DS. And you know what — I think I actually might like it.  The narrative is silly, but it somehow works, and to my great, great surprise, the menu-based combat actually has some strategy to it. Spoilers within.

Loading up Chrono Trigger did not raise my expectations. It’s a video intro in classic JRPG style. Here’s a cheesy J-pop song; here’s a seagull flying around a blue sky; here’s a montage of our characters, including them flying an airship (like the seagull from the beginning!) and going through time (hence the title). The hero with the weird punk hair, the love interest, the geeky girl who looks like a boy, the anthropomorphized animal sidekick (Frog in this case) — sigh. The cartoon is nicely done, but the content makes my soul sink a little. I touch the screen to start and get ready for disappointment.

There are a bunch of settings to start that I can use to define my experience. My goal here is to get as much of the original game as possible, and that governs my choices: classic one-screen mode (rather than DS two-screen style), the non-real time version of combat, and with movies.  My selections made, I get a shot of a map with a few forests, a couple of towns, and a square of some kind with balloons coming off of it. I then cut to the interior of a house. I’m in bed, and my mom is talking to me. It’s an old-school pixelly look with a Zelda-ish quasi-topdown perspective.  The music is a repetitive, not very good loop. I get a chance to choose my name, and then Mom tells me that I’m late for the fair, where I’m going to meet my friend Lucca.  I get out of bed and head out. On the way, I find out that Lucca is an inventress, and that she’s showing off her newest invention at the fair. I also talk to my mother again (I click A near here), and she gives me an allowance of 200 gold. Another shudder passes through me as I notice the complex menu structure and have a flash of hours of party level inventory management. Shaking that horror,  I head out into the world.

I’m back on the map screen now with my character, and I can walk my character to the location I want to go to. I forget where the fair is, but there’s a location over a bridge called Lucca’s house, so I go there first. Lucca’s mom tells me she’s at the square, so I slap my head for my forgetfulness and head out there.  Back to the map and then to the square. Turns out the square is hosting the Millennial Fair, celebrating the 1000th anniversary of the town. There are lots of merchants, but I’m not buying anything yet. There’s a dumb race where I can guess one of four competitors for free and then watch them run around the map for a second. I try it once and guess wrong. What fun. There’s also all of this talk of silver points, but I don’t have any so I ignore them for now.

I leave the main square screen and walk north. There, I run into a girl character and we both fall down. She tells me she lost her pendant (all of this is in old school text boxes, by the way) and a pendant appears on the screen to her north. I run over to it and hit A to pick it up, and then go talk to her. The game gives me the option of giving it back or not; I don’t know if I have a real choice here, but I decide to be a nice guy and return it. She tells me her name’s Marle and she decides to walk around with me.

We wander around more and see some more characters. One of them gives me the gossip that the King has a tomboy daughter that he doesn’t know what to do with. Wandering west off of this screen, we enter another screen with a robot Lucca made. It offers me silver points if I beat it in battle. I decide to take it the challenge, and here’s my first battle. It is menu combat for real, with menu option to attack, use tech (a special move), or an item. Everyone patiently waits their turn to try to kill each other. The robot’s a first encounter, so I beat it quickly and get my silver.

Now that I have silver, I decide to use it. I head back to a tent that needed silver which turns out to be the Tent of Horrors.  When I go inside, a ghost asks me how much silver I want to spend. I put down ten of my twenty-five or so, and then three knights appear. They start switching places and it’s a shell game — I have to guess where one knight ends up. I do so, and I earn a Ponzo (?) doll. It’s not in my inventory, so whatever. On with the game.

I don’t seem to have much else to do at the fair, so I go back to the map and visit Lucca’s house again. Nothing there, so back to the fair. Marle, who has been following me this whole time, wants some candy and gets some. I don’t think there’s any gameplay point to this, but it’s immersive, so I’ll go with it. A new section of the map is now open, so we go up there to see Lucca and her dad showing off a teleporter. No one in the crowd is willing to try it, so I try it. I stand on a platform and after Lucca and her father animate, I teleport over to a platform on the other side of the screen. I do it again, and it works again.

Now Marle wants to try, and as she steps up to the platform, I feel the cold hand of plot on my shoulder. Lucca and dad start up the machine, but a vortex opens and Marle gets sucked in and disappears. No one knows what happens, but her pendant is left behind, and Lucca thinks the pendant might be the secret. I take the pendant and get back on the transport. Lucca tells me she’ll follow when she figures out what happened and activates the machine. Vortex opens and away I go. We transition away with a vortex covered screen.

I appear on a new screen in an open field with some imps. The imps attack and I beat them pretty easily.  There’s a black treasure chest here that I can’t open yet for some reason. I leave this area, and get a new map that shows the same town, but 600 years in the past. I go to the market to buy some equipment — it’s clear the game has started now so I decide it’s a good idea to get a better sword. I talk to people and find out that there’s a war going on with the Fiendlord. The Queen was missing, and it was feared that the Fiendlord took her, but she was found in the canyon and rescued.  This seems to be a cue to go to the castle, so it’s back to the map to find it.

There’s a destroyed bridge to the south, so that’s not the way.  I stop in an inn to see if there’s more info there, and accidentally end up sleeping there for a night. I go to a cathedral where there are a bunch of obviously evil nuns that I don’t seem to be able to do anything about, other than hear them cackle and make bad jokes. Back to the map again, and I finally figure out the castle is past a woods location. I enter the woods location, and have a series of simple fights on the way to the castle. (Nice security here, guys. You wonder why the Queen gets kidnapped when the forest around the castle is full of monsters.)  I get to the castle and am stopped at the door by the guards. They give me a hard time, but the Queen shows up and demands that I be let in.

I follow her into the throne room. The King offers me a place to rest. The King’s Chancellor is acting suspicious, and so when he leaves at the end of the conversation, I follow him until he tells me to go away when he reaches his study.  I then look around for the Queen.  I find her, and she reveals she’s Marle. She looks like the Queen, so they mistook her for the Queen and brought her to the castle. That means we still need to find the real Queen. I leave to try to do that,and on the way, Lucca appears. She tells me that Marle was actually the Princess Nadia from our time, so it’s a BIG deal that she’s lost back in time. On top of that, if the real Queen isn’t returned, it will create a paradox that will ruin the future. It’s an interesting twist on the save the world thing — weird, but it’s working as motivation for me.

Leaving the castle, I figure the screwy nuns must have something to do with this, and so back to the cathedral I go. Once inside, Lucca finds an odd pin on the ground, and that’s enough motivation for the nuns to turn into their true Naga forms and attack us. This fight is surprisingly interesting — the Naga aren’t push-overs, and there’s some decision making about which enemy to attack and when to use potions to heal up. Maybe there is such a thing as good menu combat after all. We’ll see. Anyway, we take some damage but we win.

At the end of the fight, a Frog character appears to finish off a final Naga. He’s here to find the Queen, but Lucca freaks out a little because she happens to hate frogs (not slimy things, not amphibians, just frogs) and only reluctantly decides to give the Frog a chance. Ah, JRPGs and your quirky, totally unbelievable characters. Anyway, the Frog joins our group, and we find a secret door in an organ. As we enter, the frog tells us that the chancellor is an impostor and a monster-in-disguise.

Behind the organ is a dungeon in a kind of classic Zelda style. There are quite a few fights as we wander around looking for the Queen. They remain pretty good. They aren’t too tough, but I am using health potions and I do have to be a little smart about them if I don’t want to get wrecked. You don’t heal damage between fights, so paying attention to health is critical in this game. Anyway, I wander quite a bit of the dungeon and our party is a bit depleted by the time I find a save point. It’s been a long start, so I seize the save and call it a day.

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  1. Patrick says

    I remember Chrono Trigger being the most amazing thing when I was 10, then showing it to my dad and him having a similar impression that you did. I guess we’re all someone’s target demographic at some stage of our lives.

    It does get better though, there are some interesting narrative devices and the boss battles require real strategy later on.

  2. Ben Hayes says

    I’m playing through the game now and I had a slightly different experience in the beginning. I didn’t get silver at any point and I advanced to the “Marle wants candy” by walking around a lot and talking to a bunch of NPC’s, none of which presented me with a way to make silver.

    Anyway, the rest of my experience was very similar, except that I used Frog’s Slurp ability to keep my party relatively healthy.

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