Part 1: The Millenium Fair
You were so excited about the Millennial Fair that you didn't sleep well, did you? I want you to behave yourself today! Let's get moving, now!
This is Crono, the anime protagonist who was communicating by blankly staring at walls before it was cool. With the exception of a throwaway joke line in one of the endings, Crono expresses himself almost entirely through fist pumps and the over-consumption of beverages, but despite this fact he winds up having more of a personality than most of Square-Enix protagonists since. He also looks almost exactly like Goku, but I don't think I'm legally allowed to make jokes about that now that it's no longer 1996.
Chrono Trigger is a bit annoying when it comes to character renaming. Having a five-character limit not only prevents me from giving everyone clever and subversive names like "Jerkfaceman" or "Doungs", but it also puts Crono in the awkward position of not having his own game named after him. Additionally, your custom names are treated fairly inconsistently compared to NPCs; pre-named characters have their names in CAPS when they're talking and Capitalized when being addressed, while your characters' names stay the same no matter what. This caused me no end of sleepless nights until I got to the clever postmodern payoff where the game tracks how much you care about this and then yells at you for being pedantic and insufferable.
That's right, Lucca! Don't forget that she invited you to see her new invention! Run along now, and be back before dinner.
Above you can see the single greatest feature of Chrono Trigger: Cats. Cats in this game follow you around (with some rather awkward and breakable pathfinding physics), meow on cue, and show up to your house as you play minigames.
They can even emulate presumably pro-fascist novels. Bad kitten! That is not how walls work!
Needless to say, this will be a 100% cats playthrough. Any time anything in this game starts to annoy me, I just remember that they not only included a cat adopting mechanic but had it actually impact the ending, and suddenly all is forgiven.
Chrono Trigger does a fairly good job of world-building through random NPCs, unlike some JRPGs I could name and/or LP for six months.
Though its subtle foreshadowing could maybe use a little work. Come on, you just know Melchior is going to wind up being important somehow; you don't throw a Biblical reference into the middle of a bunch of "Guy"s and "Man"s and have him turn out to be a miscellaneous vendor who just sells potions.
Event triggers in this game are a bit odd in that you have to be the one to trigger an action; if Crono stands still, even as a woman with a center of gravity somewhere around her forehead continually runs into him, nothing happens. Nothing continues to happen until you make Crono shuffle slightly to the left with a tap of the D-Pad, whereupon she's immediately pushed to the ground and her necklace flies about twenty feet away. You normally hit her as you run up these stairs, but I prefer the reality where Crono is but an innocent bystander, subject to the harshness of a non-Newtonian world where Conservation of Momentum dares not tred, though in all honesty is also kind of a jerk.
I'm so sorry! Are you okay? Uh oh... My pendant! Don't tell me I lost it!
Another odd thing about this game is that it absolutely adores its exclamation points. In case Crono's waking up routine didn't clue you in, these characters are basically the most enthused people in the world and live every day like they're auditioning for the lead role in Crank.
Anyway, free pendant for us. That was fun; time to check out the world.
Chrono Trigger takes place in a world where the average population of any given city is about 8, and in one area the entire world's population lives in a set of four grass huts. In truth, I've never really minded this, since I would rather have a compact world densely packed than an infinite expanse of nothing where wandering for about forty minutes might let you stumble across a town, but I suppose it would be nice if there were more at stake for your struggles than the RPG equivalent of saving a modest county fair.
I'm going to wait an update or two before I talk about this game's battle system, but I will point out that it's worth fighting a completely avoidable random battle in this forest you have no reason to go to right at the start.
That probably sounds like a fairly abysmal way to start a low-level run, but my logic will become clear next update. Until then, make up an explanation that seems fair, or just assume I'm an idiot. The latter strategy is probably not going to serve you wrong.
To introduce some terminology, this overall kingdom is called Guardia, the town Crono lives in is Truce, and this is Porre, which is notable for two things.
First, for having the greatest mayor (he offers to pay you 10 gold for impersonating a chicken).
And second, for having the most useless ferry.
This ferry takes you back up to Truce, and I do not understand it. Not only does it not save any time at all, it doesn't let us avoid anything (the world map is completely battle-free), it costs our precious 10 chicken-gold to ride, and it doesn't even show us anything except that the Super Nintendo can render the color blue. It's never worth using and it takes away precious time I could have spent looking at cats. Overall grade: C-
Anyway, while we're back here I guess there is something we forgot to do.
Carnival games! Game #1 is a race where we can bet on whether or not a normal person will be better at running than a cat, a leper, and a man wearing fifty pounds of armor in an especially cautious attempt to protect himself from the sun. The racer predicted by the old man has an especially high chance of winning, but guessing correctly is essentially just luck. If you win, you get 10 Silver Points, a currency with one specific use that will come up much, much later in the game (and which technically doesn't require Silver Points. It's a bit strange.)
Game #2 involves frictionlessly sliding along the brick floor and pressing A when you're at the farthest point away so as to run forward and tackle the bell into submission. Doing so successfully gets you a whopping 1 Silver Point, which I suppose at least makes this game a better use of your time than riding the ferry.
Oh, right, I guess we should give this pendant back now.
Oh, thank goodness! My pendant! It has a lot of sentimental value! I came to see the Festival! You...live in this town, don't you? I feel a little out of place here. Would you mind if I walked around with you for a while?
If we answer no to the first question, she continues pacing back and forth waiting to be talked to again, whereupon she again expresses shock at you finding her pendant. For the second question you get badgered into it, but I probably would have shown her around anyway out of sympathy; it must be rough dealing with early-onset Alzheimer's and a fundamental misunderstanding of object permanence, and my heart goes out to the thousands of NPCs affected each year.
Oh, by the way, my name is, er... Marle! And you're...? Crono? Pleased to meet you! Now, lead on!
Even though we have a silent protagonist, his reactions are implicit when it would make sense for him to reply. I'm always surprised how many RPGs forget to do this with silent protagonists in favor of making their main character a mannequin with a sword. Then again, I'm amazed how many RPGs omit this step in general; I'm pretty sure Crono answers more questions in this game than either Squall or Lightning did over the entire course of Final Fantasy VIII/XIII.
Anyway, now that we've met Marle, it time to explore this part of the- Oh crap, I completely forgot to check out one of the biggest things on the map!
You're no fun.
(The completely normal person with the unique sprite and imposing name who just sells potions wants to buy your jewelry. I say go for it.)
(You're not a very good tour guide, are you?)
If you try to sell the pendant to Not-A-Plot-Important-Character-At-All before picking up Marle, he refuses to buy it because it's "far too special". All jokes aside, that seemingly contrived explanation is actually incredibly good foreshadowing, though it has the unfortunate side effect of making Melchior seem as inconsistent as any character in any other game I've ever LPed.
Anyway, games. Game #3 is a drinking contest where you have to rapidly mash A to drink "soda", though you only get 5 Silver Points for winning so it's not worth even trying or talking about at all.
(On a completely unrelated note, I'm really terrible at quickly mashing A.)
Game #4 is Gato, a punching bag robot who we aren't going to fight; we simply can't afford the experience points. In my mind, this is the single greatest tragedy of playing this game at Level 1, and I'm sorry.
Neolithic dancing and Ghost Rayman are the only other attractions, and they're not really worth worrying about for now. Talking to some NPCs lets us know that Lucca is setting something up at the top of the fair, and we can trigger her unveiling by talking to this woman, so I'd say it's worth going there posthaste.
Okay, fine, we'll help you out, but only because it's about cats.
The cat's over here, as is this lunch. I figure it's always nice to get a bite to eat, and the flavor is simply divine. What was I doing again?
Never mind, let's visit Lucca; I'm sure it wasn't very important. Marle takes a little while to pick out her favorite sweets, but if we try to leave
No dice. Still, I'm pretty sure that waiting for Marle to pick out candy is more riveting than anything that's happened in Golden Sun, so no complaints.
Jump up here and you'll get teleported here! It's the masterwork of my beautiful daughter, Lucca.
Where have you been!? No one wants to try the Telepod! How about you?
It looks like fun! I'll watch while you try it out!
Don't worry, we tried it on our pets! There's no reason why it shouldn't work as well on humans! So, step right up!
Just to contextualize what's happening here by synthesizing NPC conversations and a trip through Lucca's house, Taban (her father) is a blacksmith, their past several inventions have all exploded, and they don't have any pets. By this point, the odds are just on what terrible thing will go wrong; I have 3:1 on the death of everyone, 5:1 on something boring like an electrical fire, and 12:1 on this suddenly becoming one of Cronenburg's less comprehensible wet dreams.
You know, I can't help but notice that your dimension warp is activated by having somebody hit it with a hammer. Is this safe? This seems slightly unsafe.
Well then, I guess it works; color me surprised. And it's only the second least efficient form of transportation I've used all day!
It...WORKED?! I CAN'T BELIEVE IT! Uh, er, a thrilling display of science at its best!
What a kick! I want to try it, too!
Behold, ladies and gentlemen, as this vision of loveliness steps aboard the machine! Let's give her a great big hand when she reappears!
What's happening? My pendant...it's...
Lucca! Where is she?! Show's over, folks! Let's head along now! WHERE IS SHE?
The way she disappeared... It couldn't have been the Telepod! The warp field seemed to be affected by her pendant...
What are we going to do now?
She's so familiar! I KNOW I've seen her somewhere...
You're actually going to do it?! What a fine lad!
Listen! I don't know where this machine is going to send you, but we haven't any other choice.
Won't they both be lost?
This is our only hope! That pendant seems to be the key, so hang on to it Crono, and brace yourself!
When we go through this portal, the pendant stays with us; we never encounter any problems with it for the rest of the game. Between this and the collision earlier, I can only surmise that Marle doesn't quite understand how to pull off this whole "wearing jewelry" thing particularly well.
Power to full!
And that's the intro. Yep, that's it.
Just in case my light mockery of this game has inadvertently come across as insulting it, and because people have mentioned that they like my video game commentary (you can ignore this if you aren't one of them), I want to recap what this intro consisted of. At the very beginning of the game you're given an "exposition dump" consisting of two sentences: 1. There's a fair and 2. You should try to meet your friend. Immediately thereafter you're given two continents of freedom with no way to get in over your head, caught in a bad situation, or otherwise discouraged from further exploring. A backstory and a world are revealed through easily accessible NPCs, but the story is simple enough to where you won't be overly confused if you decide to ignore them. The Millennial Fair points you in the direction of Marle and Lucca naturally, but there's so much to do on the sides that you don't feel railroaded. Within about five minutes of playing, assuming you're breezing through, the meat of the game already begins as you have a problem with enough at stake to make you want to solve it. And at no point does the game strap you down to hear mandatory tutorials or long-winded lectures to make sure we know exactly how many trees there are behind Crono's house or that, as you know, the Millennial Fair is a great celebration, and we've all been looking forward to it for weeks on end.
One of the things Chrono Trigger really emphasizes that most RPGs don't is replayability, and the beginning section epitomizes this doctrine at its best. The first time you play through there's plenty to seek out and explore (most of which I've saved for later as it becomes relevant), but for future run-throughs there's absolutely no tedium to be found. This ability to let players streamline their own experiences works fantastically, but unfortunately almost no other RPGs have taken advantage of it. This is a large part of my frustration with the JRPG genre, as it seems like most of the big name companies are only now beginning to experiment with lessons that they should have learned back in the mid-90s. I firmly believe that Chrono Trigger is a dramatic step forward from almost everything Square-Enix and its proteges have done since, and hopefully I'll have a chance to prove that thesis as my unconventional leveling strategy forces me to look at the game's mechanics in detail. Still, that's more a topic for a later date.
Next time, we figure out what's beyond the gate. You can probably take a wild guess by looking at the title of the game, watching the attract mode, thinking about the name of the main character, or having heard anything about this game within the last fifteen years, but I'm a sucker for theatrics, so pretend it will be something big.