Chrono Trigger: A fun day at the fair

(This is part of my journey going playing through Chrono Trigger. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Chrono Trigger! It’s definitely one of my all-time favorite RPGs (and I’m certainly not alone in this), and I still very much enjoy playing it even over two decades since it first released. It’s so well designed with a great story, incredible music, and a sheer fun factor that rides high all the way through. Even though I played it last year, I wanted to give the now-improved Steam version a shot for a true Retro Gaming series (as I’ve never done that before) and to do a few things, such as all of the game’s side quests (as I’ve never done those before). No more introduction, let’s get going!

What still impresses me after all these years is how Chrono Trigger does the exact opposite of how most JRPGs start. Usually there’s some immediate threat, a village gets burned down, hero vows to save stuff, and we’re off. Instead of that, CT delivers a slow, satisfying experience of… a day at the fair. It’s actually brilliant. It teaches you a lot about the game, ties in to some time travel elements later on, advances the plot, and gets you familiar enough with the world so that you actually start to care about it. And it does all of this casually, allowing the player to go as fast or slow through it as possible.

It’s 1000 A.D. in a fantasy world that’s somewhere around the Industrial Revolution in terms of development (well, there are gadgets and fridges and so on). You start out as Crono, a spikey-haired lad who’s woken up by his mother and told to behave as he heads off to the festival to celebrate the country’s 1,000th birthday. He also wants to check in with his best friend Lucca and see her latest invention. Again, you have freedom to explore the town and even head into the nearby forest for some early fights/grinding, but little of it is necessary. I appreciate “just for fun” options that are in this game.

Speaking of, I thought I’d quickly list everything that you can do at the the fair:

  • Bump into Marle, a strange tomboy with a strange pendant, and go on a date with her
  • Buy gear and potions from vendors
  • Bet on the outcome of a footrace (I never win this)
  • Play a minigame to hit a bell at the top of a pole (I almost never win this, either)
  • Go into the Tent of Horrors and play three tough minigames. These do pay out in items that then appear in your home, making this as close to a housing feature as this game has.
  • Challenge a man to a drinking contest
  • Dance at a prehistoric party
  • Return a lost kitty to her owner
  • Fight a singing robot named GATO (which is my preferred method for gaining festival points, since you’re also getting XP and levels)
  • Go watch Lucca’s invention demonstration

I am the very very sweetest! Also, I just drank my body weight in “soda,” so I’m pretty sure I’m dying right now.

What was so cool about this festival is that most players going through it the first time had no idea that it was actually preparing them for the game and even setting up some story beats to come in the future. It was especially trippy to realize that your actions would have consequences down the road, although it was mostly for flavor. I liked it, even still. And for the record, I try to do all of the “good” things for the trial later on. Well, most of them. I do eat the guy’s lunch because it’s an easy way to heal up between fights.

Does GATO’s stomach have a pokeball in it? Seems rather before its time.

So let’s talk about Crono Trigger’s combat. It’s a blend of turn-based and real-time, keeping the pace of battle flowing while players queue up choices. At the beginning it’s pretty simple, but eventually you get regular attacks, “tech” attacks, and magic spells — and then some of these can be combined with other character’s moves to do even more impressive skills. I love it.

But the best, seriously the BEST, part of all of this is that Crono Trigger doesn’t have a random encounter system. Enemies appear on screen (although sometimes they pop out of the environment) and can be avoided or engaged as you wish. Coming from the nonsense that was Final Fantasy’s random encounters, this was such a blessing and continues to be today. You feel like you’re coming to fights on your terms, not the game’s.

Ugh, I hate this particular minigame. You get an important item from it later in the game, but I absolutely stink at doing this rapid “Simon says” interaction.

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