Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chrono Causality And Chrono Consistency

    I am going to preface this with the following: Chrono Trigger is an amazing game. It is one of the best games in existence, one of the best games I have ever played and the greatest North America could hope for in a swan song for the SNES. That being said, read on.

Also, if you happen to be an American, happy turkey and colonialism day to you.

    Time travel is a hoary bastard of a chestnut enough in films, books, comics and every other media that usually when video games do it, there are usually so many checks and balances in play that whomever is doing the traveling has to be careful not to so much as fart to keep the time line from breaking down. If you check the wikipedia category on Time Travel In Video Games, you'll find the list is surprisingly relatively short. With the rules, restrictions and theories on the subject, the short list is not necessarily surprising. There are few games or game designers ready or willing to streamline the concept to a point where it becomes the means of continuing a linear plot.

    This is exactly what happened with Chrono Trigger. Despite the jumps both through time and to the End Of Time, the game is almost maddeningly linear until the final act where, like Final Fantasy VI, the world opens up and you can pick and choose which sidequests to do, whose stories need closure, and so on. Time travel, then, serves as a means to an end to introduce new maps, characters, scenarios while keeping with a simple geographical idea. This is, simply put, a world where a single, prerequisite action in one time period determines a usually direct effect in a future period. The closest the game remains to this theory is the rescue of Queen Leene in 600AD to restore Marle, also known as Princess Nadia of Guardia and Leene's direct descendant, to time itself. 

    Everything after that, thanks to the key invented by Lucca and eventually the time-ship Epoch, does not play within those specific rules. The portals that exist are interconnected to a specifric place only, time however marches on at an equal rate of the game time. This includes the sequences at the End Of Time which all progress at the same speed, keeping the plot moving as a generic character hub*. in Chrono Trigger, your party members determine what areas and puzzles you can access, therefore advancing the plot. The problem is this breaks with the idea of traveling to a specific time as it is instead traveling to a specific place in an era. On the plus side this prevents a paradox. The characters do not show up as active more than once with the exception of Lucca fixing her own past.

    Of course, with direct actions such as saving Marle by saving Leene, giving Jerky to the mayor's wife in 600AD in order to have the mayor in 1000AD and hiring the clean up crew for the ruins, There are also indirect actions that become remembered as rote history. The Village Of Mystics begins as a place where Magus is worshipped. After defeating Magus, it becomes a place where Ozzie is worshipped. Finally after Ozzie has the wrong lever pulled, it becomes a happy, hopping and bopping village where most of the residents are "groovin' on life." The Black Omen is almost a novelty by 1000AD! The cause and effect between centuries and millenia is very simplistic, noticable and absorbed as natural history by the non playing characters of the game. It all works, right?

    Well, almost.

    The problem aside from the sheer lack of chaos theory at work in this world until the additional endings become viable is one gaping plothole in the third act of the game. This plot hole involves the Rainbow Shell, the kingdom of Guardia and a four century grudge. Upon finding the Rainbow Shell in 600AD thanks to information from the late Toma in 1000AD, the party finds they cannot lift the rainbow shell so instead they call on Guardia's forces to come pick it up and make it a national treasure, going so far as to building a new wing and sub-basement of the castle to ensure its safety. That wing is presumably hundreds of years old by the time King Guardia, Marle's father, is placed on trial for embezzlement of the Rainbow Shell, the national treasure of Guardia, an item he does not know exists, let alone has been collecting sunlught and sparkles in the unguarded basement of a kingdom he has lived in all of his life. Of course, the embezzlement is a fraud by the descendent of Yakra, a beast from early on in the game and it all leads to a tearful reunion of father and daughter but the fact remains that the king missed the very existence of this item due to a trick of time, space and fate is a plothole big enough to fly the Epoch through.

    While it is arguable that King Guardia's ignorance of the Rainbow Shell is analogic to his ignorance of the importance of Marle's decision to leave the castle and have an adventure, this is flawed. As mentioned, he would have lived in the castle his entire liefe well before Marle was even born. Furthermore, it contrasts with the cause-and-effect as rote history trope that this game works again and again. It is the one out of place element in a game that otherwise balances the time travel elements in the story as well as it does.

    The fact that it took this author 15 years to determine why this scene was incongruous should only be taken as a compliment to the creators of Chrono Trigger.

*For those readers unfamiliar with the term "Character hub," in Role Playing Games like Chrono Trigger, the team of characters you have selected or "party" will generally be limited to a small selection from your total available characters. The remaining characters typically remain in one central location. Breath Of Fire 2 has the town built by the player, Final Fantasy VI has the airships, Chrono Trigger has The End Of Time which is not a time so much as a place.

1 comment:

  1. I will get to the point where this makes sense, I swear it.

    But that means you have to give Legaia another chance. :p