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Editor’s note: After getting yelled at by notable role-playing game designers during Bitmob’s RPG podcast for saying that I didn’t like Chrono Trigger, I’m giving the beloved Japanese RPG a second chance. I enjoy both Japanese and Western RPGs — Final Fantasy Tactics and Baldur’s Gate 2 are my favorite RPGs. The first part of this ongoing series focuses on my thoughts about the Millennial Fair. -Jason
The first time I played Chrono Trigger, I was intrigued about how the game opens with what is an original prologue — the Millennial Fair celebrating the realm of Guardia’s 1,000th anniversary remains one of the most potentially interesting beginning stages of any RPG, be it new or from the mid-1990s. The Millennial Fair shows the designers were intent on giving gamers a unique tale. It’s certainly better than the prologue of countless high-fantasy RPGs.
I respect what I see as the designers’ intent with the Millennial Fair, but the first time I played the game, I barely tolerated it. This time, I loathed it.
When Chrono Trigger came out in 1995, I was already an adult — and in the ensuing 14 years, I learned that I can’t stand the tendency of JRPG designers to use children and young teens as heroes. Heck, even as a kid, I couldn’t imagine wanting to take on the role of a heroic kid. Think about it — how many of you rolled up kids when playing pen-and-paper RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons or Heroes Unlimited? Most of you, I imagine, made grown-ups.
As a roleplayer, I should have the patience and understanding to know that just because you start the game as a child, it doesn’t mean that the game doesn’t have a good story. But I keep asking myself, “If he’s a kid, how come he knows how to fight? Why does he have a sword and armor?”
The Millennial Fair itself is pretty boring. I like RPGs that give me choices, but Chrono Trigger takes a significant choice away from the player: You must experience the Millennial Fair. A pair of oafs block the path to the demonstration of Lucca the inventor (she’s one of your future adventuring companions), saying that she’s not ready yet to show off her new machine and leaving you no choice but to explore the fair.
The Millennial Fair lacks one important ingredient — it has nothing fun to do. I understand that the fair is important because it introduces you to Marle, the tomboy princess of Guardia and one of the game’s most important characters. Running around the fair allows you to add her to your party and introduces you to the character.
But the fair could’ve given you something interesting to do while waiting for Lucca’s demonstration. Sure, you can make a meaningless wager on a footrace, engage in a drinking contest, and even beat up a silly rhyming robot of Lucca’s design, but none of these things are interesting. You learn that Marle’s pendant is valuable, but its true value becomes clear in the following scene. Who cares what some merchant says about it in this scene?
I was bored.
I wanted to skip it all and just go to Lucca’s demonstration, where her teleporter reacts with Marle’s pendant and opens a portal to…somewhere. But I couldn’t do this until running around the Millennial Fair.
And this is why I think the fair wastes its potential. I don’t care if the designers want me to experience the fair. Give me the option of deciding whether I want to run around the fair or not — it is an RPG, after all, and RPGs should be about the player’s choices, not forcing a character down a specific path. And if you’re forcing the player to take that path, make it an interesting path.