Author Topic: What makes Chrono, "Chrono"  (Read 1038 times)


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What makes Chrono, "Chrono"
« on: February 16, 2014, 01:23:41 am »
Since I first starting reading and posting on these boards I've had some thought that if we could eloquently identify some reasonable disconnect between the fan-base(s) between Trigger and Cross, it'd save loads of efforts toward the monumental undertaking of getting a third, if not more, releases to the Chrono-verse. 

As in previous opinions I've had between the games, I've looked to the interview posts by the staff and creators behind each game.  As from the wiki entry on Cross: "Kato anticipated and rebuffed this discontent before the game's release, wondering what the Chrono title meant to these fans and whether his messages ever "really got through to them".[27] He continued, "Cross is undoubtedly the highest quality Chrono that we can create right now. (I won't say the 'best' Chrono, but) If you can't accept that, then I'm sorry to say this but I guess your Chrono and my Chrono have taken totally different paths. But I would like to say, thank you for falling in love with Trigger so much."[27] Tanaka added, "Of course, the fans of the original are very important, but what innovation can come about when you're bound to the past? I believe that gameplay should evolve with the hardware.""

I think the claim is valid, but I think the way its phrased is too defeatist — they simply acknowledge that audience perception might be different than the 'author' and that's that — and I do not agree with the defeatism.

So, as a way to look at what "chrono" means, I'm attempting to explore what makes Chrono "Chrono" as I think there are concrete devices that can be pointed out to establish consistent quirks on the player-experience that distinguishes the Chrono name as not only a stand alone (or something that stands apart from other IPs), but something that "stands the test of time". 

After 10 or so years since I last played either through, I've started some new replays and I'm taking notes on what I think will be a series of parts that identify what makes Chrono "chrono" — or at least what I will narrow down what I hope to be unique elements for discussion.

So for now, this post will serve to introduce the concept and part 1, though I may later update a post to contain all parts or abbreviations of parts. So…

Part 1: Leitmotifs

I think part of a sort of universal quality from Chrono Trigger is the utilization of leitmotif's in not just the score, but the way they intermingle to convey unspoken elements to the story that are felt through the music.  Some of the intentional aspects of leitmotifs are known as can be seen via

While other games and movies may use lietmotifs at moments, I think part of what separates Trigger from other games is just how thoroughly integrated leitmotifs (alongside theme and variation) are interwoven through a huge portion of the game and its story.  While not all of these are going to be as prominent as Frog and the Masamune or the introduction and fight against Magus and so on, I think part of what has really stood out to me on the leitmotifs of Chrono Trigger is the absense of these in Cross AND then the disconnect from lietmotif devices in Trigger remakes* slight qualifier here as my current only experience is from the Playstation additions and not yet from the DS ones.

For as much as Cross' soundtrack and music is 'good' (if not great on its own right) I would in this way present the notion that the music isn't "Chrono" music as the story and gameplay for Cross simply doesn't allow for the same device-connections that worked for Cross.  This does tie back to some of the character discussion differences between Trigger and Cross and one of the main aspects of why I think Chrono stands out is the core cast can be so integrated into the story and gameplay that leitmotifs can be used and used well.  However, even the 'core' cast of Cross is not only too disconnected to establish strong individual moments, I was not aware of any combinations of leitmotif character themes to tie back into the story whole.  Given how the basis of the story is comprised mostly of Serge and Kid, I feel that there should at least be moments and movements to address the concept, and perhaps they get a particular theme (kid does) but I would argue, or point out, the integration of that theme does not (seem at least) to fall into theme and variation to reconnect the player to other moments in the game. 

I'm not an expect, let alone very well versed in music theory, so I might be misexplaining some of my idea here, or perhaps butchering some of the terminology so I'll try to demonstrate some of this concept with examples.

While my theme is based on Chrono, I think other square products realized this connection and used the method for other IPs: eg Xenogears.

This is a segment for Maria's theme:

This is a segment for a variation on Maria's theme:
but skip to 8:35 for the change to kick in and tie into the story elements present at this moment.  Not only is the music incredible for the scene (in full) but the variations on that theme reoccur for other characters and other instances in the game to reconnect themes of the game to coincide with the music.  And this is something that Trigger does as well, and it does fairly frequently (locations, characters and so forth have themes and other moments use variations of those themes)

Now other games may use some of these devices for a particular scene (like that of Aereth's Death) but I don't recall many successfully integrating the theme/variation/leitmottif combiation as well as Chrono Trigger except to one other memorable namesake: Star Wars (original 3 anyway)

Now I do notice some musical theming in Cross, but the motiffs used are, from what I gathered on the playthrough I finished yesterday, elements that tie Cross back to Trigger instead of composing new motifs unique and organic* to Cross.

I'd venture to think that the significance of leitmotifs to the experience of Trigger is of particular note because these are devices players don't need to have experience with or even intentionally notice as crafted devices for shaping their experience — there is a connection they form and it can be uncertain why, but still felt.

Earlier I mentioned the added content in the PSX Trigger version.  In tying this all together, I think part of the added content complications the feel of Trigger because it tampers with the organic flow of the original* content, esp as manifest during leitmotific-moments (think i'm making up a word there)

Anyway, one of the most memorable leitmotific moments in Trigger is Frog and the Masamune — though I would want to explore the depths of the whole experience and movement, the comparison I want to make from exploring my idea of leitmotifs being a "chrono" element is just the trigger of Frog using the Masamune of the first time:

The first link is the PSX animation:  Part of the problematic flow of the animation of Frog using the Masamune to carve the mountain is that the focus keeps shifting back to Crono — this is not Crono's time to shine, he should otherwise be invisible at Frog's big moment, but the game keeps emphasizing Crono.
Here's a sequence breakdown:

(0:04) Scene opens, eye follows movement, direction of cape goes toward Chrono. 
(0:10) Focus shifts to sword, but sword movement moves toward Chrono again
(0:18) Camera change, backview, scale puts emphasis on Crono
(0:27) Beam/Charge consolidates into another camera change that puts Crono back into the scene: secondary motion of the grass draws the eye toward Crono.
(0:40) Camera rotates back around to crono and gives him a similar (if not bigger) zoom and lingers on him for a few moments.
(0:46) Frog makes the Slash but there's Crono
Note* Frog makes a downward slash here uncharacteristic of his swordplay ingame.  This is contrasted against the direction the cut goes (contrary to the mountain) and is the opposite of the composition of the SNES scene.
(0:56) Crono seen first after the cut is made)
(1:02) scene ends with a smile of approval from Crono.

(note 2: fairly sure Frog's swordstyle in this animation is japanese katana word and not really suitable for his sword/style)

There's simply too much of crono in this moment imo and the constant refocus on Crono feels sort of like how Cross focused too much on Serge.

In the snes version:

Frog requests the Masaume, Crono spikes it into the ground, and it takes initial contact and removal to get the reaction.    Crono's involvment in the scene is tied to him handing over the Masamune to Frog, but after that, he becomes invisible and the focus remains on Frog: he is the central figure of the moment. He gets the theme, the lazer beam, the action cut and the finale say in the moment: more action.  No further words are exchanged and Frog signals a charge with the awesome *shink* of waving the Masamune one more time (no shealth) and he rabbits after collateral damage falls (making the cut feel more natural in cause/effect: the pxs movie lacks this and I would say the movie version makes the scene feel like an Open Seasame password instead of an awesome cut)

Now, a point of contrast here:  The breakdown I give on the comparisons between the original sequence vs the animation addition does take some critical analysis that may not be apparent to all/many viewers: They may see the animation sequence as superior cuz its animated.  So this segment is a bit removed from the concept of Leitmotifs in Trigger as this portion is overextending the claim that these sequences coincide with the disconnect the Crono team seems to have in how they perceive what makes Chrono "Chrono"

So tl;dr Part 1 of my analysis of "Chrono" is the consistent use of leitmotifs through theme/variation combinations as integral to the game/story experience.

To my knowledge, I think only Xenogears did this to a compariable extent of Trigger.

*note* when I use 'organic' i mean: denoting a relation between elements of something such that they fit together harmoniously as necessary parts of a whole: the organic unity of the integral work of art.
• characterized by continuous or natural development: companies expand as much by acquisition as by organic growth.