"The Memory Card" is a seasonal feature that dissects and honors some of the most artistic, innovative, and memorable videogame moments of all time.
How many of you reading this right now have attacked a chicken with your sword in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past? How many of you have watched your poor friend plummet to his or her death off the bottom of the screen while scaling the waterfall in the original Contra? I am assuming almost all of you. Heck, I am raising my hand as well. The look of shame on my face is indescribable.
But despite these evil actions, why is there nothing in these games that punishes you? Sure, the chickens may fight back a little or your real-life friend may punch you in the shoulder, but where are the moral implications for being a genuinely bad guy? Zelda still calls Link a hero despite his abuse of poultry. Lance still fights alongside Bill even though his seemingly best friend abandons him during a war.
After years of videogames basically letting players get away with being, for lack of a better term, giant douchebags, there is a sequence in classic role-playing game Chrono Trigger for the Super Nintendo that attempts to bring some form of consequence for making poor moral choices.
Hit the jump to relive a memorable, sobering moment that has no problem judging you for some of the less-than-noble acts you are guilty of committing.
Chrono Trigger is an absolute masterpiece. All of the praise and fond memories of the Super Nintendo classic are completely warranted, as it truly is one of the greatest role-playing games of all time. The game has actually been featured on The Memory Card two times before, so if you want to get a more in-depth description of what happens in the story you can click here and here.
For this installment, I will just be focusing on what leads up to this particular moment -- one that occurs very close to the beginning of the game.
As almost everyone that has touched a videogame controller knows, Chrono Trigger tells the story of Crono, a young, seemingly normal lad that is thrust into an epic adventure that takes him and a band of loyal companions all around the world -- even through time and space itself!
At the very start of the game, Crono is famously awoken by his mother by opening the curtains to his darkened room. As the light shines in, Crono tosses and turns in his bed, obviously waking up from a night of little sleep.
After hopping out of bed, Crono stretches, anticipating the exciting day ahead of him. You see, Crono knows that today is the day of the Millennial Fair, a giant festival in the northern part of his hometown of Truce!
After saying goodbye to his nosy mother, Crono runs out the front door of his house and heads to the bustling, balloon-filled fair in Leene Square.
Once he enters the fair, Crono looks around and realizes how much stuff there is to do: carnival games, shops, swarms of excited village folk walking around. Like any good RPG, the town is teeming with interesting NPCs (non-playable characters).
When interacting with certain villagers, Crono is presented with certain choices. At one point a girl in the village asks Crono to help her find her cat. At another point Crono runs into an old man who possesses a giant bag of tasty food that he is tempted to eat. In both situations, Crono can decide to do whatever he wants. He can choose to save the girl’s kitten or completely ignore her plea. He can ignore the old man’s food or eat it when he isn’t looking.
After experiencing these interesting moral choices, Crono continues his journey through the fair to meet up with his best friend Lucca to see the presentation of her new invention.
On the way there, Crono forcefully bumps into a beautiful blonde woman named Marle.
After knocking her to the ground, Marle drops a shimmering pendant. At this point Crono must check on Marle to see if she is okay and pick up her pendant to return it to her. Whatever order he does this in is up to Crono (and the player).
Marle, surprisingly not that upset about the collision, decides to travel with Crono to see Lucca at the far side of the fair.
Right before they get to their destination, Marle is distracted by two things. First, Marle decides to buy some candy and asks Crono to not move while she does this. After purchasing the sweets, a local merchant asks Crono if he can get Marle to sell the expensive-looking pendant to him.
Regardless of what Crono chooses, Marle refuses to sell the pendant to the shady salesman. Finally free of distractions, the pair makes their way to Lucca’s presentation.
Lucca’s invention is a teleportation machine. Using Marle as a willing volunteer to test it out, the teleporter whirs to life. Unfortunately, the pendant Marle is carrying reacts with the energy emitted from the machine and Marle is whisked back in time through a portal.
Using her dropped pendant, Crono and Lucca recharge the machine to form another portal and chase Marle back 400 years.
After a perilous rescue mission, Crono and Lucca eventually rescue Marle and the three return to the present time. Unfortunately for Crono, as soon as he escorts Marle back home to her castle (Marle is actually the princess of the kingdom of Guardia), the Chancellor arrests him and accuses him of kidnapping her.
Confused and frustrated by the false accusations, Crono is forced to stand trial for kidnapping the princess. This week's Memory Card moment focuses on this intriguing trial.
Bathed in beautiful 16-bit colors, the royal courtroom is full of many people. Sitting in a sophisticated throne is the judge. On one side of the room is the Chancellor, with Crono’s assigned lawyer Pierre standing opposite him. Behind the witness stand is a sea of villagers, all of them curious to see what verdict is in store for Crono the accused.
After the judge officially starts the trial, the Chancellor and Pierre both commence with their opening arguments. The Chancellor is determined to convince the seven person jury that Crono is guilty of kidnapping the princess, while Pierre believes there is not enough evidence to support the claims.
At this point the Chancellor asks a series of questions and brings forth a couple of witnesses to prove what kind of person Crono really is.
Approaching Crono with a sinister look in his eyes, the Chancellor asks Crono who started this whole mess: him or Marle? Flashing back to the moment he ran into her, Crono realizes he must tell the truth about what happened. Presented with two choices, Crono decides to answer “I did,” since, technically, he is the one that bumped into her (although the real culprit is fuzzy).
Next, a witness is called forward: the little girl who lost her cat during the fair!
If Crono had returned the kitten to her earlier in the game, the little girl praises Crono’s character and says he is a wonderful guy. If Crono ignored the girl at the fair, well, her description of Crono’s character is not nearly as flattering.
Same with the old man and the food. When he enters as a witness, he will say very nice things about Crono if he didn’t eat his lunch. If Crono ate the food earlier, however, the result is completely the opposite.
At this point the Chancellor asks a series of questions that he wants Crono to answer truthfully:
“What about ransom? Crono, her fortune DID tempt you, did it not?”
This question refers to whether Crono checked on Marle or the pendant first after they ran into each other. If Crono checked on Marle first, he can honestly answer “No.”
“Are you sure? You really weren’t tempted?”
Remember when the village merchant asked Crono to sell Marle’s pendant for her? If Crono ignored this offer, he can respond with a “Not at all.”
Finally, during the fair, if Crono moved at all while Marle was buying candy (meaning: the player touched the control pad or any buttons), his lack of patience is brought up in the trial and held against him (everyone is so sensitive!).
After all the cross examining, the jury is asked to make a decision on whether Crono is innocent or guilty.
Based on his actions earlier at the fair, the seven jury members walk out one by one, standing to the left if they think he is guilty, and the right if they think he is innocent.
If Crono had made positive, good choices at the fair (taking the blame for bumping Marle, finding the cat, ignoring the food, helping Marle first, not trying to sell the pendant, and waiting for Marle to buy candy) the jury declares him innocent of all charges.
If Crono makes the wrong decisions, depending on how many mistakes he made, the jury could find him guilty.
Unfortunately -- in a sick twist -- regardless of what the jury decides, the Chancellor chooses to throw Crono in prison and sentences him to execution.
With that, the trial ends and Crono accepts his fate.
Lucky for him, Lucca and Marle work together to break Crono out of a jail in an exhilarating escape sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the epic adventure.
You can watch the entire scandalous trial go down right here:
What I love about Crono’s trial is the way the seemingly harmless actions you, the player, choose earlier in the game come back to actually mean something.
How many games have you played where you perform tasks or answer questions posed by random villagers and they have no effect on anything you do? Sure, you may win a few potions or a powerful sword, but the moral implications of doing something good or bad is completely ignored.
That’s what makes Crono’s trial so significant. Every little choice that is presented at the fair affects the outcome of whether Crono is innocent or guilty. Do the right thing, and Crono’s character is praised by the jury. Do the selfish thing, and the jury looks at Crono as a bad guy.
While this could have obviously been expanded into something much more significant -- having the trial end the same despite the jury’s decision is a little troubling -- it is still a very revolutionary and altogether surprising sequence.
Videogames that change depending on the main character’s decisions is the hot thing right now. From Infamous to Fable II, a lot of major games are basing their entire gameplay on this mechanic. Even though they handle this good vs. evil subject matter with much more complexity, I would argue that Chrono Trigger’s simple use works much better.
With Fable II or Infamous, the player knows going in that these moral decisions are going to affect the gameplay. It is the selling point for most of these types of games! Knowing this in advance mentally prepares the player to make decisions based on a preexisting idea of how they want the overall experience to pan out. Because of this, each moral decision never feels natural or organic. If you want to play a game being the good guy, just make good decisions every time you are presented with one.
With Chrono Trigger, the player has no idea there is ever going to be a time when one’s random moral choices are going to come back to mean something later in the game. For most gamers playing it for the first time, Chrono Trigger is a traditional role-playing game. And like most traditional role-playing games, when a villager asks you to save her cat, you don’t really have to do it. Nothing will happen if I ignore the sweet, helpless girl, right? Who cares if I don’t get a few extra potions in return for my good deed?
So once the trial hits and all these little moral decisions actually affect the jury’s view of Crono’s character? Woah. WOAH! It’s a really powerful device and absolutely revolutionarily for the time. By taking the player by surprise, each decision made prior to the trial truly reflects the player’s real intentions. When you don’t help the girl get her kitten back you really are a guy who didn’t help a little girl get her kitten back. You aren’t ignoring it to see what will happen during the trial later in the game. You know nothing about the trial later in the game! At the time, you are just ignoring a little girl. Simple as that. And later in the game you have to answer for it.
As amazing as the trial scene is, it is a little disappointing that it is such a small part of the game. And not only that, the decisions you make don’t really matter at all in the long run (well, aside from some additional bonus elixirs for being a good guy). It would have been cool if this sequence were either more game-changing or at least utilized again later in the story.
But looking past all those relatively minor qualms, Crono’s trial is a revolutionary and incredibly memorable moment in one of the greatest role-playing games of all time.
So the next time you are walking through a village in a videogame, be careful how you treat the people that live there. Your actions could come back to haunt you.
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