Best Bits: The Trial - CHRONO TRIGGER

OBJECTION! Oh wait - no, that’s a different game.
By Duncan Heaney

In Best Bits, the Square Enix Blog team looks at some of our favorite moments from Square Enix games, and why we think they stand out. To be clear, we’re not declaring them to be the pinnacle of the game, merely one of many moments that we love. So don’t get upset with us if you disagree, okay?

It’s funny - while most RPGs cast you in the role of the noble hero, we seem to spend a lot of our time being… less than virtuous.

For example, how many times have you wandered into some poor NPC’s home and just helped yourself to the items in their chests and cabinets? Heck - in OCTOPATH TRAVELER, I don’t think there’s a single character I didn’t try to pickpocket at least once.

We do these things because… well, it’s fun - but also because there usually aren’t any repercussions to our actions.

So it’s a wonderful surprise when CHRONO TRIGGER upends those expectations… this section suddenly reveals that actually your actions really do have consequences.

What is the Trial?

At this point in the story, Crono has experienced quite the adventure. A chance meeting with Princess Marle at a local carnival somehow escalated into a dizzying journey into the past. He’s prevented a kidnapping, resolved a time paradox and met gaming’s coolest frog.

So when Crono, Lucca and Marle finally return to the present, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re due a little R&R.

Sadly, that’s not to be. Crono is almost immediately arrested, on charges of kidnapping the princess, and put on trial for his alleged crimes. Thanks to the corrupt actions of the Chancellor, Crono’s off to prison regardless of the verdict, but whether he’s found innocent or guilty depends on his actions, and his strength of character.

Or more accurately… yours.

A time for some self-examination

The carnival at the beginning of CHRONO TRIGGER is filled with opportunities to make decisions.

These choices are so small and seemingly inconsequential that most players don’t even think about them on their first playthrough - they mess around with the options available and move onto the main adventure.

But the trial reveals that these interactions do actually have meaning. The prosecuting Chancellor brings out witnesses to comment on your character - and if you were a jerk, you’re about to be called out.

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For example, a large sack sits unguarded on a table. If you pick up this parcel, the owner will accuse you of stealing his lunch. Which is fair enough because… you did.

Or, if you were impatient with Marle’s indecisiveness when buying candy, one of the townsfolk will have seen you dragging her away from the stall - further evidence to support the trumped-up kidnapping charge.

Brilliantly, the game also flashes back to those scenes, driving home that it was you who made these decisions. You have nobody else to blame.

And it’s not just your past actions that play into the verdict - your current ones do too.

The prosecutor will ask you questions over the course of the criminally short trial. You can lie, but if you’re caught out, that’s not going to play well with the jury.

It plays the long(ish) game

Another way the game compensates for gamer’s worst instincts is with pacing. If the trial took place immediately after the carnival, there could be a temptation to revert to an earlier save and redo it to get the ‘best’ result.

But there’s actually a large chunk of gameplay between the opening and this section - the first trip into the past, meeting Marle’s ancestor and Frog… a lot happens.

It’s only around an hour or so (maybe a bit more depending on how much you like to take your time), but that’s enough to ensure that trying for a do-over would be inconvenient. Yet it’s also recent enough that your actions in your hometown will still be fresh in your mind.

It plays on expected videogame behavior

There are some behaviors that are ingrained in gamers. For example, we want to pick up all the items we can, in case we need it for something later.

Similarly, we tend to explore an area for items before taking actions that might advance the plot - we’ve learned that we can sometimes miss out on goodies because the game wants to move the story on.

So when we see that man’s lunch, our instinct is to pick it up. And when Crono and Marle bump into each other, many of us would naturally wander over to the glowing object on the ground before talking to the fallen princess.

The developers know this - both of these incidents come up during the trial. Your greed will be pointed out if you steal the sack of food, and checking on the valuable object on the ground before tending to Marle is used to demonstrate that you care more about her fortune than her wellbeing.

…well played CHRONO TRIGGER. Well played.

What do you think?

It’s only a small segment in a massive, sprawling adventure, but CHRONO TRIGGER’s trial emphasizes why the game is still as beloved today as it was when it originally came out. Wit and creativity oozes out of every pixel, and the game goes out of its way to subvert expectations wherever it can.

But what did you think of it? Do you agree that this is a standout section? What are your Best Bits of CHRONO TRIGGER?

Let us know in the comments, or on social media - and check back on the Square Enix Blog each day for more articles!