Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Chrono Trigger

The most meaningful advice about romance and relationships can be found in a mid-’90s RPG for Super Nintendo.

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The year was 1995, and I was a terribly awkward thirteen-year-old boy.

At the time, I lived across the street from one of my closest childhood friends, who I spent a lot of time playing videogames with. We took turns battling M. Bison in Street Fighter II, navigated the frustrating world of Toe Jam & Earl together, and sometimes I’d sit, transfixed, watching as he played through epic role-playing games on his PC.

Over the years, he’d let me borrow games from his massive library of titles, many of which I remember fondly, classics that made me fall in love with videogames. The Quest for Glory series, the Final Fantasy games that graced the Super Nintendo before they had CGI movies, and titles from the Golden Era of LucasArts — like Day of the Tentacle, Maniac Mansion, and Full Throttle.

But none of these games would have as much of a lasting, profound effect on me as Chrono Trigger. The day my neighbor let me borrow that gray plastic cartridge, my (gaming) life changed forever. I went out of my way every chance I had to play it; on my PC using an SNES emulator, on my iPhone when it was ported to iOS, on a Nintendo DS just so I could see the FMV animations. But why this game? Why did it stick with me? What is it about this game that’s made me come back again and again?

As a kid, I projected myself into videogames. It was easy, especially when I played as some nameless character. And when playing an RPG, I could rename the characters when the option presented itself. In Chrono Trigger, I was always Crono. His best friend, Lucca, was renamed after Darlene, a girl that’s been my closest friend since I was 8 . Robo, Frog, Ayla, and Magus have had an array of names over the years — always people closest to me.

Chrono’s love interest, Marle? She’s had many names. When I was a kid I named her after various crushes, and then through college and until the present day, I named her after different girlfriends.

Replaying Chrono Trigger is a lot like re-reading a favorite book or watching a movie you’ve already seen a million times but can’t resist watching. Every time I do it, I absorb something new.

During my most recent play-through on my iPhone, as I renamed Marle after my current girlfriend, I thought about how I’d done that so many times over the years. And it hit me: this game has been with me through all of my relationships. And not just the imaginary ones I’d projected into the game as a kid. Real ones. This RPG, this nearly-two-decade-old game about time travel that’s managed to transcend changing technologies, helped teach me lessons on a timeless subject; love and relationships.

BE BRAVE. Early on in the game, when Crono literally runs into Marle during their town’s Millennial Fair, a celebration honoring the year 1000 A.D., they explore the grounds together. They watch a race, play games, buy candy, battle a giant robot that sings — you know, normal first date stuff. Then they try Lucca’s teleporter, which malfunctions and sends Marle into a portal to the year 600 A.D.

And Crono? He goes after her.

As he steps onto the teleporter, on his way to the uncertain, the epic music that Chrono Trigger is known for, swells. No matter how many times I’ve played through this, I always feel a little rush. Lucca and her father gasp, cheering him on, applauding his bravery. It sounds crazy, sure. But when they ran into each other, and the bell chimed in the town square, you just knew that something important was going to happen between these two. And I like to think Crono did too.

KNOW THIS: YOU AREN’T BROKEN. One of the most heartbreaking scenes in Chrono Trigger happens shortly after Crono saves Marle.

When Crono, Marle, and Lucca travel into the desolate, post-apocalyptic future, they stumble upon a rusted, deteriorated old robot. Using the brilliant mind that helped her build the teleporter, Lucca repairs the robot, naming him Robo. He’s thrilled to have and help new friends, but this happy moment is short lived. The party runs into some of his fellow bots, who tell him he’s broken and malfunctioning. Turns out, he’s meant to eliminate humans, not help them. Terribly sad music plays as he gets punched and kicked around, and when Crono tries to help, he insists that his friends stay back.

These robots are supposed to be his friends, his brothers. Clearly, they are not.

As Lucca fixes him yet again, he thinks on what’s happened, slowly coming to the realization that he isn’t broken. But not without the support of his newfound friends, who encourage him to come to this conclusion. Sometimes the people you think are closest to you can tear you apart (and in Robo’s case, quite literally). The trick is realizing who your real friends are. They are the ones who put you back together afterwards, and let you know there was nothing wrong with you in the first place.

BE PATIENT, YOU’LL FIND HER. There’s a tired cliché about how there’s someone out there for everyone. I’m not going to say that I believe in fate or any of that, but there is something to be said for that one perfect person being out there. You’ve seen it — couples that are so utterly perfect together you can’t imagine them being with anybody else. No matter how jaded or cynical you might be, it happens.

In Chrono Trigger, it happens to Robo.

He had a tough time, what with his “brothers” beating him up. But later on, when Atropos XR (the only female robot you see over the entire game) regains her memories, they rekindle their relationship, and they are seen sitting together on the top of a mountain, overlooking a cloudy landscape, purple mountains stretching out beyond the horizon.

Robo travels across time, through portals and in a time machine, and you never see anyone else that could possibly be with him. Until he meets Atropos XR again. Fact is, there was only one person (or robot) for Robo in Chrono Trigger. And he had to go through a lot to find her again. Such is life.

DON’T LET YOUR PAST BEAT YOU. It’s easy to beat yourself up over past experiences. You’ve had those nights, staying up in bed, looking at the ceiling, checking and rechecking the time, painful memories bouncing around in your head. Those moments of introspection can be the worst.

In Chrono Trigger, Frog beats himself up for the loss of his closest friend, Cyrus, and blames himself for the kidnapping of Queen Leene. It takes a long time in the game until he comes to terms with what happened, almost the entire course of the story. He eventually gets there, but not without a lot of inner turmoil.

No one should ignore what’s happened to them in the past. It can humble you and make you grow, which was absolutely the case with Frog. But you shouldn’t let it bring you down either, denying you your life. Frog hid in a forest, living in a dirt cave, and buried himself from the present. Don’t be that guy. Don’t be that frog.

The year is 2013.

I’m a still-sometimes awkward 30-year-old man playing Chrono Trigger on my iPhone. And I’m okay with that. I’ve taken chances, realized my potential, waited patiently, and moved on from memories that haunted me. So many saved games with different endings, characters named and renamed. My adoration forced into a five letter limit, forcing me to get creative; STEFY. KTINA. JESCA.

Right now, Marle has a new name — one I’ll keep to myself. The girl she’s named after? This one is special, and fits that character limit perfectly. And I hope she doesn’t break up with me before I finish this game because I really don’t want to start over again.

But if I have to, I know that I can.

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During the day, Eric Smith works at Quirk Books. At night, he can be found running Geekadelphia and teaching at Peirce College.