Sitting at the peak of Route 20, rising in between valley lakes in Cazenovia and Skaneateles, sits the town center of Pompey, New York. A decommissioned firehouse juts out of Cherry Street at odd angles, rubbing up against the rotting remains of what used to be the most palatial two-floor estate around. My godmother Rita Long lived there, serving too much Captain Crunch. Back when it was built in 1812, New York governor Horatio Seymour lived there, neighbor to William Avery, an engineer behind one of the first steamboat to sail the Erie Canal, and Sara Jane Lippincott, the first woman journalist hired by The New York Times. Rita died in 2008. Now the house looks like the rock eater from Neverending Story, slumped and moaning quietly about its lost strong hands. When I drive by on rare visits home, it looks like someone punched the whole town, a sagging bruise of a house, history, and stale air leaking out the broken window jams. Disintegrating or not, it’s still the nucleus of my hometown, the place that connects me to Pompey’s history from its founding until today.
Pompey isn’t a whole lot like Chrono Trigger’s Truce. We don’t have a port. There’s no massive castle sitting to the west. We don’t have a sweet cobblestone arcade at the center perfect for a Millennial Fair. Pompey’s got an old cannon infested with red spiders at its center. Come summer we have the Field Days. It’s got a Tilt-A-Whirl. It also doesn’t have a local teen’s teleportation device accidentally ripping open space-time, so we’ve got that going for us. I get Truce, though, and I get why Crono, Marle, and Lucca do something insane like trying to save the world. Not only do they love their hometown, they know it in a way no one else does. They literally walk its entire history, from the moment it’s created to the moment it’s destroyed. How their relationship forms with their hometown’s history is what lets them save the world.
If you don’t know this Squaresoft classic, the title’s a clue as to what’s going on: a whole lot of time traveling. The kingdom of Guardia is celebrating its 1,000th birthday and capital town Truce is partying like it’s no longer 999 A.D. Local swordsman and cat-fancier Crono wakes up on the first day of the Millennial Fair and rolls out to meet his friend Lucca, inventor of that troublesome teleporter. Truce is open from the start and everyone’s pretty friendly. A shop across the street from Crono’s place hawks potions for healing, a tiny bar hosts a pianist with a penchant for slow jams, and the mayor’s house is a trove of information about how to play the game. The fair’s something else too, with tribal dancing, eating contests, and footraces between knights and lizard people. It seems like a great place to live.
After Crono runs into a personable blonde named Marle and heads up to the teleporter’s debut, though, things get rough around Truce. Marle rushes to try out the ride, but her necklace reacts weirdly to the machine and she’s sucked into a whorling vortex. Crono dashes to follow her, hops into the portal, and finds himself in a very different Truce. The fair isn’t just gone, the whole town center is missing. Instead he’s in the middle of the woods, surrounded by aggressive goblins, and Marle’s nowhere to be seen.
The only comforting thing when Crono rolls into Truce is that some fixtures are where they’re supposed to be. The shop’s in the right place and so is the bar, but everyone’s dressed weird and open land fills the plot where his house should be. By the time it’s clear that Guardia’s still at war with an army of monsters, Crono cottons to what’s going on: He’s 400 years in the past. This is Truce in the year 600 A.D., and Marle’s been mistaken for the missing Queen Leene, her ancestor.
This is the first of many moments where Crono and his pals get to directly influence the shape of their hometown lives. The first little incident they have to clean up is intimate. Marle’s in a pickle of Back To The Future proportions. If Crono and Lucca don’t find the real queen and settle things for their hometown, their friend won’t even be born. By the time they’ve set things straight—just a rescue mission in a church run by man-eating snake ladies with a bipedal frog for back up, no biggie—they’ve gotten to literally participate in Truce’s history. That bell in the town square is Leene’s Bell! And you’re the ones who rescued her from monsters! Mom will lose it when you go back and tell her that you saw the town before your house even existed. By the time the trio does get back home to 1000 A.D., their problems explode from the micro to the macro.
Following a slight misunderstanding with the local constabulary, the crew hops into another time portal, only this one takes them someplace a lot less pleasant than the war-torn Middle Ages. The fair grounds of Truce aren’t just gone. Truce is gone. Crono’s group finds the forests and grassy plains of their homeland replaced by a bombed out city, all crumbling buildings and blasted highways. Even the sky’s blighted and wrecked. Dusty pockets of civilization remain. They find people still living underground in ruined domes near what used to be the towns of Porre and Choras. What happened to Truce? The same thing that happened to everything: Lavos. Surviving footage from the year 1999 A.D. shows the emergence of a mammoth beast rising up from the planet’s crust, showering the world with exploding spikes. It rose up right outside where Truce used to be.
Fantasy heroism is a perfectly functioning story tool. If the world’s in danger, of course the hero wants to save it. It’s the right thing to do. They have a vested stake in so far as everyone else does; survival is imperative after all. World-saving’s fairly impersonal, though. Crono, Marle, and Lucca decide to do the crazy, improbable thing and stop Lavos. It’s a very big action to take, and bold hero move on behalf of everyone, but their choice is rooted in a very small, common experience. Like everyone, they came from someplace. They just happened to see the place they were born, the place where their far flung descendants lived prepping their own Millennial Fair, torn apart from the inside.
Preventing Lavos from erupting in 1999 is no small task. Crono’s posse travels back to 600 A.D., but they make it even further back than that afterward. The trip brings them to 65,000,000 B.C. at one point, where they meet Ayla the cave woman and her tribe living right where Truce will be one day. Turns out, people started living there because its close to decent water and plentiful hunting grounds. When they visit 12,000 B.C. during the kingdom of Zeal’s reign, a period when technology and magic flourish because its people are milking power from a dormant Lavos, they find the folks settled near Truce living humbly underground. They’re not magical and are treated like garbage by the people of Zeal.
Maybe that’s why the people living in town back in 1000 A.D. are so welcoming to any neighbor that walks through the front door. It’s their shared history of living well under adversity. The whole history of Crono’s town is laid bare, and while he and his friends certainly influence its growth along the way, they also discover why it was the decent place it was in their own time. Local relics like the legendary Rainbow Shell make it into the modern castle treasury because Crono put it there, but the shop and bar owners in Truce are good people because they’ve always been. Leene’s Bell was Leene’s Bell before you saved her from those snake ladies, so someone must have saved her. (Probably Frog. He’s a stand-up guy.)
While their goals are grand in scale, Truce is never forgotten. They spend time trying to change local tragedy, like the incident that crippled Lucca’s mother, as well as defeat Lavos—which Crono and his friends do. Truce is saved, at least from that ignoble end. Accomplishing that goal, though, involves getting to know the place you’re trying to save as best as you possibly can, diving in and out of its history until there’s no corner left unexplored before you can finally go back home.
My hometown’s history sits on top of Route 20, falling apart next to a hollowed out firehouse. If I knew my home was in trouble, though, if I knew I could save that house by traveling through time, I’d do exactly what Chrono Trigger’s heroes do. I’d climb in that flying time machine and go on weird trips with boatman Avery and march alongside Civil War general Henry Warner Slocum. I’d go back to before Route 20 was paved, before the Onondaga nation called it home, when it was nothing but rocky soil, pine trees, and foxes. I’d do whatever I had to, just like Crono’s friends. Of course I’d save it. It’s my home.
Previously in the Neighborhoods series: