When people enjoy things like books, movies, TV shows or video games they tend to recommend them to others. More often than not those people are viewing those things through rose tinted glasses. People always hype things up and make them appear greater than they really are. We have all heard of the hype train. Many of us have even boarded it and upon arrival to our destination are more often than not entirely disappointed or we just don’t get the same enjoyment that others do. Once in a lifetime something will come along that actually lives up to that hype. Something that lives up to all of the compliments everyone gives it. These things are more often than not so rare that they can almost become lost to time.
If your like me your first memories playing RPGs were on the Sony PlayStation 1. However, just before our time, on a slightly older console, released a game that would be unfortunately overlooked by a sad number of people including myself. A game that would break the rules set by those before it and at the same time set the bar going forward. A game pivotal to the genre yet left unplayed and passed up by so many. Let’s take a step back in time and take a look at a game called Chrono Trigger.
Chrono Trigger is a JRPG that was developed by Square for the Super Nintendo. A man by the name of Kazuhiko Aoki set up a ‘’dream team’’ of developers, character designers and musicians. The team consisted of Hironbu Sakaguchi creator of the Final Fantasy games, Yuji Horii of the Dragon Quest franchise, Nobuo Uematsu as the games composer and Akira Toriyama, the creator of the esteemed Dragon Ball Z franchise. Some of the greatest minds of the times, some of the creators of the greatest intellectual properties of the era all came together to develop Chrono Trigger.
Chrono Trigger released in North America near the end of the Super Nintendo’s lifespan and within 30 days of its release, the juggernaut of JRPGs, the Sony PlayStation 1 was on Shelves in North America. Within a year Nintendo would also launch its next generation system the Nintendo 64. In the blink of an eye Chrono Trigger, for a lot of us, would be lost to time until 2001 with the release of Final Fantasy Chronicles on the PlayStation 1. However by 2001 a lot of people had already moved on to the Sony PlayStation 2, With their hearts and minds already won by Squaresoft’s Trilogy of Final Fantasy games on the original PlayStation being fresh on their minds and awaiting the release of Final Fantasy X.
Several years later Chrono Trigger would receive a port to the Nintendo DS, with a new adding added as well as changes to the final boss, which upset some fans of the original game. Those players that missed the Final Fantasy Chronicles release due to the looming release of the Sony Playstation Two now had a second chance to experience the game assuming they owned a Nintendo DS. Due to these reasons there are a multitude of JRPG fans out there that have yet to experience Chrono Trigger, Fans that would even describe themselves as JRPG enthusiasts. Those fans like myself have likely heard about Chrono Trigger for years and years hearing all the praise coming from slightly older fans of the genre.
As a kid I grew up with Final Fantasy 7 being my first RPG quickly followed by 8 and 9. I continued playing RPGs for several years never questioning the validity of RPGs that came before those on the PlayStation 1. In 2019 I played Chrono Trigger for the first time after hearing about it for years and shrugging it off. Here are my thoughts and here’s why I implore you to finally play it if you haven’t yet.
When it comes to writing a story driven game there is a fine line between an overly complex convoluted story and one that is simplistic in design and focus on characters rather than lore. Chrono Trigger begins with our main protagonist, a boy ironically named Crono, being woken up by his mother. She reminds him that today is the day of the Millennial fair. He trots off to go enjoy the festivities before he bumps into a girl named Marle.
They end up walking around the fair together and having a blast. Chrono meets up with his friend Lucca who is showing off her and her fathers newest invention: A teleportation device. Through some type of freak accident the machine opens up a rift in time and pulling Marle through. Our hero Crono jumps through after her with lucca following behind shortly thereafter. One adventure leads to another and the team unravels an ancient story about a being named Lavos who fell to earth millions of years ago and will one day awaken and destroy the planet in the process. The three end up traveling through time visiting several eras in their worlds history trying to put a stop to Lavos while making friends and enemies along the way.
While playing through Chrono Trigger everything felt very straightforward and simple enough, I beat the game and enjoyed the ending and all was well. Then I started doing some research and quickly fell down a rabbit hole of alternate timelines and optional endings which is something I have never experienced in any other JRPG before. But these complexities and branching timelines aren `t forced upon players they are optional and aren’t necessarily relevant to the games overarching plot, there is a canon ending, however, Chrono Trigger gives you the opportunity to explore several ‘’what if’’ scenarios after you have completed the game. Generally at the end of an RPG the show is just simply over but with Chrono Trigger as soon as you think your adventure is over it will pull you back in.
But don’t let this intimidate you, should you decide to play Chrono Trigger you can progress through the game naturally as you would any other and you will likely get a great ending that will leave you satisfied and possibly even teary eyed. Don’t let alternate endings scare you away from Chrono Trigger most of them aren’t that important to achieve unless you want to. How you experience this title is entirely your choice.
I will be honest, going into playing Chrono Trigger for the first time the two biggest things that had me hesitant was my assumption that because it was originally released on the SNES I would be in store for final fantasy 1 through 6 era sprite work, and how time travel would be playing a part in the game. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with the sprite work and graphical quality of 8 and 16 bit JRPGs, I just figured I would be getting more of the same look and feel that I came to know from the older Final Fantasy games. As it turns out I can’t even begin to tell you how wrong I was. Chrono Trigger is easily the greatest looking 2D RPG probably ever created, even when compared to contemporary games.
Its honestly almost embarrassing when you compare the graphics and sprite work of Chrono Trigger to any other JRPG of the era. Not only do the sprites look great but the environments are absolutely out of this world. The amount of love and attention to detail is honestly hard to even wrap my head around. I didnt even think games could look this good on a 16 bit console. There are even great examples of rudimentary 3D assets used in game thanks to the SNES Mode 7.
While Chrono Trigger may not be listed as a game that pushed the graphical limits of the SNES it definitely shows the level of dedication the team had to the attention to detail of every single sprite and environment in the game. The two most popular RPGs on the SNES are probably Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI and im not going to sugar coat this, but Chrono Trigger makes Final Fantasy VI look like child’s play in the looks department.
I do have to make a note that for all of chrono triggers beauty when you go out into the games world map the sprites look UNBELEIVABLY DERPY! What in gods name happened? Who approved this? MY EYES ARE BLEEDING.
My other big concern was that Chrono Trigger would use its themes of Time Travel to set the stage for plenty of tedious and annoying puzzles. Personally I’m not a fan of puzzles in RPGs or puzzle games in any sense for that matter. While there are some side quests that involve travelling to multiple timelines they are just that, sidequests, not really puzzles.
Alongside this, I was worried that the games plot would become unnecessarily complicated, albeit time travel and all, and cause me to either lose track of what’s happening or find myself having a hard time becoming invested in the games story. Surprisingly, neither of these scenarios came true. The distance the cast travels is measured by thousands of years, rather than days weeks or hours. This gives you vastly different environments to explore.
One of the most important things that separates great JRPGs from mediocre ones aside from the quality of the games story is how the game handles combat. By the time of Chrono trigger release there were already several established formulas used in the genre. Chrono Trigger uses these tried and true formulas but innovates in several key areas. One of the very first things that stuck out to me was the fact that monsters actually appeared on screen giving the player the ability to run around monsters to avoid combat, However this also means that monsters can actually chase you, block doors, setup ambushes and are able to be ambushed.
This is nothing new in today’s standards but I was surprised to see that JRPGs all the way back on the SNES were doing that when even now it’s still not common practice. The thing that really blew me away though was the fact that there was no transition to a combat screen. Battles take place exactly on the same screen you were on before you came into contact with an enemy. This completely took me by surprise and even today is sort of a rarity unless your playing an action based RPG like Kingdom Hearts. Chrono Trigger uses traditional turn based combat however both of these features give combat a sense of urgency that really spices things up.
Another somewhat unique element to the games combat is the fact that party members can use their turns together to perform ‘’duel techniques’’, each combination of two characters can yield different ‘’duel techniques’’ which creates plenty of unique combinations. Characters can also learn extremely powerful triple techniques that require certain characters to be in the party and use their turns all at the same time.
While this adds a nice touch of complexity and customization to combat I personally found that upon reaching the later portions of the game I began inflicting more damage on my enemies by having individual characters attacking rather than performing dual techniques. Aside from all of these Techniques your characters also have the ability to cast magic however spells and how they work remain oddly unchanged from your run of the mill final fantasy game which I found odd.
For me an over world map is a must have when it comes to JRPGs. its what instils that great sense of adventure. One of the very first things that hooked me as a kid was being able to explore the world map of Final Fantasy VII. It always felt like there was something waiting to be discovered. Chrono Trigger not only has a world map but it technically has 5! Granted they are all the same world however, Each time period has vastly different landscapes and areas to explore.
Eventually the cast acquires a time travelling airship allowing you to explore any location during any time period. You can fly over to a town and then travel into the future and still be hovering at that very same location near said town which becomes very convenient later on in the game.
These are the basic fundamentals of what to expect should you play Chrono Trigger. It’s important to remember games such as this because of the influences they made on the industry going forward. Chrono Trigger didn’t need an intricate story full of the lore to tell the story it wanted to tell. It didn’t need 65+ hours of content to get its point across. It renovated the way we came to assume a game such as this would look. It continued several traditions of RPGs that came before it while innovating in just the right ways to be something entirely new and special for its time.
A wise old musician once told me that ‘’Basic Is Beautiful’’ A line of music does not need overly complex chords and harmonies to sound pleasant to the ear. The most intricate melody can be broken down to its most basic phrasing and it will still be the same melody. Complexity does not always guarantee beauty. It is how you choose to apply your abilities to add complexity and layers to a piece of music. Sometimes I wonder if we were really just talking about a page of sheet music or something deeper.
Chrono Trigger does not waste your time delving into its protagonists back story. It won’t spend time elaborating on its villains origins. It won’t bother you with unfulfilling side quests, and there aren’t any flashbacks or long never ending lines of dialogue, and most importantly it doesn’t over complicate things just for the sake of them being complex. Chrono Trigger doesn’t do these things to be lazy.
When I was writing the script for this video I was having trouble coming up with what to say next. Chrono Trigger doesn’t do these things to be lazy…..well then why does it do it? And why was I so melancholy for a few days after beating it? And then it hit me. The one thing that nobody ever talks about is the way in which Chrono Trigger presents its story.
Chrono Trigger`s entire story is revealed to you the player the same way it is revealed to cast of characters. Everything you the player experiences the party experiences at the same time. Everything we see for the first time in the game, the party is seeing it for the first time as well. There is no point in the game where you the player knows something that Crono and company don’t.
The story is told as though you have always been there alongside Crono, Marle, Lucca, Ayla, Frog, and Robo the whole entire time. Which is perfect for a game about a group of ‘’friends’’ on an adventure, and which is why saying goodbye at the end was so hard.
And that’s how I want to end this review.
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