Originally released for the Super Nintendo in 1995, Chrono Trigger is one of Squaresoft’s most well-known RPGs. The game was conceived in 1992 by a dream team of three giants in the Japanese entertainment industry. The first was Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of the Final Fantasy series. The second was Yuji Horii, creator of the Dragon Quest series. The third was Akira Toriyama, a famous freelance manga artist best known as the author of Dragon Ball. Along with scenario writer Masato Kato and a team of nearly sixty developers, they set out to create a game that no one had ever done before. It was initially licensed under the Mana franchise with the title, Maru Island. They intended to release it in CD format on Nintendo’s then-planned Super Famicom Disk Drive before development of the peripheral was canceled. During a brainstorming session, one of the developers suggested making a game about time travel. Though it was initially opposed by Mr. Kato, he would end up accepting the idea and the collaboration between him and Mr. Horii would give the final product its identity.
Playing the Game
Chrono Trigger is a JRPG. The combat system borrows heavily from the SNES Final Fantasy games in that it features something of a real-time element. Each character has a gauge to the right of their current HP and MP. When it is completely full, you can input a single action for that character. How fast the gauge fills up between actions for each character depends on their speed. This is known as the Active Time Battle (ATB) system.
Before Final Fantasy IV, JRPGs almost exclusively featured turn-based, round-by-round combat, so this new system added a whole new strategic element to the formula. It was common for early bosses in Final Fantasy games starting with the fourth installment to switch into a “defense mode,” or a brief moment when fighting them would result in your characters getting hit with a very damaging counterattack. This was meant to teach the player through example that time passes even when an action isn’t taken. The system makes for some interesting encounters and gives battles a bit more of a realistic edge to them.
Chrono Trigger goes a step further with the ATB system. When the gauges of two or three characters are filled up at the same time, you can have them execute double and triple techniques. As is suggested by their names, double and triple techniques combine abilities of each character into a new one. Different characters naturally have different abilities, so experimenting with various lineups unveil many new possible combinations. This is one of the most praised aspects of Chrono Trigger. Because you’re only allowed to have three characters in your party at once, it’s an organic way to encourage the player to use all of them. Furthermore, not only is it an innovative game mechanic, it also complements the story. It lends itself to create a sense of comradery and teamwork amongst the cast of this game. By the end of this game, you get the sense that this is a tightly-knit group – all without the narrative needing to say a single word on the matter.
Another, more subtle, touch I enjoy about Chrono Trigger’s fighting system is that every battle takes place in the areas in which they are initiated. In most JRPGs, there is a transition from the overworld to an isolated area where the battles are then carried out. This is usually true even if the game doesn’t feature random encounters.
There are four reasons I admire this. First of all, this means that encounters aren’t random. Games with random encounters have their place, but I’ve always preferred being able to see enemies on the overworld because that way, you can potentially choose whether to engage or avoid them instead of leaving it up to chance. Secondly, it helps with dungeon exploration. Because you never leave the area, you are far less likely to get lost, as you don’t need to reorient yourself upon concluding the fight. Thirdly, it helps with the immersion process. While the alternative of having battles take place on an isolated set piece doesn’t ruin immersion for me (if for no other reason than because it’s the standard), having the protagonists fight enemies exactly where they are ambushed makes the battles feel more authentic. Finally, in any game, it’s important to have good pacing. Otherwise, one runs the risk of losing the audience’s attention. With this style of presentation, the battles in Chrono Trigger are lightning fast.
By itself, the combat system would be enough to make Chrono Trigger stand out from its contemporaries, but it doesn’t stop there. Chrono Trigger also features multiple endings. Considering the linear nature of most JRPGs, this is somewhat unusual. What’s even stranger about this is that you don’t have to complete the storyline in order to get an ending. After a certain point in the game, you can opt to confront the final boss right there and then. The point you’ve reached when you decide to do this affects which ending you’re rewarded with. This has the effect of making a good chunk of the campaign feel like an elaborate sidequest, which is an intriguing deviation from the standard of not only JRPGs, but the entirety of interactive fiction.
To help the player achieve different endings, a new option appears in the save menu upon clearing the game a single time: New Game+. This allows you to start the game over, but your characters retain their levels, skills, and items. Furthermore, you are afforded more opportunities to confront the final boss, including one that presents itself at the very beginning of the game. Although Chrono Trigger was not exactly the first game to have an idea like this (Super Mario Bros., a game released in 1985, presented the player with a second quest featuring tougher enemies upon completion, for instance), it left such a profound impact on the industry that developers continue to use the term to denote the ability to begin the game anew with bonuses from previous playthroughs.
Analyzing the Story
It has been 1,000 years since the founding of Guardia Kingdom. To celebrate the dawn of a new millennium, a fair is being held in Leene Square. Crono, a young resident of the town journeys there only to bump into a girl named Marle. After a quick apology and introduction, the two of them decide to partake in the festivities together. While there, Crono’s friend, Lucca, a brilliant inventor, and her father demonstrate their latest work: a teleportation system. Marle enthusiastically volunteers to test Lucca’s invention, but her pendant causes the device to malfunction, creating a portal which causes her to vanish without a trace. Crono and Lucca recreate the portal and find themselves transported 400 years back in time. Undeterred, they journey through the world of the past in search of Marle.
Not content with merely having stellar gameplay, Chrono Trigger also has a very well-crafted storyline. You start off exploring the middle ages, but you eventually get to explore other time periods such as prehistory, antiquity, and the future. Even though development of this game started in 1992, I like to think of Chrono Trigger as the spiritual successor to a game also made by Square, but only released in Japan called Live A Live. Both games take place over many different time periods from the distant past to the far future. However, while Live A Live is composed of short, self-contained chapters for each time period, Chrono Trigger features only a single storyline, with the characters from these various epochs working together to accomplish the same goal.
Speaking of which, my favorite thing about the story of Chrono Trigger is its main cast. What I admire most about them is their motivation. A common trope is that villains act while heroes react. This game puts a unique spin on this concept. |Shortly after evading a horde of enemies in the present, Crono, Marle, and Lucca find themselves flung 1,300 years into the future. To their horror, they learn that the world has become a desolate wasteland with its denizens having fallen into despair long ago. They eventually learn that Lavos, a parasite dormant beneath the planet’s surface, arose in the year 1999 AD, wiping out nearly all life. It is this exact moment that makes the protagonists of this game stand out from their peers in other works. Nearly all JRPGs, or indeed a high percentage of fiction, involve the heroes opposing a powerful threat because they’re directly harmful to their continued existence. That is certainly not the case here – rather than going back to the present and living the rest of their lives safe with the knowledge that the apocalypse will not occur until long after their deaths, they decide to fight for the future of the world and destroy Lavos once and for all.|
Many stories across several mediums start off simply but gradually evolve as the viewer progresses through them. Chrono Trigger is one of the best works to feature such a story because every part of it is memorable. The story doesn’t rush, but like the combat, it keeps your interest by not overstaying its welcome. It also doesn’t run out of steam when approaching the endgame. This is important because I steadfastly believe that a terrible third act can ruin a quality title. If you get the best ending, you feel a true sense of accomplishment that many other games lack.
Drawing a Conclusion
You hear about this work that has near-universal acclaim. Fans love it. Critics love it. Even people outside of the demographic the creators were marketing towards have nothing but good things to say about it. You can’t help but buy into the hype. You’re left severely disappointed. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all experienced this at least once in our lives – it doesn’t matter what the medium is. However, every now and again, you’ll go through this process only to discover a masterpiece that absolutely lives up the lofty standards generated by the hype surrounding it. Chrono Trigger is, without a doubt, one of those works.
In addition to having both excellent gameplay and story, it’s also one of the best-looking Super Nintendo games ever made. Square has always had a reputation for making their games look as aesthetically pleasing as possible. Chrono Trigger has a very stylized look, courtesy of Mr. Toriyama. While I do concede that graphics are not the most important part of a game, I do think that they add to the experience because they allow for more advanced storytelling and give the work a professional feel. Both of these aspects go a long way in helping a game stand the test of time.
Everyone needs to play Chrono Trigger at least once; I even recommend it to people who aren’t fans of JRPGs. As a testament to its quality, I haven’t heard of that many people hating or not caring for this game. The minute you see the pendulum swinging back and forth on the title screen, you know you’re in for an amazing game. Once you’ve completed it, those feelings will be confirmed.
Final Score: 9/10