Yes, yes, I know, the 90’s called and they want their critically acclaimed video game back. BUT HOLY CRAP IS THIS GAME AMAZING! The story, the soundtrack, the art, everything is beautifully done. This is perhaps the pinnacle of Square Enix’s productions (except perhaps certain Final Fantasies), and the collaboration with Akira Toriyama of Dragonball fame only helps. Meaningful sidequests, challenging boss fights, hours of gameplay, entertaining minigames, enthralling story, so many things are in this game that have been lost in video games of recent times. Chrono Trigger raises a personal bar for JRPGs and I am wondering where all the advancements this game made have gone since its release in 1995.
Okay, okay, enough gushing. So, Chrono Trigger. The beginning of the story is that you are Chrono who lives in the kingdom of Guardia. It is the year 1000 A.D., and it is the 1000th anniversary of the defeat of Magus, an evil wizard who sought to conquer the world. The kingdom is hosting a Millennial Fair to celebrate the event, and your genius childhood friend Lucca is using this as an opportunity to unveil one of her new inventions. It is at the fair that you happen to run into Marle, who happens to be the princess of Guardia. She volunteers to take part in Lucca’s experiment, but her pendant reacts strangely and creates a “Time Gate”, launching her far into the past. Chrono decides that he must go after her, and from there the story develops to an all-encompassing journey spanning from 65,000,000 BC to 2300 AD, all in order to save the fate of the world. Along the way you make many allies, from a giant robot to a Shakespearean frog, and many enemies, from a giant dinosaur to a foolish, incompetent ogre. All of this can end in 17 different paths, and after getting one ending you’ll certainly want to see the others.
So, what makes this game so great? Well, a lot does. Let’s start off with the character design. Chrono Trigger was developed in collaboration with Akira Toriyama, who is a very successful mangaka famous for works such as Dragonball Z and Dr. Slump.Each character in Chrono Trigger, whether it be a full fledged boss or a small minion has their own personality and although the game is comprised probably of only 100 enemies, it felt like I there were a lot more variations of opponents than there were. Each character is easily recognizable by sight, and Chrono Trigger does not bother to have the same enemy in different colors to differentiate strength like several other JRPGs do. The world of Guardia is also fleshed out, with a beautiful overworld and interesting NPCs to interact with. Also fun to note is that the personalities of NPCs can change depending on what happens to their ancestors, and others have backgrounds you would not see coming. At all.
Another part of Chrono Trigger’s appeal is the battle system. Chrono Trigger, like a lot of Square Enix titles, uses an Active Time Battle System. This means that when you are in a battle each of your characters has a time gauge, and when that time gauge is filled then your character is able to do an action. As a character’s speed increases, then their time gauge fills up faster allowing them to attack more during a battle. A notable difference between Chrono Trigger and other RPGs of this era is that all the battles take place in the same world that you travel in, instead of occurring in some separate dimension where all your opponents are conveniently lined up on one side and you on the other. This allows combat to be more fluid and dynamic, as enemies will move around the screen, which can affect whether some attacks will hit them or not depending if your attacks have an area of effect. Some attacks can only hit opponents within a certain region, so sometimes it is more advantageous to wait until your opponents are next to one another in order to hit both of them with a powerful attack rather than attacking immediately after your time gauge is filled. Another key element of battle is “Techs”, which are more advanced attacks that range from physical to magic to healing. Techs also include combo attacks between characters which have various effects such as massively damaging one enemy or healing the entire party. This adds strategy to encounters as you must decide whether you should attack with one character hoping their speed will allow you to rapidly attack to take out opponents or instead wait for another character’s time gauge to fill in order to pull off a combo attack. All of this must be decided in a second which adds to the intensity and stress of boss fights, one wrong decision and you could be toast!
Sidequests. Sidequests are so often an afterthought in many RPGS. In many games they are simply fetch quests or trade quests where all that comes out of it is you getting a slightly powered up version of your current weapon which is only replaced later on by a weapon you receive in the main story. Not in Chrono Trigger. In Chrono Trigger sidequests actually provide character development, a chance to look into the lives of your allies you otherwise wouldn’t get. Lucca’s sidequest actually made me tear up, as it gave such insight into how she became the geek she is because of the tragedy she suffered in her life. Some sidequests have you putting old spirits to rest, fixing unresolved family issues, planting an entire forest, and saving the kingdom from a coup d’état! Certainly not the norm for sidequests. As a bonus these sidequests do provide weapons, however unlike other JRPGS, the most powerful weapon in the game is only available via sidequests so you had better do all of them! You also get to keep these weapons if you decide to do a new playthrough via New Game+.
Finally, let me touch upon the soundtrack. The music for this game is beautifully done, everything from the overworld song to the battle themes are memorable and the OST is certainly worth downloading. The title song “Chrono Trigger” is inspiring and fills you with both a sense of adventure and danger, integral to a good theme and whenever it starts playing you know you’ve hit another high point in the game and you won’t be stopping play for a while. “Wind Scene”, the overworld song for 600 AD, is a joy to listen to and you can hear a metronome in the background hinting at the game’s theme of time travel. Often times I would just sit in game for 5 or 10 minutes just to enjoy it playing in the background. “Lavos’ Theme” instills fear and despair as the main villain’s theme and you know that bad things are around the corner as it plays in the background. It is foreboding with its fading in and out, and contains a surprisingly nice melody in the middle. And one other notable track is “Robo Gang Johnny”, which is actually from a racing minigame found within Chrono Trigger and really conveys the idea that Johnny is a badass who is not meant to be taken lightly. (even though his followers are pretty amusing robot fanboys)
All in all, Chrono Trigger is a fantastic game that manages to deal with complex ideas like time travel and ethics in a simple, uncomplicated fashion that allows players of any age to enjoy it. The combat is tense and fulfilling, the story is intricately woven and detailed, with turns and twists that are not cliche, the music is a joy to listen to in itself, and the characters are relatable and unique, even moreso with sidequests. It is the culmination of everything amazing contained within the JRPG genre, and certainly deserves its title by many as one of the best games of all time. Now excuse me as I go to play New Game+ so I can once again save Guardia.