There was a time when I had one top game of all time. You would ask me what was the best game I ever played, and I would point to one cartridge on the SNES that ate up more of my time than any other. This game more than any made me an RPG fan, and I always felt it was the crown jewel of Square Enix (just Square at the time), and not the Final Fantasy games.
That game is Chrono Trigger.
Now, there are 5 games I list as the best I have ever played, but even some 14 years after it made its debut on the SNES, Chrono Trigger is still on that short list.
So why does this game stand out so much in my mind? The answer is easy. Chrono Trigger manages to be something many other RPGs have tried to be and failed: epic.
How I got hooked
As I have mentioned before, I did not own an SNES during its popular time period. In fact, until I got the Dreamcast, I never 0wned a console in its current generation, and even then I got it after the release of the PS2. My cousin did have one, though, and I spent many a night over at his place playing it since he lived near Arizona State, where I was attending college.
I do not remember why my cousin chose to buy Chrono Trigger. He tended to try and stay up on gaming news, and he had read something somewhere about it that really had caught his interest. Still, neither of us really knew much about it. It did not take long for him to start telling me I had to play it, however. So, one day while I was over there, I started a new game, with him watching and offering advice from time to time.
Everything seems kind of bland…till Marle vanishes.
I remember not being all that impressed at first. Here you are, this character named Crono, wandering aimlessly around the Millennial Fair. Sure, you bump into Marle and you battle a training robot, but it’s just not that exciting. Then you are informed that your friend Lucca is ready to demonstrate her newest invention, so you and Marle go to see it.
Turns out Lucca is a genius, and she has created a teleport pad. Crono steps into the pad on the left hand side, Lucca and her father flip a few switches, and presto, he appears on the other padon the right. Marle decides she wants to try as well, but something happens. The pendant she is wearing starts to glow, and Marle disappears, leaving it behind. Crono decides he has to go after her, only to find himself back in time 400 years, trying to save Marle’s ancestor so she will not vanish from time.
At that point, I was hooked.
Truly Epic Story
One area many RPGs fail is their storylines just tend to fall flat. Chrono Trigger in no way falls prey to this. As you and your ever growing team (you can get up to 7, though only 3 can be a part of your party at any given time) travel through time, you begin to understand that the whole world is in danger thanks to the nightmare that is Lavos. You must move around through time, completing different quests in different areas to try and find out what if anything can be done to stop this menace.
So you have multiple story threads being woven together through different eras in the game, but that is not all. Square did such a great job of breathing life into every main character in the game, especially your team members. Crono never actually talks in the game, and yet it quickly becomes evident that he is a truly brave warrior willing to lay down his life for his friends. Marle is actually the princess of the kingdom of Gardia, but she prefers to spend her time away from the castle in defiance of her father. Lucca is a brilliant inventor who has been at least somewhat shunned by those who do not understand her. Frog, an adventurer from the past who was turned into a frog-man by a powerful sorcerer, blames himself for the death of his friend Cyrus, the hero of Gardia. Heck, even the cave girl Ayla and Robo the robot from the future are not 2d characters.
An epic storyline and unique combat make Chrono Trigger a must own for RPG fans.
Oh, and I know I said there were 7 possible characters. It’s just for the sake of those of you who have not played the game yet, I do not want to tell you who the 7th is. Trust me when I say he has quite the back story.
So, you have a great plot that spans several eras, characters you grow to care about throughout the game, and one major turning point in the game that not only grabs you but changes the game completely. Like I said, this story is just flat out epic.
Reinventing Turn Bassed Combat
The story is not the only thing that will impress you about Chrono Trigger. The game was truly revolutionary, introducing several of the conventions that are now used in RPGs, especially those that have stuck to the turn based model.
As I said earlier, you control a party of 3 characters at a time. In combat, these three have speed ratings that determine how quickly they will be able to make their attacks. Once the meter fills, you can choose your next move, but choose quickly because the enemy can attack as you make your decision (you can turn the active battle system off so that enemies wait for you to make your decision, but what is the fun in that?).
Seems simple enough, right? Well, at its base, it is, but then there is Tech. Tech is your special attacks and magic. Using Tech will use up magic points, which you have to refill with ethers as per normal RPG rules. Here’s where things get interesting, though. You see, you have 3 levels of Tech. The first level is performed by the person you are controlling. Then there is Double Tech, in which 2 characters team up to attack. For example, Lucca controls fire, and one of her Double Tech attacks is to throw flame onto Crono’s sword so he can do both physical and fire damage to the opponent. Then there is Triple Tech, where all three combine their efforts. The problem is you cannot pull off Double or Triple Tech unless every character involved can make a move at that time.
So what does that mean? It means combat, especially in the latter stages of the game, becomes a balancing act where you are constantly having to decide if it is better to attack with the character who is ready now or wait for the others to perform more powerful combined attacks. This strategic gameplay really helps separate Chrono Trigger from the more standard fare of turn based RPGs.
Oh, then there’s the New Games +.
Just how many endings are there to this game?
Depending on the choices you make and side quests you complete before facing Lavos, you will get several different slight variations of the ending of the game. After it is all done, you are given the chance to start the game over with your leveled up characters and equipment. This New Game + feature may be a mainstay in games now, but it was a relatively new concept when it was done in this game.
The thing is this feature is not just a nice little addition that in the end does not really amount to much. There are 13 unique endings in Chrono Trigger. Which one you get depends directly on when you beat Lavos. You see, from the very beginning of the game, you can go directly to the final fight with the ultimate evil by going to the left teleport pad instead of the right, which means you will face it with only Crono and Marle. If you do not have the 2 of them seriously powered up, you will not last long in that battle. If you do manage to beat it, you will be able to tour through different parts of the game, talking to NPCs who represet the game designers saying things like “You never even got to the part I created.”
These graphics on an SNES were just startling.
So how different are these endings? Some of them are radically different. For example, Frog may turn back into a human, or the world may be run by reptiles. It’s all up to you and when you choose to beat Lavos.
So you have a great storyline, phenomenal gameplay and major replayability. Add to that graphics that were unrivaled by anything on the SNES, and you have the makings of one of the most popular RPGs ever. So popular, in fact, that it was released on both the Playtation and the Nintendo DS. There is also a “sequel” on the Playstaion called Chrono Cross, but it can hardly be called a true sequel. Sure, it is a good game in its own right, but it is only loosely connected to the original and does not carry over the use of Tech.
So, you’ve decided you want to play the game, and now you just want to know which version to play? Well, avoid the Playstation one at all costs; the load times will frustrate you to no end. Really, the DS version is the best, with the inclusion of the anime cut scenes from the Paystation version, a few new features and a new, improved localization of the game.
As I said earlier, this game is just truly Epic. There is no other way to describe it. Chrono Trigger gets a 5 out of 5.
Just 2 more reviews to go.