Welcome to week one of Re-Play! A ten-week series where we go look back in time to visit some of the greatest games of the past, give them an honest review, and see how well they still hold up today! This week we are traveling back to 1995 to take a glance at a legendary RPG which is still beloved by many: Chrono Trigger.
In the 1990’s Square was the leading 3rd party developer of role-playing games for the Super Nintendo. Although they are now famous for their Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger was arguably Square’s greatest success of the generation. This was largely due to the “Dream Team” they assembled to lead the development. Square brought Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the Final Fantasy Series; Yuji Hori, who helped design and create the Dragon Quest series; and the legendary manga artist Akira Toriyama, famed for his work on the Dragon Ball series together to help design and create the characters and story. The now-legendary video game composers Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobou Uematsu, of Final Fantasy fame, worked together to create a beautiful soundtrack which managed to portray multiple emotions and set the various scenes perfectly; even with the Super Nintendo’s limited systems.
There is no single aspect of this game that makes it great. The story begins cliché enough, with a small town boy named Crono waking up to go to the local fair to see his friend, and then bad stuff happens. Crono then begins a truly epic journey through time, with the ultimate goal of saving the world. Along the way, multiple unique and well-written characters are recruited including a cavewoman, a robot, and an anthropomorphic frog who is also a knight. Traveling through time with this cast of characters helps keeps the story interesting, as well as almost constantly introducing the player to new plotlines and characters while at the same time not becoming convoluted and confusing like most time travel stories tend to do.
Let’s talk about the time travel for a second. Chrono Trigger’s main and side quests almost always revolve around traveling to one of the games seven different time periods such as 65,000,000 BC, the middle ages, and the far future. The amazing thing about these quests, however, is how the other time periods can drastically change based on your actions in the past. The game also has 13 different endings to the story, which can only be accessed by choosing to fight the final boss at various points in the main story.
The combat utilizes a turn-based battle system like most Square games of this era, but Chrono Trigger has its own twists added to it. Firstly, no battles are random, as you initiate battle by approaching enemies on the map. The characters all have unique special attacks, which can (almost)always be combined with the attacks of other party members for devastating effects.
One of the hated aspects of most Super Nintendo Square games, especially the Final Fantasy series, is that usually there are massive difficulty spikes in the game which usually require players to grind to become strong enough to progress in the main story. However Chrono Trigger is excellently paced, and grinding is never required throughout the main story. Due to the fact that there are no random battles, you usually must fight every enemy in your way to progress. These fights give you experience at the perfect rate so that by the time you reach the next boss fight, you are strong enough to defeat them; once you figure out how that is. This leads to a fluid game-play experience in which you never feel under or overpowered, while still allowing boss fights to be challenging. By taking away this stressor of knowing you do not have to spend the time to grind, you can enjoy the main story and the side-quests.
The side-quests are also masterfully crafted in this game. Most games have side-quests as filler; whether that is a fetch-quest or traveling from point A to point B to speak to someone multiple times. The purpose of such quests is usually to pad the playtime of the game or help characters level up to make them stronger. However, we’ve already established that you don’t need to do that in Chrono Trigger. So then why do these side-quests exist?
The answer is that they exist to help expand the main narrative and to show the player character development of the main party members. Having these plot and character-driven sidequests genuinely make the player want to complete these optional quests, as the reward of more story is always worth their time. Every optional quest in this game helps grow the world and the characters that are in it, leading to some very interesting and powerful story arcs.
How Does it Hold Up?
Although Chrono Trigger was first released 23 years ago, this time travel game has stood the test of time. This largely lies in part to its masterfully crafted story, music, and art style. The combat system is so unique, while simultaneously being challenging and fun. If you are even a casual fan of RPGs, this is definitely a game which you should treat yourself to playing if you have not already. If you have in the past, maybe it is time to revisit this beautiful world. After all, Chrono Trigger has shown us that many great things can come from the past.