(First published on Gamepad Magazine, December 22nd 2010)
CHRONO TRIGGER (1995) – SQUARESOFT
Every now and again, a game will appear in the industry that can turn a genre on its head. In 1995, the RPG genre was stunned by the arrival of Chrono Trigger, a game born from a Squaresoft ‘super team’, including the creators of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, Hironobu Sakaguchi and Yuji Horii, the creator of DragonBall, Akira Toriyama, and the man behind the music of Final Fantasy, Nobuo Uematsu. Put simply, the results were spectacular.
The story starts in 1000AD, where the silent protagonist Crono and his friends Lucca and Marle attend the Millennium Fair. Unfortunately, Lucca’s dad’s invention, a teleporter, manages to send Marle back in time to 600AD. Crono and Lucca pursue her to the past, where they meet Frog (a knight of the Realm…but he’s a frog) and manage to rescue Marle. Upon returning to the present, Crono is arrested for ‘kidnapping’ Marle (who is revealed to be the Princess of Truce), but escapes and the team is transported to a barren destroyed future in 2300AD. It is here that they learn that in the year 1999AD, a giant alien creature called Lavos destroyed the world, and the team vow to prevent this act of history from happening.
Nowadays, that could probably count for an entire story, but in Chrono Trigger that is barely a fifth of the whole adventure. The team finds themselves in seven different eras of history, ranging from the pre-historic in 65,000,000BC to the End Of Time. What this allows for is some truly brilliant storytelling, with paradoxes and twists at every point in the game (that importantly make sense and fit into the chronology), all the while expanding your motley crew and preparing yourself for the final showdown with Lavos. As with Final Fantasy 6, this really is a game you have to play to appreciate just how well the story mixes different timeframes and how the characters react to different scenarios in time. For me, FF6 has the overall better story due to the extra effort put into the individual characters storylines, but this is as damn near close to perfection as you could hope for.
If the plot wasn’t good enough, the actual gameplay is where Chrono Trigger totally smashed the genre to pieces. In true RPG fashion, you will find yourself navigating the cast through a wide and varied world. Just like in Final Fantasy, the world is split into three areas: towns, where you acquire information and heal up/buy items, a world map where all the locations of the game are accessible from, and various caves, dungeons and forests where the enemies lie (and inevitably where all the goodies are kept hidden away). What differentiates Chrono Trigger is the battle system; instead of having random battles Final Fantasy-style, all the enemies are present on the field maps, and you can choose whether or not to engage with them. If you choose to do so, you will be drawn into a battle where you have four options; attack with your standard weapon, use items, run like a wuss or use Techs.
These Techs, similar to the magic spells of Final Fantasy, have a little more class about them. You do get the odd standard spell, (each character represents a different element; lightning, fire, water, healing, dark magic and so on), but then you get special attacks with different effects: for example, Crono has a skill called Cyclone, which allows him to cut multiple enemies, providing they are in range, and Frog has a skill called Frog Squash which does more damage depending on how little health he has. It lends itself to some great tactical gameplay, as you wait for your enemies to react before unleashing hell upon them. The absolute best part of the Techs though is that they can be combined with other characters to make an even more powerful attack; Lucca can shoot a burst of fire, and Crono will catch it in his Cyclone to create a Flame Whirl attack. It costs more MP to use, but it is incredibly satisfying to use these team techniques, especially later on when all three characters can combine. It’s good to see then that Squaresoft decided to fill Chrono Trigger with difficult battles to test these skills. It’s not hard in the sense that enemies have uber levels of health, but rather they have some have special attack patterns that require some thinking to get around, and overall it provides a better challenge than Final Fantasy, which can often be beaten by just spamming attack commands.
I really cannot believe that I have got this far without mentioning the time-travelling aspect of the gameplay. What it does is open up a whole new range of opportunities for the game to exploit: different enemies appear in different ages, and you can clearly see the development of time in the decisions you have to make, and how the world map greatly changes depending on what era you are in. Early on, you do not have much chance to explore, but mid-way through the game you gain access to the Epoch, an airship that can move back and forth in time at will. This then opens up all sorts of brilliant side quests and dungeons that you previously didn’t have access to. This is my absolute favourite aspect of the game: you can finish the game at several different points by going into the future and fighting Lavos, and have the ending change accordingly. Seriously, there are 12 different endings to this game. TWELVE. What this offers is tremendous replayability, as you can beat the game several times at different points in the storyline (you get the option to go fight Lavos as early as a third of the way through the game) and see the different consequences. And this was aided greatly by the introduction of the New Game+ mode, allowing you to restart with all the gear carried over from a previous game, including all the ultimate weapons if you found them. You could invest so many hours into this game that it is unreal! And if that wasn’t enough, Squaresoft decided to put in a smattering of minigames to keep you amused, including a speeder-bike race in the future era, and plenty of diversions at the Millennium Fair including a soda drinking minigame. It’s a trait that would then develop with Final Fantasy 7, so if you love the snowboarding in that game, you have Chrono Trigger to thank for it.
Graphically, Chrono Trigger is a gorgeous game. Toriyama may not be able to do many faces for characters (indeed, if you squint you could confuse Crono with Goku from Dragonball quite easily), but pretty much everything else in this game is pitch perfect: the enemies are varied, the locations are highly suitable to their time periods (for example in the prehistoric era you will be using rocks and cliffs as platforms, in the future there are lifts and sliding doors and all sorts of wonders) and the world is full of colour and detail. It is a testament that to the game that Chrono Trigger looked better on the aging SNES than most games on the newly released Playstation. It’s soundtrack, however, is not as memorable as that of Final Fantasy 6, but there is still some great music in this game. The sound effects, such as the slashing of Crono’s sword for example, for some reason seem crisper than they do in Final Fantasy 6. The boss battle theme is a personal favourite, as is the piece called The Brink Of Time, and the music that plays in the battle with Magus is a favourite amongst fans. The one thing that will always stick with me from this game though is the scream of Lavos in the final battle. Its actually quite unnerving
Chrono Trigger has often been regarded as the best RPG of them all, and it really does deserve the credit. The style, the sounds, the fantastic gameplay and storyline; very little has surpassed it. It was so popular that it has been remade on the Nintendo DS for a new generation of fans to enjoy, and I can only think as time goes on it will be regarded as a contender for perhaps the greatest game of all time.