Yes, I know I’m almost two days late on this but I still want to take a moment to celebrate the US birthday of Chrono Trigger which came out on August 22, 1995.
I’m not going to introduce you all to the game since, frankly, if you are reading this relatively obscure gaming blog and aren’t aware of Chrono Trigger, well… congratulations on finding this site! I guess… The point is, anyone who is familiar with video games and has even a passing interest in RPGs has heard about Chrono Trigger ad nauseum. “It’s the best SNES RPG.” “No, it’s the best RPG.” “NO! It’s the best game EVARRRRR!!!!”
The point that we can pretty much all agree on is that Chrono Trigger is a well done game. If you haven’t played it, do yourself a favor and go play it. Unlike 10 years ago when I tried desperately to get my hands on a copy, it’s pretty easy to find now. It’s out for the Playstation, DS and even mobile devices. All of them are good versions, too.
But why is it such a big deal? For that, you have to understand the gaming landscape of the time. We were nearing the end of the 16-bit era. The Playstation was set to release only two weeks after Chrono Trigger came out. Everyone was ready for the advent of 3D gaming!
But still, we were in a world where the most prevalent genre by far was the side-scrolling platformer. Games often involved moving from left to right until you reached the end and got to the next level. 10 levels later, you were done. Sure you had some more complicated games than that but those were the minority. If you look at the top 10 best-selling games for the SNES, six of them are 2D side-scrollers, either platformers or fighting games. In fact, only two of them are RPGs and one of those (Dragon Quest VI) never came out in the US.
Most gamers were fine with that but many were hoping for something deeper. Sure, by that point, we had gotten great games like Final Fantasy VI, Illusion of Gaia, Earthbound and plenty of others but RPGs still had a long way to go to catch up to some of the amazing things seen on the PC. That’s the change that Chrono Trigger brought to the table.
Random battles had always been tedious so that is the first thing that the Dream Team eliminated from Chrono Trigger. Monsters could be seen on the world map and battles took place where they started, not off in some arbitrary battle screen. This helped make players feel like they were a part of something real, not just grinding for the sake of leveling up.
Chrono Trigger’s defining time-travel mechanic allowed for involved side quests that meant more to the player than simply looting a cave and bringing back a trinket for a random NPC. Who could forget Robo staying behind in the past to rebuild a forest for 400 years until his friends find him again in the present. It’s a moving quest and the emotions I felt finishing it meant a lot more to me than the item I got for finishing it. Each side quest brings new depth to the interesting characters that join your party and nothing ever feels frivolous.
The battle system is based on Final Fantasy’s ATB system but adds a new twist with Techniques. Techs are basically the character’s special attacks but the cool thing is that along with Single Techs, you also get Double and even Triple Techs which allow characters to combine their moves for even greater effects. Not only is this a cool battle mechanic but it makes your party feel that much more connected. The game can tell us that Crono and Frog get along but seeing them do an X-Slash together shows us more than the words can ever say. The best part is that it all feels organic within the game, not even needing a cut-scene to show us that these people are friends.
That all would be enough to make an RPG into a classic but Chrono Trigger went a step further, too, and added a system that is still used in games today: New Game +. By playing through the game, you unlock New Game + which lets you start over with all of your leveled up characters. It’s a common idea to gamers now but Chrono Trigger was the first to implement a system like this and they did it for a purpose. With your leveled up characters, you can take advantage of the bucket at the End of Time and fight Lavos at any point during the story. Beating him at different points will give you a different ending, of which there are 12 main endings (DS and mobile ports have a 13th) that each have conditions within them that change depending on your actions. This amount of content was unheard of for the time. While multiple endings had existed before, usually it was no more complicated than a good ending and a bad ending.
Those are just some things that Chrono Trigger brought to the gaming landscape that hadn’t been done before. That’s not even addressing the beautiful sprite-work, the catchy music (I still wake up each day to the main theme from Chrono Trigger), the lovable characters, the moving storyline and the fun gameplay. That’s not bringing up the meaningful choices that you had throughout the game like picking one character over another halfway through. That’s not bringing up the great genre reflection the game brought by putting you on trial for common RPG actions. That’s not bringing up the shocking moments like killing off the main character of the game.
Chrono Trigger didn’t just revolutionize RPGs, it revolutionized gaming overall. Which makes it all the crazier that the game never got a direct sequel. Of course, it got Chrono Cross, a phenomenal game in it’s own right, but it’s beyond argument that Chrono Cross has very little in common with Chrono Trigger. We’ve had spiritual successors like the recent I am Setsuna but the Dream Team never got back together again after Chrono Trigger. Maybe that’s for the best. How could anyone ever one-up perfection?