Let me be frank.
Chrono Trigger is an excellent game. It is a cornerstone of the modern Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) and would go on to inspire countless generations of future titles. In Chrono Trigger, you will discover the origins of mechanics, story concepts, and visual designs that have been refined and built upon for more than two decades.
So why does this blog post exist?
The simplest explanation I can offer is that this entire site is for me, as a way to mark the games I've played, my feelings on them, and where I was and what I was doing when I completed them. Having a little one has forced me to make hard choices where I invest my hobby time, and so being able to play Chrono Trigger on my 3DS during my lunch breaks is a way of indulging in video games.
I was painting the second wave of my Orlock gang (more on that later, eventually) when I discovered an excellent long-form piece by Josh Strife Hayes.
In a catch-22 scenario, I wish I hadn't watched this video before I played the game, but if I didn't watch the video, I wouldn't have played the game. When I was little, I played through Chrono Trigger on an emulator, but got stuck in the future before the game really got going.
Nevertheless I downloaded a ROM of Chrono Trigger (because bollocks to spending $250 on a physical copy of the game) and started hacking away at it during my lunch breaks. But it was so good I inevitably ended up playing it at home, on the couch, with Spike in my lap. It was an incredibly peaceful and enjoyable experience, and even thinking about it whilst writing this article made me happy.
There's not much to write about Chrono Trigger that hasn't already been covered. In fact, Zero Punctuation's Yahtzee was forced to cover it by the generous donors to the Escapist Patreon, and so it's absolutely been cut up and done to death - so there's very little merit in cutting up and deconstructing the game in this article.
Chrono Trigger feels very complete as an experience. The combat, story, visuals and music tie together perfectly, and the gameplay is just deep enough through it's RPG elements.
In broad strokes, the game starts with a tight focus on two characters. Lucca, the inventor's daughter, and Marle, the princess. Crono, the player character, is the self-insert, and thus doesn't count. He is the vehicle through which the story of Chrono Trigger is explored.
As to be expected with a video game titled after the Greek god of time, the plot involves time travel and its consequences. As you progress through the story, you learn more about the world, it's inhabitants, and the cataclysmic event that changed the world.
And lo, the meme of "using the power of friendship to kill god" was born.
Along the way you'll be treated to touching moments of character development, high drama, unexpected twists, and just about everything in between. The overarching storyline of "work to prevent the apocalypse" ties everything together well. The player knows they're always working toward that goal - the path may divert for subplots, or side quests, but the time travel elements of the game stop these diversions from causing the player to think they're durdling about whilst the big bad's plan stays in perpetual motion.
As a way to drive the vehicle of gameplay, it's... good. It's not perfect, however.
To understand why it's not perfect, we have to talk about the characters, combat, and RPG elements that underpin gameplay.
Chrono Trigger uses a psuedo-turnbased system where characters have an action bar. When the bar fills up, they can take an action, or use an ability. If multiple characters have a full action bar, you can combine the actions of two, or even three characters to produce a powerful combination ability.
(Editor's Note: The Steam version of Chrono Trigger has the default combat speed set very high. This is good for experienced players, but it is not so good for the casual fan. The good news is that you can turn it down, and I would recommend doing so.)
You can have three members in your party at any given time. When you get more than three, your extra party members will hang out off-screen in video game purgatory. Initially, you must include Crono in your party, and often the game will contrive a reason for you to include a character - often as the story involves that character heavily, and they need to be there. Ayla in pre-historic times is a good example.
This presents a pretty big problem for the story.
In his review, Josh Strife Hayes notes how you learn the motivations and character flaws of the additional six party members. I don't mind telling you, I have no way of figuring out how he did that.
Characters who aren't in your party don't get any development - they sit off screen and gain experience, so the pace of the game doesn't snap in two when you need to tag an interchange character. But by the same token, they're not present in the story - only the three characters in your party are.
Some characters do get better backstories and development than others. Frog, for example, is well fleshed out, and we have a firm understanding of who he is, what happened to him, and what his motivations are. His subplot at the end of the game gives him closure, and is a genuinely touching moment. But he is the exception.
Characters are introduced, added to your party and then shipped off to the end of time, never to be seen again.
As is explained by Yahtzee, the first chapter of the game is well constructed. Crono, Lucca, Marle and Frog all play a role - and when one character needs to be subbed out, it feels natural and makes sense. We don't lose sight of any one of these characters.
But then as soon as that chapter is completed, the game takes an awkward right turn into what is very clearly "the rest of the game". Characters go from all being present, to sharing screen time. Crono remains the vehicle, but all the other main characters lose the development that would add the extra layer of stakes and immersion to the story.
Late into the game, you do gain access to optional sub plots for each of the characters. Some of these are very touching, and help develop party members. Frog's subplot is particularly well written, and makes you wonder what could've been if everyone had the same level of attention that Frog did.
Despite these gripes, I enjoyed my time with Chrono Trigger. At no point, beginning to end, did I ever feel like my time was being wasted, or what I was doing wasn't meaningful.
One day I'll have to play through new game plus.
Catch you next time,
Critical Information Summary:
Review Platform: 3DS
Developer: Tose Software
Publisher: Square Enix
Cost (At Time of Publish): Varies - second hand market only
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