In 1995, Japanese game developer Square created was they considered their “Dream Team”. How individuals such as these came together to form one game is still impressive to this day. Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy and recent receiver of the Lifetime Achievement Award for gaming, lead designing. The creator of Dragon Quest, Yuji Horii, despite being considered a competitor for Final Fantasy, was there for writing. Akira Toriyama, world renowned as the creator Dragon Ball, created the artwork. Highly respected composers Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu (a Final Fantasy veteran himself) crafted the soundtrack. So much raw talent, working in conjunction towards a common goal. It is really a surprise that the fruit of their labor is regarded as one of the finest games to ever exist, now a full 20 years later? Not in the slightest.
Chrono Trigger really is a one-in-a-million game, and that’s not just because the individuals behind it are geniuses. It’s one of those games that is perfect in nearly every capacity. This is in despite of its pretty obvious RPG tropes. Your main character, Crono, is the silent protagonist. Your main objective is to save the world from an intergalactic evil that no one else can defeat except your core group of characters. You fight monsters around a vast world map, you travel through dungeons to fight bosses, and frequently deal with treacherous people in power. In those respects, Chrono Trigger wasn’t unique.
Where it did differ though, and this made all the difference, was how the story itself played out. It was a time-traveling journey that brought you back to the prehistoric era and forward into the distant future ravaged by Lavos in 1999 AD. You first begin in the year 1000 AD with Chrono and his two companions Marle and Lucca attending a joyous town fair. When one of Lucca’s inventions reacts negatively to Marle’s necklace, the trio is thrust back 400 years where they have to stop a royal kidnapping that would, ultimately, phase Marle out of existence. Once done there, they bounced up to the year 2300 AD, a post-apocalyptic wasteland where they meet Robo, another ally. It’s there that they learn about how Lavos ravaged the world and make it their goal to stop it. This definitive purpose sends them through other periods of time, witnessing the various steps Lavos took to gain power. Along the way they meet two other powerful allies, warrior chief Ayla from 65,000,000 BC and human-turned-frog knight Frog from 600 AD. You can also later recruit Magus, a dark wizard who plays an antagonistic role for most of the game. Together these heroes, separated by centuries, come together to save their one world from ultimate annihilation.
Now I know that seems like a lot, and in a way it really is. Chrono Trigger‘s main story is incredibly rich. Yet that barely scratches the surface of what the game has to offer. A huge point of praise is its focus on character development. Everyone on your roster has their own hopes and dreams for the future, along with personal demons that hold them back. During your quest to destroy Lavos, you work through those individual problems to see the power that lies within. Magus, who spends most of the game as a vile antagonist and rival to the honorable Frog, is especially redeemed when you learn about his trauma brought on by Lavos. You also have why these characters are together in the first place. They’re all from different centuries, yet are joined because they’re the only ones who can save their one world from destruction. This leads to a much more compelling narrative than a typical RPG with characters from different communities.
Chrono Trigger is also very well known for it’s multiple endings. There are several different ways you can save the world, and some where you just don’t. Really, if you fail to beat Lavos, you watch the world end and that’s it. The game ends with the understanding that the future can never be changed. Beating Lavos nets you many different endings, and you can get to Lavos through 6 different ways. One of the more humorous finales can only come in New Game Plus where a teleporter to Lavos becomes available at the very beginning of the game. If you can somehow defeat it, you get the Developers Ending where you meet game versions of everyone on staff. You even get to meet the aforementioned Dream Team. It’s silly, but a very integral part of Chrono Trigger‘s mythology.
Chrono Trigger‘s gameplay is stellar too. On the surface you have beautiful graphics that use the Super Nintendo to its highest potential. Everything about the game flows smoothly and the transitions into battle are nearly seamless. Speaking of battle, the combat is impeccably done. You control each character like a normal RPG, but the depth comes with how your fighters can work as a team. There are several different combinations of double or triple attacks, called Techs, that can only come from specific character pairings. Crono and Frog, for example, can do a joint X-Strike while Marle and Robo can execute an Ice Tackle. Triple Techs are much stronger, and typically always involve Crono since he’s almost permanently on your team. My personal favorite is Arc Impulse, delivered by Crono, Frog, and Marle (my typical trio), but any attack is equally devastating.
A video game’s soundtrack is frequently the most understated factor. Some people don’t even consider it “real music.” Chrono Trigger is an example that can always prove them wrong. The soundtrack, composed by Yasunori Mitsuda and finished by Nobuo Uematsu when the former became ill, is phenomenal. It easily ranks as one of the greats. Every track perfectly sets the mood of your particular situation and turns the game into a very aural experience. When Crono, Marle, and Lucca attend the Millennial Fair in 1000 AD, the music is jubilant. It should be too because this era is very peaceful. Once you go to 600 AD, a time period of war, the music takes a much darker tone. It follows that format throughout. Each major battle is introduced with a sweeping composition, making you feel the real weight behind it, and the victory fanfare is iconic and wonderful. The final fight against Lavos is appropriately intense too, with the epic score really selling that this is the battle that determines history.
I’m sure you have already guessed this by now, but I absolutely love Chrono Trigger. Everything about this game ranks near the top of my personal favorite’s list. The music especially has stuck with me for the longest time. Since Chrono Trigger came out in 1995, well before I owned a Super Nintendo, I didn’t experience it in the original form. Of course, when the game quickly rose to legendary status, everyone talked about it the moment I said I loved Final Fantasy VII. “Oh you think that game is good? Chrono Trigger is infinitely better. It’s the best ever,” they said. Personal reasons give FFVII a leg up in my eyes, but when I experienced Chrono Trigger on the PlayStation re-release, I was blown away. The high quality was impeccable. This is the standard of JRPG excellence.
The industry has changed a lot in 20 years. Video game consoles are hardly about video games anymore. They’re multimedia devices that are supposed to take over your living room. The computer power of games is unbelievable now too. Yet despite all of the flair and improvements, Chrono Trigger still reigns supreme. It’s as timeless as the characters. The reputation this game has received over the years is unmatched, and will likely never get topped by anything else.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.