I wrote a Chrono Trigger review about seven years ago, and to be honest, it was a lousy review. Actually, pretty much all the reviews from 2005 weren't exactly New Yorker material, but this one especially was grinding my gears. Having gone back and played Chrono Trigger from start to finish yet again, I decided it was time to make things right. It's time to grab Robo by the proverbial testicles and come out swinging. THIS is the Chrono Trigger review that should have been.
Chrono Trigger has been touted by a select few as the greatest game of all time. I like to call this group "RPG fanatics". After a playthrough in 2012, it's extremely difficult to argue with them about how evolutionary it was by comparison to its brethren on the SNES at the time (and yes, the Sega Genesis as well, even though it was far behind on the RPG train). I say "evolutionary" rather than "revolutionary" because it is, at heart, a turn-based RPG similar to other games of its time. Chrono Trigger offered a bit more genuinely real-time battles where enemies would attack you whether you were ready to take your turn or not, causing your party to perish if you thought you could leave for a few minutes to make a sandwich. They were still turn-based, but you needed to wait for a meter to fill before you could take your next turn (as, likely, the enemy did without you noticing).
We find ourselves in a story unlike many others in the world of RPGs. Starting in 1000 AD, you play the pivotal role an average person that unknowingly falls into a quest which transcends time! After picking up a cute girl at the local Millennial Fair, an event which only seems to pop up once every thousand years, by jove, you come to your friend Lucca's newest invention at the fair: a machine capable of transferring matter from one platform to another, basically a makeshift transporter. In 1000 AD, this must have been beyond impressive. The test, involving our hero Crono, is successful, but when that cute girl (later determined to be the princess of the land) decided to give the machine a while, it reacts strongly to her pendant and she ends up disappearing into a strange portal. Though this is frightening for all, Crono steps up to the plate and become a man when he decided to go in after her. The rest is history... as well as the future, since Crono gets more than he bargains for as his quest becomes far deeper than a mere princess rescue mission.
Character development seems to be a key factor in Chrono Trigger. Given the technological limitations of the SNES, it's a wonder that we can learn so much about each party member (seven in all). Flashbacks are a rarity (and in a game about time, that's shocking), so we learn everything we need to know based on conversation. Considering the main character, Crono, is mute the whole time, he has to work extra diligently to show off his persona. Even non-playable characters turn out to be quite memorable, including Melchior the "legendary" blacksmith, the crazy Chancellor of Guardia Castle, and the weird warped trio of Ozzie, Flea, and Slash (sounds like a collective of hard rockers... hey, wait a second...), all of whom have very distinct and forward personalities.
Robo Arigato, Mr. Roboto! Robo! Robo! ...no?
In fact, the actual story and characters in this menagerie of time-traveling mirth seem to overshadow the gameplay itself at times, even when it is clearly at the forefront. I remember Chrono Trigger for its endearing atmosphere as much as for its many forays to various locales for battle. But the gameplay itself should serve as the testament behind the infinite positive reviews behind the game. Fighting enemies is a quicker affair than other RPGs here. There are no random encounters; you connect with the enemy as you traverse dungeons, caves, mountains, etc., and that scene is your battleground. The switch between exploration and engagement is a fluid one; as soon as you find yourself up against a nasty foe, your blade is unsheathed and you go at it. It's simple and effective, although because of a lack of random encounters, level-grinding in a particular area can be a bit more time-consuming, given the limited number of enemies roaming around at any given time.
There's most assuredly no shortage of magic spells or what they commonly refer to as "techs" here. After most battles, on-screen party members (not the ones sitting on the sidelines, unfortunately, though they still get a good chunk of experience points) earn Tech Points, which go towards learning new special abilities for use in battle. Double and Triple Techs are also available for study, which involve two or three party members, respectively, in tandem. Arc Impulse, as an adamantine example, involves party members Crono, Marle, and Frog combining their powers at one time for the ultimate in frozen slashery! Double and Triple Techs can only be learned when all three of the necessary characters are in the main party. Magic can be essential to survival, though physical attacks are far from a slouch. As well, there will be plenty of weapons, decadent armors, helmets, and stat-boosting accessories to assist in improving your party's chances for success. Nothing can replace the ancient art of RPG level-grinding, however, and the results of doing so will easily be reflected in your abilities against the enemy. You can earn plenty of those coveted Tech Points that way!
Without a doubt, I can describe Chrono Trigger as being pictoresque. This game pushed the SNES to the max with a variety of majestic locales that are simply dripping with detail. From the quaint houses of the various towns to the dingy, mold-infested domes of future generations, from the volcanic peaks of prehistoric times to the sunset-capped bridge where soldiers have fallen... all of these areas, as a small sample of examples, show the heart of the art direction in Chrono Trigger, boasting vibrant colours (or an absence of vibrancy, as the setting warrants) and a high amount of detail. All of the characters are well-animated (your party members will have no shortage of interesting poses), boasting the charm of legendary character creator Akira Toriyama. And, of course, special effects are abundant. Triggering magic spells and tech moves usually lead to some appealing eye candy. The effects may not be as impressive today, but for a SNES game, they were something remarkable.
The musical composer team of Yasunori Mitsuda and, as a result of an unfortunate ulcer, the unforgetable Nobuo Uematsu, have created a masterpiece with their score. The music helps to add an atmospheric cloak upon the game's various scenarios and adds to the tension, the joy, and the pure emotion that surrounds the plot at any given time. Every song can instantly fill the player with a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, a connection with the game that could not be achieved while mute. This could very well be one of the most engaging soundtracks I have heard for a video game yet, and no track gets old. The sound effects are also sometimes interesting, if not a bit flaky on occasion. I suppose given the limited audio chip in the SNES, attempting to churn out convincing metallic clankery and prehistoric growlage can only yield mild results.
Chrono Trigger was featured as one of the two games in Final Fantasy Chronicles for the PlayStation, even though it is not a Final Fantasy game. (It was just convenient, considering it had already been ported to PlayStation over a year earlier.) This version was enhanced to include animated cutscenes and a full animated introduction, both prepared by designer Akira Toriyama. Other added features included unlockable movies and audio tracks, a gallery, and a listing of all possible endings. These would be made available when the player achieves specific endings for each unlockable feature, which means you will have to beat the game many times to attain all the extras. There is also one additional ending unique to this port. The game itself is entirely intact, but it actually feels inferior due to the outrageous loading times between areas, before and after each battle (even though no transition to a different screen is required), and especially when accessing the menu screen.
Chrono Trigger still stands as the epitome of RPGs in the 16-bit era. It heralds from a simpler time when monster collection or excessive customization weren't such common commodities. It may also have been the first RPG to have more than one ending... or more than ten, as the case may be. Instead, Chrono Trigger stands as royalty in the realms of storytelling, character arcs, and classic RPG gameplay. Fans of RPGs should not miss out on what many consider to be the pinnacle of the genre, and those who don't normally venture this way in their gaming time should seriously reconsider, as they are missing out on a true gaming masterpiece and one of the finest digital art pieces of all time.
There, that's better.