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The Essentials – Chrono Trigger

by Kimberley Wallace on Aug 22, 2015 at 09:30 AM

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Welcome to another installment of The Essentials, our weekly feature that showcases the finest games to grace our interactive medium. These games have set a high bar, and can be considered "required reading" for any video game fan. We've already looked at a slew of memorable titles such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, BioShock, Doom, Final Fantasy VII, and more

This weekend, we're looking at one of the industry's most beloved role-playing games: Chrono Trigger.

Release Year: 1995
Publisher: Square
Developer: Square
Released For: SNES, PS1, Nintendo DS, Wii (VC), iOS, Android

Trailer for the Nintendo DS version

Released in 1995 for the Super Nintendo, Chrono Trigger's development "Dream Team" was a who's who of RPG development. It included the grandmasters of the Japanese RPG, Dragon Quest's Yuji Horii and Final Fantasy's Hironobu Sakaguchi, as well as Dragon Ball designer Akira Toriyama and maestro Nobuo Uematsu (working with a rookie composer named Yasunori Mitsuda). Together, this team developed what is now known as one of the best RPGs of not just the 16-bit era, but of all time.

You can name any number of RPGs that introduced important innovations to the genre. Chrono Trigger didn't change the direction of RPGs, but it had some interesting ideas that enhanced them. Things like double and triple-techs were novel, and the New Game+ feature was incredibly impressive but those weren't the hallmarks of Chrono Trigger. Rather, this game remarkable for its ability to hit every note as high as possible.

Chrono Trigger has you saving the future from the scourge of catastrophic creature called Lavos. Along the way, you collect a rag-tag bunch of heroes in an adventure spanning from pre-history to "the end of time". Crono visits locales like 65,000,000 B.C., a hot world filled with jungles, volcanoes, and dinosaurs. In 12,000 B.C., Crono visits the floating kingdom of Zeal, constructed using the help of magic. Despite the fact that each "world" is the same physical place, the differences in time make them all feel unique.

Time travel fits so well into the exploration and stoyline that it feels like the scenario designers thought of everything. At one point, the party comes across the moon stone, a dull rock that has the ability to be the sun stone...assuming it's charged. Since you have a time machine, you may think you can just charge the stone in the sun over the course of millions of years, but the answer isn't that simple. When you try that solution, you return to the future to find the stone gone. However, the mayor's house in 1000 A.D. sparkles with a shining light. Unfortunately, the mayor refuses to tell you anything. You can only find what you seek when you do a favor for one of the mayor's ancestors in 600 A.D., who then promises to teach her children to be charitable. Return to the future, and the mayor is much kinder and allows you to retrieve the fully charged stone.

The fantastic cast is also changed by your journey through time. Every character – from the brilliant Lucca to the valorous-to-a-fault Frog, sees things change in the winds of time. They all have lessons to learn : Robo works tirelessly for 400 years to turn a desert into a forest, learning about humanity and growth. History can even be changed – be it saving Crono from a terrible fate or simply changing things so that Lucca's mother can walk around again. Through these changes (combined with the New Game+ system) Chrono Trigger introduces one of its greatest aspects: multiple endings.

Unlike many of the multiple ending we see in games, Chrono Trigger's aren't simple variations based on the small choices you've made. Instead, how and when you beat the game becomes even more important. With New Game+, you can challenge Lavos at any point, and your progress in the story when you face the beast is what determines which ending sequence you see. They range from bad (Lavos destroys the world and the message "But... the future refused to change" flashes on the screen) to strange (if you win multiple cats at the fair, Crono's mom will chase them all into a time gate) to cool (one ending has you talking to avatars of the developers of the game in a special room).

All of this cool stuff doesn't even to take into consideration the meat of Chrono Trigger's gameplay: the combat. You don't have to put up with random encounters; turn-based, active-time battles occur in the same space you are exploring. Characters have basic attacks, but also learn unique techs, which includes magic spells and special maneuvers. In a fun twist, party members can work together and combine various techs for even more versatility. For example, the ability "Antipode" results when the characters who know ice and fire spells join forces. Frog and Crono combine their sword slashes for "X-Strike." It goes beyond dual techs, too; three characters can team up for visually impressive triple techs that are ridiculously powerful and visually impressive. Executing these moves can be a bit of a gamble, since you need to let enemies attack as all of your party members' battle gauges fill, but the payoff is well worth it.

Aesthetically, Chrono Trigger was breathtaking for its time. The sprites are big and environments are vibrant, and even hold up well today. The anime cutscenes introduced with the PS1 version of the game manage to put Akira Toriyama's designs front-and-center. Composer Yasunori Mitsuda's gambit (telling Square executives that he needed to compose a game or he would quit) paid off, because Chrono Trigger's soundtrack is one of the most memorable in any video game. Tracks like Robo's Theme and Frog's Theme perfectly encapsulate the characters. 

Chrono Trigger introduced many novel concepts with time travel, multiple endings, and New Game+. Even more than that, every pore of the game oozed quality and thought; each piece fit with every other with laser precision. When you go back and play your favorite games of yore, most of them have glaring issues with their user interface or just don't feel they way they once did. Chrono Trigger is not one of those games. Despite being nearly two decades old, the "Dream Team" crafted a game that stands the test of time.

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