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Why We Love Chrono Trigger After 20 Years

by Kyle Hilliard on Aug 22, 2015 at 09:00 AM

Chrono Trigger celebrates its 20 year anniversary today. It's a game that has aged incredibly well despite not being old enough to buy alcohol. The combat, the story, the music, and the characters all feel fresh and interesting even after all this time, and a few of the editors here at Game Informer got together to explain why.

The Combat
Too many games shoehorn players into de facto pre-configured parties even if they nominally allow you to choose which characters to take along. Bring all your heavy melee bruisers at your own risk – next time an evasion-heavy monster shows up you'll be feeling the pain. Chrono Trigger, through exquisite character design, gives players the option to bring whomever they want whenever they want and not suffer for it. The distribution of different damage types, recovery and support abilities, and ranges across the entire roster means that a Crono/Frog/Ayala combo can be just as effective as a more balanced Crono/Luca/Magus loadout.

This design is great not only for flavor reasons, but for messing around in the combat sandbox as well. Every time you get a new party member, the process of discovering which of their team attacks fit your playstyle or open up entirely new tactics is a thrill.

Some teams may not be perfectly ideal, and we all have our favorites, but the fact that you can make it through the toughest content with whichever party members strike your fancy is remarkable.

Now that we've all nodded sagely at how great the system is, I give us all my blessing to go back to all X-Strike all the time with no shame. This is a judgement-free community here, people. – Adam Biessener

The Story
Chrono Trigger is full of memorable moments, each one entirely distinct from one another in ways that you simply didn’t see in competing RPGs of the time, and still don’t see today. The time travel story creates many opportunities for interesting plot developments, but even outside of awesome things like fighting dinosaurs and racing cyborg motorcycles were surprise revelations that would have been amazing even in games that did not feature time travel.

The moment Chrono Trigger really and truly grabbed me, was in the court sequence. All of these interesting diversions from the festival introduction of the game suddenly became defining characteristics of your morality. The things you had not even thought about earlier, suddenly had weight and meaning. It was as if the game tricked you into believing you were just having a good time.

Another of my favorite moments, was leaving Robo behind for 300 hundred years to reinvigorate the forest that had turned into desert. Centuries passed for the immortal Robo as he worked to bring life back to an area of the world that seemed dead, but for Crono, only a few seconds passed. The world was tangibly changed thanks to Robo’s efforts, and all you had to do was drop him off in the past.

Look out for spoilers!

Perhaps the biggest surprise in Chrono Trigger’s plot, was Crono’s sacrificial death. The main character dies in Chrono Trigger, and while it is possible to bring him back to life, the game can be continued and beaten without him. That’s ridiculous and amazing all at the same time. At a certain point in Chrono Trigger, you can lose the slightly misspelled titular hero, and keep going. – Kyle Hilliard

The Music
Square Enix RPGs and intricate, moving scores go hand in hand, and Chrono Trigger is no exception. From the rhythmic ticking clock and fragile piano arpeggio of the “Title Theme” to the rousing, regal “Frog’s Theme”, Chrono Trigger’s score conveys moods like few other 16-bit games do. The soundtrack consistently hits players with atmospheric pieces that match Crono and the gang’s desperate quest to save the world (“Undersea Palace”), but it also offers light-hearted diversions. Robo’s poppy, upbeat theme is basically a remix of Rick Astley’s infamous “Never Going To Give You Up,” and it’s physically impossible to resist tapping your foot to tribal dance tune “Burn! Bobonga!” There are dozens of other terrific pieces from the classic RPG, and each listen makes us itch to dust off the game for another go.

Composer Yasunori Mitsuda’s work on the brilliant, varied score almost never came to pass.  He was on the brink of leaving Square Enix when Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi assigned him to compose for Chrono Trigger. The soundtrack holds a firm place in the hearts of many RPG fans, which Mitsuda attributes to a diversion from relying too heavily on an orchestrated sound in favor of jazz and folk-style music. He went on to compose the soundtracks for Chrono Cross, several Mario Party games, and most recently he contributed to the Kid Icarus: Uprising score. – Tim Turi

The Characters
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve played Chrono Trigger. Plenty of 16-bit RPGs hooked me with cool mechanics and interesting stories, but only a handful made me want to replay them multiple times. As much as I love the combat and the premise of Chrono Trigger, the main factor that kept me coming back to this classic was the phenomenal cast. Most RPGs in the SNES era had a few characters I liked, and the rest I was able to tolerate. Chrono Trigger was a different story. Many of the characters – the silent hero, the talking animal, the princess-in-disguise – may seem like tired clichés these days, but Chrono Trigger and its success is one of the reasons that these archetypes are so well known to RPG fans. Robo’s struggle with his identity, Frog’s stoicism, and Magus’ tragic origins added dimension to their personalities and made them feel alive to me. And though I have no patience for the silent protagonist these days, I didn’t initially notice that Crono never spoke because I was so wrapped up in the party members that surrounded him. 

My fondness goes beyond the stable of playable characters, too. The side characters and minor villains – Gaspar, Schala, Ozzie, Queen Zeal, Dalton – make the most of their small amount of time in the spotlight and enrich the main story. Even though the final boss isn’t so much a character as it is a faceless engine of destruction, Magus picks up Lavos’ slack by ranking up there with Kefka as one of the most memorable villains of the era. He may come off as a bit emo by modern standards, but Magus’ aura of aloof menace was a far cry from the standard megalomaniacal hijinks of other moustache-twirling villains of the day. Plus, your ability to recruit Magus as a party member later in the game is one of those too-good-to-be-true scenarios that just made me love him even more. I wish more games would give you the opportunity to control the main bad guys, if only for a little while. That’s just one more example of a way Chrono Trigger set an example for other entries in the genre to follow. – Joe Juba

The Endings
When you finally take down Lavos at the end of Chrono Trigger after battling across space and time, it’s an incredible relief. Crono wakes up in his room after landing the final strike and is hauled away to the castle. At first it seems like he’s going to be executed for kidnapping Marle, but he’s really there to get commended by all of the people throughout the various time zones that he and the rest of the party had helped. Next they all go to a grand festival in town, and Crono has to bid farewell to his friends one by one as they step into the time portal to return to their own times. It was an amazing and heartfelt close to a grand adventure. But that wasn’t all by a long shot.

Enter new game plus. Chrono Trigger was one of the first games to feature the ability to bring your character progress and gear forward into a new campaign, and it did much to popularize the feature. Not only could players completely annihilate previously deadly bosses, they could experience around a dozen alternate endings. Rather than having to play through the whole game again, however, Crono could challenge Lavos several times throughout the career – even within the first hour.

Many of the endings were silly (everyone turns into lizard people, Lucca and Marle judge the attractiveness of several male characters, a few characters goof off while the credits roll), but some showed darker elements (Frog kills Magus and takes his castle, Crono is dead and Marle searches for a way to resurrect him), and others broke the fourth wall, allowing Crono to run around and speak with the developers who created him. The normally silent Crono even speaks in one of the endings.

There were so many endings and so little clarity on how to get them that it was difficult to trust your friends when they described some crazy ending they got that didn’t seem plausible. Now all the endings are up on YouTube, but Chrono Trigger was able to hold on to its mysteries back in the ‘90s and that created a magical element that would be nearly impossible to recreate today. – Bryan Vore

This feature originally published on April 6, 2012.