Recently I’ve been craving an old-school Japanese role-playing game. I’m not completely sure why this crippling addiction has resurfaced or why my usual methadone of reminding myself that they’re all like 50 hours long has failed me, but here we are.
I immediately turned to the final fantasy series, a sequence of games which held my first foray into RPGs in Final Fantasy VII. But with the more recent ones bogged down in convoluted plots and insufferable characters I decided to look further back. I was reminded that Square Enix has produced some of the greatest RPG series of all time, including Dragon Quest and Mana.
But while these lineages continue to live on in new incarnations and HD remakes, there lies an ancient relic inside Square’s vault. A gem with unlimited potential mostly squandered on an almost entirely forgotten sequel and then buried away to be ignored. Well it’s time to dust this one off and have a look at it once again. Let’s look at the timeless (heh) Chrono Trigger.
In case you missed my impeccable pun in the previous sentence, Chrono Trigger is a story about Time Travel. As Crono you’ll travel everywhen from prehistory, medieval times and an apocalyptic future in an attempt to save the world from its inevitable destruction. Along the way you’ll construct a lovable party of cavewomen, robots, frogs and maybe even some old enemies.
This all hearkens back to the simpler times in role-playing games. You don’t need a glossary and complete history of the world to understand what’s happening and your party isn’t composed of over-designed misanthropic whiners. There’s a steady build in complexity as the time-jumping plot becomes interwoven with loops and cross-stitches but it’s a natural build and a digestible pace.
But here’s where Chrono Trigger is really cool. You don’t need to do any of that. After an early point in the game you gain access to the End of Time, from which you can warp between times. From here you can travel to the big apocalyptic event and challenge the final boss whenever you want. Doubtful you’re powerful enough to defeat him but it’s a brilliant blending of gameplay and story.
And why would you want to anyway? Skipping straight to the last battle means you’ll be missing an extensive and satisfying campaign and, more importantly, a dazzling cast. Collecting your rag-tag world-saving task-force from across time and watching them interact together is marvellous. Each comes bearing their own wants, needs and relationship which are expanded upon in their timelines and sidequests, all of which make great use of the time travel mechanic. Add that the main story is incredibly tight and a brisk (by RPG standards) 20 hours, there’s no excuse not to visit every timeline several times.
Speaking of time travel the game makes the fullest use of its premise. Leave Robo in the Middle Ages and return 400 years later to discover a large forest has been cultivated. Intervene in the past and return later to discover that a certain character is revered as a god. Watch the terrain and cities evolve overtime and characters change as a result of your actions. This cause and effect style of story telling is very cathartic and keeps you playing if only to discover how drastically the world will be changed when you return from the past.
Chrono Trigger doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to gameplay, but there’s some nifty additions which build upon an already solid system. Making use of the Active Time Battle (ATB) from Final Fantasy IV, characters take turns acting in battle as their progress bar fills. But instead of characters standing in line and taking turns punting monsters with swords, they’ll move dynamically around the battlefield. In fact you’ll be paying a lot of attention to the positioning of your characters and enemies as many abilities and attacks are dependent on positioning and area-of-effect. This adds an extra layer of complexity to the combat that would not be found in other RPGs of its kind until much later.
Another distinguishing feature of Chrono Trigger are its Techs. Instead of Spells and Abilities characters learn Techs upon level up which can be combo’d with the Techs of other party members. Depending on the composition of your group you’ll have access to a whole range of Double, and occasionally, Triple Techs. These abilities can range from dropping rainbow frogs on enemies to whirling flaming death tornadoes. The whole battle system is easy to grasp and filled with depth.
And if you want depth how about the design team! In particular the characters of Akira Toriyama of Dragonball and Dragon Quest fame and the composition of Yasunori Mitsuda and Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu.
This game is as beautiful today as when it was first released. The sprite work is fluid and beautifully captures Toriyama’s iconic style. There’s also a slideshow of beautiful backgrounds and intimidating bosses to explore and battle. The variety in timelines keeps the enviroments cycling and fresh. Couple that with the iconic soundtrack which you’ll find yourself humming without fail. It’s a wonderful blend of visual and audio that just compounds on the already incredible experience.
I’ve done my absoloute best here to spoil as little of the game as possible in case you have never experience the magic of Chrono Trigger for yourself. If you haven’t well there’s never been a better time than the present. With a wealth of possible endings, a fantastic cast and an unforgettable story, there really isn’t any excuse as to not having played Chrono Trigger unless you’ve managed to trap yourself in the Middle Ages.