Hello all! Last week, I wrote about Exit, a cleverly designed puzzler with style.
Today’s my birthday, and since it falls on a Tuesday this year, that means you still get a Game of the Week. Seeing as how I never seem to grow up, let’s talk about a game that never ages. It just gets better every time you play.
Chrono Trigger will be twenty years old in just a couple of months, having released in August 1995 in North America, for the Super Nintendo. Playstation and DS releases would follow.
I mean...okay, everyone knows this one. It’s a 16-bit JRPG, you play as Crono, and you travel through time after a botched teleportation experiment by your friend Lucca. There’s a competent if simple battle system; it’s mostly the ATB system from Final Fantasy IV-IX And then you meet, and assemble, probably the greatest party of characters ever, in order to stop Lavos, a being of pure evil. So let’s talk about that.
Chrono Trigger plays it smart by keeping your party small. Of course, you can only take three people into battle at any time, but there’s only, at most, seven people to choose from. See, you remember these characters a lot more than RPG’s with huge parties. Everyone loves Final Fantasy VI, but if you tried to name every party member-without looking it up-chances are you’d forget at least one. Which is not a knock against FFVI-love it. In fact, FFVI was the subject of the first ever Game of the Week article! (I won’t link to it, because the writing is so bad, you guys.)
I love how the World Maps are so detailed.
But Chrono Trigger, I think, does a better job developing every character than most JRPG’s do. That’s partly because the party is small, but that’s also because of the strong writing. You learn about everyone’s backstory, and equal time (more or less) is given to each character. Even Robo, the clunky robot, becomes a lovable character (great character, or the best character?). And then there’s Frog, and...well, I could go all day. But Chrono’s got such memorable characters. Even Crono, who is mute, manages to be cool. Not Frog cool, but you get the idea.
Then there’s the world. Chrono takes place in a world not overly different from Earth, although of course, it’s much more fantastical. Since you’re traveling through time, you revisit the same locations in different time periods. This was huge when the game first released; lots of games had big worlds back then, sure, but Chrono had this cool time travel mechanic. It takes, by comparison, smaller maps and just massively upscales it by way of time travel.
So you’ll start in 1000 AD, then go back to 600 AD, which is this world’s Middle Ages. And the world looks similar, yet very different. Then you’re off to the future of 2300 AD, and you’ll tour the ruins of a once-great futuristic civilization and get in a bike race with some kind of half-motorcycle dude. Traveling to 12000 BC brings you to a fantastical realm with a science/magic aesthetic (and floating islands, to boot) and you even get to go back to 65 Million BC. Naturally, it’s prehistoric times.
12000 BC is one of my favorite worlds, largely because of the aesthetic. And the music, which we’ll get to.
Like I said, the worlds in Chrono are smaller than other RPG’s of the era. Final Fantasy V and VI had giant worlds that required the use of an airship. Although you do get a ship in Chrono Trigger (one that flies and travels through time) the worlds don’t really get Final Fantasy sized. But there’s several worlds to visit, making Chrono Trigger seem endless.
You’re also immersed in the world through the art and music. It’s well known Chrono Trigger was developed by a “dream team” of developers: Hironobu Sakaguchi, who created Final Fantasy; Yuji Horii, the creator of Dragon Quest; and Akira Toriyama, who made an anime about monkeys or dragons or some crap. That title, “Dream Team” was never more fitting, as those three had quite a reputation to live up to with Chrono Trigger. And, really, if you’re familiar with the work of all three, then Chrono Trigger certainly feels like all three of those franchises mixed together. There’s some Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Dragon Ball all in here; you can see how each franchise influences this.
I mean, just check out that box art. It might as well be from a Dragon Ball manga. And it’s like that in-game, too; there’s so much originality throughout the game. Some common enemies repeat, but you’re always running into a new, wackier boss every few minutes.
Oh, and then there’s my favorite part: the music.
Also, X-Strikes are my favorite.
The music was covered very well in this great article by TAY’s own Zarnyx. I don’t have a whole lot to add, but seriously, I could listen to the soundtrack all day, every day. It’s a classic 16-bit soundtrack, with the *ahem* limitations that entails. But it manages to sound epic. From the opening theme, the songs in Chrono Trigger sound like they’re performed by a full orchestra, even though they’re what one would call “simple” MIDI tracks. It’s that good.
This theme is a good example; it’s the Guardia Castle theme:
Just listening to it...you can feel the medieval castle all around you. You can smell the brick and mortar. This is just one example. This game does not have a single bad song; it may very well be the best JRPG soundtrack ever. Oh, and it’s composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, with Nobuo Uematsu contributing a track, so there’s that.
The art, the music and yes, the gameplay I barely mentioned all come together to make Chrono Trigger a timeless game. It’s twenty years old, but you can still play this now, and it’s better than most new games. Why is that? If you judged games from a pure technological standpoint, this game is obsolete.
And yet, here we are. It’s still amazing, despite being ancient.
That’s because certain games transcend their technological limitations. They’re more than the sum of their parts. A game, if it’s good enough, can be enjoyed forever, regardless of what system it’s for or when it came out. Regardless of graphics, or memory limits, or whatever. It’s not all numbers and data. It’s something more.
I really like video games, is what I’m saying.
Thanks for reading my stuff! As always, leave comments, suggest future games to be featured as Game of the Week, and find me on Twitter! Also, read more of my stuff at Current Digital, and catch up with my (currently on hiatus) other article series here!
Next week’s game is part of a famous franchise, though this particular game is, like, the opposite of every other game in the series.