Chrono Trigger (SNES)

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Introduction

Chrono is a fatherless young man (Who doesn’t speak, has spiky hair, and a modestly sized sword)– and you know what that means, he’s the main character of a JRPG– who is going to the Kingdom’s Millenial Fare. He meets a boisterous young girl and goes to meet his best friend, Lucca. This is a JRPG and Lucca is a young woman wearing goggles so she’s got to be a super genius capable of constructing hyper-advanced technology. And this happens to be the case. When Chrono’s new friend tests the teleporter her strange pendant– which couldn’t be of vital importance– has a strange reaction to the machine and she disappears. As it turns out the pendant turns the teleporting machine into a time machine. More time portals open up during an adventure that leads Chrono and his friends through all of time.

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“Lucca, is this thing safe?” “Of course, it’s completely untested and might turn your friend inside out but that’s what science is for.”

 

History

Chrono was made by Squaresoft by a team lead by Hironobu Sakaguchi, you might remember him from my Final Fantasy VI entry because he lead that team as well– and all Final Fantasies before it as well. They didn’t always plan for the game to be about time travel but when it was mentioned by an uncredited employee the team jumped on the idea except the head writer, Masato Kato. The sheer taunting weight of causality and the infinite ways that a player’s choices could alter the flow of history turned Kato off to the idea. That is, until Kato thought about multiple endings to the game based on those choices.

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The endings of Chrono Trigger are so big there’s a meme for it.

The game was translated by, Final Fantasy IV and VI translator, Ted Woolsey. They only gave him 30 days to translate all the dialogue. He was only able to accomplish this by using strategy guides and other sources to give him a better grasp of what the translation was supposed to be. The English translation also has dialogue that totally changes the nature of the villain. Perhaps it was a mistranslation, perhaps it was Woosley’s own spin.

Fun Fact: The art was design by Akira Toriyama, the guy that made Dragonball.

Fun Fact: This game was planned to be a part of the Secret of Mana series.

Chrono Trigger was released on August 22nd 1995 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It’s competition included Comix Zone (Sega Genesis), I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream (PC), and Twisted Metal (Playstation).

Nostalgia

What ever happened to game over screens? The most recent game I can think of that had a real game over screen is Metal Gear Solid 4– which was punctuated by a montage of the game’s events culminating in an image of Snake saluting.

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The final fight throws a curveball at you, changing “exit” to “exist”. Selecting exist triggers dialogue from the final boss who shouts, “It’s not over yet.”

I mean, this is the era of game over screens that could crush the soul of a young gamer that just wanted to save the day or defeat Jason Vorhees.

Friday the 13th

I’m not kidding. This is the game over screen of the Friday the 13th Nintendo game.

But Chrono Trigger goes a step further.  It has a whole game over cinematic. We get to see the final boss begin his march to eradicate all the life on the planet. All of the planet’s denizens work together to fight against the fearsome being. This is all Earth has to offer and it’s not enough. It’d be like if the Last Alliance of Men and Elves went to Mordor and Sauron was reading a magazine and proceeded to beat them all silly and conquered Middle Earth. After all that we’re treated to this.

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As the screeching cry echoes throughout the cosmos the planet turns grey as all hope is dashed and all life is extinguished.

 

Gameplay

As a JRPG, combat is not what this game is all about. The design still supports fun combat though by introducing character techniques and the positions of enemies. Techniques aren’t just magic, Chrono has an ability where he spins his sword around dealing damage to an enemy and all nearby enemies. Some techniques hit single enemies, all enemies, or enemies in a line. This gives the player more to do than just select Attack over and over again. Watching the ways your enemies move can also give you a crucial advantage.

The plot leads our dear characters to the far future to the end of time, and the far past to the dawn of man. At the beginning the player has very few portals they can go through and few times they can explore but as the game opens up more portals make themselves apparent and eventually the player can travel through time at will– If that’s not awesome then I don’t know what is. The interactions between the time periods can be as subtle as the way the continents move or how taking a treasure chest from the past makes it empty in the future.

And the plot is really what this game is about. It’s filled with double crosses, misconceptions, and the will to persevere. It’s an absolute joy to play through with more than one moment that filled me with so much pathos that I had to save the game and put it away for the night.

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It’s plain to see how the continents drifted between 600 AD and 1000 AD.

The Gush

New Game +. All I’m gonna say– alright not really. After you beat the game you can start again with all of your levels and items. Now you can beat the final boss at different parts of the game and defeating him in each chapter unlocks a different ending.

The music in this game is some of the best I know. It so well represented the characters and emotions of the scenes that I was utterly enthralled.

Time travel can be confusing. But when I got lost I can just go to the End of Time and talk to the old man there and he tells me what I was doing. Leaving an RPG is the kiss of death for it, it leads to a lot of “Where was I going? What was I doing?” But this guy will put you right back on track.

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Also, the design of The End of Time is just incredible.

Most games have side-quests as things that are either too difficult to find or finish. The Chrono Trigger map is so compact across the time periods that it’s simple to see all the areas that are available to explore. And the interactions between them isn’t spelled out but it’s simple enough for the player to think “Time to go back in time and save the day!”

This game has 6 characters (And one secret one– shut your gob! No secrets here!) and they all get closure by the end of the game. Final Fantasy 6 was 9/14 but this one is 7/7 on the character closure scale.

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There’s something about seeing all of the characters resting on the trail like this.

The multiple ending in this game are an interesting look of how history would have evolved if the player hadn’t altered things. How did Magus originally get defeated? What happens if no one helps the prehistoric people fight the reptites? What do the developers think of the game? A different ending answers these questions.

I’ll admit it, I’ve beaten this game three times and I still don’t know how to beat the final boss. I just fill him full of damage until he dies. But considering the unknowable nature of Lavos I think this is a very befitting way to fight the creature. It’s anatomy is so far beyond our understanding–or mine at least– that all I can do is whale on him until there’s nothing left.

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“What? How do I? Fuck it. I’m gonna hit it until it stops moving and then I’m going to light the rest on fire.”

The characters are all dynamic and interesting. They all have interesting traits and motivations. They’ve all got something that holds them back and, at the same time, leads them on this journey to discover a way to overcome well… except…

 

The Kvetch

… Chrono. He’s a silent protagonist with no character except what the player invests in him. I’ll admit, the Millenial Fare and the subsequent trial gives the player a powerful opportunity to figure out who Chrono is and, by extension, who they are. Because Chrono is just a self insert for the player. We’re supposed to be Chrono but there aren’t a lot of decisions like the ones in the fare that allow us to flesh out who Chrono or we are– and what if I don’t want to be a red haired messiah analogue?

Also some techniques are hard to aim.

The Verdict

I had to dig, and I mean really dig, to find one complaint with this game. It’s great, it’s simply great. I can’t recommend it enough. If it seems like something you’ll like then you’ll love it. I’m not even Nostalgia blind for it. I didn’t play this game until I was 19, and maybe 5 years is enough for me to get into my rocking chair and declare it “the best game ever” but I don’t think that’s the case.

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Nice work every sprite in the game.

Next Week: Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi

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