Time and Time Again: Chrono Trigger And 20 Years of JRPGs

Today marks 20 years since the release of Chrono Trigger for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and I thought we’d mark the occasion with a look back at what made this time travel adventure so great then and now. To begin, I have to confess that I did not actually play Chrono Trigger when it was first released. Rather, it would take until four years later, after playing and loving Chrono Cross, that I finally picked up a used copy of the game for an amount of money I thought was ridiculous at the time.

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After actually getting home, digging out my age worn SNES, and actually getting the game to work by jiggling it just a bit in the cartridge slot. I was greeted by the memorable sight of a CG pendulum accompanied by ominous music. It was exciting and motivated my fingers to start as soon as possible! What would follow was an adventure I would never really forget. Playing the game blind, with the sole exception of vague plot points I had gleaned from Cross‘ convoluted back story, I experienced each twist and turn of the memorable plot with a sense of awe. Sure, the graphics were out of date and the translation stilted in places, but Chrono Trigger‘s colorful graphics and endearing characters were more than enough to convince me of 1999 to trudge on to the very end and destroy the world-devouring entity Lavos once and for all.

Though I’d go on to take that same journey a few times in the last decade or so, the first time I played Chrono Trigger remains a good memory that reminds that the medium of gaming, even then, has the potential to tell stories that were both meaningful and fun at the same time. Other games release since that fateful day twenty years ago, such as the Persona series and even Square titles such as Bravely Default, would go on to reiterate this point in the modern era, Chrono Trigger will remain among the first to truly make something of the RPG genre.

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So just what makes Chrono Trigger a game that has stood the test of time so well? To answer that we need to look at the historical importance of the game at the time it was released. Back then, a good portion of JRPGs came from one of two developers, Square Soft, producers of the Final Fantasy series and Enix, creators of such hit titles as Dragon Quest/Warrior. While both companies have since merged into a single entity, back then they were fierce rivals who’s games represented starkly different views of what an RPG should be like. When it was announced that staff that had worked on titles from both companies, including legendary manga author and artist Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball Z fame, would be coming together to form a “Dream Team” to work on a game. It was just about the coolest thing ever.

What would come about from this collaboration was Chrono Trigger, a game that melded Toriyama’s art,  Final Fantasy‘s Active Time Battle System, and a hybrid science fiction/fantasy story that spans ages and eons. The results were nothing short of stunning. Whereas most sixteen bit RPGs featured enemies rendered as flat, unmoving sprites and battles that booted you from the world or dungeon map to a sidescrolling arena. Trigger instead offered up the most detailed sprites anyone had seen in an RPG up till that point alongside battles that popped up on the map right under your feet.  And it was awesome.

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But more than its impressive battles and top-notch animation, Trigger‘s story was something different from the norm even twenty years ago. While many RPG of the era told traditional fantasy stories about heroes marching off to slay a demon lord, rescue the princess, and prevent an age of darkness from befalling the land. Chrono Trigger bucked that trend and wove together strings from many different genres, ranging from post-apocalyptic science fiction to swords and sorcery fantasy, and even a silly romp through the age of dinosaurs. The final product featured a story held together by time travel and the desire to save the planet’s invertible demise at the hands of a world-devouring entity named Lavos. With so many time periods to visit, characters to meet, and monsters to slay, it just felt more epic and broad in scope at the time then games like Dragon Quest 3 or Final Fantasy 6.

Though a classic of the genre, Chrono Trigger is not without its faults. For one, the future time period is horribly underdeveloped and figures very poorly into the overall plot once the player has rescued Robo and returned home to 1000 AD, the same can also be said of the game’s prehistoric time period, though its plot importance is far better developed than that of the far-flung future. Another notable problem that plagues many games from this time period, and even a few today, in the fact that characters not currently in your battle party will not gain experience or skill points and thus become near useless when compared to whoever makes up your core team. But really, beyond that I’m just knit picking, as Chrono Trigger really is that good of a game.

In the end, Chrono Trigger is just a great RPG with fun characters and an interesting story that has managed to feel as fresh now as it did the day was released. If you haven’t played it before, you owe it to yourself to go do so now. And if you have, why not play it again?

But even after saying all of that, I think Chrono Cross is the better game.

Want to fight me about which is the better Chrono game, or just share your favorite Chrono Trigger memories? Shoot us a message here in the comments or on Twitter @APGNation or my personal feed @fluffyharpy.

Nicole Seraphita
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My name is Nicole Seraphita and I’m 27. I’ve been gaming since the days of the NES and have owned at least one system from each generation since then. My favorite type of games if most definitely RPGs, with my favorites being titles like Chrono Cross, Persona 4, and Tales of Xillia, though I also sometimes dabble in platforming games, fighting games, and visual novels. When I’m not writing for APGNation or playing games, I enjoy table top and card games, watch anime, and write fiction that I occasionally publish online. I tend to write a lot of Sci-fi and the occasional bit of fantasy, with the often overlooked sub-genre of Biopunk being my favorite. I’ve also written a few visual novels, though only one of them has made it all the way to completion thus far. My current dream is to be able to bring the Monster Girl genre to a western audience.

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