Time keeps on slipping.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Chrono Trigger, which originally came out for the Super Famicom system on March 11, 1995, in Japan.
Chrono Trigger featured an absolute dream team of role-playing game designers, including Hironobu Sakaguchi (the creator of Final Fantasy), Yuji Horii (the creator of Dragon Quest), and Akira Toriyama (who did the art for Dragon Quest and his popular Dragon Ball manga).
However, Chrono Trigger didn’t just play like a mix of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. It was its own beast, and it was in many ways a last hurrah for an age of 16-bit RPGs before 1997’s Final Fantasy VII brought them into 3D.
But so much more made it special.
Keeping and bucking tradition
Chrono Trigger features plenty of the hallmarks of other RPGs of the time. Players control a party of heroes who travel the globe (via a traditional world map) in a quest to save the world. Battles are turn-based, similar to the Final Fantasy series, with each character able to perform an action once their meter filled up.
However, Chrono Trigger is also innovative. While each character had access to unique abilities (called Techs), party members could actually combine their moves to create more powerful attacks. It’s another factor you had to keep in mind while filling your roster.
Also, while most RPGs of the time would randomly throw the player into a battle, Chrono Trigger wouldn’t move you into a fight unless you actually ran into an enemy. This allows players to try to avoid fights they didn’t want. Plus, not having a blurry effect transition you into a battle screen made the entire game feel more seamless. Most RPGs today use a similar system and ditch random battles.
It also has time travel: Moving through past, present, and future allows players to see the same world in drastically different ways. It also gave Square an opportunity to put a robot and a cave woman on the same team.
Also, while most RPGs featured relatively linear story-telling, Chrono Trigger has more than 10 different endings. This gave fans an excuse to play the game multiple times, especially back in the days when they simply couldn’t search for the other scenes on YouTube. The idea of games having multiple endings is a cliché these days, but it was a pretty new idea in 1995.
A lot of RPGs feel like they have filler characters. As much as we love Final Fantasy VI, few really cared much about geezer mage Strago. And who actually likes Cait Sith in Final Fantasy VII?
Chrono Trigger’s roster, while small (featuring just seven characters), doesn’t have any stinkers in the bunch. Everyone loves Frog’s quiet nobility, Marle’s rebellious enthusiasm, and the mysterious Magus. Even Chrono, who never utters a word, is somehow memorable and likable.
But nothing helped Chrono Trigger earn the hearts of gamers more than its incredible soundtrack, created by Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu. Standouts include the triumphant “Frog’s Theme,” the melancholy “Wind Scene,” and all of the epic battle music. I’m sure GamesBeat’s resident maestro, Dale North, could write a whole story just about Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack.
While originally a Super Famicom/Super Nintendo release, Square would port Chrono Trigger to other systems, including the original PlayStation and the most recent the Nintendo DS.
We also got a couple of sequels. The first was the 1996 illustrated, text-based Radical Dreamers, which never received an official release outside of Japan (although fans would later translate the game themselves).
We also got a full-on RPG sequel in 1999’s Chrono Cross, which came out for the original PlayStation. However, Cross featured few references to the original. Also, while Trigger had an intimate cast of seven playable characters, Cross had a whopping 45 possible party members. The variety was impressive, but it also meant that few characters really felt integral to the larger story. Today, fans are split over Chrono Cross, with some praising its innovations while others criticize its departures.
And then nothing
Sadly, Chrono Cross was the last game released in the series. That means we haven’t seen a new one since 1999. It seems a bit unfair that Namco’s Tales series has 15 installments while Chrono’s life was cut so short.
The odd thing is that Square Enix is usually so sequel-happy. It has made 15 Final Fantasys and 10 Dragon Quests (not even counting spinoffs). Yet, somehow, they show little desire in making a new Chrono game.
Well, maybe Square Enix will do a little soul-searching today. On Chrono Trigger’s 20th birthday, maybe it’ll remember one of the best games it ever made, and decide its time to finally give us another taste.