This is the game with the story and the art style and the music.
A crowning achievement of the Super Nintendo and overall game-changer for the industry as a whole, Chrono Trigger is a god among men when it comes to RPGs. Not only JRPGs, but the majority of RPGs of all kinds fall flat on their faces when directly compared to its greatness. It’s filled to the brim with magical people and robots and talking frogs, and none of these things are particularly strange together; there are magical people because you end up wandering back in time to the peak of an ancient advanced civilization that has mastered such things, and robots because your only method of escape in one sequence is to jump into a random “gate,” essentially a portal into a different time period, that takes you into the future.
So it’s worth asking why this game is the SNES equivalent of crack, especially given the fact that many, many years have passed and the bar is much higher than it used to be. Would we still be twitching in dark alleys, doing things to strangers that we’ll regret later for our next fix of Chrono if this was released for the first time today? We absolutely would. This is one of the rare examples of a thousand little details coming together to form a flawless game. Case in point: every time you insert this game into your Super Nintendo, the faint sound of angels singing can be heard in the distance. True story.
What makes Chrono Trigger so good, though? It’s a mixture of a number of elements, all of which blend together perfectly. The characters are both lovable and surprisingly expressive given the limited abilities of the SNES, far more so than in most games of the time. Part of that is due to their excellent art design, drawing heavily on Dragon Ball aesthetics that allow for anime-esque indicators of mood capable of being easily communicated with a sprite sheet. Characters have sad looks, happy looks, and even dance moves. Best of all, none of it sports that over-the-top sparkly-eye garbage that anime tends to devolve into; the expressions range from subtle to zany, but all of it is well within each character’s personality. This allows for them to communicate their emotions with a kind of efficiency that even more modern games haven’t been able to manage since an unskilled hand often means a 3D model’s emotions come across as a hilarious caricature of human emotion.
On the subject of the characters, it’s worth noting that there aren’t really many throwaway NPCs. It seems as though everyone has something interesting to say and a unique personality rather than just being the random information hubs that most games use them for; while Chrono Trigger does have some NPCs who fill you in on the world, many of the characters you meet actually play vital roles at some point in the story, and even the lesser NPCs are used humorously rather than just being throwaway characters. The main characters are even better, each having a unique personality and many coming from different time periods. They’re all lovable for different reasons, and while the story isn’t focused on dissecting them as characters, they still manage to have quite a bit of nuance.
Chrono Trigger is so much more than just the characters, though. The world itself changes based on your actions. Changing one thing in the past can have ramifications in the future, and seeing the ripples of your actions is every bit as satisfying today as it was when this game first came out, especially since time travel becomes incredibly hassle-free later on. Many of these changes are later on in the game and optional, and end up impacting which of the thirteen endings you get (and even the smaller changes can impact details in those endings).
Everything simply flows in this game. Nothing feels like filler or a chore to force yourself through to get to the “good part,” because every single part of this game is equally amazing. The plot is coherent and makes sense while still being reflective and deep, and from the very beginning you’re given interesting people and places to interact with. Chrono Trigger isn’t only the best game for the Super Nintendo, but one of the greatest games ever made on any platform, period.
Combat is as interesting and varied as you’d expect from a SNES RPG, taking everything interesting about Final Fantasy games and making it better. The battle system utilizes the Active Time Battle system, meaning you wait for a bar to fill up before you attack. That’s not the interesting part about combat, though: As you level up you get “techs,” which operate much like magic in Final Fantasy games, only you’re given both physical attacks and magic attacks. The best part about these is that as you level up, you get double and triple techs that combine the attacks of multiple characters into a single, unique attack. All of the characters have unique techs, so your double and triple techs vary based on who you bring with you into battle. You’ll likely find your favorite group early on and stick with it throughout the game, and it’s not really possible to go wrong since everyone is balanced so well.
Chrono Trigger’s plot is difficult to describe, beginning with an accident that quickly (and organically) unfolds into a struggle for the future of the world. It alternates between lighthearted and dark as necessary, mastering both and never sacrificing one for the other, and the overall tone for each scene is appropriate and never out of place. It’s capable of being amusing by putting together a bunch of characters from different time periods and allowing some of the obvious initial clashes to play out, as well as using those differences to show the common thread of humanity that links them together, despite their differences. The whole thing coalesces into a plot that touches on a number of serious issues without ever falling into the trap of becoming preachy or taking itself too seriously.
Oh, and the music? To call it noteworthy would be a huge understatement. Even for the limited technology, the themes are catchy and infectious and never annoying, and chances are that anyone who has ever played this game can hum a number of songs from its soundtrack, even years after playing.
To sum up, the dinosaurs never experienced Chrono Trigger, and now they’re extinct. Is there a correlation between the two? Probably.
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