If I was asked to mention, or better yet to make a list of the top ten greatest Japanese Role-playing games ever, the number one spot would spark some controversy.
Lists of that particular “greatest of all time” kind are always mostly subjective affairs. If someone wants to stand their ground and say that Quest 64 is the greatest J-RPG in existence, that individual wouldn’t necessarily be 100% wrong.
Quest 64, for all of its short comings, had a gigantic and colorful 3-D word, and a decent combat system. Perhaps a small (very small) percentage of people would agree with the Quest 64 lover.
Still, such a choice would spark more controversy than agreement. If I were to pick, Final Fantasy VII instead, I would probably be bombarded with hateful comments by fans in the Final Fantasy VI camp. If I pick FFVI instead, the converse would be true.
There is one J-RPG however, that I could choose without much remorse, and while there will always be disagreements, I don’t think anyone could deny that the game has an ultra strong case for claiming the number one spot.
Sometimes, when writing such lists, consensus is important. Therefore, 1995’s Chrono Trigger has the strongest case out of all J-RPGs to being the greatest game that the genre has to offer.
I have met plenty of people who claim that both the 6th and 7th iterations of Final Fantasy are either overrated, or perhaps not even the best entries in that particular series. Now, I am cautious about these particular people, that vast majority hate on either game on the sole basis that they like one game in particular instead of the other.
There are few JRPGs whose greatness has never been disputed, and Chrono Trigger perfectly fits that bill.
So, what made it so special?
For starters, Chrono Trigger is a late generation SNES game. By the time that Sakaguchi built his dream-team to craft the game, Squaresoft knew the in and outs of the SNES hardware. The team at Squaresoft, led by Hironobu Sakaguchi (FF creator) and Yuji Horii (Dragon Quest) crafted the most beautiful game that I have ever played the SNES.
By 1995, Rare had redefined SNES visual capabilities with Donkey Kong Country and its used of pre-rendered SGI visuals. However, as pure 2-D game, done in the old fashioned way, Chrono Trigger might be unmatched.
Big, and detailed sprites showcase Akira Toriyama’s work in much better fashion than 2001’s Dragon Warrior (Quest) VII did. The backgrounds were detailed and colorful. The only other 2-D games from that era that I can compared the game to, in terms of visual quality are Square’s own Final Fantasy VI, and GameArts’ Lunar Series (which had the advantage of utilizing the CD format afforded by the Sega CD).
The game remains a pleasing sight for the eyes, even today, after 25 years and four console generations.
Musically, Chrono Trigger might have aged even better. Mitsuda along with Uematsu, are the greatest JRPG music composers in existence (at least in my opinion), and both master composers worked on the game.
While personally I feel that it is Mitsuda’s own style that permeates throughout the game, there is no doubt that Uematsu’s participation aided the game in that sense. Only Chrono Cross sounds better to me.
In terms of the audio visual department, Chrono Trigger deserves to be rank amongst the very best games ever made. There is no way that the SNES couldn’t have churned out better graphics at that stage, and considering the shovel ware stuff that we have been fed today as “old school” in current mobile platforms, Chrono Trigger is truly a testament of how far 2-D graphics had come by the end of the SNES-Genesis era.
Perhaps what still ranks Chrono Trigger as one of the all time favorites of mine, is its near infinite replay value. The 13 endings, and side quests that lead to uncovering them, through a series of time jumps between in game historical time periods, has yet to be matched by newer titles.
Back in 1995, however, there was nothing like it, and it gave Chrono Trigger a different feel, and vibe, altogether that separated the work from the Final Fantasy series and other RPGs of the time.
The battle system, while turn based was easy to learn, and easy to progress in. Quite simply there was never a time where I felt overwhelmed by grinding stretches, or overtly difficult battles. Chrono Trigger was, and remains a joy to play.
Perhaps what is most interesting about the game (at least today), which many still regard as the greatest J-RPG ever made, is that despite moderate commercial success, we only got one sequel in the form of the excellent PS1 Chrono Cross (2000), and that was it.
Could it be that Square still holds the “Chrono” as a sacred and untouchable franchise? Both Chrono games are considered masterpieces, perhaps a 3rd game under the current climate, and Square’s modern trend of making good, but not great RPGs (neither FFXV, nor the FFVII Remake broke the 90 metacritic rating threshold), would end up being a disappointment.
As such, I am perfectly fine with the Chrono series remaining confined to two games. It might be better this way. As I sit here reminiscing about the a game that first saw the light of day 25 years ago, in what is now considered ancient hardware, I can’t help but chuckle at the fact that aside from the transition to the 3rd dimension, turn based JRPGs never got much further along the evolutionary line than Chrono Trigger.
Crono, Marle, and Lucca’s quest remains a staggering reminder of how great the 90s were as far the JRPG genre went. The Golden Era as I call it. So to answer my own dilemma in the opening paragraph; yes, I would rate Chrono Trigger as the greatest J-RPG ever made, and I think that not many would dare to rebuke that point, even a quarter century later.
Our (2004) Review of the game:
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