Chrono Trigger (SNES/PS1) Review: A Timeless JRPG

Chrono Trigger art

I am impressed. Chrono Trigger, which was first released in the SNES in 1995, has always inexplicably lived under the shadow of the great Final Fantasy VI. I think Chrono Trigger is every bit as good as FFVI was, and then some.

Since playing Final Fantasy VII and Ocarina of time, I have enjoyed many games, yet none of these great games have seemed to capture me in the way that FFVII and Ocarina of Time did. That is, of course, until I played Chrono Trigger, a game that comes bundled in the FF: Chronicles package for PS1.

Chrono Trigger, even 9 years after its original release, remains a beautiful game to look at, and the story and gameplay remain an innovative, if not refreshing take on the genre. It might be hard for some to say that Chrono Trigger is better than FFVI, as both games are excellent and quite different. I believe that they can perfectly co-exist alongside each other as perhaps the two greatest RPGs of the 16 bit era.

Great Looking

Graphically, Chrono Trigger blows any other RPG in the SNES and the Genesis out of the water (and yes that includes FFVI). The sprites in CT are very large, they look even better than the ones in the excellent Suikoden for PS1. Not only are the sprites large, but they are incredibly detailed and colorful, plus they are masterfully animated too. In short, in what the sprites are concerned, the game eclipses anything in its era, which is not surprising as this was Squares last great effort in the SNES.

chrono trigger party screenshot
Your party is an eclectic bunch, and yes, includes a frog in armor.

The environments were given the same graphical treatment, they are very detailed, and some of them have animated visuals on them. The big contrast between CT and FFVI here, is that FFVI had darker, and grittier backgrounds. In CT,  most of the environments are bright and colorful, even though the era (time period) in which you are in the game – there are a total of six eras – has a bearing on the world design.

As far as which backgrounds look better, however, I have to say Trigger’s backgrounds do look at least a level more advanced, even if FFVI’s artwork depicted a more realistic looking world. Even today in 2004, the Graphics in Trigger were good enough to submerge me in its world after only a few minutes of play.  Trigger looks more like a Sega CD game than a SNES one, it is amazing what the graphic artists were able to do here.

The Playstation version has added Anime sequences crafted by Toei animation, this adds a lot of value to the graphical package, for they appear at the introduction, at the ending and also the scenes bring up to date some of the key in game moments.

Chrono Trigger Features one of the Greatest Soundtracks Ever Composed

Musically this game is a collaboration between Mitsuda and Uematsu, and they are generally recognized as the best composers in the business today. CT furthers cements that reputation. This explains why Chromo Trigger’s Music is so outstanding, yet I must say, that I don’t know exactly what Uematsu composed in this game because all the music here seems to be Mitsuda’s own.

If you have ever listened to the Chrono Cross soundtrack, and have played CT you will know what I am talking about. The compositions here are very similar in style to those found in Chrono Cross. FFVI’s soundtrack was epic; it was a thing of beauty and while Chrono Trigger is a considerably shorter game in scale, its music is just as grand.

In other words, this (The length of the game), limits the number of tracks in the soundtrack of CT. However, I will be the first to say that the compositions here equal anything done in any FF game. In fact, the only Soundtrack in the market that surpasses the brilliance of this soundtrack is Chrono Cross’ own set of tunes. Mitsuda used these compositions from CT and perfected them over the years (That is my guess since both games follow and share a similar musical style).

“Yearnings of the Wind” is one of my favorite tracks in the game. It’s the kind of song that I would like Square to some day include in one of their updated soundtracks, I can only dream on how amazing that tune would sound when played by a full orchestra and not by the limited SNES sound processor.

There are more than fifty tracks in the game, and while the music is not as dark as that found in FFVI, a lot like the graphics, I believe it surpasses Uematsu’s great work because it fusions a combination of Dark themes and lighter ones in melodies that are only rivaled by Mitsuda’s work on Chrono Cross.

Chrono Trigger fire screenshot
Chrono Trigger is one of the best looking 2-D games ever.

There are many sad, and melancholic tracks that are brilliant too, so if you have played Chrono Cross and enjoyed its music, I think you will find much to like here.

Chrono Trigger might have the best soundtrack of its era, if only FFVI’s wasn’t as equally brilliant it would be easier to pick which is one is best.

There are plenty of sound effects scattered thought the game too, however, as with FFVI chances are you will be so enthralled by the music that you will fail to notice some of the subtle, if simple, effects in the environments.

A Time Traveling Tale

CT’s story, is perhaps its weakest point, yet it’s still very, very good. Unlike FFVI, which was very linear (therefore the writers had it easier when creating a more, lets say; engaging plot), CT is very open ended. There are 12 endings, depending on what you do, and where, and when you fight Lavos, the game will reveal a different ending.

The story is about a group of teenagers that get sucked into a time vortex in which, after some time traveling back and forth, discover that in 1999 A.D. Lavos destroys the world.

So, the cast sets on a quest to prevent Lavos from ever being created. That is the setup for this tale, which is immense, even if it only lasts about twenty hours. The plot twists, while not many, are very good. There is also, some (even today after nine years) clever amount of humor and an amazingly good translation, which makes me wonder why Square botched Chrono Cross’ Translation when CT, which was released five years earlier, had such an excellent one.

The thing about the story is that it’s not really confusing and it’s easy to follow while at the same time is deep enough to captive the mind. The fact that what you do in an era affects another, and affects the ending itself, gave me that great feeling that I just wasn’t playing in a predetermined pattern, and that instead, I was creating history itself in CT’s world. All the characters are endearing and that Anime ending is very pleasing!

However, I must say that it would have added more to the story had you had the choice to fall in love with Ayla. This would have added an interesting love triangle in the game, and it would have also provided an interesting tragic love story, since a romance between Ayla and Crono is impossible due to the fact that it would threaten Crono’s existence itself.

Yet, I have to keep in mind that this is a 1995 game, tragic love ( and melodramatic scenes) in RPGs was still not a ‘thing’. Silent protagonists never lend themselves to deep story telling, and to a degree, Chrono Trigger suffers a bit by Crono being mute.

Though I must stress, that Chrono Trigger might have one of the best stories ever, in terms of being driven by a cast that is led by a silent protagonist.

Unique Twist to An Established JRPG Formula

The thing that really sets Chrono Trigger apart from the rest of the pack even today is its revolutionary gameplay. Lets start with the battle system.

While the system is similar to all the FF games that came before, and after it (You have to wait for your turn to attack), the game had some nice innovations.

First, the combinations. Yup! Two or the three characters in the screen can combine their powers to deliver a powerful attack on the enemies or bosses. In fact the continuous use of these combo attacks and healing spells are necessary for the player to have success in the game. You learn these combos and tech attacks, as well as magic by earning tech points from the enemies you defeat. It is relatively easy to level up in this game, in 20 hours I was already at level 47 and had all the tech attacks for at least three of my characters.

The second innovation in this game is the fact that you can see the monsters on the screen before you fight them, so there are no random battles. While this has become the standard for some games such as the Grandia series, Chrono Trigger did it first (I might be wrong, but it was one the first high profile games to use this combat mechanic).

chrono trigger battle screenshot
Combat! Anyone who has played a classic Final Fantasy will know what is going on.

The other innovations here are tied to the story in the forms of the time traveling, the multi endings, and the New Game+ mode. Time Traveling is innovative because it lets you travel across different time periods of the game, it is also innovative because some things you do in one time period affects the other periods as well, and even the game’s ending.

Now for the ending, there appear to be about 12 endings. I have only seen three so far, it is mind boggling that a game this primitive, offers such an open ended approach to how the story ends. There are games today that struggle to pull this off as brilliantly, as Chrono Trigger did 9 years ago.

Now,  the “Multi-endings” mechanic would have been very tedious (after all you would have to play the game 12 or more times to see every thing), had there not been an incredibly amazing, and convenient New Game+ mode. This might be the most advanced and useful of all of Trigger’s innovations, yet for some Reason Square hasn’t use it since.

New Game+ mode allows you to start a New Game after finishing the game the first time with your characters already leveled up and with their items intact (except items vital to the story that is). This makes it incredibly easier, and enjoyable to replay the story, complete sidequests, and defeat Lavos at different times many which would have been impossible on the first play through.

This mode is incredibly addictive and will keep gamers replaying the game over and over in order to uncover all of  CT’s secrets. Again, I wish Square had included this feature in their future games, it would definitely help those players who after finishing an RPG want to experience the story again but dread the long hours of leveling up required to be able to defeat the bosses.

Finally, Chrono Trigger is full of sidequests and minigames, even if most of the minigames are not that great. Also, the Playstation version includes a Bonus mode, where you can see movies, listen to the soundtrack, replay the endings, etc.  All of this bonus content opens up after finishing the game the first time through.

In other words, even if you have played the original version you will find this version to be a very enjoyable, if slightly enhanced one.

Chrono Trigger is a magnificent game, a game that even today will amaze players with its gameplay innovations, freedom and open ended storytelling. A true gem that didn’t seem to lose any of its charm with age.

I wouldn’t argue with anyone that calls Chrono Trigger the best game of all time, if you dont own this thing, do not second doubt yourself and go out to Game Stop or EB. Since it is very hard to find a copy of FF Chronicles today, you might have to even go to EBAY, but trust me, its worth it. Chrono Trigger is a true Classic in any era!

Gameplay: 10 — Perfect Difficulty curve, entertaining battle system, and multi. Ending story system makes it one of the best RPGs ever.

Graphics: 9.5 — It looks as a good as Alundra, and that is something grand when you consider that Alundra is a PS1 game and this game runs on the SNES!

Music: 10 — Only one RPG out there sounds better and that is its sequel Chrono Cross. Mitsuda is a genius and the Chrono Series is his masterpiece,

Story: 9.0 — When you consider this was 1995 and you add in the excellent translation, different time periods and 12 endings, you get an epic story of high replay value.

Replayability: 10 — 20-25 hours first time through, and the revolutionary New Game+ mode will keep you coming back to master the game, by finishing all side quests and seeing all 13 endings!

Overall: 10 — The Best game of all time? Maybe. One thing its clear though, if it’s not the best, it is right there in the top five. My advice? Play it now!

Metacritic rated Chrono Trigger (the 2008 Nintendo DS edition) a 92/100 and voted it Game of the Year 2008 for DS.

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By Samuel Rivera

An avid video game player and book reader, Samuel has been playing video games for the last 31 years. He has played nearly every PS1 JRPG known to man, and loves Ocarina of Time more than any other game.