Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger’s team was called the “Dream Team” during the production of the game.  It was a once in a lifetime mix of people that have mostly left Square since then.  It was my third major SNES RPG that I got new as a kid, so it’s really hard to look at with a non-opinionated eye.  I mean, I still remember most of the hidden item locations in FFIII / FFVI, and I still remember the opening moves in Chrono Trigger.  The game came out from Square in 1995.

This early area to explore in the game shows the attractive sprite work in the game. People tend to use Chrono Trigger's cliffs as an example of how to tile sprites.

There’s really three points of view about Chrono Trigger out there, if you wanted to simplify things.  There’s the old fans, like myself, who are filled with nostalgia with the experience of playing the game.  Much like the fans of Final Fantasy II / FFIV, they tend to like the translation, the presentation, and the way the game unfolds because that was the game that they remember.  The second point of view is the more academic one.  From that point of view, issues of plot, difficulty, and game design are important.  The final point of view is from a fan of the game’s sequel.

The interior of Crono's home is one of the first areas you see in the game.

Starting with the last one first, Chrono Trigger tends to be a polarising game.  Chrono Cross is a game that waits till late in the game to tell you that all your actions in Chrono Trigger were making the world worse.  It’s a game that kills off all your characters, mostly at the hand of a flatulant comedic character in tiny shorts from the first game.  Cross is a beautiful game, with a pretty nice Celtic inspired soundtrack (people adore it, but I’m not really the right person to examine it without opinions.)  Cross has a massive cast, compared to Trigger’s seven.  It has an ambitious time travel plot, and a vauge ending.  Due to the troubled development of the game, you could argue that the plot and ties to Chrono Trigger suffered, since the game was heavily changed to get it completed.

To show off how the battle system works, this is shortly before starting a fight.

From an academic point of view, Trigger and Cross both have interesting ideas about battle mechanics, grinding, and difficulty.  When I was young, non-JRPG fans cited Chrono Trigger was the only and best way for JRPGs going forward.  They liked that the game had no battle transitions.  Instead, you saw the monsters on the battle field, and your party drew their weapons on the same battle field to fight.  Although, like most “visible monster” style games, you were pretty much assured of a certain number of fights while exploring an area, it was cited as being a game that had no random battles.  For the most part, minimal grinding was needed to advance, and the New Game + feature allowed you to replay the game with your overpowered party.  You could also see equipment changes, though this was mostly just slight graphical changes in your party’s weapons.  Thanks to New Game + and the low required level caps for an area, the game was fairly easy.  The battle system had a emphasis on how your party worked together to do combination attacks (called double and triple techs,) but due to the difficulty level, you could work with many different parties in the game.

After starting the fight, note that the only change in area is the status bar and the drawn weapons.

Cross, on the other hand, was a reaction to Trigger, in a lot of ways.  Monsters are visible on the screen, but there is a transition into a different area for battles.  Weapons, again, changed as you equipped different items.  You cannot grind in Cross, and you cannot spam magic and techs the same way you did in Trigger.  Cross basically gave you a level cap in stars after a boss, and once you reached it (after a couple of battles) you could not grind for more strength.  Magic involved elemental weaknesses and involved preparation to cast the strongest spells.  The combination attacks were few enough to be irrelevant for the most part.  Typically in Cross, you could not evade large numbers of battle via timing your movement.  Some people thought the forced “difficulty range” and the lack of grinding was a good thing, since the designers knew exactly how strong your party should be in an area.  With the large cast, you were assured your party was always about the same level.

When the hero and this girl meet, Leene's bell tolls.

Many people cite Chrono Trigger’s simplistic and optimistic plot as a upside or a downside to the game.  The plot begins with your hero discovering that a pendent and a transporter accident lets his friends travel through time.  In the future, they discover that the world is destroyed and how, and they decide to save the world. Meanwhile, there’s the occasional quiet discussion if someone is watching their movements, and what kind of story that someone would tell about them.  Some people theorize that it’s the planet watching them strive to save it.  Other people theorize that it’s the villain’s dying memories of them.  If you die in the game, there’s a simple game over with the text “But the future refused to change.”

Cross begins with the assumption that your actions in Trigger doomed the world.  Shortly after the game, your heroes were mostly killed by an invading force, and the rest of the game is centered around stopping the suffering of a character from the first game via tumbling back and forth through parallel time lines.  Needless to say,  the game has a different feel compared to Trigger’s mostly optimistic plotline.

When you start the game, this is one of the cutscenes that runs through the movie trailer like introduction.

So what is Chrono Trigger like as a game?  It’s a well made SNES game.  It has good graphics, good music, and interesting set pieces, adding up to a pleasant game experience.  The ideas in the battle system, the visible equipment, and the difficulty level basically are unique on the SNES.  I can’t really think of a later game that really replicates the same experience.

  1. yukie’s avatar

    I wonder if the spiritual successor to the techs in CT were the potential combo attacks in SaGa Frontier? It’s not quite the same structure but the basic idea of teamwork is the same. …I really like that aspect of CT. This cast of disparate people who can be huge goofballs (yes, I class Magus as a dork too – witness his sarcasm at Ozzie and snickering at Azala’s buried throne room) trying to save the world from something that’s been tipping the odds in its favour for millennia. It’s an optimistic game for sure, but the team did a lot of good work portraying what a nasty bastard Lavos is. The first time you see him he’s vaporising the world. He takes out the Reptites by landing on them and immediately goes chthonic. The next time you see him is in Zeal, and at that point –

    aaaahahahahaa. AAAHAHAHHHAHA WOW.

    I have to hand it to the team for having the sheer brass gonads to do what they did in Zeal to set off the Time Egg subplot. I mean, they make no bones bout the fact that Lavos just vapourised your dude. He’s not the first party member to die in a game – Nei and telah predate that – but that’s the first time I ever saw such a CORE character go and snuff it. (It interests me that CC seems to assume the ending in which Marle and Lucca don’t try to bring Crono back. IIRC anyhow, since Lucca still has the Time Egg and that’s what Sir Pissykitty O’Hairball wants…which – as well as the contrived failure of Lucca to vape Lynx with the Wondershot for the love of Flea’s bustier what the hell – strikes me as character tweaking for the sake of convenience. Furthermore, I doubt Lucca cares about how ladylike Kid is; she’d be teaching the orphans how to make papier mache volcanoes. that really explode GOOD.)

    Chrono Cross is at its core an expansion of the visual novel Radical Dreamers, which is a sequel to CT as well. Both of them pick one possible ending and spin a canonical what-if scenario. It’s a valid route to take, but there’s some aspects of both that tax my suspension of disbelief and irritate me. The wussifying of Lucca is one. The rewriting of Dalton from a hilarious egotistical dorkbutt golem-building mage with indigestion into a generic villain is another. Dalton repeatedly shoots himself in the foot by being so damn arrogant. The first time, Zeal has his back; the second he utterly fails to summon and gets pulled into…well, it isn’t a time gate or it’d be swirly. That’s what I don’t get. That wasn’t one of the blue or red time gates, it was sort of a hole in SPACE but not time. Likely he ended up wherever golems come from when they’re not being afraid of heights on the Blackbird’s wing. XD He can be crouching dumbass hidden badass but it’s his footshooting that makes him fun. The game was not all srs bzns. It feels like the sequel wants to make it more serious and ‘adult’ (i use this term with airquotes) and it doesn’t work. I guess it’s just adaptation decay. Dissidia annoys me for the same reasons.

    So yeah. They did add on a CC-tie-in ending to the DS version of CT (so many abbreviations, so little time!) but even the Cross fans I know found it a klutzy retcon. It was better, they said, to be able to fill in the blanks in their head. One said that the Dream Eater ending was a huge letdown because it didn’t live up to the FMV in his brains. I know not all fans have the same mindset but I’m glad I’m not just being tetchy XD

    I am so aimless. So aimless.

  2. yukie’s avatar

    The Cross team wanted to have Guile as being Magus – he’s a better-dressed expy of Gil from RD, and Gil/Magil in RD IS Magus, they drop monster hints.

    Unfortunately the deadline fairy came along with her mallet of doom and they had to drop that subplot entirely.

  3. Rav’s avatar

    I think the Chrono Trigger remakes imply that Marle and Chrono marry, so Chrono had to come back in some manner. (I always felt like Cross was sort of a massive fanletter to Schala – it’s almost entirely centered around her actions, her choices, finding her.)

    I think part of the weird in Cross is that Janus / Magus is almost always associated with Schala in Trigger, and there’s basically no presence of the guy in Cross. It’s like an alternate timeline that’s sort of Bizarro Superman esque.

    (I vaugely remember someone, somewhere, saying that Dalton had ‘gravity’ magic, as an explaination of the weird portal. Don’t ask me where or if it’s canon.)

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