Hironobu Sakaguchi. Yuji Hori. Akira Toriyama. Three names, each a giant in their respective field. Years before Square and Enix would merge they were at odds with one another with their respective franchises, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. So the thought of both companies pooling their resources to create what could almost be labeled as the definitive Japanese RPG was unheard of but in 1994 that’s exactly what happened. Dubbed the “Dream Project” the result was nothing less than legendary and Chrono Trigger stands as one of the greatest games ever made, period.
Chrono Trigger deals with time, a subject not touched upon very often in gaming because of the headaches revolving around its implications and repercussions. Although not perfect, Chrono Trigger does an excellent job of using time travel to enhance the gameplay and provide an entertaining story. As Crono, a machine mishap at a fair starts you on a journey that will eventually encompass a trip through various time periods to stop an alien life form named Lavos from destroying the planet.
The strongest element of Chrono Trigger’s story is how skillfully it can change between its serious moments and lighthearted times. The threat to the planet is very real and the weight of the world (or worlds if you will) is on the shoulders of a very small group; that could easily have been a recipe for overwrought drama. But kudos to Square and Enix for never forgetting that this is still the adventure of a lifetime for these characters and the sense of wonder that comes with seeing how prior generations of people lived and how the world has changed is never lost. The plot is also perfectly paced as well; moments of tension are not suddenly forgotten minutes later to have the characters crack jokes for instance. They are given enough time to sink in. And the main story isn’t dragged out for a bullet point on the back of the box.
Traveling from one era to the next will naturally erect changes on the environment and people and that element is represented strongly in the game. Seemingly innocuous actions will have unforeseen repercussions down the line. For example, you might want to be careful what you say and do at the Millennial Fair when you first start….. Although it doesn’t come into play until the last 25% to 30% of the game your actions will have profound effects on generations to come. Seeing what was an angry and selfish family become caring and generous because you influenced their ancestors is simple but resonates greatly. Through all the jaunts through time the game never forgets that it is all about its characters.
The main cast of Chrono Trigger is small; only 6 (with an optional 7th). But that is its greatest strength. By keeping the cast small everyone is given character development. It also helps that each with the exception of silent protagonist Crono, Lucca, and Marle come from separate eras so most of the events in that period revolve around them. There are an eclectic range of personalities, from Frog’s old world speech pattern and chivalry to Robo’s non emotional assessment of events and Ayla’s relative simplemindedness. With the ability to change party members at almost any time you have the opportunity to see how they feel about any given occurrence, further fleshing out their persona.
Everyone has a character specific arc they go through with the exception of Crono, and for those that like a sense of closure the side quests available near the end of the game neatly wrap any dangling plot lines should you pursue them. Marle’s disillusionment with her status as a princess and father, Lucca’s distance from her mother to Robo’s feelings of rejection from his robot brethren, there’s a tangible sense of growth within each by the end of the game. Just as you have gone on a journey with these characters so have they, a personal one. There is no way you can experience the story in all of its twists and turns and not come away moved.
Through Akira Toriyama’s artwork everyone is distinct, even ancillary characters that you don’t interact with very often. The adventurer Toma, Magus Hench men Ozzie, Flea, and Slash, even villains such as Dalton, they all leave an impression. Although he is sometimes criticized for his characters resembling Dragon Ball castoffs that doesn’t apply here. Each time period and its inhabitants are distinct, which more than likely required a monumental amount of work but it definitely paid off. Hell even the random enemies you fight have character! You can truly tell the writers of the game had fun working on it; you really can’t ask for anything more than that.