On the surface Chrono Trigger is no different from the standard RPGs of the day. As a party of 3 you’ll speak to townsfolk, explore dungeons, and collect items. However it’s the little details that add up to make the experience as a whole so enjoyable. The story moves at a very brisk pace and there is very little filler if any at all to pad it out. The dungeons are never so long that you begin to wonder when they’ll end. All battles take place on the exact field you are standing on and you can see the enemies prior to combat as well. That last point is huge: for years we had always wanted a game that shied away from the typical 3 steps, teleport to a random battle, repeat formula. Now you had the option to initiate combat at your leisure. Of course the game forces battles at certain junctures so you can’t completely screw yourself by avoiding leveling. Someone standing in your way? Push them. Don’t want to stand and wait for a NPC to finish speaking? Walk away and the text box will follow. It’s as if a list of common frustrations in RPGs was compiled and the designers made it a point to correct or avoid all of them. The combined experience Hironobu Sakaguchi and Yuji Hori brought to the table shows in every facet of the game.
As well as its pace the aura of mystery surrounding each environment is compelling. I don’t know whether it was done on purpose or not but the story does an excellent job of moving along a set path while also giving you glimpses of locations or objects that you won’t find the purpose of until much later. That drive to find out what is inside the black treasure chests and locked doors alone is enough to spark your interest and push forward until you reach the point where you can open them. The seemingly unimportant NPCs more often than not turn out to be valuable in the latter stages. A tremendous amount of planning must have gone into this and the significance can’t be overstated.
And the replay value is off the charts. Aside from the multitude of character specific sub quests toward the end of the game there are 13 endings, an unheard of number of secret weapons and armor, and even hidden spells to add to the already ridiculous number in the game. You know back in the day rumors and outright lies about games were flung daily but Chrono Trigger is probably one of the few games where the majority of them were actually true. By completing the game you unlock new game +, which lets you keep all of your items, spells, and levels while allowing you to fight the final boss at any time. Doing this at specific points will unlock the different endings. And I mean different. With maybe 1 exception there’s none of the bullshit one line of dialogue changed. But I won’t spoil them; they are absolutely worth discovering on your own.
Although turn based Chrono Trigger features one of the fastest battle systems around. The action gauge fills faster depending on character speed and even on the default setting is quick. The decision to limit your party to 3 also helps decision making speedier. Since all battles occur where you stand it allows options such as positioning for certain spells to also play a factor. While most of the enemies lack the flair and size of your typical Final Fantasy game you are more likely to remember the majority of CT’s antagonists because they all possess character. Even the lowliest goblin has a certain charm that is reminiscent of Dragon Quest which you can attribute to Akira Toriyama. The bosses however are right up there with the most distinct Final Fantasy creatures such as the Behemoths or Cactuars.
Most enemies in the game possess elemental properties which correspond to your party members. Everyone has an innate element and discovering an enemy’s weakness is usually the key to victory. Balancing your party depending on the situation comes into play pretty frequently but never to the point where you are penalized if you prefer a system makeup. The option of choice is never taken away from you and I would say even encouraged.
While you will appreciate the speed of the battles the magic system is where Chrono Trigger’s depth shines. All characters will eventually learn 8 spells, not an impressive number on its face. However EVERYONE has 3 dual techs when paired with someone else, adding a further 24 spells each. To take it a step further, nearly every combination of 3 party members can eventually learn a devastating triple tech. What Magic of Scheherezade started Chrono Trigger perfected. Almost every party permutation you can think of will learn some dazzling spell that will have you looking forward to battle just to see them in action. As if choosing your active party members wasn’t hard enough as is.