|Version Reviewed: Super Nintendo
Ask any old school RPG fan what his/her top three games of all time are and chances are that Chrono Trigger will be mentioned. Sporting an excellent battle engine, a good plot, some top-notch visuals, and an outstanding OST by Mitsuda Yasunori, Chrono Trigger certainly deserves its fame and popularity. However, it is by no means the greatest RPG ever made for the SNES and borders around one of the top three at best.
The first thing one will notice about Chrono Trigger is its unique turn-based non-random battle system. Other games have featured battle systems without random battles and degenerated into simple button mashing (Seiken Densetsu is a good example), but Chrono Triggermaintains the strategic aspect of combat by using the active time battle system that Squaresoft is famous for while removing the frustration of having to fight without warning every four steps. The battle system is further enhanced by the addition of team techniques, where two or even three members of the active party unite their powers to unleash a spectacular attack on the enemy. These “triple techs” are not easily obtained by any means, but they’re well worth it in both terms of in-game value and graphical value. The only problem is that techs simply cost too much MP to use, which tends to force players to use only standard physical attacks in non-boss battles.
Having already solidified the most important aspect of any game, it was then up to Squaresoft’s writers to come up with a storyline that made the game more than just fun battles. Rising to the challenge, they have created a story that is complex, well paced, full of surprises, and most importantly, relatively non-linear in the last-third of the game. This creates the opportunity for several different endings, giving Chrono Triggersomething most RPGs do not possess: replay value. However, while the plot shines, the characters are merely content to bask in its glow. While the characters have diverse and interesting personalities, their development is either hit or miss. Out of the seven playable characters, two are not developed, two are somewhat developed, and only three are fully developed. Crono, the lead, is a particular disappointment in this respect: it doesn’t help that the scriptwriters only gave him one line in the entire game. Most problematic is how a player can use only three characters throughout the whole game and come away no worse for wear in terms of characterization than someone who used all seven.
Fortunately, the strength of the audio and visual aspects lessens the detrimental impact caused by the poor characterization, drawing attention away from the game’s flaws by eliciting emotion in the player. This could not have succeeded without Mitsuda Yasunori’s fantastic soundtrack. While his pieces are not as majestic or grand as Uematsu Nobuo’s works, they are superior because they fit the game impeccably. Through his OST, Mitsuda shows that he thoroughly understands the emotions of Chrono Trigger’s characters, places, and events, and he magnified them ten-fold through his music. Graphically, the settings are detailed, colourful, and enthralling (particularly Zeal). Character designs by Toriyama Akira (Dragon Ball, Dr. Slump) are excellent, and thankfully less muscle-bound than his designs for his magnum opus, Dragon Ball. The only problem visually is that there just isn’t the same level of detail as one would find in a Star Ocean or Tales of Phantasia. In particular, sprites on the World Map look pixilated and small and the palette, while sufficient, just isn’t large enough.
In the end, Chrono Trigger is still an excellent game that has withstood the passing of time. Each and every flaw in the game can be overshadowed by the plot, music, and innovation that it brings to the table. However, once the ride is over, objective analysis easily reveals thatChrono Trigger is lacking in character depth and does not excel graphically. Still, one would be hard pressed to find a more fun game anywhere.