Greetings, Geeks! GUG Plays! is monthly series where our staff discusses some highlights of some of our favorite hand-chosen games. If there is a modern game that you would like to read what we have to say about it, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!
One of the primary reasons I began the GUG Plays! series is so that we as a staff could uniformly enjoy some of the most lauded games. Chrono Trigger emerged on the list not only as a summer project, but also for its accolades—it is often cited as a “Top 3” RPG. I missed out on it as a child, owning a Sega Genesis rather than an SNES, and would not taste experience another JRPG beyond Dragon Quest and Shining Force until FFVII. Thus, with its reputation preceding it, I dove into Chrono Trigger with enthusiasm, but my aspirations for a “GOAT” experience became crestfallen as the game’s introduction did not feature anything resembling Avalanche blowing up a Mako Reactor, or the unveiling of a 360-degree camera swivel and subsequent destruction of Lahan, or the display of Dark and Holy Knight powers by Gargarion and Agrias, respectively, during the defense of Princess Ovelia at Orbonne Monastery.
I am well aware that these are anachronistic criticisms given that the referenced games are PS1 era. Yet if Chrono Trigger really is among the best, then it should likewise blow my mind with its opening. It simply does not, and I am afraid that fans who recall their experience with it do so with the brain supplying psychedelic levels of nostalgia.
After all, why does Chrono care that a girl he just met get sucked into a time portal? That whole ordeal strikes me as a whole bunch of None of His Business, though I am willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of adventure. So sure, Lucca and Chrono jump behind to rescue Merle, but their methods of defense lack explanation; Lucca using a gun makes sense because she is an inventor, but during my time with the game, I never learned how Chrono knows fencing, or how Marle is a deadeye with a crossbow.
If I kept playing, I might have found out, but the game lacks the quality-of-life features that would render modern RPGs unplayable if they ere omitted. Chrono Trigger sorely lacks an objective indicator on the map due to how it vaguely relays what the next task should be. This game might be from an era when gamers had time to aimlessly wander until they spoke to the right person, or went in the right direction, but 2019 ain’t it, chief. Many times, I had to refer to a YouTube Let’s/Longplay to back on the right track. For example, during my first visit to the future—which has been the coolest part of the game for me; I have a soft spot for solving the problems of dystopian futures—I missed the basement to retrieve the bike key, and ended up clearing an optional sewer sidequest for…no reason whatsoever. In another instance, when first granted the ability to travel voluntarily through time, I went to 6,000,000,000,000 or whatever BC first, and cleared out the entire place, ending at a dead-end mountaintop with a sunset? Only after speaking with Adam (below) did I figure out that I had to go back to 1000 AD and play the game in a specific sequence.
Excuse me? What kind of game executes its linearity so poorly that it is possible for the player to make an incorrect pathing decision? I wasted a few hours on these fruitless digressions which initially gave the impression that Chrono Trigger was once a precursor to “open world” RPGs, but in reality, it only presents the illusion of choice.
With all the misdirection, I inadvertently suffered through more fights than might have been necessary. The lack of random battles, might have been revolutionary in 1995, but they are commonplace now. Even so, when traversing through “dungeon” areas, I became bored with the enemy spam, and might have been less perturbed by random battles rather than foes who respawn when returning to a room. Unlike some of the staff, I had no problem dealing with the ATB combat system, but the lack of real feedback from the 16-bit era sound effects while landing blows renders attacks underwhelming compared to that which I am accustomed.
I am now at the point where if I am ever to finish Chrono Trigger, I will have to hate-play my way through it. Some of the staff here talk about 10+ endings, but I do not have that kind of patience. After reading a guide to learn the purpose of the caveman land where I apparently took a wrong turn, I now know that I have to come back there later for an item, so why not allow me to get that item first, then go back to 1000 AD to do all the other things? Sigh, will certainly use Auto-Battle mode going forward, especially while grinding through all of those dinosaur enemies. The lack of random battles and grinding is supposed to be a key feature of Chrono Trigger, but its poor guidance methods inadvertently creates grind!
After taking a break from Chrono Trigger due to boredom for almost a month, I grit my teeth and fired up my bookmark. Oh, I was supposed to use the action button to fall back into the portal from the cliff? Thank goodness for modern 3D, because I could not “read” what was supposed to be 2D depth, and thought I needed an item to get back into this portal. At any rate, back in the “present.” I play long enough to find out about Magus, and then have to look at another YouTube walkthrough to out how to get back to the Medieval age, because an allegedly intelligent character like Lucca never says, “Hey, let’s go back to the original portal at the festival that got us into this mess!”
I do not want to dedicate much more space on the subject of the lack of character development. I already mentioned the mystery of how my party knows how to fight, but I almost laughed out loud at Chrono Trigger’s attempt to pull sympathy from Robot’s former allies dismantling it. You are a robot. You cannot die, and can be repaired. What a pointless cutscene!
I go to 600 AD, and thanks to the YT video titled “Battle of the Bridge,” I know where to go. However, this time, a line of soldiers block my path. Referencing the YT video again, I discover that I have to go back to the castle to fetch rations from the chef. Obligatory backtracking in a linear RPG? No thank you.
I was considering playing until I acquired the entire cast, but at this rate, I am spending so much time watching other people play Chrono Trigger that I might just be better off finishing it like a movie rather than playing it as a game. As Killmonger might say, “Is this your king!?“
For years, I’ve wanted to play Chrono Trigger, but could just never get into it. I love the Final Fantasy series, but the radical jump in design Chrono Trigger featured was just too much for me. However, thanks to GUG Plays! and Steam Summer Sales, I was able to fully experience the game at last. And what an experience that was!
I can readily say what my favorite features of Chrono Trigger are as follows: the sidequests, scenery, and endings. First, the sidequests: the questline in Chrono Trigger plays out similar to the legendary Final Fantasy VI—the player goes through a linear arc of story, then the world eventually opens up, leaving it in the player’s hands to go straight to the final battle, or to explore their world, levels, and characters, and maybe (?) bring one back from the dead. I love that style, back when sidequesting was still incredibly simple and important, and not overly convoluted with meaningless collect-a-thons.
Chrono Trigger also looks. Amazing. Nailing the atmospheric visual formula presented in other games of the 16-bit era, winter landscapes have snow blowing about, trees cover forest pathways, and other environmental aspects are taken into effect. The arti-direction is awe-inspiring—in fact, and of the screenshots I had taken from this 24 year-old game are now my desktop wallpapers. Prime examples include a black Solar Eclipse, as well as an image with a lustrous, pixelated mountain background.
Lastly, Chrono Trigger is famous for its many endings, and rightfully so. They’re what made the game revolutionary. Whereas Donkey Kong Country may have had the best atmosphere, and Final Fantasy VI tauts a similar end-game format, Chrono Trigger excells in its horizontal format. Rather than the linear games of the era and genre, Chrono Trigger allows the player to challenge the final boss at virtually any point in the game. And according to what circumstances the game was beaten in, the player would earn any one of 13. 13! endings.
In my (and everyone’s) opinion, the white part of a hard boiled egg is it’s greatest part. With a tad bit of salt, it can make one almost forget about the dry and chalky yolk, and enjoy the entire experience. In this game, the previously listed things were the Egg White: the bulk of the game, and what I think people can look forward to when picking up Chrono Trigger. However, as with any natural egg, there’s also the yolk, which in my game experience is in two topics: character progression, and repetition.
After playing Chrono Trigger, I had come to love seeing my characters interact in each ending I earned. However, this also reminded me of something: the characters, with the exception of Marle and Frog, were incredibly dry, with no character growth. If not for some crucial sidequests, I would argue the characters had little depth at all, and would ultimately be forgettable. Robo is the most egregious example, as he can have little to no involvement in the story after coming back from the future, unless the player chooses him to be in the party.
Repetition isn’t a new complaint to RPG games. With random encounters, getting to point A to point B has been the bane of many gamers’ playthroughs of even the best Final Fantasies. However, Chrono Trigger doesn’t suffer from that symptom; it’s problem is different. When Square developed Chrono Trigger, they changed the battle formula. Now, the player can see the enemy before encountering it! Revolutionary! Except… this didn’t age so well. Rather than bouncing into battles, now the game would send enemies at the player with repetitive animations and “jumpscares” into battle. Some enemies also had quite extensive animations that stopped the flow of battle way too many times. I quite enjoyed it, at first. However, when I would leave a room in the game and had to backtrack to where enemies respawned, prompting a fight with the same foes and their extensive animations, I felt combat to be a waste of time to the point where I WISHED I had random encounters. When Chrono Trigger first came out, this action style had probably been pretty cool, regardless. Now? Not so much.
Given the items listed so far, I would have rated the game as okay, but not replayable enough to get all endings, like a hard-boiled egg can be eaten without salt. It’s passable but not excellent. However, with Steam’s remastered Chrono Trigger and other tidbits, we do have that very salt, the seasoning that preserves the game’s playability and legacy (and taste!)
Chrono Trigger’s first saving grace (or, grain) is in it’s music. While I personally do not rate the soundtrack as highly as most others do, It’s still notable that the legendary Nobuo Uematsu, composer of the original Final Fantasy hits, wrote the music for Chrono Trigger, and it’s definitely noticeable in such tracks as “Singing Mountain”, and “The Trial.” Regardless of not being as good as some Final Fantasy soundtracks, I cannot deny that the music helps in each environment’s atmosphere, if nothing else.
The second point, one that more directly ties in with my complaint of repetition, is the grace of the combat system. While the action-orience is something for traditional RPG players to get used to, it’s smooth as butter once one finally addjusts to it. If not for the annoyance of enemies spamming time-consuming attacks, constantly freezing the battle, I’d have made a much bigger deal of how much I love the combat.
Finally, Steam’s updates is where I find the rest of Chrono Trigger’s repetition still redeemable. Pressing a button allows for auto-battling to take place, so I really didn’t have to wait to input commands at all. This would have been especially important for me playing the original New Game+, which would have bored me to tears otherwise. But, thanks to auto-battle, I was able to play the game with one hand, while simultaneously directing battle in Fire Emblem: Awakening on my 3DS, and almost absent-mindedly clear the rest of the endings. In addition to the auto-battle, Steam had also carried over some of the cutscenes featured in previous editions of Chrono Trigger, as well as updated translations, and even the additional levels and bosses featured in the DS and mobile ports.
Overall, Chrono Trigger definitely has earned most of its hype. While I can tell some things have not aged so well, it definitely was revolutionary for its time, and is a game that no RPG gamer or SNES fan can go without experiencing (the first playthrough, at least).
To fully convey my reaction to Chrono Trigger, I feel like a little background is necessary.
I did not grow up as a “gamer”; I lived in a very sheltered, conservative house, and it wasn’t until late high school and early college that I finally found the freedom to really explore what gaming has to offer. What most people refer to as “retro” gaming has never had any appeal or any level of nostalgia for me, simply because I don’t share the same experiences. As life has continued, I will occasionally fall victim to FOMO—the fear of missing out—and go back and try to play those “classic” games that I supposedly missed. Without fail, I’ve been largely disappointed by these excursions, so to say the least, I was not jumping with joy at the prospect of diving into Chrono Trigger for GUG Plays.
I was willing to take one for the team, so I bought the game (thanks Steam Summer Sale!) and fired it up. Here I ran into a second, larger mental road block. I adore good JRPGs; they’re my favorite type of single-player game, and I could be totally happy if I had to play nothing but JRPGs for the rest of my life. However, I vastly prefer pure, hard, strategic turn-based combat in them. When I arrived at my first combat phase in Chrono Trigger and discovered that there is a timing bar corrupting my beloved turn-based combat, I was, erm, triggered (I promise, that’s the last time I’ll use that pun). I had this same experience with another retro classic, Final Fantasy 7, which I played a total of fifteen minutes and gave up on.
You can see that I had a negative prejudice against Chrono Trigger from the first ten minutes of gameplay. Rest assured, those negative feelings were very short-lived.
Chrono Trigger completely blew away all my expectations and earned itself a spot in my top-five JRPGs of all-time. I finally understand why everyone gushes about this game: it’s a gem of an experience that has remained solid and beautiful, even after almost 25 years of advancements in the video game industry. Years, decades, perhaps centuries into the future, Chrono Trigger may be to gaming as Shakespeare is to literature: a classic that endures because of its universal themes—a classic that people can still draw enjoyment, instruction, and inspiration from.
Chrono Trigger’s positives are numerous, and its negatives are very slight; it is almost the perfect JRPG. The graphics, while nothing exciting or fancy compared to contemporary JRPG’s like Octopath Traveler or Fire Emblem, are charming and nostalgic, and they provide a positive impact on the atmosphere and feel of the game. The character animations are sometimes amusingly theatric and made me smile. The colors are vibrant, and the game never looks either dark or washed-out.
Before playing Chrono Trigger, I had heard people laud the soundtrack; I am now one of those giving it praise. I cannot remember the last time I spontaneously started humming a track from a video game, but I found myself doing exactly that with the Chrono Trigger soundtrack while at work. I now have more music on my video games playlist on Spotify.
Chrono Trigger’s story legitimately moved me emotionally. If you’re unaware, the story revolves around a group of friends who accidentally get thrown ahead in time and watch the destruction of the entire world. Understandably wanting to avoid the foreseen catastrophe, the band of friends begins to travel through time to prevent the apocalypse, making many new friends along the way, as well as new enemies. You as the player explore environments ranging from medieval power struggles and intrigues, to a prehistoric war between cavemen and an advanced race of lizard/dinosaur people, to a futuristic, magical utopia that has a very dark secret. Oh, and of course the end of the world. The people you meet and can add to your party are fleshed-out with unique backstories; some are vaguely trope-y, while some are genuinely interesting, compelling characters worthy of study by future generations of game developers.
Chrono Trigger’s gameplay is, for the most part, excellent. What sets the game apart from other JRPGs is that I had to do zero level grinding. On the contrary, most of the time I felt over-leveled in fights. It was a pleasant change of pace from Octopath Traveller, in which I’ve probably spent half my time grinding mobs to bring my party up to speed. There are no “surprise encounters” in Chrono Trigger; every single enemy that you fight in the game will be visible to you as you’re walking around. The combat that I initially disliked, unfortunately did not improve very much. I did learn how to navigate the combat, and I think I’m pretty good at it now, but I still do not enjoy it as much as a pure turn-based combat. Chrono Trigger’s combat definitely does have its moments when the timing-based nature makes gameplay more exciting, but I felt it also made fights less consistent, and I felt like I had less control over the outcome of some fights. After a couple of hours, I did find myself enjoying the combat it, but that might have been due to me abusing Auto Combat mode far too much.
As a whole, Chrono Trigger is a joy to play, and my trend of disliking classic retro games has been firmly displaced. Perhaps I will eventually go back and get all 13 endings to the game, but for now, I’m content to sit back and enjoy the memory of a well-crafted gaming experience.
And I now want a fanfiction rewrite of Shakespeare where Macbeth is a silent protagonist.
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