Of all the videogames I’ve ever played, there’s a few that I knew from the opening moments were going to be amazing. Chrono Trigger is definitely one of those games. It never released in the PAL region (Europe and Australia) on the SNES or Playstation but the DS version, released in 2008, finally let the rest of the world have the option to experience this gem. The DS version is also getting really rare so I’m glad I have a physical copy. For a game that’s over twenty years old, it still does more than just hold up to modern RPGs. But what is it about Chrono Trigger that makes it special, and is it the best game of all time?
Development ‘Dream Team’
Originally released in the ‘golden age’ of JRPGs, the title boasts developers from the Dragon Quest series (Japan’s most popular JRPG series) and Final Fantasy. The cutscenes and art were worked on by Akira Toriyama, The artist behind the Dragonball Z anime. This group of people has been described as a developer ‘dream team’, and although they excelled with Chrono Trigger, ‘dream teams’ don’t always work. Legend of Legacy for 3DS comes to mind. A title that also had some great RPG minds working on it, but received mediocre reviews.
Most Ambitious 16-bit Title?
Chrono Trigger was well ahead of its time in a lot of ways. Branching paths and multiple endings must have been revolutionary in 1995. The pacing between battles, story events, mini-games, and cutscenes were perfect. Other ‘best game ever’ candidates such as Zelda: Ocarina of Time also nail the pacing but Chrono Trigger is much more cerebral. What I mean by this is that it’s more of an emotive and psychological experience than a game like Ocarina of Time. In Zelda, combat is real time and the focus on puzzles tests spatial awareness. But in an RPG, the focus is more on understanding the nuances of the battle system and trying to pick up meanings of the paradoxes that the story is built out of. This makes it more emotive, or maybe it’s just that Chrono Trigger is so good that it seems so mentally stimulating.
As a turn-based RPG, Chrono Trigger keeps things simple. It uses an active battle system which means it relies on your ‘stamina’ to build up after an attack so that you can attack again. This allows for battles to flow fluidly but you can also choose a ‘static’ option where it works more like a Pokemon game and time doesn’t affect your attacks. Another streamlined feature is that enemies appear on the field map so there are no random battles. This makes the game less annoyingly grindy and speaking of grinding, there’s little need for it in Chrono Trigger. The game is hard in the later stages but as long as you don’t skip battles you should be able to enjoy the great story and music without having to farm experience.
Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack is the best I’ve heard of any game ever. The tunes are catchy and some are epic. The game is epic in general but the music really creates the atmosphere of a grand adventure. Chrono Trigger’s story deals with some deep issues about evil and corruption across time. I think its message is about how the yin and yang of good and evil that transcends race, species, and time. The characters all have their own emotional backstories and will drop in and out of your party depending on the decisions you make. You really feel like your party has a connection with one another.
Are Modern RPGs Too Complex?
Chrono Trigger is just so well polished in every area. Small touches in terms of the player’s actions that influence later on in the game give the game so much depth and it really does feel like the world is reacting to you. Other great games might be just good in one or two particular areas but Chrono Trigger doesn’t have any flaws. Animations are fluid and the graphics are charming and some of the best you could find on a 16-bit system. Whether Chrono Trigger is the best game ever made is debatable but if we look at other high-quality RPGs, it has to be up there. It’s still the benchmark that JRPGs are striving to surpass. Modern RPGs are complicated in terms of the battle system and all the different elements you have to manage to beat an enemy.
It’s interesting that Chrono Trigger didn’t spawn a full series. Unlike Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger seems to be a one-off. It did, of course, get a sequel in the form of Chrono Cross which released on PS1 but didn’t receive the critical acclaim of the original. It used early 3D graphics and, while a good title, couldn’t quite capture the magic of the original (although I’ve only played it briefly).
Would a Chrono Trigger Remake Be Possible?
In terms of the future of the Chrono series, an HD remake could be on the cards, maybe in a similar style to Octopath Traveler (on Switch and PC). A 3D version could also be an exciting prospect but would it have the same feeling as the original? The Secret of Mana is another 16-bit classic that is remembered fondly, but the 3D remake (released on PS4 recently) didn’t do as well as was hoped, possibly because, it didn’t have the same feel of the original. Crono has also been mentioned as a potential Super Smash Bros. Ultimate DLC character, and because of the impact of Chrono Trigger, he would surely be a worthy addition.
Without a doubt, Chrono Trigger is the best RPG I’ve ever played and I don’t have nostalgia for it since I didn’t play it when it originally released. The SNES version is quite rare and copies of the DS version, both in the UK and USA, are being sold for around $55 on Amazon at the moment. If you have the chance to pick this title up, do it, you won’t regret it!
What are your thoughts on Chrono Trigger? Is it one of the best games of all time or do you think it’s a little over-hyped? Let us know in the comments below!
Hi, I’ve played games since the 16-bit era and really enjoy indie games. That part of the industry has really blossomed in recent years and we’re getting different takes on established genres. I also really love Nintendo games. I’m currently studying for an MSc.