Honestly, this isn’t really going to be a review, and more of an essay on why Chrono Trigger is great and you should play it as soon as possible.
Aesthetics: The design work for Chrono Trigger was done by Akira Toriyama, and he carries over his style from Dragonball wonderfully (he did technically did do the design work for Dragon Quest V and VI, but it does feel like he translated his style to 16-bit a lot better in Chrono Trigger). This can especially be seen in the character design, all of which are distinct and likeable. One thing that helps this is the way that your party walks around with the same (more) detailed sprites that they use in battle. In battle, the character’s different idle stances and attack animations give you a real sense of the character’s personalities’. The same can be said for the NPC and environment designs. Every single design is unique and wonderfully detailed (especially the bosses). One of the key aspects of the game is time travel, meaning that the locations and enemies can be varied in style and tone, which Toriyama took full advantage of, to make one of the best-looking games that I have ever seen.
Audio: Chrono Trigger’s music was composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu (the composer of the Final Fantasy). The music also varies in tone and style based on the era that you’re: from the slow, sad music of the future and the upbeat percussion based music of the Mystic Mountain in 65,000,000B.C. The constant shift of the tone of the music means that it always mirrors the tone of the story and the aesthetics. The battle music is one of my favourite tracks in the game. The music tries to imitate the sound of a choir, which I enjoy; in addition, it has enough pace to be intense, but is also slow enough to prepare you for the slower pace of the gameplay.
Technical: The game is one of the later ones on the SNES, and it shows. Chrono Trigger pushes the system to its limits, with its detailed sprites and use of the subtler elements of the Super Nintendo’s palette to create sprites that look amazing. Considering how sprite art (especially 8-bit and 16-bit) is a stylistic choice now, the game holds up incredibly well.
Story and Characters
The Plot: The best thing about the plot is easily how well it is told. The plot flows incredibly well, with one event always leading to another, with you always knowing what you need to do next. The game only took me 16 hours to beat on my first try (mind you, JRPGs are one of the few genres I’m good at, but I was also 8). This is remarkably short for a JRPG, and in my opinion, the short length of the game is one of its strongest aspects, but more importantly, is how focused the story is. Nothing you do is ever pointless. Everything you do is part of your quest to stop Lavos. You don’t go to the medieval age to help Frog on his quest for vengeance and to restore his honour, you go because you think that was when Lavos was created. This focus makes everything important and everything memorable. I can recall every important story moment from Chrono Trigger, because of how memorable they are (my favourite bit is the part when Frog cuts a mountain in half).
The Hero: The main character of the game is a young man named Crono. I don’t want to delve into spoiler territory (as most of Crono’s characterisation happens in the games “punch to the gut” moment). The core of Crono’s character is the traditional heroic archetype (I’ve talked about the traditional hero archetype in my review of A Link to the Past, so I won’t go into it here), meaning that his actions always feel like they’re in character, but the fleshing out is done by you. It’s Crono’s actions that define him, not a morality meter or things that other characters tell you he is.
The Villain: Lavos status as a character is debatable, however, Lavos works as both a force of nature and as a driving force of the plot, as a symbol of impending doom, and a goal to achieve. Time for bible symbolism. Please don’t go. Like everything else (ever), there is, of course, Jesus symbolism, but I’m going to talk about the symbolism specifically related to Lavos. The specific biblical reference here is to Wormwood (also known as apsinthion or apsinthios). “The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.” (Rev 8:10-11)
The Supporting Cast: The game only has 7 playable characters, one of which is optional (Magus) and one of which is silent (Crono). This means that there’s a lot of time devoted to each of the characters. You understand the characters’ personalities, their traits, their qualities, and their flaws. My favourite thing here is how each character’s abilities, stances, idle animation and musical theme perfectly represents the character. Honestly, it’s impossible to dive into any of the characters’ personalities or arcs without heading straight into spoiler territory.
Chrono Trigger follows the Active Time Battle system (using Active Time Battle V2) of Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI (the party members’ gauges fill up before they can act, rather than a traditional turn based system). The biggest difference between the system here and the one featured in the Final Fantasy games is the element of motion: your party aren’t in a regular formation and enemies and wander around the area. This adds a huge amount of depth: do you wait for your enemies to line up or get close enough together, or do you hit them while you can? This is even more impressive, considering how each party member can only do three things: attach, use an item, or use a tech. The techs are a lot of fun. The main reason for this is the system of dual and triple techs: these are techs that multiple party members do together. Not only is it fun to see what techs you will unlock, but more importantly, it adds another layer of depth. I really love this system, and I’m a bit disappointed to see that they didn’t carry it over into Final Fantasy VII.
Play Chrono Trigger. Play it right now.