- Year of Release: 1995 (SNES), 1999 (PS), 2009 (NDS).
There’s a trend nowadays with J-RPG’s that they all have to be either insufferably edgy or painfully gay, that they have to be as linear as a hallway and involve the player as little as possible in the world. There are games that are not like this, like the Persona series. Shin Megami Tensei, as a rule, has always being ultra-edgy and so scared most of the J-RPG casual crowd away (me included until the arrival of the most streamlined Persona 4), while other bigger franchises have kept on their own paths; Final Fantasy is now regarded as series that started okay (Final Fantasy I), it got awesome (Final Fantasy VI), then it got bad (Final Fantasy VII), it seemed to recover itself (Final Fantasy XII) and finally plummeted into shit (Final Fantasy XIII and XIV); Pokémon seems to be doing okay, good enough to keep us stuck to our consoles for hours counted with hundreds and not dozens; and all the other good Japanese RPG franchises (Mario, Earthbound, Fire Emblem…) seemed to have died, forgotten, or just never managed to come out of Japan enough.
With that previous paragraph (which if you skipped I don’t blame you), I am trying to say something everybody knows by now: Japanese RPG’s nowadays suck. They are just horrible, for all the wrong reasons and RPG should be bad: The level grinding, the linearity, the combat system, the menu-driven stats, the leveling up mechanic, the character development, the complexity of the story…It’s like somebody decided to take a hammer to everything that was good about J-RPG’s, it feels exactly like somebody took the heart of Chrono Trigger and shoved a fist full of hate and knifes through it. And you might be wondering now, why do I mention Chrono Trigger in that sentence out of the blue? Because that’s the best J-RPG’s ever got and for the looks of the scenery, it’s like they will never get better than that.
Chrono Trigger shines for its simplicity, its wonderful sense of awe and easy access to the entire universe, story, characters and gameplay mechanics. The story starts with you waking up in your bed one morning and by the end of the game you will be fighting Cthulhu’s young brother in outer space helped with a cave-woman and a Frog Knight, and you will never notice when the switch occurred. It’s a wonderful story of time traveling where you destroy evil warriors, save kingdoms, protect the fate of humanity in several ages, sacrifice, redemption, family drama, love and action, all packed with visuals that don’t get in the way of the story and that are not there just to distract you from its simplicity. But the funny thing is that the story, as simple as it sounds, is complex enough for you to have up to 13 different endings depending on how you played, what you did, where and most important, when. Just so you know, this game does bear more decisions and changes than both Fallout 3 and Mass Effect together.
The combat system alone could also be a game on its own. For starters, there’s no flashy transition to an alternate look-alike version of the stage the main characters are. The battlefield is the stage where the characters are, as the life and magic bars pop up for you to start slaying enemies. The abilities of the entire party depend on who is with you, so say, if you carry the water expert and the wind expert with you, you will be able to create ice spells, or if you carry a defender and a healer you will be able to cast healing and protective spells at the same time in combos, making you to strategize with your characters instead of your menu screens. The inventory is blissfully easy as you will be getting better weapons and upgrading them with better versions of themselves, and the points to increase your characters stats are automatically given. Also you can give names to all your party members, which is something that it might look silly but it allows you to engage more with them (I can’t forget my robot partner, K34NW).
If you add to all that a great and epic soundtrack, a gameplay time of over 40 hours and the possibility of keep discovering new endings through combinations, the total absence of level grinding and the striking sense of awe the entire game transmits you, then there’s just one question that will nag you endlessly once the game is over. And that question is: “Why the fuck didn’t they do every J-RPG as good as this one?!” And you know what? I think the answer lies right next to that for the question “Why does Disney not do another movie like Lion King ever again?”
But seriously, I think we would get spoiled and corrupted on games this good, we will forget how to measure the quality of something good and something bad if we had more games like Chrono Trigger. This game is a game that happens only once in each console gen, and I think it was really influential for a lot of other great RPG’s that came afterwards, both Japanese and Western. Games like Pokémon (with its strategy based around your team), Fallout (with the post-apocalyptic setting), Mass Effect (with a huge build up for an explosive finale and the choice system), would not exist if it wasn’t for this game.
TL;DR – Chrono Trigger is the corner stone of every RPG out there nowadays, and brought so many innovative ideas to the table that it can be considered a flashy, playable design document. Enjoyable gameplay, ageless graphics, catchy soundtrack, great characters, non-linear storyline, open endings, lack of grinding, deep combat strategy, you name it, this game has it in the correct amount for every aspect where nothing seems more important than the rest. When I look back at a game and I get teary about it, that means it’s a wonderful game.