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Chrono Trigger (SNES) artwork

Chrono Trigger (SNES) review

"I never can go wrong re-visiting this masterpiece."

Chrono Trigger (SNES) image

From the day I purchased Chrono Trigger in the 90s until now, its place at the very top of my list of all-time favorite RPGs has remained assured. Even though I've completed it many times now and know virtually everything about the game's world and lore, I find myself looking forward to those inevitable times when I decide to run through it once more.

Like virtually all games that are generally considered excellent, this one does have its detractors. They raise points about its brevity and the general lack of challenge. Those are valid points, I guess, but neither of them holds much weight for me. My recent attempts to play through the myriad of mobile RPGs from Kemco have let me experience a pair of games that are similarly easy and brief (both lasting around 25 hours apiece), and let's just say neither Alphadia nor Grinsia come remotely close to Chrono Trigger.

My continued appreciation for Chrono Trigger can mainly be summed up in two words: "pacing" and "thrills." The game benefits from some of the best pacing ever offered in any RPG, and it is loaded with more thrills and climactic moments than many games boast even over the course of 60- or 100-hour campaigns. The Kemco games I mentioned rely on one formulaic plot, with only the occasional twist to carry players through those 25 hours. Chrono Trigger, on the other hand, offers a main plot that is supplemented by several major supporting threads, each containing its own epic battles with major adversaries. If there's a dull moment in this game, it's probably by design, since Square figured that if players don't get a chance here or there to catch their breath, their hearts might explode from the non-stop rollercoaster ride. At least, that's how I see it.

Once things get started, they move quickly from there. The game begins as Crono, its silent protagonist, gets woken by his mother so that he can attend a big celebration being held in town. When he arrives, he meets a strange girl who tags along with him on his way to visit his friend Lucca, who is conducting a science experiment. That experiment doesn't quite work as she planned, though. When Crono's new pal volunteers to test it out, she gets warped to parts unknown. As Lucca tries to figure out what went wrong, Crono takes more immediate action and jumps through the same dimensional warp. He lands near his familiar town, but 400 years in the past.

Over the next couple of hours of play, a lot happens to Crono. He finds out that his new friend is actually Marle (or, officially, Nadia), the princess of his kingdom. She just wanted to escape the castle for a while and have some fun. After completing a quest to rescue the queen in this era, Crono returns Marle to her proper time…and promptly get arrested for kidnapping her. What follows is a sham of a trial, perpetrated by the corrupt chancellor. After an unfair conviction, Crono breaks out of death row with help from Lucca. They escape the castle together, and Marle chooses to join them. It doesn't take long for the chancellor and his guards to corner them once again, but there's another warp gate nearby and they jump through it…

They arrive in the future. The year is 2300, and the landscape is cluttered with the ruins of a formerly great society. A few scattered remnants of civilization bear testament to its rich history. The planet's few remaining inhabitants press ever onward, surviving in a world now dominated by monsters and robots that are quite hostile toward humanity. Crono and friends are able to find one friendly robot to join their party, though, and eventually they reach yet another warp gate. In the process, the heroes discover something important: the cause of the world's destruction. In 1999, a gigantic monster (or should I say "force of nature"?) named Lavos burst forth from the planet's interior, causing untold devastation. Almost immediately, your party decides the only reasonable course of action is to find some way to stop Lavos and thus preserve their world for future generations.

This is not a simple task. Although the world is fairly stable during the year 1000 (where Crono normally resides), each of the other dominant eras has big problems. There's that issue with human-hating robots in the post-Lavos apocalyptic future, for instance. Even the prehistoric era finds humans fighting for survival, though, this time against the lizard-like Reptites and their leader, Azala. In 600 AD, a different war is waged against the warlord Magus and his army of demi-human Mystics. Oh, and while you might not jump into the middle of some big conflict in 12000 BC, know that when you do finally reach that era, you will hear all sorts of ominous news about how the queen is seeking to use some unknown underground power source to achieve infinite power and immortality. Hmmm… a mysterious underground power source. Lavos came from beneath the Earth. That's just a coincidence, right?

Man, just typing that plot summary sends chills down my spine! It's amazing how all five of this game's main eras flow together so seamlessly. Perhaps the game's initial linearity serves a noble purpose. You follow a mostly set path until near the end, when you have the option to complete a bunch of side-quests before finally tackling Lavos for the final battles. That activity leads to a coherent plot that finds you rushing from one era to another, hoping to find a way to prevent the destruction of your planet.

Late-game side-quests have worth beyond simply allowing you to obtain the ultimate weapons and armor for your characters, as well. A couple of them essentially conclude the future and 12000 BC arcs by throwing you up against their main villains, while others tie up lesser loose ends and deliver interesting call-backs to earlier battles (such as a confrontation with the vengeful descendent of the game's very first boss).

I won't deny that these battles, epic as they may seem on the surface, are usually quite easy. At least they are simple in a tolerable way, though. You still have to know what you're doing and have a firm grasp on tactical battle concepts. The active-time battle system is present, as in other 16-bit titles from Square, which means you also have to make choices quickly. No consistent style of fighting will carry you through the entire game. Some monsters are most easily handled by physical attacks, while others can only be efficiently eliminated through the use of magic. A lot of bosses have multiple limbs and you must eliminate them in a specific order, lest bad things happen. Maybe an arm will heal the main body until it is destroyed… or, perhaps, those support bits of the giant machine you battle early in your first trip to the distant future will tear you to shreds with a brutal counterattack if you attack the torso first.

So, yeah, Chrono Trigger is pretty easy, but you'll still find all sorts of reasons to simply enjoy what you're doing even when you're not being challenged. Enemies tend to be visible on the screen and can frequently be avoided. Your party of six (or seven, depending on a choice you make late in the game) characters all learn a variety of spells and attacks, many of which can be combined with those of teammates to really deliver the pain.

Aesthetically, this is the best RPG you'll see at the 16-bit level. The graphics are beautiful and feature many well-animated characters, while the soundtrack remains memorable even now. There also are a couple plot twists which could be considered revolutionary, such as a certain event which happens right when you're ready to confront Queen Zeal and her lackeys in 12000 BC. Every time it seems things can't get more thrilling, this game finds a way to raise the stakes just a bit more, all while maintaining its exemplary quality.

If anything, Chrono Trigger's brevity and lower difficulty might work on its behalf. They ensure that the game offers a smooth, fast-paced ride from beginning to end, one that lacks the padding so often found within the genre since there's no real need to ever grind for experience or cash. Even the scant few blatant fetch quests are quite brief. The existence of multiple eras to explore ensures a wide variety of locales, as well, and the fact these eras tend to have their own self-contained stories that still contribute to the plot makes the adventuring that much sweeter. There are bigger RPGs with more impressive stories, larger worlds and tons more stuff to do, but this particular game delivers a fun adventure without wasting anyone's time. That's certainly something to be celebrated.

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (October 13, 2015)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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If you enjoyed this Chrono Trigger review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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sashanan posted October 14, 2015:

Just reading this makes me want to play it. Again. I don't think I'm still in the single digits on this one.
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overdrive posted October 15, 2015:

If there's an RPG designed for many, many playthroughs, it's this one. I think, because it was made so well, that makes its brevity and general ease a bonus. I have a lot of RPGs I really liked and wouldn't mind playing again, but don't want to set aside 60-100 hours to do so OR there's that one area I really didn't like because it was frustrating or something like that.

With CT, you go from place to place at a brisk enough pace that if there's an area that's more of a drag to you, it'll be over soon. And, after playing it a few times, the only thing that always will challenge me is that boss fight with Giga Gaia. It just brings the pain at the beginning -- if you don't obliterate an arm very early, you will be destroyed by its big group attacks.
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Channard posted October 17, 2015:

I really envy those people who played CT in 90s. Because of fact that game wasn't released in Europe and SNES was too expensive (hard times, yeah, but seriously, new console was like 2 month salaries), only thing I could do is to read articles about how CT is good in various magazines. I played this game in 2007 and even then found it awesome. What I can say today — Chrono Trigger IS a timeless game.
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dagoss posted March 17, 2022:

I'm playing the DS version right now. I played it on SNES circa 2000 but wasn't really in love with it at the time. All the stuff about time travel felt campy and a bit dumb to me, like the game was trying to be deep like a teenager writing poetry.

Replaying it now as someone with a big more appreciation for its fine details, it's an absolute masterclass in design. I don't think it's too short; I think it's just smarter about how it uses the players time. There are so many times when CT just puts an object on the screen and assumes the player will figure out what to do. For example, when you first go through the teleporter at the fair, that's it. There's no "where am I?" soliloquy or talking to an imp or whatever. It's very good at explaining things without resorting to exposition text.

I like the combat more than I thought I would. I usually don't like it when characters have set growth and little to customize, but it works here because each combat encounter feels hand crafted and different, even if it's the same enemy. I love how so many normal enemies have movement patterns, weak points that you need to wait to exploit, etc.

I'm about 3 hours in and just reached the end of time. It's just bonkers that I could try to fight the final boss already.
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overdrive posted March 18, 2022:

One time, shortly before one of my replays of this game, I found a site online dedicated to talking about just how great the pacing of this game is. It analyzed it dungeon by dungeon discussing how you have periods that build up to epic parts and then you'll have a little breather area so you can recover from that stuff and then it'll build up again. It was one of those really cool and in-depth reads that really shows how much power this game has. It's one of my all-time favorites and it inspired that person to essentially write a small book online breaking it down moment by moment. Not every game pulls that off!

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