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Chrono Trigger (SNES) artwork

Chrono Trigger (SNES) review

"The year was 1995. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System, after putting up a valiant, and arguably successful, fight against the competition put forth by the Sega Genesis, was getting ready to retire and make way for the next generation of video gaming consoles. The SNES had had a good run. Its library included some of the greatest games ever, and even to this day is considered the preferred console for the RPG gamer. "

The year was 1995. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System, after putting up a valiant, and arguably successful, fight against the competition put forth by the Sega Genesis, was getting ready to retire and make way for the next generation of video gaming consoles. The SNES had had a good run. Its library included some of the greatest games ever, and even to this day is considered the preferred console for the RPG gamer.

How does one honor this legacy? The SNES needed a swan's song, one last great honor to personify its tradition of excellence. The Golden Age of Square graced the Super Nintendo. At the time, they could do no wrong. They were the perfect candidate to deliver the last great Super Nintendo game. And Squaresoft gave the Super Nintendo one hell of a sendoff.

Chrono Trigger initially appears to be a deceptively simple and traditional RPG. At first glance, it offers nothing new to the genre. A rudimentary statistic building system based on experience levels, a collection of progressively more powerful equipment, and a large number of spells. Nothing too special. But it throws a few tricks in along the way. In fact, the very first thing you see after starting a new game are two options: Would you like to play in Active or Wait Mode?

While in Active Mode, your opponents will actively attack you whenever their action bar fills. Likewise, you can attack them as soon as your own action bar fills. This opens up new depths in strategy; when a character's turn arrives, the player can choose to save that character's turn for when he or she truly needs it. Wait Mode, on the other hand, stops the battle while the player decides what action to perform next. Both offer unique strategies, creating two very different ways to play the game.

When a player enters combat, the three characters he has selected to be in his combat team all take their positions on the screen. Every individual battle in the game has its own unique battlefield it's fought on, with different configurations on where your own characters stand and where your enemies appear. Your enemies can move independently around the battlefield, and depending on their vicinity to your characters, will unleash a number of different attacks.

In a nod to Final Fantasy III/VI, most of Chrono Trigger's many boss battles have some kind of unique catch to them which the player must learn. This has since become a tradition in Square's RPGs. One boss may periodically guard against all attacks, and striking him causes him to unleash a very powerful spell. Another boss might need to be stunned with Lightning to lower his defense, and will periodically reflect all of the absorbed lightning damage back at the player's team.

Depending on who the player is using on his team, a number of special combo attacks (called 'Dual Techs') can be performed. Crono's Lightning ability and Frog's Leap Attack ability can be combined to perform the Spire Dual Tech, for example, while Marle's Ice attack can be combined with Lucca's Fire attack to perform Antipode. Much later in the game, Triple Techs can be discovered which involve all three members of the party (unfortunately these Techs, while cool, don't do enough damage to warrant the mana and time cost). The Combo Tech system adds considerable depth to the combat system, since different combinations of characters will offer a different array of abilities. This system is also the single most ingenious innovation in the game, a concept which has been copied in numerous RPGs since but has never reached the same level of depth or innovation.

Chrono Trigger's story begins innocently enough. A young boy, Crono, awakens in the morning to the call of his mother's voice. He sets out for the Millennial Fair, a celebration of the 1000th year of recorded history and the 400th anniversary of the end of the Great War, in which a legendary hero appeared and defeated the evil wizard Magus. At the fair, Crono encounters a young girl named Marle. After helping her locate her missing pendant, Crono takes her to a sideshow run by his friend Lucca. Lucca, a technical genius and master inventor, has created a teleportation device. After Crono successfully uses the machine, Marle takes her turn.

But, of course, something goes horribly wrong. Reacting to her pendant, Lucca's teleportation device sends Marle into a mysterious black portal. Crono and Lucca both follow. What follows is one of the strangest and most complicated adventures in video gaming history, taking the hero and his companions to every corner of time. What begins as a mission to rescue Marle from a stitch in time slowly escalates into a quest to save the planet's past, present and future from a parasitic alien from the depths of space. Interweaved throughout the story are references to an ancient kingdom and a magical sword, both of which rear their heads at completely unexpected times in entirely unexpected places.

Joining Crono, Marle and Lucca is a colorful and varied cast of characters: Frog, a cursed knight and master swordsman. Robo, a malfunctioning robot from the future. Ayla, a young leader of prehistoric men. And a mysterious sorcerer with impossible connections to the past. With arguably the best ensemble cast of characters of any game out there, each one is equally likable (with the possible exception of the rather predictable Marle character) and has their own personality.

Chrono Trigger's story is learned largely out of order, which is the real genius of it. The characters spend a great deal of the game following false leads, slowly unraveling a convoluted string of events which lead to the ultimate confrontation with Lavos. It is not uncommon for Crono and Company to later learn that an event fabled in time was actually something they themselves performed, from the end of the Great War to the destruction of the Magic Kingdom of Zeal. Chrono Trigger's excellent gameplay is the draw to the game, but its fantastic story is what keeps you playing.

The controls are basic, simple and responsive. There is nothing here that should confuse players who pick up a controller and begin to play. However, the interface has some quirks which can confuse or hinder even veterans of the game. When in combat, for example, selecting specific targets can be slightly tricky since the targeting reticule doesn't always move where it should. Combat Menus are extremely compact, only showing a few options at a time, which makes selecting an item in a long list a tricky task.

Chrono Trigger was one of the last games produced for the Super Nintendo, and was created by one of the most prolific developers for the system. So it's no surprise that Chrono Trigger has the best graphics on the system. With characters designed by the designer of Dragonball Z fame, the game's heroes have a very anime style quality to them. The backgrounds are all very well drawn and have a more gothic appearance to them then an anime style (which isn't what one would expect, given the character design). It is this unique style that makes Chrono Trigger's graphics very timeless. They still look good today thanks to that style.

Along with the excellent graphics comes an excellent soundtrack. With some very memorable music, especially the character themes, Chrono Trigger never disappoints in the listening department. You know a game's soundtrack is infectiously great when its tunes randomly pop into your head, and Chrono Trigger has at least three of these. Many of the songs, particularly Frog's Theme and Robo's Theme, are arguably some of the best music ever composed for a video game. Let me put it this way: a few years ago, the game's soundtrack was released on CD. It is currently the best selling video game soundtrack of all time. The sound isn't as great as the music, consisting mostly of swishes, swooshes, beeps and blips. But this is in keeping with most other SNES games.

RPGs don't typically feature a great number of extras, but Chrono Trigger puts forth a good share. There are a number of small minigames, including betting on races, a soda drinking contest, simon says, and a Mad Max-style race across a desert in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, plus a number of other notables. None of these really have much incentive to complete, except when it is required to progress the game forward, but Chrono Trigger's real extra comes in the New Game+ form. After beating the game for the first time, the player can choose to start that game over from the beginning, retaining all of the items and character levels from his previous game.

This allows the player to slowly, over the course of many playthroughs, max the statistics of all his characters and get the best equipment for each character. Since often the best armor and accessories overlap for each character, and these items can only be obtained in limited quantities over the course of the game, completing the game multiple times on New Game+ is a requirement. But the real draw of New Game+ is the dozens of different endings available. Because the game's final boss can technically be challenged at any point in the game's story (if you know where to go and what to do), you can defeat him on New Game+ with powered up characters at an earlier time then one normally could on a standard game. When you defeat Lavos affects the ending; for example, defeating him before helping Ayla defeat the Reptites transforms the future into a world where Humans are extinct and the Reptites reign supreme. Finding all of the different endings (of which there are very few stinkers) is just another reason to complete the game over again.

When Chrono Trigger was first released, it was one of the most colossal RPGs released at the time. For first timers, it averages about twelve to fifteen hours to complete it. Though this is now dwarfed by the 30 to 50 hour RPGs available nowadays, this was huge in it's day. Though it is by no means the most difficult RPG on record, there are a number of tricky bosses who are quite formidable until you figure out the tricks to beat them (Magus and Black Tyrano both come to mind). Once the tricks are discovered, they become almost too easy. It's rather like the bosses in Zelda, in their own way. The addition of New Game+ and the game's numerous different endings offer plenty of incentive to beat the game again.

Gameplay: 9 out of 10
Story: 5 out of 5
Controls: 9 out of 10
Graphics: 5 out of 5
Sound and Music: 5 out of 5
Extras: 4 out of 5
Game Length, Difficulty and Replay Value: 9 out of 10
Overall Score: 9.2 out of 10

The Good: The cast of characters are all interesting (for the most part), and the engaging story is arguably the best in the history of gaming. Chrono Trigger utilizes a traditional RPG combat system which has been slightly modified to create one of the best game engines in the genre. Near the end of the game, players are given the option to leave Crono (the 'main' character) out of the main team, which was practically unheard of at the time and is still a fairly uncommon sight today.
The Bad: The game is often very linear, but when it isn't being too linear it's being too vague in where you need to go next.
The Ugly: The New Game+ Mode offers no option to skip past dialogue, making additional playthroughs more and more tedious (though people playing the game through... alternative means don't have this problem). The combat menus are very small, only showing up to four items at a time, making it very difficult to quickly locate specific items or spells.

What better way to send the Super Nintendo into retirement then by blessing it with one of the greatest games ever created? The story is compelling, the combat system absorbing, and the music worthy of the orchestra. Chrono Trigger may be difficult to find thanks to its huge popularity, and an expensive price tag may be attached to it when you do. But can you really put a price on one of the greatest games ever created? If Final Fantasy VI isn't the holy grail of the SNES, then Chrono Trigger is.

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Community review by mrshotgun (March 15, 2007)

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