Released between Final Fantasy VI and VII, Chrono Trigger feels surprisingly ahead of its time. There’s usually some sort of caveat I feel the need to include when discussing games of this era – most games have a few moments where the player will be reminded of the relative age, or where you can see how a few indie games have outdone a concept or two. Chrono Trigger, however, remains ageless and irreplaceable.
Chrono Trigger is the story of Crono, a silent young man who runs into a princess who has snuck out to visit a fair in the traditional fantasy medieval setting. While there, Marle’s pendant causes a teleporter to tear a rift in time. Crono and Lucca create another portal to find her, setting off a journey through several unique eras, from a prehistoric age to a desolate future.
Part of Chrono Trigger’s quality stems from its relative simplicity. The world itself isn’t large, instead built around the idea of seeing the same general location across various states in time. Finding a new location in a video game usually doesn’t leave much impact beyond a sense of discovery, but seeing a familiar place in an entirely new form can hit a bit harder. This is especially true when something in the future has changed due to a player’s actions in the past. This is a game which really lets the player see the impact of their actions. That impact is carried into the structure of Chrono Trigger’s finale. Due to these time travel shenanigans, the final boss can be confronted at several different points, resulting in several different endings based on the state of the timelines.
Chrono Trigger also has excellent presentation. Being a late-era SNES game, the sprites are incredibly detailed. The soundtrack is an all-time great. Most striking is the way it avoids random encounters. Enemies can be seen on the map, with many waiting in ambush. Meanwhile, the similar Final Fantasy series kept using random encounters until 2006. Every battle in Chrono Trigger feels planned, which results in the balance feeling just right throughout. Most JRPGs seem to be designed with the idea that a longer playtime is better, resulting in a lot of dead space. Chrono Trigger never really hits a lull, keeping its plot moving in a meaningful way despite the ability to potentially end it at any time.
Unlike most games in the Final Fantasy series, levelling up in Chrono Trigger remains relatively straightforward. Each member of its central cast is made to feel like a specific character with their own functions in battle, and its unique trait is combo attacks using multiple party members. Each pair has their own specialties, making it fun to mix and match team members to see what they can pull off together. As characters, Frog and Magus stand as two of the genre’s best, with a significant portion of the plot dedicated to their feud.
In a genre where most games attempt to be as expansive as possible, Chrono Trigger perseveres as a classic by remaining so thoughtfully contained. Like Ocarina of Time, this is a game where the world comes alive through repeated visits. This may not be a game where the player will spend dozens and dozens of hours grinding to face off against super-bosses, but every second of the experience is top-notch.