The SNES had quite a few role playing games to keep players busy, but there's one that does things a little bit differently, and it's got a fanbase desperately wanting more from a series that can barely be called a series in the first place.
Chrono Trigger follows the time-hopping adventures of Chrono and friends, where battles in the past must be won in order to make sure the future still takes place, and fights in that future must be won to save the world, as always.
It's a game that I've been aware of and watched in the past, but haven't ever played it. I've always thought that it'd be too much to get into, yet I read that it's on the short end of the RPG completion time scale, so at the very least I should finally get around to giving it a bash with a controller in hand.
Let's dive through the
The game opens at the dawning of the Millennium Fair, a day of celebration and gaming. Test your strength, battle robots for prize money, buy from the market stalls, return lost cats to their owners - there's all sorts to do as you familiarise yourself with the controls and the way you interact with the environment, which feel about as standard as any RPG controls.
You will shortly and quite literally bump into a young lady called Marle, and an impromptu date between you two culminates in the reveal of a brand new teleportation device, a device your friend Lucca built that works, for once. It unexpectedly sends Marle back in time, but technically it works, and - being the hero that you are - you jump in after her as you attempt to save her.
You land 400 years in the past in a bad neighbourhood...
I wonder how many people have died at this stage of the game? Getting kicked in the head by a... whatchamacallem for 4 points of damage because a) you were still getting to grips with the timing of the combat, and b) you'd gone a few rounds with a robot who punches you in the face and didn't bother to buy any tonics from the market because 'it's the introduction, I won't need to heal'...
Unfortunately, that meant restarting the game. I was determined to get through more than that because, from the start, Chrono Trigger is a joy to play. It's not got an explosive opening, but it's an engaging one, and it drew me into the world just enough to want to know more and to keep pushing through.
Into an ambush, but still, I learnt for next time, didn't I?
Further Fun Times
Armed with a sword and some healing items, I'm back in the past to hunt down Marle. As I said earlier, Chrono Trigger feels very standard in its navigation of the world, but when enemies are on screen, you've got to stop and think - if possible.
The battle system is time-based, turn based, kind of real time... I don't really know how to best explain it. When your meter is ready to go, you can perform an action before waiting for it for fill up again. That's pretty familiar. All the while, enemies are wobbling about the screen waiting for their meters to fill and attack you, I assume.
It's a subtle way to keep the fight grounded; we haven't been transported to a separately rendered arena to hit each other until one side is triumphant, we're going to settle this right here, right now, on the same screen we came across each other.
Each of your party can perform an attack, a technique or use an item, and selection of what you want is going to need to be pretty snappy if the world - and your enemies - are still moving around outside of the menu.
Attacks are straight forward, and techniques can be thought of as magical, or enhanced attacks. They're going to drain MP, and they're going to hit for much higher damage, but they aren't quite full on magic. Chrono Trigger is a fantasy, certainly, but not a massively magical one.
Depending on the level of your characters, and how often they've fought with each other, these techniques can also combine with other characters, and eventually, all three of your party members can work together for a joint attack. A cyclone of sword slashes and a line of flame combine into a Fire Whirl, for example. Pairing party members together for long enough to see what kinds of combos they can learn is part of the fun of switching characters around as and when you can.
Finally, I found Marle (who then ran off), Lucca found me, and we were joined by a frog called Frog as we explored a Cathedral that is clearly a front for something, but as always I hit a wall and couldn't see where to go or what to do to progress, which was disappointing because I was really getting into Chrono Trigger.
I haven't quite developed a knack for avoiding combat, or escaping it, if possible, or performing well enough to avoid incoming damage... basically, I'm mostly spamming attack until things disappear, which is fine - I've not died (again) yet.
You don't have to grind and there are no random battles, but there are still enough of them to feel like they're getting in the way of my exploration already. It's dragging a little, especially when I'm going in circles looking for the next step.
From the walkthrough I've since read, there are some switches hidden behind skulls. 'Duh?', right?. That is the only clue I've given myself for the next session, and it serves me right for not running into enough walls while spamming the A button, which is how all RPGs function at the end of the day.
I've barely scratched the surface of Chrono Trigger but I know I want to see more of it. I don't know if it's an easy game, and I can't remember anywhere near enough of it from watching it in the past to know what lies ahead (which is probably why I missed switches hidden behind skulls), but it feels accessible and is different enough from other RPGs that you could argue the case for trying this title if you didn't like the others.
It may be the size or design of the sprites, it may be the focus on the story or how it was initially presented to you, it may be that within an hour you've fought against a robot and with a talking frog. Whatever Chrono Trigger has, it has something going for it that I think pushes it ahead of the likes of Final Fantasy.
Both it and the Final Fantasy series mix the serious with the humourous, but Chrono Trigger just does it well. I can't put my finger on it. Maybe playing it for much longer will help out there.
With its multiple endings and relatively short length, Chrono Trigger can stand and has stood the test of time. A Nintendo DS remake is supposedly the better choice for beginners to the series, and I might end up trying that out too some time.
Whatever the format, have a go at Chrono Trigger yourself because it's so easy to get swept up into and it's not the doom and gloom, end of the world type of scenario that seems so prevalent in other RPGs, which is great. We could all do with a break from saving the world in such an obvious fashion.
While not the first game to use such a feature, Chrono Trigger is the first game to use the words 'New Game+' to describe a second playthrough of the game.
Chrono Trigger, developed by Square, first released in 1995.
Version played: SNES, 1995, via emulation.
Version watched: SNES, 1995 (TheSw1tcher)