Thursday, March 19, 2015

Chrono Trigger - 20 Years Retrospective

Back in 1995, Squaresoft was at the near top of their game releasing one critically acclaimed RPG after another in the Japan and considerably less across the pond in the United States. At the same time, the original JRPG series, Dragon Quest was going strong and the manga Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z were flying off the shelves. What gamers wouldn’t give their D20 dice to see a collaboration between artist/creator of Dragon Ball, Akira Toriyama; designer and creator of Dragon Quest, Yuji Horii; and Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi? This “Dream Team” would finally work together (along with other prominent Square developers) into creating one of the most beloved, and arguably finest JRPG: Chrono Trigger.

At that time I was pretty fresh to RPGs. My first experience with them was with Final Fantasy IV (II as it was originally known in North America on the SNES). I rented it from Blockbuster because I have had read good things about it but coming from a diet that consisted primarily of platformers, I was utterly baffled and frustrated at these invisible enemies attacking me with no warning at seemingly random intervals. Barely getting through the first dungeon, I returned the game in disgust and didn’t really look into RPGs again for a while.

That would change as I read through Electronic Gaming Monthly and Nintendo Power, seeing the beautiful illustrations and backgrounds of colorful and memorable characters that made up Chrono Trigger. Being a kid, my funds were severely limited and most of my game purchases were limited to birthdays and the pagan gift giving festival, Christmas. Thankfully video rental stores also carried video games and a new one, called Video Update, opened up near my place. The selection here dwarfed what Blockbuster had and Video Update included the instructions - which were still in good condition - with the game. My parents took me and my brother there and while my parents occupied themselves with some movie they would enjoy I made a beeline to the Super Nintendo section, scoping out the library. I came across Chrono Trigger and fell in love with Toriyama’s cover art (Note: I’m not a fan of DB or DBZ but enjoy his art of CT, go figure). This was the game that I was reading about in my magazines!

On our way home from the store, an ominous brown cloud of dust was rolling into the valley. The wind blew in scorching dust that stung my skin as I made my way into the house and to pop the cartridge into the awaiting SNES. This storm must be an omen. It really wasn’t but it was a cool backdrop to be playing this game. The ticking pendulum followed by the synthesized choral voices and the epic bombast of the soundtrack entranced me. I woke up in the game and proceeded to explore all of Truce and have fun at the Millennial Fair.

Immediately I knew that this was different, better even, from Final Fantasy IV that I played before. The graphics were rich and vibrant. The characters were animated well and had memorable designs. And the music from Yasonuri Mitsuda would stay with me forever. Sadly, I did not make it very far in the game and I did not know how to save the game initially. It would be several years before I could play it again, borrowing it from a friend from high school then eventually owning it on PlayStation and the DS.

The story of friendship, salvation, and determination along with time travel made this game the classic that it is today. Chrono Trigger also introduced or helped popularize many gameplay innovations such as New Game+, combining party member magic attacks, multiple endings, and a light, branching storyline. Some of these innovations were done on the PC already but it was rare to see them on consoles. Fans still clamor for a direct sequel to the game, the fact that this game even exists still brings me joy and I still play through it from time to time.

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