Chrono Trigger - SNES / Playstation / Nintendo DS (1995)
SNES Cover Artwork
Japanese Cover Artwork
Soundtrack Booklet Artwork
(Except where noted, screenshots taken from fan translation)
RPGs weren’t cool during the 16-bit era. You never could talk storylines or combat systems with kids at recess because only one or two kids in the whole friggen school played them. After Final Fantasy VII changed all that, people then decided they didn’t like 16-bit RPGs. I guess they never saw things a select few of us did.
I accidentally rented Final Fantasy II at a local Albertsons one day. It was accidental because it was something I wasn’t expecting. I remember someone saying they wanted to play it. It sounded like a worthy rental. Of course when I went home, it was a different story. Rather than running around jumping on stuff or firing a bazooka, I see a bunch of flying stuff and text boxes such as:
Crew: Captain Cecil, we’re about to arrive at Baron.
What the hell? A buncha text? Why is there so much talking? Why when I move around, the game suddenly goes through a seizure and the screen changes? This Kain guy and Cecil look cool but why can’t I control them? Jump? That means he can jump right? Cecil gained a level? Does that mean I get a new area?
Then the most annoying thing in games of all for 8 year olds...numbers for energy.
WHAT THE HELL? YOU MEAN YOU DON’T GET AN ENERGY BAR?!
That’s FFII when I first played it. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Cecil looked cool, and his sword swings were nice, but I wanted to control him. I never understood why the power of dark didn’t work against dark enemies or why lightning magic works against water enemies.
Needless to say, with a party of two mages and a physical fighter, I had everyone using physical attacks against a water elemental second boss knowing nothing about magic and dying.
Oh yeah, and what’s saving your game?
After dying, I got up and did something else. But there was one thing going through my mind as I was playing with Z-Bots and watching a Simpsons episode I recorded. I knew in the story that Kain left under mysterious circumstances, and I was left with some old fart and a kid whose mother I inadvertently killed. It got me wondering...what happens next?
I got back in and played the game to death until getting it as a present a year later, I ran away from every battle I could. I never could beat Milon, but as I learned how RPG’s work, I realized one thing...this was a different game, and RPGs still suck.
I got all the way to the Babil Giant...at level 28 no less (or whatever level Rosa learns Cure3 at) and never beat it until a good four years later when I knew what I was doing. For the curious, to even have a chance in the Giant you should be around the 40’s or 50’s. The years that followed, Square basically evolved me to see how great RPGs were. While the genre sold terribly, the best ones sans a few titles made it to the states. I know a lot of people complained about RPGs not coming to America, but there really weren’t that many good RPGs to begin with. Tecmo’s Secret of the Stars was terrible, and Paladin’s Quest proved I could have more enjoyment rubbing my genitals up against armies of rabid porcupines. Breath of Fire was ok, Enix’s few games were awesome, but that was it. Aside from Earthbound, Square basically made the only RPGs that were worth a look. I’m not kidding, it wasn’t until the PS1 and FFVII boom that JRPGs started getting good. People whined and complained about there not being enough RPGs released in the US during the SNES’s heyday. Trust me. When the SNES is concerned, aside from one or two of them along with Dragon Quest entries, they did us a favor.
When Square released Final Fantasy VI, I was initially unimpressed. I still wouldn’t accept after Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy IV that I liked RPG’s. These games fell through the cracks. I, of course, bought FFVI a month after it was released and tore through it like a five year old does birthday presents. It was a great game however, as beloved as it is, there was no way Final Fantasy VI would win any "Game of the Year" awards. In fact, most people who played 16-bit RPGs refer to FFVI as their favorite "Final Fantasy".
Ask anyone who said that what their favorite "game" was and they would answer "Chrono Trigger".
Depending on who you ask, Chrono Trigger either A: Became a standard for Role Playing Games to be compared to or B: Just took every cliché in the book and made it look so good and polished that you forgot it was a cliché to begin with. Before its release none of us knew what was coming. All we had to go on was a screenshot of some dude with red hair shoving his sword into a tank. "Chrono Trigger! It is gonna be cool!" The previews all said.
What we didn’t know was how things were started.
Legend has it that producer Kazuhiko Aori was the one who got the group assembled. While many accept the story of the glass brain told by one Pat R, that revealed how to make this game. There is another small story that I tend to believe. In a meeting at Sakaguchi’s house, in the middle of popping pills and shrooms to come up with the storyline of Final Fantasy VII, this transpired:
Aori: Hey, I just found out that Yuji Hori is a freelance Scenario writer and doesn’t work directly with Enix and...and...
Sakaguchi (interrupting): Hey Nob, Amano’s busy on Vampire Hunter D stuff and I don’t think I can do another game about crystals. Any ideas?
Uematsu: I heard that those guys that did Dragon Quest are pretty cool...let’s get them.
Sakaguchi: Dragon Quest? That’s still around?
Uematsu: Yeah, it’s kicking our asses actually.
Sakaguchi: Well Jesus, lets grab Yuji Hori. Who’s the guy who drew Dragon Ball Z?
Uematsu: You mean Akira Toriyama?
Sakaguchi: Yeah him, grab him too, we’re gonna make a huge game!
And it was so. After these guys got together they grabbed Masato Kato to pen the script (and personally do the 12,000 BC areas all on his own), and another dude named Yasunori Mitsuda. Originally, Mitsuda was supposed to compose most of the music, but after he got extremely sick, Uematsu stepped in. Rumor has it that Mitsuda was Uematsu’s protégé of some sorts, but this is yet to be determined. This was the dream team. Basketball had Jordan and Shaq on one team, Games had Hori and Sakaguchi working together. The first thing was what to do. Another ‘Fantasy? Another ‘Mana? Then the Square execs looked at this new group.
"Who the hell makes money off sequels? You’ve already done VI, we don’t need another ‘Fantasy to kick ass with. Make something original, that’s what we do."
Somewhere along the lines this exec was probably hung during the Enix acquisition, as for now the boys did as told. They sat and tried to figure out what to do. "Hey," Sakaguchi said one night in the middle of their Chinese food induced brain storm. "What if we like, did everything all the other RPGs did and-" "Hiro", Kato said shaking his head. "Original! We have to do something original, so we can’t do anything other RPGs have done, no evil empire, no dragon lord no-" Sakaguchi lifted his hand up in cutting Kato off. "No, I mean we do everything in other RPGs- -But actually make it good?"
No one ever heard of that idea. It was something never thought of. Take every cliché and make it cool. Make it over the top, at the same time tug at your emotional strings.
Uematsu stepped in. "But, if we do that, it isn’t going to work in the same environment. If we do steam-punk, we can’t have a princess get kidnapped."
"You forget," Hori butted in. "The first Final Fantasy had time travel, why don’t we do that here, but make sure it actually makes sense?"
"So we have them go three millennia in the past for the dragon, then four millennia in the future for the steam-punk! BRILLIANT!!!!" Sakaguchi yelled jumping out of his chair and clenching his fist as if he was Darth Vader giving Luke advice.
"No I actually was thinking four centuries back to see their ancestors and save a queen and then into a far away future where everything’s destroyed," Yuji answered.
Sakaguchi slumped back into his seat. This wasn’t going to be any ordinary game.
After the storyline questions were ironed out with different time periods and several RPG-like twists. The next question came up of how combat was going to work. Sakaguchi walked into an old dusty hallway and opened up a safe with the others gazing on.
"Never used this," Sakaguchi said doing the combination. He opened the safe door and pulled out a folder stuffed to the brim with documents inside.
"What’s that?" Mitsuda asked.
"It’s every complaint people have with combat systems in RPGs. See this? We’re gonna fix every one of them."
So they sat down and went through combat. No one liked random encounters - throw that out. Oh and switching screens to fight hand drawn enemies? Why not just fight fully animated enemies...like RIGHT THERE? Also, why not have enemies hanging out in the area and you can fight them if you want to, but leave them alone also and they do their thing.
"Oh yeah," Yuji said as they jotted everything down. "No offense Sakaguchi, but we’ve always had some useless characters in both our games. So lets cut them down and have all of them team up for different attacks. That would make each character that much more useful"
Genius. Pure genius. The idea was to not just make an RPG with a killer story, but to make one that was...fun to play. In all this graphical world of how great a game looks it seems like developers lose track of why we play games to begin with.
Because they're fun.
The end result of all this programming, brainstorming, story craft etc. is Chrono Trigger. Quite possibly the greatest RPG on the SNES, if not ever. Even if we played RPGs, most of us aged 9-13 just figured that these games fell through the cracks. They were rare finds in what we thought was a boring genre. Chrono Trigger changed all that. It’s the game where you realize...RPGs don’t slip through the cracks, they can be great games.
I rented the game a few times because it came out at a point where a birthday was a long ways away, and Christmas even longer. Two months later after getting decent grades I had my mother buy me the damn thing. After plunking $80 down I had Chrono Trigger, Square’s second to last RPG for the SNES.
One of the more memorable aspects of Chrono Trigger was its characters. Why? One could guess. For the most part they are the most clichéd bunch you could ever come across. The reason why they work is their presentation. Having six characters with extensive back stories and their own reasons for joining up worked better than Final Fantasy VI’s gazillion shallow storylines you had to keep track of. Granted, a lot of extensiveness with characters was dropped in favor of environment storyline (like dragon quest). Think of the story as a mix of Final Fantasy and Dragon quest: equal emphasis on characters and the city folk they run into, rather than one of the other.
The time period you acquire each character is listed next to them. These aren’t your mother’s RPG characters:
Lavos is the big bad guy all RPG's are known for. You know who he is about three game hours in, and for the rest of the game you are trying to kill him before he unleashes havoc in 1999. I'm not even sure if it is a he. He's essentially a parasite that is harvesting the planet and then going on his merry little way.
Why he's clichéd: Every RPG in existence had the last bad guy clearly drawn at the beginning of the story. Whispers of the "Evil One" were heard throughout until the end when you finally meet up with him in your quest. Lavos is no different, you know you have to kill him and you learn more about him as the story progresses.
Why no one cared: While he was the "Evil One" CT had clearly drawn bad-guys in each era summoning or worshiping the evil Lavos. It made sense why Lavos was mentioned as early as he was, as it gave a good driving force for everything else. In essence, Lavos was more of a story plot than an actual character.
Ozzie, Flea and Slash
Ozzie leads this group of Generals, all he really does is smack his lips together and boast about how great he is. The other two just join in when they he needs them to kick your ass. Ozzie was such a bad dude that they even have his ancestor running the monster town in present day. His descendant’s a dick too.
Fun Fact: In the Japanese version of the game, Ozzie, Flea and Slash were known as Vinegar, Mayonnaise and Soy Sauce, respectively. Noticing that naming monsters after food wasn't as humorous here as it was in Japan, Ted Woolsey named the characters after famous rock stars-the Japanese equivalent of food names. Personally, I like Woolsey's naming convention's better.
Why they were clichéd: The second in command to the bad guy always makes an appearance, usually laughing his ass off telling you that you are worthless.
Why no one cared: there were three of them, and you got to take their boss to the hideout and kill them. Cool.
Yep, he's a bad guy first then turns good. Magus has one of the cooler boss fights in the game, and the game does a good job making you hate him. He kills the noble knight of Guardia, turns Glenn into a frog, and gets an army ready to level Guardia Castle.
Why he's clichéd: He laughs his ass off and does evil things. Duh!
Why no one cared: You get him as a party member later in the game. We forgot he was a bad guy at that point.
Queen of Zeal
The Queen of, uh, Zeal. Zeal laughs her ass off and was said to once be a proud ruler, but not anymore. She now is basically Lavos’s bitch and wants to kill anyone who disagrees or questions her being a Lavos-slut. She's basically Chrono Trigger's version of a straight laced Catholic pope.
Why she's clichéd: Laughs maniacally, everything done is just for the sole purpose of being evil.
Why no one cared: Most villains either want A: To conquer the world or B: Destroy the world. Zeal achieves both in 12,000 BC, but in true Dragon Ball fashion she decides she wants immortality and MORE power. With those motives everything seemed fresh from there, it’d be a few years until we saw this reappear in virtually every storyline of Dragon Ball ever sans Cell and Buu.
Zeal's captain of the guard. Dalton laughs his ass off only wishing he could be Zeal and summons a buncha Golems from Golem-Land to fight you.
Why he's clichéd: Read the Zeal snippet
Why no one cared: He summons Golems and cries when you kill them. Yeah, we all thought Dalton was just a pussy.
Ok, so this really is Magus. But since his character sprite is different, he's prophet here. Magus gets sucked in a time warp making him land in 12,000 BC. With his knowledge of the past, he quickly becomes a psychic for Zeal - his mother. Well that's The Prophet. Once revealed as Magus, he attempts to kick Lavos's ass but doesn't get very far as he's knocked out five seconds in.
Why He’s Cliched: Everyone’s got that prophet guy that counsels the bad-dudes. This one is no different.
Why no one cared: He’s pretty clearly Magus, fool!
Leader of the Reptites in 65,000,000 BC Azala plans on eliminating the "apes" from the world so they can live. Ayla begs to differ.
Why he's cliched: Azala thinks humans are silly and wants to wipe them off the face of the earth. Oh God, where have we NOT heard this poetic motif before?
Why no one cared: Anyone who fights you while having his T-Rex join in on the fun has bad-ass written all over them. Plus, Azala was fighting for reptiles, he had some pretty good reasons. Anyone who didn't sympathize with his pride when Lavos checked in at the Earth's atmosphere should check their heart for a pulse.
No, not THAT Mother Brain. This one is a super computer that is dedicated to the upkeep and well being of robots, and the annihilation of those puny humans that made them.
Why she's clichéd: Ever see The Terminator?
Why no one cared: That was a movie, this is a game. Hope you like it, cuz this is half of the Playstation RPGs right here.