By Patrick Holloway

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.

Cecil: Good

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."

Everyone gasped.

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.

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CHARACTERS


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:

Allies

Chrono
1,000 AD

A silent protagonist that says things along the lines of "Yes", "No", and has only one line outside of those two answers in the entire game - and when he says that everyone looks at him like he’s given the location of Jimmy Hoffa’s body. His name should technically be "Chrono", but the five character limit imposed on the English version canonically changed it to "Crono".

Why he’s clichéd: Because just about every RPG that didn’t have "Final" or "Fantasy" in the title had the main character mute. The developer’s reasoning was because this way the main character represented your personality. I never knew answering "Yes" or "No" contributed to a tarot reading. But I’ll play along.

Why no one cared: The hair. Chrono had everyone who had never heard of Akira Toriyama or the term ‘Super Saiyan’ frothing at the mouth for more. Any kid who was 12 years old was trying to use bottles of gel to recreate the insane punk hair that Chrono had. Despite this, he was a pretty decent guy. He risks his existence to travel through time to save a girl he just met.

Lucca
1,000 AD

Trigger’s science freak, Lucca makes stuff. She’s responsible for finding the first wormhole in the game and starting this whole mess thanks to her teleporter device. Aside from starting the coolest quest ever, she fixes other tech stuff, most notably robots. Oh, did we mention she makes herself her own ultimate weapon? This of course turns out to be one of the worst weapons in the whole game.

Why she’s clichéd: Since this isn’t Final Fantasy, we needed another Cid, or any tech wiz for that matter. Lucca fit the bill perfectly. Sometimes she’s a mad scientist, sometimes she’s a "perfect lady" as she says. Most of the time, she’s so damn loud that I wish she would stop laughing.

Why no one cared: When she isn’t firing away at stuff with those pea-shooter guns of hers, she’s whacking them with a hammer, AWESOME! To be truthful, Lucca was the first, and last, non-hot science chick. She seriously was made to not be a buxom beauty who knew how to tinker with things (read: Bulma from DBZ) and be more of a nerd. They also took her looks away because they didn’t want anyone thinking Crono’s friend would start a love triangle with Marle. For the love of God! We can’t have characters stealing steam from that Tifa/Aeris relationship down the road.


Marle (AKA Princess Nadia)
1,000 AD

No RPG is complete without a love interest and a damsel in distress. Marle does both. Luckily she doesn’t get kidnapped, she just gets wiped from existence in the first game hour. Rather than save her from a dragon, you go save her ancestor from a yellow turtle guy. Afterwards, she joins for good and (wait for it!) falls in love with Crono. Wow! A princess trailing after a delinquent who says nothing but cheers after he slices monsters to bits. No wonder her dad hated him.

Why she’s clichéd: Marle’s ability to heal, be in love with Crono, and carry a crossbow already had fans screaming "Rosa!!!" Without a bow it’s safe to say that a healing ability/good looks/blonde hair are in common with just about every other friggen JRPG female out there. I wish I was kidding.

Why no one cared: Marle isn’t really a damsel in distress, she gets wiped from history because everyone mistook her as her ancestor who was currently abducted by the bad guys. Since this changes everything, the bad guys kill her ancestor, leaving her ceasing to exist, rather than some story about being caught by the evil dragon. Furthermore, when she isn’t praising Crono, she’s going ape-shit on those dicks responsible for killing Crono. For that reason we never could decide to like/not like her until the game was over and by then, the game was good overall, so gamers figured she was too. To be honest, I think this is the first game that had the rebellious princess, and if it isn’t then it’s the first game to do it right.

Frog (AKA Glenn / Kaeru)
600 AD

In case you were curious, the answer is yes-over half of the names you give to the characters are only their alias at the time, but back to Frog. He’s basically a walking bad-ass that carries a sword bigger than his body and talks like Cyan from FFVI. The difference between the two is Frog is much more useful.

Why he’s clichéd: Friend got killed by the evil wizard? Always reluctant to finish things even though it’s BLOODY OBVIOUS that you need to tie up loose ends? Frog may be new, but a lot of his storyline is jumbled together from the RPGs of yesterday. We still love Mr. Toad though.

Why no one cared: He croaks when he talks. If that doesn’t make him a pimp I don’t know what does.


Robo (AKA R66-Y)
2300 AD

Robo, quite put, is the red mage of Trigger. He can do some cool shadow damage with his lasers, and then just beat the tar out of anything else with his fists. He’s above a physical fighter but with a few spells to boot. We’ve seen characters like this before but get this: He doesn’t suck. My guess is when they realized we never used characters like this, the programmers made him slightly slower. Now the pay-off is worth it as he is 15% slower than everyone else and when his turn comes up he actually is worth waiting a bit for.

Why he’s clichéd: "You suck!" "You will never be cool." These are the things heroes in RPGs are taunted with at the very beginning before they stop the cataclysm from happening. Except...

Why no one cared: This is said by other robots! Oh, and after saying that they kick the everloving shit out of the poor guy. Afterwards his mission to save his bleak future is one where you can’t help but cheer him on. Go! Robo!

Ayla
64,000 BC
Ayla is sexy, really sexy. She runs around half naked tearing shit up with her bare hands. Much like Robo, she is a tank, though without spells, more emphasis on her power and a slight speed increase. She dishes out the most physical damage in the game and isn’t NEAR as slow as other RPG characters in this category.

Why she’s clichéd: When you use your bare fists you are the strongest damage dealer in the game. It is a rule we have accepted since Final Fantasy I. Fists are 10 times stronger than puny swords or guns.

Why no one cared: In the Japanese version, Ayla drinks a ton of sake. She really can hold her liquor. When you have an alcoholic that is introduced via running up and humping Crono like a cat in heat, you don’t ask questions, period.


Magus (AKA Janus)
12,000 BC

Long platinum/purple hair, freaky chanting boss music, and a love hate relationship with their mother? I wonder what Square may recycle this into...

Why he’s clichéd: Magus hates everything and everyone. He’s the character that cares about you knowing he doesn’t care. He really doesn’t give a crap, and is there for the sole reason that the player took that finger in the menu screen and had that finger choose him to be in the party. You never argue with the finger...ever.

Why no one cared: In Japan, Magus’s name is "Maou" which means "Demon King" and that’s enough to make them think he rocked. In America for some kids, his emo wardrobe, hatred of Lavos, and pointy nose did the trick. Oh yeah, he knew just about every spell and had the second most damaging all-target spell in the game. That worked for the rest of us. Actually, Magus is pretty original. How often do you get to have one of the main antagonists of the game’s first half turn up as a playable character? Oh and he has a cape. That’s enough to win me over.




Schala (AKA Sara)
12,000 BC

Schala is such a crucial part to the story even if she isn’t in your party, that she deserves a quick bio. Magus’s sister and subject of Chrono Trigger fan fiction everywhere, Schala is a powerful sorceress that just does what Zeal asks, because she doesn’t want to oppose mom. Once she finds Chrono and co, she has them do her dirty work to end this chaos. Of course she dies, god forbid one of these awesome characters stayed around to assist at the end of the game. Yeah, these two shots are the same damn area. Getting a decent screenshot of Schala without a gazillion other characters was a bitch.

Fun Fact: Before the Aeris revival rumor in Final Fantasy VII, the rumor that everyone tried to prove was getting Schala recruited. Gamers tried literally EVERYTHING to see if there was a way to get her in the party. Alas, her KIA status made it into Chrono Cross where everything cool about her was fucked up beyond repair. Schala Clones? That speak in an Aussie accent? Sheesh!


VILLAINS

Lavos


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.


Magus


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.


Dalton


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.


The Prophet


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!


Azala


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.


Mother Brain


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.


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