The other Trigger

After all my gushing about Mega Man Legends last week I decided to fire up the game and revisit some of its better moments. This was when I made a shocking discovery! That shiny new PlayStation 3 backward-compatibility update? It has issues. I could deal with the crashing FMV in Vagrant Story, because that wasn’t really part of the game. But the fact that audio streams in MML don’t sync up with the in-game cinematics? This aggression will not stand, man.

Half the charm of Legends was that it actually had in-game cinematics rendered with the same models as the gameplay, complete with animated facial expressions, back in a period where such things were frankly unheard of. Capcom USA even found good voice actors and made sure to time the sound properly to the lip-flaps, such as they were. It was a tiny marvel in its day, and something is rather lost when all of that goes away. Nice work, Sony.

So since I couldn’t spend time with Mega Man Trigger, I figured I’d do the next best thing and get reacquainted with gaming’s other great trigger, the Chrono one. Actually, I’m lying. The name thing is just a coincidence. But wow, Chrono Trigger. What a freaking great game, even after all this time.

Revisiting Trigger 1: The Queen Is Missing!

Square did something truly exceptional in Chrono Trigger, something I wish they’d made an effort to repeat in their future games: they created a streamlined and extremely accessible role-playing game that nevertheless offered a great deal of openness, freedom, content and variety. Generally speaking, RPGs either become bogged down in detailed, arcane systems (FFXII gets a free pass in my heart, but it was guilty of this), or else they strip away everything and basically turn the entire experience into a rote march from one plot point to the next (see: every Shadow Hearts). Chrono Trigger struck a perfect balance from the very first moments of the game.

The game is broken into chapters of sorts and begins with The Millennial Fair — a celebration of the establishment of the Kingdom of Guardia, 1,000 years prior.

Truth be told, I used to hate the Millennial Fair; it kept me from jumping right into the meat of the game. That is, running around fighting things. In hindsight, I appreciate what it accomplished much more. It is, in essence, a tutorial — but a wonderfully subtle one. Rather than taking time to tell you “Here is how you play the game (hint: choose “fight” a lot),” the Millennial Fair is seamlessly integrated into the story. You can skip almost all of it and head straight to the action, or you can explore and deepen your experience.

Talking to people and participating in events at the festival gives you a safe hands-on battle experience, establishes the backstory of the game, gives you a chance to perform actions that will affect the trial sequence a few hours down the road, and even lets you buff up your character. It’s possible, should you be so determined, to net Crono some gear that will last him quite a ways into the game. You can do this by earning silver points to exchange for cash within the fairgrounds, or you can break out of the story path to wander around the countryside, fighting monsters in the north forest and venturing south to Porre to buy better armor. From the beginning, the player sets the pace, the tone and the difficulty of the game. But it’s all very quietly woven into the fabric of the game.

Every RPG needs to do this sort of thing.

Anyway, once you start exploring the fair you meet Marle, a burbly blonde who turns out to be vastly more trouble than she’s worth. Don’t fall for her wiles, Crono! Lucca may look like Velma from an Akira Toriyama remake of Scooby Doo, but she’s a genius and wears a pith helmet! That’s way more awesome than some airhead who gets her fashion sense from the girl in Secret of Mana.

So yeah, Marle screws up one of Lucca’s inventions and falls into a hole in space; Crono bravely follows along and ends up 400 years in the past where he eventually comes to realize (presumably, anyway, since he never actually speaks, so maybe he’s actually a complete idiot randomly bumbling from fight to fight) that letting Marle fall into the past was a really dumb idea since she looks exactly like her ancestor, Queen Leene of Guardia. Improbable, you say? Not really. Royal bloodlines don’t usually enjoy a lot of fresh DNA. Her appearance in AD 600 means that a kingdom-wide search for the recently-abducted queen is canceled since, hey, look, we found Leene. She’s looking younger than ever, and demanding “eye scream.” Ah, hilarity! Until a temporal paradox rips Marle apart from the inside out, anyway.

This begins the adventure in earnest, since you actually to go and fight monsters, ultimately leading up to the first boss fight. The way is made easier thanks to Lucca’s timely arrival and the even timelier arrival of a giant mutant frog-guy named, uh, Frog. He’s a masterful swordsman with a dark secret and, sorry to say it Internet, the most annoyingly strident and bombastic theme music ever. With Frog’s appearance, the game’s combat system really falls into place, but I think I’ll will write about that next time, when the game really picks up steam.

Even in the slow-ish opening parts, though, replaying Chrono Trigger instantly reminds me just how great this game was, and how frustrating it is that so few developers have drawn upon its best elements — accessibility, pacing, gameplay. There’s a reason I still cling loyally to the J-RPG genre despite its utter stagnation and creative bankruptcy, and that reason is simple: Because when they do it right, they come up with games like Chrono Trigger, games visceral enough to reach across genre boundaries and appeal to everyone.

Everyone, I said. If you don’t love this game, you are not worth counting. Harsh but true!

Next time: Beyond the Ruins

31 thoughts on “The other Trigger

  1. Great write up. I replayed Chrono Trigger on the playstation over the summer (The PS2 really helps make the load times somewhat bearable) and got every ending for the first time. I also managed to get the completely incomprehensible extra ending, which I’m sure ties into Chrono Cross somehow.

    Incidentally, having the player set the pace and difficulty of the game was also something FFVIII did very well. Quite early in the game after you get Diablos the player can effectivly turn random battles off. Since your stats are tied to magic this is not a problem, as you can get more than enough at draw points and from refining cards. Where is fails is in the accessibility though- most people I know still think the only way to get stronger is to draw for hours and cast GF’s hundreds of times.

  2. It’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts Jeremy, especially on things that we both deeply enjoy. Chrono Trigger is non-linear in some subtle ways, but you never really feel lost. It’s a good thing, because once you’re able to time-travel it’s best that you know the lay of the land, and that the land be *simple*.

    Don’t you love how Square has the time and energy for multiple remakes of FF1+2, and yet porting Chrono Trigger to the GBA hasn’t happened yet? Proof that businesses do not always do the most profitable thing…

    Or perhaps it’s a case of “If we release our best game, nobody will buy remakes of our weaker games”.

  3. Man, personally I loathe Chrono Trigger. It’s not because it’s a bad game because it’s really not. Overrated and a tad underwhelming, sure, but I’m still willing to contend it’s a pretty good game (although nothing better). Rather, I avoid it like I avoid AIDS because it personally reminds me of nasty old people porno and Gamefaqs tards, assocaitions that would greatly taint the memories of even the biggest fanatics of the game. Oh, and if you have to ask about the former, you won’t understand. Actually, you probably would, but I don’t feel like elaborating for obvious reasons.

  4. The great debate for my friends was always “Which is the better game FFVI or Chrono Trigger?” I have always had to come down on the side of Chrono Trigger. The pacing, the characters, the music, the combat, the story it just all comes together in a sublime package. To this day I’m hard pressed to even come up with an aspect of it that I’m displeased with.

  5. Can’t wait to read more. I love this game so much that I suffered through the PSX port multiple times just to get the extra content.

  6. Phantasy Star 4! Why nobody says that PS4 is on the same league! Anyway, Chrono Trigger is lovely for an SNES game. Not as lovely as Earthbound but better because of the multiple endings and the graphics. Live A Live is also good.

    But I beg all of you to try the Sega Genesis RPG games like Crusader of Centy and Land Stalker and Light Crusader!

  7. As I’ve gotten older, I only appreciate Chrono Trigger more. I’m beginning to think it may actually be as close to perfect as a game can get. Not just in terms of RPGs, but of overall games in general. The non-random battle system is such an amazing evolution of the standard battle format in RPGs that it’s both surprising and depressing that it hasn’t really caught in. Being able to simply skip by enemies and fight without having to switch screens is simply a marvel. The battle system was also pretty deep, with both the combo system and a limited positioning system (a few of the attacks allowed you to hit multiple monsters based upon how they lined up).

    And when paired up with an entertaining story with loveable (if not deep) characters and one of the best soundtracks in gaming, and the game just stands above the rest.

  8. That voice sync problem in Legends shows up on the PC port as well. Is PS1 emulated through software on the PS3? Not that it’s stopping me, the game looks gorgeous. Art directions beats processor power any day of the week. Also: those models would make excellent papercraft.

    The Millennial Fair lays the foundation for what CT does best: showing instead of telling. It doesn’t tell you the future is at stake, it brings you to the future so you can see for yourself. You don’t learn of Magus’ backstory through tedious monologue, you watch it unfold and put the pieces together yourself. The scene where they explain why Marle would cease to exist was narrative brilliance. It’s Square Enix so a re-release is inevitable; it’s just a matter of time.

  9. I dug out my old copy of Chrono Trigger a little while ago and discovered that what I was always afraid of as a kid but had convinced myself couldn’t really happen actually does – the save battery died. A bit of home surgery later, I’m good for another ten years.

    Easily my favorite video game of all time; looking forward to seeing more installments of this. Think I’ll go play some now.

    Also, anyone else noticed that Robo’s theme is strikingly similar to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up?” I guess the future is due for a centuries-long ’80s nostalgia kick.

  10. Is it possible Square was the first to Rickroll an audience?

    No, no it’s not.

  11. Not to get into a pissing contest between Sony and Nintendo here, but I do find it a little amusing that the Wii has near-perfect (if not perfect to a fault) backwards compatibility with GameCube titles, whereas three generations of Sony systems that share the same name seem to have issues with their highly-vaunted backwards compatibility.

    You’d just think it’d be the other way, especially with the issues Virtual Console faces, you know?

    –LBD “Nytetrayn”

  12. Chrono Trigger is an amazing game. So amazing, in fact, the praise slobbering faqtards heap upon it is, for the most part, true. A rerelease would be great, but I’d hate to see it marred by the hungry void of the DS’s second screen or blurred and fattened by the PSP’s resolution. And you know Square-Enix isn’t going to release it on Virtual Console – the going price for games on that service is at least $15 too low.

  13. Also, guys, if you ever have the chance pirate the Sega CD game Lunar Eternal Blue (not likely to be on Virtual Console any time soon). It’s totally worth it. Lunar Silver Star is also good but is not even close to its sequel.

    Also, wouldn’t it be cool to have an RPG based on the floating islands Roger Dean concept… thingie. I hear a movie is on the works and sounds kick ass. I mean, it’s not like Bahamut Lagoon didn’t do something “aesthetically” interesting with floating islands. But imagine it with Yes music and graphics that look like that “Heavy Metal” movie, but on drugs, awesome.

  14. Since you mentioned MML and Chrono Trigger both, were you playing the PS1 version, SNES cart, or a R–(you know)? I found PS1 CT much easier to put up with due to Fast Loading being turned on, but it still was annoying, and I went back to playing it “other” ways.

    Or does PS3 have some magical method of making the loading virtually non-existent?

  15. Parish, you monster, Frog’s theme is magic. Other than that, you nailed it.

    I can’t wait to take six more months to save up for a Wii, so I can wait two more years to finally play this game legally.

  16. One of my favorite plot elements in the game was how the traditional legendary hero/sword/overlord bit was reduced to a subplot, and how your later travels through time actually explained WHY there was a legendary sword around in the first place.

  17. You know, I would be more than willing to pay full price for a good port of Chrono Trigger. Or a VC release.

  18. Chrono Trigger may be my favorite video game ever. It does so much right, it’s amazing to think that it was released over ten years ago and modern games still don’t do some of those things.

    And Frog’s theme is good. It suits the character well. Not my favorite tune in Chrono Trigger, though. That might be Hidden Truth.

  19. Parish, I want you to know that all the Legends talk on 1up has caused me to replay MML 1 and 2 myself. Now I want a third more than ever.

  20. I guess I won’t be allowed back here, but I’ve never finished Chrono Trigger. I always lose interest in the magical sky garden with all the shiny happy people that ended up being the basis for Chrono Cross. See, I can’t even remember what it was called. Zeal?

    But the first half of the game is pretty magic. The trial is still one of my favourite moments in gaming in that you got this ‘oh shit the game is holding you accountable for your rampant kleptomania’ feeling. The first half of the game was pretty varied, although I found the battle system not nearly as neat as everyone describes it: being able to see what enemies you’re about to fight doesn’t help you as thirteen others pop out of the bushes once you trigger the fight, it’s hard to actually avoid fights because half of them are scripted to start when you get on the same screen, and when you’re fighting the game does the moving around for you so the battle system boils down to randomly being able to hit more than one enemy with a special attack at a time. (I guess it does keep things simpler, though.)

    (Not my favourite game moment, though: that would be the ending of the remake of DROD, where as a reward for the not-inconsiderable feat of actually beating the game, they recapped your entire adventure in a 10-minute sequence where the player character retold his adventure to his nieces and nephews, complete with forgetting what order the levels came in, dialogue that reflected what strategy you took to crack the room and frequent interruptions from one of the nephews who was a moron.

    Especially considering the original basically gave you a ‘congraturation! you are super player!’ ending.)

  21. You forgot to spend more time writing about how brilliant the music was in this game :).

  22. Best song in Chrono Trigger that apparently NO ONE ELSE remembers, since there are no remixes on OCremix goddamnit: the Tyranno Lair. It rocks your socks.

  23. Haven’t thought of this game in ages… and I still have my save files backed up
    on a PS2 memory card. Might have to dig this one out again and get the last couple
    endings – I only managed to get, I think, 10… ? And though I was able to beat Lavos
    right at the beginning with only Chrono and Marle, I was never able to do it with Chrono going solo.
    Might be time to try again…
    (And I, for one, am glad I didn’t find this gem until I had a PS2 – I like the cutscenes ;)
    Nor would I have even looked at this game back in the SNES days)

  24. My favorite CT memory is ruining the game for my friend by comparing the Epoch flight music to the theme from Doogie Howser M.D.

    GeoX: You beat me to Tyrano Lair. Grrr.

  25. For the MML problem, give this a try (it’s worked on other games): In the PS3 system audio options, turn off all the fancy audio output options that you possibly can (meaning all the ones the system will let you). It’s kind of a pain in the ass, but for some reason it fixes BC audio sync issues.

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