GameSpite Journal 10: Chrono Trigger

This brief piece on fan-favorite RPG Chrono Trigger attempts to answer the question, “Why is this RPG so good?” But I think a more valuable question might be, “Why can’t every RPG be this good?” The day everyone looks to the success of the original Square/Enix dream team for advice on how to make a role-playing game worth playing is the day we all win. I think the shiny, new Mass Effect 3 does a pretty respectable job of hitting some similar notes to Trigger, by the way. Unfortunately to get the most of it you probably ought to invest about 100 hours into the previous games. Sad trombone indeed.

11 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 10: Chrono Trigger

  1. There’s probably not much more that can be said about Chrono Trigger outside of what has already been said. But I think this piece really does hit the nail on the head. All the elements come together perfectly to create an experience that is just flat out awesomely fun.

    It’s probably telling, then, that this is still my favorite RPG of all time, and even more telling that I actually enjoyed the only game that seemed to mimic the template, Black Sigil, despite the more mixed results of that game. Why can’t we have more RPGs like this?!

  2. It’s interesting just how much of this could be applied to Mega Man Legends, too.

    And of course it bears adding that CT has REALLY AGED WELL. 16-bit limitations be damned, there are few games in any console generation that look or sound as good as CT, and it’s taken JRPG developers years to catch up with most of the game’s innovations (like, say, getting rid of random encounters), and I can’t think of another RPG with as transparent and accessible a combo system.

    But yeah, above and beyond all else, the game is fun.

    • You’re absolutely right about the game having aged well. Not only does it look and sound phenomenal, it plays as well as anything that has come out since as well.

      I know people that consider the game overrated, and instead cotton to Final Fantasy VII, but those people are wrong. ;)

  3. Every so often, I randomly see a screenshot of Chrono Trigger, and every single time I’m amazed by how amazing the skies look. And the thought is never followed by “for the time.” The attention to detail and visual creativity that game throws into light getting diffused by clouds is still unmatched (with the massive exception of Brütal Legend). It’s really kind of disgusting when you stop to think how CT was a game with a fixed, top-down perspective that could only show the sky when it was doing some weird gimmickry with the perspective or getting you up on a mountain, while games with 3D completely user controlled cameras more often than not just give you a blue void.

  4. I played Chrono Trigger for the first time last year, and it was amazingly fun and playable for an RPG from 1995. It’s crazy how well told and coherent the story is, considering it’s essentially about time travel and an intergalactic parasite god. Compare that to FF XIII-2, where I didn’t understand what the plot was about after the first two chapters.

    When I was playing through XIII-2, I kept thinking how much better Chrono Trigger is in almost every way. Somebody should really do a side-by-side comparison of the two games.

  5. I didn’t think anything more could be said about Chrono Trigger, and yet I find myself pleasantly surprised by this little piece.

    Maybe the appeal of CT is so sweeping that even simply reading about it is pure fun.

    If there were ever a videogames hall of fame, this game would be inducted immediately.

  6. If I could offer a theory;

    I think Chrono Trigger was able to find that balance between letting the player do what they wanted and guiding the player along. Showing actual respect and trust in the playerbase itself.

    Why are the old Zelda games held in such high esteem? They gave you a small backstory, handed you a sword and said, “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this!” and let you go. Granted, that was then and this is now, but perhaps, is there some truth to it? What say you, Mr, Parish.

    • It’s not just that; Chrono Trigger is an unusually balanced game in many aspects. It balances seriousness with, well, wackiness very well, which is something I have seen a lot of games attempt and fail at (some Atlus games, the Mother series, etc).

      It’s also super at letting you explore and experiment without punishing you for choosing not to, or punishing you for doing it the wrong way. It makes the game feel much more open and large than it really is.

    • I think there’s actually pretty much a golden ratio of linearity for RPGs- You spend the first half of the game following along with the plot, moving from point to point, place to place, then halfway through, the game just goes “OK, so here’s access to the whole world map and a bunch of optional sidequests. You go have fun.

      I’m hard-pressed to think of a really good RPG that doesn’t do this, or a terrible one that does.

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