How the time flies
As hard as it is sometimes to remember now, there was a time before role-playing games were mainstream. In the 90s, beloved developer Square (now as Square-Enix) was the team behind some of gaming’s most memorable RPGs, helping to change the Western stigma associated with the slower gameplay and story-heavy components of the genre by making those features more accessible and enjoyable. Titles like Final Fantasy VI and Secret of Mana had begun laying that groundwork, but one of the company’s most memorable games helped solidify RPGs as a mainstay for decades to come.
Today marks 26 year since the Japanese release of that very game, 1995’s Super Nintendo mega-hit Chrono Trigger – and it’s one worth celebrating. Having assembled a “dream team” of developers like Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Ball artist Akira Toriyama, composer Yasunori Mitsuda, and Dragon Quest mastermind Yuji Horii, Square was able to use everything learned on previous projects and create a game that was not only groundbreaking for the 90s but has equally stood the test of time far better than the average RPG.
Running the Clock
Though Sony’s new PlayStation had just launched in Japan and Nintendo’s own upcoming 64-bit console was quickly approaching, the developers at Square knew they had an opportunity to make use of their mastery of current 2D technology to craft a truly special experience. The team pushed the very limits of the SNES hardware, crafting one of the generation’s most gorgeous games and bringing to life some of the most unforgettable locations of any role-playing game released up to that point. It helped that a compelling narrative, which featured time-traveling and deep, engrossing dialogue, added serious weight to the experience and gave playerss a meaningful reason to press forward.
More impressively, however, was Square’s dedication to letting players make decisions that would ultimately shape the outcome of their adventure in both miniscule and substantial ways. While adventuring through time and space in Chrono Trigger, the variety of options presented had real consequences that could be as small as a change in dialogue or as significant as wrapping up the game early by facing the final boss prematurely and earning an alternate ending. This wouldn’t be shocking by today’s standards, but it was a foreign concept to most gamers in a time before extensive player agency had become the norm, and the scope of the game is impressive, even to this day. Coupled with its engaging combat that encouraged mastery to unlock high damaging combos Chrono Trigger solidified itself as a total package.
Upon its initial release, and the subsequent re-release on the PlayStation four years later, the game sold well, surpassing over 2 million units sold in Japan alone, and was critically acclaimed for everything from its core mechanics to the game’s general tone. To this day, the game features frequently on best-of lists when discussing JRPGs, and for many the world over, its one of their favorite games of all time.
Chrono Trigger succeeded because it married all of this together with the slow pace of typical role-playing journeys, exceptionally likable characters, and fluid, strategic combat, all of which helped to draw in genre veterans while remaining attractive to newcomers. It remains a perfect example of old-school RPG design and feels fantastic to enjoy today, and with the 25th anniversary of the game upon us, now would be the best time ever to revisit this classic experience, be it for childhood nostalgia or for your very first time.
Luckily, even if you don’t have a SNES anymore, Chrono Trigger is available to play on a few modern platforms, including iOS and Android phones and PC via Steam, though these versions have some visual changes that some are not fond of. If you’ve still got a DS or 3DS lying around, you can also play it on those handhelds via the DS re-release, which is often considered among the best versions of the game. Regardless of where you play it, though, it’s mostly just important that you experience this stunning title, if you haven’t already.