The last couple of weeks have focused on games from the 16-bit era of video gaming, the era that I refer to as the “Golden Age” of video games. And this week will be no different, as my seventh favorite video game of all time is Chrono Trigger.
In my mind, Chrono Trigger will always be paired with Final Fantasy III. It was released about a year later (March 1995 in Japan, August 1995 in North America) and in many ways it feels like a continuation of Final Fantasy III. It is a JRPG like FFIII, and the battle system used in Chrono Trigger bears a lot of similarity to that of FFIII. Chrono Trigger’s graphical style is also somewhat similar to FFIII’s, although more technically sophisticated and also somewhat more “cartoonish”.
The story of Chrono Trigger is what truly sets it apart. In Chrono Trigger, you play as a young man named Crono (why it’s not spelled the same way as in the title, I have no idea). Crono lives in a kingdom known as Guardia, which is just about to celebrate its one thousandth year of existence with a Millennial Fair. Conveniently, this takes place in the year 1000. Crono heads out to the fair as soon as it opens so he can check out the latest experiment created by his friend Lucca, who is something of a genius. On his way to Lucca’s demonstration, he (literally) runs into a mysterious girl who calls herself Marle. Together, they go to Lucca’s demonstration. Lucca’s invention turns out to be a teleportation device, and when Crono tests it out, it works perfectly. Marle decides she wants to try it too, but this time the machine reacts with her pendant, a mysterious portal opens up, and she disappears. Crono bravely decides to follow her into the portal, and he ends up 400 years in the past.
As Crono explores the Guardia of the year 600, he learns that the kingdom had recently been in an uproar because the King’s wife, Queen Leene, had disappeared, but now everybody was happy because she had recently been found. Crono makes his way to the castle, where he discovers that “Queen Leene” is actually none other than Marle. She tells Crono that people had been mistaken for Leene, but before they can go back to the portal and return to their own time, Marle disappears again. Crono then runs into Lucca, who tells him that Marle is actually Princess Nadia, who is a descendant of Queen Leene. During the normal course of events, Leene was rescued after she was captured, and went on to have children and grandchildren and so on. But because Marle appeared in the past and people thought she was Leene, the real Leene was never rescued, and thus Marle was never born. Lucca and Crono then go off to rescue the real Leene, in the process meeting an anthropomorphic frog, who is conveniently named Frog. Having thus saved Leene from the grip of evil monsters, the normal flow of time is restored, Marle reappears, and the three friends return to their own time and live happily ever after.
Just kidding. Back in the present, Crono escorts Marle back to the castle, but once they arrive, Crono is arrested by the Chancellor for abducting the princess. A sham trial is conducted, and Crono is sentenced to be executed. Fortunately, Lucca arrives in the nick of time to rescue him, and on their way out of the castle, they are joined by Marle. The King’s guards chase them into a nearby forest, where they find another time portal, or “Gate”. Deciding that plunging into the unknown is a better idea than getting caught by the guards, they enter it and find themselves in a futuristic wasteland, where humanity is desperately struggling to survive. They soon discover a horrible truth. They are in the year 2300, 301 years after a monster known as Lavos emerged from under the earth and laid waste to the entire world. Crono and his friends vow to use the power of time travel that they have discovered to figure out what Lavos is, and stop it from destroying the world.
Now, you may be thinking that I have spent an inordinate amount of time talking about this game’s story, but really, it’s the story that makes this game so special. The battle system is really just a slightly tweaked version of the battle system used in Final Fantasy IV and VI, although it does do some neat stuff with double and triple techniques. But really, people who love Chrono Trigger love it because of the story.
It’s a great story not just because of the characters and the plot, but because it’s different every time you play it. Now, this is a common feature of modern-day games, but back in 1995, there really wasn’t much else like Chrono Trigger available on consoles. Chrono Trigger’s ever-changing nature isn’t nearly as sophisticated as it is in modern games like Fallout 3 or Mass Effect, but there are more than a dozen endings to see. The way this is set up is rather clever. See, on your first trip through the game, you pretty much are forced to play it one way and see the story as a whole. But once you beat the game, a “New Game+” option opens up, which lets you start the game from the beginning and carry over all your weapons and items and stats and whatnot. Basically, this means that you are powerful enough right from the beginning to take on the last boss at any time. And this is where the multiple ending structure comes in. At any point in the game, you can travel to the year 1999 and take on Lavos, and depending on where you are in the game when you do this, you’ll get a different ending that will shed more light on the Chrono Trigger back story and universe. It’s a very clever way to extend an already meaty game.
Anyway, next week you get to learn about the sixth best video game of all time. So you’ve got that to look forward to this week.