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Chrono Trigger

Released: 1995
Company: SquareSoft
Genre: Role-Playing

At some point, you have to start wondering if a video game company has become a little too big (or too successful) for its own good. There's a self-awareness involved in success, and once it's acheived you tend to think that the masses will pretty much swallow whatever you put in front of them. Hot off the heels of the eternal masterpiece Final Fantasy III, Squaresoft got a taste of this success, and as a result started to take the game mechanics for granted and focus on the extracurricular elements of their games. Chrono Trigger was, I think, the first game for which this could be said, and although there are still people to this day who stand by it as Squaresoft's finest hour, my take on the game is much less glowing. Lukewarm, even.

It's not that I have any misgivings on the plotline itself; time travel isn't new to Squaresoft (witness the Time-Loop concept from the original Final Fantasy) and this was the first RPG to my knowledge that actually used time travel as a means unto itself. The theme is made stronger by the cast of characters, many of which come from different time periods. Crono could have in his party a prehistoric cavewoman and robot from 1300 years in the future at the same time. But while the characters are varied, they lack the charisma of, say, a Locke or a Relm. They're just too one-dimensional, and coupled with the fact that Crono himself doesn't actually talk, the dialogue in the game is awful stiff.

Also, all this hopping around from time period to time period does nothing to establish a sense of flow or momentum to the game. In many cases, it plays like a goose chase: collecting one item in one time period for its use in another; solving a problem in the past to prevent calamity in the future. Since most time periods have their own primary villain, there doesn't seem to be one uber-bad-guy for the characters to fight against. Even Lavos, the agreed-upon head villain and final boss of the game, appears in passing mention in two time periods outside its own.

Perhaps the most frustrating element of this game is the way the challenge ramps up so fast. In my first campaign, I was getting continually schooled by Magus despite all efforts to beat him. A long-distance call to a play counselor brought me to the realization that I was a whopping ten levels behind the curve. Maybe I shouldn't have run away from battles as often as I did, but you would too if these battles took twice as long as you're used to, since the game is compelled to depict each attack rather than the standard "enemy flashes, you recoil momentarily" format used before. Plus, it seems that levels build at a much slower pace than before, to compensate for the fact that even those outside your party get the benefit of the Experience you earn. And despite all the hand-wringing about random battles among RPG fans, I'd prefer that system than the one used here, where enemies occur in fixed spots, and never seem to be in enough of a number to really derive a lot of benefit from, but are in convenient enough spots that you constantly run into them should you ever have to backtrack.

But for whatever foibles take place in the Aesthetic arena of the game, the Technical elements do their best to make up for them. For one thing, I have yet to encounter another SNES game with visuals as stunning as this. Things like the gates to Magus' castle, and the animation of Lavos being summoned, at least you can't say that there isn't anything worth looking at while you're playing this game. The character portraits look distinctly unlike their FF brethren (in fact, they look almost DBZ-esque), and that helps give the game its own feel. The music, while not quite up to Nobuo Uematsu's standards, are decent enough to give a listen. I just think that they could've done a little more with the regular battle theme - it sounds like it needs to add another phrase - and had some sort of victory fanfare, if only for boss battles.

I'm just going to gloss over the play control, since it really didn't affect my opinion of the game in the long run. The game handles steadily enough, and the buttons follow the normal paradigm of Squaresoft games; A executes, B cancels, X brings up the menu. You can dash instead of walk if so desired, and after while you'll find no reason to not run to where ever you're going.

If you enjoyed the game, then you're in luck, because Chrono Trigger is tailored to be played over and over again. Not only are there three different endings available to your discovery your first time out, but when you do beat the game, you're given the option to start from the beginning with the party you just used to show Lavos who's boss, and now there are nine more endings to seek out. That's fantastic - if you actually got around to beating the game. I never did get past Magus myself, and none of these features gave me any incentive to actually work towards them.

Chrono Trigger strikes me as a game that has the extra features that would make a game that was already good rise up to a level of dominance over the other titles on the console. Those features can't be exploited, though, if you don't have the motivation to follow through on the game, and the intangibles lack that motivation.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 15
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Boring)
Aesthetic Score: 14
Overall Score: 67%

You are now listening to the Magus Battle music to Chrono Trigger.