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Chrono Trigger isn’t just one of the best JRPGs made by Square(or even Square-Enix), and it’s not just one of the best games on the SNES itself, it’s one of the best games ever made. Period. Fantastic graphics, an engaging story filled with fun characters and interesting twists, and a forgiving learning curve that makes the game a great experience for veteran JRPG lovers and total newbies to the genre alike, not to mention the game’s incredible soundtrack, it all adds up to one of the most perfect experiences in gaming. And it’s aged incredibly well. Ground-breaking in it’s own time, and still unique in the modern era, Chrono Trigger is an absolute must-play for anyone who enjoys single-player games, and the SNES version of the game is arguably still the best one to play.
What sets Chrono Trigger apart from other JRPGs of it’s time, and even many later JRPGs, is mostly it’s combat system. Instead of simple turn-based random encounters, where you’re whisked away to a ‘battle screen’ for your fight, Chrono Trigger’s enemies are visible in the world, with their own patrol paths and behaviors that let you attract or evade as many battles as you’d like. Once you’ve engaged an enemy, you’re going to be fighting them in the same world you’ve been walking around, there’s no cut to a different screen here. If you’re in a cramped hallway, you can take advantage of this to line up area attacks on multiple enemies. There’s even ‘Dual Techs’ and ‘Triple Techs’, team-up moves that let two or three of your characters perform a special attack together, something even more powerful than if they had both acted alone. The game’s combat is in “real time” as well, instead of turn-based, with meters that fill up over time determining when your character next gets to act, and pressure that can cause you to need to make decisions faster than the plodding pace of some other JRPGs. This real-time system can be ‘disabled’ (it’s more like cranked down a bit) if it sounds intimidating, but honestly it’s part of the fun of the game when you’re kept on your toes with it.
I won’t get into the character or story specifics too deep here, but Chrono Trigger’s story is mainly driven by time-travel, and as you’d expect you gather a party of characters spanning space and time itself. A robot from the future fighting alongside a medieval frog-knight sounds maybe a little wacky, but the game treats all of it’s characters with just the right amount of levity and it’s paced well to let you feel like they’re all real people with their own motivations, regrets, and hopes for the future. A late-game optional party member is probably the best example of this, and it’s part of why he’s become a JRPG icon in his own right.
The game’s art is based on the designs and illustrations of Akira Toriyama, best known internationally for his work on Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, though he’s no stranger to JRPGs as he’s worked on the entirety of the Dragon Quest series as well. These designs translate fantastically to spritework, and the environments they’re in always feel detailed and lively. Whether it’s a dense, shady jungle, or an abandoned post-apocalyptic sewer, every major location feels unique from the art alone, and the music expertly builds on that to provide immense amounts of atmosphere for a 2D, 16-bit game. This soundtrack is seriously fantastic, pushing the SNES’s soundchip beyond it’s limits to make what’s likely the best set of songs on the console, matched in quality only by the Donkey Kong Country series- and still, Chrono Trigger does it better. The game nails everything from an ambient, chilling track for a castle filled with mysterious monsters, to the pumped-up heroic victory theme that plays after boss battles, to even just low-key music that plays when you’re exploring a village or a fair.
On all fronts, Chrono Trigger is an extremely well-crafted game, and it stands the test of time very, very well. It’s intuitive in how it explains it’s own mechanics to you, so that even someone intimidated by JRPGs can pick it up and play it, and even though it’s on such an old console, the game still feels incredibly interactive and fresh. With over 12 different endings and a tremendously replayable New Game+ mode (time travel lets things get weird, is all I’ll say), Chrono Trigger is a game worth playing at least once, but don’t be surprised if you come back to it again and again over the years to revisit it and see what content you’ve missed the first time around. I’ve beaten this game more times than I can count, and I still find myself coming back to it every couple of years to experience it again.