By Jatin Gundara
As gamers, we are always looking for the next best thing – the most exciting or intriguing experience. Every once in a while, a game comes along which delivers on this; a game that resonates with our very soul and leaves an indelible impression on our minds and hearts. For me, that game was a 90s role-playing game (RPG) named Chrono Trigger. As 14 year old, I really related to Chrono, the teen boy protagonist with punky red hair who goes on all sorts of wild adventures.
Released for the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) in 1995, Chrono Trigger is widely regarded as one of the greatest offerings of all time. Its impact was so important that it warranted modern ports to platforms such as Steam and the DS (which I played on a 3DS). I remember picking up the retro SNES box from a shelf and asking my Dad about the game. A week later, he had called me into his office and said he would purchase the DS port of it (as it would be more easily accessible for me to play). While at the time I didn’t think much of it, I am so grateful to my Dad for giving me the opportunity to play. What awaited me was an experience unlike any other, all packed into beautiful art direction/sound design, refreshing gameplay, and an epic story.
A component that is key to Chrono Trigger’s undying appeal is its beautiful art direction and sound design, the pinnacles of design in video games, retro or modern. The detail that went into each sprite, dungeon, and map of this game is utterly astounding, especially when considering the technical limitations of its time. The pixel art effectively conveys the diversified personalities of the game’s characters and the majesty of its environments, painting a beautiful gateway to the rest of the game. Some of the best examples of this are the small animations that play when the player wins a battle. Ranging from bicep flex with a smile to a cheeky thumbs up, these animations breathe life into the game’s numerous sprites.
Additionally, the sound design of Chrono Trigger helps to convey a variety of different moods throughout the story in spectacular fashion and complements the artwork perfectly. One example of these two components working in harmony is when the floating archipelago of “Zeal” is visited by the player halfway through the game. Before anything else, the picturesque vision of a gleaming river streaming down into the clouds accompanied by a choir crooning a haunting melody with an exotic percussion background greets the player, pulling them into what the rest of the experience has to offer.
Another component that is characteristic of Chrono Trigger’s undying appeal is its refreshing and intuitive gameplay. The gameplay of Chrono Trigger (like many other 90s RPGs) is based around a turn-based combat system. During each turn, one of the members of your party can perform an action such as an attack. This exchange goes on until all of the enemies in the battle are killed, or every party member is depleted of their health. As the game progresses, the members of your party level up by gaining experience points that can be earned in battle. When leveling up, party members can learn new techs (techniques) which are more powerful than normal attacks. For example, the most powerful tech in the game is called Luminare where Chrono creates a dome of light which usually deals the maximum amount of damage possible in one turn. While special attacks like these are fairly standard for 90s RPGs, Chrono Trigger stands out with the use of its intuitive “combo tech” system. In battle, the techs of up to 3 separate party members can be combined to form “combo techs.” It’s always exciting to see the next combo tech unlocked, and wanting to get it gives the gameplay an addictive feeling. Another important aspect of overall gameplay is the difficulty, which spikes up as the game progresses, but not too much as to discourage the player. The intuitive combo tech system and near-perfect difficulty level instill within the player the courage to overcome any challenges which may be posed and create thrilling gameplay.
A third component of Chrono Trigger’s undying appeal is its epic story. Chrono Trigger’s story is a glorious tale of a boy and his friends traveling across time to stop an intergalactic parasite called Lavos (pretty crazy, I know). While many RPGs are known for their memorable stories, Chrono Trigger has many moments that get embedded into the player’s mind. Be it flying high above the overworld on the back of a pterodactyl, or infiltrating a dark castle after creating a magical path, the plot is chock-full of moments I’ll remember forever. Despite its grand scale, the plot of this game effectively utilizes time travel to create a sort of fictitious logic that serves as the basis for many of the events which take place. The party’s exploits take them from the peaceful time of 1000 AD, to the war torn middle ages of 600 AD, the desolate future of 2300 AD, the primeval landscape of 65,000,000 BC, the frozen antiquity of 12,000 BC, and to quite a few other stops in time.
Chrono Trigger’s story has a way of toying with the player by feeding them information that is thought to be true but is later disproven. This can be attributed to the game’s overarching theme of the fear of the unknown, which leaves many questions unanswered until the final stages of the plot. Even with this deep theme implanted in the story, the mood of the game is generally quite cheerful due to the dynamic between all of the different characters. These exchanges are usually used as comedic relief, but can also be effectively utilized to build relationships between characters and to advance the plot.
One good example of a more serious usage of the camaraderie between characters is during a side quest where you can choose to recruit a new party member before the final dungeon. The choice the player makes on what to say dictates whether you obtain a new party member, or experience a boss fight. This gives the player a choice and agency over the story, giving me a sense of control. The dichotomy of this sense of control coupled with the chaotic events of the plot provides for a varied and intriguing story experience. Additionally, Chrono Trigger possesses 12 different endings which drastically increase its replay value. Bearing all this in mind, it becomes clear Chrono Trigger’s story is a rollercoaster of excitement and arguably the most important aspect of the game.
When considering all that it has to offer, it becomes predominantly clear that Chrono Trigger is a game that delivers on the promise of being everything a player needs in a compelling RPG. The feeling reaped from each play session, whether it be just half an hour or three, conveys a level of ecstasy that I’ve only experienced from a handful of other games. Every one of the game’s components was imbued with the blood, sweat, and tears of its creators, and it shows. My love for this game stems not only from the quality of its experience, but also the emotional connection I’ve built due to the young age at which I was fortunate enough to play it. In short, every time you boot up Chrono Trigger and encounter the friendship, teamwork and positivity inside the adventure, its appeal will stick with you far beyond the final click of the power switch. As the Priestess character says, “What’s important is to trust those you love, and never give up. We must never give up hope.”
Jatin Gundara won the Fair Game Writing Challenge, part of our partnership with Games for Change, for the Western Region of the country. After a mentoring session, this is the edited version of his winning entry.