Retro Review: Chrono Trigger

Editor’s Note: There are Spoilers. You are warned. But I figure, it’s been out for 22 years now. Isn’t that long enough?

by Jason Parker (Ragachak)

Retro Review Chrono Trigger - The Chrono Trigger

Yes, there’s an actual Chrono Trigger.

To date, Chrono Trigger is the best gift I ever received for Hanukkah/My Birthday ever. Better than even the console I received it for. It’s so good, I have a boxed, cased copy on my mantle above my desk, and there it will stay, unopened, unplayed. While it’s not my favorite game of all time (that’s EarthBound), it’s sure as Hell close. And yet, I still know quite a few people who have either never heard of it or have never played it. Is it worth it? Is it worth a playthrough? No. It’s worth several playthroughs! It is an RPG from the 90s with 13 Endings. That’s way better than Dragon Warriors technically two endings. In your first playthrough, you can get either the Game Over ending (dying to Lavos) or the Good Ending. It has layers though, as you can moderately affect the ending. I believe if you beat Lavos when spoiler happens, you get the “Best” Ending (The Dream Project Ending), but that’s basically impossible outside of cheating. In that fight, Lavos hits for 800+, and your HP cap is 999.

Retro Review Chrono Trigger - End of Time

The whole cast.

So what is Chrono Trigger? It’s an RPG by three of the greatest people of all time: Yuji Horii (Creator of Dragon Quest/Warrior), Hironobu Sakaguchi (Creator of the Final Fantasy franchise), and Akira Toriyama (Artist for Dragon Quest and Goddamn Dragon Ball). The “Dream Project” is definitely an apt title for this game. It’s an epic, sprawling RPG that sends players back and forth through time, picking up teammates from every Time Period (technically). It starts out simply by Chrono trying to Live His Best Life, going to the fair, hanging out with Lucca, being a teenager. Then fate happens, he bumps (literally) into Nadia, the Princess of the Kingdom of Guardia and thus, the weird time-travel tale begins. The story unfolds very slowly, the threat growing from a simple Monster trying to ruin the timeline fo the Guardia Kings, to finding their master, Magus the ArchFiend. But Magus is trying to summon Lavos the destroyer to this plane of existence for mysterious purposes. (La meaning Big, Vos meaning Fire). But as it turns out, this is incorrect too!

Retro Review Chrono Trigger - Lavos Head On

So many choices, so many fight phases. . .

When we get to 12,000 BC, we find out that Lavos was already here, even as early as 65,000,000 BC, when we see him crash into the Earth itself, leaving a massive crater. This game is fantastic at making players feel sympathy for many of their villains. From Azala who goes from being a Lizard terrorist, for simply wanting a better life for his tribe, Magus going from a villain trying to wipe out life on Earth, to wanting to summon Lavos to kill it in revenge for his sister/family, as Lavos’ power corrupted his Mother. They aren’t all tragic though: Ozzie is genuinely a vile creature, and many of the other villains are irredeemable monsters. The supporting cast is fantastic, from the Gurus to Spekkio. There is so much going on in this story, and so many stories to unwrap. Every single character has story arcs and a side quest that tells you a great deal more about them. From how Frog became Frog and gaining redemption, Lucca going back in time to prevent her mother from having her legs shattered by her husband’s machine.

Retro Review Chrono Trigger - Seeds

What a hopeless future. Can we change it?

So you travel through time, a lot. They even explain why you can’t have more than three people traveling together through time. When you’re stuck in the End of Time, you learn magic and learn about your fate to travel time and fix things. Well, eventually you learn this. There are pillars in EoT, and each leads to a particular time and location. As you find them, it will unlock more places to go. You’ll also eventually get a Time Machine (the Epoch) from the post-apocalyptic world of 2300 AD. That was the most soul-crushing time period in my estimation. Lavos had crushed the world, obliterating the land. There was no food, no light. You have to help them find seeds to grow food. They had the Energon, which recovered their health a bit, but it did nothing to cure the hunger they felt. It was a world without hope. This scene is one of the best in the game (but it’s really hard to narrow down one), where Chrono, Lucca and Marle realize they have to do something in the past, to try and save their future.

Retro Review Chrono Trigger - Magus

The calm before the storm.

The combat’s simple on its face: It uses the ATB (Active Time Battle), but you can also make it wait for you while in menus. When your meter fills, you can attack, use a tech, or an item. While that seems simple, techs really change it up. There are non-Elemental Attacks until you meet Spekkio. He grants characters Magic, and each character has an Element (except Ayla, who was born before Magic existed, and Magus because he’s a Sorcerer who can access all elements). Before even that, you can have Dual Techs, where two techs combine into a new one. These are set in stone, but as you unlock techs with the right people in the party, these will unlock automatically. There’s a whole host of them, from Antipode (Ice+Fire), X-Strike (Cyclone+Slurp Slash). Later in the game, there are Triple Techs, which require a particular party to wield. These are the most powerful, and as you can only have three people in the party, you really have to consider which ones you want to use. There are some “hidden” Triple Techs, in “rock” items. You equip these on the right character, and it unlocks a few even more powerful Triple Techs than you can normally use.

Techs have a range, and if there are multiple enemies in the range/line/circle/area, you will hit all of them. Enemies move around though, so sometimes it requires a little patience to really get the most out of this. You gain Techs with TP, and there are only so many you can learn per character until you gain Magic. This becomes a really tedious grind, as the most powerful spells do require a ton of TP. This does mean, if you want, you’re going to be able to have Luminaire (the most powerful Lightning spell for Chrono) when you fight Magus. You won’t want to, but you can! Spoiler: Having multiple magic types on Magus is key. If you do not do this, he will probably beat you. Again, again, and again.

Retro Review Chrono Trigger - Second Trial

It even has a Trial or two!

Chrono Trigger is not a perfect game, but damn if it’s not incredibly close. The story is deep, but you have to dig for it sometimes. The game doesn’t tell you where a lot of those hidden storylines are but does hint at it. For the time, this game required a Strategy Guide, because it was very hard to find a lot of the really good stuff. Now, this would not be a negative in our modern era, but it sure would in the 90s. Some of the difficulty spikes in the first playthrough are horrific though. I’ve heard of people simply shutting the game off after Lavos kills Chrono and his pals in the first encounter with him because you’re supposed to die here. The final battle with Lavos (the real final battle, inside and beyond Lavos) is insane and there’s never an indicator of which of the three parts of Lavos you’re supposed to fight. That and its ability to hit beyond the HP cap (Grand Rock can hit for over 1,000 after he combines it with the ability to nullify your defenses). Between that, and the scene with Dalton, having to hunt down all of your gear, not being able to fight (unless you brought Ayla) because you don’t have characters that can do battle at all … there are some seriously frustrating moments about the game. But ultimately this takes nothing from the game. Chrono Trigger is still a feast for the eyes and the heart.

“Machines aren’t Evil. Humans make them that way”: 5/5

Retro Review Chrono Trigger - Magus' Castle

Every moment will elicit a reaction or emotion, from dread, joy, heartbreak.

Chrono Trigger was revolutionary in so many ways. Multiple endings, a deep story, compelling gameplay. Two of the greatest composers of all time (Yasunori Mitsuda, Nobuo Uematsu), the Squaresoft/Enix teams coming together to create something magical, something special. This is a game that’s captured my heart and spirit, and even the garbage Playstation port of it was worth playing (despite the insane load times/terrible port). Each storyline in the game could be its own game. The game up until you acquire Masamune and defeat Magus? That could have been a game all on its own in the 80s. Every character matters, no matter how big or small. There are so many different ways to beat the game too. You can go through any time period, through the Black Omen and fight Queen Zeal. You can use the Bucket in the End of Time. You can fly the Epoch into Lavos and skip a phase of the battle. There are so many heartbreaking moments too. Robo getting pummeled into oblivion by his brothers because he’s defective, learning Frog’s story, the fate of the Reptites. Robo finally coming to grips with what he is, finding the Mother Brain, and his “love”. Chrono dying and coming back. Nadia/Marle finding love. Feeding a cat. Bringing a cat back to a little girl. Petting a cat. This game has so much on so many different levels. Even the tiniest details matter and are worth exploring. If any game could be considered “perfect”, it has to be Chrono Trigger. I have so many fond memories of this game, and even the minor difficulty problems do nothing to stop this from being a game I can play over and over again.

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  • Mike Guzman

    All the love for this game

  • Herschel Pilcher III

    I really can’t remember a bad moment from this game. I do remember the emotional roller-coaster that I traveled on during my first play through, the whiplash suffered from the sudden shocking plot twists.


    This is such an accurate review. <3