Chrono Trigger is the greatest game ever made. Like a frozen flame, untouched by time, this magnum opus was developed by a Dream Team of creators at the very edge of a technological era and continues to inspire and amaze players. The story, music, graphics, and gameplay should have been impossible given the time in which it was made, but these talented individuals crafted an amazing experience that echoes throughout the ages. This month is the game’s 25th anniversary in the United States, so let’s take a look at this masterpiece.
The story starts in 1993. Hironobu Sakaguchi (the creator of Final Fantasy), Yuji Horii (the creator of Dragon Quest), and Akira Toriyama (the creator of Dragon Ball) were traveling in the US researching computer graphics and decided to hang out together. In their talks, they proposed a joint effort. Unlike most proposals of this type, it actually got somewhere at Squaresoft. Kazuhiko Aoki produced the game and assembled the crew. Rounding out the Dream Team’s members was Nobuo Uematsu, the legendary figure behind Final Fantasy’s music, who contributed a few songs to composer Yasunori Mitsuda’s masterful soundtrack for the game.
The crew was composed of members from both Square Soft and Enix, a team-up that was completely unexpected considering the rivalry between the two companies at the time. As such, the Dream Team was one of the biggest marketing draws for this game, and for good reason.
The story was richer and more imaginative than that of most video games at the time, being a sweeping time travel epic that took the player to several different eras of the planet’s history. The game explored the themes of fate, legacy, heroism, and what it truly means to save the world. Toriyama contributed memorable and distinct illustrations that elevated what could have been stock characters in lesser creators’ hands, including the cool silent protagonist, the mad scientist, the noble knight, the tomboyish princess, a fierce cavewoman, a curious robot, and even the evil overlord. Each of these characters had a backstory and agency within the narrative, bringing the player along with them through important moments in their lives.
Chrono Trigger did its best to push the RPG formula wherever it could. Free directional movement like in an action RPG let you explore environments more openly. Battles took place where you stood, with enemies you could see, increasing immersion and breaking free of random battles. Everything about the mechanics was made with player enjoyment in mind, rather than challenge.
Indeed, Chrono Trigger isn’t a difficult game. It’s a bit on the short side — about 20 hours or so — and the enemy difficulty is tuned to a player who only fights in most encounters, rather than requiring grinding every step of the way. Combat is still exciting though due to the addition of dual and triple techs, creating deeper strategies according to party composition. This was a game that wanted people to appreciate it, not feel frustrated by it. To this end, it also popularized the idea of “New Game+,” a reward for clearing the game that let you keep all your stats and items upon restarting.
In addition to the ability to breeze through the entire storyline with New Game+, players could take a shortcut to the final boss. Depending upon the point in the story in which the final boss is defeated, a different ending plays out, resulting in a wide variety of scenarios. In one ending, everyone is a Reptite. In another, Crono is the evil overlord in the Middle Ages. Perhaps one of the most memorable endings in video game history is the one where the player can talk to everyone on development team, including the Dream Team, who all have messages for the player. Including the Nintendo DS version of the game, there are ultimately 13 unique endings with some permutations within individual endings.
Chrono Trigger is the greatest game ever made. There are various lines of evidence to support this, 25 years after it was released in the United States, but ultimately those reasons don’t matter much. What matters, fittingly, is the memory of this game. The feeling of going through that first gate and arriving in the past. Exploring the magical floating Kingdom of Zeal with wide-eyed excitement and instantly feeling disgust when you learn how the Earthbound Ones lived. Being introduced to the visual explosion of Toriyama’s artwork. The wonderful melodies of Mitsuda and Uematsu (with one small contribution by Noriko Matsueda) especially are revered as some of the finest ever written for games, if not also the greatest.
For me, the memories of Nintendo Power articles, exploring the internet for the first time, and the proper introduction to anime artwork are forever linked to Chrono Trigger. The game made such an impact that I even took a pen name as a reference to my favorite character. Thousands of people have created and shared fan art over the decades, while others continue to cover the music. Still other people have tattoos forever etched into their skin honoring this game. It may not be anything unusual to say this is your favorite game, but you’re in excellent company if you do.
Chrono Trigger came out on Aug. 11, 1995 in the United States. In that time, there have been a handful of ports, a spin-off, and one sequel — Radical Dreamers was a basically non-canon interactive novel, and Chrono Cross was a critically well-received sequel but polarizing for feeling almost nothing like the first game. Beyond that, there have been no other sequels or remakes, which is astounding to think about in this era of franchise milking.
This is the rare and special case of a video game company guarding the legacy of its greatest product. Perhaps it’s for the best. The memories still exist, and the experience is what really counts. And when you want to relive the greatest game ever made, maybe you’ll need to dig up some old wires, but there’s always a time machine waiting to take you to Guardia, back to where it all began.