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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Chrono Trigger - Retrospective

Ask any Square Fanboy their top 5 Super Nintendo RPGs and you will inevitably hear Chrono Trigger at or near the top. For what it's worth, I did enjoy the game, and I can see where the game earns its "masterpiece" title. The graphics are impressive for its time, the combat system is somewhat unique, and it deals with a subject matter that rarely gets old: Time travel. However, there are many points in the game that shocked me not for what happened in the game, but for didn't happen. The game is given numerous opportunities to shock the player with an jaw dropping plot twist, but never pulls the trigger.

The game started off by lulling me into a false sense of epicness with the brilliantly written leene/marle quest. But then it degraded into a simple episodic. For the first half of the game, nearly every quest you do is self-contained and unrelated to the quest before it or after it. This style continues throughout most of the rest of the game; You find an area with a problem, you fix that problem, then move on to a new area. The locales and characters are all different enough so this doesn't feel very monotonous, but it is awfully shallow.

There were multiple times when playing the game that I thought I was sensing a devastating plot twist, gearing up to be blown away when it finally happens... only to be disappointed when it doesn't. The first time this happened was when approaching Magus to prevent him from summoning Lavos. You find out that Magus is trying to summon Lavos to destroy him, but is unsuccessful regardless of whether or not the party interferes. Now, tell me this isn't a much more dark and epic plot twist:

The party prevents Magus from summoning Lavos, but then discovers that he was trying to summon it in order to destroy the monster. By defeating Magus, the party THEMSELVES are responsible for Lavos destroying the world. Magus would have done it too, if it weren't for those meddling kids.

Another time the game disappointed me was during the Dalton thread. Dalton has stolen a FREAKING TIME MACHINE! and all he wants to do with it is fly around the world as a king on some sort of airborne throne? What kind of evil overlord sets his sights so low? In my director's cut, Dalton would have taken the Epoch and used it to travel through time and rewrite history to make himself into a god. It worked for Kefka. This would have also done well to add several hours to an already short game.

Chrono Trigger is an RPG that tries to do too many things at once. It tries to have humor, irony, slapstick, plot twists, epic storylines, and even boasts 12 unique endings. But it tries too hard to cover so many bases, it simply stretches itself too thin to be effective. The game is 50 feet wide, but only 3 inches deep. I can only hope Chrono Cross is more my speed.

The Good
  • Excellent music. Some of the best ever from the 16 bit era.
  • Simple but satisfying combat that uses position as a legitimate tactic.
  • Perfectly balanced enemies and skills reduce the need for grinding to almost nil.
The Bad
  • Meandering storyline that defies all rules of the hero's journey.
  • Lack of character development for all but a few party members.
  • Frustratingly non-epic
Defining Moment
  • Chrono dying. Not because of how unexpected it was, but because it was the ONLY plot point I had managed to avoid spoilers for all these years.
Burning Question
  • Why is Marle doing Fire Sword on the cover of the game box with Chrono? Marle is an ice tech user.

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