Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame Nomination: Chrono Trigger

Every week, we will present a new game to be nominated for the Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame and Hall of Shame. These nominations will occur every Monday and Friday, respectively. Our standards are just like the Baseball Hall of Fame: every game will be voted on by members of the staff, and any game that gets 75% of the vote – with a minimum of four votes – will be accepted – or thrown – into their respective Hall.

Game: Chrono Trigger
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square
Release Date: 08/22/1995
System Released On: SNES, Playstation, Nintendo DS
Genre: RPG

Who Nominated The Game: I did.

Why Was It Nominated: For me, one indication of a great game is whether I can keep coming back to a game over and over without getting bored of it. Chrono Trigger fits under that criterion. I’ve played every version, and I still love it to this day. While I did beat the SNES version, I didn’t get the chance to unlock all the endings on it. I did, however, unlock them all on the PS1 version, in spite of the loading times that version was riddled with. I would gladly do it all again (and am via the DS version), it’s held up that well through time and multiple playthroughs. You could say it’s sort of like comfort food, something I pick up when I’m in between other games in spite of my ever growing backlog. The fact that the DS version has new areas and a whole new ending to unlock, as well as the Battle Arena (though that’s more of a novelty than anything), just adds icing to the cake.

It was developed by a group dubbed the Dream Team, and the results showed how they got that name. Among them were two people who had a big hand in the Final Fantasy series, Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu. The latter took over for Yasunori Mitsuda when he became too ill to continue with composing the soundtrack. There was also Akira Toriyama, widely known for his work on the Dragon Quest games and the Dragon Ball series, whose artwork helped the characters come alive through the 16-bit graphics. The two composers created an amazing soundtrack that both set the scene and also just as good a listen outside of context. I still think it’s a shame that Singing Mountain (it picks up at 1:00) never made it into the game in any official capacity until the DS version, though at least it did eventually get its heyday. The battles were seamlessly integrated, with the enemies right on the field for you to confront or flee from as you wished (though naturally doing too much of the latter could prove detrimental). Actual combat took place right where you run into them with no transition needed. In addition to each character’s individual techs, there were also combinations of two or three of those techs to form more powerful ones. Just about every combination of characters had combos available, making just about any party formation viable.

While there’s some linearity to the game by design, it also leaves room for various possibilities thanks to the time traveling aspect. Things you do – or don’t do – at the very beginning of the game (even seemingly minor ones) have some impact on a later event. Actions performed in earlier eras affected later ones in significant ways. These effects are evident in the environments and how other characters in those time periods act and regard your party. You can also get different endings depending on when and how you fight Lavos. The details in each ending can vary depending on whether you recruit a certain character, do the sidequest to retrieve another, and whether you did certain sidequests. In short, while one playthrough can be considered short by some standards, the game gives you plenty of reason to go back to it, with the New Game+ feature and 12 (13 in the DS version) different endings augmenting its replayability.

The game has inspired and spawned plenty of fan projects, a partial list of which can be found here. A symphonic version of the soundtrack that was designed as a movie soundtrack (no, there’s no actual movie) can be found here, and it’s just as much of an aural treat as the original. Sadly, some of the more ambitious and promising ones were squashed by cease and desist letters from Square, such as Chrono Trigger Resurrection, a 3D reimagining of the game, and most recently Crimson Echoes, which was an extensive sequel to the game. As protective of the franchise as they are, Square doesn’t seem too keen on actually doing anything with it (heck, they’ve yet to release Chrono Cross on the PSN outside of Japan) while blaming lack of sales of the DS port. But that’s neither here nor there.

All in Favour::
Aileen Coe: Considering how I gushed about it in my intro and nominated it, it’s glaringly obvious how I voted, and I’m not sure what more to say without repeating myself. But I can say that I can tend to flit between games (due to the sheer amount of choices out there and wanting to play them all) and either not beat them at all or beat them and then move on. However, this game is one of a few who managed to not only hold my attention long enough for me to beat it, but to keep coming back to it even after I’ve seen every ending. That’s a mean feat, and along with what I’ve outlined above would be why I feel it deserves the nod.

Aaron Sirois: I hate JRPGS. If you give me a game with the classic Final Fantasy or Phantasy Star style of gameplay, I’m going to get bored rather quickly, and leave the game less than amused. I’ve only been able to finish a small handful of them in my life, and a good portion of those were for reviews.

So, why would I vote YAY for Chrono Trigger?

Because I loved every freaking minute of it.

The story was fantastic, even if I was annoyed that Crono never spoke. Conversations differed depending on who was in your party, some of the twists were rather nice, and it kept me hooked from start to finish. The music is some of the best in any game. The combat was actually interesting and (GASP) challenging! Just about every JRPG I’ve played was a breeze. CT actually challenged me and encouraged me to be careful with my items. I couldn’t simply button mash my way through this one!

For all those reasons, and so many more, Chrono Trigger stands as a testament to how good a game can be, despite the limitations of its genre. That’s why I have to put in my vote for it to get in the HoF.

Sean Madson: In one hand, you had Hironobu Sakaguchi, the main mind behind Final Fantasy. In another hand, you had Dragon Ball and Dragon Quest artist, Akira Toriyama. And in yet another hand, you had composer Nobou Uematsu. It was a trifecta of awesomeness. How could their fusion of talents not produce something awesome? Though, that same trio also produced Blue Dragon, which was significantly less awesome than Chrono Trigger, but let’s not go there. What I’m really trying to get at is that I love this game.

Chrono Trigger was a pioneer for many of the concepts found in today’s RPG’s. First of all, the number of endings is staggering. There were at least a dozen which as goofy as most of them were, was far more than any other RPG’s that I can recall playing at the time. In order to unlock them, you needed to use another RPG staple, the New Game+, to import your beefed up characters into the new game to fight the final boss at different times during the story. You could also breeze through the rest of the game with relative ease if you wanted as well.

Obviously, features alone a good game does not make, so it’s a good thing that the presentation and gameplay were top notch as well. When you encountered enemies in the wild, you fought where you were, which eliminated needlessly long screen transitions. You also had a vast selection of tech skills that you could use in battle depending on who you had in your party, and they involved the use of multiple party members to execute in some cases. It was a blast experimenting with this. The time travel storyline was also fun and easy to follow, making this game a total package when it came to RPG’s. Especially during a time when they were rather scarce in North America. X Strike this one into the Hall of Fame.

Chris Bowen: Chrono Trigger was a perfect storm, and like the lightning in a perfect storm, it only struck once. The greatest RPG minds of all time – the creator of Final Fantasy with the two people most responsible for Dragon Quest – working together, along with two of the best music composers in video game history? Are you kidding me?

The result was magical. Chrono Trigger is on the shortlist of almost every “best ever” list, both by people that came in before Final Fantasy VII (when the JRPG fandom divided, for lack of a better term) and after. The game’s port in 2008 only reinforced for a new audience how amazing the game was, scoring universal praise from both of our reviews, and currently sporting a 92 average at Metacritic. Hell, Aileen and I have even debated whether to put Crono and Marle on our wedding cake, which is not only indicative of the effect this game has on people, but is also yet another example that my woman is better than yours.

Whether the game is good or not is, to me, not up for debate. Where I debated this is whether or not this game merited inclusion on how impactful it was. Chrono Trigger has left a definite mark on the genre, but has it impacted the industry as much as the Final Fantasy games of the era? I have some fundamental differences with a few staff members in that a game’s impact is more important to me than whether or not I liked it in regards to getting into the Hall of Fame, and it almost didn’t get in because of that. Simply put, Chrono Trigger hasn’t had the impact of, say, Final Fantasy VII.

But here’s my question: is that really Chrono Trigger’s fault? Critics see a “short” (20-25 hours, but more replay via the at-the-time revolutionary New Game +) game that didn’t take the industry by storm, but I see a game created by the best minds in the industry, minds who were given carte blanche to do whatever they wanted, and they created a masterpiece that has held up – by the standards of both personal and professional opinion – over multiple generations of gaming. They created something and gave it to Square Soft, while saying “now do something with it!”. Square Soft tried to do something – Chrono Cross – that didn’t succeed to expectations specifically because it wasn’t Chrono Trigger, but fans can be finicky. Then Square Soft became Square Enix, who received this gift and were told “now do something with it!”. Square Enix has since sat on their thumbs, doing nothing but porting over the game with few enhancements, while brutally beating down any and all attempts by fans to build on the first game’s success via cease and desist notifications (including one that was issued while a fan made “sequel” was literally at 99% complete, and had been worked on for years), while literally telling people that they would never get a sequel because fans didn’t rush out and buy the 13 year old port of a Super Nintendo game for the full DS retail price of $40.

Detractors say that Chrono Trigger doesn’t have quite the lasting legacy that other games in the genre have. Lord knows I almost did. But I think Chrono Trigger has succeeded despite the bumbling inefficiency of people such as Yoichi Wada and Shinji Hashimoto. It did something no one thought could be done: it had unrealistic and borderline expectations put on it, and it met them. Twice. Combine that with a cult, borderline fanatical following and what is arguably the greatest RPG of the 16 bit “golden” era, and you have a Hall of Fame selection that is easier than it should have been.

William Kaye IV: When it comes to 16-bit RPGs on the Super NES, Final Fantasy VI is my favorite. Bar none. But this game is a close second, a time travel story that (mostly) manages to do time travel correctly and proves entertaining from start to finish. The characters are all memorable, the battle system is fun, and the plot has some real weight to it (regicide, armageddon, the death of someone you would not expect to die, a talking frog, et cetera). At least, it does in the original play through. In New Game+, you are basically steam rolling everything in your path so the villains are no threat, but the entire point of New Game+ is really getting some of those dozen or so endings (some of which you can achieve within the first ten minutes of starting a new game). While I never got all the endings, the fact that I got at least half of them surely shows how much I enjoyed this game growing up.

All Opposed:

Mohamed Al-Saadoon: I might be branded as a traitor to all gamerkind with this one but…..I don’t see what’s so special about Chrono Trigger.

I never played it back in the SNES days so maybe a decade or so of RPG advancement dulled my senses to what the game achieved by the time I played it many years later.

The story, graphics and gameplay are all very good but I fail to see what made it so special that everyone waxes lyrical about it. The character designs suck (except for Frog, who’s awesome) but I suspect that’s because Akira Toriyama has whored out his art to every RPG ever made (and his patented “every female lead must look like Bulma” technique) and I’ve subsequently gotten some sort of strange “art fatigue” or something like that.

By the way, Chrono Cross was better. There I said it.

Alex Lucard: I never understood the love people have for Chrono Trigger. It’s one of those games I played through and found to be mediocre at best and then when the internet came around I was astounded to see the love the title had. Now granted, I found the RPGS on the TG-16 and Genesis, as well as the SSI AD&D PC RPGs to be more fun than nearly every RPG I encountered on the SNES.

I enjoyed that the game has a dozen or so endings as I liked the replay factor, but the battle system bored me, I never got into any of the characters and we’ve seen that when the game was re-released TWICE, sales were pretty underwhelming, proving to me that it’s only a small but vocally annoying subsect of gamers that are truly passionate about this. It’s called the “Earthbound” factor. At the end of the day, Chrono Trigger was an okay game that packed in every possible RPG cliche in the book into a single game but had multiple endings and the luck of both DBZ artwork coupled with the Squaresoft publisher banner to push the game into heights it really didn’t deserve.

Result: 5 In Favour, 2 Opposed, 71.4% Approval = REJECTED

Conclusion: Chrono Trigger falls just short of an induction by a minute margin. While most had something positive things to say about it, some felt it didn’t quite rise to the hype that it’s built up over the years due to a dedicated and vocal fanbase. I knew going in that it might have a tough time getting in due to the design of the process (and staff members who aren’t exactly fond of Square), but I felt it at least deserved a shot. While it does smart a bit to see the game come so close only to miss it by a mere one vote, I am glad it got as many yay votes as it did.

Next Week: We weigh in on a game that capped off a quadrilogy (or trilogy, depending on who you ask), carried a large asking price at time of release, and belonged to a series that’s now more of a multiplayer experience.

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