Anyone who has followed my columns from the beginning would know that EarthBound is my favorite game ever. If I had to pick a second favorite, it would be Chrono Trigger. It’s odd though, since I’m admittedly not the biggest RPG fan. In fact, I rather dislike most of them I play. There seems to be too much walking and talking and not enough doing.
So why do I like Earthbound and Chrono Trigger so much? I have no idea. They’re just awesome. Maybe it’s because they’re relatively simple in relation to other RPG’s, maybe it’s because I can get into the story easier, maybe it’s because of each one’s quirks and charms. I really don’t have an answer. Let’s try and squeeze one out.
Chrono Trigger (SNES, 1995)
In the year 1000 A.D., the main protagonist, Crono, is attending a fair commemorating the 1000th anniversary of his homeland, the kingdom of Guardia. At the fair, he runs into Marle, who is actually the princess of Guardia in disguise, and goes with her to see his friend Lucca’s demonstration of a teleportation pod. Damn, where did that technology go? I blame the Plague.
Anyway, Marle tries out the machine, but it reacts with a pendant she is wearing and opens up a wormhole that sends her back in time 400 years, leaving only the pendant behind. Crono nobly picks up the pendant and follows her, and (Cliff’s Notes version, so I don’t have to describe the whole game to get to the point) rescues her with the help of a cursed humanoid frog, returns to the present, is sentenced to death for allegedly kidnapping the princess, escapes from prison, reunites with Marle and Lucca and escapes through another wormhole to the year 2300, a bleak future in which the world is in ruins due to an attack by a monster named Lavos that emerged from the depths of the Earth in the year 1999 and destroyed the planet. Phew.
So you have to travel through time, learning about Lavos’ origins and abilities as you search for a way to stop it. All the while, several people join your group (though no more than three are playable at a time), such as a prehistoric woman, a robot from the future, the aforementioned frog and his wizard arch-nemesis, although you can choose to fight and kill him at a certain point. Obviously I’m glossing over a lot, and that kind of sucks since the story was amazing, but if I went over everything, we’d be here all day. I’ll just say that the story is epic and legendary, definitely one of the best ever.
The gameplay is standard RPG fare; you navigate various dungeons fighting enemies and gaining new abilities through EXP points. There is a twist however, as enemies are shown on the screen, as in Earthbound, however unlike Earthbound the battles are fought on the same screen as the one you explore, and you can see yourself and your enemy and your attacks, instead of a separate battle screen consisting of just your enemy and psychedelic backgrounds. At a certain point in the game, your party learns to use magic based on a certain element, lightning, water, fire and shadow, adding a host of new abilities in addition to abilities based on the character’s weapon. In addition, characters can double-up, or in some cases triple-up with certain abilities to truly pwn the bejeebers out of your enemies.
The world is huge, or at least seems that way. You navigate the same world through five different time periods, and each has its own set of NPC’s to interact with, giving the game’s environment an immense feel. The game is pretty linear until the very end, when you have the choice of going to fight Lavos or engaging in a series of side quests that tie up all the loose ends of the story and better equip your party for the coming fight.
Once you fight and defeat Lavos, you get the ending. Everyone goes back to his or her own time and lives happily ever after, etc. etc., but when you get back to the title screen, you have a new mode to choose from, New Game +, where you start from the beginning with all the stats and weapons you had before. You can also go to the final battle right from the start, and doing so then or at specific other points in the game will give you one of twelve different endings.
The graphics are great; everything is detailed and colorful, and the bosses are huge and generally badass looking. The really incredible, amazing, super duper epic selling point of this game is its soundtrack. Every single track, from the opening credits to the end credits is, quite simply, jaw dropping. There are many, many points in this game where I just stop and listen. It’s amazing, and definitely makes the Chrono Trigger CD worth its $65 price tag to buy it new from someone on Amazon.com. I’d do it, even though the game is about that much on the same site. Hell, I’d get both. 5 copies each.
This game is rare, to say the least. You pretty much have to buy it online if you want to play it. They did release a port of it on the Playstation as a part of Final Fantasy Chronicles, along with Final Fantasy IV (or II depending on what country you’re in), which is easier to find these days. The port contained all the classic gameplay of the original with some cool little anime cut scenes added in. This was all fine and dandy, but the load times were just atrocious. Whether it was starting the game, going from one screen to another or just opening the pause menu, it seemed like it took about 6 hours for things to happen. I’m exaggerating of course, but compared to the seamlessness of the SNES version, I just gave up on it midway through the game. It could end up on the Virtual Console at some point, just as long as it isn’t remade for the next-gen. Screw that nonsense.
So why are this game and Earthbound the only RPG’s I like? I still really don’t know. It’s not like other RPG’s don’t have epic storylines, great music and huge interactive worlds. These are just the only two that really appeal to me. I guess it’s one of those mysteries we’ll never know the answer to, like, “why do you park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?’ or “why is TNA wrestling still in business?”
Next time: Mega Man X, X2 and X3! Why all three? A) because they’re awesome, B) X and X2 are one big story arc, but why not add in X3 for a nice little trilogy, and C) everything from X4 and onward just plain sucks, so X3 is a good place to stop.