Chrono Trigger: A Retrospective Look at a JRPG Masterpiece

It has been just over 25 years since Chrono Trigger for the SNES released, and looking back at it may show just how ahead of its time it was, and how outstanding this game truly is.

Chrono and friends face off against the dark mage Magus.

In March of 1995, Chrono Trigger debuted on the SNES and was met with immediate praise from gamers all around the world. Elements such as the artwork, music, story, and gameplay are all still considered to be iconic today. Why is this the case? How did Chrono Trigger’s specific combination of these elements lead to it still being hailed as one of the best JRPGs of all time? And most importantly: does it still hold up today?

Crono, Robo, and Frog battle against the dangerous Mother Brain. (Credit: Square Enix)

Let us start with the artwork; it is simply flawless. A large part of this is due to the fact that the characters and enemies were designed by Akira Toriyama, the famed manga artist responsible for works such as Dragon Ball and Dragon Quest. With varied colors and vastly differing designs, it’s no wonder that the characters are widely recognized throughout the world. In addition to the characters, the actual world of the game is beautifully realized within the SNES’s hardware limitations. The interconnected islands are all distinct, with notable landmarks such as the fiery mountains of the Tyrano Lair, or the ominous forest surrounding Ozzie’s Fort. The different time periods that the group travels to over the course of the game are also quite unique. The Future Era is bleak and desolate, with broken machinery and mutated monsters inhabiting every corner of the environment. The Middle Ages Era, meanwhile, is cheerful and much more like the medieval setting we’re all familiar with, being host to bustling towns, shipyards, and the like. The artwork of a game is crucial to its identity, and Chrono Trigger’s artwork is unparalleled in terms of SNES games.

The whole party posing for the camera. (Credit: Square Enix)

Next, let’s cover the music. Composed by the legendary Yasunori Mitsuda and Nebuo Uematsu, the soundtrack features loads of memorable and catchy tunes, from the upbeat battle theme to the somber theme of Schala. These tunes are still widely recognizable to this day, and it is a testament to how timeless they are. If you don’t want to play the game, at least do yourself a favor and listen to the Chrono Trigger soundtrack, as it is absolutely worth your time.

Then, we have the story. Combining tropes from popular fantasy, along with introducing new ones, Chrono Trigger is able to spin a creative story that pulls some surprises along the way. It starts with your character, Crono, going to a fair to see a mysterious machine his friend Lucca had made. At the fair, he meets Marle, a young woman eager to see the sights. However, in a terrible turn of events, Lucca’s machine transports Marle across time, and Crono must go to save her. Along the way, the characters meet many friends and discover a plot to destroy the entire timeline, and must find a way to stop it. Pretty interesting premise, isn’t it?

Finally, let’s talk about the most important part of a game: the gameplay. Most JRPGs, especially in the SNES period, are infamous for their extreme difficulty and tedious grinding for experience points. Chrono Trigger, by some miracle, avoids this problem entirely. The game is perfectly balanced, and during my time playing, I never once needed to grind for EXP. On top of this, the game also features an intense battle system that will keep any player engaged. It is turn-based, but has an action bar that fills in real-time, so you need to be ready to act before the enemy does. This system still holds up wonderfully today, and is even present in modern games like Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Overall, it easily has one of the best battle systems of any game on the SNES.

All of the characters take a well-deserved rest in the forest around a campfire. (Credit: Square Enix)

Chrono Trigger has stood the test of time. It’s unique blend of beautiful artwork, memorable music, fantastic story, and engaging gameplay have all worked in harmony to make a truly outstanding game that anyone can enjoy. Chrono Trigger gets a 10/10 from me. If any of this sounds interesting or intriguing to you, dust off an old SNES and give this game a go! You won’t regret it.