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Time Machine: Chrono Trigger

A look back (or is it forward?) at one of the all-time greats...

Time is a cruel mistress - and if you really want to see her dig her claws in, you don't have to look further than some of the former pin-ups turned pinheads that are seeing our their twilight years on Virtual Console.

Due to the rapid rate of technical progress over the last 20 years, the majority of the SNES-era classics have struggled to grow old gracefully (must you plaster on that Mode 7 so thick, Final Fantasy III?), so it's refreshing to come across a game like Chrono Trigger, whose reputation has actually flourished and grown since its original release.

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ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK
Appropriately for an RPG whose central theme is time travel, Chrono Trigger was ahead of its time. When it landed in 1995, many SNES owners handled it like it was a piece of moonrock. We're not saying it was critically panned or anything, but a lot of people were unsure what to make of a title that was quite different to what the gaming community had come to expect from Square.

The RPG giants had made their name by weaving epic tales of heroic dragon-slaying and fairytale romance, so in that light it's easy to see why many found Chrono Trigger's opening stroll around a carnival parade deflating.

But in 2011, free from the weight of expectation, we can see Chrono Trigger's laid-back narrative for what it is: a beautifully paced, poignant tale that bulldozed existing RPG conventions to the ground and paved the way for a new generation of role-playing game worlds that were lighter in tone, more frivolous in nature and just more fun to inhabit.

And so instead of learning to fight against an army of ankle-nibbling rats, you earn your spurs by toppling a karaoke-peddling robot at the fête. Take a wrong turn in the opening dungeon and you'll blunder into the henchman's break room, where the exact same serpents you've been fighting outside put their feet (well, their tails) up in front of you and tell your party to "take those ugly disguises off".

Save the princess from meeting a sticky end in the year 600 and you're rewarded not with +127XP, but by being pushed in front of a baying court who analyse your unruly behaviour at the carnival and send you packing to a jail cell. (Behaviour, of course, that would be seen as par for the course in other RPGs. It's hard to mount a spirited defence when the prosecution plays back footage of you brazenly stealing an item in plain sight.)

As we explain in this month's History Lesson (go on, take a look at page 100 if you haven't already), Chrono Trigger was a slicker, simpler and smarter game that its Square stablemates, and that's why its genius wasn't totally appreciated in a 1995 that still judged its RPGs by how many square miles of nothingness they could pack into a single cartridge.

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But the years have taught much that the days never knew; we can now appreciate Chrono Trigger as a true masterpiece of game design and one of the biggest steals on the Virtual Console service. Time's gnarled claws can't scratch through this many layers of beauty.

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