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History Lesson: Chrono Trigger

By Matthew Castle on Sunday 12th Jan 2014 at 10:00 AM UTC

When the creator of Final Fantasy, the creator of Dragon Quest and one of the most famous manga artists in all of Japan got together on a plane journey to America in 1992 and vowed to create something that "no one had done before", let's just say you didn't need a time machine to predict that the result was going to be something special. The only question was just how special it was going to be.

Chrono Trigger was the result, a collaboration that brought Square and Enix's worlds together long before the two companies merged in 2003. Final Fantasy boss man Hironobu Sakaguchi loved his Dragon Quest counterpart Yuji Horii's radical ideas and was equally enthusiastic about the opportunity to "play around" (as he put it) with Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama's unique art style.

But despite plenty of passion from all sides, the enormity of the project meant it nearly didn't get off the ground at all.

After a year of procrastination, a Square employee named Kazuhito Aoki offered to take on the hefty burden of producing their ambitious vision. Sakaguchi gave the green light, and Aoki immediately set about compiling one of the most star-studded development teams the RPG world had ever seen.

A side note: Aoki had previously worked on Final Fantasy IV's Active Time Battle system, which is now an accepted JRPG convention. Chrono Trigger would build on the ATB system by allowing party members to combine their powers, and by having the enemies move around the battlefield dynamically.

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If Sakaguchi and Horii's union had been the result of a shotgun wedding, it would have been easy for them to hide behind their names and 'just' create a slicker, more polished version of the Japanese RPG formula that they themselves had combined to create. But this was a project from the heart, and it was Horii's love of time travel fiction that helped shape Chrono Trigger's narrative into something truly timeless.

Up until then, RPGs had always been judged by the length of the journey their heroes undertook - but how trite to always confuse quantity with quality! How wasteful to establish far-away lands with their own history and traditions, and then immediately have your party set sail for richer climes at the first opportunity! Chrono Trigger took a different approach: rather than travelling from A to B, you'd travel from AD to BC.

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The game's events take place in a relatively small kingdom called Guardia, but the hook is that its heroes can travel between different time periods using wormholes located around the kingdom. Thus even the smallest landmarks carry a sense of import.

See the Truce Inn, the well-to-do tavern due east of hero Crono's hometown? Why not travel back 400 years and observe its origins as a medieval watering hole? Once you've finished, warp forward 1,700 years into the bleak, bleak future and ask the tramps nearby where the Inn has gone.

"Truce? Never heard of a place by that name," they reply. "But I hear there's food in the north-east, if you can make it through alive." In the future, everything you loved is gone.

At surface level the game has a breezy, jovial tone like many an RPG of its era, but the real genius of Chrono Trigger is that behind the sweet fašade is a heart-wrenching tale of human suffering and misery. Except, due to its branching storyline, this is only the case if you mess things up in the past.

One of the most powerful examples of this is the case of Lucca's mother, who was paralysed in a tragic accident ten years ago. At one point in the game, you travel back to the scene of the crime and have a tiny, unforgiving window in which to save her from a second mangling. Oh, you didn't manage it? Then watch this cutscene of Lucca crying her heart out on her bed, you slack-handed buffoon. You'd need tear ducts of steel not to well up here.

And this is the thing about Chrono Trigger that no one had done before - and arguably since. The unorthodox time-travel structure gives you the chance to take the game at your own pace, but it also gives everything you do do a sense of permanency and purpose. It makes your decisions matter, and that's why it hurts all the more when the game turns round and tears your heart out - because you know it was done by your own hand. Aeris' pre-arranged death in Final Fantasy VII is am-dram hour compared to the final scene at Death Peak, should you play your cards incorrectly.

Horii currently owns the rights to Chrono Trigger, but has no plans for a sequel (well, there was the PlayStation follow-up Chrono Cross, but Horii wasn't involved in that and it wasn't a true sequel in a storyline sense). How could he make one, though? There could be a million Final Fantasies and Dragon Quests, but Chrono Trigger was a one-off. Special. How special? If you went back to 1992, you couldn't articulate it. Not if you had all the time in the world.

This Is The End(s)

Chrono Trigger's time travel hijinks aren't just limited to the main story. Since its branching plot leads to multiple different scenarios, there are actually thirteen different endings in the game (including one bad one).

If you haven't played the game before and are interested in it, you can find it on the Wii Virtual Console. There are also ports on DS and iOS, both of which have an extra exclusive ending.

For now though, here's every possible ending in the SNES version of Chrono Trigger.

Additional reporting: Chris Scullion