Chrono Trigger is a game that for many of us, needs no further introduction. A game that not only establishes itself as the golden standard for JRPGs everywhere, but also proves itself to be one of the best games ever made. So, how did it do it exactly? What is it that makes Chrono Trigger such a damn good game to begin with? And most importantly, what impacts did it make to future JRPGs since its debut in 1995?
Iconic art direction
This point’s probably a no-brainer but needs to be stated regardless. Akira Toriyama’s contribution to Chrono Trigger’s art and character design is arguably what lead to the skyrocket of his career and cause him to work on art for other games including the Dragon Quest series. As a result, Chrono Trigger’s graphical/art style is downright recognisable from a country mile.
No random encounters & battle system
An otherwise staple feature for the genre. Chrono Trigger along with a couple of JRPGs back then, chose to do what was probably heretical for the genre which was to remove random encounters entirely. Instead, whole combat sequences would be played out on the very field map the player travels on. Every enemy that doesn’t hide to ambush the player, can be openly visible on the map. As a result, the player is given many opportunities to avoid certain combat encounters if they wish. During mid battle meanwhile, there are many factors that play a vital role in whether you can defeat the enemy or not. The player is set to put together a three-person party, made from a host of characters each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Outside of that, you also have to take into account their placement within the battlefield, as certain attacks or skills are able to hit multiple enemies simultaneously. Additionally, you also have the “tech” mechanic. In short, techs are special moves learned by characters, that can be combined with other, compatible techs to create more powerful attacks. Coupling this with the game’s use of time travel, the combat system can feel rather refreshing, even in contrast to those from modern rpgs.
Another concept while not original for the game, it certainly helped pushed it to become a staple feature for the whole genre. Without spoiling the plot, how Chrono Trigger handles and executes its multiple endings compared to more modern JRPGs is commendable to say the least. By weaving linear narratives into a non-linear gameplay flow, the player is given more agency considering the personal input they make during the story’s critical plot points.
New game +
The game’s true ace in the hole. Chrono Trigger’s new game plus was by far its most unique feature. The ability for you to carry all of your progress into another save file is always a plus in any game, but double so for RPGs. A few plot-relevant items aside, you’d be hard pressed to find anything wrong with the game’s replayability.
Altogether, Chrono Trigger’s gameplay elements have played a huge role in laying the foundation for future rpgs to come and adopt. From its three-person party feature for instance, inspiring the Mario & Luigi series. The reliance on character specific combos later found in series like Suikoden and Legend of Heroes. It’s seamless transitions into combat would later inspire Cosmic Star Heroine and I am Setsuna. Lastly the game’s prominent use of new game plus, later carried on by other titles such as Dragon Quest VIII and the Atelier series. Along with the utilisation of time travel within the story and gameplay, you can really tell how influential this game was for JRPGs everywhere ever since its debut 15 years ago.