On This Day in Gaming: Chrono Trigger
What if the lore of Skyrim combined with the cinematic combat of God of War and infused with the story arc of Metal Gear Solid? Better yet, imagine if directors Hideo Kojima, Cory Barlog, and Todd Howard came together to create this epic work of art. Could a game like this even exist? Would developers from different companies even want to collaborate on such a title? And if so, what kind of legacy would this game leave behind? It turns out that the video game industry experienced this exact same scenario 25 years ago today on March 11, 1995 with the Japanese release of Chrono Trigger.
On This Day in Gaming is a series that honors the anniversary of the most iconic video games in history. We analyze director and studio development decisions while also reminiscing on the enduring legacy that continues to influence the industry.
Many fans and critics consider the early 1990s to be the “Golden Age” of the JRPG genre. From Final Fantasy to Secret of Mana and Dragon Quest, the 16-bit era not only defined the role-playing genre but also solidified it as a staple of Japanese video game development. But certain developers were not satisfied with the status quo. Having solidified themselves as industry icons for their work on Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Dragon Ball, directors Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yuji Horii, and Akira Toriyama wanted to push the genre to new heights.
During a routine visit to the United States in 1992, the stars aligned. All three industry veterans boarded the same plane headed for the same conference on graphics design. During the trip, Sakaguchi, Horii, and Toriyama each expressed a desire to create the ultimate role-playing game. After four days of brainstorming and collaboration, the trio decided to remain in contact to keep the dream alive.
Nearly a year passed with little progress; however, a small glimmer of hope emerged. The tipping point turned out to be a volunteer. After nearly a year of back-and-forth, Square veteran Kazuhiko Aoki volunteered to be the game’s producer. The trio agreed and decided to go “all-in” on development. Each pushed aside their daily responsibilities, and Square finally decided to fund the project. And the rest is history.
Sakaguchi, Horii, and Toriyama each brought their own unique expertise to the development of Chrono Trigger. The world building of Sakaguchi combined with the combat system of Horii blended with Toriyama’s narrative resulted in a magnificent work of art. Powered by the 16-bit Super Famicom, Chrono Trigger accomplished things that no other game before it had ever tried.
- Enix tried to incorporate time travel into the Dragon Quest series with Hand of a Heavenly Bride. However, it was not until the 2000 game Fragments of a Forgotten Past that time travel was core to the gameplay. Thanks to Chrono Trigger, Yuji Horii knew how to seamlessly incorporate this mechanic into the game.
- Square has always toyed with the leveling system in the Final Fantasy series; however, it was not until Final Fantasy VII that the company decided to dramatically alter the battle system. The Active Time Battle (ATB) system was tried in Final Fantasy, but, it was not until Final Fantasy VII that the company went “all-in” with this mechanic. Thanks to Chrono Trigger, Sakaguchi know just how to infuse the ATB system into Square’s flagship series, which furthermore influenced the development of Final Fantasy IX, XII, and XIII.
- Until Chrono Trigger, few games had explored killing off a main character. Such an event creates dynamic character arcs and solicits powerful emotions from fans. But after Chrono’s release, perhaps no other franchise is better known for slaying its cast than the Dragon Ball series. We just wish the Dragon Ball series had saved Goku from such torture.
Despite releasing in the mid-1990s, Chrono Trigger introduced more gameplay elements into the JRPG genre than any other prior game. Here is a list of our favorites:
- Seamless Transition. Thanks to the upgraded 16-bit processor, the Super Famicom was able to handle one of the game’s more unique elements: seamless transition. Instead of cutting to a battle screen, Chrono and cast would seamlessly transition from overworld to battle. Multiple turned-based franchises have since copied this transition.
- Consequence. Modern games continue to struggle with providing meaningful consequences to player choice. However, Chrono Trigger seamlessly incorporated this mechanic into a 16-bit cartridge. What appears as minor dialogue options result in major story arc deviations. For example, an early game decision determines whether the player can revive Chrono. Battling Lavos in a certain era can result in the destruction of Epoch. These events bring the world to life and force players to wisely consider each choice throughout the game.
- Multiple Endings. Until Square released Chrono Trigger, video games always had a distinct beginning, climax, and ending. Thanks to the intricate time travel mechanic, Chrono Trigger offered not only one but also 13 different endings. This added to the replay-ability of the game and enticed players to try new things. Such a variety of outcomes was revolutionary for its time and influenced many future games, such as Yoko Taro’s Drakengard and NieR series. Dishonored. Mass Effect 3. GTA 5.
There you have it. The story behind one of the most iconic JRPGs of all time. But we want to know what you think. Did you play Chrono Trigger during the SNES era? Let us know in the comments below or the social media links on the right. Also, be sure to check out our other news items on Pokemon, Modern Warfare, Capcom, Blizzard and more.
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