Why Chrono Trigger is one of the greatest games ever made

It's nigh impossible to have a discussion about Japanese role-playing games without name-dropping titles like Phantasy Star IV, Final Fantasy VI, and Dragon Quest V and VI. Despite releasing in the '90s, they're widely considered the best entries in some of the most accomplished JRPG franchises ever conceived. But there’s no other game as synonymous with role-playing greatness than Chrono Trigger, a game that managed to outshine its highly regarded contemporaries and land the number three spot on our list of best games of all time thanks to its complex plot, lovable cast of characters, and ambitious technical achievements.

Of course, we can't talk about what made the game so great without first acknowledging the famed "dream team" that made Chrono Trigger a reality. Its cast of developers included the likes of Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of Final Fantasy, Yuji Horii, creator of Dragon Quest, and Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball.

The three conceived of one of the most complex stories ever told in the video game medium circa the mid '90s. Young Crono and crew were tasked with saving the world from the apocalyptic monster Lavos, and had to do so via time travel--and that adventure would ultimately culminate in one of 13 endings. As you jumped from 65 million B.C. to 2300 A.D. and the eras in between, you'd witness the same world evolve, with each time period offering new places to discover. Some dungeons and towns even persisted through time: Guardia Castle, for example, could be explored in multiple eras, and it was fascinating to witness its transformation over a 400-year span.

While time travel was a novel mechanic, it wouldn't have been nearly as memorable had it not been for the colorful cast of characters it allowed Crono to encounter during his journey. The intelligent Lucca and sassy princess Marle were introduced from the start, but only by accidentally warping through time did Crono meet the lovably gallant Frog, broody Magus, brawny Ayla, and, of course, the almost-human Robo who apparently loved Rick Astley

All of these characters had a surprising level of depth, and every single one of them had a memorable personality. Chrono Trigger's side quests led to powerful weapons and equipment, but it also included lengthy character-specific sub plots that provided insight and back story to each member of the party. Discovering how Frog became a frog (fun fact: He wasn't always an anthropomorphic amphibian), or what that dastardly Magus was really up to made us feel all the more attached to those characters, and those plots lent an incredibly personal element to a game that was otherwise quite grand in scale.

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000
  • BladedFalcon - August 31, 2013 2:34 p.m.

    As for the story itself, I'm sorry, but even the game itself didn't make that huge deal of Magus when he was first revealed as "the big bad", yeah, he was shown as a menace in the middle ages, but he's all but forgotten and considered a thing of the past. So it was very hard to see him being the real big threat of the story, that, and Lavos was revealed soon after. Also, I don't really buy into the whole "Missunderstood" thing with Magus, and how he does a 180 to then join your party. Up until the scene in which Chrono Sacrifices himself, Magus acted full on, remorseless cruel and evil, cartoonishly so, even, what with him using that shallow disguise in the kingdom of Zeal, and flat out laughing at Frog as he kills his mentor. That isn't someone that is "missunderstood" That is a flat out evil asshole. And yes, i know the game cops out of this by saying "Oh, that's because he was raised by evil monsters in the middle ages,and taught him to hate humans!". But even then, if he was supposedly someone who had some good repressed in him, a good story would have shown him show even the slightest hints of that at some point, otherwise, having him act like that and then suddenly go "oh, you guys are fighting against the same thing I am, let's work together!" doesn't fit. Not to mention, you'd THINK Frog would have made kind of a huge deal about the killer of his mentor joining them... But he doesn't :/ Suddenly being revealed the world of Zeal WAS pretty cool and unexpected, I'll give you that, and that whole place (And the music, which i won't argue is top notch) was pretty creative and cool. But the whole thing which the queen being possessed, and Magus being the little kid? I honestly figured that out before I left the very first city out of the three that are present there. You can tell that the kid is Magus early on mainly because of his hair, and his dour and somber attitude. It's not a BAD twist, but it's not that well hidden, is what I'm getting at. As for the technical aspects of the game, note that above, i didn't argue about that. The game IS pretty damn impressive looking, and the amount of stuff and detail that went into it is definitely worthy of praise. Which is why I've never denied that Chrono Trigger is a good game. I simply disagree with it being called of of the best games of all time, specially when it has so many flaws with it's story and characters, which to me are the most important elements of a genre such as a linear JRPG.
  • phillip-bunn - January 3, 2013 5:19 p.m.

    I'm surprised in regard to innovation y'all didn't mention techs like Lucca's flame toss or Chrono's cyclone that factor in linear alignment or proximity in determining what targets can/will be hit by them.
  • avantguardian - January 3, 2013 5:17 p.m.

    just downloaded this on my psp to run through again. after i finish jeanne d'arc, which is AMAZING. CT is an excellent game. a classic, even. one of my all-time favorites? nope.
  • GR_RyanTaljonick - January 3, 2013 9:58 p.m.

    Oh man, I wanna play Jeanne D'arc super bad. Haven't had a chance to get to it yet.
  • KandarRDM - January 3, 2013 5:04 p.m.

    I love this game, but have been hesitant to dl it off PSN, since it's the PS1 version. Was wanting to know if the PSN one suffers from the PS1's horribly long loading times? If not, then will be getting it soon.
  • BladedFalcon - January 3, 2013 6:28 p.m.

    It does. I played the PSN version, and the load times are definitely there. It didn't break my experience with the game, but it is pretty noticeable.
  • Wolfscythe - January 3, 2013 3:47 p.m.

    Let me join too! Okay, Chrono Trigger is a really good game and actually the review points out very good the good things of the game, also it's already a classic and for the the games that Square Enix has been making recently their good ol' titles had become invaluables, but i agree with BladedFalcon here, there are a some other games that deserve being called better than Chrono Trigger. Anyway, in my case i prefer Xenogears than Chrono, mostly because the concept of the story is almost the same, but in Xenogears you actually get more contact with the characters and the topic of Chrono Trigger is better taken in Xenogears, it's more... deep, let's say. And i said Xenogears because both are from Squaresoft BTW.
  • RebornKusabi - January 3, 2013 1:41 p.m.

    I played this for the first time two years ago, and played it again recently, and I 100% agree with this article. It isn't THE best game of all time for me, but it is one of them.
  • dcobs123 - January 3, 2013 1:36 p.m.

    Just beat Earthbound recently, think I'm gonna finally get around to playing this.
  • slimjim441 - January 3, 2013 1:21 a.m.

    Kudos to you all for having a mild-mannered, educated discussion on the internet. I'm screen-shotting this page because I honestly don't think anything like this has actually been done before. No one even got called a faggot. Really, bravo. On that note, I didn't actually read the article because: a. I was busy reading all the comments, and 2. I don't need anyone to tell me how great Chrono Trigger is.
  • RadgarLaser2 - January 2, 2013 10:02 p.m.

    @BladedFalcon may I ask what "several RPGs that can do better" to get an fair representation of your stance of what should be in contention of one of the greatest "RPG" games ever made? I agree with this article, many of it's point make absolute sense and the combination of plot, gameplay, music, accessibility, and innovation makes this game unique to other games during it's initial release. I have a feeling if you do provide a list, I'm going to have a big I told you so moment.
  • BladedFalcon - January 3, 2013 5:36 a.m.

    Sure thing! As I already mentioned before, I am a big champion of FFVI, for several reasons: It actually came out before CT, proving that you totally CAN tell a much more complex, mature nuanced story at the time, that CT didn't provide. The only category in which I won't argue CT has FFVI beat, is in it's gameplay, and even then, FFVI's traditional take is pretty damn functional, if a tad easy to become overpowered. And while it might not have the best combat ever, it more than makes up for it with a 10+ ensemble cast that is mostly free of the RPG archetypes you see everywhere, and in which, with the exception of the totally optional characters, (Gogo, Umaro, Mog.) pretty much everyone else in the party has a reason to be there, stakes in their quest, AND a moment to shine. That, and Kefka > Lavos, Magus And Zeal combined. Tales of Symphonia: Easily the best RPG the GameCumbe had to offer, ToS is a game that thanks to it's art style, STILL looks beautiful to this day. And the action packed, smash-bros style combat makes every battle much more fun and involving than most Turn based RPGs out there. And while the story does sin of having some cheesy, overdramatic moments here and there, overall it's still a pretty damn good and involving story that has you attached to the companions you meet along the way, and provides with some genuine shocks during the ride. Final Fantasy X: Yes, another FF, but a fairly different beast from FFVI. The turn based combat here is considered by many- Including myself- To be one of the best execute systems in the genre, demanding more strategy than most, and yet allowing a lot of flexibility by allowing you to switch party members on the fly if needed. People love to bitch and nag at the infamous laugh scene, blitzball, and things that are actually far from important within the game, and otherwise it's an RPG that proves a pretty damn epic story, beautifully realized world, and incredibly engaging combat. The World Ends With You: Easily the most overlooked RPG of the last 10 years. TWEWY can be a bit of a though pill to swallow for the first 3 hours, with an apparently insufferable, self-pitying protagonist, and a weird dual screen touch based combat. Once it all settles in though, You'll find one of the most original, engaging, and best told stories in all the medium. Neku has a big character arc (you know, the kind of thing that's mostly absent from CT.) during the game that inevitably helps him grow as a person, and also grows on the player. The story is deceptively complex, and with some of the best plot twists in the genre. And the combat system is one of the most original ones out there while also being extremely challenging and demanding, but also FUN and fast. Oh, and the entire game and art style is very easy on the eyes. Mass Effect 2: Undoubtedly the most removed and different kind of RPG that I bring into the list, and one people might think it's an unfair/Impossible comparison. And yet, i think it's a very warranted one. Like CT, ME2 is an RPG in which the characters you don't choose as your companions during a set part of the quest, don't get to be part of that immediate plot point or mission. UNLIKE CT, however, ME2 allows the story to breathe, and gives you ample chance to know and see the companions you have to become better developed. That, and ME2 is easily one of the best RPGs of this generation, and while some may dispute that the gameplay side of the game makes it more of a shooter than an RPG, the fact is that the game still has enough story, dialog, and character interaction to be considered one of the genre, and one of the best at that. So there you have it, these are the main examples I can think of out of the top of my head. And, I might like to add, I am very aware of what you said about CT having a "perfect" combination of Plot, gameplay, music, accessibility, and innovation. But Like I mentioned it before, being a jack of all trades, doesn't necessarily makes it a master of any. And specially in the plot and characters department, I still hold my ground in that the game is actually pretty lacking. And thus not all that well rounded.
  • FOZ - January 3, 2013 5:53 p.m.

    The most overlooked RPG of the last 10 years? TWEWY has a sizable following, was hyped by numerous outlets, and was well-received critically. It frequently made lists of "Top DS games," and now it has an iOS version and receives considerable attention when S-E says something about it. It's a ridiculous thing to argue about "which game is more overlooked," but if TWEWY is "easily" the most overlooked RPG, then Radiant Historia must be literally invisible. Also, Neku's character is undermined by that you know from the very start he's going to have a ridiculous FRIENDSHIP arc. No surprise whatsoever given Nomura's involvement.
  • BladedFalcon - January 3, 2013 6:37 p.m.

    Okay, fair enough, from where I stood, i haven't felt like the game hasn't been mentioned all that much recently, and it's not a game I often see being mentioned as much as say, FF or even this game, Chrono Trigger. But you ARE definitely correct in that the game has nothing to complain in terms of critical and commercial reception. So i correct my statement, and completely admit that you are right in this respect. "Also, Neku's character is undermined by that you know from the very start he's going to have a ridiculous FRIENDSHIP arc" It might have been predictable that it was gonna go down the friendship path, but it makes it no less impressive and admirable how it's not just that he suddenly has "friends" but that his entire personality significantly improves during the course of the story. And not every character can claim the same, heck, you can specifically look at Squall from FFVIII as a perfect example of a character that got the "friends" part down, but still remained a sullen, whiny, and selfish asshole regardless. Also, I never referenced Neku's character arc as one of the plot twists. So I still fail to understand how that undermines the actual narrative?
  • R_U_Guys_From_British - January 2, 2013 6:41 p.m.

    I recently bought this for iphone and this article has pumped me up!
  • BladedFalcon - January 2, 2013 4:34 p.m.

    Ooooh boy, here's one entry I greatly disagree with. SPOILERS, obviously. Let's get it right off the bat. I played Chrono Trigger for the very first time in my life, 4 months ago. I'm 24 years old, without any nostalgia for the game as a kid, but also old enough to properly judge and discern if I like a game for it's own merits. And also, I LIKED it, I liked it a lot, but it's far, far from being the masterpiece or the best RPG ever as many tout the game to be. Why? Story and characters mainly, they really aren't nearly as deep or engaging as even as the article states they are. Yes, the time travel is a cool narrative hook, but it is not nearly as complex as you guys make it sound. You do travel between 5 time periods, and here are then they play cleverly with the flow of time, but it's really far from the focus of the main narrative, which mainly boils down to "Monster is fated to emerge at X Point of time in earth, you have to destroy it". That's it, that's your "complex" plot. And the side-plots that are present in each time line individually are hardly that interesting or different themselves. Pre-Historic humans have a eud with dinosaurs, you go kill their leader, that's it. Magic era? Kinda interestinc... except they try to make a big plot twist and intrigue that yet is very visible to catch from the very start. (Hint, the shady guy with the robe is OBVIOUSLY Magus, and the empress is evil/mind controlled. And the little kid is magus as a kid, called it all the moment I saw them on screen, and no, i wasn't previously aware of said "Plot twists") And the characters? Okay, so maybe the sidequests that appear AT THE VERY END of the game do add some genuine depth to them, but you can only do them after spending over 40 hours with the main plot. And in that time, all 7 characters are as simplistic RPG archetypes as you can get. Chrono is the typical boring mute hero with zero personality taht yet everyone loves and he gets shit done, because he's the player. Marle is a plucky, tomboyish princess that always has an annoyingly cheerful disposition, and being a princess, of course she gets kidnapped *rolls eyes*. Luca likes technology, and is good at it. That's it, those are her defining traits. Robo is a robot, who despite being a robot, acts more like a boring, agreeable human that speaks politely, and that manages to be less interesting than a personality-less robot. Frog is a straight up Cyan rip-off, only with a far less tragic and interesting back-story. And Ayla is strong, and talks like a prehistoric human. That's it, that's the depth of your main party and what you get from them for most of the bulk of the game. And yes, again, I know both the characters sidequests, and the variety of endings add up a lot to the endgame experience, but both aren't part of the game until it's pretty much over, so they feel more like well done extras rather than integral elements of the game or plot. Not to mention, that getting different endings simply boils down to defeating the same boss at different periods in the game, and you get wildly different endings for no real reason, despite doing pretty much the same action every time. So yeah... To be fair, yes, the actual graphics, animation, and combat, are all really well done, and even years after, i can appreciate that they all hold up really well. But then again, the combat is kinda easy, and while it has cool ideas, is still not a combat interesting enough that manges to justify the greatness of the game all on it's own. That, and personally, in the RPG genre, it's story and characters that ultimately dictates how great or bad the game is. And in this game, both elements are good enough, but in my mind, far, far from being nearly the deepest, more original, or more interesting in the whole plethora of RPGs out there. For a direct comparisson, you have FFVI, which is a game that came BEFORE this game, and while not as polished gameplay or graphic's wise, it still holds up pretty well in both areas, and that game actually has a bigger ensemble cast that yet has much more depth and nuance to them and that you discover such nuances ORGANICALLY across the plot, not just at the end and presented only as merely optional side-quests. And the plot manages much more dramatic, effective plot twists that make the story involving, and it's not until after later in the game, that becomes the standard straightforward "let's kill the bad guy and save the world" plot. (Also, before anyoen tries to go that route, I'd like to point that I played FFVI also well after it originally came out, only 3 years ago, so nostalgia isn't playing tricks in my judgment there either.) So yes... I doubt many will read this wall of text, and I doubt even less people will agree with me. I don't expect them to of course, since my opinion is my own. But up until now, never have I disagreed more with a "greatest games ever made" entry than this one.
  • Cyberninja - January 2, 2013 5:23 p.m.

    I read that wall and I have to say you stated you liked it and it still holds up well, so those are things that would make it one of the greatest games of all time especially since you say it does somethings better then the game you liked more. If you didn't like it would make sense that you disagree about it being here but you did so it more seems like you think its story and characters are over hyped but I guess this is one of the cases where nostalgia or not being overly critical works wonders. Personally CT is my favorite RPG but I consider everything important when judging something not necessarily one thing or the other also I did like the story since I play games without comparing them to others. but hey that's my opinion and I played the game on DS since it came out the year I was born so I don't have nostalgia for it either.
  • BladedFalcon - January 2, 2013 5:51 p.m.

    It's not like I was comparing it or being overly critical from the bat. But it was impossible for me not to notice that the driving plot and the character development just wasn't very complex or compelling, at least to me. And yes, I do make a huge rant of it, because if people just stated "hey, CT is a good game, and I enjoyed it a lot!" I'd agree with them. But in this case, you're showcasing it as one of the best games of the industry, and often as the best in a genre that's full of great games that IMO are much more deserving of the spot. And yes, judging everything in a game is important, but depending on the genre, not all things can be compared equally. Considering the nature of the RPG, specially back then, the game is asking you to sink more hours into the experience than other genres, and has a much lower paced exploration and combat than usual. So story and characters play a much more important role in such a genre because it's those things that usually help drive the experience forward.