Retro Weekends – Chrono Trigger

I could start this article by simply saying “Classic” and be done with it, but that would be a disservice to the game. Topping many gamers’ lists of best games of all time, Chrono Trigger has stood the test of time for many generations. This was the game that tapped into the imagination of many gamers back in the 90s. It set the standard that RPGs would follow in years to come. It has been released on many platforms, ensuring that you could play this game on something you have. Let’s travel back in time and talk about Chrono Trigger.

On The Golden Age of RPGs

Chrono Trigger released on SNES in Japan on March 11, 1995, then in North America on August 22 the same year. The 16-bit era saw many RPGs released. Final Fantasy, Lufia, Phantasy Star, Breath of Fire, Ys, etc. But among them all was Chrono Trigger, a star that shine the brightest. It tackled the rather dangerous theme of time travel. I say dangerous because it’s a very hard to convey in storytelling, and it’s very easy to screw up and create some pretty enormous plot holes. But the “Dream Team” assembled by Squaresoft, which comprised of Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yuji Horii, and Akira Toriyama, were able to steer the game in the right direction. Masato Kato handled the story, and Yasunori Mitsuda did almost all the music (before getting stomach ulcers from working and letting Uematsu finish the job). Look at these names. You have the Final Fantasy creator, the Dragon Quest creator, the artist of Dragon Quest and Dragon Ball (he sure loves his dragons), the guy that did the scenarios for Ninja Gaiden on the NES, and a man who finally got a chance to (almost) fully compose for a game. This was one hell of a lineup, and this was going to be one kick-ass game.

First Contact

My first contact with Chrono Trigger came from its sequel, Chrono Cross. Playing Chrono Cross, there were some allusions to a supposed Chrono Trigger in the game. The back of the case also made mention of this game being the sequel to Chrono Trigger. And of course the plot point involving Lucca getting killed by Lynx when he burns down her house, with her in it. She ran an orphanage from it. Then came the special Final Fantasy issue of Playstation Magazine, where they were covering Final Fantasy X, The Spirits Within, and recapping all the Final Fantasies before X. And, if you remember, Playstation Magazine also came with a demo disc, this one being chock-full of Final Fantasy, including the Final Fantasy VIII demo (with infamous song intact), and of course a trailer of the Final Fantasy Chronicles compilation that came with FFIV and Chrono Trigger. I remember seeing this trailer constantly, becoming addicted to the song they had playing for Chrono Trigger (which at the time I didn’t know was the theme of Chrono Trigger). I wanted to get this game so badly. Not only to exact revenge on Final Fantasy IV, but to also play this mysterious game that I’ve only heard bits and pieces about from Chrono Cross. I finally got the game in winter of 2001 from the old Virgin Megastore in Times Square.

Memorable Moments

Before I begin, this section’s got some major spoilers, so you best skip to Memorable Music if you care about the story.

The fight with Magus was pretty epic. I remember the buildup before the battle with him through the anime cutscene. I’m sitting there with the controller in my hand going, “oooooh shit.” The flames light up as Frog goes further down. Then the flames light up without waiting for Frog and then form a circle, revealing pentagram with Magus over it. It was intense seeing this play out, to finally face the man Frog has wanted to exact revenge on since the death of his friend. I do remember laughing at how much Magus looked like a gray skinned Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z. This is of course because Akira Toriyama also did DBZ, so Magus looks like Vegeta, Lucca looks like Bulma, Crono looks like Goku… you get the idea.

One scene that surprised the hell outta me was the first confrontation with Lavos. I think I may have been reading an item/boss guide of Chrono Trigger online, but I remember reading something about reviving Crono for to an ending. I’m here thinking, “What happens to him?” Then the first confrontation with Lavos starts. It’s one of those lose-the-battle-to-advance kind of situations. So I lose and the story progresses. Then the anime cutscene starts. Crono is ready to dive head-first and rush down Lavos. Then Lavos preps a beam and fires it at Crono. He just stands there in a daze, and then recalls Janus (the little boy you meet in the Kingdom of Zeal) telling him, “One among you… will shortly perish.” Then some glimmer of light emerges from Crono, and he blows up! I was like “Oh… shit. He killed Crono!” It felt weird not having Crono in the party for a while. I probably ruined the shock of it by knowing about Crono needing to be revived, but it was still surprising to see how he died.

Next was the final confrontation with Lavos. I knew that Lavos was weakened and I stood a chance. I battled the outer shell cautiously and was victorious. So next was the second battle with Lavos. I’m ready to kick his ass, and then he fires his nipple beams and annihilates my party. The damage was immense, and I was really shocked. Then the cutscene appears where Lavos awakens in 1999 and destroys the earth. I’ve already seen it in the recording during the visit to the future. The game was just rubbing the “game over” in my face by this point. But it showed me something different. It shows a long shot of the planet being decimated by Lavos and turning from blue to a dreary gray-brown. Then the famous line appeared on-screen. “But… the future refused to change,” accompanied by the piercing alien garbles of Lavos. This terrified the hell outta me. I was 13 years old by then, and it still horrifying to see. I don’t know why it had that kind of impact, but I couldn’t play the game again for two months. I had my ass severely whooped and saw the conclusion of my loss. I went back to play Final Fantasy IV before coming back here.

Eventually, I would come back to Chrono Trigger, this time prepared to face Lavos. I looked up some walkthroughs online on how to get the most powerful weapons, armor, and accessories in the game to stand a chance against Lavos. I was readying a team of Crono, Marle, and Magus to face Lavos. I couldn’t get all the items, but I was ready. I faced the outer shell of Lavos, beat it 1-2-3. Then the second form. I defended against the nipple beams and survived. I eventually beat the second form. Then the third form appears. I was like “WHAT THE HELL A THIRD FORM!?” It whooped my ass and again the cutscene popped up. This time not willing to give up, I went and attempted to get the items I missed. I was able to get the Rainbow Shell and a few more things, but that was it. I leveled up a bit more and faced Lavos again. I made it to the Third Form no problem. It was a hard battle, and I formulated the idea to keep only two of the enemies standing. I figured that the right node was the one that I had to damage to win the battle. My hunch was right and I beat Lavos. We’ll come back to the ending later.

Memorable Music

The music of Chrono Trigger is heralded as one of the most beloved game soundtracks of all time. It was the result of Yasunori Mitsuda wanting to compose a game and threatening to quit Square if they didn’t give him the musical duties. They assigned him to Chrono Trigger and he got to work. He worked so hard that he ended up getting stomach ulcers and was told to stay home and recover while Nobuo Uematsu finished up the soundtrack (he did 10 songs). The end result is nothing short of a masterpiece. Around this time I was really into playing the old recorder that I still had from elementary school (I was in my last year in middle school at the time) and playing game music with it. So you can imagine how many times I played the music from Chrono Trigger. It’s really tough to choose three songs to feature here as talking about the OST of this game would requires its own article (and I could do one in the future). But here we go.

Wind Scene
Composer: Yasunori Mitsuda

Things start out with simple string with light accompaniment. It’s a simple melody that is pretty catchy. Then it plays the melody again, this time with longer, more sustained notes. The passage after that is just beautiful. You would think that this song plays in a relatively light environment, but nope. It’s the world map of the Middle Ages, and it’s strangely dark there. It’s a weird juxtaposition between the setting and this song. I found myself trying to play this theme constantly on my recorder, but I could never hit the right high-notes for the ending of the song before looping.

Corridors of Time
Composer: Yasunori Mitsuda

Obviously inspired by Indian music, it fits the mood really good. The people of the floating Kingdom of Zeal live in the lap of luxury, highly adept at magic, and could care less about the people on the earth below. The melody being played by the sitar is just awesome, and the synth afterwards is very nice. I like how steel drum percussion remains consistent throughout the whole song. This was another song I’d play on the the recorder. But like Wind Scene, the higher notes never came out right.

To Far Away Times
Composer: Yasunori Mitsuda

Of all the ending themes I’ve heard in videogames, this one’s on of the few that is an outright labor of love from the composer. Remember when I said that Mitsuda got stomach ulcers from overwork? Well, he’d stay in his office and sleep there for the night to draw inspiration from his dreams. One day, he woke up with the melody of this song in his head. He immediately got to work on making the song. He finished it, but was told to go home and rest when he contracted the ulcers. When they finished the soundtrack and the credits sequence, they brought Mitsuda over to watch it. He began to tear up over how well the scenes depicted and the music mixed. At least Mistuda isn’t alone in the crying department as many gamers, including myself, still shed a tear for this song. Since I had the PS1 version, I also saw the ending anime cutscene with it. Right next to Super Mario RPG, this game has one of the most satisfying endings I’ve ever seen.

Part of me is happy that I got this game when I did as gamers tend to feel very nostalgic for this game. Most of them played it during the SNES era, which was around 1995-96. I didn’t get to play Trigger until late in the PS1 era, and I was 13 by then. So in a sense I can relate to the people that talk about playing this game as a kid. Of course I had to contend with long load times for saving and battles, but it was still an awesome experience to see some of the events that Chrono Cross mentioned, like Lavos, Lucca, and some of the nods too like Lucca’s theme and the Chrono Trigger leitmotif. If you want to experience this game yourself, it’s available on Wii Virtual Console, PSN, and the DS with the bonuses from the PS1 version and some added dungeons. It’s also available on iOS devices as well (and I think the Android’s getting it soon).

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