Best Games - Chrono Trigger
During the heyday of the SNES, I was playing games on a PC. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in console games. I would enjoy them given the opportunity. I just rarely had access to any 8 or 16 bit console during the time they were popular. That meant the only games I ever really played on SNES or Genesis were bite sized, single sitting games. Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, the first few stages of Super Mario World, NHL, that sort of thing. I didn’t even bother approaching RPGs. I mean, what would be the point? I could rent a system and some games for a weekend, but there is no way I would finish some 40 hour monstrosity in 2 days, and if I tried to rent it again the save would probably be overwritten. It wasn’t really a problem though. I had text adventures and D&D gold box games and Star Control 2. Those were meaty enough games for a 1 PC kid.
It wasn’t until emulation in the late 90’s that I ever even saw Chrono Trigger on a screen. I had read about it in magazines and looked at the box in stores, but I never saw or heard it until it was running, dubiously, on a PC.
It was amazing. During the late 90’s era of ‘tude and grit, Chrono Trigger is a decidedly more complex beast. Fun and fanciful, but also much more nuanced than a lot of other media of the time.
During that first playthrough I could detect echoes of Star Control 2. Like that game Chrono Trigger seems, on its surface, so charming and joyous that you are often caught off guard when the narrative would dwell on very dark subject matter. There is a pleasant anime veneer on Chrono Trigger telling you that the game won’t ever take itself too seriously, and it doesn’t, but then it suddenly swerves into themes of fascizm, genocide, and hopelessness. It doesn’t just touch on those themes superficially. It sits in them, lingers on them, and makes sure that you are fully uncomfortable before moving on.
The bleakness of the world in Chrono Trigger connects in a much more profound way than any of the grim-dark nonsense that permeated turn of the millenium. Because it is so pleasant, so kind, so vivid, the underlying desperation of its time travelling story can be felt more deeply.
Don’t get me wrong, Chrono Trigger is not a slog of a game. Quite the opposite. It is a grand epic adventure that always feels fun to play. Just the simple act of pushing buttons in the overworld and in combat has a brisk joy to it that tells you that it knows it’s a game, and that you have come to play. But here, that play will have consequences, maybe not right away, but sometime during the centuries of time hopping, you will have to confront things that you have or haven’t done. It’s clever and fun and thoughtful in a way that games rarely are.
The second time I played all the way through it was when it was rereleased for the DS. Knowing the story and remembering most of the twists, I thought it would be less impactful and more of a fun thing to do on a lunch break. I ended up getting even more engrossed in the sensitivity of the storytelling.
The trojan horse of earnest and joyful presentation helped the creators of Chrono Trigger convey what would otherwise be a bleak and overly complex plot. All that, and it’s still just plain fun to play.
That’s why Chrono Trigger is one of the best games.