GVN Editorial: Overrated Games - ChronoTrigger
WARNING - This article will contain spoilers about plot elements in Chronotrigger. Read at your own discretion.
It's time to start my long overdue series of articles and this one is a doozy. While I have in several podcasts stated from time to time that I find Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to be one of the most overrated games in existence( I will save this for a future article), I am choosing the much beloved SquareSoft RPG that defined the Super Nintendo for millions of young gamers in the 1990's.
Unfortunately, I was not one of those few that felt it deserved all the over saturation of attention with game of the year awards aplenty from every known gaming publication in existence. Japanese role playing games were finally taking off in North America with such heavy hitters like 7th Saga, Final Fantasy 2 and 3, Phantasy Star, Shinning series, Breathe of Fire, Dragon Warrior, etc. These main staples have allowed the rpg market in the US to flourish just before the Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn entered the console fray.
Chronotrigger came out near the end of the Super Nintendo's run, but released before what I consider one of the best and most overlooked Snes RPG's ever, Super Mario RPG. Don't get me wrong, Chronotrigger is a great game but it lacks a few things I felt made it came up short in a couple of key areas and allowed other games surpassed it and in other areas, it's all a matter of preference.
I will tackle the things that I like about Chronotrigger first so you can get a sense that I am not here to bash the game. First off, I really love the soundtrack. Composers Mitsuda and Uematsu have really outdone themselves and created some amazing tracks that are beyond memorable. The combat music is popping and fast paced, the over world themes for each represented timeline are very indicative of the themes and for elements of the story can really strike a cord.
Second, I really love the graphics and animation. The multiple timelines look beautiful in their own ways and are quite possibly some of the best looking environments on the Snes save for arguably Seiken Densetsu 3 and Final Fantasy 6. The characters are designed by legendary Dragon Ball artist Akira Toriyama. Each enemy, NPC and main character look great, are wonderfully animated and can show off quite an array of emotions that most 16bit and even some 32bit RPG couldn't do. On top of that the sprites of our heroes are significantly larger and more detailed than the chibi-sprites in the SNES final fantasy games.
There were also some pretty big gameplay elements that have influenced rpg's for years to come as well. The first is the element of the New Game+ which allows players to restart the game with everything from their prior save. This goes hand in hand with the next big gameplay element, multiple endings. You can achieve tons of different endings by activating numerous triggers as you play the game keeping the experience fresh and exciting every time and extending the game's life span significantly. To that I tip my hat to Square for the innovative systems they created.
Now to the elements that I feel keep the game from being the greatest RPG on the planet. For starters one of the gameplay elements I wasn't a fan of was the combat. The combat felt slow and stilted and seemed to only exist to show off the games intense graphical effects and interesting combat systems like the combo attacks. The combo attacks in themselves are decent enough but hardly revolutionary as everyone claims. Phantasy Star 4 beat Chrono Trigger by 2 years (Japanese release was 1993) and introduced the concept of combo attacks. Various party members in the game had the ability to combine powers for devastating results and I felt had more impact than the attacks in Chronotrigger.
I also didn't like how closed in and claustrophobic the fights felt once you ran into an enemy. The fight immediately just breaks out right there on the spot regardless of what the level layout looked like. At times it just didn't feel right watching characters bounce around on the screen that had obvious multi tier layers. It wasn't until you got to the boss fights that you actually felt like the arena was open.
I'm also not particularly fond of how slow the combat is. Granted this is the same real active time battle system that has been present in other Square RPGs, but it feels a lot slower here. I'm also not going to hide the fact that I am more of a fan of the classic turn based combat system. It's just my particular preference which I like more than the real time system.
The big issue to me that keeps Chronotrigger from being the greatest RPG is simply most of the game's cast and story development surrounding them. Story is above and beyond the single most important element when it comes to epic RPG's. It doesn't matter if the game has a beautiful soundtrack or even if the combat engine is beyond fun. If the characters aren't that great at engaging me in telling the story, I am going to have a hard time staying focused on the game. Frog, Luca and Marle are practically untouchable due to how well they develop throughout the game. However the other half of the cast is riddled with issues that prevent me from connecting with them.
Robo is nothing more than just a machine that has grown beyond his programming and become a fully sentient machine and looking for a place inn his world. Honestly this is not a novel or original concept as tons of sci-fi novels and movies are built around this concept. His only purpose is to force compassion as we see him encounter other robots of his make and model only to be rejected and attacked. We are also suppose to feel something as his bond with Lucca grows over the game but I honestly didn't care him.
Ayla is just there with a quickly thrown together back story about how her tribe is fighting off a race of Lizardmen intent on making mankind extinct. She doesn't really do anything except show off that she is stubborn, strong willed and super strong to a fault. She also seems to have the wonderful coincidence of being an ancient relative of Marle along with several other characters you encounter throughout the game. That's also an element of the story that seems to bother me a little as well. As you travel through time, it seems that in most era's you conveniently encounter an ancestor from Marle's family lineage.
Now my biggest issue with character connections is Crono himself. Crono is a silent protagonist and in my opinion that is the biggest sin you can commit in an epic rpg. I understand the idea of the silent protaganists in numerous games, but it doesn't work here at all. Now I am aware of other rpg's have silent heros but they aren't even considered great games. The Dragon Quest franchise has always had a silent lead hero but the problem was that the story was being told around them and the lead just felt like he was just there. The same can be said about Crono, who just happens to be along for the ride and never really felt like he was the one the story focused on. Even when he meets his unfortunate death midway through the game, I felt no connection to him so I couldn't get upset or even felt sad.
Now the argument to be made is that Crono is suppose to be a shell character that you insert yourself into. I couldn't disagree more with this concept. In a game like the Legend of Zelda, it works with Link being the silent hero. From "A Link to the Past" and on, the story didn't revolve around him, the characters directly correlate with you as the story progresses instead of just happening around you. Even if you have inserted yourself into Link, occasionally he would still express some strong emotions for certain situations. It's hard to buy into a slowly blossoming romance with Marle when you don't exactly see any kind of reciprocation from our empty shell of a character.
So there you pretty much have it. This is my opinion of why I feel Chrono Trigger is one of the most overrated games out there. I feel that too many people have clung onto the novel and innovative aspects of the game and have completely overlooked how much this game comes up short in terms of its character development and story progression. The combat to be honest is all about a matter of taste and I definitely prefer the traditional turn based combat system. I can't argue against the graphics or the beautiful score of the game. I would just be crazy to even think that. Overall, I feel Chrono Trigger is a great game, but calling it the greatest RPG is really pushing it.