In 1991 my friends and I would ride our bikes to the local department store, this was before Walmart and others had come to the area. We would scuttle through the hardware, and ladies departments, and into the electronics section, with the soft glow of cathode ray tubes illuminating the area. We walked past the stacks of video cassettes, CDs and music tapes we would arrive at our destination, at the back left corner of the electronics, stood the sleek grey and purple console that would end up being one of my favorite consoles of all time. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
We would take turns playing Super Mario World, and every so often the clerk that worked electronics would give us the ol' stink eye if we got too loud. I didn't get my own SNES until about a year perhaps a year and a half later, and the first game I got, other than the pack in, was "A Link to the Past" I spent hours on that bone shaped controller, it was such a huge upgrade from the NES, there were no pointy corners that left marks in your hand, two of the buttons were concave and two were convex, so your thumb could easily tell them apart in the fury of battle.
The SNES ushered in what some might call the golden age of JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games) Unfortunately for me those games were not something that I noticed. I loved the action of Zelda, and the absolute speed and frenzy of F-Zero. JRPGs were all about pushing buttons to select menu items, this was not appealing. As adults often say, if I only knew then what I know now.
It wasn't until years later when Final Fantasy VII came out for the PlayStation that I would notice JRPGs, finally they had enough flash to pique my interest. Now years later I'm finding that they might be my favorite genre. So I've decided to play one that is widely regarded as one of the very best of the genre.
The art style of this genre of game at this point in time is a perfect storm of hardware limitations / capabilities. If the hardware was much more powerful I think that the style would have been hurt at the time. Due to the limitations of the SNES and Genesis the artists of the 16 bit era, had to use a specific art style that just grabs the viewer, you can still tell what's happening on screen but certain features have to be exaggerated (hair, hats) to make it easier to tell the characters apart. Chrono Trigger is no different. The colors are bright and vibrant, a far cry from today's muted tones. Everything just explodes off the screen and Square would be smart to re-release this game in the same art style with 3D for the 3DS. It would look amazing, Plus with dual screen you could get all the data off the main screen leaving a beautiful window into the world, untouched by the cruft that is necessary for an RPG.
I really like the music though I don't know if its up there with the greats, I enjoy listening to it, and even the battle music which you hear a lot doesn't get repetitive, I'm looking at you Pokemon! I suppose I would describe the music as enjoyable, but not memorable.
This is where the game really shines, when traversing the world you can see enemies, and there aren't random encounters, though you can't always see them coming, its not random. it's scripted. When a battle does start, the game doesn't fade to black and bring up a different scene. You stay in the game world the entire time. I really like this, its a refreshing change of pace from the Final Fantasy series (which I love). During combat your characters are stationary, and the enemies move around the battlefield. Each character has an active battle gauge, which fills up over time.
When a character's bar is full, they can do one of three things, Attack, Tech, or Use an Item. Attack is self explanatory, Tech is this worlds version of magic, which is basically a special attack. The main character Crono uses physical attack as part of his Tech menu. Where this system gets really interesting though is if more than one of your characters have a full bar at the same time. The Tech menu item changes to a combo menu. This gives you access to new abilities based on which two characters have full bars at the moment. You can have one character shoot fire into Crono's blade as he spins around causing large amounts of damage to all enemies in the affected area.
This leads to the enemies. During combat the enemies move around throughout the fight. It is important to pay attention to where they are, and the distance between them. When they are spread out stick to the attack button, or simple tech attacks. When the clump up though, its time to do a combo! This can be devastating to the enemy force, as you can take out multiple mobs in one shot. You can also use this defensively, have a healer cast a heal only to get Crono spinning around in the middle of it to spread the heal to the rest of your team.
The downside to this? Both characters use their mana, so it is more expensive to do this. Since the characters seem to combo with Crono most of the time I'm constantly running out of mana for him. There is also no way to cancel something that you've done. Normally in a JRPG this wouldn't be an issue, however since the enemy team is mobile, after you select an attack, they may split up, wasting your precious mana, leaving you reaching for an Ether.
I have a tendency not to finish games, I don't know if I'll finish Chrono Trigger, but I think I will. these are my first impressions, as a JRPG its got all the tropes that you would expect as well as quite a few surprises, I even found that sometimes I thought for sure I knew what was going to happen, only to be surprised when it didn't, then look out the rug gets pulled out from under me and it turns out I was right all along. It is very refreshing. The art style is fantastic, the music is enjoyable, and the combat is the exact right mix of menus and tactical decisions.
If you're like me and have missed out on Chrono Trigger, I highly recommend it. I won't get into any spoilers here even if the game is so old the statute of limitations has definitely run out. The game is worth your time and I can't believe I waited this long to play it. If only I had a time machine that could open a gate to the past. I'd go back and tell myself to play this game the day it came out.