Quirky Anime-style Time Travel
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Starting with a simple setting and hero, a young, sword-wielding boy who goes to a fair in his home town, Chrono Trigger goes on to create an original plot that requires no knowledge of a long-winded backstory or the history of the land it's set in as is sometimes the case with role-playing games. As a matter of fact, an important reason for the game's universal appeal and accessibility is that all plot elements needed to understand the unfolding story are created and established while players play the game.
Not bogged down by complicated relationships between characters and historic world events from the get-go, players enter a rather charming and friendly world and through their actions set in motion bigger and bigger conflicts which culminate in the game's finale. Time travel plays a major part in the adventure and even though the narrative generously glosses over the gaping logic holes and paradoxes the theme invariably creates, the game uses it well to open paths to new worlds and its characters from which a memorable cast is assembled. On his way through time Chrono enlists the help of nerdy inventor, a spunky princess, an eldritch sorcerer with unclear motifs, a chivalrous knight who has been transformed into a man-frog, a robot torn between between his programming and self-determination and a tough as nails cavewoman.
As is indicated by famed Akira Toriyama's art direction, the game's overall style is humorous and cartoony and, while never taking itself too serious, leaves some room for drama. The game's graphics are crisp and clear, creating some beautiful 16-bit scenarios and boss enemies.
The combat system, a slightly condensed version of the classic Active Time Battle that has been used in the Final Fantasy series since FFIV, allows for some challenging climatic fights in which the characters' numerous special abilities must be put to use to develop strategies. As a first in a Square game there are no random encounters while players travel the overworld or specific scenarios. Although some battles cannot be evaded, all enemies are either on screen all the time or enter visibly; a separate combat screen doesn't exist. This allows players to evade some encounters and makes travelling and exploring in general a much smoother experience. Another first is the inclusion of multiple endings depending on some of the players' decisions.
The quality of the combat system varies. Boss and group battles require tactics and carefully estimating the opponents' next moves but quite a lot of fights are against only two or three weak enemies that can be defeated by repeatedly using the characters' basic attacks. Encounters like that seem to exist mostly to add game time.
Although its plot is quite original, Chrono Trigger uses of a lot of anime RPG clichés like the spiky-haired, adolescent swordsman hero, the androgynous older companion character and the rebellious princess who all learn to use epic powers that lay waste to enemies several times their size. Whether or not one likes those clichés is a question of taste, but even though Chrono Trigger light-heartedly plays with its story and conventions this can get a bit much. Another question of taste is Akira Toriyama's art style. In spite of being funny and mostly fresh, connoisseurs will notice the artist seems to be not quite able to detach himself from the Dragon Ball style he became famous for, leading to some Chrono Trigger characters bearing a resemblance to characters already established in other Toriyama franchises.