It may be over two decades old, but Chrono Trigger is still just as relevant to this writer in 2018.
There have been some absolutely brilliant video games released over the last few years. I’ve battled on the streets of Numbani, I’ve scoured the ruins of Libertalia, and I’ve explored far and wide across Hyrule. And yet, as memorable as those experiences are, I still find myself going back to a title that’s over two decades old: Chrono Trigger. To some, it is an old game that was recently given a sub-par release on Steam; to me though, it is a deeply nostalgic experience and the most important video game ever.
Chrono Trigger is a reminder of my adolescence, and a game in which I see countless little parallels to the life I once lived in a rural Australian town. The very beginning, for instance, in which Crono is woken by his mother so he wouldn’t miss the Millennial Fair, takes me back to how excited I would be when my mum told me that the annual amusement park show was finally in town.
Playing through Chrono Trigger’s introductory sequence is like rewatching my favourite childhood weekend unfolding in video game form.
Living in an isolated place where enjoyment was derived from whatever possible source was available (which in my case was games, Studio Ghibli movies, and Dragonball Z), the amusement park show was a huge deal for everyone living in the town. There may not have been a time portal present at my town’s fair, but playing through Chrono Trigger’s introductory sequence is like rewatching my favourite childhood weekend unfolding in video game form.
Seeing Crono run around with Marle at the fair, catching up with Lucca, and getting up to various antics around town was not dissimilar to what my friends and I did each year, some of which turned into the best nights of my then-teenaged life. It’s an odd thing to say, but the subsequent exploration of Chrono Trigger’s well-realised universe is like taking a stroll through a slideshow of my childhood.
Being teleported into the Kingdom of Zeal is like taking a step into Laputa from Castle in The Sky; combing through Guardia Forest reminds me of all the times my friends and I went exploring in the Australian bush; escaping the prison in Guardia Castle gives the same thrill as whenever my friends and I got up to some of our (rare) brushes with the law; and seeing Crono and his friends muse about their future while sitting around the campfire in Fiona’s Forest is exactly what I did with my friends on the countless occasions we went camping (though with infinitely more guitars present).
Of course, Chrono Trigger soon turns into an epic save-the-world story that I could only dream of being a part of. But despite the game’s fantastical nature, all the little fine details resonate with me in a way that Final Fantasy, Mario, Pokemon, and Zelda just aren’t able to. Seeing all the good-hearted main characters trade barbs with one another feels familiar to me; no different to when my friends and I would just hang out and joke around with one another. They were even more likeable thanks to Akira Toriyama’s familiar character designs: Crono’s Goku-esque spiky hair, Lucca’s uncanny resemblance to Bulma, and Robo being a peaceful bird-loving artificial being like Android 16.
And then there’s Crono himself. He may be a silent protagonist in the vein of Link and Mario, but where those two are the Hero of Time and Princess Peach’s most respected companion (and on/off boyfriend) respectively, Crono is infinitely more relatable because he is a young teenage boy who just wants to have a good time at a fair but is unexpectedly thrust into a life-or-death situation.
When I came across Crono, I came across a character I could inhabit, into which I could project all my hopes, fears, and wildest dreams.
When I came across Crono, I came across a character I could inhabit, into which I could project all my hopes, fears, and wildest dreams. So imagine my surprise when I got to the sequence in which Crono dies while protecting his friends from Lavos.
At a time when main characters living forever was the norm, seeing the death of the silent protagonist who I invested quite a bit into emotionally, was a shock. This led to the pleasant discovery of two of Chrono Trigger’s most innovative aspects, the multiple endings and New Game+.
Having the ability to replay everything in Chrono Trigger and be in control of my in-game destiny actually gave me a greater appreciation of what I had in the present at the time. Would I be as selfless as Crono for his friends? Would my friends mourn me the way Marle and the others mourned Crono? Would we still be friends after our respective big bads are defeated and we all inevitably go our separate ways?
Despite literally hundreds of kilometres between us, I’m still in touch with some of my childhood friends today, including some whom I’ve known since I was six. Perhaps it’s not too ridiculous to think that I learned something in watching Crono sacrifice himself for his friends.
For me, Chrono Trigger has the complete package. As I’m writing this I’m listening to Chrono Trigger’s brilliant soundtrack, which in itself was like discovering a new world. At the time it was like nothing I had heard in a video game before. From the opening pendulum clicks to the soaring concluding rings of “To Far Away Times,” each track felt like it was crafted from a world where existing music rules didn’t exist, something that the composer Yasunori Mitsuda said was his intention.
That then inspired me when I undertook the rite of passage so common in Asian households – learning an instrument. In my case it was piano, and when I was done practising a piece from Bach or Tchaikovsky, I would pull up Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack and try to figure out how to play things like “Memories of Green” or “Corridor of Time.”
People assign emotional value to various moments, items, or places in their life, whether it was a beloved toy from your youth, or the exact spot where you met the love of your life. For me, some of the most important moments of my childhood happens to be neatly packed away in a game that many still deem to be one of the greatest ever. Time may fly in a straight line in the real world, but Chrono Trigger allows me to jump in the Epoch and shape time in the way I want it to be.
It’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve moved away from my hometown, and nearly 20 years since I first played Chrono Trigger. But whenever I feel nostalgic or just in the mood to play anything, I fire up the game, watch Crono being woken by his mother, and am transported back to when I was just a young boy being told by his mother that my most eagerly-awaited weekend of the year is finally here.
Alexander Pan is a Sydney-based freelance games journalist who managed to drag himself away from Chrono Trigger long enough to write a long piece about…Chrono Trigger. Follow him on Twitter and he may respond in between visits to the Middle Ages of 600AD.