With each passing year as a professional in the workforce comes the need to abstain from frivolity. Entertainment is among the first of expenses to be cut, both in terms of cost of time and money, which can be good because on one hand I’m forced to refine my tastes. It can also be disheartening, as I’ve given up on some of my favorite time consuming genres, like fantasy novels or RPGs.
Instead, games that are easy to pick and and play from the start tend to grab my interest, and if a tutorial lasts for too long then I eventually lose interest and move on, which is an anomaly for me when picking out a contemporary RPG. And retro RPGs like Final Fantasy VII, while much simpler than their modern day descendants (seriously, I picked up Final Fantasy Type-0 HD for PS4 the other day and I still can’t wrap my head around that game after an hour of play) still offer hours of gameplay that some gamers can't afford to invest in.
Chrono Trigger, available on home consoles and mobile platforms, is the perfect retro RPG for the busy gamer. You’ve probably read an article, be it retrospective review or included in the usual roster of top ten SNES games, on the game or even played it, and most likely have seen the praise rightfully heaped upon it. I won’t go into a full review. Instead, I’d like to discuss some of its innovative ideas that other games still haven’t borrowed enough, as well as the value that the game offers players.
Created by Squaresoft’s dream team, Chrono Trigger set itself apart from other JRPGs with by blending the serious tone of Final Fantasy with the charmingly uplifting Dragon Quest while creating multiple settings for players to visit thanks to time travel. Over the course of Crono and company’s adventures, they’ll dig up the distant past starting from 65,000,000 B.C. and distant future of 2300 a.d, gathering characters that represent each era in the process; for instance, there’s the robot named Robo and a cave woman named Ayla. Admittedly they seem like tropes, but each character has their own subplot pertaining to their respective timeline, and they’re usually heartwarming or even heartbreaking, but they’re only small parts and never detract from the urgency of saving the future from the parasitic Lavos.
More importantly than the setting however, is how Chrono Trigger respects its players’ time. Final Fantasy VI, in comparison, is a grand RPG that offers potentially 40 hours or more of gameplay, but Chrono Trigger is able to deliver an equally epic quest that can be completed in - drumroll please - 18 hours, including the side quests. How can that be, you might ask? Pacing, I’d reply. Chrono Trigger is a fast-paced, swashbuckling adventure that trimmed off all of the fat and left only the meat, and part of that is possible thanks to the streamlined combat.
The active-time battle system feels faster here than it does in any Final Fantasy game; in fact, each character’s time bar can synchronize so that they can perform double and even triple attacks that do enough damage to annihilate most enemies almost instantly. The battle menu also consists of three actions apart from escape: Attack, Tech, and Item. Characters have predetermined skills with their own elemental specialty (for instance, Chrono learns lightning attacks), but the customization comes from experimenting with your party’s roster to figure out the best combination for triple and double attacks. It’s simple, easy to learn, yet rewarding. In addition, battles take place exactly where players encounter enemies on screen. Not only does this provide a more immersive feeling than being transported to a battle dimension, but it also assures that players do not have to grind in Chrono Trigger. You can still run past enemies to avoid them, but should you choose to battle every single one, then you’ll be well-leveled to survive any situation without wasting your time.
Chrono Trigger even helps you save time by making sure you never have to end your interaction with the game to figure out where to go next. Almost every RPG features side quests that require looking up a guide to figure out. Not Chrono Trigger - although I suppose you still could do that. Instead, once you reach the end of the game, an old man gives you cryptic yet decipherable clues to help you pick up the right track. Most of the sidequests are solved via time travel, of course, and the decisions you make during these quests in the past drastically alter other parts of time, and often provide you the next clue to the next item. This is a feature that is valuable to me in an age where I could pause the game and pull out my smartphone to look up answers; I’m already distracted enough as is.
So even though it might be difficult to find time for RPGs as we grow older and gain more responsibilities, admittedly part of the appeal of them is that they’re so long, giving us ample opportunity to become invested in the world. Not to worry because Chrono Trigger offers dozens of endings, each of which requires you to make certain decisions, such as when you want to beat the game; oh, did I mention in the early stages of the game you have the option to confront the final boss whenever you want? Because you can totally do that. Regardless, if you do everything in this adventure, you’ll easily clear the 18 hour mark.
RPGs have progressed to the point that they’re more customizable before, and that’s great. I’m happy for the those who have time to play them, although that won’t stop me from trying to join the fray. But if for whatever reason I do find the time to set aside for an RPG that I can literally just pick up and play, then I’ll go with Chrono Trigger every time.