Chrono Trigger is a legend; it is an icon. When people talk about RPGs that have gone on to shape and influence other games, it’s named. We could even call it a work of art. But, have you ever thought to really think about some of the ways in which it’s altered our virtual worlds? There are so many gameplay features and story elements that were pioneered or refined in Chrono Trigger. It helped make games better.
The battle system is one of the most memorable and remarkable parts of Chrono Trigger, and for good reason. Players put together a three person party from an array of available characters. Each one has his or her own specialty, meaning sticking with one default party isn’t the best move. Everyone shines in certain situations, even though someone could get through relying on his or her favorites. You could choose between active and wait modes, where enemies will attack even if you’re taking your time, going through menus and strategizing, or they’ll wait for you to make up your mind. You even have to consider team make-ups when forming a party, as different group Techs are available depending on who’s immediately available. You even take character placement into account, as various attacks and special skills can hit multiple enemies when certain targets are selected.
These elements have all carried on through the years, appearing in multiple games. Chrono Trigger is one of the early champions of the three-person party, with multiple series like Mario & Luigi and Final Fantasy relying on trios. Keeping certain people together for specific attacks is a concept found in series like Suikoden and Legend of Heroes. Seeing enemies on the field and jumping right into a battle is a mechanic used in I am Setsuna and Cosmic Star Heroine. And it, along with many other Square Enix games, helped make the active time battle system a staple, with games like Grandia and Septerra Core utilizing the feature.
But, the combat is only the most obvious element of Chrono Trigger’s legacy. It is one of the first games to offer oblivious NPCs. Most of the townfolk in RPGs are aware of the danger they’re in and beg the player for assistance. Chrono Trigger is one of the first to show a population that is so accustomed to the Black Omen that they don’t even realize it’s a portent of doom until it is too late. One of the only other games to tap into that notion, that the people around your characters doesn’t know how dangerous the situation is, is The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. The people of Clock Town know the moon is there, they just don’t seem to really care until the end arrives.
Likewise, Chrono Trigger sets a standard for games that involve time traveling elements. Here, we see a party making changes that influence the ending. The butterfly effect is in full effect. Games like Dragon Quest VII and Radiant Historia took cues from Chrono Trigger. Each sends players into different periods of time or timelines as part of the story, though Dragon Quest VII doesn’t give us the opportunity to see different consequences as a result of our actions. We get a chance to make a difference and see results.
Chrono Trigger also takes an opportunity to do something unheard of to our hero. Crono dies. Part of our quest involves bringing him back. Maybe. If you feel like it. Very few games take that sort of risk and give people a chance to come back from such a situation. Jade Empire is another that gives us a chance to see the last person we’d expect to see die, then still come through and be the hero we need him or her to be. It takes the story in a new and unexpected direction by axing its lead.
Finally, Chrono Trigger sets the standard for replays. It does amazing things for new game plus files. You can carry over almost everything, a few plot-related weapons aside, and need to rely on such files to even access some of the 12 endings. Gust’s Atelier series carries on that tradition, with entries that have conclusions you can’t reach unless you’ve gone through them multiple times. Dragon Quest VIII has an ending that needs an end game item to access it. It helped establish situations where we needed to go back to see every part.
Chrono Trigger is a bellwether, a revolutionary trendsetter. It is a pioneer in terms of battle system features and story elements. Perhaps that’s why it remains such a beloved RPG. It does so much that’s new and unexpected that even now, it feels fresh in an age where it can feel like it’s all been done. It has been shaping and influencing games for years and will undoubtedly continue to do so.