This article contains spoilers.
Recently, Eurogamer broke the news of a five hour tribute album to one of the most beloved games of all time: 1995’s Super Nintendo JRPG Chrono Trigger. The album involved contributions by over 200 musicians and thirteen visual artists. Proceeds of the album, entitled Chronicles of Time, will benefit Doctors Without Borders.
While donations to charity are certainly wonderful, I won’t be purchasing this album. I am not a fan of Chrono Trigger, music included.
I have read and been told so many times how great this game was and still is. It’s been called a “masterpiece”, “perfect” even. On almost every game ranking listicle imaginable, even those listing “Best Games of All Time”, Chrono Trigger is always near the top (It was #13 on IGN’s Top 100 Games of All Time List, for example), citing story and characters as at least part of the reasoning. When I played through the game last year, I kept waiting and waiting for the perfection and mastery, but it never came. While I will admit, being a lover of turn-based gameplay, that I loved the game mechanics in and of themselves, what was always romanticized to me were the game’s music, story and characters. I found none of these three aspects of the game to be particularly unique or memorable.
Before anyone stops reading in a furious rage, please hear me out. My claims have substance.
My biggest complaint about the game is probably its lack of character development. To start, there’s Crono himself. He doesn’t speak, and he is basically a blank slate. I remember when he died, my fiance asked why I seemed emotionless. Well, I had developed no attachment to him whatsoever. An easy rebuttal to this would be that there are plenty of other classic characters that are blank slates and/or don’t talk. Link being a perfect example. Not only does the player’s attachment to Link (and Samus, and Mario, etc) grow over multiple games, but Link is the only character the player uses during the game – more often than not at least. My problem with Chrono Trigger was not just that Crono himself didn’t speak, but that none of the characters were developed to what I imagined they would be. I can’t remember much about the relationships between the characters other than that Crono, Marle and Luca (I had to look the latter two up, by the way) were friends and that Ayla was a cavewoman of sorts. Robo was developed a bit further, having that storyline about being cast out from the other robots, so that was something at least. However, the camaraderie between characters just wasn’t there compared to similar games.
Speaking of similar games, there are actually more characters in Final Fantasy VI, one of my favorite games. However, their personalities and relationships with each other are much more defined early on (and throughout the game), and thus my attachment to them was much stronger during pivotal moments. I’ve heard the argument that Chrono Trigger is an old game, so I shouldn’t expect the kind of story-telling and character development that exists in some of today’s games. However, the Final Fantasy series proves that time period is not an excuse for lackluster character development and story.
Some of my favorite game characters are so well developed that I feel like I know them. Take Miles Edgeworth from the Ace Attorney series for example (my favorite video game character). I know about his childhood, I know how he got to be such a curmudgeon, I know why he became a lawyer, I know how he met Phoenix Wright and I have seen him exhibit a wide range of emotions and interact on a deep level with many of the other characters in the game. For a game that is supposed to be a “masterpiece” and “perfect” this is what I expected from Chrono Trigger. However, I didn’t find out much more than base-level facts about each character, and they never showed as much emotion as the characters in Final Fantasy VI, which I keep comparing because I do believe that the games are similar.
As for the story, I have a hard time remembering many specifics of it even though I played the game less than a year ago. I remember the basics. Lavos is going to destroy the world and the player has to travel through time to stop him. On that level, the game is not very creative, and I feel okay judging it on that level because the game is supposedly one of the best of all time. If it’s one of the best of all time, shouldn’t I be able to remember it more clearly than what I described above after less than a year?
As for the game’s music, I found it ambient at best. It’s hard to justify an opinion about music, because it essentially comes down to taste and everyone’s taste is different. However, for me at least, it comes down to the fact that Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack was simply not memorable. I listen to game music frequently, so I am usually able to pick out a song when I hear it, even if I haven’t played a game. I know many songs from VVVVVV and Shovel Knight, for example, even though I never played those games. Even so, almost without fail I am usually unable to distinguish Chrono Trigger songs when I hear them even though I spent some 20-30 hours in the game, and even though the game’s soundtrack is popular and supposedly one of the best ever.
I understand that this game has a serious nostalgia factor for many folks, and I believe part of the problem with my disappointment with it was it’s level of hype. After discussing this with my fiance, he now says that he sees the game differently than he did as a child (he was a major source of said hype), and believes that this reasoning is definitely the cause for my disappointment.
As I mentioned previously, I had no problem with Chrono Trigger’s base mechanics. However, when a game is repeatedly called “perfect” in terms of its story or repeatedly cited among the top games on listicles citing story as the reason for its rank, I have to see it for myself. In my opinion, perfect it was not.
I know my opinion is not a popular one (thus the title of this article), but consider this: when was the last time you played Chrono Trigger? How often do you seek out games specifically for their story? How much was the game hyped up to you prior to your playthrough?
I urge you to consider all of the above. My opinion isn’t meant to bash the game. However, it is simply food for thought that maybe, just maybe, some elements of the game are not quite as amazing as they are cracked up to be.
Amanda Rainear is an Associate Writer for Middle of Nowhere Gaming who has a crush on the prince of all Saiyans. You can also find her and her fiance streaming on their Ace Attorney-themed Twitch channel.