When I was young and foolish, I abandoned Chrono Trigger immediately after the first boss. Please, I can explain — I was hoping to play it with my brother, since we'd long ago shared several Mario RPG experiences, but, despite Frog's best efforts, it succeeded only in boring him to apathetic tears. So mired was my mind in the stigma surrounding the Japanese Role-Playing genre that I submitted to his appraisal. It went back on the shelf. When I did finally progress beyond Yakra about a year later, flanked by a revolving door of spectators at a private library for videogames, I resolved never to trust my brother's tears ever again. So strongly did it speak to me that, in the year post-Chrono Trigger, I went about chasing its tail.

I discovered that Final Fantasy IV had grandfathered Chrono Trigger's narrative pacing, Dragon Quest V's premise was at least as solid and perhaps even more beautiful, Final Fantasy VII succeeded its cinematic ambition to colossal effect, Dragon Quest III established the thematic foundation that courses through its veins, and Final Fantasy VI pioneered the core of its act structure. And yet, with each new drop of reverence gained for the JRPG and the visionaries that drove it forward, Chrono Trigger's lingering expectation hovered above, doing its step-siblings no favors.

Not to bemoan those relatives, which range from good to As Good As Chrono Trigger (I promise), but playing them more wholly reveals what it was that Yuji Horii and Hironobu Sakaguchi were trying to escape. In a genre derided for slow-going and number-crunching (both great, it turns out), here was a game that could move with enough genuine grace to make Super Metroid blush. Its meticulous staging and seamless battle transitions firmly ground its ever-breathing characters in the setting and drama of the moment. More so than even the dialogue, party members express themselves and their relationships through clean, action-inflected combat mechanics and colorful animations. Its many, tiny opportunities for narrative decisions add up alongside a multi-layered yet coherent story, and amount to a game that feels almost as directed by you, the player, as its creators. It's never afraid to end, whenever you may choose to end it.

Chrono Trigger is the nexus point at the center of its genre, the moment its progenitors decided to put aside their differences Just This Once and build something without any of the baggage of their respective series. It's almost heartbreaking to imagine them going their separate ways, returning home with lessons they couldn't keep. It was a glimpse into a possible future for videogames, but the die had already been cast, and the future refused to change.

Reviewed on Oct 19, 2021


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