My dear Gaspar, history is for the anoraks


Chrono Trigger (1995)

Alright, philistine time: I was never much interested in history. You’re better off making history than studying it, right? It was great when we got around to studying the World Wars in school, though. Men love war, and those two were the best rammies of the lot. Unfortunately the curriculum in Ireland is a bit slow to update, and the history books when I was in school never featured 9/11.

Wouldn’t that be a fantastic image for the front page of a radical new set of school history books? The second plane striking the smoke-plumed World Trade Center, with maybe George Bush’s most gibbon like expression faded into the corner. Later generations could have a racial caricature of Obama (we’re in Ireland remember).

Still later ones might mistakenly have Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of Donald Trump adorning its cover. Consistent across all three covers would be a proud piece of street-art graffiti booming “BRITS OUT”, an almost-modern comment on the 800 odd years of “oppression” we suffered at the hands of our neighbours – we lost our land, but gained the English language, a decent trade by any man’s standards.

But let’s be honest. Is it really worth studying the life and times of people that lived before electricity? You might as well ask me to re-imagine a world without Wi-Fi, phones or those wonderful internet-enabled kettles. You take the oldest person in the world at any given time, which at time of writing is a Japanese lady called Kane Tanaka. Well, there was a moment in history, however brief, where there was a complete flush of every human sharing the earth with her.

She will have shared the Earth with approximately 9.2 billion people. She’s witnessed the modern age in its entirety, and she’ll have the answers to all kinds of questions. But what’s the first thing you ask her about? It’s not daily life in 1929 or how she didn’t get tickets to go on the Titanic’s maiden voyage. No, you ask her about the wars. And have you noticed that the oldest person on Earth is always a woman? It tells you something about the patriarchy.

1995’s Chrono Trigger had a development patriarchy at its helm. The devs and other creative minds behind the game were cited as a Dream Team. You had Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of Final Fantasy, alongside Yuji Horii, leading man behind the immensely popular Dragon Quest games. In charge of the incredible soundtrack were Yasunori Mitsuda and later Nobuo Uematsu, the latter being the legendary Final Fantasy composer and the former coming out with the best debut selection of songs since Fleetwood Mac. And in charge of character designs and art was Akira Toriyama, famed Dragonball Z artiste.

Well, there was a popular television series in the UK and Ireland, possibly Isle of Man as well, called Dream Team that was all about a fictional football team. Except this team tended to be the victim of the most monumental tragedies you could imagine, including suicidal goalkeepers, the star striker being taken out by a sniper, the wily and snide foreigner (staple of British television), gallons of sex in the boardroom among footballers, footballer’s wives, director’s wives and everything in between, exploding buses carrying entire teams of players… bit of a Nightmare Team really.

Well the boys behind Chrono Trigger, or should I say these beleaguered Japanese men, are no Nightmare Team. Rather, the Dream Team dreamt up an RPG with a nutball story that came out of the best Saturday morning cartoon you’ve ever watched. You are Crono, and like all RPG protagonists, fate conspires against you to meet a Princess, whom you must now protect. A series of, maybe not unfortunate but certainly heavy events begin to happen, and you and your characters will end up travelling freely through time, from the Prehistoric age right through to when internet-streamed sports finally began to run properly – a long time in the future in other words.

Much as I’d love to look at its characters and some of its scenarios and call Chrono Trigger a cheap knock off of Secret of Mana, you’d probably have to consider it more of a prettied-up Final Fantasy clone. Chrono Trigger is a monument to talent, to innovation, to original thinking. To the taking of chances. It didn’t matter that this was something totally new, totally different. Squaresoft had the confidence in their dream team and backed them to deliver an entirely new IP, and it succeeded where Secret of Evermore, Live-A-Live and Bahamut Lagoon failed.

Even today, the clamour for a new Chrono game is huge, though curiously not huge enough to see the game make its way to the SNES Classic. It has however had a Steam port, which I’m told is the usual garbage that Square Enix belch out onto PCs nowadays. Then there was Chrono Cross, and no, Europe didn’t get that one either. About the best we could be happy with was a far-too-late DS port, but even that was nigh on 10 years ago. And sadly it changed the brave little Frog’s uniquely bizarre middle English accent for something a bit more sensible.

So that little bit of charm went out the window, along with the rest of the Ted Woolsey translation. You see, that’s where Final Fantasy has been going wrong all these years. You play a game like Final Fantasy XIII, and overwrought is hardly the word. Slap on some corny villains talking about spoony bards, sons of submariners and licentious howlers though, and you’re on to a winner.

What I particularly love about Chrono Trigger is the way it handles battling. No Final Fantasy-style screen seizures here – for the most part, you can see the enemies on screen prior to challenging them. Now, you’ll have a job getting past the buggers without them engaging you and making your spiky-haired silent protagonist (of course) slice them to ribbons, but the option is often there.

And famously, this game really pioneered and named the idea of a New Game Plus, which comes in dead handy when trying to unlock one of the game’s 13 endings (14 in subsequent versions). Sometimes criticised for its shorter length, I’d say Chrono Trigger tells a wonderful, tightly packed story in as much time as it needs. And if you feel just a little bit bored with the story and your characters’ stats are sufficiently high, you can just go off and kill the Final Boss Lavos whenever you like and see what insane ending follows.

Ah, Lavos. I would have previously thought that any good villain needs to be established early, fleshed out, communicate with the protagonists as often as possible, preferably have some memorable verbals, and above all, give you plenty of reasons to hate them. Lavos does not do any of this, but you’ll not soon forget him – ah, it. “It” is essentially a humongous porcupine that decides to smash into the world in 65,000,000 B.C., mirroring the Big Bang. Lavos remains dormant, sucking our planet’s energy and even influencing humanity’s development, until it decides to retire bag and baggage and pop out to say hello.

What follows is a good old-fashioned apocalypse, rendering humanity all but doomed by the time we reach 2300 AD. Lavos does all of this without saying a word, although it does emit a sort of otherworldly scream that could hardly terrify me more if it followed up with its own rendition of the Sonic 2 Drowning music shortly after. You are left under no illusions as to the extent of Lavos’ power, and as you shall see, a rag-tag bunch of misfits from different periods of humanity’s history isn’t exactly going to do the biz here.

Stunningly unique, with that wonderful 1990s Squaresoft mix of humour and seriousness, a wonderful combat system that few have bettered, excellent graphics to this day and one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. I have decided to shoot whoever is responsible for the crime of not bringing Chrono Trigger to Europe, although I suppose the statute of limitations has passed on that one now. Mind you, I could always discover time travel myself, go back and right the wrong that way. But wherever you are, find a way to play this game, and do it yesterday or even the day before. This one deserves its place in history.

20 November 2018

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