It seems somewhat fitting that Chrono Trigger's 20th anniversary (the game was first released in Japan on the 11th of March, 1995) should fall in the same year that Doc Brown and Marty McFly went back to the future. I like to think this happy coincidence is in fact the work of some powerful force beyond our mere mortal reckoning – that the world's quintessential time travel movie has some sort of cosmic accord with its preeminent time travel video game.
Perhaps not, but in the same way Robert Zemeckis' perennial time-hopper defined a genre in 1985, Chrono Trigger redefined a spectrum some ten years later. To hell with the space time continuum, though – Square's reimagining of the classic JRPG formula demanded the past be interposed, in order for the future to be set free, displaying a level of technical sophistication that's cemented Chrono Trigger as one of the best video games of all time.
It was 1995 when I learned that my local Electronics Boutique had a used games section. I still remember the huge sign that hung tentatively above the single shelf near the back of the store, next to the till. "Swap Shop" it read, in the same garish white and red of the EB masthead. At nine years old I naturally had no source of income, and thus saving my pocket money for fully priced retail games was an arduous, and at times seemingly impossible task. Convincing my dad to half me in for such luxuries was a task harder still.
The second-hand games shelf changed that. This playground of unwanted titles was a monolith of opportunity, and a bargaining tool as far as I saw it. It was the Game Genie code that enabled me to get my mitts on semi-new games for a fraction of the price, so long as I was willing to part with some of my own. I was fed up with Donkey Kong Country anyway.
On a rainy and windswept autumnal Glasgow afternoon, I waited by the window for my dad to get in from work. Equipped with an old SNES game of mine, he'd promised to visit the Electronics Boutique on his way home, and would return with the much sought-after Yoshi's Island. I could not wait.
As his car pulled into our driveway, my stomach hit the ceiling. As his key turned in the lock, I thought I was going to explode. I hurriedly fumbled the plastic bag he handed me, with raucous "EB" logos plastered on either side, only to discover not Yoshi but Ch... Cr... Chro...
"Chrono Trigger," said my father. "I couldn't get that one you asked for, but the boy in the shop said you'd like this. He plays it every day, apparently."
I felt devastated.
- - -
In mid-2008 Chrono Trigger was announced for the Nintendo DS. I'd been given a DS as a Christmas present a few years prior by an old girlfriend, but after failing to be taken by the launch line-up, it'd sat in the top drawer of my bedside cabinet for the last two or three years. This would finally bring it out of early retirement.
"Remember that game Chrono Trigger I was mad about when I was younger?" I asked my dad as we sat at the breakfast table – him reading the Sunday Herald; me, Official Nintendo Magazine. "I remember the bloody strop you had when I went out of my way to get it for you," he replied.
"And I remember when you then wouldn't shut up about it for the next year and a half after that. And the posters and drawings you had plastered all over your walls."
"Yer auld da', eh? I did well with that one, didn't I?"
He did do well with that one, and I might not have played Chrono Trigger to this day had he not picked it up in lieu of Yoshi's Island in 95. This was a game that changed the landscape of RPG games forever. The way it managed to make the genre-staple turn-based combat freer flowing than its peers; how it shied away from gruelling level grinding; and how it delivered its comprehensive but never foreboding storylines: all ensured its classic status.
'Chrono Trigger' trailer (for the DS release)
The team behind Chrono Trigger was also as impressive as the legacy it's gone on to enjoy. Yuji Horii, the creator of Dragon Quest, worked alongside Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy. And these guys were flanked by the famous anime artist Akira Toriyama and renowned composer Nobuo Uematsu. All at once. If an RPG were to announce a line-up this this formidable tomorrow, the internet would break faster than Kim Kardashian can get her arse out.
I'd missed the PlayStation iteration of Chrono Trigger that came out in America and Japan in the late 1990s, but getting to grips with the handheld port almost a decade on was like meeting up with an old friend. I'd changed quite a bit in the interim, but the game remained the same and we reconnected in a way that I can honestly say I've never done with any other game (and most likely any other person) since.
At nine years old, I couldn't possibly have understood the profound affect Chrono Trigger would have on not just the JRPG genre, but the games industry as a whole. At 22, I was only beginning to appreciate its worth.
My return to the Millennial Fair was as exciting as it was the first time round, and my journeys through the fabric of time to 2300 AD, 65,000,000 BC, and 1999 AD were as entertaining and as terrifying as I'd remembered. Meeting Frog and Robo and Lucca and Marle again was like attending a school reunion, and Uematsu's overworld themes and in-town jingles were once again burned into my brain.
What's more, I was uncovering sophisticated traits I'd missed the first time around. I was altering seemingly trivial events in the past that'd have profound consequences in the future, and I better appreciated the jokes and innuendo that were clearly over my head all those years before. I'd grown up since our last rendezvous, and my emotional maturity made this outing even more thrilling.
I felt elated.
- - -
In 2011, Chrono Trigger made the jump from handheld games systems to mobile phones under the banner of Square Enix. At the time, I had no real desire to try it on iOS – I already owned what I'd considered the game's definitive version for the DS – and I couldn't be sold on its touch-screen interface. Two weeks ago, however, on the cusp of Chrono Trigger's 20th anniversary, I decided to download my beloved JRPG from the App Store.
Recently, I've been in a bit of a lull as far as video games are concerned. Nothing has caught my eye for quite a while, and I've found myself increasingly apathetic towards the "next big thing" or "this year's most anticipated game" thus far. It's all gone a bit flat, and I was therefore cautious of dragging Chrono Trigger into my beleaguered state of mind. What if I'd outgrown it? What if it wasn't as good as I remembered? It's been 20 years: perhaps my fond experience seven years ago was fuelled purely by nostalgia? These were questions I became scared of, but ones I felt I had to answer nonetheless.
The Millennial Fair, the End of Time, the Epoch – it was better than I'd remembered. Even the iPhone's fiddly touch-screen control pad couldn't put me off. Chrono Trigger had stood the test of time.
I felt vindicated.
- - -
Which leads me to today. After writing the majority of this article, I popped round to my dad's to mention what I was writing about. "Remember that game, Chrono Trigger?" I asked. "Mmmh, vaguely," he replied.
I didn't bother jogging his memory. His memory is fine – but Chrono Trigger has now passed him by. He's pushed it out of his head to make way for more important memories, things that mean more to him. Which is fine, because Chrono Trigger is my thing. Perhaps one day I'll pass it on to my kids, should I ever choose to have them. Perhaps we'll have the same relationship with another game. Either way, Chrono Trigger means a lot to me – its time travel mechanic mirrored by its recurring existence throughout the generations of my life thus far, and no doubt the ones to come.
I feel contented.