It’s no secret that Final Fantasy revolutionized turn-based RPGs when it introduced the Active Time Battle system during SNES era. This combat system persisted during the PSOne with Final Fantasy VII. After skipping the PS2 generation, the ATB returned for Final Fantasy XIII, although it dropped in quality. However, now that we’ve entered the realm of action RPGs, it’s safe to say the ATB system is over for mainline Final Fantasy games.
When Chrono Trigger released in 1997, it also used the active time battles. However, the designers made key changes that make this version the best. Not to say that the combat in Chrono Trigger is perfect as there are some shortcomings. Even with those flaws, the gameplay is technical and most importantly, fun.
One of the first aspects of Chrono Trigger’s gameplay that becomes apparent is positioning. The characters’ position on the field affects how attacks work. For example, Crono’s Cyclone attack has a large range. If you time the attack correctly, you can trap multiple enemies in the Cyclone and damage them all. The same applies to your party members. Although there’s no direct way of moving your characters, certain techniques can change your position. Ultimately, this aspect of gameplay is underutilized, but it’s always something you have to keep in mind when playing the game.
No Random Encounters
In most Final Fantasy games, the combat screen and exploration screen are different. You walk around the world, and when you run into an enemy, it changes into a separate battlefield. Chrono Trigger removes this nuisance by having exploration and combat take place on the same field. Enemies are actually visible when you walk around and can be avoided.
This doesn’t directly impact combat, but it is worth mentioning. Having both aspects of the game take place on the same field adds to the immersion. As you walk along the path, a bird might fly down from the sky to peck your face. The transitions are seamless and no longer serve to annoy the player.
The defining component of Chrono Trigger’s gameplay. First of all, each character learns eight individual spells/techniques. This is less than what a typical Final Fantasy character has. Mostly because of the overlap in the latter series. A mage will learn Fire, then Fira, and finally Firaga. However, they are not upgrades and are counted as new spells. So you end up with a huge menu of attacks that you have to scroll through during battle.
Now, eight spells seem like too few, but the number is increased with the addition of combo attacks. There are both dual techniques and triple techniques. All characters have unique matchups with each other that combine their individual abilities. Spire has Frog stab his sword into the enemy, and Crono casts Lightning which hones into the metal blade. Tornado is another cool one involving Crono, Ayla, and Robo. They form a tower with Robo at the base. He then proceeds to spin around creating a tornado of damage that has to be seen to be believed. These combinations add an incentive to use every party member because you want to try them out.
Balanced Party Members
It’s difficult to make every single character in a party-based RPG a viable option. Some characters are plain better than others. Chrono Trigger does a fantastic job at balancing all characters for the most part. Some balancing issues show up towards the end, especially when Crono gets his Level 8 spell, Luminaire (it’s OP). Other than that, all characters have their strengths and weaknesses. While you must use Crono for most of the game, he isn’t as versatile as other RPG protagonists, lacking a healing/protect spell. Their combat roles also make sense storywise. Ayla can’t use magic since she was born before humans gained the inherent ability to use magic, whereas Robo was created during the peak of human development and has access to a wide range of magical powers.
Picking which characters to use is a legitimate question you have to ask yourself. It’s an excellent problem to have in an RPG where you create your own party. As an aside, all the members are well-written and fun to have around. The best option is to constantly rotate your team to keep things fresh and exciting.
There’s so much that Chrono Trigger does right that it’s impossible to focus on a single aspect. In an article about gameplay, I couldn’t resist the temptation to mention how good the characters are. This game has a special quality which I believe anyone can appreciate, even if they don’t like it. The fully realised form of the ATB system in Chrono Trigger is only one reason as to why it’s amazing. Which is why next time we’ll be talking about how Chrono Trigger’s story succeeds where other JRPGs have fallen. Until then, keep it locked to Mammoth Gamers!