Chrono Trigger remains remarkably influential among JRPGs, even 25 years after its initial release. From the music to the characters to the multiple endings to even coining the term New Game+, its impact on the genre has been felt for multiple console generations. However, the area where it has arguably had the most impact is something I have touched on previously (because I never get tired of talking about my favourite game of all time), and that is in giving players meaningful choices.
Not only are there a number of optional side quests, there are important details that can be altered through seemingly unrelated choices that players might make during the game’s fairly linear story. Not just purely cosmetic choices, such as opening a chest to free the chancellor after the battle with Yakra in the middle ages, but choices that can impact the plot and gameplay.
Choices in Chrono Trigger
Early in the game, Crono goes on trial for kidnapping the princess and, depending on your actions during the earlier festival, he might be sentenced to three days in time out to think about what he has done or execution to be carried out in three days. Crono, from in his cell, is left to his own devices on what to do next.
And that’s where one of the more significant choices in the early game presents itself. The player isn’t told what to do next, only that they’ve been left with food and water to restore the health and magic and that they must wait for three days to pass. If they do nothing, Crono will wait patiently for the days to pass only to be escorted to his execution in one of the higher levels of the dungeon. There, trusty Lucca will appear and carry out a bold plan to bust her best friend out and save his life.
Or, the player can have Crono walk up to the bars of his cell and make a load of noise, irritating the guards and making them come and beat the snot out of him while also giving him the chance to bust himself out of prison. If this route is taken, the player must fight their way through all the levels of the dungeon before being reunited with Lucca, who seems incredulous that her friend had the guts to do it on his own.
This decision, which isn’t advertised to the player in any way, doesn’t impact the rest of the story but it highlights what Chrono Trigger does so well when it comes to giving players choice. Players are encouraged to simply play as they would. To annoy the guard if they would like to. To wait for Lucca to spring them if that’s more their style. The grinding that happens in the prison isn’t generally enough to impact the rest of the game, so its simply a choice about how they want to play the game.
Magus vs Frog
The decision that has the biggest impact on the rest of Chrono Trigger is the choice of what to do with Magus in the year 10,000 BC. After learning this villain’s tragic backstory and losing the main character to an encounter with the mighty Lavos, the player must choose if they want Frog to challenge his old enemy to a duel or to forgive him and leave him be.
It’s the most emotional choice of the game. Magus’ and Frog’s history goes back to before when the wizard killed Frog’s best friend and gave him his amphibious form. It is stated multiple times that the only way to return Frog to his human form is for him to slay Magus. Doing so allows the player to close that story in a meaningful way and get a neat cutscene at the end of the game where Frog is human again, but it also means playing the rest of the game without one of the most powerful characters available.
Both of these choices highlight how well Chrono Trigger handles player choice despite having a very linear storyline (at least until you get to New Game+ and are able to get all the different endings). They don’t telegraph what the outcome will be of your decision so much as allow you to interpret how you think the characters would interact with their world.
Does Frog value revenge enough to cut down his old enemy or, after seeing his friend blown apart by Lavos, does he tire of bloodshed? Is Crono a scheming captive looking for his chance to escape or is he more passive and looking to be rescued from the mess he is in? Although the destination is the same, the path is subtly different depending on your choices and that’s something few games have accomplished in the twenty-five years since Chrono Trigger’s release.