Chrono Trigger is 25 years old today, and its quarter century of life has only helped cement its status as the Greatest RPG of All Time. Crono's journey to save the past, present, and future from a life-devouring space parasite named Lavos is still beloved by RPG fans worldwide—and that's not just nostalgia talking, either. Our own Editor-in-Chief Kat Bailey played Chrono Trigger for the first time just a few years ago, and she discovered it more than holds up, even in a market where RPGs literally give us entire worlds to interact with.
There's no shortage of reasons to pile praise onto Chrono Trigger. It's the product of a development "Dream Team" that includes manga artist Akira Toriyama, former Final Fantasy producer Hironobu Sakaguchi, and Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii. Legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu loaned his talents to Chrono Trigger's soundtrack, though most of it was the work of Yasunori Mitsuda—a young composer who's since become a legend himself.
Chono Trigger's once-in-a-lifetime staff assembly put together an adventure that, simply put, feels natural. Its story and gameplay intertwine perfectly, and there's rarely any downtime. You're always off to some new location, whether it's the devastated future or a prehistoric landscape where reptiles and mammals struggle for dominance.
Chrono Trigger is such a brilliant overarching experience that we sometimes neglect to pay tribute to the multitude of endings that contribute to the game's canon in ways that are surprising, heartening, and even disturbing. In an era before DLC, when "The End" on your TV screen meant exactly that, chasing down over a dozen endings was an unparalleled delight. Chrono Trigger doesn't half-ass these endings, either. A couple are admittedly duds—despite its dire name, the "Good Night" ending just features cute critters dicking around—but others flesh out characters, present weird paradoxes, and narrate behind-the-scenes story points.
If you know where to look, you can witness an epic duel between Frog and Magus, or you can see Frog as a human, or you can see an upside-down world where robots inherit the future after Crono takes Magus' spot as the Fiendlord. You can even behold a supremely disturbing reality where Marle learns she's Frog's offspring. Here's a sampling of the endings that'll make you rethink Chrono Trigger's canon.
Frog Turns Human, and He's a "Dish"
Frog spends the entirety of Chrono Trigger as a frog (duh) thanks to a curse inflicted upon him by the Fiendlord, Magus. But if Frog kills Magus when they face each other on the North Cape in 12,000 B.C., you see him as a human in a variation of the "Beyond Time" ending. (Skip to 3:30 in the video.) Seems Frog is quite handsome as a human—the perpetually-thirsty Lucca refers to him as a "dish".
Notice how even as a real boy, Frog favors green.
Sweet, Everything is Dinosaurs (and Cats)
If you defeat Lavos before you defeat Azala, the Reptite species never dies out. Moreover, natural selection does its thing and the humans die out while the Reptites flourish. In this ending, we see a reptilian "Crono" attend the Millennial Fair, where he even runs into a Reptite Marle.
This ending is noteworthy because its alternate reality wound up as a major plot point in Chrono Trigger's sequel, Chrono Cross. Don't ask me to explain more than that, because when I think of Chrono Cross' story, my head starts to feel like it's filling with oatmeal.
"It Is No Prize I Seek. It Is Vengeance."
If you manage to defeat Lavos before you bring down Magus' empire in 600 B.C., you're rewarded with a peaceful world, save for one troubled amphibian. Frog travels back to his own time period, intent on killing Magus to avenge his fallen friend Cyrus. After the Fiendlord has a surprisingly respectful exchange with Frog, the credits start rolling while we hear an intense battle raging behind the black screen.
When the struggle between Magus and Frog concludes, we see a shadowy figure with a billowing cape standing on the dragon statue that decorates the roof of Magus' abode. It's purposefully indistinct; it might be Frog, but it might be Magus. You're left to wonder.
Ted Woolsey's translation of this ending is a bit rough, which is why I posted the DS version instead. It's easily one of the coolest endings in the game, and it highlights an important theme we see running through many of Chrono Trigger's endings: Killing Lavos doesn't fix everything. Every character has their own struggles that they need to address even after the world's been saved.
"If History is to Change, So Be It!"
Speaking of characters' individual troubles, Magus is initially presented to you as a generic evildoer, but he has a very clear goal: He wants to find his sister, Schala, who gets lost during the Undersea Palace disaster in 12,000 B.C. Finding Schala ultimately means defeating Lavos, and Magus operates accordingly. He presents himself as a prophet to Queen Zeal in 12,000 B.C., which earns him a place of high status and thus access to the Undersea Palace that leads to Lavos.
In the acknowledged Chrono Trigger canon, Magus' (failed) attempt to kill Lavos is derailed when Crono and his friends butt in. But if Crono's crew isn't present to nudge destiny onto another track, Magus will face Lavos himself—and almost certainly die. But not before he makes a cool Anime Villain™ speech.
This ending is interspersed with scenes of Crono and his friends living their best life, including Frog, who seems to be enjoying himself in a peaceful looking 600 A.D. After all, Magus died in 12,000 B.C.; he's no longer a threat to the humans in 600 A.D.. That doesn't really explain why Frog is still a Frog, though. It would've made more sense if he'd been in his human form for this ending.
Shout-out to Janus' kitten, Alfador, who acknowledges his master's future self with a tiny "Mew!" of recognition.
Frogs and Humans Living Together, Mass Hysteria
In what's easily the most inexplicable ending of the bunch, Frog violates every known law of Nature and Queen Leene is a willing accomplice. When Marle returns to the Kingdom of Guardia after defeating Lavos, she discovers everyone is croaking like frogs. Even her father, the King, hops and croaks and wonders why his daughter is wearing such an uncomfortable "costume." Then the family settles in to watch newly-discovered footage from 600 A.D. where Frog marries Leene, and they presumably make a lot of tadpoles.
I have no answers for you. Personally, I'd just love to know what happened to the King in 600 A.D. Guardia, the same King Leene was married to. Did she take out a hit so she could get some moist, smooth-skinned action? Shudder. Anyway, I can only assume the developers intended for this ending to be the video game equivalent of a shitpost. When you dedicate a chunk of your life to making a video game, you either find outlets to vent through, or you go completely orangutan.
Crono the Fiendlord
Here's another near-inexplicable ending, but I'm on the fence if it's another jape or something to be taken a bit more seriously. At first glance, it's two endings in one: We see Robo and his counterpart, Atropos (which is a badass name for a robot, by the way), frolicking in an untroubled future. We also see Tata, the fake hero from 600 A.D., set out to confront Magus. But when he reaches the Fiendlord's throne, he finds Marle, Lucca, and Crono—who laughs creepily.
What's the story here? In the accepted Chrono Trigger canon, Tata flakes out on his mission to beat Magus, and hands over Frog's Hero Badge to Crono instead. The badge is what spurs Frog to come out of hiding and beat Magus. In this ending, however, Tata not only pushes on to Magus, but he finds Crono lounging in the villain's spot, and he looks ready to fight.
If this is supposed to be a serious ending, I can only assume this particular defeat of Lavos performed some kind of weird trickery on the game's timeline. Not only is Crono the new Magus, but his reign somehow leads to a future where robot civilizations have supplanted human settlements. Is it all for fun? Is there more to it? Twenty-five years later, I still don't know.
Hark! Crono Speaks!
JRPGs love silent heroes, and Crono is as silent as they come. Or is he? There's an ending where Marle and Lucca rate the men of Chrono Trigger via a slideshow, and Crono interrupts their thirst parade by mildly chastising them. The girls are surprised to see Crono, but seemingly not too surprised to hear him speak. I guess we can presume Crono talks, but only when he really feels like it. He's a good listener above all else. Not a bad trait for a hero to have.
The End of All Things
Finally, Chrono Trigger has a special treat for you if you die fighting Lavos. The beast emerges from his hibernation on schedule for 1999, and promptly destroys civilization. We see the planet from space, which gradually turns grey and cold. If that's not enough to drive home the point you screwed up your one chance to save the world, Lavos' shriek and the dire words "BUT…THE FUTURE REFUSED TO CHANGE" should helpfully cement that for you.
Game Over! You suck!
Sadly, Chrono Trigger's bloodline has seemingly dried up. Chrono Cross came out in 1999, but otherwise the spiky-headed boy and his friends live on solely through re-releases like the disastrous (and thankfully cleaned up) Steam port.
The 2008 Nintendo DS Chrono Trigger re-release added a more polished translation in addition to some new content. Some of the new content attempted to link Chrono Trigger's story to Chrono Cross', and the results are mixed because the two narratives are so tonally different. That said, a new boss battle and ending finally answers a big question Chrono Trigger fans (and Magus) have had for years: What happened to Schala right after the Undersea Palace disaster?
The answer is a downer. Schala is fused with Lavos, who becomes the Dream Devourer superboss. A very rough battle will temporarily break the Devourer's hold over Schala, but she's resigned to her fate and tells Magus to forget she ever existed. Heartbroken, Magus heeds her advice… and enters Chrono Cross as a new being.
Chrono Trigger is something of a miracle. On top of everything else it does with near perfection, it finds the time to deliver drama, development, and jokes via more than 12 endings that take hours to seek out. If you're not in the mood to get depressed while watching an ensnared girl turn her back on her agonized brother, you can always say "What the—" as you witness Frog marrying a human.
Happy 25th anniversary, Chrono Trigger. You're one talented game with a lot to say.