I'm Finally Playing Chrono Trigger for the First Time, and Holy Crap Does It Live Up to Its Reputation

Discovering a classic.

Analysis by Kat Bailey, .

One of my darkest secrets as an RPG fan is that I missed out on Chrono Trigger during its heyday back in the '90s.

It was already quite rare by the time I finally picked up a Super Nintendo in 2000 or so; and even after picking it up for the Nintendo DS in 2008, I never quite got around to it, mostly owing to my rising workload as a games writer. I finally copped to the shameful gap in my gaming knowledge in a recent episode of Axe of the Blood God, at which point Nadia started guilting me into playing it ("Throw it on the pile!") I started plugging away at it on my two-week journey through Europe, where I discovered something that a lot of RPG fans have known for close to 20 years now: Chrono Trigger is good.

Damn good.

So good, in fact, that I'm actually legitimately ashamed that I've missed out on it this long.

Wake Up Crono

In my previous attempts to finish Chrono Trigger, I've always gotten hung up in the future. After an energetic start that sees Crono rescue Marle from the middle ages, then deftly avoid a death sentence, the story bogs down a bit in a post-apocalyptic future filled with rats, robots, and abject poverty. It's here that I usually find myself drifting away, only to return and forget exactly what I was doing. Then I start over and the process begins again.

This time around, I powered through the future and back to Chrono's time, where the story picks up again. I discovered the End of Time—an eerie realm occupied by a solitary old man—and unlocked magic by running around the map (thankfully, I didn't have the same problem getting it to register as others seemed to). I went looking for the legendary Masamune and got my ass soundly kicked by a pair of plucky twins who combined to form a misshapen monster—the game's first true test. I fought lizard people in the distant past, reforged the Masamune, and ultimately confronted the dastardly Magus, who was attempting to revive Lavos and destroy the world.

Suffice it to say, it's been quite the ride.

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One thing that's really jumped out at me is how much Chrono Trigger really feels like a blend of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Villains like Ozzie and Magus have that distinctive Akira Toriyama look to them—the look that wouldn't be out of place in Dragon Ball Z—but the characters emote like those of Final Fantasy VI. The story has the epic drama of Final Fantasy, but characters like Frog and Robo feel as if they've been pulled straight from Dragon Quest. The monsters in particular have the Dragon Quest look to them, which is to say that they are endearingly cartoony without being distracting.

It's well-known that Chrono Trigger is a collaboration between Dragon Quest's Yuji Horii and Final Fantasy's Hironobu Sakaguchi (Yoshinori Kitase, Nobuo Uematsu, and others were also involved), but this is the first time I've really felt that connection. It's at once familiar and new and interesting—a perfect mix of two classic RPGs. I honestly never knew it was possible.

Another thing that's jumped out at me is how much the on-screen enemies add to the dungeon design and the combat. My favorite battle so far has Crono and company chasing Ozzie through the Fiendlord's castle as the villainous lieutenant sets off various traps, culminating in a battle in which he is sent plummeting to his doom by activating one of his own trapdoors. It's hilarious—the sort of battle that could never have been pulled off as effectively in a traditional RPG with random encounters. Having enemies on the screen makes Chrono Trigger come alive.

All in all, it's a stunningly well-designed game, made all the better by how well the different time periods mesh together into one adventure. I've seen some people complain about how the adventure grinds to a halt when you're trying to recruit Frog—and it is admittedly tiresome to tromp from era to era looking for bits of the Masamune—but the time travel itself works really well. The periods all have their own heroes, villains, and story arcs, all of which spill into the rest of the timeline and build into one overarching adventure. It's a setup that has the potential to become incredibly messy and confusing, but Chrono Trigger manages it all effortlessly.

Sitting now at the halfway point, I'm interested to see where they take it. Most of the major players have been introduced at this point, as have all the time periods. I know that Lavos eventually destroys the world, and that Magus is the one responsible for awakening him, but it's unclear where the group goes from here.

One thing is for sure, though: the story is hitting high gear.

Enjoying Chrono Trigger in 2017

As I've delved deeper and deeper into Chrono Trigger, the one thought that has occurred to me again and again is, "Wow, this game really lives up to its reputation."

It's often hard for older games, especially older RPGs, to live up to the praise heaped upon them posterity. When talking about the impact of games like Final Fantasy VII, you often have to say, "It doesn't look like much now, but back in 1997, it was the most incredible thing anyone had ever played." Graphics age, gameplay systems become antiquated, and once-lauded stories start to feel flimsy and cliched. Final Fantasy IV is an amazing game, but it's well-regarded in part because we're willing to forgive its stilted writing and one-dimensional story, which leans heavily on an endless series of heroic sacrifices for its drama.

This game is not like that. Chrono Trigger was released in 1995, when Square was at the absolute height of their powers, and its shows. It's gorgeous—one of the best-looking games on the Super Nintendo. Its score is scintillating and its characters are distinct, which makes the battle system feel less broken than it does in Final Fantasy VI. It's striking how well it holds up in 2017.

Playing through it on my trip has been like discovering a really good television show long after it's completed and finally getting to see what all the fuss was about. My only regret is that I'm not playing it on my TV, because in some ways it feels like almost too big of an adventure for my little 3DS. But then, it wouldn't have been there to keep me company on my flight home, so I guess some sacrifices have to be made (the DS version apparently has a better localization as well).

In any case, I can't remember the last time I picked up an older game like this and fell head over heels in love with it. Stripped of its nostalgia, it still manages to shine in a way that I find legitimately mindblowing for a game made in 1995. If the second half is anywhere near as good as the first, finally finishing it will be a treat.

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Comments 52

  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #1 SatelliteOfLove A year ago
    I played it in 2000 and held similar feelings: massive, depthless respect.

    Some games are just classics, both timeless and serendipitous alignments of many fine tuned parts.
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  • Avatar for trevorwelch04 #2 trevorwelch04 A year ago
    Gasp! I'm actually shocked you haven't played it by now. Glad you are enjoying it. I've been replaying it in small chunks this year.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #3 cldmstrsn A year ago
    Oh my god Kat! I will be following this like a hawk. So excited for you. I've honestly beaten this game upwards of 60 to 70 times and every iteration. SNES, PS1, DS and how I first played was on an emulator in 98 after some friends showed it to me. So cool!
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  • Avatar for Thetick #4 Thetick A year ago
    Enjoy! It's awesome. Don't miss out on chrono cross.
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  • Avatar for anusface #5 anusface A year ago
    Played it in 1995 when I was 14, I used to sneak back downstairs after pretending to go to sleep so I could keep playing it until 1 or 2 am on schoolnights. Wrecked my grades, totally worth it. Best SNES RPG by a country mile.Edited February 2017 by anusface
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #6 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @Thetick oh man Chrono Cross. I love Trigger but for me its the better game.
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  • Avatar for Monkey-Tamer #7 Monkey-Tamer A year ago
    @cldmstrsn Me too. When that plot got rolling it rolled hard. I'm still amazed a video game was able to weave such a complex tale.
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  • Avatar for AstroDemon #8 AstroDemon A year ago
    It's good until the end, Kat. Enjoy!
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  • Avatar for camchow #9 camchow A year ago
    Such a great game. Tried to get my wife to play through it a while back and she gave up at the Dragon Tank. Oh well. Glad to see you are enjoying it, hope you have been able to steer clear of any spoilers, idk how you could with such an old and renowned game but still! This game blew me away as a kid, every RPG fan needs to play it.

    I'd second Thetick's comment, Chrono Cross is great too, if you do try that one at some point just keep in mind is it super different to Trigger. I love them both, I feel like Trigger is overall the better game (and more straight forward) but Cross is so engrossing if you really let yourself get pulled in by it's mind bending story.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #10 SargeSmash A year ago
    I envy you. I replay Chrono Trigger every few years, and I love it each and every time. It is easily my favorite JRPG, melding the best of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy into a product all its own. It's the main reason I was a bit disappointed in Final Fantasy VII; I was coming off of Chrono Trigger!
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  • Avatar for Xemus80 #11 Xemus80 A year ago
    I have a tattoo of Crono on my arm, such is my admiration for the game. Enjoy!
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  • Avatar for swamped #12 swamped A year ago
    I was late to Chrono Trigger as well (it was perpetually checked out at Blockbuster). But in some ways I'm glad because if I hadn't played Chrono Cross first I don't think I would have been able to appreciate it. Totally different feels and flavors, polar opposites in some ways.
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  • Avatar for timelessgamer #13 timelessgamer A year ago
    This was really cool to read. I played through Chrono Trigger back when it came out and loved it. I often find these days dissapointment in RPG stories. I remember the "good old days" of Chrono Trigger and FF3 (6). Many times I wonder if it is just nostalgia and rose colored glasses, that maybe the games were not as good as I thought back then. This article helped me reaffirm that those were indeed great games, a bar that is seldom these days reached.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #14 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @Xemus80 dude you need to share pics! I definitely want to see that.
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  • Avatar for Talraen #15 Talraen A year ago
    I have to confess, when I heard you admit on Axe of the Blood God that you hadn't played Chrono Trigger, part of me hoped you never would. I don't know if I could have dealt with you playing it and deciding "meh, its okay I guess." But you didn't! I'm irrationally relieved to hear that not all of my childhood memories are lies. ;)
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #16 Roto13 A year ago
    My first time playing Chrono Trigger was soured by the fact that it was the god awful PS1 version that never should have been released in that state. Tragic.
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  • Avatar for Jairo-MC #17 Jairo-MC A year ago
    I loved Chrono Trigger. I discovered it a bit later too, but I played it a lot back in the day (God, I feel old!). When the remake for the DS came out, I replayed it again and enjoyed it even more, mostly because I could understand the story more since I had a better understanding of the language (I'm not a native speaker and learned a lot from playing games).
    It's a wonderful game and, just talking about it, makes me want to play it again.
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  • Avatar for pdubb #18 pdubb A year ago
    Just remember the soundtrack. If you guys ever take the steps to become nerd parents, Marle's theme and the End of Time melody are perfect lullabies.

    If you hum Marle's theme it is a wide range of notes, so you will probably have a few come out raw. Luckily your baby can't tell the difference.

    End of Time theme is easier to hum with less notes, but it's in 6/8 so rocking in time to it in a rocking chair is... interesting.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #19 link6616 A year ago
    Oh Chrono Trigger...

    I remember playing you in about 2001 on a 166mhz PC with frameskip set to 9 just to get it to play at the correct speed... 8 years before it was offically released in Australia. I adored it to bits

    I bought the DS version later on a trip to Japan (which has an english option in it!) and never touched that version...

    This is making me consider picking it up again.Edited February 2017 by link6616
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  • Avatar for link6616 #20 link6616 A year ago
    I do offer my apologies for you playing on the 3DS though, love that console, but lovely spritework like CT just is sad is with that upscaling.
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  • Avatar for DrCorndog #21 DrCorndog A year ago
    Chrono Trigger doesn't even rank among my favorite games, yet it's always the first game that comes to mind when I consider a "perfect video game."
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  • Avatar for wingzero98 #22 wingzero98 A year ago
    This, EarthBound, and Final Fantasy VI I run through every couple of years and it's always, always worth it
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  • Avatar for Jericho-GM #23 Jericho-GM A year ago
    @AstroDemon Don't forget New Game+ and a great deal of alternative endings.

    I love this game. Easily my favorite RPG of all time.
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  • Avatar for themblan #24 themblan A year ago
    Timeless masterpiece
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  • Avatar for Woogity #25 Woogity A year ago
    Curious what you think of Zeal if you've played past Magus. Probably my favorite RPG setting ever.
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  • Avatar for ectorp #26 ectorp A year ago
    Chrono Trigger is one of games (and maybe the only one) that I just cannot be objective about. It was my first RPG, the first game I played with a real story, and my first exposure to a fantasy setting. But you can be objective about it! And you still like it, which is great to hear. I'm really interested in what you think about the second half and the ending. The story goes to some interesting places and the pacing of the game changes a bit. But I love it. I think the best parts are still ahead of you.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #27 Kuni-Nino A year ago
    Schala's Theme. Listen and enjoy Schala's Theme.
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  • Avatar for InsertTokenz #28 InsertTokenz A year ago
    It's awesome to read your renewed attempt at completing this gem of a game Kat!

    Your breakdown of the Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest influences within the game reminded me of a piece Jeremy Parish wrote about the game in GameSpite Quarterly No. 2, which did a great job further explaining how influential both those series where to the overall design of Chrono Trigger. (Anyone who hasn't read it yet should track it down!)

    I look forward to reading a followup after you finish the game! Hope you continue to enjoy it as much as I always do. :)
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  • Avatar for hiptanaka #29 hiptanaka A year ago
    Glad you like it! I first played it in the early 2000s, and was completely absorbed by it. I haven't liked a JRPG that much since. You're definitely in for a treat in the second half.
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  • Avatar for apewilson00 #30 apewilson00 A year ago
    One of the greatest gaming moments I had was the first time I came out of the ice and entered the Kingdom of Zeal. That music was so far above anything I had ever heard even Final Fantasy II and III at that time.

    Ironically the only SE game I had ever quit midway through and never played again was Chrono Cross. It was so terrible. I might need to do a revisit of my own and give it a second chance.
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  • Avatar for FirLocke #31 FirLocke A year ago
    Truly a wonderful game. As a eurobro we didnt even get the game officially until the DS release, though its reputation was apparent if you just did a little digging. Would love a HD conversion for PS4 or something, love me some HD spirtework. Could keep in the same aspect ratio, I wouldn't care. I know what you mean when you said it feels too big to fit on a DS.

    Dunno if you played it, but Radiant Historia is often brought up as a modern day Chrono Trigger since it's got time travel and a fantasy/others setting. It's plenty different from CT especially in terms of tone and battle system, but RH is also an absolute cracker that's much too overlooked. I love it when Atlus try new IPs.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #32 riderkicker A year ago
    @link6616 With Square Enix constantly rereleasing Kingdom Hearts, they should be working on cleaner versions of Chrono Trigger. I like the DS version okay, but I hate that everything had to be squished down, even more than the GBA games because Nintendo wouldn't spring for a better screen with their handhelds. Going from Pokemon on the same system to Chrono Trigger is just jarring in terms of readability.
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  • Avatar for orient #33 orient A year ago
    Kat's path to Chrono Trigger is almost identical to mine: didn't play it back then, have tried to play it multiple times since, and finally got stuck into it very recently on DS (in my case, DSi XL). I'm actually at the point Kat describes in the article as well, roughly halfway through.

    It's no doubt a fantastic game, although I must admit the story has not compelled me to keep playing -- I actually haven't picked it up in a few months, which is a shame because I really wanted to blaze through it. I'll definitely finish it sometime soon, but while the characters are charming and cute, I haven't found the overall tale to be particularly compelling (yet).
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  • Avatar for JetSetRennie #34 JetSetRennie A year ago
    Due to living in the UK, I missed out on this game for years, until I finally played it on the Wii VC in 2009-ish. I had almost exactly the same reaction as you Kat, complete amazement that this game was so timelessly brilliant and deep shame that it had taken me so long to getting around to playing it. But crikey isn't it just an incredible achievement, I can think of very few games that manage to balance quirky charm, genuine emotion resonance and great gameplay so effortlessly...and the music, good gravy! Recently I had the opportunity to recommend the game to a friend who had also missed it and I must say I almost took as much pleasure from him ringing me up every other night gushing about it than I did playing it myself. Truly one for the ages.
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  • Avatar for toppform #35 toppform A year ago
    I've also tried playing it a couple of times but went back to it for real this summer and beat it. It was great. It's so well paced, too. You're never stuck too long in one setting or area before the story moves you along to new places, friends and enemies. One of the advantages of lo-fi storytelling I suppose.
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  • Avatar for retr0gamer #36 retr0gamer A year ago
    It's 20-25 hours ling which should be the sweet point for this type of game. All killer, no filler. Just like Panzer Dragoon Saga, Final Fantasy 4 and the Atelier games.
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #37 TheWildCard A year ago
    @FirLocke Pretty sure Kat reviewed Radiant Historia back in the 1up days.

    Didn't expect Kat to have that strong of a reaction! I must confess I'm in the minority that found it underwhelming after hearing so much hype about it. It's a well made game with some very clever design (like the hilarious trial scene or how the multiple endings work) but at the end of the day it never really resonated with me. I never got that attached to the characters, and upon reflection I never found the battle system all that fun either. On top of all that I've always been much more into the flawed but soulful Chrono Cross.

    A good game but I've never been able to understand the fervor it brings out in some people. Glad Kat's enjoying it though!
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  • Avatar for ojinnvoltz #38 ojinnvoltz A year ago
    Shout out to anyone who likes Chrono Cross more! No? Just me then? Battling is the thing you do most in a JRPG (auto correct tried turned "jrpg" into "Kroger") and Chrono Cross has a much more interesting battle system. The player had more to consider tactically in regards to team building and what actions you take with the system of building charges to do more powerful attacks. Trigger is just so vanilla.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #39 nadiaoxford A year ago
    @Woogity Same. Hhhhh that Zeal Palace music, not to mention Corridors of Time.
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  • Avatar for eldizo #40 eldizo A year ago
    That's so cool your enjoying a timeless classic. Some people play games like this and don't understand the impact they had at the time. Chrono Trigger is on of those games that has aged gracefully and deserves to be played by gamer's of any generation. For me it's also part of the SNES Squaresoft Holy Trinity (Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy 6). Speaking of which, Final Fantasy 6 is what Chrono Trigger is for you.....I have never played all the way through it and it's still on my bucket list to complete.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #41 NiceGuyNeon A year ago
    I played it in 2011 and I adore it. It's one of my favorite games of all time, sitting just behind Persona 4: Golden and Dark Souls on the RPG side of things.

    I've spent a significant part of my time from 2010 to now catching up on old classics. FF3-7 so far have all been entertaining but nothing to write home about. But Super Metroid, Chrono Trigger, andSymphony of the Night have all impacted me in a major way as an adult and I think it speaks to their timeless nature that they stick with me and dethrone almost every other game I've played.

    I'm excited to read, and possibly hear, more of your thoughts on what I consider one of the greatest games!
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  • Avatar for yuberus #42 yuberus A year ago
    I haven't replayed this game in probably a decade, but time was I went through it once or twice a year! It's the perfect length for an RPG, and just everything about it lands so well.
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  • Avatar for Dorchadas #43 Dorchadas A year ago
    One of the best. I played it when I was 12, so it got into my imagination and has stuck there all these years and influenced everything I've done creatively since.

    In our computer room, I have three maps of the fictional worlds that I get the most inspiration from framed on the wall. The map of Vvardenfell from the CE of Morrowind, the map of the Tablelands from the original Dark Sun boxed set...and the Kingdom of Zeal, where dreams come true.
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  • Avatar for Dorchadas #44 Dorchadas A year ago
    @nadiaoxford One of my favorite moments in the game is when the group goes to ask Melchior about the Masamune, and why a sword from 400 years ago would have his name on the blade. He pauses for a moment, walks over to the window and looks out...

    ...and Corridors of Time starts playing.

    The first time through you don't even notice, but the second? (☆▽☆)
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  • Avatar for nilcam #45 nilcam A year ago
    Chrono Trigger was the RPG killer for me. It's so perfect that every RPG I've played since its SNES release feels bloated and boring.Edited February 2017 by nilcam
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #46 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @ojinnvoltz umm no not just you at all!! I love Trigger but for me CC is the better game.
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  • Avatar for Nuclear-Vomit #47 Nuclear-Vomit A year ago

    Robo's theme is Rick Astley's song? I can't tell them apart once I've discovered the truth.

    This makes no sense. Tell the people!
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  • Avatar for Belderiver #48 Belderiver A year ago
    Such a great game. One of my favorites. I'm glad you're enjoying it!
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  • Avatar for coreybiesiada40 #49 coreybiesiada40 A year ago
    I remember getting this game the day it came out. It's a masterpiece and RPGs have been struggling to approach this level ever since.Edited February 2017 by coreybiesiada40
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  • Avatar for daveyc02909 #50 daveyc02909 A year ago
    @Kuni-Nino Yes! My favorite song in the game (and there's lots of competition).
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  • Avatar for Jericho-GM #51 Jericho-GM A year ago
    @Nuclear-Vomit Diabolical!

    Square: Rickrolling Nerds Since 1995!
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  • Avatar for TheSensationalSean #52 TheSensationalSean A year ago
    I played through most of Chrono Trigger when it came out on DS in 2009 and loved pretty much everything about it ... but never actually completed it. I need to get back to that! Great article Kat, glad the game lived up to your expectations.
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