It’s nigh impossible to have a discussion about Japanese role-playing games without name-dropping titles like Phantasy Star IV, Final Fantasy VI, and Dragon Quest V and VI. Despite releasing in the ’90s, they’re widely considered the best entries in some of the most accomplished JRPG franchises ever conceived. But there’s no other game as synonymous with role-playing greatness than Chrono Trigger, a game that managed to outshine its highly regarded contemporaries and land the number three spot on our list of best games of all time thanks to its complex plot, lovable cast of characters, and ambitious technical achievements.
Of course, we can’t talk about what made the game so great without first acknowledging the famed “dream team” that made Chrono Trigger a reality. Its cast of developers included the likes of Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of Final Fantasy, Yuji Horii, creator of Dragon Quest, and Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball.
The three conceived of one of the most complex stories ever told in the video game medium circa the mid ’90s. Young Crono and crew were tasked with saving the world from the apocalyptic monster Lavos, and had to do so via time travel–and that adventure would ultimately culminate in one of 13 endings. As you jumped from 65 million B.C. to 2300 A.D. and the eras in between, you’d witness the same world evolve, with each time period offering new places to discover. Some dungeons and towns even persisted through time: Guardia Castle, for example, could be explored in multiple eras, and it was fascinating to witness its transformation over a 400-year span.
While time travel was a novel mechanic, it wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable had it not been for the colorful cast of characters it allowed Crono to encounter during his journey. The intelligent Lucca and sassy princess Marle were introduced from the start, but only by accidentally warping through time did Crono meet the lovably gallant Frog, broody Magus, brawny Ayla, and, of course, the almost-human Robo who apparently loved Rick Astley.
All of these characters had a surprising level of depth, and every single one of them had a memorable personality. Chrono Trigger’s side quests led to powerful weapons and equipment, but it also included lengthy character-specific sub plots that provided insight and back story to each member of the party. Discovering how Frog became a frog (fun fact: He wasn’t always an anthropomorphic amphibian), or what that dastardly Magus was really up to made us feel all the more attached to those characters, and those plots lent an incredibly personal element to a game that was otherwise quite grand in scale.