It feels like we've come to the end of an era. It's been over four and a half years since the Wii's Virtual Console first went live. In that time, we've seen the re-release of nearly four hundred different retro titles – some masterpieces, some duds and lots of in-between, average "classics" of yesteryear drawn from the back catalogs of the NES, SNES, Nintendo 64 and several other old-school consoles.
It's been an interesting journey, with some of us reliving bits and pieces of our childhoods and others discovering these titles for the very first time. And now, with Chrono Trigger, it feels like the journey's come to an end.
Chrono Trigger is one of the best video games ever made. A universally cherished role-playing game, it was originally released for the Super Nintendo in 1995. Its creation is the stuff of legend, as it was developed by a dream team of the most talented RPG makers of the 16-bit era, all coming together to work on this one epic project. And though it would be easy to write pages upon pages to explain its appeal, I'll attempt just three key points to sum it up what makes it so timeless.
The first, appropriately enough, is time travel. Crono is the name of our silent protagonist in Chrono Trigger. A wide-eyed, wild-haired boy living in the year 1000 A.D., he becomes thrust into a quest to save the world when a mysterious portal in time opens up and swallows his friend Marle. He boldly jumps in after her, setting in motion a story that has you following his adventures back in time to the past, forward in time to the distant future and every other point in-between – as what begins as a rescue mission for one young girl escalates into a battle for the fate of the planet.
The time-traveling concept set Chrono Trigger apart from other RPGs, as its many different eras of time are expertly interwoven and your actions in the past accurately influence the future. Other games of the SNES era began to explore the idea of alternate worlds or parallel dimensions, but here in Chrono Trigger you see the entire existence of a planet play out from the dawn of mankind all the way to beyond the apocalypse. That alone would have made Chrono Trigger a hit – but time travel was just the first of its many special qualities. The battle system is second, as it was, and still is, wonderfully unique. You control a party of up to three heroes at a time, fighting foes right where you encounter them in the environment. There's no visual cut-away to some separate battlefield screen like in so many other RPGs – here, you see a baddie and you attack it right there.
What's more, the battle mechanics present an incredible variety of opportunities for teamwork. Every character has a basic Attack command, and can use Items too. Standard stuff. But the third option – "Tech" – is where it gets interesting. Selecting Tech lets you unleash more damaging assaults, magic spells and support maneuvers with individual heroes, but you can also combine more than one characters' moves together to create even more powerful combos.
Crono's a skilled swordsman who can leap and slash up enemies alone, for instance, while Marle's more magically gifted with the innate element of Water. Put the two of them together, though, and Marle can freeze Crono's sword mid-air so that his strike hits with the impact of an icy glacier – or Crono can spin his blade in circles while Marle casts a healing spell, to disperse the curative aura over every ally in the battle.
The interplay between the game's half-dozen or so different playable characters is wonderfully satisfying, as each one is developed with a distinctive personality and individual sidequests that reinforce who they are and really get you to like them. And the fact that there are more than three characters to choose from, while you can only use three at a time, helps fuel the game's third key point of appeal – replayability. Chrono Trigger innovated the concept of a "New Game +" in which, after completing the story and seeing the credits roll, you could choose to restart the adventure with your powered-up, experience-pumped characters intact. It was a great idea, as it made things speedier on subsequent playthroughs as you attempted to achieve a different ending the second, third or ninth time through – because Chrono Trigger also innovated in offering tons of different ending sequences you could earn, depending on the choices you made while playing.
All of this time-jumping, three-hero tag-team battling and powered-up questing for more and more different story conclusions all came together to create one incredible masterpiece of a game, wrapped up with the most beautiful artwork and the greatest soundtrack any SNES title had ever seen. It should go without saying that Chrono Trigger is still worth your time and money today, and that it comes with my highest recommendation for 800 of your Wii Points.
Some naysayers will offer their opinions opposing such a purchase, pointing out that this same game has been recently re-released on the Nintendo DS in an edition that includes a couple of new dungeons and a retranslated script. I hold nothing against that version, or even the PlayStation 1 port that added anime-style cutscenes to the story 10 years ago. But this is the original. This is the game as it was – as it first existed, as American SNES owners first experienced it on the SNES in 1995. And spending just eight bucks to reclaim that same experience – old poorly translated enemy names and all – is, to me, the best of what the Virtual Console has always been about.
There will still be more Virtual Console titles released after this. The Wii's service isn't over quite yet. But we're just days away from the launch of the Nintendo 3DS eShop and its new, second-edition version of the VC concept. So here, with this re-release of a title still rightly argued as perhaps the very best video game
ever made, it feels right to call this chapter closed. So whether it continues to offer dozens more classics from yesteryear going forward, or if it really is winding down to its final conclusion, support the original Virtual Console with a purchase of this gaming great – it's a download service that has sometimes been frustrating to deal with, but at the end of it all it really has let us travel back through time.