Chrono Trigger was developed by a group that Square called the "Dream Team", consisting of Hironobu Sakaguchi, Kazuhiko Aoki, and composer Nobuo Uematsu—known for their works on the Final Fantasy series—and Yuuji Horii and artist Akira Toriyama, freelance designers for Enix's Dragon Quest series. Masato Kato wrote most of the plot, while composer Yasunori Mitsuda scored most of the game before falling ill and deferring his duties to Uematsu.
Chrono Trigger was well-received by reviewers and commercially successful. Nintendo Power magazine described certain aspects of Chrono Trigger as revolutionary, including its multiple endings, plot-related sidequests focusing on character development, unique battle system, and detailed graphics. The game has sold more than 2.36 million copies in Japan and 290,000 worldwide as of March 31, 2003.
Players and enemies may use physical or magical attacks to wound targets during battle, and players may use items to heal or protect themselves. Each character and enemy has a certain number of hit points, and successful attacks reduce that character's hit points, while hit points can be restored with potions and spells. When a playable character loses all hit points, he or she faints; if all the player's characters fall in battle, the game ends and must be restored from a previously saved chapter, except in specific storyline-related battles that allow or force the player to lose. Between battles, the player can equip his/her characters with weapons, armor, helmets, and accessories that provide special effects (such as increased attack power or defense against magic), and various consumable items can be used both in and out of battles. Items and equipment can be purchased in shops or found on field maps, often in treasure chests. By exploring new areas and fighting enemies, players progress through Chrono Trigger's story.
Chrono Trigger uses an Active Time Battle system—a staple of Square's Final Fantasy game series designed by Hiroyuki Itō for Final Fantasy IV—named "Active Time Battle 2.0". Each character can take action in battle once a personal timer dependent on the character's speed statistic counts to zero. Magic and special physical techniques are handled through a system called "Techs". Techs deplete a character's magic points (a numerical meter like hit points), and often have special areas of effect; some spells damage huddled monsters, while others can harm enemies spread in a line. Enemies often change positions during battle, creating opportunities for tactical Tech use. A unique feature of Chrono Trigger's Tech system is that numerous cooperative techniques exist. Each character receives eight personal Techs which can be used in conjunction with others' to create Double and Triple Techs for greater effect. For instance, Crono's sword-spinning Cyclone Tech can be combined with Lucca's Flame Toss to create Fire Whirl. When characters with compatible Techs have enough magic points available to perform their techniques, the game automatically displays the combo as an option.
Chrono Trigger features several other unique gameplay traits, including time travel. Players have access to seven eras of the game world's history, and past actions affect future events. Throughout history, players find new allies, complete side quests, and search for keynote villains. Time travel is accomplished via portals and pillars of light called "time gates", as well as a time machine named Epoch. The game contains thirteen unique endings; the ending the player receives depends on when and how he or she reaches and completes the game's final battle. Chrono Trigger also introduces a New Game+ option—after completing the game, the player may begin a new game with the same character levels, techniques, and equipment (but not money) that he or she ended the previous game with. Certain items central to the storyline are removed and must be found again, such as the sword Masamune. Square has since employed the New Game+ concept in later titles, including Vagrant Story, Chrono Cross, Parasite Eve and Final Fantasy X-2.
Chrono Trigger's seven playable characters come from different eras in the game world's history. Trigger begins in 1000 A.D. with Crono, Marle, and Lucca. Crono is a silent protagonist, characterized as a brave, fearless young man skilled with a katana. Marle is Princess Nadia of the Guardia kingdom—an active, spirited tomboy with a crossbow. Often at odds with her father, Marle hides her royal lineage to slip out of the castle. Lucca is a friend of Crono and a mechanical genius who wields a gun; her home is filled with laboratory equipment and machinery. From the era of 2300 A.D. comes Robo, a robot with a bright and curious personality created to assist humans and outfitted with a powerful arm. Found dormant in the future, Robo is repaired by Lucca and joins the group in gratitude.
The fiercely confident Ayla dwells in 65,000,000 B.C. Unmatched in raw strength, Ayla is the chief of Ioka Village, and leads her people in war against a species of humanoid reptiles known as Reptites. The last two characters—Frog, and the character Magus—originate in 600 A.D. Frog is a former squire once named Glenn; Magus the wizard turned Glenn into an anthropomorphic frog and slew his friend Cyrus. Chivalrous but mired in regret, Frog dedicates his life to protecting Leene, the queen of Guardia, and avenging Cyrus by killing Magus. Magus is a powerful sorcerer and the leader of the Mystics, a race of demons and intelligent animals who war against humanity. Magus was once known as Janus, the young prince of the Kingdom of Zeal, which was destroyed by Lavos in 12,000 B.C. The incident sent him forward through time, and as he ages, he plots revenge against Lavos and broods over the fate of his sister, Schala. Lavos, which destroys human civilization and ravages the world in 1999 A.D., is an extraterrestrial parasitic creature that harvests DNA and the earth's energy for its own evolution.
They're shocked to find a devastated world filled with futuristic ruins, and uncover a video of the "Day of Lavos". The video shows a creature called Lavos erupting from the planet's surface in 1999 A.D and causing fire to rain from the sky, decimating the entire planet. The group resolves to prevent this catastrophe and recruit a robot named Robo before entering a new gate to arrive at the ethereal End of Time (year )—where an enigmatic old man offers advice, magical powers, and the use of several time gates. Crono and his friends hear that Magus created Lavos during the Middle Ages of 600 A.D., and that only a sword wielded by the "Hero" called the Masamune can defeat him. They find the sword's broken blade, deducing that the Hero is Frog and that the sword was somehow made by Melchior, who lives in 1000 A.D. Melchior notes that he needs Dreamstone, a rock found only in antiquity, to repair the Masamune. The group travel to 65,000,000 B.C. and meet the cavewoman Ayla, who gives Crono her Dreamstone after a friendly drinking contest. Ayla's boyfriend, Kino, gets jealous of Crono, thinking that Ayla likes him better and steals the Gate Key, but other than that the group is able to get back without a problem.
Melchior repairs the sword, and Frog accompanies Crono as they set out to Magus's lair. They battle his three generals and confront the warlock in the process of casting a spell. Magus claims he did not create Lavos, who dwells within the planet to siphon its energy—but merely intended to summon it. The spell's interruption causes a massive time gate that swallows Magus's castle and everyone within. Crono and his friends awaken in 65,000,000 B.C.; after helping Ayla defeat the Reptites, they witness Lavos crash deep into the earth from above. Agreeing that Lavos is an extraterrestrial lifeform, the group travels to the ancient, enlightened Kingdom of Zeal in 12,000 B.C. Zeal recently discovered Lavos and seeks to drain its power to achieve immortality through the Mammon Machine. A mysterious prophet warns the kingdom's queen about Crono, forcing their return to prehistory with no way back, by sealing the time gate they used to get there. In 2,300 A.D. they find a ship-like time machine called the Wings of Time (or Epoch), which can access any time period without using a time gate.
They travel back to Zeal, where the Ocean Palace will soon be activated. Lavos awakens, disturbed by the Mammon Machine, and the prophet reveals himself to be Magus before attempting to kill the creature. Crono stands up to Lavos but is vaporized by a powerful blast. Schala, Zeal's princess, selflessly saves Magus and Crono's friends by transporting them to safety, though she is left behind. Lavos destroys the kingdom of Zeal, causing tidal waves that reshape the planet. Soon after, Dalton from Zeal declares himself ruler of the world via the Blackbird airplane. He detains the group and impounds the Epoch, which his henchmen modify to fly. Crono's friends defeat Dalton atop the redesigned Epoch and meet on the surface with Magus, who admits that he's the young prince Janus, and plotted to summon and kill Lavos in 600 A.D. Magus offers to join the group and claims that a sage named Gaspar can revive Crono; he joins the party unless they challenge and defeat him. Crono's friends find the old man at the End of Time to be Gaspar; he gives them an egg-shaped device called the "Chrono Trigger", and following his instructions, Crono's friends visit the frozen moment of Crono's death and extract him from danger.
Gaspar relates various issues affecting the world across the eras to Crono and his friends, encouraging them to participate in sidequests to prepare for Lavos. Their journeys involve defeating the remnants of the Mystics, stopping Robo's maniacal AI creator, addressing Frog's feelings towards Cyrus and reconciling with his spirit, locating and charging up the mythical Sun Stone, retrieving the Rainbow Shell, and helping restore a forest destroyed by a desert monster. After the desert monster is vanquished, Robo volunteers to cultivate land damaged by a desert monster in 600 A.D. The group holds a campfire reunion for him in 1000 A.D., where he speculates that the time gates were created by an entity other than Lavos. A mysterious red time gate appears later that night, which Lucca uses to save her mother from a mechanical accident in 990 A.D. Crono and his friends after tracking down the Rainbow Shell in 600 A.D., find that Marle's father is being prosecuted by the chancellor for allegedly selling the shell in 1000 A.D. Crono and his companions expose the chancellor to be a Mystic impostor, and Marle makes peace with her father. In another side quest, Crono and his friends defeat Queen Zeal in her risen Ocean Palace fortress (now called the Black Omen) and destroy the Mammon Machine at its heart.
For their final battle against Lavos, the team penetrate the creature's shell either through fierce fighting or by crashing the Epoch into it. They learn that Lavos has been harvesting DNA to control its own evolution. Lavos uses the amassed genetics to assume a final combative form, which the group vanquishes. At the final night of the fair, Crono and his friends say their goodbyes and adjourn to their own eras in time through the diminishing gates. If Magus joined the party, he departs to search for his missing sister, Schala. Crono's mother accidentally enters the time gate at the fair before it closes, prompting Crono, Marle and Lucca to set out in the Epoch to find her while fireworks light up the night sky. Alternatively, if the party used the Epoch to break Lavos's outer shell, Marle will help her father hang Nadia's bell at the festival and accidentally get carried away by several balloons. Crono jumps on to help her, but cannot bring them down to earth. Hanging on in each others arms, the pair travel through the cloudy, moonlit sky.
A fan of time travel fiction (such as the TV series Time Tunnel), Horii fostered a theme of time travel in his general outline of Chrono Trigger with input from Akira Toriyama. Masato Kato subsequently edited and completed the outline by writing the majority of the game's story, including all the events of the 12,000 B.C. era. Kato devised the system of multiple endings because he could not branch the story out to different paths. Yoshinori Kitase and Takashi Tokita then wrote various subplots. The characters of Chrono Trigger were designed by Akira Toriyama, creator of the manga Dragon Ball and a longtime contributor to the Dragon Quest series. Other notable designers include Tetsuya Takahashi, the graphic director, and Yasuyuki Honne, Tetsuya Nomura, and Yusuke Naora, who worked as field graphic artists.
Early alpha versions of Chrono Trigger were demonstrated at the 1994 and 1995 V-Jump festivals in Japan. A few months prior to the game's release, Square shipped a beta version to magazine reviewers and game stores for review. An unfinished build of the game, it contains unused music tracks, locations, and other features changed or removed from the final release—such as a dungeon named Singing Mountain, and its eponymous song. The ROM image was uploaded to the internet, prompting fans to explore and document the game's differences, including two unused world map character sprites and presumed additional sprites for certain non-player characters. Rumors of a planned eighth character exist, but are wholly unsubstantiated.
Chrono Trigger used a 32-megabit cartridge with battery-backed RAM for saved games, lacking special on-cartridge coprocessors. The Japanese release of Chrono Trigger included art for the game's ending and running counts of items in the player's status menu. Developers created the North American version before adding these features to the original build, inadvertently leaving in vestiges of Chrono Trigger's early development (such as the song Singing Mountain). Hironobu Sakaguchi asked translator Ted Woolsey to localize Chrono Trigger for English audiences and gave him roughly thirty days to work. Lacking the help of a modern translation team, he memorized scenarios and looked at drafts of commercial player's guides to put dialogue in context. Woolsey later reflected that he would have preferred two-and-a-half months, and blames his rushed schedule on the prevailing attitude in Japan that games were children's toys rather than serious works. Some of his work was cut due to space constraints, though he still considered Trigger "one of the most satisfying games I ever worked on or played." Nintendo of America censored certain dialogue, including references to breastfeeding, consumption of alcohol, and religion. ROM hackers released a literal fan translation patch and annotated script in 2007 to clarify key differences. Square shipped Trigger with two world maps, and Japanese buyers who preordered received holographic foil cards.
Square released an enhanced port of Chrono Trigger developed by TOSE in Japan for the Sony PlayStation in 1999. Square timed its release before that of Chrono Cross, the 1999 sequel to Trigger, to give new players familiarity with the story of its predecessor. This version included anime cut scenes created by original character designer Akira Toriyama's Bird Studio and animated by Toei Animation, as well as several bonus features, accessible after achieving various endings in the game. Scenarist Masato Kato attended planning meetings at Bird Studio to discuss how the ending cut scenes would illustrate subtle ties to Chrono Cross. The port was later released in North America in 2001—along with a remastered version of Final Fantasy IV—under the package title Final Fantasy Chronicles. Reviewers criticized Chronicles for lengthy load times and an absence of new in-game features.
Whether Chrono Trigger will appear on the Wii's Virtual Console service depends on the settlement of certain copyright issues. A Nintendo Power reader poll conducted in April 2008 identified Trigger as the third-most wanted game for the Virtual Console. There have been two notable attempts by Chrono Trigger fans to unofficially remake parts of the game for PC with a 3D graphics engine. Chrono Resurrection, an attempt at remaking ten small interactive cut scenes from Trigger, and Chrono Trigger Remake Project, which sought to remake the entire game, were forcibly terminated by Square Enix by way of a cease and desist order. Since then, fans have created a few ROM hacks.
On July 2, 2008, Square Enix announced that they were officially planning to bring Chrono Trigger to the Nintendo DS handheld platform. The updated rerelease is set to take advantage of the Nintendo DS hardware with a new dual-screen presentation, support for the touch screen, and a wireless play mode (2-4 players). The game will also add a brand new dungeon. Composer Yasunori Mitsuda was pleased with the project, exclaiming "finally!" after receiving the news from Square Enix and maintaining, "it's still a very deep, very high-quality game even when you play it today. I'm very interested in seeing what kids today think about it when they play it." Square Enix Representatives revealed to Gamespot employees at E3 2008 that the Nintendo DS version will, indeed, feature the cutscenes created for the PlayStation version. The DS version will also feature a new translation, but still remain close to the original, similar to the re-translations of the earlier Final Fantasy games.
At the time of the game's release, the number of tracks and sound effects was unprecedented—the soundtrack spanned three discs in its 1995 commercial pressing. Square also released a one-disc acid jazz arrangement called "The Brink of Time" by Guido that year. In 1999, Square produced another one-disc soundtrack to complement the PlayStation release of Trigger, featuring orchestral tracks used in cut scenes. Yasunori Mitsuda also composed four new pieces for the game's bonus features which weren't included on the soundtrack. Recently, Mitsuda arranged versions of music from the Chrono series for Play! video game music concerts, presenting the main theme, Frog's Theme, and To Far Away Times. He worked with Square Enix to ensure that the Nintendo DS Chrono Trigger port's music would sound close to the Super Nintendo version's.
Fans have heavily remixed the soundtrack, producing over 600 tributes and several cover performance albums released over the internet or sold at retail. These include Time & Space - A Tribute to Yasunori Mitsuda and Chrono Symphonic, the latter released by the remix website OverClocked ReMix. Hip hop production team Compromised also created a bastard pop album known as The Chrono Trigger Mixtape, Vol. 1, produced by mixing the a cappella from rap songs with the instrumental remixed versions of Chrono Trigger tracks. Japanese fans often sell their remix work in compilation albums popularly called "Dōjin" by Western fans. The soundtrack continues to appear in the set lists of video game concert groups such as the Eminence Orchestra and Video Games Live.
Chrono Trigger garnered much critical praise in addition to its brisk sales. Nintendo Power called it Square's "biggest game ever", citing improved graphics, sound, and gameplay over past RPG titles. Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine described Trigger as "original and extremely captivating", singling out its graphics, sound and story as particularly impressive. IGN commented that "it may be filled with every imaginable console RPG cliché, but Chrono Trigger manages to stand out among the pack" with "a [captivating] story that doesn't take itself too serious (sic)" and "one of the best videogame soundtracks ever produced". Other reviewers (such as the staff of RPGFan and RPGamer) have criticized the game's short length and relative ease compared to its peers. Overall, critics lauded Chrono Trigger for its "fantastic yet not overly complex" story, simple but innovative gameplay, and high replay value afforded by multiple endings.
Square released a fourth Satellaview game in 1996, named Radical Dreamers: Nusumenai Hōseki. Feeling that Trigger ended with "unfinished business", scenarist Masato Kato wrote and directed the game. Dreamers functioned as a side story to Chrono Trigger, resolving a loose subplot from its predecessor. A short, text-based game relying on minimal graphics and atmospheric music, the game never received an official release outside Japan—though it was translated by fans to English in April 2003. Square planned to release Radical Dreamers as an easter egg in the PlayStation edition of Chrono Trigger, but Kato was unhappy with his work and halted its inclusion.
Square released Chrono Cross for the Sony PlayStation in 1999. Cross is a sequel to Chrono Trigger featuring a new setting and cast of characters. Presenting a theme of parallel worlds, the story followed the protagonist Serge—a teenage boy thrust into an alternate reality in which he died years earlier. With the help of a thief named Kid, Serge endeavors to discover the truth behind his apparent death and obtain the Frozen Flame, a mythical artifact. Regarded by writer and director Masato Kato as an effort to "redo Radical Dreamers properly", Chrono Cross borrowed certain themes, scenarios, characters, and settings from Dreamers. Yasunori Mitsuda also adapted certain songs from Radical Dreamers while scoring Cross. Radical Dreamers was consequently removed from the series' main continuity, considered an alternate dimension. Chrono Cross shipped 1.5 million copies and was almost universally praised by critics.
There are no plans for a new title, despite a statement from Hironobu Sakaguchi in 2001 that the developers of Chrono Cross wanted to make a new Chrono game. The same year, Square applied for a trademark for the names Chrono Break in the United States and Chrono Brake in Japan. However, the United States trademark was dropped in 2003. Director Takashi Tokita mentioned "Chrono Trigger 2" in a 2003 interview which has not been translated to English. Yuji Horii expressed no interest in returning to the Chrono franchise in 2005, while Hironobu Sakaguchi remarked in April 2007 that his creation Blue Dragon was an "extension of [Chrono Trigger]." During a Cubed³ interview on February 1, 2007, Square Enix’s Senior Vice President Hiromichi Tanaka said that although no sequel is currently planned, some sort of sequel is still possible if the Chrono Cross developers can be reunited. Yasunori Mitsuda has expressed interest in scoring a new game, but warned that "there are a lot of politics involved" with the series. He stressed that Masato Kato should participate in development. The February 2008 issue of Game Informer ranked the Chrono series eighth among the "Top Ten Sequels in Demand", naming the games "steadfast legacies in the Square Enix catalogue" and asking, "what's the damn holdup?!" In Electronic Gaming Monthly's June 2008 "Retro Issue", writer Jeremy Parish cited Chrono as the franchise video game fans would be most thrilled to see a sequel to.