Since the dawn of time, mankind has sought to answer one simple question: “Which classic Super Nintendo RPG reigns supreme — Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy III?”
Families have been torn apart trying to answer this very question. Best friends have turned against one another, sending each other to the hospital — or worse — when heated debates turn ugly. Indeed, nations have been forced to the brink of civil war by opposing factions arguing the merits and virtues of their Squaresoftian champion.
And now I dare to step into the fray? Yes. Yes I dare.
Before we begin, I must state that both Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III (and don’t give me none of this VI bullshit … the cartridge I played on back in seventh grade was labelled “Final Fantasy III”, so that’s what the game is called) rate among my favourite games of all-time. But clearly, only one game can be superior. Only one cartridge can be the king of 16-bit Japanese role-playing awesomeness. But which one?
Well, back in 1995, I would have told you that FF3 was the greatest game ever made … or at the very least, ranked somewhat higher than Chrono Trigger (and other top contenders such as Earthbound and Secret of Mana). But as the years go by, my video gaming pallet has become more sophisticated and refined, and I have come to realize — and wholeheartedly accept — that Chrono Trigger is the undisputed champion of SNES RPGs.
There is simply no arguing this fact. If you think FF3 is a superior game to Chrono Trigger, you’re wrong. End of story. Now, I don’t fault you for thinking that way, but trust me, you’re mistaken.
Allow me to explain:
ROUND 1: BATTLE SYSTEM
While it definitely works, there’s absolutely no denying that the battle system in Final Fantasy III is rather conventional, and some might say antiquated, even by 1994’s gaming standards (as it’s basically a refinement of all of the previous FF games that came before it). Fight, Magic, Item, Defend, plus each character’s unique ability. That’s about it. Sure, there were some Espers thrown in here and there, but for the most part, the battle system was pretty dull and no different than scores of other RPGs.
And you can’t forget about the random battles — the bane of any sane RPG player.
Seriously, my party just wants to take a nice walk in the field during a sunny day on the outskirts of Narshe, but nooooooo, those pesky Lobos and Leafers won’t back the fuck off.
Chrono Trigger, on the other hand, was a breath of fresh air. For starters, no random battles! Even better, no more warping to a separate battle screen! The enemies are right there in the dungeon — if you bump into them, you fight them. What a concept! Even when the battles forced are upon you (such as baddies jumping out from behind trees and whatnot), it never feels as tedious or grinding as the battles in the Final Fantasy games.
Sure, while Chrono has its fare share of “scripted battles” that are completely unavoidable, they aren’t “random”, and that’s a big thumbs up in my book (my book is actually just a collection of thumbs oriented in various directions, by the way. Quite grotesque, now that I think about it).
Once a battle is initiated, of course, there’s Chrono Trigger’s amazingly kickass battle system, which allows different characters to combine their skills into face-shattering Dual and Triple Techs. Unlike FF3, your party is not simply a collection of individuals bashing their weapons in turn against the monsters’ skulls (Auto-Crossbow, Aurabolt, rinse, repeat). Instead, your party can (and must) work together, with each character’s skills complementing another in a variety of ways.
It all comes together to keep battles fresh and interesting (and not to mention visually stimulating .. the simple act of seeing Chrono actually leap towards the enemy and slash at it is much more engaging than watching Cyan simply wave his sword in the general direction of the bad guy).
Winner: Chrono Trigger
ROUND 2: AUDIO-VISUAL STIMULATION
For its time, FF3 was an impressive looking game, but it certainly does not hold up to the ravages of time as well as Chrono Trigger. I think the main thing that really gets me about FF3 is the blockiness of the characters. It’s as if all of the characters were shoved in to a tiny box at birth and forced to grow into that shape in the same way that Chinese women bind their feet.
Chrono Trigger completely blows FF3 out of the water in this area. While there’s no denying the fact that many of the characters look like Dragon Ball rejects (unsurprising given Toriyama’s involvement in the game), the anime-inspired sprites in Chrono Trigger simply have more personality than FF3’s Lego-men.
When it comes to audio-visual stimulation, however, the real champion is the music of Chrono Trigger. Magus’ theme, the Tyrano Lair, Frog’s theme, Zeal, the Boss themes … all true classics. Sure, Final Fantasy III has the opera house scene, and the final battle with Kefka, and many other great pieces of music, but as a whole Chrono Trigger’s score contains more well-crafted and memorable pieces than FF3.
Winner: Chrono Trigger
ROUND 3: CHARACTERS
Final Fantasy III has a pretty solid cast — Terra, Locke, Edgar, Sabin, Cyan, Seles, and Shadow are all great characters with well-rounded back stories (Mog, Gau, Relm, Strago, Umaro, Gogo … well, they suck anyway, so who cares about them).
In fact, some proponents for FF3 tout this is an advantage of Chrono Trigger, stating that Chrono’s characters are one-dimensional and boring. And yes, this might true of Chrono (a generic deaf-mute), Ayla (a generic cavewoman), and Robo (a generic robot), but I counter with the almighty trump card — Magus.
In fact, I believe that Magus is actually the true main character of Chrono Trigger. Chrono is just some dude who happened to be in the right place at the right time, but Magus is central to all of the major story events and his presence is felt throughout the entire game (in particular, the Frog / Cyrus storyline, as well as pretty much everything to do with the Kingdom of Zeal). Plus, going from a mysterious Fiendlord threatening Guardia’s safety to a sympathetic figure looking to avenge his homeland and family makes him a truly awesome and memorable character. The fact that he becomes a playable character is just the icing on the cake.
Winner: Magus (I mean, Chrono Trigger)
ROUND 4: REPLAYABILITY
As a general rule, RPGs usually suffer from rather low replayability. For starters, the games take dozens of hours to complete, so the notion of slogging through the entire game again can often be disheartening. Combined with the fact that the core game experience won’t change drastically with each playthrough, most people won’t pick up the controller again for quite some time after the final monster has been defeated.
Chrono Trigger breaks the mould by allowing you to defeat the final boss at pretty much any point over the course of the game. In addition, it offers the always welcome New Game + option, allowing you to smash your way through the entire game with beefed up characters and weapons in order see more than a dozen different endings (or just to see how quickly you can complete the entire game, I suppose).
FF3, on the other hand, offers the same experience time and time again. While it’s a solid game and I’ve played through it numerous times, it usually comes down to using Terra, Edgar, Sabin, and some other character to plow through the game. Only the sick and twisted would subject themselves to using Relm or Gau in their main party, and while I suppose trying to beat the game with various combinations of shitty characters is a form of replayability, it’s also a form of torture — meaning it gets no points from me in this category.
Winner: Chrono Trigger
ROUND 5: FINAL BOSS
No matter how awesome the rest of the game is, if the final boss sucks, your perspective of the entire game will have changed considerably (and probably for the worse). Luckily, both Chrono and FF3 offer extraordinary climactic showdowns.
The last battle in Final Fantasy III is quite epic, no doubt about it. The initial battle up the tower of monster corpse things, the extremely bitchin’ music, and of course, Kefka’s final angel form … all truly awesome, but in the end, it feels rather empty. After all, Kefka’s already kicked the world in the balls — what’s beating him really going to do? Not a whole lot, really. No more lasers from the sky, I suppose, but the world’s still in the shitter, with or without Kefka in charge.
The last battle in Chrono Trigger, however, provides a real sense of finality and a culmination of everything you’ve achieved up to that point. During Lavos’ first form, you have to fight all of the major bosses throughout the game once more. While many other games have done this (the Zelda series, for example, among others), the combination of the epic (yet somehow haunting) music, and the fact that Lavos is emulating the bosses (instead of your party fighting boss clones or what-have-you), makes for an interesting and impressionable last battle experience.
Yes, once inside the Lavos shell, things fall apart somewhat as you end up fighting some goofy looking alien thing with ill-defined evil intentions, but hey, the music is cool, the changing backdrops are sweet, and the swerve job of making one of the tiny pods the true last boss is an interesting touch that really throws you for the loop the first time through.
Winner: A Draw, I Guess
THE FINAL VERDICT
Without question, each game has a plethora of good things going for it, and just so it doesn’t leave with hurt feelings, I intend to write a post outlining many of the cool things about FF3 that make it one of the top games of all-time (but just not better than Chrono Trigger).
But in the end, the engaging battle system, the lush graphics, the beautiful score, the memorable characters, and the sheer replayability of the game all lead to one decision — the true champion of SNES RPGs is and forever will be Chrono Trigger!