Chrono Trigger – 1995 Developer Interviews

Chrono Trigger – 1995 Interview Collection

This is a collection of Chrono Trigger interviews from early 1995, originally featured in Japanese magazines Famicon Tsuushin, Dengeki SFC, and Haou. Because they feature very similar questions and answers, I’ve compiled them all together for better readability. In addition to all the neat design details and anecdotes, these interviews really show how Chrono Trigger was a turning point for the way Square made RPGs.

Masanori Kato – Project Chief
Hironobu Sakaguchi – Supervisor
Kazuhiko Aoki – Producer
Yoshinori Kitase – Director
Takashi Tokita – Director
Tetsuya Nomura, Shinichiro Hamasaka,
Yusuke Naora, Akiyoshi Masuda – Field Graphics
Yasunori Mitsuda – Composer

—How did the Chrono Trigger development get started?

Aoki: It was about 4 years ago that Sakaguchi, Horii, and Toriyama started talking about making an RPG together. At that time, it was more of an offhand, casual thing, like “hey, wouldn’t it be great if we could all work together on something?” The actual planning didn’t start until about 2 years later, when our staff sat down with Horii and hammered out the general outline of the story.

—Was it known then that this would be a “time travel” game?

Aoki: Yeah. We first thought Chrono Trigger was going to be on CD-ROM, actually. We wanted to take full advantage of the space afforded by that media, and make a game where you visit multiple different worlds. So the time travel idea, where the map would change as you visited different eras, was decided on very early. Ultimately we ended up switching from CD-ROM to a rom cart, but with the 32Mbit cart size, we were able to include most of our ideas.

Tokita: We realized that if we made it for CD-ROM it would probably never get finished (laughs), so we instead decided on the Super Famicom. But the amount of character animation was done as if we were working with CD-ROM media, so they’re very detailed.

—Did Chrono Trigger use a lot of the same staff from the Final Fantasy developments?

Sakaguchi: No, not particularly. About half the staff had worked on Final Fantasy VI, and for the other half, this was their first development project. Chrono Trigger had about 50 people total, but that ratio of new-to-old is how most of our developments are set up.

Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yuji Horii, and Akira Toriyama on a friendly stroll.

—How long did the development take, exactly?

Tokita: Nearly two and a half years, I think?

Okawa: It was started after we finished FFV and Hanjuku Hero, right?

Nomura: Between now and then, FFVI was completed.

Tokita: And Live A Live, too.

—Chrono Trigger is a joint effort between three “big names” of the games industry: Yuji Horii, Hironobu Sakaguchi, and Akira Toriyama. How did their participation influence the development of the game?

Kitase: It was very time-consuming. (laughs) We spent an entire year just talking things over. For Square, that’s unusual. It was pretty much non-stop meetings with Yuji Horii.

—This was all before you got down to the actual development then?

Kitase: Yeah. It took us about a year to sort out and decide on the bones of the game, then another year for the development. (laughs) It ended being a massive 2-year project.

—Did Akira Toriyama also participate in the meetings?

Kitase: He did. He only did the character illustrations and concept art… but those illustrations gave us a lot of inspiration. They gave us ideas about the world of Chrono Trigger and the character dramas. It’s really amazing how many ideas we got just from looking at them.

Machida: As a graphics designer, his images conveyed a sense of the world, an atmosphere, a vibe—I used them to unify the rest of the visual design.

Uchiyama (Character Graphics): Unfortunately he only drew characters from the front, so we didn’t know what they looked like from behind. (laughs) It was kind of a problem… we just had to guess. (laughs)

—How about Yuji Horii, what was his influence?

Kitase: Horii is extremely talented. He has an incredible way with words. He would check the dialogue of NPCs in towns, for instance, and just from those revisions alone you could get a strong sense of the “Horii style.” (laughs) He’d bring a lot of personality out of the dialogue just by tweaking one or two words.

The thing about Horii, though, is that he tends to ignore the memory limitations we’re working under in favor of dialogue. But as developers that concern is foremost in our minds: don’t use up all the memory!

Aoki: He was really strict with checking the dialogue. He’d tell us “this character would never say a line like that.”

Sakaguchi at his desk, probably wishing in this moment that he could be playing Fire Emblem.

—I see. And what was Sakaguchi’s role?

Kitase: Well, his official title was “Supervisor”, but he actually worked on the floor with us. (laughs) From coding events to tweaking monster HP stats, he did many things on his own.

Mitsuda: He was also something of a devil’s advocate when it came to brainstorming and arguing ideas. Even I, as composer, would have run-ins with him over the music, and then we’d end up having to talk it all out.

—How about Aoki, the producer?

Kitase: His role was gathering up and shaping all the different ideas of the staff into a unified form…. sometimes he wasn’t around, and it would be like, is it OK to decide this for ourselves? What if we’re wrong…? (laughs)


—How were the characters created?

Sakaguchi: Initially, Horii would draw up a rough sketch of the characters. The drawings he showed us were really bad. (laughs) But Toriyama said that was actually for the best. Their lack of detail and finesse meant that Toriyama wasn’t constrained by someone else’s designs. He had more freedom this way. (laughs) Frog’s character was created in this fashion, with Horii handing off a sketch to Toriyama.

—Who are your favorite characters?

Yasuyuki Honne (Field Graphics): Frog is my favorite.

Tokita: Frog maybe… hmm… actually, no, I think I have to go with Ayla. RPGs that have come out recently have all been so serious and dramatic, with many serious protagonists who shoulder heavy burdens. Given the prevalence of characters like that, I wanted to try adding a simple character, one who lives by instinct (and those qualities would be good for gags and jokes, too). I had an image of Ouyang Fei Fei in mind.1

Because there were fewer characters in Chrono Trigger compared with FFVI, it allowed their personalities to stand out more.

Makoto Shimamoto (Battle Planner): My favorite is Robo. He gets healing skills midway through the game, and his attack is high. He’s very easy to use. But his magic defense is low, which means no matter how much you raise his HP you’ll eventually run into trouble. That’s why I always keep Marle in the party for healing.

Masuda: My favorite character is the Bat monster. I really like that little guy! The way he sucks blood, and his death animations, are both really cute—so cute that when I get into battle with them, I don’t want to fight them! Of the main characters, I like Frog.

Tokita: That Bat was originally one of Toriyama’s designs. We made it more cute though. If you look at the previous games at Square, the Final Fantasy games have mostly serious-looking monsters, while Hanjuku Hero has a lot of funny ones. I think the difference has a lot to do with whether they’re animated or not.

Sakaguchi: There’s a lot of strange, funny monsters in Chrono Trigger. We kind of let our spirit of playfulness run free, which had been pent up in the Final Fantasy developments. (laughs) I hope people enjoy the designs.

Nomura: I like Magus. It’s probably because I did a bunch of the backgrounds for his castle. And I think the way he runs looks cool.

Okawa: I like the cats in the city. So cute!

—What party do you think is the easiest to get through the game with?

Kitase: They all have their strengths and weaknesses, so none in particular. I think the difficulty stays mostly the same no matter who you choose. But if you compare the characters individually… maybe Robo is the strongest? Of course, if we’re talking about only about appearances, I think Ayla is best. (everyone laughs)

—What do you mean?

Kitase: During the development, her breasts actually bounced a lot more. It was amazing the “boing boing!” they were able to convey with such small character sprites.

Uchiyama: But then Aoki saw it and said “this is too much.” (laughs) So we had no choice but to restrain ourselves. You can see a remnant of our enthusiasm in Ayla’s battle animations though. They really bounce in some of her special moves!

Before Tifa,
there was Ayla.


—Chrono Trigger kind of looks like a mash-up of Secret of Mana and the Final Fantasy series…

Sakaguchi: I can see how people would get that impression considering some of the sprites in both games have a Toriyama look. However, none of our playtesters said that Chrono Trigger felt like Secret of Mana, and the Chrono Trigger developers didn’t have Secret of Mana in mind when they were working. In fact, almost no one from the Secret of Mana development worked on Chrono Trigger.

—Was it difficult translating Toriyama’s concept art into game sprites?

Tsutomu Terada (monster graphics): Yeah. I created the in-game monster graphics based off the designs Toriyama gave me, but figuring out how they should actually move was a challenge. For example, Toriyama’s illustrations didn’t show the backside of the monsters, so I had to just imagine what he would have drawn and do my best. Also, I won’t go into the details here, but for Lavos’ design, we argued a lot at Square about how Toriyama would have drawn it, and how to capture his style. “Toriyama would never draw something like that!” It got pretty heated. (laughs)

Masanori Hoshino (graphic director): We also made requests of our own to Toriyama, too. In his early designs for Ayla, for example, she had straight hair. But we thought that this prehistoric girl should have a wilder, wavy hairstyle, so we had him change it. (laughs) As you can see, a lot of heart and consideration went into the character graphics. We wanted each characters personality to be reflected in the way they move. I love the way that the serious Lucca, for instance, adjusts her glasses nonchalantly as she walks. I hope players notice those little details.

Naora: In the last game I worked on, Final Fantasy VI, the character graphics were all made according to my tastes. With Chrono Trigger, I felt that if I exerted too much control over it, it would turn out too much like Final Fantasy. So when I was making the background and map graphics, I would put the character sprites on the screen mock-ups while I worked, so my backgrounds matched the atmosphere and feel of Toriyama’s character designs. I think the result came out well.

Top, L-R: Tetsuya Takahashi (graphics director); Yasunori Mitsuda (composer); Kazumi Kobayashi (programmer). Bottom: Masanori Hoshino (graphics director); Toshiaki Suzuki (battle planner); Tsutomu Terada (monster graphics).


—Where did the idea for the Double Techs and Triple Techs come from?

Toshiaki Suzuki (Battle Plan): We’d spent so much time getting the individual character animations to look good, and everyone really enjoyed that. We thought it would be even more fun if the characters moved in unison, working together.

Sakaguchi: It was Yuji Horii’s idea, originally. He named them “renkei”, but all the developers at Square were like, “that sounds lame.” (laughs)2

—One of the things I felt when playing Chrono Trigger is how smoothly it flows from one area to the next.

Sakaguchi: Yeah. We actually struggled a lot on how difficult to make the game. According to Horii, we should try and make it accessible and enjoyable for brand new players. That was the direction we went in. And actually, during the planning phase, we talked about lowering the number of battles and encounters so it could be completed in around 8 hours.

—On the other hand, with the battles, they can be really hard if you don’t know the enemy’s weakness.

Sakaguchi: That’s true. This was my first time working on monster designs since Final Fantasy III. I really love strategy rpgs, and I think some aspect of that leaked into Chrono Trigger. (laughs) I like it when enemies have some specific weakness you can defeat them with. Like in a strategy game, where the tanks are strong versus infantry, but weak against air units. I had actually set things up to be a lot more severe at first, but others at Square complained that it was way too difficult… (laughs) So I made it easier.

But yeah, I imagine if you don’t know the enemy weaknesses, it could be very hard. Once you know them though, it’s easy. That’s why the playtesters at Square, on their second playthroughs, were all asking me to make it harder. I was like, “weren’t you just whining about how difficult it was?” (laughs)

The idea for elemental affinities was also related to my thinking about strengthes/weaknesses. By giving Lucca a fire element, and making a boss that was weak to fire, it would encourage players to bring Lucca back into the party if they hadn’t been using her. It was a way to give each character more of a chance to shine.

Top, L-R: Makoto Shimamoto (battle planner); Takashi Tokita (Director) Kazuhiro Okawa (field graphics); Bottom: Tetsuya Nomura (field graphics); Akiyoshi Masuda (field graphics); Yasuyuki Honne (field graphics).


—Where did the idea of the Gates, which allow you to travel through time, come from?

Sakaguchi: I don’t remember who said it, but it was something that came up in our development meetings. Naturally, we didn’t want to make a game that felt like something we’d already made; we wanted something that would let players experience a number of different settings.

—What are some of your favorite events in the story?

Tokita: Although they don’t carry a lot of weight for the main story, I really like the events with Spekkio at the End of Time, and the jetbike race with Johnny in AD 2300. Those have a lot of personality. I think they’re popular with players too.

Masuda: For me, all the events with Frog, of course. Whenever I hear his theme start up I’m like, “Yesss!!”

Tokita: Frog’s got this dark past which makes him a very serious character, but his funny appearance—he’s a Frog!—balances it out.

Nomura: I like all the events at the Millennial Fair where you can collect silver points. I spent a long time there racking them up. It wasn’t easy!

Sakaguchi: I really like the games at the Millennial Fair too. We spent a lot of energy trying to get that matsuri (festival) atmosphere right. It has a nice nostalgic atmosphere, a kind of homey quaintness, you could say.

—There’s a lot of minigames in Chrono Trigger. Were these something you had planned to add from the beginning?

Tokita: The jetbike race came from one of the programmers, who had created a routine for special 3D effects. He had put so much time into it, he wanted to try and make a race game out of it. He said if it was boring, we didn’t have to add it, but if it looked good, we could use it. He really threw himself into it. He added a score, and even an item to keep your record. It was complex enough that it almost could have been made into its own game!

The jet bike minigame, one dev's solo labor of love.

—Chrono Trigger also features a trial scene, but how did you come up with the idea for a trial, something unfamiliar to most Japanese?3

Sakaguchi: Well, I don’t have any personal experience with courts and trials either. (laughs) The word “trial” brings to mind something stiff, tedious, and boring. However, when you watch American movies, there’s a lot of courtroom scenes—like in A Few Good Men with Tom Cruise. When I watch movies like that, it’s like a whole world is being developed through words and speech alone. It’s really interesting. So although they might be visually uninteresting, I wanted to include a courtroom scene in Chrono Trigger that captured that excitement which is built only on words.

—So you wanted something like 12 Angry Men, then? That kind of charged, intense exchange in an enclosed space?

Sakaguchi: Personally, yeah, that is what I was thinking. Ultimately though, we ended up including different ideas, and the scene became a bit more game-y…. but I would actually say that is a feature of our development style at Square: we can’t always see how something will turn out at the beginning. Sometimes an idea seems really new and fresh, and once it’s added, it’s not that interesting after all. And conversely, sometimes we find success in a place or form we weren’t expecting…


—Chrono Trigger has a huge 32Mbit of memory; compared to the previous Final Fantasy developments, how was it different working with that kind of space?

Sakaguchi: I think the work went a lot more smoothly. With the upgrade to 32Mbit, we had more room for graphics, and more lenience in our schedule too. And everyone drew really great stuff this time. (laughs)

Naora: In the FFVI development we really didn’t have a lot of memory to work with, so compared with that, Chrono Trigger was much easier.

Takahashi: Because of the limited memory in FFVI, Naora often had to compromise between quality and “cost performance” with the graphics. With 32Mbit though, the stress is gone!

Naora: Yeah. I was free to use as much memory as I wanted! And I did. (laughs)

Top, L-R: Kazuhiko Aoki (producer); Mami Kawai (map designer). Bottom: Yusuke Naora (field graphics); Shinichiro Hamasaka (field graphics).

Challenges of the Development

—Looking back, what were some of the challenges you faced?

Takahashi: That’s an easy one: all the non-stop work Sakaguchi kept giving me!! (laughs)

Suzuki: This was my first project, so everything was a challenge, but I learned a lot.

Kazumi Kobayashi (Programmer): I suddenly discovered a bunch of bugs in my part of the game, the day before the deadline!

Sakaguchi: I remember that. Funny how a couple days before that, when the playtesters didn’t find any problems with your code, you were going around boasting “My programming is perfect!” (laughs)

Kobayashi: I didn’t say that! (laughs)

Mami Kawai (Map Designer): I did the map design, and I really learned a lot. When designing the maps and backgrounds, I took my instructions from the Story Event staff, but sometimes they would tell me that my work didn’t match their image. That was a challenge. No one was really at fault, our ideas were just completely different. In any event, my work ended up requiring a lot of revisions.

Tokita: This was the biggest game we’ve worked on at Square in terms of memory, with about 50-60 people involved in the development. With that many people, it was very difficult to convey even a simple message to everyone. Up to now most of our developments have only had about 20-30 people, you see.

Aoki: In that sense, Chrono Trigger represents a real achievement in terms of teamwork and everyone working together at Square.

Shinichiro Hamasaka (map graphics): Yeah. I created the map for Magus’ castle, but after that, I had to keep working with the planning staff. Normally the map and the battle planners can work separately. It really is a game that was created by everyone’s joint efforts.

Mitsuda: I think the same thing can be said about the music, too. Matching the sound effects with the battles and each characters’ movements was very important for us. Thanks to the increased 32Mbit cart size, I was able to make 68 songs, and I really put a lot of effort into matching them to every event scene. Since the theme of Chrono Trigger was “namida” [[tears]], I included many sad songs too.

—Are there any songs you really want people to hear in Chrono Trigger, by the way?

Mitsuda: Well, musically I didn’t go for anything too extravagant or flashy this time around, but I did give a lot of consideration to the tones and textures, and tried to write music that would leave an impression on your heart. The songs I really want players to hear would be Magus’ Theme and Frog’s Theme.

The “Dream Team” of Sakaguchi, Horii, and Toriyama in phonecard form.

Tokita: Also, Chrono Trigger began as the “dream project” between Sakaguchi, Horii, and Toriyama, and I think the public’s expectations can be described as “Dragon Quest + Final Fantasy == ????” However (and I think you will see this when you play it), it’s neither a Final Fantasy game nor a Dragon Quest game; it has been designed as its own unique RPG. The content is serious, but Toriyama’s art adds a nice light touch, and making sure that tone was kept throughout the game was another challenge.

Masuda: Many of the backgrounds I was assigned had special events tied to them. Also, the other staff worked on bright, cheerful backgrounds and maps… I got all the weird ones, which was pretty fun for me. The deadlines I was working under were super tight though.

Also, as Tokita mentioned, the size of this project meant that messages and communication took a long time to circulate, which lead to some funny misunderstandings…

—Such as?

Masuda: Early in the development I heard there was going to be a “chi moguri” dungeon. When I asked someone what that was, they said “oh, it must be a dungeon with Mogs living underground.” Which was completely wrong.4 (laughs) When I heard that, I thought I’d make prepare some bright areas for some colorful event scenes (to offset the dark setting). Then I learned that I had been mistaken, and that it wasn’t Mogs, but people who had burrowed underground. I can’t remember their official name offhand…

Tokita: That’s Algetty, the village of the Earthbound Ones.

Masuda: So yeah, I drew the foliage for that area, the basic layout for the courtroom scene, and lots more. My crowning achievement, though, is the torture implements in the castle dungeon.

Everyone: (laughs)

—Were there ever any real “danger” moments in the development?

Aoki: At one point some of our files somehow became unreadable, which brought the development to a complete halt. Our files were saved with a timestamp on them, but for some reason, these files had had their date changed to 1960, and the computer couldn’t read them. I guess our computer must have known this was the Chrono Trigger project, and decided to do a little time travelling of its own. (laughs)

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  1. A Taiwanese singer, famous in Japan as a foreign celebrity. She would often appear on variety talk shows, and was known for speaking in “funny”, slightly broken Japanese.

  2. I’m not sure why the developers thought “renkei” wasn’t a good name for the techs, but there is sometimes a tendency among the Japanese to see English words as “cool” and Japanese words as “lame” with these sort of things.

  3. Until 2009, Japan did not use juries for criminal matters, so the entire instutition could reasonably be called “unfamiliar” to the average person.

  4. The misunderstanding comes from the fact that the famous Final Fantasy creatures “Mooguri” (Moogles) sounds a lot like the verb “moguru”, which means burrow in Japanese.

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