As part of a new Gamasutra feature, author Victoria Earl explores the key design decisions that the developers of classic RPG Chrono Trigger put forward to ensure a linear narrative didn't hold players back from exploring the game on their terms. Earl explains these four design aspects:
- Players are able to choose to experience distinct narrative sections, many of which are optional, without the hassle of fighting enemies to get there, as enemies are limited to specific dungeons, and not the world map.
- Enemy levels are set at according to the critical path, guiding players along it without overtly forcing them through it. If players wander out of the critical path, high-level enemies will push them in the direction that the designers intended.
- Each enemy encounter is visible and avoidable, giving players control over when to fight and when to avoid confrontations.
- New Game+ is a major feature that Chrono Trigger introduced to the RPG genre. By selecting this option, players could re-experience the game from the beginning with the equipment, character levels, and skills that they had when they finished the game. Players can use the New Game+ feature to circumvent and deconstruct the critical path that they followed on the first playthrough.
Successfully balancing these key points showed that it is possible to give the player a great amount of control over the choices in the game, says Earl. "This is good news for any modern developer that wants to give players the freedom they crave while preserving a coherent and well-crafted narrative," she adds.
The full feature, which explores other aspects of the game's design -- including its world map and dungeon design -- is live now on Gamasutra.