Still a timeless and masterful RPG that doesn't feel dated at all, regardless of whether you're a newcomer or a veteran.
The role-playing game (RPG) genre is not quite the most accessible genre in video games. Some older games like the early entries in the Final Fantasy series feel dated and are incredibly hard by today's standards. Random battles every few steps and constantly leveling up your characters keep the pace out of these old RPG's. There are a few exceptions to this rule though, and Chrono Trigger is probably the finest example of an older RPG that is still accessible and fun to play to this very day. And it does an amazing job at storytelling, too.
Released in 1995 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Chrono Trigger was a big breath of fresh air for RPG fans and newcomers alike. While still being a traditional RPG at its core, it reinvented the genre in several ways and made it much more accessible and playable to those unfamiliar with it.
That is, for those living in Japan and North America. Players in places such as Europe or Australia never got to play this game, resulting in it being one of the most sought-after SNES games. Even if you could find a copy of the game on Ebay, you had to cough up some serious dough for it. The PlayStation version released a few years later suffered the same fate and also had some technical issues as it was a rather badly ported edition of the game. It was not until 2009 that Square-Enix released it in these territories via the new DS port. And this time it was ported correctly.
So what makes this game hold up so much even to a European like me who plays it for the first time ever? Well, One of the things Chrono Trigger does different is that it eliminates the random battles other RPG's constantly throw at you. Instead, you see your foes walking around the various areas of the game and you can just approach them whenever you want to fight them directly on the map. In other words: There is no battle screen. Sometimes you can even avoid them by simply walking past them, without the fear of enemies popping up out of nowhere all the time. Another massive RPG-annoyance that Chrono Trigger doesn't have is that you don't have to do too much additional leveling of your characters. Usually you can figure out the correct strategy to defeat a boss after a few tries. In many other RPG's, like Final Fantasy or Pokémon, you often end up under-leveled forcing you to grind up your experience level, which usually takes hours of boring and repetitive gameplay. In Chrono Trigger however, this only happens scarcely, keeping the pace in the game intact.
Instead, Chrono Trigger takes the time to tell a compelling story about time-travel and the quest to save mankind from certain doom. You take control of Crono, a young boy living in the year 1000 A.D. In the case of this game that means 1000 years after the establishment of the kingdom of Guardia where Chrono lives. While visiting the Millennial Fair in commemoration of the 1000th anniversary of the kingdom, Crono stumbles upon Marle, a cute yet mysterious girl who keeps him company while he checks out his inventress friend Lucca's teleporting device. After Crono is successfully teleported, Marle wants to try it out as well. However, things go horribly awry when Marle's blue pendant reacts to the teleporter and creates a rift in time and space, sending Marle back in time. Crono is determined to save Marle and goes after her. This is only the beginning of one of the most engaging video gaming quests ever made. Little does Crono know that he eventually doesn't have to save only a girl but the very future of mankind.
After a few hours of gameplay you will strand in the year 2300 A.D. where you will find a grim and devastated, post-apocalyptic future. Computers rule supreme and the few humans who still live hide in the ruins of what were once their cities. You will find out that this is the fault of a mysterious being called Lavos who destroyed civilization in the year 1999 A.D. However, since you have the ability to travel through time, you can prevent this from happening.
The story spans across several different time periods:
(65.000.000 B.C.): This is an age when humans and the dinosaur-like Reptites fight for supremacy over the planet.
- Antiquity/Ice Age
(12.000 B.C.): Here you will find a frozen age when an evil sorcerer queen rules on floating islands above the heavens. This is an advanced age where magic and technology go hand in hand. Those who do not possess magic powers however, live under oppression and are forced to live on the cold tundras on the ground.
- Middle Ages
(600 A.D.): After following Marle you get sent to a dark age where noble knights fight a war against the hordes of Magus, the evil Fiendlord.
(1000 A.D.): This is an age where everything is happy and peaceful. This is where the game starts.
- The Cataclysm
(1999 A.D.): An ancient evil ascents from the bowels of the earth and destroys civilization in a giant holocaust. This is what you must prevent from happening.
(2300 A.D.): This is a gloomy age after the great destruction in 1999 A.D. Computers and robots now rule the earth while the last remnants of humanity are losing all hope.
- End of Time
: This acts like a hub where all of time's flows come together. From here you can travel back in time to all ages previously visited.
Each world has its own unique look and feel and sometimes you can trigger an event that alters history. This can have an effect on the course of history and when you travel into the future, something might be changed in a later age. While this aspect doesn't affect the game in a huge, game-changing way, it does play an important role in the plot of the game and which out of more than a dozen different endings you get.
This forces you to travel through the various ages finding allies and level them up and eventually travel to 1999 A.D. to destroy Lavos before he can destroy human civilization. There are seven different playable characters in total:
: This is the silent protagonist of the game. He has spiky hair and carries a huge katana sword around.
: A mysterious girl whom Crono meets at the Millennial Fair in his hometown.
: Crono's best friend and a brilliant inventress. Everything technological is her area of expertise.
: A knight from the middle ages who is turned into a frog by his nemesis, the evil Fiendlord Magus.
: A robot from the year 2300 A.D. Lucca, Marle and Crono find him completely broken. After repairing him, Lucca reprograms him. This results in Robo being much more human than one would think from his appearance.
: A prehistoric chieftain. She has to struggle against the evil Azala and his reptites for supremacy over the planet.
: The evil Fiendlord that wages war against the king of Guardia in 600 A.D. This is an important enemy in the game, but it is possible to use him as a playable character as well.
Each character can use a basic physical attack using a weapon such as a sword. But there are also the so-called techs. These are more powerful moves but some may consume magic points. Magical techs can be learned by Crono (lighting), Marle (ice), Frog (water), Lucca (fire) and Magus (shadow) The latter can use some of the other characters' magical techs as well. Ayla and Robo can't use magical techs but will still learn rather powerful physical techs instead.
You can never have more than three characters with you, but you can freely swap them outside battles. It's important to think about what combinations to use as they influence what techs will be available. There are special techs called double techs and triple techs. Double techs have two characters join their forces to create more powerful attacks. Triple techs even combine the powers of three characters for truly devastating moves. Naturally, these double and triple techs consume much more magic power. This adds lots of depth and fun to the game without making it overly complicated.
The battle system is a variation of the Active Time Battle system from Final Fantasy where you have to wait until your time bar fills up before you can use another attack. Fast characters like Crono will be quicker to attack than slower ones like Lucca. The way you fight enemies on the map directly, instead of a battle screen like in most RPG's, gives this game an added touch. Many enemies keep on walking around during battles. You might want to wait before you attack until all your enemies are close together, then attack them all at once using a wide-range tech. This gives a new layer of depth to the game that many other RPG's don't have.
Purists can still use the old controls but using the new DS touch-control scheme works like a dream. You can find attacks much quicker since all the menus have their own screen and simply tapping them gives you a much quicker and much more intuitive way to attack. This is very useful in a battle system like this, which is not completely turn-based like in games such as Pokémon.
Other than that Chrono Trigger leaves most RPG-conventions intact. There are still numerous equipment items to find and you will still crawl through dungeons, visit towns and defeat the occasional boss. However, it is just much less complicated and much more fun than in many other RPG's from the 90's.
Visually, it's mostly the character designs that stand out. Particularly the bosses show some truly impressive sprite work. Even now they are very nice to look at. The reason for this may be the fact that they were designed by Akira Toriyama, who is best known for his famous Dragon Ball comics. Many characters in Chrono Trigger resemble characters from those comics. Take Crono for example, he looks a lot like Goku, Dragon Ball's protagonist. Marle and Lucca show some similarities to Bulma while many of the bosses reminded me of Dragon Ball villains. It's nice to see Akira Toriyama's unique style shine through and fans of his comic books will appreciate that.
It's not just their appearance though. Chrono Trigger is one of those few games that actually make you fall in love with the characters. When something sad happens, you feel sorry for them. When the cute and cheerful Marle gets all excited about something you get excited as well. When Robo turns out to be much more human than many flesh-and-blood characters in the game, you feel touched at an emotional level. While the story itself is nice, it is the characters that really make it come alive. Like many of SquareSoft's (now Square-Enix) RPG's they are all likable, believable characters with different character traits, likes and dislikes.
The quest is long, fun to play and engaging. There are several side-quests, colourful worlds, and many different endings (including all-new DS-exclusive ones) to unlock to keep you occupied, even after completing the game once. Several new areas en features have been added to the original game as well to make this version longer and better than ever. Notable is the Dimensional Vortex, a new, extra long, extra hard dungeon unlocked by beating the main quest once. Furthermore, there is a little monster battling game called the Arena of the Ages, that you can play against friends. Pokémon this ain't, but it is nice to see the developers taking time to add something to an already great package. What fans of the original may or may not like is the new transation. For newcomers at least, it is much more accurate than in the console versions, but purists may be slightly dissapointed with this. There are new endings and you can find a media gallery featuring official art for the game and a theatre function that includes those pretty cut-scenes from the PlayStation version to watch whenever you want. You can also listen to the amazing sound track of this game anytime you want.
Composed by Yasunori Mitsuda with assistance of Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu, the sound track is seriously impressive. While it may sound a bit dated from a technical viewpoint, the compositions still hold up so incredibly well, you won't mind at all. From the epic main theme to the rustic theme in 1000 A.D. and from the cheerful theme of the Millennial Fair to the foreboding theme of Lavos, every song fits its scene seamlessly and creates the perfect atmosphere for every situation you come across in the game. Most impressive!
The sound effects are OK. Perhaps they are a bit dated by today's standards, but for something coming from the SNES they are surprisingly good.
While the characters still look nice, the environments are not nearly as impressive today as they were back in the SNES age and the map screen looks downright dated. While by no means an ugly game, it is unfortunate to see nothing has been done to give the game a graphical upgrade. When you look at the impressive 3D remakes of Final Fantasy games on DS, it's kind of a letdown to see that Chrono Trigger looks exactly the same as in 1995, regardless of how visually impressive the game was back then. While I personally would not have liked the chibi style used in the Final Fantasy remakes, they could have at least polished up the edges that have become rough over the years. Don't get me wrong, it holds up well, but it could have been even better, especially if you're a European, like me, and the game is still all-new to you.
While I love how they retained the anime cut-scenes from the PlayStation version in the DS version, there's only so much of them. This is a shame as the game is so full of memorable moments, you just wish you could see more of them rendered in those pretty anime clips as well.
The Bottom Line
Chrono Trigger is amazing! Whether you are a veteran looking for the definitive edition of the game, or if you've never played it before and are just curious why all the yanks go all crazy about this game, you owe it to yourself to pick it up. It is truly one of the most impressive, if not THE most impressive RPG quest ever.
With a colourful world, lovable characters, excellent storyline, long and engaging quest, fantastic sound track and a battle system that is better and more accessible than ever before, there is no reason not to pick up this timeless classic!