Developed by Square and Tose
Published by Square Enix
Played on DS
It’s been over 15 years since Chrono Trigger was first released on the SNES. It’s been released on multiple systems since then, constantly considered a classic and topping best game lists. Yet it’s only had one controversial sequel and talk of anything more than ports seems to have died off. Playing it today tells you the secret to everything: nothing this great can ever be replicated.
In a world that’s somewhere between medieval and emerging future-tech by the year 1000, Crono is a teenager who goes to the Milliennial Fair to see his friend Lucca’s invention, a simple teleporter. When Marle, a girl he runs into, tries to use it, she instead vanishes into the past. From there and several other events, it’s a time-traveling adventure that leads to the trio learning a disturbing fact: a creature named Lavos is going to emerge in the year 1999 and cause the apocalypse. Naturally, they have to stop him.
For an RPG, the story is obviously important. But it never overtakes the game. It’s certainly there and a major part, but it also doesn’t consume the game whole. The longest cinematic might breach on 5 whole minutes. The emotions of the characters are more important. The main trio, along with the party members they pick up throughout time, are all unique. They’re archetypes, but they’ve been built, their backstory laid out for the player. And most importantly, they’re heroes to the end. Most of them will never see the apocalypse, they’ll all be dead before it happens. They still have to stop it. They’re going to save the world, not just toss it away as someone else’s problem. It gives the game an optimistic attitude that’s combined with some very lighthearted scenes. There’s plenty of dramatic moments, but it doesn’t get bogged down in them.
The most unique thing the game does is the battle system. There’s no random battles, you aren’t walking around on the map when suddenly the screen shatters and you’re taken to another dimension to fight some enemies. Enemies can be seen and run into or avoided. The battles take place right in the level. If you run into a group of enemies patrolling a corridor, you’re going to fight the enemies in that corridor. Sometimes enemies will pop out of hiding, but it still feels right. The battle strategies are all hinged on enemy placements. A cyclone move attacks in a circle around an enemy, a flamethrower fires in a straight line. Patiently waiting for enemies moving around to line up just right can pay off enormously. And then you get to the double techs, where two or three of your party members team up with a move. This means that creating your party can depend not just on what each character can do, but what the characters can do together. There’s also very little grinding involved in the game. Most of the bosses are based more on strategy than having a high enough level. It can become basic once you get things down, but it never becomes tedious. The relatively short playtime also helps things out in this regard, but doesn’t hurt the game. It’s not too long or too short, it’s just right.
The DS version adds in several advantages over other versions. The only other version I’ve played is some of the Playstation version, which had horrendous load times. The DS version retains the Akira Toriyama-drawn anime cinematics and data files of that version while making any load times nonexistent. There’s also a reworked translation, which, in addition to tying some stuff to Chrono Cross, changes item names and some dialogue. While I’m sure it’s controversial, I liked the changes well enough. Frog’s “ye olde Englishe” dialogue has simply become eloquent instead of ridiculous, and changing items like Revives to Athenian Waters feels more like the time travel fantasy that it is. There’s two bonus dungeons, which I’ll admit to not touching, especially since one of them is supposed to be annoying. The biggest advantage is the use of the dual screen. It has a map, shortcuts to the menu categories, and it has all the battle commands. It leaves the battles themselves uncluttered and gives you plenty of data mid-battle. Ultimately, the choice is basically which system you like best, but the DS version gets my mark of approval.
Chrono Trigger continues to earn its status as a classic. A well-done story, unique battle system, and just a fun feeling that’s become lost as RPGs have become more serious and complicated. This is when Square was at the top of their game, creating a great game that doesn’t feel like a desperate grab to try something new, but a natural creation.