Chrono Trigger is one of the best games ever made (oops, now we know the score... too bad) and was originally released on the SNES in August of 1995. Back then, games were much more expensive and RPG's even more so, due to their still niche audience in America. My older brother was lucky enough to have a friend who could afford the $85 dollar price tag, so he went to his house to play Trigger all night. Jealously soon followed until we bought the game properly.
This dream project was the result of a collaboration between Hironobu Sakaguchi, Akira Toriyama, and Yuuji Horii, names that should be well known to any self-respecting fan of RPG's, as being the creator of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest elevate them to legends of the genre. None of these names were familiar to me when I first played the game; fellow gamers have told that they knew that Trigger was a joint Square/Enix effort, but little else. That's the fun of video games when I was a kid: I still went by company names when picking games, but it would be a time before I knew the names behind these superlative groups. Let's get to the actual review, shall we?
The story in this game follows a young boy named Crono, who is looking forward to the Kingdom of Guardia's Millennial Fair celebration. Woken up by his dutiful (and nameless) mother, Crono heads out to enjoy the fair's festivities. A lot of the citizens tell of the history of the kingdom, some trials and tribulations of the past, and current events around the fair.
Crono is looking to check out his friend Lucca Ashtear's latest experiment when he bumps into a girl named Marle, new to the area. Crono agrees to take her to the experiment, and that's enough of the plot. Don't worry, lots more starts to happen, and quick!
The graphics in this game are among the SNES' best, with richly detailed sprites for all the characters, both playable and non. Enemies vary with each time period, and I looked forward to seeing what each era had to offer; from dino-like foes of prehistory to robots and other mechanical things of the future, Chrono Trigger has tons of variety in its enemies.
The environments are also exquisite. The friend of my brother that I mentioned earlier remarked the following when the game was first released: "The game's graphics are so good, what you see on the mini-map is sure to be only a fraction of the actual town!" He wasn't quite right, as the structures on the map represent homes, not whole towns, like in Final Fantasy IV for instance.
The point being about the graphics is that there is more detail that most any other RPG at that time (and Trigger still beats modern RPG's in some surprising ways). Everything from caves to mountains to dystopian futures is greatly realized. It seems natural that an RPG that has so many distinctive time zones to visit would have such breathtaking vistas, but the way in which Chrono Trigger succeeds at this is nothing short of brilliant.
Music is the first of one of Squaresoft's most skilled in-house composers, Mr. Yasunori Mitsuda. I'm told that Nobuo Uematsu assisted on this score, but I can't seem to find which tracks Nobuo composed, so it must have been in an overseer role.
The music is just as amazing as the game, more so because any RPG/Square fan had come to expect superlative musical scores from their SNES games. Even knowing this, Chrono Trigger still amazes, with tons of variety in its music. Beautiful melodies, haunting themes, peaceful pieces, and foreboding fare, CT is right up there with the best of SNES music and best video game music ever!
Standout pieces include Zeal Palace, Battle with Magus, At the Bottom of the Night, and Lucca's Theme. There are many MANY more great themes, as this score doesn't really have any filler pieces or dull moments. My favorite piece is definitely Zeal Palace. One of the most advanced and coolest places to visit in gaming history gets a suitable ominous theme for its main castle. It is a very dark and foreboding tune, like the player knows that evil is in the air. The Queen also uses it later, unless you have obtained the secret character...
Sounds like a recommendation to me, as Mitsuda would continue to show his talent writing for other Square games like Xenogears and this game's eventual followup in Chrono Cross.
Gameplay in Chrono Trigger uses the traditional level up by way of experience gained from battle system present in many RPG's throughout video game history. The difference between Trigger and a more traditional RPG is most apparent in the tech arts system. All magic in this game is referred to as techs/tech arts. The difference is only superficial initially, with tech points being gained from battles and subsequently used to learn new and more powerful tech arts. Each character has their own element, with Crono being Lightning (Light in the DS version) and Marle being Ice. These elements not only dictate the type of magic the character uses, but often play in combat in surprising ways. Some enemies have very high defense until they are shocked by electricity while others require water magic to become vulnerable.
The biggest change is how you can use these techs in combinations with other party members. Depending on the techs learnt for each member and who is in your party at the time, several dual combo techs can be obtained. There are even triple techs that use all three party members. These combos run the gamut from offensive damage to greater healing ability, making this unique system quite versatile in combat.
The rest of the game plays pretty much like any other RPG. Explore locations, fight enemies, discover treasures, fight big bosses, uncover a little more of the story and repeat. This is a quick explanation to be sure, but I feel it is important to note as the tech system might sound complicated from my description. Trust me, Chrono Trigger is no more difficult to play than Final Fantasy VII. And given that that game was many people's first RPG on the Playstation, Chrono Trigger would serve as a great followup: similar gameplay with plenty of unique features. Hey, anything I can do to get FFVII fanboys to try other games, I'll go for it!
Challenge is pretty much up in the air for this game, as most enemies only put up a fight if you don't battle them correctly, kind of like those dino enemies I mentioned. A few of the boss fights are pretty difficult, but since I've never level grinded in this game, I don't know if it makes a difference.
This is as such because enemies can be seen on the screen before you fight them, allowing you to avoid many a battle. Some battles always happen, but the point is that I never found out if enemies reappear if you leave the screen. I'm going to say I doubt it, based on going through the same terrain in later areas. To be sure, there are areas where you can grind if need be, just be aware that they can be out of the way. Bottom line is that anyone familiar with RPG's is sure to have only a moderate challenge with Chrono Trigger. Anyone else, just go out of your way to power level and you'll be on your way in no time.
Chrono Trigger sets a new standard for replayability in RPG's. When Chrono Trigger was released, it was the first RPG to make use of a new game plus system, in which your levels and equipment from the end of the game can be used at the beginning of the game. Hell, it MIGHT be the first game to use this system all together. The NG+ not only allows you to speed through the game due to being massively overpowered (it is fun to snicker as you beat down those tough bosses from the first time around).
Playing through the game with uber powerful equipment is fun enough, but the true fun lies in discovering the multiple endings, of which there are at least 12. Some of these are serious in tone, often downright humorous. Accessing them depends on when you challenge the final boss via a secret portal. The best ending is where you meet the game's developers. Lots of humor and fun ensues!
Now it is time to talk about the enhanced ports of Chrono Trigger. It was first ported to the Playstation in Japan in 1999, with added anime cutscenes, much in the style of Toriyama’s Dragon Ball Z. The weird thing about the US release was that it didn’t come out as a singular release, and not until the summer of 2001. It was bundled with a port of Final Fantasy IV and dubbed Final Fantasy Chronicles. Beats me on the title. It was probably done just to make the collection more recognizable to those new to the series, similar to what was done with FF Anthology.
Besides the new cutscenes, the graphics, music, and gameplay are identical. There are no new items or techs. The main attraction of the game was for new fans that played Chrono Cross and were interested in seeing where the series started. Aside from that, Chronicles features a bonus gallery to help players unlock all the endings, as well as tips for beating bosses, a bestiary and more.
The gameplay suffers from slowdown, which can be reduced via the disc loading speed feature on the Playstation 2 (FF Chronicles was the only time I used this feature on the PS2) Menu access is 6-8 seconds, and battles take 3-5 seconds to load. The odd thing is that saving is very quick, unlike in FFIV, the other included game. The good thing about these unfortunate loading times is that they become more bearable as you play the game. By the time I got to the Mountain of Woe on the PSX version, I didn’t really notice the loading.
Overall, the PSX version is probably the easiest way to play the original version of Trigger, as Chronicles has a greatest hits version available. I recommend it to those without a SNES or those looking for an alternative to emulation.
Chrono Trigger was rereleased on the Nintendo DS in November of 2008. Many were surprised by this port being on the DS, as most of Square’s rereleases found themselves on the Gameboy Advance. I was happy to see one of the best games not have to suffer from lesser sound quality and potential slowdown, as earlier Final Fantasy ports on GBA had.
Chrono Trigger DS is actually a modified version of the PSX port with a new translation. Such ambiguities as �one of you is close to someone who needs help� are corrected. I do find myself missing Magus’ generals being referred to as �tone-deaf, evil fiends!� That they are indeed.
Overall, the new translation is preferable, though I will never bash the original Ted Woolsey translation. He was a man who accomplished a lot in his stint at Square, despite having to deal with character limitations and censorship policies. I do hope his original version of Secret of Mana finds the light of day eventually.
All of the extras as well as the anime cutscenes from the PSX version are included. There are 2 new dungeons, the Lost Sanctum and the Dimensional Distortion. The Sanctum involves mostly fetch quests and is kind of repetitive. It is still worth checking out for the cool new items you can earn. The DD is recycled backgrounds found from other parts of the game culminating in some new bosses/story elements. The best part is that some sections feature Singing Mountain, a CT original sound version track that was inexplicably omitted from the original SNES release. Completing both unlocks the possibility of a new ending.
The last new addition, seemingly an afterthought, is the Arena of the Ages, in which you can train monsters similar to Pokemon. While you can earn some new items in the arena, the gameplay rules are clunky. I spent about 5 minutes looking around before deciding the Arena of the Ages was not worth the time investment.
Overall, Chrono Trigger DS is the best version of this classic game due to the refined translation, new dungeons/items, and portability. One of the greatest RPG’s of all time is even greater now, because you can play it on the go!
In summation, Chrono Trigger is one of the finest RPG's ever made and would definitely find a place on my Top Ten Video Games Ever list (if I could ever get past number 3...) This is one of the games so close to perfection that any complaint one can muster up is minor by any measure. The story's great, the characters are memorable, the gameplay is totally solid, and most importantly, the game is FUN! The pacing is wonderful, as the game never feels like it slows down or loses its way. Any fans of RPG's, the SNES, or just great games (which should be everyone!) needs to check out Chrono Trigger!
- Ugly Bob