Chrono Trigger Review Rewind
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On 05/17/2011 at 12:01 AM by Kyle Charizanis
A stunning masterpiece that has proven itself time after time.
For anyone who...hasn't played this game.
So. Chrono Trigger. It’s kind of famous. The game has been released on the SNES, PS1, DS, and now the Wii Virtual Console. I’ve never even heard of someone who’s played this game and doesn’t love it.
Covering all the Bases
What makes Chrono Trigger so good? It’s simple, really: everything. It’s just good in every way. If the game has a flaw, it’s that it’s too short. It looks nice, it sounds nice, the characters are memorable, the story is interesting (and more elaborate than most games at the time of its release). But there’s more to it than that. Chrono Trigger is one of those games that is just fun, in some sort of visceral way. I just really like playing it. There are subtle reasons why its popularity has stood the test of time, but there are plenty of obvious ones too.
The battle system is a good place to start since it pretty much represents the game as a whole. It’s a little bit innovative, but mainly it’s just focused on being solid and fun. You have the standard Attack/Magic/Item setup, but Magic and Tech skills (more character-specific moves) can be combined among characters to give powerful Double and Triple attacks. It adds a layer of strategy—if you wait longer, you can have more characters on standby to do more powerful (and cool-looking) attacks, but it might be more important to use one of them to heal instead. It also matters where enemies are on the battlefield. Some attacks cover a circular area, or go in a straight line from where your character is standing, so that’s another thing to take into account. The battle system achieves just the right amount of depth. A nice final touch is that there are no random battles: with a few small exceptions, you can simply avoid touching a monster’s sprite if you don’t want to fight it. Did I mention I hate random battles?
Chrono Trigger has decent graphics. I mean, they’re terrible by today’s standards, but it’s only fair to consider it within the context of a 1995 Super Nintendo game. At the time of its release, Chrono Trigger was pretty nice to look at. It makes good use of colour and the art direction is pretty distinct. Akira Toriyama, notable for his work on Dragon Quest and Dragon Ball, also contributed the character and monster designs for, uh, Dragon Trigger.
The soundtrack is fantastic. I really can’t over-praise the music. Some of the best compositions I’ve ever heard in a video game came out of this one. Every song is perfectly suited for its part of the game, and I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people’s memories of Chrono Trigger are closely tied to its music. I have the entire soundtrack on my MP3 player.
The characters are an interesting bunch. Their abilities and general battle roles are distinct enough that no one feels superfluous, each having likeable personalities which develop over the course of the game (again, not really a standard thing in 1995). It’s pretty easy to become attached to them. When I was younger I used to take Marle with me all the time, mostly because she has the best healing magic, but replaying it later on in life I found myself wanting to include Lucca more often. She’s just... cool. Sometimes I’d want to have her in my party even when it was clearly disadvantageous for that part of the game. That’s the kind of thing that makes you go back and want to play something again and again.
Speaking of which, Chrono Trigger was also ahead of its time in terms of replay value. There are a total of eleven different endings. Beating the game at different points can have some really interesting consequences. I recommend looking up the “Reptite ending” if you haven’t already seen it (I wouldn’t want to spoil it). A few of the endings are clearly the “main” ones, but the others are still fun to see. And most of the extra endings don’t require you to get to the end of a dungeon, so you can save, get the ending, then go back to your save file and continue with the rest of the game. There are also a lot of bonus dungeons and sidequests which affect the ending you get as well as giving you a whole bunch of interesting scenes and unlocking new equipment. There’s exactly enough of this to make the game fun to revisit, but not tedious to play to 100% completion.
My favourite part of the game is undoubtedly 12,000 BC. I won’t spoil anything (even though it’s a 16-year-old game) but that part is just packed full of cool stuff. It’s just a great combination of themes and ideas, and it clarifies much of the game’s plot. It even has some of the best music from the soundtrack. It’s really a feast for anyone who’s been enjoying the game up till that point.
What Makes it Special
Why has Chrono Trigger been so consistently popular? There are multiple reasons. Any one of them would have been enough to keep a game at least lingering in the public consciousness for a while, but it takes all of them to create a phenomenon like Chrono Trigger. All of the above is what makes a game good on paper, but what makes something a classic is the subtle stuff, the things you can’t easily explain. I’m going to try to anyway.
Reason #1 (in reverse order of importance): The Nostalgia Factor. A lot of people have played this game. Everyone who has played it remembers it. The nostalgia factor is compounded with the music, which, on top of being very good in general, has a distinctive “old-timey video games” flavour to it.
Reason #2: Personality. Chrono Trigger has plenty of it. I can tell that the people making it were enjoying themselves. There are all sorts of little jokes and oddities. Things like the sprites’ expressions of surprise when you jump through a time portal and the enemies’ tongue-in-cheek remarks are what really make a game stand out. The precise opposite of Chrono Trigger, in this respect, is Final Fantasy 12. That game does a lot of things right, but I still don’t care because it has no soul. It’s as if the designers ran a computer program to decide what would be a good way to make an RPG. When all is said and done, it’s the little things that count.
Reason #3: The Fun Factor. The fun factor is a mysterious thing. It seems to operate independently of a game’s overall quality. Some games are good on paper; some games are good in practice; Chrono Trigger is both. Whenever I get to a new section I think “oh, this is a fun part;” but really, that’s every part. The game is just a constant succession of fun things to do. I’m always both enjoying the part I’m on and eagerly anticipating what’s going to come next.
Chrono Trigger has respectable visuals, a great soundtrack, likeable characters, and a great battle system, but those three things are what have really made it stand the test of time. It shouldn't be surprising that it has had four releases: first on the SNES, next on the PS1 in Final Fantasy Chronicles, then the Nintendo DS, and now on the Wii Virtual Console. They’re all the same basic game, but there are some subtle differences between them which can make a big difference to pickier fans.
The Playstation version is almost unchanged. It has two things the SNES one doesn’t: new anime cutscenes, and loading issues. It’s beyond me how they managed to take a Super Nintendo game and make it load slower on Playstation hardware, but they did. And it’s kind of annoying. The trade-off is the cutscenes. They’re a nice addition, but the animation is poor. I can’t think of anything with a lower framerate. I used to assume my Playstation was lagging when the cutscenes started to play, but nope, that’s just how they look. I will say that the drawings being used are quite nice, even if they don’t move very fluidly. The introductory cutscene and the Masamune scene with Frog are definitely worthwhile. If nothing else, the Playstation version’s value is that it resulted in the creation of those two cutscenes.
The DS version makes a lot more changes. The most obviously good one is the addition of DS stylus controls. I didn’t care, since I prefer good old-fashioned buttons, but the stylus controls were convenient to have anyway. The anime cutscenes are included, but the loading issues are fixed. There are two bonus dungeons added to the end of the game, but unfortunately, my copy was stolen before I could get that far. No matter; I wouldn’t have cared. I never like bonus dungeons. Once the main part of a game is over I don’t really want to keep playing. At that point I feel like my accomplishments are not contributing to anything. There was also a new Arena mode added which seemed pointless to me. You raise monsters and have them fight each other. It has no impact on the main game. That’s good in a way, since it means this mode can be completely ignored, but if they were going to tack on something like that it would have made more sense to have it affect... something.
These new additions to the DS version would have been a mostly uncontroversial upgrade if it weren’t for the last, major change: the translation. Much of the dialogue has been changed. Again, I don’t have my copy here for comparison, but the gist of it is that “personality” was exchanged for accuracy. The original translation was quirky, but it had a certain playful charm to it. The DS version was a bit more... I don’t know, formal? It was missing something. To be fair, some of this comes from the nostalgia factor, but you also have to take that kind of thing into context when you’re porting Chrono Trigger. The game clearly has a cult following; that’s why it’s being released for the fourth time in sixteen years . Dialogue is not something you can change freely in an RPG.
For anyone who still hasn’t played this game, I recommend the different versions in this order: SNES, DS, PS1. The point of playing Chrono Trigger in 2011 is to experience a “classic.” Similarly, if I wanted to show someone Star Wars for the first time, I would try to find the most unaltered version of it. The DS version is almost as good, though. It’s far easier to get your hands on, and again, despite the changes, it’s basically the same game. The changes will obviously not matter for someone who has never played the original. And even the bad or unnecessary parts, like the Arena, can be ignored without impacting the overall gameplay. The PS1 version is largely obsolete. Its niche is people who want the anime cutscenes but don’t want to get the DS version. In any case, if you haven’t played it yet, be sure to get it in one form or another.
People talk about movies that everyone needs to see once before they die. If there is an equivalent for video games, Chrono Trigger should undoubtedly be on that list.