Chrono Trigger

Boy, does time fly.  Fourteen years ago, I remember playing an SNES game with an unusual title called Chrono Trigger.  Before playing Chrono, I knew little about this RPG, other than the fact that it was developed by a “Dream Team”.  At the time, I was unaware that this “Dream Team” consisted of Final Fantasy head-honcho, Hironobu Sakaguchi, and the Enix final boss, Yuji Horii.  It also included a renowned anime artist, Akira Toriyama (responsible for Dragon Ball Z and the Dragon Quest series), and two fabulous composers: Nobuo Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda. 

Each of these individuals have been quite influential in the video game industry, but what really matters is the quality of each particular game they produce.  In this case, we’re concerned with one of the most influential RPGs of all time: Chrono Trigger.

As a fifth grader, I fell in love with Chrono Trigger for a variety of reasons, but the biggest was that it felt like nothing that had come before.  I was introduced to RPGs with Final Fantasy IV, but Chrono Trigger felt like such a drastic improvement that I could hardly believe that it was on the same system.

When I first played Chrono, what I immediately noticed was the beautiful 2D artwork.  Unlike the Final Fantasy games that had come before, Chrono Trigger featured realistically proportioned characters similar to those found in Secret of Mana.  This realistic look gave the characters a more human-like appearance, which made them more relatable to the player.

Camp

 

 

 

Even though I love Yoshitaka Amano’s artwork in the Final Fantasy games, rarely would his vision be completely realized on-screen.  With Chrono on the other hand, the characters actually looked like their anime portraits.  The main character, Crono–his red-hair, katana, and blue karate-gi were fully realized on-screen with the in-game engine.  Each character, from the cavewoman Ayla to the android Robo looked their part.

Not only did the character sprites look fantastic, but their animations were superb.  Even before playing it again, I vividly remembered Crono unsheathing his sword at the beginning of battle and raising it in the air to cleave his enemy in two if a critical hit occurred.  Every character in the game was incredibly well-animated, and it provided for a more immersive experience than any RPG that had come before.

See, RPGs before Chrono Trigger simply had characters standing in line, striking their motionless enemies without even moving.  Not only were their attacks unimpressive, but magic spells were typically underwhelming as well.  Thankfully, Chrono Trigger came to the rescue.

In Crono Trigger, enemies actually appear on-screen before battle, and when you engage them, you fight on the same screen with no load time.  Once the battle begins, enemies will move around the field and you’ll select from a menu of commands, once your time gauge fills.

Black Tyranno

After you’ve selected your character’s attack, he’ll move to the enemy’s position (most of the time) and execute a devastating sword-strike (assuming that the sword is the weapon he wields).  The attack animations are simply incredible, and no two characters’ moves look the same.

If the regular attacks look amazing, you might wonder if Chrono’s magic is equally impressive.  Well, to put it simply, Chrono Trigger delivers here too.  Each character has a unique set of spells that matches their elemental affinity, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a move that doesn’t make your jaw drop.  I mean, how can you not look on in awe when a screen-filling frog drops on screen and smashes your opponents?

Even more impressive than single spells are double and triple techs.  In Chrono Trigger, characters can perform combination attacks.  These are performed by waiting for your characters’ time gauges to fill up.  Once they’re full, you’ll simply have to select a double or triple tech with one of your characters, and you can execute it as long as each character’s time gauge is full.

These moves are usually quite devastating, and are typically more effective than using single attacks.  For example, the character Frog can use the move Frog Squash by himself, but it doesn’t do much damage unless he has low HP.  Instead, he’d be better off combining it with Lucca’s move, Flare, to perform a deadly attack called Frog Flare that does thousands of HP worth of damage to each opponent.  Learning what characters work well together is one of the most enjoyable aspects of Chrono Trigger’s battle system.

Ayla

Besides having useful (and cool-looking) combination attacks, Chrono’s battle system is also great because of its quick pace.  Many modern RPGs have pokey battles that take upwards of two minutes, so it’s refreshing to play a game that runs at a fast pace.  If you’d like, you can slow down (or speed up) the battle system in the menu, but the default pace is plenty fast in addition to being strategic. 

It’s funny that I’m discussing Chrono Trigger’s battles first, because battles are typically my least favorite aspect of RPGs.  It’s pretty amazing that I once again managed to be impressed by a 14-year old battle system, but it just goes to show how well this time-traveling quest has aged.  Speaking of time-traveling, it’s time to discuss the actual narrative. 

Once again, this aspect of Chrono Trigger holds up amazingly well.  Without spoiling too much, the basic premise involves a cast of young heroes who travel through time to save the planet from its impending doom.  You begin the adventure as a spiky-haired hero named Crono, who lazily gets out of bed for the Millennial Fair.  He lives in a peaceful kingdom called Guardia that is in the process of celebrating its one-thousand year anniversary.

Millennial Fair

What makes this fair special is that it’s home to numerous mini-games (much like Final Fantasy VII’s Gold Saucer).  Many RPGs begin in a tranquil setting, but how many are packed full of awesome mini-games like rapidly tapping buttons to chug beer?

If you’re somehow not a fan of mini-games, the good thing is that many of them are optional (unless you want some items that prove useful later in the quest).  Regardless of whether or not you take part in the festivities, you soon come in contact with a beautiful girl named Marle, who is wandering around the fairgrounds. 

Crono accidently bumps into Marle, and he can choose whether to willingly (or unwillingly) accompany her.  While at the fair, he can make several choices that will influence a later part of his adventure, but the real fun starts once he bumps into his inventor friend, Lucca.

Lucca invites Crono and his friend Marle to try her new teleportation device, and Marle eagerly volunteers.  Unfortunately, while entering the machine, the system malfunctions, and Marle is sent through a portal for an unknown reason.  Later, you discover that she traveled through time, and it becomes your mission to save her.

The Future

Without spoiling too much of the journey, much of Chrono Trigger has to do with time travel.  Throughout the adventure, the player can influence the story and various events through her actions.  However, it’s important to use caution when making decisions in order to avoid negative outcomes. 

Some decisions will merely influence side-quests, while others can change the game’s main ending.  In Chrono Trigger, you can find optional characters, change the future of quaint villages, and even reverse negative outcomes.

Another unique aspect of Chrono is that it allows you to view multiple endings.  There are several variations of the main ending, and there are various optional endings you can view after completing the game by starting a New Game Plus.

SNES Screen

To my knowledge, Chrono Trigger was the first game to include such an option, and it allows players to carry over their levels and items from their previous journey.  With a New Game Plus, players can use their characters’ high level abilities to challenge the game’s final boss at earlier points in the adventure, and this allows them to see a variety of (usually) humorous endings.  This gives Chrono Trigger an incredible amount of replay value.

It’s not just the replay value that makes Chrono special, however.  What makes Chrono Trigger a blissful experience is its amazingly detailed worlds.  Throughout the twenty-hour adventure, players will travel to a variety of eras that are sometimes fantastical, and other times vaguely mirror eras of the real world.  All of these time periods are packed with content and dialogue that matches that particular era.

From eras mirroring Medieval Europe to Magical Kingdoms, the environments are spectacular.  Every single dungeon and town features an absurd amount of detail.  The floating Kingdom of Zeal with its sky bridges and harsh world below looks like a strangely believable environment, even though it’s not a part of our reality.  The people who inhabit the floating kingdom even have their own philosophies, and they view those who inhabit the Earth below as inferior beings.  With this much attention to detail, it’s impossible not to grow attached to each era.

Magus

I could write about Chrono Trigger’s stunning environments for days, but I must not fail to mention the phenomenal soundtrack.  Chrono Trigger’s dark castles and serene mountaintops would impress anyone, but the wonderful soundtrack gives them an even greater impact.

From the upbeat character themes to the somber songs accompanying tragic memories, everything from Chrono Trigger resonates with the player.  It’s hard not to feel enthusiastic when you have Lucca’s theme accompanying an important discovery.  It’s also practically impossible to avoid feeling chills when Frog’s friend is in grave danger.  I don’t know how Yasunori Mitsuda managed to compose a brilliant piece for difficult concepts such as time, but he pulled it off.  Really, I can’t name a single piece that doesn’t fit what’s occurring on screen.

1000 A.D.

Before tackling the additional features added to the DS version, I’d like to mention one last highlight of the original Chrono Trigger experience: The side-quests. 

If you’re an RPG fan, you’re used to receiving games packed with hours of extra content, but rarely does that content add to the experience.  Usually, you’re looking for trinkets, playing boring mini-games, or searching for ultimate weapons. 

Chrono Trigger may include ultimate weapons, but each of its side-quests fleshes out the game’s seven characters.  Through the game’s side-quests, you’ll discover your characters’ backgrounds, you’ll attempt to break the boundaries of time, and you’ll influence the outcome of nations–all this while finding incredibly powerful weapons.

What’s New In The DS Version?

Everything that was discussed above can be found in each of the three U.S. versions of Chrono Trigger, but what sets the DS version apart?  And is it the definitive version?  I’ll get to the last question in a moment, but there are several additions that have been made to the DS version. 

First of all, the graphics and music have been faithfully ported (just make sure to use headphones).  Some of the sound effects sound slightly different, but most people will hardly notice (and they don’t worsen the experience).

Imps

As for new features, Chrono Trigger DS includes new control options, one additional ending, two new side-quests, monster-battling, and altered dialogue.  Most of these options detract from the experience rather than enhance it, but nevertheless, I’ll cover each piece by piece.

The SNES version of Chrono Trigger already satisfied me with its slick menus that you could move to the top or bottom of the screen on-the-fly, so I really found the added DS controls unnecessary.  Some players might enjoy having all menus on the bottom of the screen, and having the option to use the stylus, but I preferred the original set-up.  Thankfully, you can switch between either control style at any time, so I didn’t really mind this addition.

The new ending also didn’t bother me.  Even though it altered some of the events that transpired between Chrono Trigger and Crono Cross, it remained quite vague, which leaves it open to interpretation.  Thankfully, this ending is fairly easy to obtain.  As long as you’ve beaten the game–you just have to slog through a single side-quest.

Zeal

Unfortunately, both of Chrono Trigger’s side-quests are dull and detract from the experience.  One side-quest has you performing fetch-quests through an area that is a mish-mash of places you’ve visited in the game.  This area, called Lost Sanctum, reuses character sprites and tile sets, but mixes them together in a manner that is downright ugly.

Not only does this destroy its visual appeal, but it also provides for nonsensical level design.  After I travel through time to obtain a banana and go back to the present to climb a tall peak for the fortieth time, I shouldn’t have to return to the village to hear a brief discussion–only to have to hike to the summit again, moments later.  This process is grueling, and all you get out of it are some elixirs and a few new weapons. 

The other side-quest, Lost Vortex, is a slight improvement, because it doesn’t consist of fetch-quests, but you still travel through rehashed areas.  You will encounter some new enemies, but most are ugly palette swaps of foes you encountered earlier in the game. 

This side-quest does include one special feature: A song that was included on the original Chrono Trigger cartridge that you couldn’t hear, called “Singing Mountain.”  However, if you don’t want to slog through this boring side-quest to obtain it, you can simply listen to the song in the included music player.

Sadly, both of the side-quests unique to the DS version feel like Chrono Trigger’s antithesis.  Square-Enix  completely missed the point of what made Chrono Trigger fun by including purposeless fetch-quests

The monster battling was equally disappointing to the side-quests, so I didn’t bother spending much time with it.  Basically, you raise a monster by sending him to different time periods with items of your choice, for the purpose of turning him into a fighting machine.  Once you’ve developed a beefy fighter, you can enter him into an arena to engage in battle to win you valuable items.  I didn’t enjoy the simple auto-battles, so I left the arena as quickly as I entered.

Dragon Tank

It’s also important to briefly discuss the new dialogue.  I was originally planning to avoid Chrono Trigger DS in part, because of the new dialogue.  Ted Woosley’s original script was altered to better match the original Japanese text, and this resulted in some positive and negative changes.  Some classic lines like, “Good Morning, Crono!” were removed, while elements censored from the original Japanese version were restored.  Certain word replacements annoyed me, but for the most part, I felt that the new script was well done.

Lastly, I should mention that Chrono Trigger DS includes the anime cutscenes that were added to the Playstation version of Chrono Trigger, but this time, there aren’t any horrible load times.  In other words, the DS version packs more content than any other version of Chrono Trigger without having any technical flaws.

If there’s any RPG that’d appeal to the masses besides Final Fantasy VII, it’s Chrono Trigger.  This gem featured several concepts that were ahead of their time, and they still manage to impress fourteen years later on the DS.  The additional content may be disappointing, but when you have a brilliant storyline, loveable characters, and solid gameplay, you really can’t complain.  After all, an additional ending and song are simply extras.  And the new dialogue doesn’t really detract from the experience, so basically, no harm was done.  If you’ve never experienced Chrono Trigger, now is the time to purchase this classic for a measly twenty bucks.  That’s not a bad deal for an experience you’ll never forget.

Score: 10.0

Pros:

  • One of the few RPGs I’ve played that is fun the whole way through
  • Features a brilliant soundtrack that will tug on your emotions
  • The characters are far more believable than those in most RPGs
  • Features an engaging, time-traveling storyline
  • Includes a fast-paced, yet strategic battle-system
  • Combination attacks are useful, and fun to execute
  • Beautiful artwork and character animations
  • Includes side-quests that actually add value to the experience
  • Anime cutscenes from the PSX version are included
  • There’s an additional ending unique to the DS version
  • What was previously censored has been restored to its original form
  • You can finally hear the hidden track: “Singing Mountain”
  • It’s now twenty bucks

Cons:

  • The new side-quests don’t feel like Chrono Trigger
  • The DS translation removes a few classic lines
  • Does Square-Enix have to use the term “fiend” in every game?