Earlier this year, I announced the creation of a Retro Gaming Project in which I would finally go back and play through all of the classic NES and SNES games I missed over the years. This is a long work in progress with no set end date, but it will be a fun adventure while it lasts.
System: Nintendo DS (originally on SNES, also available on PSN, mobile devices and Virtual Console)
Release Date: November 25, 2008 (originally March 11, 1995)
If there was one game that was glorified more than any other during my youth, it was Chrono Trigger. I seemed to have heard more about this Square RPG than any other, as it was often ranked near or at the very top of all types of “best of” lists. For years I skipped over it, either due to its insane SNES cartridge price or simply because I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype. Looking back, it’s kind of amazing how a once-rare game is now available on so many platforms, including Android and iOS devices. For review purposes, I played through the Nintendo DS port.
Chrono Trigger tells the story of Crono (no “h”), a vibrant young lad with spiky red hair, and his efforts to save the world from its impending doom. Crono becomes aware of this future apocalypse after a freak accident with a teleportation device sends him back in time. Now, with the capability of time travel, Crono embarks on an adventure that takes him all the way back to 65,000,000 B.C. and forward to AD 2300. Along the way, he meets a number of interesting characters (including a robot and a talking frog) who help him on his adventure.
The time travel dynamic takes an otherwise familiar RPG storyline (youth prevent the end of the world) and adds a fresh coat of paint. Being able to travel to the past and the future is fascinating, especially as Crono attempts to keep the course of nature on the right track. In one early moment, his ally Marle is mistaken for her ancestor, a queen in AD 600, so the group has to find a way to bring back the real royal leader. The ability to travel through time at will is much welcomed.
The RPG gameplay is also familiar, but it is so refined that it ranks among the best I have seen in the genre. For one, there are no random battles. This has always been a pet peeve of mine, and Chrono Trigger thankfully provides visible enemies on screen. This means that many of the battles can be avoided if desired, giving the gamer a bit of added flexibility.
The battle system itself is fantastic. The game uses an Active Time Battle system, which allows attacks to be made once a character’s personal timer fills up. Since this is not entirely turn based, this allows for more freedom and requires a bit more strategy. On top of standard attacks, there is an option to use Techs, which allow for powerful spells that can be combined with multiple characters. These use up MP points and drain each character’s timer, but their damage to enemies can often be very rewarding.
The game’s dungeons and combat areas are all well-designed, and many of them allow for a good amount of exploration without that frustrating feeling of getting lost. There is a quite a bit of loot scattered around, and some of the bonus dungeons in the DS port include some truly powerful weaponry. Side quests also warrant deep expeditions, and they can help with leveling up before the final epic boss battle.
Upon concluding the game, a new mode opens up: “New Game+”. In this, a new game is started but all of the weapons, equipment, etc. from the first game are carried over. This allows for a quicker playthrough in order to get to a different ending, of which there are thirteen. For those who want to see other possible conclusions, there is a surprising amount of replay value to be found.
In terms of aesthetics, Chrono Trigger holds up remarkably well. The 16-bit sprites are as gorgeous as ever, and the DS port throws in some well-crafted anime cutscenes as well. The real treat here, however, is the astoundingly beautiful musical score. Composed primarily by Yasunori Mitsuda, the game’s music is unforgettable, as it uses a wide variety of instruments and does not focus on any one genre. Every town and locale in the game has its own unmistakable tune, many of which are outright classics. A quick YouTube search will find countless remixes and tributes to Mitsuda’s work in this game — I cannot emphasize enough how beloved this soundtrack is, and it sounds just as impressive today.
So, does Chrono Trigger live up to the hype 15+ years later? Yes, mostly. I loved the style, the music, the battle system and many of the characters. If I were to find any faults, it would be from the handful of moments where I became stuck and wasn’t quite sure what to do. Thankfully, guides are more abundant today than they were in 1995, so it usually didn’t take long for me to figure out where to go next. I’m not ready to crown Chrono Trigger as the best RPG ever as many do, but I can say with confidence that this is a damn good game that will likely be as endearing in another twenty years as it is today.