Review: Chrono Trigger (DS)

Chrono Trigger
Developer: Square-Enix
Publisher: Square-Enix
Genre: Turn Based Role Playing Game
Release Date: 11/26/2008

I’m sorry, but there’s a difference between dedicated and dimwitted, and for me to purchase this game for a third time, I would have to fit into the second category. For what little Squeenix is throwing into this release, they might as well have put it up on the Virtual Console, but if My Life As A King is any indication, Squeenix only sees the downloadable services as another way to separate the foolish from their money. Fortunately for them, Squeenix have the best people for just that task, as their fans are essentially wallets with legs, waiting to give away money for a pat on the head and a pinch on the ass.

I was hoping that games like The World Ends With You, Arkanoid and Space Invaders Extreme were the coming of a new age for the Square-Enix merger. If this garbage is what Wada wanted with his now infamous boardroom rant, then maybe it’s not his managers that should lose their jobs, but him. But to do that, Squeenix would have to lose money, and the logic is that re-pimping old, long-beaten games will allow the company to print currency. Sadly, judging from the giddy, sticky reactions around the internet, Squeenix’s stupid, mindless drone fanbrats will have no problems proving him right. – Me, in Unbranding the Sheep from July 9th

Well then! What better way to start a review of a game than of me crapping on the very idea of it five months ago, and simultaneously giving Bebito an ulcer at the very sight of my name next to “Review: Chrono Trigger”?

To be fair to Squeenix, I underestimated the amount of younger gamers that would write to me, saying that they had never played Chrono Trigger and were looking forward to having the chance of playing it either legally, without having to pay exorbanent prices on eBay, or without the PS1 version’s extravagant load times. For almost anyone under the age of 20, this is their first shot at the game. So the way I’m going to approach this is to try to address two completely divergent camps: the younger sect that haven’t played any version of this game, and the older generation that beat it, saw all of the endings, and are hedging whether or not they need to drop another $40 on a fourteen year old game.

I’ll break this review down into three sections: one for newbies, one for experienced CT players, and then the final scores and Short Attention Span Summary


I’ll try to explain the main storyline without going too much into “spoiler” territory. You start out as Crono (keep in mind, you can rename all of the characters, but I’m going to stick to defaults), an aspiring swordsman but otherwise normal boy, as he attends the Millenial Fair, celebrating 1,000 years of rule by the Kingdom of Guardia. Along the way, you bump into a young girl named Marle, and the two of you eventually go to check out a teleportation invention by Crono’s inventor friend Lucca, and demonstrations go well until Marle tries it, and her pendant causes her to get sucked through a hole in the air. Crono chases after her, and gets knocked back in time to 600A.D., to find out that Marle was really the princess of his kingdom, but since they mistook Marle for the missing Queen Leene, that made them call off the search for Leene, which led to her never having any children… including Marle, which makes her go away. By saving Leene, you save Marle, after which you go back to your time, and get tried for kidnapping the princess.

There were quite a few minor spoilers in there, but even that is about 1/50th of the plot of the story (and if “Sephiroth kills Aerith” is no longer spoiler material, those minor tidbits from a fourteen year old game aren’t a big deal, either). The main narrative takes plenty of twists and turns along the way, and there are plenty of side quests to take, especially near the end of the game, where your actions directly affect the story and the ending as much as you want them to. For a JRPG, Chrono Trigger is fairly open ended, not by western RPG standards, but definitely compared to other games in the genre such as most Final Fantasy types. In short, Chrono Trigger has one of the best stories of it’s era, and pulls it off without being too heavy or too melodramatic; it doesn’t beat religion upside your head like Xenogears, isn’t as pretentious as Xenosaga, doesn’t rely on silly stereotypes like any game with “Tales Of” in the title, and doesn’t try to be too “hip” for it’s own good like the latest Persona games. It’s a good, light-hearted romp that manages to make it’s points with subtlety, not a mallet.

One of the biggest things this game has going for it is that, despite what could be considered a short list of playable characters – a maximum of seven, depending on how you react to a certain storyline element – the characters are exceptionally well developed, and every character, from top to bottom (save Crono himself, who basically defined the Silent Protagonist in RPGs), will not only be important to the story, but will become endeared to all but the most jaded gamers. Even replaying it now, for the first time in years, I find myself genuinely attached to every character; even Magus is a genuinely interesting character. Speaking of Magus, I find it important to note that new players might find his character cliche; after all, the antihero type character has been brutally and shamelessly beaten into the ground by just about every JRPG on Earth that doesn’t have “Dragon Quest” in the title, but that’s only happened since CT’s release in 1994… and noting that, in 2008, Magus STILL comes across as better than just about every other character that’s shamelessly ripped him off over the years. Take that, Namco! And hell, on that note, take that, Square Soft, because it appears you missed that note when Chrono Cross was released.

Another notable quality of CT is the score. Chrono Trigger is widely noted among most gamers as having the best soundtrack of any game in the 16 bit era, and it’s arguable as to whether or not it’s one of the greatest of all time, and that’s a valid argument in my book; the soundtrack, beginning to end, is sublime and the best work Square or Enix have ever done, second only to Chrono Cross, in my book (which, it should be noted, was also done by the same composer, Yasunori Mitsuda). The sound effects sound a bit different than they did on the SNES – I want to use the term “nerfed”, though that’s the old player in me speaking – but after awhile, they’ll be unnoticed to even longtime gamers, and newbies won’t care one drop. As for graphics, the 2D sprites combined with some 3D effects mostly seen on spells combine to make a nice looking game that doesn’t look quite as nice as today’s best looking DS games, or as good as they did in the 90s, but are certainly nothing to be sneezed at; the sprites are clean and colourful, and there’s no loading necessary to pull up even the heavy graphics, nor is there any slowdown. There are anime cutscenes interspersed throughout the game, and they look very good, though some players, on their second playthroughs, might want to turn them off, as they tend to break the flow, and once they’re viewed, they can be viewed in the extras section anyway.

Battling is very similar to other JRPGs of the 90s, but there are changes that make a huge difference in how the game flows. For one, there are no “random” battles; you can see most of the enemies that you come across before fighting them, and even the ones you can’t, they come popping out of the scenery or flying in; there’s no more cases of leaving the map scene to go to a completely different screen for the fight itself, as the fight takes place on that very piece of turf on the map screen, with minimal transition time. This helps keep the flow of the game going, and after going through Final Fantasy IV recently, and currently going through Star Ocean: The First Departure and Brave Story: New Traveler currently, I’d forgotten how nice this was compared to needless loading scenes. Turns are decided by the Active Time Battle system, which can be set to active (enemies can attack whether you’re in the middle of selecting a spell or not) or wait (they wait when you’re in a menu), and it’s personal preference which you choose. In addition to regular attacks, there are also special and magic attacks, both of which use magic points, like any other Square RPG. Characters will eventually learn to use magic depending on what their element is, and will gain additional spells and techniques by building up technique points (TP), which are earned in battles just like gold or experience. The main difference there is that while all characters gain EXP whether or not they’re in a battle actively (three can fight at a time), only the characters in a fight can gain TP, so it’s beneficial to use all of your characters evenly; thankfully, every character has a purpose, and though personal preferences are sure to crop up, there are times when every character is going to be more useful than their counterparts, and when others aren’t useful at all. Chrono Trigger is a very well balanced game, and the only issue I have is that while it’s more realistic for the projectile users (Marle + Lucca) to have their attack power be decided by their accuracy stat rather than their strength stat – after all, I can fire a gun, but I don’t fire it better as my bench press improves – these girls don’t gain enough accuracy to keep up with the strength of the others, meaning that they will always be significantly weaker in regular combat than the more melee-oriented characters.

One nice aspect of the technique and magic system is combined attacks. Certain moves can be combined with the moves of other characters to create more damaging spells, with different attributes. For example, Crono starts out with the Cyclone technique, and Lucca starts out with the Flame Toss; put those two together, and they can use the Fire Whirl technique. Not every technique and spell can be combined, but plenty of double – and even triple – techniques can be done, and it further inspires gamers to build up techniques evenly to maximize effectiveness. Though it’s true that, like all JRPGs, all problems can effectively be solved by just level-grinding, the game is well balanced enough to allow gamers to go through at a regular pace, and not have to worry about fighting extra battles just to build up enough EXP to not get destroyed by future bosses or battles. Due to this, the game is not as difficult as comparative games from the 16 bit era, nor as long – about 15-20 hours on first playthrough, depending on ability and thoroughness – and while this frustrates hardcore types, like those that can do speedruns through Phantasy Star II, but those people are insane anyway. In a one-sentence write-up, Chrono Trigger shows the famed ATB battle system honed to near perfection, aged like a fine wine that pleases the average scouser, but takes a truly dedicated taster to fully appreciate.

Just like in every RPG, there’s boss battles to go with regular battles. Every boss battle has a certain way it needs to be attacked, but thankfully, the game leaves very significant clues as to how a boss needs to be attacked; for example, when fighting Magus, you’re told what the magic barrier’s weakness is, and you’re expected to react in kind, or he’ll absorb the magic. Not only are bosses like that, but a significant amount of regular enemies have a specific way they’re supposed to be handled; for example, some are weakened by lightning magic, and others have powerful counterattacks that cause the player to change up the way they proceed; hacking away at someone like that is fruitless, and only leads to problems. This is a great way to keep the routine battles in this game from becoming chores, and forcing players to mindlessly resort to smashing A whenever they get into combat; those that do will have problems, especially later in the game.

One of the things that separated Chrono Trigger from other games at the time was it’s multiple endings; there are as many as thirteen endings in this game, and they are all interesting and special on their own notes; some are better than others, but for going through the game for the first time, the only one that’s reasonably accessible is the “full” ending. To get the rest, Chrono Trigger uses another innovation that it invented called New Game +, which lets players start off a brand new game with the stats, weapons and items from their first playthrough, which makes the new game not only much, much faster it was the first time through, but also gives players the chance to get the other endings, all of which involve some inventive times and places to have the last battle with the end-boss. Interestingly, even on the very first playthrough, you’re given the early option to go fight the end-boss; you will surely get trounced, surely see your first ending, and needless to say, it – like the battle itself – will surely not end well. Regardless, the ending system gives a bushel of replayability that just doesn’t exist in most other JRPGs, and even better, the system actually works better here than it does in most other games that have multiple endings, mainly because a few of them have so many specific things that you need to do to get the other endings that it’s fruitless without a strategy guide (I’m looking at YOU, Suikoden), whereas here, it’s just a matter of when you beat Lavos.

Looking back, it’s been years since I’ve gone through a lot of the JRPGs of the era, so the big question I ask myself is: after a decade plus of investigation, does Chrono Trigger stand the test of time as one of the all-time greats? I’d have to say that’s a definitive yes. Final Fantasy IV has a better overall story to it, but it’s limited by it’s own self-imposed linearity. Final Fantasy VI was a spectacular game with a time-honed battle system and a great first half who’s story fell apart near the end. Suikoden II was a fantastic game that relied too much on knowledge gleamed from it’s predecessor. I think a good comparison is to the two Lunar games on the PS1 as to how CT comes across, and CT had a more “epic” quest. I don’t know if it stands out as “the” best JRPG of all time, and I’m not about to reduce something that’s up to personal opinion down to mathematical metrics (my personal favourite is Final Fantasy VI), nor would I want to due to the threat of being murdered by fanbrats, but it’s definitely on the shortlist. I feel this is one of those games that everyone needs to experience at least once.


Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, there’s a section of gamers that are asking some pointed questions, such as how much is included in the new release, how WiFi is involved, and if there’s more replayability than their old SNES carts. This is the segment of gamer I spoke for with my exceptionally pointed Unbranding the Sheep article that I quoted above.

The whole of those questions can be narrowed down to one simple question: for people that have been here and done this, is this iteration of CT worth another $40?

The final, definitive answer depends on what your individual preferences are. I’ll go through the key points one by one.

The main part that hardcore series fans are going to look the hardest at is the revised script. The revised script is not something you’re going to notice if you haven’t beaten this game since the mid-90s, though it will be picked apart by the truly hardcore, or guys like me that compare them side-by-side. The script says the same thing it did on the SNES; nothing significant has been changed. But the diction itself – the way things are said, the way sentences are structured, better use of adjectives – is different. The best example I can give is this exchange between Marle and Doan the first time you run through 2300 AD, when Doan notes that the main characters are “different”, and more energetic than they are. Note the difference:


Marle: I think it’s because we’re healthy!

Doan: Heal-thy? Got a nice ring to it!

DS (Paraphrased somehwhat, I had this written down but didn’t think to save it before a power outage, and God knows I’m not going through another two hours to get it again):

Marle: I think it’s because we haven’t lost hope…

Doan: Hope… it’s been a long time since I’ve heard that word… it’s comforting.

That’s one example where a significant change has happened, and while newcomers or people that went through the game once won’t really notice, it’s significant for those that have gone through the SNES version ad nauseum. The major difference I noticed was the way Frog talks. In the SNES version, his speech was VERY Elizabethian; “thou” instead of “you”, “thine” instead of “thy”, etc. In the DS game, the thous and thines are gone, and while it’s going to be a bit jarring for those that liked how Frog talked before, I love the “new” Frog, because it makes him a more believable character; he’s no longer the only person in his era with his speaking style, but he still keeps the serious devotion to duty that marked him as a character before. At the very least, the translation warrants a try through the first few parts of the game to see how big of a difference it ultimately makes, though I can’t say it’s worth the price of admission alone.

What could be worth the price of admission to some are the extra ending and the extra dungeons. The Lost Sanctum is almost a separate universe from the main game, where you can do multiple quests; it’s not just one dungeon, it’s a series of intersecting quests that are not only involved, but also completely optional; they’re there if you want them, but if you don’t, you don’t lose anything by skipping them. I like that; nothing gets on my tits more than when a game presents something optional to you that makes the game hard to beat if you don’t do it, passive-aggressively making it mandatory. For those that decide to dig in, the quests are long and involved, and though there’s a bit of fetching to do, it will extend the play time in your game by a couple hours, at least. There’s also the Dimensional Vortex, the so-called “extra” dungeon of the game, and it is well done; it fits seamlessly into the end of the story, and for challenge buffs, it’s a bitch to go through. However, it’s totally worth it, because it leads to the extra ending, which, to my surprise, didn’t disappoint; it comes with a new boss battle (no spoilers, but let’s say Lavos has help), and it’s actually rather heart-wrenching. I loved it once I stopped whimpering. There’s also the video after the main ending that the PS1 version had; like the other videos from that version, it made it into the DS game as well, and having seen it for the first time, I love how it was done, love how it gave a full ending to a great story, and best of all, tied both Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross together.

Being on a dual-screen, there are interface changes to this game which are thankfully also optional. You have a choice of playing in either DS mode or classic mode; classic mode has you able to play the entire game from the top screen like the SNES game, and the DS version has you able to touch your commands in with a stylus. Either mode is acceptable, and the best part of this is that while the menu’s been redone – something I didn’t like initially – you are able to customize the menu fully, putting buttons whereever you want. No matter how much of an anal-retentive jerk you are (*raises hand*), with some editing, you’re going to be able to find a scheme that works for you.

Another new addition is a Pokemon style training game where you can train a monster to be better and better, and fight it against other monsters, either against CPU opponents or against other humans over local WiFi. You start with a Nu-like character, and send him training in a time period, which builds his stats up depending on which one it is (it can only be a location you’ve visited; if you’ve only seen the Present time in this game, you won’t be able to hit the Future, in other words), and also depends on mode-exclusive items that you can give him, which you can buy with your money from the game world; these items increase your character’s chance of learning techniques, and once he leaves for training, he comes back after a certain amount of time passes (real-world time, it’s determined by the DS clock), so you can send your character training, play the game for awhile, go back into the arena, and see the results of the training. Once he’s built up enough, you can send him into fights, where he acts on his own accord, and can accept items from you; whether he uses them or not is dependent on his trust level for you. The benefit to this mode is that you win prizes, depending on the tier that your monster is entered into, and those prizes are usable in the actual game.

Honestly, this mode, though it’s optional and can be utterly and totally avoided, feels tacked on. There’s almost no interactivity other than giving your monster an item and hoping it works, and it’s not particularly deep; on the one hand, it can be argued that this isn’t supposed to be a deep mode, but on the other hand, it’s somewhat disappointing how little there is here. While it’s a nice thing to have, the fact that you can go only over local WiFi pretty much defeats the main draw this would have had, but then again, the mode isn’t significant enough to really invest in WiFi Services for. All in all, it’s a nice thing to play with that will ultimately be disposable for most.

After that, the standard PS1 extras – a Beastiary, music player, theatre mode for the cutscenes, etc. – are here. There’s nothing truly notable about them unless you like to have a repository of everything you do, though personally, I loved the treasure atlas; after you’ve seen everything a particular era has to show you, you can go back to the atlas and see where all of the items are located. Though most of the items will be useless when going through a New Game +, it’s nice to look back and see what you missed, especially if you are serious about 100% item completion.

The only other major hit that I can see against this game is a bit of sticker shock. I maintained in July that this wasn’t a $40 game, and despite the greatness of the game, and the extras they’ve added in, I still maintain that anyone seriously debating whether or not this is worth the full $40 should at least wait a bit for the price to come down, like it did with Final Fantasy III and the Dragon Quest games that the system has seen. With that said, and knowing that saying this means I’m eating some crow, I’m pleasantly surprised with the effort Squeenix put into the things they did add into this game, and the care they made to ensure that those that wanted the same old experience they grew up with (me) wouldn’t feel interfered with by those that wanted new experiences. However, it should be noted that while I and a lot of other veteran players I talk to don’t like the full $40 price tag, part of the reason it can be justified is because the SNES verison of this game, when going through third party sellers on places like eBay, is still freaking expensive. I decided to bet on a boxed copy of the SNES copy, knowing my bid would be blown out of the water. It didn’t even get it’s toes wet; my $40 bid instantly wasn’t enough, which said something as the current bid at the time was less than $30. The final result proved what I knew: no matter what, the SNES game – which even Funcoland used to sell at over $100 in the 90s – is always going to be a collector’s item. Even boxless copies – just the cart – are going for over $50. So when you consider that the DS version is actually the cheapest way to legally acquire the game (to hell with the PS1 version and it’s insane loading times, but anyone that doesn’t mind that, about $20-$25 will get you that and Final Fantasy IV), $40 doesn’t seem QUITE as bad as it was. Because when all is said and done, would you rather give Gamestop $40 for a sealed copy, or this asshole in Ontario $199,999? Yes, that’s not a typo, and I almost want to find this guy and kick his ass just for being a jerk.

In all, anyone that was looking for significant changes, short of the re-scripting and the extra ending, won’t get them; this isn’t like Final Fantasy IV, which has a total makeover. And after playing it again, I have to say this was actually the right move. There’s something charming about the 2D Toriyama sprites that would be lost if the game was put into 3D; the only way I could see something like that working is if you made it cel-shaded, like Dragon Quest VIII, but then it wouldn’t be a DS game, but a $60 360 or PS3 game instead. My big fear was that in a few years, just like what they did with Final Fantasy I + II, they would release yet another “definitive” version, but the benefit of this game being accessible to a new generation of gamers is that we’re going to have another generation joining guys like me, holding hands and singing in unison “leave it alone!”. Though it somewhat invalidates what I wrote in July – and though I do agree that a lot of Squeenix fanbrats have a fleeting relationship with their money whenever it comes to Square Soft IPs, and would have bought this game sight-unseen – I have to admit that Squeenix handled this with care, and though not a lot has changed, I think that’s ultimately for the better.

Story: Unparalleled
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Classic
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Great
Balance: Classic
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Mediocre

Short Attention Span Summary

If you’ve never played Chrono Trigger, buy this game. Buy it, buy it, stop reading this damn review and buy the game. Now. Everyone, regardless of their preferred genre, should experience Chrono Trigger at least once.

For those that have been through the game before, you know what to expect, and the only thing I can hope is that I’ve better educated you as to whether or not what this package hits the right buttons for you. Is CT good enough to go through again? Is it good enough to pay $40 for the privilege of doing so? Do you mind the fact not much has changed? Is that a positive? The choice is yours.

As for me? I grudgingly paid $40 for the purpose of reviewing this game – in my eyes, you don’t take a dump on something and then not back it up – then realized that weekend that I’d already dropped almost 20 hours on the game… and not once did I do it with my teeth clenched, whispering to myself “it’s for the review… it’s for the review…” to myself. The time flew.

Take that for what it’s worth.



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2 responses to “Review: Chrono Trigger (DS)”

  1. Charlie Marsh Avatar
    Charlie Marsh

    I found it difficult to not snarl at all the differences in the script. I actually turned the game off and abandoned it for a while when I got to 600 AD and had to fight the “Fiends” and the “Fiendlord” instead of the “Mystics” and the “evil kickass wizard”. God damn it. Really? I wanted to punch somebody in the face when I saw that. What was the point of changing that? What a stupid name.

  2. […] The game’s port in 2008 only reinforced for a new audience how amazing the game was, scoring universal praise from both of our reviews, and currently sporting a 92 average at Metacritic. Hell, Aileen […]

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