Review: Chrono Trigger (Nintendo DS)

Chrono Trigger
Genre: RPG
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 11/25/08

Way back in 1995, Squaresoft released an amazing (at the time) little RPG called Chrono Trigger. Featuring multiple endings, a surprisingly large amount of replay value, a solid (if clichéd) storyline and lovable characters, and the awesome character designs of Akira Toriyama, it was generally regarded as an awesome experience by most people who played it then, though it wasn’t a particularly high seller (few RPG’s were, since most companies released, like, a hundred copies at a time and hoped for the best). Squaresoft saw that the game had managed to develop a fanbase, and re-released it a few years after the fact along with a harder version of Final Fantasy IV in the Final Fantasy Chronicles, which actually DID sell pretty well (well enough to go Greatest Hits, in any case). They also released a sequel, Chrono Cross, which was also well received, but has since become somewhat more divisive as a product and didn’t really sell as well as one might have hoped, and after those two releases, the series was more or less put to rest until this year with the release of a DS version of the original game. Anyone who was worried about the quality of the port can relax a little, as the DS port is a mostly faithful adaptation of the PS1 re-release, with some new features included to make the game worth owning for those who’ve played it a thousand times already. That said, even those who aren’t fans of Chrono Trigger will find plenty of reason to enjoy this, should they pick it up, as the game has held up surprisingly well over the past decade, and it’s still one of the best RPG experiences available, only with some new additions that make it better or, at the very least, don’t hurt the product in the least.

So, in case you’re too young or too sheltered to have played Chrono Trigger, here’s the gist: you take control, mostly, of Chrono (who you can rename as you see fit, as with everyone else in your party, which, frankly, is something I miss from old RPG’s of the day), the young “unlikely hero out on an adventure” of the game, and his cast of wacky mismatched cohorts. The story starts off with his friend Lucca building a teleporter that, after a run-in with local girl Marle, accidentally becomes a time machine. Oops. This ends up causing the trio no end of problems, and ultimately ends up causing them to be exiles from the kingdom, which ends up sending them running to other times until they discover that, in about another thousand years, a being known as Lavos will, essentially, end the entire world and ruin life as we know it for everyone who comes after that point. Well, needless to say, since the party has nothing better to do, they decide that they not only need to right THAT particular wrong (under the assumption that anyone who is unmade at that point because of the changing of reality didn’t have a particularly good life to begin with), they need to right every wrong in time, ever, and this becomes their quest. Now, obviously, this is an incredibly bad idea to anyone who’s seen Back to the Future, as messing with time travel often has all sorts of horrifying consequences (which is essentially what the sequel Chrono Cross ended up dealing with, in arguably the most depressing way possible), but the overall storyline of the game is surprisingly enjoyable, largely because it’s fun. The game certainly takes itself seriously, and there are bad things that happen in the game to be sure, but the game largely makes it known that it’s not trying to be a downer so much as it’s trying to show that good friends and good ambitions can accomplish a lot, and despite the fact that the story is at times stereotyped and clichéd, that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to play through.

Players of the prior games will note, however, that the story in THIS version of Chrono Trigger is somewhat different from the prior versions. This is partly because of a solid, generally well done re-translation of the script that, aside from generally being a little clearer in certain aspects, is generally pretty good across the board. It does change a few things that purists might object to (Frog no longer talks in Ye Olde English, as the primary example), but it’s mostly very well done. Those who missed the PS1 remake will also note that there are now animated cutscenes at various points in the story that pop up to bring certain segments to life (your first meeting with some characters, for example, as well as certain dramatic points in the plot), and while these would arguably work better if the regular cutscenes these represent had been purged from the game at the time instead of playing along-side of these animated scenes, they still look fabulous. The biggest change to this version, however, is the addition of another ending to the game, bringing the total to thirteen (yes, THIRTEEN different endings), with the newest ending tying the events of Chrono Trigger neatly to the events of Chrono Cross, which is a nice gesture, even if about half of the people buying this game will have no idea what to make of it. If you own the PS1 remake, the retranslated plot and additional ending might be enough to interest you in another go, plot-wise, but otherwise, it’s the same plot as before, just cleaner and with a little more to it. For those who’ve only played the SNES original, or haven’t played the game at all, however, there’s plenty worth checking out, story-wise, and it’s a great trip while it lasts.

Visually, well, the DS remake of Chrono Trigger looks like the SNES original, which is to say, the sprites are bright and full of personality, the environments are colorful and lively, and the game is great to see in action, but the game looks a little dated. Granted, it’s hard to expect a lot from a twenty-plus year old game, and in all fairness the game does look pretty good in action, with solid spell effects and imaginative enemy designs that go along nicely with the aforementioned environments and characters, but a few of the special effects (particularly anything dealing with MOOOOOODE SEVEEEEEN WOOO!) look dated and unimpressive in comparison to the effects in other DS RPG’s, which might be a bit off-putting for gamers not yet versed in Chrono Trigger. Aurally, the game is a good bit better; while the game lacks voice acting, the score and sound presentation more than make up for that, as both are fantastic. The various sound effects are solid and well done, and though they, too, sound a little dated, this is far less noticeable than the visuals, as the effects are still quite solid. The music is the real audio star, however; the score of Chrono Trigger is flat-out fantastic, and not only matches the theme of the experience nicely, but is also very well composed and sounds great on its own merits, which only increases the greatness of the game as a whole.

At its core, Chrono Trigger essentially plays like every other RPG of its time; you’re given a party, and you can either make them attack monsters, cast spells against the monsters or on themselves, or use items on the monsters or themselves. What time isn’t spent fighting monsters will, as expected, be spent wandering around the game world, talking to NPC’s, taking on quests, looking for loot, and all of the other expected things. The gameplay, at a base level, should be instantly comfortable to anyone who’s played any Japanese RPG ever, as it’s pretty much like most games in its genre in a lot of mechanical respects. This is not to say that it lacks its differences, of course; Chrono Trigger, though familiar, is ultimately its own animal, as anyone who is familiar with the game will attest, and this is ultimately what gives the game its charm. The biggest difference is the time travel mechanic; unlike most games, which see the characters progressing through different sections of the same world, Chrono Trigger instead asks the player to move the characters through the same sections of the same world in different time periods, with the idea being that actions that occur in one time period affect things in other periods, which was, at the time, innovative and incredibly interesting, and remains a solid and enjoyable concept for an RPG that’s still quite innovative if you’ve never seen this done before. In the beginning of the game, you’ll find that you have to walk from portal to portal to travel through the different eras, but as you progress you’ll find your airship (in the form of the Wings of Time, a flying Delorian of sorts) and be able to travel anywhere in any time as it pleases you, thus allowing you to traverse all eras as you see fit. It’s also worth noting that the different eras are surprisingly different from one another in interesting ways; while the medieval time period (600 AD, which doesn’t make much sense in a world that doesn’t have a Jesus, but whatever) and the present time period you start in (1000 AD) are remarkably similar in their layouts, the other eras you find yourself in are all dramatically different, featuring different residents, different layouts, and different levels of technology; this doesn’t make much sense in the face of the realization that the sliding scale of technological and enemy advancement still plays into the experience, thus leaving you buying primitive weapons that are more powerful than the futuristic weapons you find, but it’s still neat all the same.

Aside from the time travel gimmick, Chrono Trigger features a lot of the same elements you’ve come to expect from JRPG’s, from having a team of X (where X in this game equals three) members, no more, at any one time (who can be subbed in and out as needed), to having an inventory of weapons and items at your disposal as needed and beyond, and the combat is no exception. Your characters have the option of attacking as normal, using items, or casting spells, none of which should surprise seasoned players. Chrono Trigger also offers the option for characters to combine spells into new, interesting abilities (like, say, a spell that heals the whole party or hits an enemy with a flaming sword strike for huge damage), which was certainly different at the time the game was created, if not so much now. The game also features the option of playing through a “New Game Plus” where you retain your levels and gear, which helps immensely for those who want to earn all of the game’s thirteen endings, though you can all of them, pretty much, in two playthroughs. There are also tons of hidden items and quests to take on, for those who love to hunt such things down, making Chrono Trigger worth the investment for those who would be interested in such things.

For those who’ve beaten the game to hell and back, however, the DS version comes equipped with a few novelties to make it something more than just another “remake”, though how much more will depend mostly on whether or not the additions interest you… and whether or not you’ve played the PS1 remake. See, the PS1 remake of Chrono Trigger featured a bunch of new additions the original game lacked, including a beastiary, an art gallery, a sound test, and animated cutscenes for key events. This was pretty fabulous at the time it came out, and time has not dulled the coolness of the extra features, but it bears noting: if you’ve played that version of the game, none of this will be at all new to you. What IS new for the DS remake falls less into the category of novelties and more into the category of actual content. For one, the game features the option to play it entirely using the stylus; essentially, this allows you to see the control options on the bottom screen while the combat plays out on the top screen, which is a great option even if you only use the D-Pad to play this way (which is an entirely viable choice). There are also two new dungeons to access in the Dimensional Vortex and the Lost Sanctum, with the former opening up only after completing the game (completing this dungeon is also the only way to unlock the new thirteenth ending, it should be noted), and the latter is, essentially, something akin to an alternate dimension that offers up some story novelties and new challenges, even though the fetch quests involved are fairly annoying. There’s also an Arena mode that’s sort of like a less interactive Pokemon clone; you take a monster, level it up by having it train in different eras and fight other monsters, with the intention being to create an awesome combat monster you can compete against your friends with, which isn’t a bad idea, all in all.

So, you’re given a bunch of new content to go along with a classic RPG experience, right? What’s wrong with that? Well, for one, a lot of the DS exclusive content isn’t particularly exciting. The Dimensional Vortex is interesting and leads to a brand new ending, which is fine, but the Lost Sanctum (aside from being kind of annoying) doesn’t really mean much unless you’re the sort of player who has to do EVERYTHING in the game, and the Arena, while a cute idea, is fairly useless unless you have hours and hours to devote to it to level up a monster, and while you CAN earn neat prizes for doing so, the time investment required isn’t really worth the payoff. You’re essentially paying full-price for a DS game that’s a remake of a remake that was one-half of a compilation that was roughly this price on the PS1, and that seems somewhat unfair when one considers that the added content doesn’t really justify the price (though the portability does, somewhat). Speaking of portability, one more time from the top: HANDHELD RPG’S REQUIRE, DEMAND, AND NECESSITATE THE ABILITY TO SAVE FREQUENTLY, IF NOT WHENEVER YOU WANT, PERIOD, and the fact that Chrono Trigger lacks this feature is, sorry, a stupid move on Square-Enix’s part. Also, while Chrono Trigger is still a classic and enjoyable game, it’s kind of short, clocking in at around thirty hours for one playthrough if you do everything available to you (which is made up for by the metric ton of endings in the game), and it’s not all that challenging for those who are looking for a tough old-school RPG, as except for a few instances in certain boss battles, most of the battles in the game are fairly easy to blow through without a problem. It’s nice to not have to grind for hours to make it through a battle, but those looking for a bit more of a challenge may be left disappointed.

Also, it’s, well, Chrono Trigger, which was an original game about a decade and change ago but isn’t so much of one anymore, though if this bothers you, you’re most likely not reading this review anyway, so I don’t suppose there’s much point in belaboring that point.

In the end, it comes down to this: if you’ve either never played Chrono Trigger or you’re a fan and want to play it through again, this is pretty much the best possible version to play. It combines the strong story, cute visuals, excellent sound, and enjoyable gameplay with the aesthetically pleasing add-ons of the PS1 port and a bunch of new content updates specifically for the DS, making it EASILY the best version of the game, ever. It’s worth owning if you’ve somehow never played it, and if you’re a fan, you’ll probably want to play it for the new ending and the redone script translation alone. That said, if you’re looking at your PS1 collection and casting a urine-filled eye upon your copy of Final Fantasy Chronicles, well, there’s probably not enough in this version to justify owning it (doubly so considering you can buy Final Fantasy Chronicles on Ebay for about ten to fifteen bucks), as the new content isn’t terribly spectacular to anyone but a diehard fan, and the game lacks enough originality to be a must-have to someone who’s played the game recently. It also doesn’t help that the game lacks certain functional elements that really SHOULD have been included (a quicksave, for example), which seems a little sloppy. That said, this is pretty much the best version of Chrono Trigger ever, and fans and newbies alike will most likely fall in love with it simply because of everything it has to offer. It’s not going to win over those who were tired of it, but then, it was never really trying to, I don’t think, and considering how enjoyable it still is after all these years, I don’t really think it needs to, either.

The Scores:
Story: GREAT
Graphics: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: UNPARALLELED
Balance: GOOD
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: GOOD
Final Score: VERY GOOD.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Years later, Chrono Trigger is still as classic an experience as it ever was, whether you’re a new player or an old fan, and while the DS version doesn’t do a significant amount of new things, it’s essentially the best version of the game, bar none, which should make it worth a look by anyone who’s curious. The story is strong, the visuals are still enjoyable, the audio is outstanding, and the gameplay is as intuitive and engaging as it ever way, and the game features a ton of endings to find and unlock as well as new dungeons and quests for the dedicated player to hack their way through. The fact that the game also combines the new DS features with the upgrades from the PS1 re-release is also pretty impressive, all things considered. There’s not really enough new to the game for those who’ve fallen out of love with the game, however, and the game lacks any real challenge for experienced gamers (and certain features that should really be a must for DS titles in this day and age), which makes it somewhat harder to recommend for some. Still, Chrono Trigger is still one of the best JRPG’s ever made, and the DS version is the definitive version of the game, making this pretty much a no-brainer for anyone who considers themselves a fan or anyone who’s interested in seeing what the game is all about. It’s a little pricey, considering, but for fans (both old and new), you’ll find it more than pays for itself.



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

  1. […] 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 and I […]

  2. […] no secret I’m a Chrono Trigger fan – I even nominated it for the Hall of Fame way back when. So when Alex said a […]

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