Review: Chrono Trigger

One of the best things about starting this website and tackling my game backlog is being able to play some really amazing games that I missed out on the first time around. Yes, I know it’s considered blasphemy by many, but until I sat down to play it for this review, Chrono Trigger was one of those games. Why is this admission so shocking? Because even to this day, Chrono Trigger is considered by many to be the greatest JRPG of all time.

Today, Chrono Trigger is associated with Square Enix. Square Enix is company that many gamers are familiar with. This is a corporation that brings us amazing franchises like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. But once upon a time, these two JRPG franchises were owned by different companies. Final Fantasy was the flagship title from Squaresoft, while Dragon Quest was developed by a corporation known as Enix. Until their merger in 2003, these two companies were fierce competitors. The Final Fantasy series was renown for its excellent storytelling and inventive gameplay mechanics. Meanwhile, Dragon Quest was famous for its gorgeous art direction, unique humor, and loveable characters. In an effort to try to win over Dragon Quest fans, Squaresoft decided to assemble a supergroup of game designers in order to develop the “ultimate RPG title”. As you may have guessed, this “ultimate rpg” became Chrono Trigger. On the development team for this game were designers from both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. It took the very best qualities from both franchises and combined them to create an experience that had never been seen before.

As is usually the case with games today, if you want to try this title for yourself, there’s a more than a few options to choose from. Chrono Trigger was originally released in 1995 for the Super Nintendo. This is the version that the majority of retro gamers fell in love with. But, as you might expect, it wasn’t perfect. The original SNES release was riddled with odd translation issues and mindless censorship. Thankfully, 1999 saw a re-release of the game on the Sony Playstation (as part of the Final Fantasy Chronicles collection). This new version included a slightly improved translation and some fully animated cutscenes. But it was heavily criticized for suffering from slow load times and other technical oddities. Eventually, the game was re-released again in 2008 for the Nintendo DS. This version included of all of features from the Playstation release, but also features enhanced graphics, a superior translation, and even includes new playable areas and additional content. But wait! We’re not done! Flash forward a few more years and SE decided to make a mobile port of the game. The mobile release includes most (but not all) of the new content from the DS release. And, as you might have guessed (if you know anything about SE’s marketing habits) this mobile version was later ported to the PC.

But, don’t get too excited about the PC version of Chrono Trigger. I have to tell you, the PC port of the game is extremely buggy. Since I already owned it, it is the version that I decided to play for this review. But if I could go back, I would have chose differently. My PC version of Chrono Trigger suffered from frequent crashes and exhibited very unusual behavior (especially if left idle for a while). Due to the poor quality of the PC version, many gamers (myself included), consider the DS version to be the definitive release of the game.

Chrono Trigger is story of a young hero named Crono. While attending a local festival with his friends, Crono stops to watch a demonstration put on by a local inventor. The inventor (who is also the father of one of Crono’s friends) is showing off his newly designed teleportation technology. However, the device malfunctions and creates a time portal which accidentally sends the kingdom’s princess to the past. Naturally, Crono and the inventor’s daughter, Lucca, enter the portal to rescue the princess. This travel through time starts a series of events that leads Crono on a time-hopping adventure. During his travels, Crono learns about the fate of his world and decides to do everything in his power to save his planet from destruction. As he travels through time, he meets and recruits a number of party members from different eras. A large portion of the game focuses on solving problems by jumping between various time periods and seeing how your actions in the past might affect an outcome in the future.

Fans of JRPGs from the SNES era, will feel right at home with this title. From the start, Chrono Trigger will spark a sense of familiarity. For example, the player controls a party of up to three characters. Characters start off generally weak, but as they engage in combat, they slowly level up their strength and abilities. Battles are turn-based and the player is able to decide what actions each character will take during their turn in battle. Characters can choose from regular melee attacks, magic, and special techniques (or “techs”). But where this game differs from most other JPRGs of the age, is the inclusion of Double and Triple Techs. Double Techs combine the attacks of two different characters to create powerful results. These special techniques are unlocked by having different characters party together over time. Triple Techs follow the same principle, but instead of just two characters participating in the technique, all three work together. This system is designed to encourage players to continuously swap out their party members, thus learning the strengths and weaknesses of each character.

While the actual battles will somewhat familiar to JPRG fans, the way that they are initiated is something unique. Up to this point, most JRPGs featured random encounter. In Chrono Trigger however, you can typically see enemies on the screen before the battle begins. Players who are savvy enough can often avoid encounter by skirting their way around enemies. Of course, it’s often much more fun to purposefully engage them.

As I mentioned above, time travel is a big part of what makes Chrono Trigger so unique. Players are able to visit the same locations but during different periods in history. Having time play the role of an “extra dimension” gives the game a whole new storytelling dynamic. For example, players may encounter a greedy NPC in the present that is unwilling to help them on their quest. But by traveling back in time, and showing kindness to the ancestors of that character, the attitude of the greedy character may change to be more charitable. In fact, Chrono Trigger is filled with a number of similar situations. Players who are willing to take their time and explore all of the various locales and sidequests will find a much richer experience than someone who tries to simply speed through the game.

The storyline for Chrono Trigger is spread out over several chapters. Upon reaching various milestones in the storyline, the game progresses from one chapter to the next. Early in the game, players learn about an entity that will eventually cause the end of the world. On a normal playthrough, the final showdown with this boss occurs during the game’s last chapter. However, it is possible to challenge this final boss at any point in the game. The ending the players receive will vary depending on what chapter the players are on when they defeat the final boss.

This multiple ending feature combined with the New Game+ that unlocks the first time you complete the game, adds a great bit of replayability to Chrono Trigger. Players who want to experience every ending possible will end up sinking countless hours into the game. Personally, I could have happily replayed this game over and over again in attempt to see every ending possible. But, knowing that I had this review to write, I stopped after unlocking just a handful. Still, the desire to keep playing after finishing the game was there, and that’s always a good sign.

I can’t believe it took me as long as it did to finally see what all the hype was about. Having now experienced Chrono Trigger first hand, I totally understand all the love that this game has received over the decades. It really is a one of the best JRPGs I’ve ever played. If any game deserves a modern-day remaster, it’s this one. Sadly, all SE has seen fit to give us lately is a shoddy port of the mobile version. But still, despite it’s flaws, if the PC version is only way you can manage to enjoy this masterpiece, it still very much worth it.

Version Reviewed: PC

Difficulty: Medium –  Chrono Trigger is like most other 16-bit era RPG titles when it comes to difficulty level. The game offers frequent opportunities to save (with many of save points conveniently placed right before major boss battles). Boss fights can certainly pose a bit of a challenge. But players are able to grind their way past almost any encounter if they so choose.

Multiplayer:  No.

Story: As one might expect from a Squaresoft RPG, the storyline in Chrono Trigger is rich and extremely engaging. Extra attention is given to the backstory for each of the main characters. This really helps the player connect with the characters on a deep level and also serves to enhance the story in a major way.

Originality: This game follows the tried and true JRPG formula – but with some new twists. The elimination of random encounters is refreshing. Also the introduction of the tech system provides a new spin on the classic turn-based battle system.

Soundtrack: The music in this game rivals anything seen in either Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. The tunes are epic, comfy, and catchy. The music is masterfully composed and fits right in with the wonderful world that this game presents to the player.

Fun: Being an old school RPG fan, I might be a bit biased, but I had an absolute blast playing this game. It was everything that I’ve always loved about these type of games, but with a bunch of new and interesting additions. Even though this was my first time playing Chrono Trigger, it sparked a familiar whiff of nostalgia that gave me good vibes from the beginning of the game all the way to the very end.

Graphics: This game features colorful, 16-bit style graphics that were common during the time of its release. Modern ports of Chrono Trigger do offer the option for upscaled textures, but from my experimentation, the original graphics seem to look more natural.

Playcontrol: As with most RPGs, control is not an issue. Everything works and feels as expected regardless of the controller you are using. With this in mind, gamers playing the PC version are highly encouraged to play with a controller instead of the keyboard and mouse. This game was designed with a controller in mind and that’s how it’s best experienced.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: N/A

Value: Used copies of the original SNES game can often go for $150 or more. That’s a little excessive in my book. The PS1 and DS version are much more affordable – usually going for $50 or less. At this price, either one of these version are well worth the price. The digital PC version sells for around $15, but due to the technical issues this version exhibits, I’d recommend waiting for it go on sale if that’s the route you intend to take.

Overall score (1-100): 100 – People herald this game as one of the greatest RPGs of all time for a reason. It REALLY IS that good. Everything from the design of the mechanics, to the graphics and soundtrack, to the storyline are absolutely stellar. My only complaint about the game is the fact that the PC port is such low quality. But, that’s not the fault of the game itself. Chrono Trigger is one of the few exceptions where the hype is actually well earned.

Original System: SNES

Available today on: PC  – (Updated as of Early Winter 2023)

Best Experience: DS    –   (Updated as of Early Winter 2023)

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Chrono Trigger    –    Chrono Cross

 

Old Game Hermit

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