Chrono Trigger DS Review
One Point Twenty-One Jiggawatts
Rereleasing a nearly fifteen-year-old game for full price without any kind of significant enhancements would generally be viewed as a quick cash-in, but in the case of Square Enix’s classic SNES RPG Chrono Trigger, most people would be willing to overlook such a transgression. Very few — arguably no other, in fact — RPGs have survived the test of time as well as Chrono Trigger, and the evidence can be seen in its staggering fanbase, rivaled only in the JRPG world by that of Final Fantasy VII. The game almost received a full, 3-D fan-made remake, until Square Enix pulled the plug on it, and thousands of fans glared hatefully at our very own website when we jokingly announced Chrono Break on April Fool’s Day several years ago. So when Square Enix announced that they were rereleasing the beloved RPG classic on the DS, people took notice.
Chrono Trigger is a simple story about a kid named Crono who gets dragged into a time-traveling adventure through several ages of history in order to save a doomed future. The plot is divided into several substories that take place in various areas of time, but they all tie together with a single, common thread: an ancient entity destined to destroy the world. It’s hard to judge Chrono Trigger‘s story, as it isn’t quite like anything else released before or since. The character development is fairly limited, the plot itself is segmented between the ages for the most part, and yet everything ties together beautifully. The game flows at a terrific pace, and the story is crafted in such a way that, despite each part of the plot being sectioned off from the others, they all lead to the ultimate conclusion that ties everything together. It’s almost impossible to not be sucked into the game’s world.
The time-travel elements are certainly what makes Chrono Trigger‘s world so fascinating, and to date, no other game has captured the concept quite as elegantly. Taking action in the past to change the future in the subtlest of ways in order to proceed through the game always provides a certain feeling of awe in the player’s mind; a “wow, that’s awesome!” sort of moment. However, and forgive the incredible nerdiness of this complaint, there is a certain lack of consistency in how time travel is handled within the game. Specifically, at some times actions performed in the past change the future, while at others, the changes in the future occur before anything is done to cause them. It’s the difference between a contiguous timeline and a branching timeline, but it’s such a minor issue that it doesn’t really affect the enjoyment of the game.
Its setting and story aren’t the only thing that set Chrono Trigger apart from the competition. In fact, nearly every aspect of the game’s design was significantly ahead of its time. Combat makes use of a modified version of the Active Time Battle System (ATB) used in Final Fantasy IV through IX, but unlike the series it originated in, Chrono Trigger does away with random battles in favor of non-random, scripted encounters that take place without any kind of screen-shattering effect. Only in the last few years have random encounters begun to disappear from RPGs, and finding games where combat takes place without some sort of battle screen is still a rarity, which goes to show just how ahead of the curve this game was.
Chrono Trigger furthers this by adding an extra dimension to the ATB system. Each character has an action gauge that fills up as time passes, at which point they can launch attacks and skills or use items. Turn order can be adjusted on the fly by simply not selecting an attack immediately. This remains true to the other games utilizing this combat system, but Chrono Trigger mixes things up by adding in character and enemy positioning to the list of things players need to consider. During battle, most enemies move around, and certain skills affect an area, making target selection of fair importance. Furthermore, Chrono Trigger makes a strong showing of keeping normal battles interesting by providing significantly varied enemies boasting various strengths and weaknesses. Some enemies are weak to a specific element, some enemies absorb certain types of magic, some are strong to physical attacks, some can launch counter-attacks, and there are even some with special effects that trigger if certain conditions are met.
Interestingly, the normal encounters are something of a highlight for Chrono Trigger‘s battle system. Not only are they generally over fairly quickly, but since mindlessly mashing the attack button isn’t always effective, they are also very engaging. The DS stylus controls for battles are also particularly well done. The buttons are large and shown for all three party members simultaneously, which makes selecting characters and staggering attacks significantly easier. For those who wish to play the game in its original glory, however, the option for classic menu use is available.
Boss battles, unfortunately, are not quite as enjoyable. They aren’t bad; the same ideas used in normal encounters are used in boss fights as well, and each boss has some sort of weakness or special ability that needs to be exploited or avoided in order to succeed. They’re just way too long. While normal encounters usually last a matter of seconds, rarely going as long as a minute, boss fights will often take ten or more to complete. In some cases, players can expect to be fighting for as long as half an hour! Considering that once a successful strategy is found, the battles are rarely more than an endurance trial, bosses could easily have had their HP halved and still provided the same amount of challenge and enjoyment without wasting the player’s time.
Although it was revolutionary at the time it was created, Chrono Trigger‘s battle system is only slightly above average when compared to the offerings of today’s RPG market. While it manages to easily surpass the staggering number of ports and remakes available on the DS, when compared to newer titles, it’s a solid system, but not as impressive as it once was. The fact that it can still hold its own with today’s games fifteen years later, however, is a testament to Chrono Trigger‘s lasting appeal.
On a visual level, sadly, the game is definitely showing its age. The graphics are colorful and surprisingly detailed for a SNES game, but it hasn’t received any kind of overhaul in this department. With many DS games now sporting impressive 3D visuals, and others providing high-quality sprites, Chrono Trigger‘s visuals, while adequate, aren’t particularly impressive in this day and age. Borrowing from the PlayStation port, Chrono Trigger DS also features a handful of anime cutscenes that add a bit of pizazz, but even these seem outdated, mostly due to the painfully obvious lack of voicework. In one particular scene, the anime scene actually cuts to black to display dialogue, much like a silent movie. It would have been child’s play to add a few lines of voicework to the game, but it seems that little effort was spent improving the game for the twenty-first century.
Even the stylus controls that were added seem tacked on. Although, as mentioned earlier, they are a huge asset in combat, outside of combat they are virtually worthless. In particular, using the stylus to move is ridiculously frustrating, requiring the player to drag the stylus around on a minimap displayed on the bottom screen in order to move around on the top. It’s difficult to imagine anybody actually making use of this control scheme, which means most players will find themselves switching between stylus and button controls and they go in and out of battle, which can get irritating. The dual screen functionality, thankfully, is implemented much better, providing the aforementioned buttons during combat as well as a brand new, highly useful minimap during exploration, and is pretty much the only noteworthy change the game has received.
The game’s soundtrack is probably the one thing that not only survives the test of time, but easily surpasses much of what is released today. Although the audio maintains the tinny quality of the SNES, the composition is fantastic. Nearly every piece is catchy and memorable, but more importantly, they are also varied, with thematic changes occurring in the different time periods the game takes place in. The prehistoric age features a lot of percussion-heavy tribal tracks, while the middle ages have a score more epic in scope. One thing the game could really have used, particularly considering that a DS cartridge is capable of holding significantly more data than what is stored on it, is a spattering of voice acting. Even small segments during important scenes could have done a lot to improve the game and make Chrono Trigger DS more than just a simple port, but sadly the game’s audio consists of its fantastic soundtrack and some fairly simple sound effects, but nothing else.
Chrono Trigger DS is definitely a great game, and any RPG fan who hasn’t played this classic should not miss this opportunity to add it to their collection. However, despite its former glory, video games have advanced significantly in the last fifteen years, making Chrono Trigger a slightly aged experience. Could you travel back to 1995, it would be one of the greatest RPGs in existence. But time travel is only possible in the game. Chrono Trigger is past its prime, but still healthy enough to be enjoyed.
Gameplay has aged well
Time travel effects are brilliantly designed
Stylus controls in battle are particularly well done
Stylus controls outside battle are poorly implemented
Graphics are showing their age
Prolonged boss fights