You feel that tingling in your mind? That feeling that you forgotten something, yet this sense of nostalgia tingles inside you and never goes away? That is the feeling of games from your past, games that are now obscure from the public eye. Some are herald classics, others are better left in the landfill, but while they are no longer in the public eye, they still live on in some way. Each week, I plan on embracing that nostalgia, so to speak, and review one of these forgotten games in a series I like to call “From The Well.” This week, we look at Chrono Trigger.
Ok ok, I am sort of cheating this one because the version of Chrono Trigger I’m reviewing is the DS version. But since it is a near carbon copy of the SNES classic, I figure it would pass for my weekly series.
But that is really not here nor there, because if you own a DS, love RPGS, and feel like owning a piece of video game history, go buy Chrono Trigger now. Don’t even read this review. Just go buy it. Hell, I will send you money to buy it; it’s that damn good.
Normally when classic games get revitalized in some form, it gets universal praise if it was a great game. Chrono Trigger is a game that had a lot going for it. Back when developer Square was never a part of Enix, the so called “Dream Team”, consisting of numerous composers, designers, and developers who have worked on numerous Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy games, got together to create a magnum opus of sorts, one that’s design was well ahead of it’s time.
It may seem to be mundane now, but back in 1996, RPG’s had a standard formula, random encounters, stat upgrades, a main quest with four or so protagonists going through a series of areas to get to the final confrontation, and a linear ending. While Chrono Trigger does borrow some of these devices, the clever gameplay designs create a more engrossing experience that truly does capture the sense of a true RPG.
The story is simple, but fairly detailed. As Crono, the silent protagonist, you get caught up in a whirlwind of events thanks to a chance encounter with the rebellious princess Marle at a local fair. Thanks to a time rift created by a friend Lucca, you embark on a quest to originally rescue the princess, but later uncover something more sinister. And using the time travel device, you traverse through time and space to seal up the time rifts and stop your primary antagonist, who becomes revealed to you as the game progresses.
Story wise, the game was well ahead of it’s time, using a literal cold opening to the entire game to add some character development and a feel for the controls to get started. The lack of any real plot device in the beginning actually gives it a lot more authenticity to the overarching quests in the game, and also enhances the story more so than the straight forward “save the world because you’re the chosen one” routine.
Doing side quests, a device that was rare during the 16-bit era of RPGS, also gives the game depth. Finding special weapons or armor is always a nice reward, but the side-quests also became a great device used to flesh out the characters themselves. Some of the side stories, like Frog’s vengeance against his lord’s killer, reliving Lucca’s tragic past, or seeing Marle’s daddy issues, make you sympathize with the characters in the game even more, and care for the their plights as they battle the evil forces that gather around them. While it may seem sort of light when compared to RPG games today, in particular the open ended games like Fallout or Elder Scrolls, at the time it was a great innovation that added to the story’s strength.
The games battle system was done in a semi-real time way. No random encounters occur, instead you can see the enemies on the map, and the enemy fighters can attack before you can at times as well. Each character can learn techs, which are special abilities, and some of the strategic play is learning techs over battles and in time, learning dual techs with other characters, creating a destructive force that would cause massive damage to enemies. Magic also comes into play for some of the characters later on, even furthering the combat system.
The DS version also contains the FMV sequences from the Playstation version of the game, as well as dialogue changes to add on any “offensive” items, such as church paraphernalia or the transsexual character Flea, back into the game. Also added were new dungeon crawls in the DS version, but they do feel out of place and since they are optional games, it is probably better to leave it be and focus on the story.
The game, although very dated graphically, is beautiful to look at. Vibrant colors, strong character animations (in particular Crono, who pantomimes his emotions throughout the game.) and fluid transitions to various locations in the game. The outer world map, however, is fairly ugly and often times too small of a space to see everything, let alone find inns or shops to heal or upgrade your weaponry.
Sound wise, composers Nobuo Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda will probably always be remembered for the vibrant score the game has. Some of the most famous game tunes, from Frogs theme to the lovely suite “To Far Away Times” are staples in the video game world. Not knowing these themes or never hearing them is like never hearing the Mario main theme, or Dr. Wily’s castle from Mega Man 2. And the great thing about Chrono Trigger is that the game is chock full of fantastic music that really captures the games scale and wonder.
So if you are still reading this, and your not convinced yet, let me put it this way. Chrono Trigger is one of the best games ever made. Many critics see it as a forgotten classic, a game that sold over 2 million copies and continues to be a best seller on a new platform. It’s imaginative story, clever design choices, and fantastic score should be enough to convince anyone to play the game at least once. Even if you don’t like JRPGS, play this game. I promise you, there will not be another experience in an RPG for a long time.
Final Score- A-