Chrono Trigger DS Review

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I find myself very lucky that I personally stumbled into picking up Chrono Trigger in the mid ’90s. Back then my old movie rental store, which has since been unapologetically turned into a florist, rented a few SNES game to accompany their vast selection of VHS tapes, and somehow, some way, they managed to get both the US copy of the game, and a SNES import adaptor in stock. It was then I lucked into picking it up as a rental, even though I knew next to nothing about it – as none of my copies of Super Play did anything to inform me.

Things are certainly not the same nowadays, as just about everyone has heard about the famed RPG, due to countless appearance in various Top 10 listings, and many of its dedicated admirers using the multiple outlets today’s technology brings to inform people of its greatness. The adulation is justified though, as for its time Chrono Trigger was a revelation, brining multiple new ideas to the genre, both revitalizing and introducing new people the world of JRPG in one fell swoop.

There are many facets of Chrono Trigger that propel it above the rest in terms of quality. Smart ideas are spread over different aspects of the game, which all add up to something very special. Basic things, like dungeons that seem to last the right amount of time, boss battles that are not long haul in nature, always seeming to have to right amount of HP to be fair but challenging, and a clever, constantly compelling story are just the tip of a rather large iceberg.

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The ingenious way the game is laid out is a step above those little refinements. It places you on a relatively small island, and as a result you should always know where you are. In turn, you’ll always have some inkling of where you are going and what you are supposed do as well. However, even though the game’s geographical area is limited, when you combine the play area with the element of time travel – ultimately leading you through seven eras of history – it opens up huge options as to where you can go and what you can do.

Adding to the replay value is a staggering 14 different endings. Unlike many other RPGs this does not mean you have to finish the game 14 times to see everything. Instead, you just have to reach a certain point in the game then trigger a final boss fight. In fact, after a few hours play you can choose to battle him, but of course you will not have levelled up near enough by that point and ultimately fail. However, should you choose to make another run though the game, you can do so with all character levels and techs still intact, and then set you sights on a different ending.

Chrono Trigger’s battle system is perhaps the most important of all though, as it’s very fast paced in nature and fun to use. At first, there is not much to distinguish it from other Square Enix games, with your typical Attack, Tech (which drains your MP) and Item options adorning the screen. However, due to the large selection of characters for use in your party, a huge amount of options as to how you want play the game open up.

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Depending on who you have in your party you can use various double team and triple team moves – via the Tech option. For example, in other RPGs you may chose to have one Healer in your party, but in Chrono Trigger if you choose the correct character to complement, different double team and triple team options open up. “Heal Beam” is one example, which is a move that is much more effective to heal a party on low HP. However, that’s just one move out of what seem to be a hundred different possibilities. Also, let’s not forget the game lacks random battles, and also has no nasty transition to a battle screen when you trigger fights, all adding to the appeal and fast paced nature of the game.

Furthermore, in the move to DS all of this feels better than ever, as you can now use the bottom screen to interface with the character, which means all the clutter has been removed. The top screen is left clear to showcase the beautiful spite based graphics that still remain impressive all these years later. In turn, having the character interface options on the bottom screen means items are much easier to find and equip than ever before.

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In the same vein, the enormous amount of scripting differences depending on the team you take into battle is staggering. Pretty much all the characters  have something appealing about them too, so it is honestly tricky to find a team of three you like, without feeling like you’re missing out on something else. Regretfully, Frog (a frog who is a knight) has had his script noticeably changed since the SNES version, which ultimately means he is no longer as unique and memorable. However, he now makes much more sense, which is a plus. The eccentricities of Robo (a robot from 2300 AD) and Ayla (from 65,000,000 BC) are still very much on show.

If this DS remake is your first opportunity to play Chrono Trigger, then you should prepare to be captivated by something special. That in itself is quite an achievement, as it’s an exceptional, extraordinary occurrence to find a game nowadays that’s perfectly playable over a decade after release without some feeling of nostalgia sugar-coating the experience.

On the other hand, if you see the DS version as a way of reliving fantastic retro memories, then you’re welcome to jump aboard, as none of the game’s unique intrinsic charm has been lost in the move to handheld. This stems from the fact that touch functionality has not got shoehorned into every facet of the game, and the vast majority of the new additions in the move over to DS are smart ones. The two new areas/dungeons (Lost Sanctum and the Dimensional Vortex) are not as bad as some critics have made them out to be either.

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Ultimately, it is hard to find anything to fervently dislike in Chrono Trigger. It may be a 14 year old game, but it is certainly not showing in its age, and even though it is now on its third remake it still assuredly holds its own compared to many of today’s bright and shiny, graphically striking RPG’s.

To be uber-critical, you could argue that a few of the RPG innovations may not stand out as proudly as they once did, and equally you could bemoan that fact that the game shows no graphical improvement in the move to a new platform (especially compared to the now defunct fan remake from a few years back). But crucially none of these negatives detract from the experience, so much so that I struggle to even label them as such.

On the whole, the game is still full of fantastic little touches that you can’t help but love, all presented and executed in a simply timeless fashion. You can’t ask much more than that.

10/10

by

Version tested: Nintendo DS

Developer: Square / TOSE

Publisher: Square Enix

Genre: RPG