REVIEWS -- Chrono Trigger -- DS
Does Chrono Trigger DS Stand the Test of Time?
by Nicholas James West
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Buy
Does this “old school” RPG deliver by today’s standards, or are the paradoxes of time-travel and nostalgia catching up to the myth?
Chrono Trigger was a video-game originally released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1995. The game was created by a dream-team of Japanese programmers, musicians and artists who had worked on such projects as Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Dragonball Z.
The game followed the adventures of a mostly silent, spiky-haired protagonist named Crono, and his ragtag collection of friends as they tried to save the world from an ultimate evil (sound familiar?). The group of adventurers and would-be saviors of the world were time travelers and consisted of a princess, tech-geek, medieval frog-knight, a robot from the future and a cavewoman tribal-leader from the past (maybe this is where it starts to sound different than your typical fantasy story?). The travelers visited different eras in human history in an attempt to unravel the mysteries of “Lavos,” the embodiment of darkness.
It was a simple, yet effective, role-playing game. It included hit points, leveling, upgraded weapons and armor, and turn-based combat. The story was powerful, the gameplay fun, and the characters memorable. Unless one didn’t care for the RPG genre it was hard to find fault in the game. Chrono Trigger was heralded as nearly perfect upon its release, and since then, its legend has only grown.
Despite the PlayStation sequel Chrono Cross, and a re-issue included in Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy Chronicles, as well as a steady stream of content from its various creators, fans of the series continued to clamor for more from the world of Chrono Trigger.
Square Enix has finally released Chrono Trigger DS for Nintendo’s current handheld system. Now you know of the legend, and you may have played it on the SNES or the PS1; or perhaps you’re contemplating giving it your first go-round. The question is: Does it live up to the hype?
A unique introduction
You begin the game by choosing the name of your character. The default name is “Crono.” Our avatar Crono is awoken by his mother and heads to the “Millennial Fair” organized in his hometown.
The first noticeable feature is the excellent choice of sound design. We see and hear the pops of firecrackers and rising balloons, which are accentuated with the cries of seabirds. Suddenly, the screen goes black and we hear “Leene’s Bell,” ringing as a wakeup call to the player. The sounds set the tone; they are simple, but extremely effective.
Though the mood is set, the true face of this game is to be subtly revealed. When the screen fades from black we start to hear the tender yet powerful soundtrack, then Crono’s room is revealed. No, we haven’t been dropped into a battlefield of monsters and knights, a massive castle, or an alien landscape, but the quaint room of a boy. Without being overt the game has already proven that it is different from your typical fantasy fare. The combination of sounds, music and colors are captivating. I didn’t fully realize nor have the words for what I felt the first time I started this game. But I knew I was hooked. In that simple thirty seconds of (originally) 16-bit glory I was already convinced that this universe was real and tangible. It existed.
In those few opening moments I felt that this game was created by masters of their craft. The reality of the universe is reaffirmed when Crono leaves his home and we get our first glimpse of the world he inhabits. We see a tiny town surrounded by mountains and forests, and a castle in the distance, all rendered in simplistic beauty. This turns out to be the rule. The world of Chrono Trigger is always simple and beautiful.
In the next scenario the game continues to distinguish itself from other RPG’s. Instead of an immediate mission to a dungeon or cave which involves slicing goblins in half, we are treated to exploring fairgrounds, and it is a treat. We meet girls and play games with the townsfolk. Crono uses his sword at the fair, but it is to compete with a giant robot. This is how the game teaches you its gameplay and battle mechanics. Once more the effect is subtle and effective.
I hope I don’t turn anybody off by making it sound like Chrono Trigger DS is weak on action. It is decidedly not so. You can easily leave the fair and enter a nearby forest to fight little goblin dudes to your heart’s content. And once the plot gets rolling there are plenty of enemies to be slain by sword, gun and fist.
In a timely manner Crono starts running into the other adventurers and getting into trouble with Kings, creatures and the time continuum itself. The characters that join him have differing philosophies and motivations, but they all share a willingness to sacrifice for the needs of others.
As referenced, the path to Lavos takes Crono’s party through different eras. From the prehistory of man to the end of time, you’ll fight reptile creatures, mystics, robots and dark lords.
The game, though simplistically presented, tackles issues with surprising depth. Characters met along the way like Janus (a boy in the age of magic) and Nizbel (the prehistoric “reptite” king) are complex. For instance, Nizbel is a “bad guy” and an end-boss, but his motivations are presented with empathy, and defeating him is a melancholic moment. It isn’t all black and white in this world. There are some interesting grays that shade the Chrono Trigger universe.
But is it fun to play?
The gameplay is sharp and balanced. Battles usually take the form of three adventurers versus various monsters. When you have more than three in your group switching members in-between battles is a cinch. Equipping and removing gear is painless as well. That for me is always a positive point. There’s nothing like RPG menu fatigue. There is a small learning curve, but once you get used to them the menus are slick and helpful.
Another unique feature is the lack of random battles. For an RPG this was virtually unheard of in 1995. You can actually see enemies and choose to confront them or not. However, there are unavoidable enemy ambushes and most bosses aren’t optional.
The bosses are a blast. They are audacious and sometimes screen-filling. Most of them come with quirky dialogue to show off their distinct personalities. Figuring out the patterns to defeat them is classic RPG fun.
The battle system is easy enough to learn for beginners and just deep enough to please RPG veterans. There are items, a tech system and basic attacks (that allow you to use whatever weapon your character is equipped with). It’s by no means the most complex array of choices, but for the game’s flow that’s a plus. Anything more would have been a distraction.
The “tech” system is the game’s standout feature. Tech options consist of special moves and magic. Magic points are used when performing a tech. Using magic is satisfying in battle, but the really fun part is the combo system. Different characters can learn to combine their respective abilities in order to perform powerful dual and triple attacks. It’s gratifying to see the characters interacting with each other during battle using their respective “dual” and “triple-techs.”
I should mention that you are able to choose between the “ATB” (Active Time Battle) or “Wait” mode. In the ATB mode monsters don’t wait for you to make decisions. The game was designed for this method of play and it seems to flow better than Wait mode, which lets you take your time to decide how to attack or heal. ATB is slightly more challenging, however it really depends on preference.
A few issues
Though I enjoyed the battle system, it is also where I found my first discomfort with the DS presentation. Sometimes I found the touchscreen to be more of a novelty than a helpful gaming feature. Do touchscreen controls add to or detract from the experience of Chrono Trigger DS? This is another feature that depends on preference. I personally found it distracting. I ended up ignoring any touch functions and just used traditional controls. It was nice to have the upper screen free of clutter, though at times I missed the result of an action on the top screen while I was making a decision on the lower. For example, there was one particular boss battle where, because of the dual screen, I kept accidentally healing my opponent.
A factor that returns from the original release is the repetition of combat, specifically techs. If you do any sort of level grinding (fighting to get experience points) you will obtain most of your magic fairly early in the game. Even though this may be a drawback for veteran RPG players, the good news is a new player can run through the game without needing to grind, but it will make the bosses more difficult.
Having played Square’s re-released Final Fantasy games for the Game Boy Advance and DS, I also expected a quick save feature. Chrono Trigger DS does not have one. So make sure you plan out your time a bit before you get too far into a scenario.
A world to believe in
The graphic presentation needs to be seen in motion to be understood. For a game released in 1995 it was quite spectacular, and yet the vibrancy of graphics managed to stay fresh even to modern Nintendo DS days. The color choices and art direction are top notch. Characters are designed with personality and feeling, monsters are diverse and fun, and the backgrounds have a depth to them that helps support the believability of it all. It should be mentioned that the soundtrack excels and compliments the story, influencing the perception of images.
The details of the plot are also impressive. There are a multitude of well-balanced scenarios that add up to a long adventure. While cleverly paced so as not to be boring or tedious, the plot twists make sense but aren’t predictable or telegraphed. The game moves you forward in a somewhat linear fashion, but it doesn’t feel forced, making the task of saving the world seem plausible. When it finally branches into different directions it feels natural.
Chrono Trigger DS follows the Japanese tradition of the protagonist being a symbolic representation of the player. The main character is silent, except for certain “yes” or “no” answers and other similar decisions at key points of the story. Many choices even alter history itself. Because this was first released in 1995, which was a good thirteen years before Mass Effect or Grand Theft Auto IV, multiple paths weren’t an accepted staple in the mainstream yet. It was surprising that your answers could actually affect the outcome of the story. This eventually leads to about fourteen multiple endings if different paths are chosen.
Even though the main game has plenty for an eager player to chew on, the DS release also gives us extra goodies. Anime cut scenes that were originally added to the PlayStation release are also found here. A bestiary and item description area is included for the collector and completion-ist types. There is also a music player, art gallery, and movie player. It almost feels like DVD bonus material, which I found enjoyable.
On top of the “DVD” features there is a monster battle arena for obtaining goodies, and (possibly) battling your friends. I enjoyed getting rare items and watching my “little darling” level up and morph.
There are also two new dungeon/quest areas, which are optional. This is good as they may be tedious for some. I found them quite fun and looked forward to discovering the challenges set forth.
Because the main game is so solid, Chrono Trigger DS shouldn’t be judged by its bonus material. However, if fourteen different endings weren’t already enough, the re-playability factor is boosted by it.
Chrono Trigger DS has a special spirit to it. Characters are charitable and put the needs of others above their own, seeking to save a planet against impossible odds. Of course, this is basic RPG or superhero stuff, but it somehow feels different. I know it sounds weird to say, but as I played, I felt like I was doing something good for the world. The universe created around Crono and his friends is not only immersive but emotional too.
Does the game live up to its considerable legend? Yes! Thirteen video game years can be a lifetime, but this title has held up to the test of time. If you own a DS and are even mildly interested in RPG’s this is the game to get. It represents a moment of pure creative genius. The presentation is authentic, the themes are mythic, the characters are interesting, and most importantly the gameplay is solid-fun.
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: November 25, 2008
Review Date: 08-12-2008
Numbers of Players: 1
Players Online: 2
Notes: Wi-Fi, Game Sharing
The quirkiness and detail shine through. The only thing holding the creators back was technology. However, graphics hold up even against modern 2-D titles.
A satisfying experience despite some repetition. Making decisions that alter history is exciting. Touch controls might not suit all but some might like them.
Flawless. Chrono Trigger is that rare moment of genius when creativity comes together and makes something legendary.
Some cheesiness, but the soundtrack performs its job at enhancing the story, gameplay and authenticity of the world.
Has been appealing for years. Cited by many as the greatest game of all time. Unquestionably higher than normal replayability, especially for an RPG.