Here it is, the game that everybody who call themselves an RPG fan and their cats have played, and loved by message boards across the internet. Chrono Trigger is known to be a classic, legendary RPG (at least across several message boards I’ve visited) that remains quality to this day. It’s pretty much considered a kami-ge, a memento from the wonderful 90’s before Square merged with Enix and started screwing things up and the game industry went downhill, etc. If we’re judging by the internet message forums that I’m visiting, then pretty much everything is going downhill and dying. Anyways, whenever there are threads about a specific genre dying, posters will always list old games that are supposedly much, much better than the crap that comes out today, and Chrono Trigger is one such game for the Eastern RPG genre. It’s a highly praised game from the 90’s that, unlike Final Fantasy VII, doesn’t suffer from much backlash at all. Also shockingly, despite having a blog that is at least 50% about RPGs, I haven’t played it until recently. After playing the game, I have to day that I just ain’t seeing the same magic that everyone else saw.
Believe me, I really wanted to like Chrono Trigger. The time-travel mechanics are cool and well-implemented, and the story seemed epic enough, if a bit old-fashioned and too predictable. Having multiple versions of the world map from different time periods is really neat, especially when you notice the minor differences between them. There are places that you can reach in one time era, but not in another.
I’ve got a bunch of places I’m not satisfied with, but first up is the battle system. Alright, so this is my own problem and not the fault of Square Enix, but I never liked the ATB system. I don’t have scorching hatred for it, but it never clicked with me even when I tried Final Fantasy IV back when I first got my DS. It’s a good thing that battles never drag on for long, but I like either straight-on turn-based where I can carefully think through my decision and plan my moves, or as recently discovered, a fast-paced real time combat where I can move around, slash things, and dodge. Come to think of it, I hated Infinite Space’s battle system, which also had you selecting moves from a menu in real time. Thankfully Chrono Trigger was short, and the ATB was still better than IS.
Chrono Trigger is also very easy for the most part. There was exactly one fight that I had serious trouble with, and that was against the Golem Sisters who obliterated most of my party before I got to make a move, and any attempts at revival saw an instantaneous death. The dungeons were short and really straightforward for the most part. Even the Black Omen, the final dungeon which is optional, was lacking in complexity.
The plot, while being the classic save-the-world scenario, is not where I was dissatisfied. You know who the final boss is from very early on, and you can pretty much challenge him at ANY TIME. That is one of the coolest things about the game, and you get different endings depending on when you beat him (of course, if you’re not on New Game+ then you would only stand a chance at the end). However, when it comes to an RPG that I’m not playing solely for the dungeon-crawling or the battle system, it’s the characters and how they interact with the plot that keep me going. Chrono Trigger had a cast that sounded awesome enough on paper, but there wasn’t enough dialogue and character interactions for me to really get attached to any of them. After a specific character’s story arc, they are pretty much cast aside until their side-quest that can be done right before the final boss. For someone who likes dialogue-heavy stuff with loads of scenes between party members like the Kiseki series, Persona 3/4, and Tales, the way CT handled the characterization did not win any points with me.
The only setting that I thought was really interesting was the magic kingdom of Zeal thanks to cool design, because I have a weak point for glowing technology and the like. At Zeal was the point where the plot actually got good, which is like 3/4 of the way into the game. On the bright side, Chrono Trigger is only 25 hours at max for the first playthrough (if you do all the sidequests before fighting the final boss), and can be completed much earlier at 20 hours, so 3/4 of the way isn’t that long. It’s a short game so you’ll never do anything pointless like delivering a letter to the mayor of another town that is a dungeon or two away, or random fetch quests to cure an NPC in the middle of the plot.
Alright, enough complaining for now. Let’s get to the good stuff, since despite my complaints Chrono Trigger is not a bad game, just disappointing compared to what I’ve heard about it. As I mentioned before, you can fight the final boss ANY TIME and get a different ending depending on when you beat him. In New Game+ you can face the guy right at the freaking beginning! Since you can directly warp to the final boss any time, the “final dungeon” is optional. It gives loads of good items, EXP, and several optional bosses, but if you hate the dungeons then you can skip right to the final boss! Pretty neat. The time travelling is nicely done, and at one point the main character dies and you can choose to continue the game without him. There are no random battles, instead you get enemies visible on the screen and you initiate the fight by touching them. No slow transition into a battle screen either–you fight directly on the current background. Soundtrack is not bad, and the 2D sprites are pretty damn nice! For an SNES game, those are some detailed spritework (unless they actually upgraded the graphics for the DS version).
Chrono Trigger didn’t click with me due to the ATB system (and once I dislike the battle system, it makes me notice the other flaws much more easily), and whatever magic cast on the fans didn’t seem to be effective on me, but I am interested enough to probably give Chrono Cross a try on the PSN eventually. I seem to have faith in sequels of games I’m not satisfied with, for whatever reason.