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Neil Booth
16 Feb, 2009

Chrono Trigger Review

DS Review | Great expectations.
Depending on who you talk to, Chrono Trigger is either the best JRPG ever released on the DS, the best JRPG ever made or simply the best game of all time. It pops up time and time again on Top Ten lists, usually somewhere near the top. In the fourteen years since its original release on the SNES, Chrono Trigger's halo has been vigorously shined to almost blinding levels, and arrives in Australia borne aloft on a velvet pillow, welcomed by a chorus of angels in full voice and illuminated by a golden shaft of light from the heavens. Or something.

All of which makes approaching the game for the very first time a unique experience. There is no way, of course, that it can possibly live up to its reputation, short of churning out twenty dollar bills, doing your tax return and gently massaging your shoulders while you play the game. It's also difficult, on being handed the 'best game ever' to not immediately start looking for flaws. This at least partly explains why our notes covering the first few hours of Chrono Trigger are best described as a litany of nit-picks. Best game ever? Snort! Not without an in-game journal it isn't! And why are doorways so difficult to see? Not to mention the endless wandering you have to do to find the next story trigger! And so on.

The great miracle of Chrono Trigger, however, is that once it shrugs off its gilded reputation and gets down to the gameplay, it ultimately overcomes its flaws - and it does have a few - and proves that a fourteen year old SNES game can easily hold its own against more recent offerings. It's the story as much as anything that holds it all together. We're hesitant to give away too much because one of the great joys of the game is discovering the many twists and turns of Chrono Trigger's epic yarn. Suffice to say that you play Crono (or whatever you decide to name him) as he and a select group of friends hurtle through time in an attempt to defeat a lurking menace. What you do in one era can have an effect in another and the game constantly, even mischievously, plays with ideas of cause and effect. Leaping between eras also helps keep the game fresh - just as you're tiring of the rather standard pseudo-medieval setting of the early game, you're slung into the distant future. Later in the game you'll be skipping through the years like there's no tomorrow. Or even... (dramatic sting!) no yesterday.

  
If in doubt, hit it. Then hit it again.

If in doubt, hit it. Then hit it again.
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Let's be clear, though - it's not a story that's going to make you sit down and reassess your life when you finish it. The burbling Chrono Trigger hype may have you expecting the video gaming equivalent of Citizen Kane, so allow us to pop that little bubble. It is, more than anything, great fun, roughly on par with a really good Dr. Who episode, or the better installments of the Back to the Future trilogy. It's a cracking time travel tale that's well told without the kind of plodding, angsty navel gazing that so often worms its way into JRPG storytelling. There's a remarkable lightness of touch here that a lot of modern developers would do well to learn from.

On the downside, we did spend quite a while wandering aimlessly about in search of the next story trigger. This isn't so much of a problem in the early game, when you have only a limited number of destinations and it's clear what you're supposed to be doing. Around the mid-point, however, your options increase dramatically and - if you're us, at least - it's possible to head off in entirely the wrong direction, spend a lot of time in the wrong place and have your heroic journey feel more like a constant series of dead ends. There's no in-game story tracker, so if you put the game down and come back to it a week later, you'd better have some sticky notes to hand.

Underpinning the story is a great little RPG engine. Inventory management, the Achilles heel of many an RPG, is deftly handled. It's quick and easy to keep your team well equipped and all your potions and knick-knacks are two clicks (or one stylus tap) away. The game takes care of all character stats and skill learning when levelling up. Some players might miss being able to tweak characters at sub-atomic levels, but we found it kept the game from getting bogged down with number-twiddling and let us focus on the story. This bright and breezy approach works particularly well on a portable platform, where you really don't want to spend too much time shuffling teensy digits on a small screen.

Combat is presented as a unique twist on the standard 'you stand there and we'll hit you' model. When a fight breaks out, both sides are scattered in all directions. How close combatants are to the enemy, and how close the enemy are to each other, dictates how the action will unfold. You can choose to launch either a basic attack, a spell, a tech attack or use an item. Tech attacks can often damage multiple enemies that are huddled close together and, seeing as the enemy are constantly moving about the battlefield, a well-timed tech attack can be a very handy way to even the odds. Certain team members can also also combine their attacks into dual or triple attacks, as long as every one involved has enough action points to spare.

  
The thick plottens.

The thick plottens.
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The fact that combat takes place in real time gives it a particularly compelling edge. If you take too long to decide on your action, or get lost in the inventory, you'll find that something has started chewing on your ankle. You can slow down the speed of battle if all gets too much, or even make it so that nothing can happen while you're rummaging through your handbag, but that does rob the game of a certain amount of adrenalin. We will admit, though, that we did slow things down towards the end of the game when there are so many different attacks, potions and spells available.

Any reservations about how attractive an old SNES game can look on the DS can be promptly dismissed. The graphics are sharp, colourful and detailed. There's a hint of Chrono Trigger's age in the rudimentary animation - a few more frames here and there would be much appreciated - but it's nothing you'll notice after 20 minutes with the game. The '2.5D' nature of the graphics, in which 3D objects are represented on a 2D plane, took a little getting used to and caused some early frustrations. What looks like a solid, ground level wall might actually be the second storey of a building, and therefore able to be walked behind. Then again, it might be a solid wall. There are some areas where the only way to make progress is to rub yourself up against every wall until you discover a clear path, a flashback to old school gaming that we could have lived without. Similarly, there are more than a few instances where ladders blend almost invisibly into the background, effectively bringing the game to a jarring, shuddering halt until endless minutes of wall-rubbing experimentation reveals that an indistinct grey blob is, in fact, the door to further adventure. The dark, drab design of the post-apocalyptic future is particularly guilty of this. Still, we did quickly learn that careful observation of the area map on the touchscreen makes it much easier to see where you can go, so it's a quibble that mostly cancels itself out.

The touchscreen is also used to select various inventory and character options, as well as letting you move your team about. Stabbing the touchscreen in the direction you want your team to move on the upper screen never really felt comfortable for us, and we stuck almost exclusively with the d-pad and face buttons. The interface can be customised to a surprising extent, letting you set your own button shortcuts, reorder the various icons on the touchscreen and choose from a range of different colour schemes.

  
Is it really 14 years old? Really?

Is it really 14 years old? Really?
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Chrono Trigger's soundtrack has probably been lauded as much as the game itself and, while we found it pleasant enough in a tinkly, MIDI-esque fashion, we wouldn't have been entirely unhappy had there been an option to turn it off. If you do really enjoy the music, there's a Music Box option under the Extras menu that will let you play all 69 of the game's tracks until your ears bleed.

So, then: Chrono Trigger. Best game ever? No, not really, but then what is? Best JRPG ever? Hmmmm... it's certainly one of the best JRPGs we've played, but then there are a heck of a lot we haven't played so who knows? Best JRPG on the DS? There's no doubt that it's a rock solid, wildly entertaining game, but then so are (to name just two) The World Ends With You and Etrian Odyssey II. We didn't find Chrono Trigger to be indescribably better than either of those two games, but it's definitely a worthy companion to them, and all the more remarkable for being fourteen years old.

When you do get your hands on Chrono Trigger, give it a damn good shake until it's free of all the bluster, hyperbole and semi-religious awe, and play it for what it is: a slightly flawed, but ultimately great RPG that's an awful lot of fun. What more could you want?
The Score
Taken off its pedestal and with all the hype and expectation dusted away, Chrono Trigger provides one of the most unique and entertaining adventures available on the DS.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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28 Comments
5 years ago
i have always meant to get into this game, i have it on the final fantasy chronicles set so its definitely on the to do list
5 years ago
My friend and I finished this a couple of times on snes, so it would be pretty cool to relive the experience. I'm just not sure the game can live up to the memory, but I guess I'll find out..
5 years ago
for me this game lived up to my expectations, i expected to enjoy a nice JRPG and thats what i did
5 years ago
60 bucks for a 15 yearold game. I'll pass.
5 years ago
This is the first time I've read a review of someone playing this for the first time, so that was interesting.

Now that you mention it, I do remember those frustrating searches for the next bit of story. Now I know the game inside-out I'd forgotten how annoying that was.

Can't say I understand all the fuss about The World Ends With You, though. A couple hours in and I'd pretty much had enough.
5 years ago
Benza wrote
60 bucks for a 15 yearold game. I'll pass.
Your reasoning sucks.What would be a fairer price?

I COULD understand your gripe if it were say, super mario world ds, just a snes rehash with some tacked on touch screen controls, everyone has played the shit out of that, but this is chrono trigger.

The same chrono trigger not released here.

The same chrono trigger(not including a snes ntsc console) that cost upwards of $50-100 in cart only form on ebay.

So?It still holds up extremely well by ds standards so tech wise it's still solid....so why the hate?
5 years ago
Infested Jibbs wrote
Benza wrote
60 bucks for a 15 yearold game. I'll pass.
Your reasoning sucks.What would be a fairer price?

I COULD understand your gripe if it were say, super mario world ds, just a snes rehash with some tacked on touch screen controls, everyone has played the **** out of that, but this is chrono trigger.

The same chrono trigger not released here.

The same chrono trigger(not including a snes ntsc console) that cost upwards of $50-100 in cart only form on ebay.

So?It still holds up extremely well by ds standards so tech wise it's still solid....so why the hate?
Why not release it as a VC game then? Why not do a 3D remake like they've been obbsesing over with FF 3 and 4. It just reeks of cash in.

I don't care if it would cost 50-100 bucks to buy in cart form, it's still paying full price for a game thats 15 years old. Hell I could buy the Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for what 80-90 bucks and get 40 games from the same era. Alot of them great games.

How much is it for a Snes game on VC? 800 points? What like 15 bucks?

Did this need to be a complete release on the DS? Hell why not release Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross on one disc for the 360/PS3/Wii?

It just reeks of lazy money grabbing.
5 years ago
You know the Mona Lisa is some 400 or 500 years old, but still, even amongst todays modern(which means better apparently) art, still pulls millions of visitors every year.

And yes, i did compare the Mona Lisa to chrono trigger.And no, this isn't the end of days, i'm really going to town with this liberal comparison as the context is the same.Age shouldn't affect somethings appeal, and the market will soon gauge just how appealing this.

Unfortuanetly or fortunately from the developers perspective, they already have an inkling of just how big this appeal will be, hence the sell on ds at full price.

That's commercialism baby, if you don't like it, Russian salt mines could always mine a good YOU.
5 years ago
Quote
And yes, i did compare the Mona Lisa to chrono trigger.And no, this isn't the end of days, i'm really going to town with this liberal comparison as the context is the same
The only mona lisa that's valubale is the original. I wouldn't have any problems with them selling the first... whatever the equivilent of a gold copy for pressing with cartridges was.

Quote
Unfortuanetly or fortunately from the developers perspective, they already have an inkling of just how big this appeal will be, hence the sell on ds at full price.
Hooray for them, doesn't mean I'm going to buy it.

Quote
That's commercialism baby, if you don't like it, Russian salt mines could always mine a good YOU.
Commercialisim also means I have the option to go "Fuck off I'm not paying that, thats a rip off" and not buy it, don't like it? Enjoy those salt mines.
5 years ago
I have no problem with getting charged $60 for utter quality. It has been slightly updated for the DS as well. But I see your argument (plus the dieased one's as well), this could have easily been released on the VC and, I for one, would have preferred to play it that way. But hey, it's Square and we aren't going to see much of their wares on any VC anytime soon.

If you want to get angry Benza wait until Nintendo release Super Mario All Stars on the VC at 1000 points after you've gone up and purchased all the NES versions. I can't wait to feel stupid. Still get angry about the lack of save feature in Mario 3 (yes I know you can suspend but still).
5 years ago
I knew it couldn't live up the hype but I gotta agree with the review, sounds like a great RPG that isn't everything people ultimately say about it but is still #1 on my 'to-buy' list (actually #2 after Persona 4 icon_biggrin.gif)
5 years ago
Benza wrote
60 bucks for a 15 yearold game. I'll pass.
You are a douche bag, learn to appretiate good games.

that and pirate them.
5 years ago
Infested Jibbs wrote
You know the Mona Lisa is some 400 or 500 years old, but still, even amongst todays modern(which means better apparently) art, still pulls millions of visitors every year.

And yes, i did compare the Mona Lisa to chrono trigger.And no, this isn't the end of days, i'm really going to town with this liberal comparison as the context is the same.Age shouldn't affect somethings appeal, and the market will soon gauge just how appealing this.

Unfortuanetly or fortunately from the developers perspective, they already have an inkling of just how big this appeal will be, hence the sell on ds at full price.

That's commercialism baby, if you don't like it, Russian salt mines could always mine a good YOU.
I'm sorry, I know this place is a joke when someone posts "look at me, i'm 1000 posts old" and gets plussed to all hell yet gems like this go unnoticed!

"Russia minez you bitchez!!"
5 years ago
ugh the boot wrote
I'm sorry, I know this place is a joke when someone posts "look at me, i'm 1000 posts old" and gets plussed to all hell yet gems like this go unnoticed!

"Russia minez you bitchez!!"
Ya got a little something on ya nose there.
5 years ago
Chrono Trigger > Halo 1-3 combined.
Halo 1-3 = $150+
Chrono Trigger = $60

I fail to see how this is not an absolute bargain icon_wink.gif
5 years ago
Skiller wrote
Chrono Trigger > Halo 1-3 combined.
Halo 1-3 = $150+
Chrono Trigger = $60

I fail to see how this is not an absolute bargain icon_wink.gif
Worst. Comparison. Ever.
5 years ago
I let Chrono Trigger pass on that aspect of SNES-era find-a-ladder gameplay on the basis the awesomeness of the soundtrack and the storyline cover the gap. The fact the DS remake now uses "Singing Mountain" (An unused song on the official OST until now) for one of it's areas, as well as plugging one of the more contested Trigger->Cross plotholes is just icing.

Well worth the purchase for me.
5 years ago
LeonJ wrote
Worst. Comparison. Ever.
Yer, kind of deliberate, I like to pick on halo, IMO halo was way overated and if so many people liked that then trillions more should like chrono trigger.
5 years ago
Skiller wrote
I like to pick on halo, IMO halo was way overated and if so many people liked that then trillions more should like chrono trigger.
Thats... bu... they....


Thats really really dumb.
5 years ago
halo 2 was over-rated.
the original is brilliant and around $10-20 for a pre-owned copy these days or the same to download, disc scratching and console death of the 360 aside.
halo 3 has a good campaign and is still bloody good for excellent multiplayer, and along with CoD4 one of the few FPS games still supporting my beloved 4p split screen, despite the size of plasma TVs these days.
5 years ago
It just a release for the fans or people addicted too jrpg's. The people that will (in most cases) pay a premium for the opportunity to play. Hell people are still paying $150+ for FF7 and 8 (and the rest) for PS1... How is that hard to understand? You either want it or you dont theres little room for inbetween for these kind of titles and that directly related to your taste in games.

Stoopid interweb peoples.
5 years ago
Playing this now and I must say that finding your way through maps is bloody hard, seriously why make it so I have to look for a pathway through a seemingly solid wall, otherwise a great game, the combat is good but old-school"did I just use the word:Old-school" and the story is interesting and well told. I'm not finished yet but I'm liking it. It's not a head of its time but it is I think the best RPG of it's time. Also the soundtrack is amazing, and I came into expecting it to suck cause of the old technology but it sets the atmosphere of some places so good I have to wonder why can't all games have sound this well done if this was done 15 years ago.
5 years ago
Ten hours in to this as a first-timer, and I've got to say: I'm finding it difficult to love. I've yet to feel really drawn towards the story or characters.

In fact, I find myself playing it in twenty- or thirty-minute bursts. By the end of these sessions, I actually slightly relieved and glad that I've found a save point so I can put the game down again. Would I be reacting differently if I had played the game fourteen years ago?

I can forgive Chrono Trigger for using mechanics that I've seen in other RPGs -- after all, plenty of games nabbed said tricks wholesale from Chrono Trigger -- but I've yet to feel the magic. Am I deeply weird for this?
5 years ago
Chris-Leigh wrote
Am I deeply weird for this?
No, not really. It's happened with a number of RPGs I've played in the past. Sit back and enjoy the plot/music/gameplay at your own pace.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  5/2/2009 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $69.95 AU
Publisher:
  Square Enix
Genre:
  RPG
Year Made:
  2008
Players:
  1

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