On, then, to Chrono Trigger. I live in Europe, where the 1995 SNES original was never officially released. Being three years old at the time, I wasn’t quite ready to enter the import scene. So I had never seriously played Chrono Trigger until about five days ago, when the latest cynical port from Square Enix graced everyone’s favourite handheld, the DS. I have always preferred the straightforward linearity of Japanese RPGs to the wide-open choice of traditional western titles, so I was understandably excited to try out what many hail as the greatest Japanese RPG of all time.
Upon Google Image searching “Chrono Trigger”, this image greeted me. “Oh no!” I exclaimed, “It’s a Toriyama game!”. I should explain. Akira Toriyama is the author and artist of the celebrated (?) Dragon Ball manga series, among countless others. And I hate his art. However, it’s an SNES game, so you don’t see much of it outside the boxart. There are some pretty awful animated cutscenes culled from the PS1 remake, but thankfully there’s an option to turn them off, which I heartily recommend everyone does.
The first thing I noticed upon booting the game is that the audio is perfect. With the DS remakes of the Final Fantasy games, the sound has tended to not be of the greatest quality, compressed pretty heavily to get it to fit on a cartridge along with the shiny 3D visuals. Mitsuda’s Chrono Trigger soundtrack is fantastic, so I’m glad they didn’t mess that up.
Graphically speaking, it’s a very competent 16 Bit RPG. Sprites and backgrounds are lovingly detailed, if a bit awkwardly animated. Still, the emotional range they managed to pack into these tiny sprites is pretty astounding. After playing the game on an emulator, it’s as perfect a port in this respect as I can think of, with no graphical glitches to speak off. A little has been chopped off the bottom to get the game to fit the DS screens, but not enough that I would have noticed without having been told. There is an option to move the in-battle menus to the touch screen, which unclutters the screen very well. You can use the touch screen to control the game, although I found it far easier to use the face buttons.
For the battles, the Active Time system is used, similar to that of Final Fantasy 4, which was recently remade for the DS. What sets Chrono Trigger apart is its Tech system, in which multiple characters pull off Combo Techs (Special Attacks) with each other, generally to deal damage or heal allies. This makes each new character a pleasure to try as you find out what they can do both by themselves and in conjunction with every other character. When joining battle, you are not taken to a seperate battle screen. Characters and enemies rush to different points on the screen, and menus appear. In practice, this doesn’t make a great deal of difference, but it’s a nice touch. Fights are quick and varied, and for the most part can be dodged entirely, as random battles are not employed. Instead, enemies mill about the screen, triggering battles if touched. The entire experience feels like the game Yuji Horii and Hironobu Sakaguchi wanted to make, but couldn’t while still conforming to the expectations attached to the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series.
In terms of story, it’s a treat. The contrast behind the light-hearted and horribly dark strikes a nice balance, and dialogue is for the most part enjoyable, with the exception of some incredibly irritating cave-speak (Me sorry Ayla!). There are some pretty brilliant plot twists that I won’t spoil here, and the whole thing feels very deliberate and complete in terms of pacing.
All in all, I much preferred this thirteen year old game to the hight tech flashiness of Fallout’s third installment. The environments are much more colourful and imaginative, and the battle system feels much more refined than Bethesda’s VATS. The directness of being lead by the nose from encounter to encounter felt downright refreshing after sitting in Megaton, groaning at the travel times involved with any of the missions. Chrono Trigger’s linearity improves it, at least to my mind.
And I still love RPGs.