Chrono Trigger is an embarrassment for the gaming industry. Straight up embarrassment. It’s embarrassing that a game that is over ten years old can be so well made as to put many current games to shame. It’s like the Roman Empire, without all of the strange pedophiliac tendencies but all of the impressive works of art.
Chrono Trigger is the latest in a series of Square-Enix remakes designed to milk old titles for every last dollar and yen. Like Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger is a game that I somehow missed (though I did play the under appreciated Chrono Cross at some point).
Chrono Trigger is, simply put, a pleasure to play. The casual gaming experience (by which I mean, the fights, going from A to B, etc) completely trumps a game like Dragon Quest. The characters have diverse skill sets and magic, individual elemental affinities, and attacks that allow them to team up in pairs or trios depending on who is in your party. For the most part, none of the characters are particularly overpowered in comparison to others.
The result of such a deep and enjoyable system is that fights don’t really get old. And while characters won’t learn techniques if you don’t play them, they do keep up in levels, so you’re not punished with too much grinding. Rounding it out are boss fights that have enough gimmicks to make them more complex than “tank and spank.”
Chrono Trigger’s plot flows well, which is critical in any quality RPG. There’s none of the “Dream of a dying civilization playing some aquatic underwater polo thing,” or the complete lack of direction in Dragon Quest. Despite the fact that your main character never speaks, you get attached to him and his friends as they go from exploring a bizarre phenomenon to saving the world.
Noteworthy is the use of time travel as a plot tool/world builder for an RPG. It should be noted that time travel is the ultimate sin of any book, movie or TV show (I’m looking at you, Lost). The problem is, time travel will inevitably result in endless paradoxes that stop making sense. This still happens in a video game, but because the enjoyment doesn’t hinge on watching the story, since you are playing a game, it’s more forgivable. And most importantly, it allows the designers to do some very cool things to advance the plot and make the setting more immersive.
An example is the start of the game, where the year is 1,000 and the happy kingdom is celebrating their millennium. Stocks are up, the real estate bubble hasn’t yet burst and women can’t vote. At the celebration fair, someone remarks “Gee, we sure are glad it’s not 400 years ago when the Fiendlord was running around eating babies, raping virgins, and forcing people to read Kotaku and play Firaxis games.” Sure enough, the first time portal you fall into throws you back 400 years. I had distinct sympathy and an “oh fuck” on behalf of poor Crono, since he woke up in a Gamestop and all they were selling was Colonization II.
The dialogue also respects the nuances of time travel: when you leave one ageless character to a task and teleport 400 years in the future to pick him up again, he comments that while it’s been minutes for you, it’s been ages of back breaking labor for him (you asshole!). And certainly, the paradoxes develop–and they start to annoy me–but the net gain of seeing the subtle (or not so subtle) evolutions of the world across multiple time periods is such a great gameplay device it far outweighs any plot discrepancies that arise.
Topping off a robust storyline is a series of sidequests you can perform before you finally decide to go beat the game. Also unique to the DS is a form of Pokemon-esque brutal slavery in the “Arena Beyond Time” where powerful beings such as yourself force monsters to train and fight each other for potions, ethers, and your amusement. Your characters have a surprisingly cheery outlook on something that is a cross between slavery and cockfighting. But still, it’s a fun way to kill some time, so hey, whatever works.
Unlike Dragonquest, which I grudgingly gave a “go buy it if you’re bored,” I can’t endorse Chrono Trigger on the DS enough. It’s well recognized as one of the best games EVARRR, but I’m pleased that I played it as an adult, and not a kid, so that I could fully appreciate the way an RPG should be designed and played.
Why are you still here? You should be out buying it already.