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Long before the merged empire of EB and Gamestop, there was a beauty of walking into different electronics stores. In 1995, I remember being a 14 year-old with sixty dollars of birthday money to spend but not knowing what to get. You see, in 1995, there was no IGN or Joystiq to turn to for game reviews. The only industry news you could get was by subscribing to magazines or by gleaning from word of mouth. I was a veteran of RPGs since my foray into Phantasy Star II, and I wanted something sparkling and new. Little did I know, I would stumble across one of the greatest games ever made.
In my home town of Manchester, NH, there were three different stores that carried games: Toys 'R Us, in my opinion, the greatest place to ever buy a game back in the day (especially in the NES era); Lechmere, a Sears clone that eventually got swallowed up in the Best Buy conglomerate; and Software, Etc., a store that most resembled EB and provided me with so many classics including Robotrek and Earthbound. Back then, each store had completely different offerings, and there was beauty to it. Yes, they were chains, but each place had a different feel to it and each had a treasure trove to be discovered.
Out of luck, of anything that happened to strike my fancy, I went to the visiting town of Nashua, NH to have a birthday dinner at a brand new chain called Olive Garden and before we left, I begged my mom to take me to the mall there. What I found was the store that saved my birthday, a little place called Babbage's. Babbage's (another victim to the EB/Gamestop empire) had a game tucked in a corner with artwork that called to me. "What is this game?" I asked the guy working, and before he could answer, I saw solid gold: Squaresoft was plastered on the bottom. I didn't flip the case over to look at it. I didn't ask another question. I just took the $60 out of my pocket and didn't say another word.
In the four years after the release of Chrono Trigger, Squaresoft went from the little-game tucked-in-the-corner type of company to the CGI cutscene powerhouse of Final Fantasy VII. As a result, some new to the genre may have missed out on some of the classics, even if it was released just a few years before. So Square, in a move of marketing genius began to brand their franchise, especially to a North American audience. The result was the various compilations of Final Fantasy. In 1999, in time for their release of the pseudo-sequel, Chrono Cross, Chrono Trigger was ported to the Sony PlayStation in Japan, fresh with new anime cutscenes (obviously, it was what people wanted, as exhibited by the hysteria around Final Fantasy VII). In 2001, that port (along with a re-mastered Final Fantasy IV) made it to North America as part of the Final Fantasy Franchise as Final Fantasy Chronicles. While a good business move, this port was severely flawed because of its terribly slow loading times. In all honesty, I tried playing the game in 2001 and after 5 minutes, I found it unplayable.
Of all of the editors on staff, I am probably the most "old school" among us. While most people enjoy the Western RPGs that are starting to emerge, or others are captured by mature themes some games are trying to explore, I tend to gravitate to those that stick to the formula captured by a time where places like Babbage's were the only ones to stock my kind of game. As a result, I was the most logical person to review this game. In all honesty, I've always loved Chrono Trigger. If you go to my staff page, it is listed as one of my favorite games. Have you seen my avatar with this review? It obviously had a great effect on me as a gamer and maybe even beyond that. With all of that said, I have not played the game since 1995. In fact, until very recently, I had two copies of the Super Nintendo game, and neither had been played in more than twelve years. Because of this distance to the game, I had to fight nostalgia while playing. However, I think I could grade it more fairly than if I had been playing consistently over the years.
Since most of you know the nuts and bolts of the game, I'll be brief in my review and only touch on what you want to hear. For those who don't, here is a quick summary.
Chrono Trigger begins quite masterfully and beautifully as a sleeping Chrono is awakened to the sounds of bells ringing in the beginning of a Millennial Fair. As Chrono begins to enjoy the festivities, he meets Marle, a princess in disguise, and they both go the main exhibition, a science demonstration by Chrono's good friend Lucca. When science goes wrong, a time gate opens and Chrono is thrust into a different time, searching for answers.
On his search for the answers to the thinning of the fabric of time and space, Chrono meets a brilliant cast of supporting characters including: Frog, a medieval knight who has been condemned to a cruel fate (and who carries with him the best theme music of all time); Robo, a loyal to the core warrior with a technology that perhaps only Lucca can appreciate; Ayla, an often forgotten, but key member of Chrono's prehistoric squad; and Magus, whose power is only exceeded by his mystery.
This cast of characters begins to discover, through their quest in different time periods ,that Lavos destroys the world in the year 1999. In order to save the world, Chrono's team must travel there and stop him, no matter what the cost. At what cost? Well, that depends...
You see, that is where Chrono Trigger shines and the reason the game has become a classic, no matter what the resolution on your screen is. The game lets you decide how and when to end the game. After defeating it the first time through at a pretty basic difficulty, you can embark on a "New Game +" mode and figure out when to defeat Lavos. Do you want to kill him as soon as you meet Frog for the first time? Go ahead. Do you want to kill him after discovering Robo? Feel free. Do you want to do it without Chrono in your party? It's your prerogative. It was brilliant in 1995, and like a great Star Trek episode, the result is a timeless piece of beauty.
While the audio remained top-rate, I'll say that the graphics have dated a little bit more than say Final Fantasy VI, which I think may be the best RPG of that generation in terms of capturing the emotion, detail, and color in those little sprites. Regardless, there is nothing better than watching this game unfold in all of its glory.
As far as the DS specific changes, here are the results.
First of all, I will say that this is the definitive version of Chrono Trigger. If you're holding onto your old copy of the SNES game, it is now safe to put it on the shelf for good. This game has every option you can think of to maximize your experience. Do you want to play the game without the cutscenes added for the PlayStation version? You can. Do you want to play it without any touch screen controls? You can. Do you want to have the bottom screen blank so that what you see on the top screen is exactly what was there in 1995? You can do that too. My point is that Square-Enix knows what they have is a Star Wars-like following and they gave every option possible to maximize both the cult follower as well as players new to the game. Bravo for these options.
Speaking of the touch screen controls, I thought they worked quite beautifully. The shortcuts on the side of the touch screen were great ways to quickly access equipment, techs, and, most importantly, a way to switch your party. So when you're gaining AP and you want to throw Ayla in there, it's easy to do that without having to go through the menu screen. In addition to the shortcuts, while I didn't do it often, it is very easy to navigate and execute battles with the touchscreen. I thought the touchscreen navigation, as well as the ability to turn it off, was perfect and could not be better.
The only negative I have to include was the massive disappointment with the "bonus content." The additional dungeon did nothing for my experience with the game, and the monster arena was poor, very poor in fact. I wasn't expecting a level of sophistication seen in Dragon Quest VIII, but there is really no reason to ever start training your monster in the first place, and that's a sign of bad content. With the amazing New Game + feature, I thought Square-Enix had the opportunity to do something great with additional dungeons, but, I guess that is for another time.
The End of Time
I'll always be biased toward a certain time in my life when games were larger than their graphical bits and life moved without blackberries, instant messaging, or even RPGFan. I'll always think back to my 14th Birthday and my seemingly endless quest toward a game. In the end, I found Chrono Trigger: a brilliant title that not only changed the RPG world forever, but seemed to stop time for a certain 14 year old. While the DS can do more than the SNES could almost 15 years ago, this version of Chrono Trigger is definitively basic and could keep you entertained forever.