Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
Originally released in 1995, Chrono Trigger is regarded by many as being one of Square’s finest RPGs. It was also recently re-released in Japan, complete with 12 new anime FMV sequences done by none other than Akira Toriyama, known for his artwork in the Dragon Quest and Dragon Ball series. The remake also features an Omake (Special) Mode that allows access to all the movies in the game, as well as the entire soundtrack, maps, item lists, and technique guides. However, as with Final Fantasy Anthology, the game suffers in several ways from its conversion to PlayStation. But do the benefits outweigh the disadvantages? I would say so.
For those unfamiliar with the original game, Chrono Trigger’s story is truly an epic one. It begins with a boy named Chrono, living in the Kingdom of Guardia in the year 1000 AD. The people there are celebrating at the Millennial Fair and Chrono is obviously eager to go and participate. However, upon arriving there, he collides with a blonde-haired girl who loses her treasured pendant. Finding it and returning it to her, Chrono learns that her name is Marle and she asks him if he would escort her around the fair. Being a gentleman, Chrono agrees and takes her to see his friend Lucca and her father Taban. Both being inventors, the two had set up a telepod and were ready to try it out. Chrono volunteers first and upon stepping into the first pod, he is instantaneously teleported to the second one. This brings cheers from the crowd and excitement from Marle, who thinks that it looks like fun and decides to try it herself. She steps into the first pod, but as the transfer process is beginning, a strange reaction occurs with her pendant, which starts to glow brightly. A large blue rip in time, known as a “gate”, opens and Marle is sucked into it, vanishing from the scene. Everyone is astonished. After Taban clears the spectators out of the area, the three try to plan out their next course of action when Chrono puts on Marle’s pendant and valiantly steps up upon the telepod. As before, he is sucked through the gate and lands on a mountain where his quest to find her begins. But upon arriving in town, he realizes that he is in the same Kingdom of Guardia, only 400 years in the past.
Throughout the course of the game, Chrono meets up with many companions from all different periods of time, ranging from the prehistoric 65,000,000 BC to 2300 AD, where humans are an endangered species and machines rule the people. In addition to universal ones, each time period has its own set of conflicts that Chrono helps restore order to. This results in a perfect blend of both fantasy and science fiction settings. Although some that join are rivals of each other, Chrono and his friends all unite to destroy an alien invader, known as Lavos, who attacks and destroys the world in the year 1999 AD. As they travel, their actions impact all other time periods around them and have long range effects on the development of the world.
One of the first noticeable things in Chrono Trigger is the graphically impressive overworld. There are no random encounters on the world map, just towns and other areas to enter. Depending on what type of area you’re in, be it a town or unexplored region, the music changes in the overworld to suit the mood of where you are. Towns have a calm and peaceful melody, while distant regions have an adventurous and explorative tone to them. Although your character is rather small, factor in the musical transitions of five distinct time periods and you have a rich variety in the overworld score and a great map execution.
Upon entering an area infested with enemies, you’ll find that you can see them on the screen. Similar to Lunar, you can try to outmaneuver and dodge, but touching them results in combat. However, unlike Lunar and other RPGs, combat does not take place on a separate battle screen. Rather, your characters merely draw their weapons and fight where they are.
Chrono Trigger utilizes Square’s Active Time Battle System, Version 2.0. Each character has a time bar that slowly fills up depending on their speed. When it is full, the character can make an action, each having three choices: Attack, Waza (Special Skill), or Item. The first and the last of these choices are self-explanatory, and Waza commands, which include both physical attacks and magic, use MP. When two or three characters are all able to do an action, the Waza menu changes to Technique. Under Technique, characters can combine their Waza with those of others to produce combination special attacks that are usually more powerful than others. Of course, all the characters involved in the attack lose their respective MPs. Another important aspect of the battle system is enemy movement. The enemies can move around the screen at their leisure, either increasing or hindering the efficiency of your attack. When enemies clump together in one area, using an area attack to hit all of them works well, or one that hits all opponents in a straight line. However, if they’re separated, then you have to take them down one by one.
After battle, characters who fought receive full experience, gold, and waza points, while other characters in the party only gain half the amount of experience. For the fighting characters, waza points go toward learning new skills to use in battle. Each character has eight skills to learn, each of which requires a certain number of waza points. They can also only be learned in consecutive order, so it is an automatic system of learning new techniques. However, learning magic is different and requires the completion of a separate task midway through the game. You can also switch different characters in and out of your three-member party at any time once you pass this point.
Chrono Trigger’s graphics were truly amazing for their time. There are a plethora of character and enemy sprites, all which have many frames of animation and so animate fluidly. Placing them on beautiful background scenes, all of which are bursting with vibrant color and detail, makes for quite a presentation. Spell and technique effects are particularly impressive, many of which light up the whole screen. This game was definitely one that pushed the SNES to its limits visually.
This game’s music is also equally outstanding. Composed by a killer team of both Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy) and Yasunori Mitsuda (Xenogears), its 3 CD soundtrack ranks among my personal favorites. The battle themes particularly stand out in my mind, especially during the battle against Magus and “World Revolution”, the final boss music. Each character also has their own theme that suits their personalities and time perfectly. Recently, a new Chrono Trigger OST was released in Japan. It has twenty of the game’s best songs, as well as ten new orchestral tracks from the remake’s anime scenes. Be sure to pick it up if you’re a fan of Chrono Trigger’s music.
Aside from these basic story and gameplay mechanics, how is Chrono Trigger as a remake? Well, upon loading the game, the first thing that the player is greeted with is a beautiful anime introduction sequence, showing every character in their respective time period, as well as fighting scenes against the game’s memorable bosses. I’ve heard diehard fans of the original Chrono Trigger say that this scene is worth the price of admission alone. However, unlike the games in Final Fantasy Anthology, there are more cutscenes than just an introduction and ending. In fact, there are twelve of them intertwined throughout the game at important parts. The loading of these was done remarkably well; the transition from the game to anime is fluid and results in no pause in the action. Factor in the newly re-mixed orchestral versions of familiar Chrono Trigger songs that play during these cutscenes and you have quite a package. Also, with a completely new ending to the game which ties it in to its sequel, Chrono Cross, what more could a fan ask for?.
While the anime scenes were done perfectly, other aspects of the remake were not. As with the re-released Final Fantasies, the PlayStation simply cannot produce the classic sound that the SNES did. While not as bad as Final Fantasy VI, some songs have fallen victim to this conversion, such as the one that plays in the Tyrano Lair and “Time Circuits”, the theme of the Kingdom of Zeal. They don’t necessarily sound bad, just slightly different.
Load times and slowdown were inevitable, and they’re quite obvious in Chrono Trigger. When touching an enemy and engaging in battle, the screen freezes for about two to three seconds while the battle loads. Many attacks and animations are slower than the SNES original, especially ones which take up a large area of the screen, such as Shining (Luminaire) and Dark Matter. In fact, the sound effects accompanying the latter spell actually finish about three seconds before the spell’s graphic does. Another area that suffers from loading is the menu screen, which takes its time as well. Thankfully, though, saving is fairly quick and not as tedious as in the re-released Final Fantasy IV.
Chrono Trigger’s remake suffers graphically as well. In certain areas with layers of transparencies, such as the snow on Mt. Woe, they are disabled and vanish whenever a spell is cast in battle. Remember the impressive background flashing effects and time transitions in the final battle? They are now nothing more than a series of still screens. While these are minor complaints, these visual imperfections do detract from the impact and enjoyment of the gameplay experience.
As always, Chrono Trigger’s many endings make for great replay value, especially with new added incentives. Each ending you get opens up a new area in the game’s Omake (Special) Mode and features many bonuses, such as the ability to watch all the game’s movies, listen to all the music, see maps, monster and technique charts, etc. While many of these things are rather useless and available in any FAQ or walkthroughs, they are still a nice added feature to the game. Of course, the New Game+ mode is still available as well in which you can start a new game keeping all the levels, experience and items from a previous save.
Overall, I would recommend the new PlayStation Chrono Trigger to anyone who missed the boat on this great game the first time around in 1995, and to fans who really enjoyed the SNES original. It suffers from many of the same things that plagued Final Fantasy Anthology, but it is also much better done than Squaresoft’s previous attempts at remaking a game. The anime scenes and Omake Mode are terrific, but the annoying load times and slowdown can become quite irritating. However, the pros and cons create equilibrium amongst themselves in my mind and result in a fairly nice package overall.