It's about time.
The mystery of life is undoubtedly the greatest of them all. Who are we? What is our purpose? No matter how close to an answer our wondering takes us, we still have but a semblance of foundational proof for support. Among the conundrums surrounding our perception of the universe and our place in it is our interpretation of this phenomenon called time. Such is a puzzle that tempts the most basic of thinkers but never fails to elude even the most learned. Perhaps it isn’t so surprising, then, considering the tantalizing nature of the subject, that a game which manages to challenge these heady concepts and exploits this eternal mystery as a means toward an epic storyline receives such a great deal of attention.
But regardless of subject matter, for a role-playing game to be great, all of the pieces must fit. The pacing must be managed, the characters likable, the plot transfixing, and the challenge balanced. It can’t be too short but mustn’t be overlong, and it must be aware of its equilibrium of required content versus side quests. The degree to which these things are accomplished directly determines the game’s power over the player and his emotions. With the perfect recipe comes a masterpiece.
Thirteen years ago, Square released that game with Chrono Trigger. A sort of all-star collaboration of the RPG genre, the project was designed by some of the most famous names in the industry—including Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest father Yuuji Horii, legendary composers Nobuo Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda, and Dragon Ball Z artist Akira Toriyama. It is widely regarded as one of the very best games ever created. And today, the company brings the definitive version of their magnum opus to the Nintendo DS—pricing disputes notwithstanding.
Hardly Timeless, but Classic Nonetheless
(minor spoilers follow in this section)
Chrono Trigger is the story of a teenage boy, Crono, living in a small town in the kingdom of Guardia, 1000 A.D. Here, a glamorous millennial fair is being held to celebrate the vanquishing of an evil wizard 400 years ago. During his visit to the fair, he bumps into a beautiful girl named Marle who is quite forward in her request for him to lead her around the festival in search of entertainment. Crono doesn’t know it at the time, but Marle is actually the princess of Guardia, Princess Nadia, hoping to escape her royalty for a short period and live normally. Along the way, Crono’s good childhood friend (and outright genius), Lucca, is showing off her newest invention at the back of the square: a Telepod. This amazing two-part device has the ability to teleport people and objects from one pod to the other in nearly an instant. As the fearless and carefree Marle steps up to assist with the demonstration, the pendant she wears around her neck interferes, causing a bizarre and momentary rip in spacetime called a “Gate”—and sucking her directly into it. With the pendant left behind and panic swelling, Crono bravely volunteers to don the pendant himself and follow her into the unknown.
When he emerges, he finds himself in the year 600 A.D., face to face with the ancestors of present-day Guardia. In this age, Queen Leene has been kidnapped, but since Marle’s kinship renders her nearly identical to the queen, her arrival results in the search being mistakenly called off. Unbeknownst to the public, this turn of events leaves the real queen in danger—and as her death creeps ever nearer, events begin to transpire that lead to regressively catastrophic consequences. Lucca’s surprising entrance with a newly-developed “Gate Key” in hand, however, provides opportunity for restitution and possible return to their correct time period—and so the group embarks on a quest to save the real queen and thus right history, hopefully allowing for their safe return subsequently.
Little do they know, however, that their astrophysical escapade has hardly even begun. Soon thereafter, the trio is flung into the future, where they encounter a world of wreckage and decay—a dark, dreadful existence that bespeaks the fallout of a major disaster. Here, they uncover an archival video record of “The Day of Lavos,” circa 1999 A.D., where a gruesome alien creature emerges from deep within the Earth and rains destruction, laying waste to civilization and killing thousands. After a short period of reflection, the group unanimously decides that they must do everything in their power to prevent this terrible apocalypse from occurring—no matter what the cost. And so it is that Crono, Marle, and Lucca, who just hours earlier had been a regular group of thrill-seeking, rebellious teenagers, accept their collective roles as saviors of the future.
Playing the Novel
From here, the premise balloons into ever-grander territory, embracing hidden story arcs and wonderfully creative plot twists that result in an adventure that is nothing short of epic at every turn. Chrono Trigger features some of the most beloved and colorful characters of any game in history in situations penned with Hollywood-grade proficiency. And yet all of this is coated with a colorful, lighthearted shell and infused with just the right amount of humor and intrigue to keep the experience from ever feeling too heavy. It’s only when you realize that by traveling through time you have the selective ability to affect even the most unquestioned of circumstances—reuniting broken families, curing paralysis, and even restoring life to the dead—that Chrono Trigger truly appears profound. Your actions throughout the game, while admittedly only influential in areas where they are allowed to be, lead you to a personalized reality in the end which is further accentuated by one of thirteen different endings, all dependent upon at which point during the game you defeat the final boss (you can actually do so very early on).
Considering that, you may be wondering just how long Chrono Trigger will last you. If it’s your first time through the game and you seek to complete everything, the core SNES-ported experience will probably last you right around 25 hours—perhaps 35 or 40 if you attempt every ending. While that might not sound like a long time, it’s actually perfect. One of Chrono Trigger’s most important accomplishments is that it provides just enough of an experience—around 30% of which is entirely optional—that it never wears out its welcome. This is the standard by which all role-playing games should be judged; almost nothing in Chrono Trigger at all could be qualified as filler. From start to finish, the story is developing rapidly throughout nearly every activity, and for the most part, each of those activities feels completely unique. Plus, the predominant lack of random battles makes explorative gameplay pleasant—not tedious like many other RPGs.
The game’s appeal continually expands at literally every turn, and each time you finish with whatever undeniably epic task you’re working on, another one directly follows. There are some seriously massive plot twists and permutations as well that are certain to invoke a double-take by first-time players. Even in spite of its age, Chrono Trigger sends more chills and delivers more goosebumps than nearly any other title of its variety. Once you fall in love with it, you’ll never want it to end.
And thanks to the classic New Game + feature, it doesn’t have to. But I’ll let you discover that for yourself.
Less is More
There is also some additional content in this version that lasts probably another four to five hours in itself. I didn’t include this in the initial estimate as the added content simply isn’t of the same level of quality as the original game. Here’s how it works: throughout the game, you’ll eventually witness the appearance of five separate portals leading to new areas. One of these areas is called the Lost Sanctum and the other is known as the Dimensional Vortex. The former is a town of sorts (in two different time periods) where you’re sent along a series of intertemporal fetch quests in pursuit of some very powerful and helpful items. The latter is a series of three separate “dungeons” which begin as a mishmash of recycled environments and then funnel into new areas with new treasures and, finally, a new boss at the end. None of these additions is nearly as compelling as the original game content, however, and as hard as it is to admit it, to some degree, their inclusion cheapens the overall feel of the package. Nevertheless, everything else in the game feels so right that it would be foolish to penalize the creators for a little bit of well-meaning extra content.
Slightly more favorable is the new final boss and ending that are (like nearly everything else in the game) optionally available. You have to complete the new Dimensional Vortex dungeons to reach this point, but unfortunately, by that time, you’re likely to be so powerful that the new boss will be a one-attempt pushover. The new ending is provocative and unique, but it’s a far cry from the best (though it clearly doesn’t seek to be).
Finally, there’s also a mini-game of sorts accessible via the End of Time where you can raise a monster, equip him with items, send him to a particular time period to train and improve his stats, and battle him in an arena for prizes. These monsters can also be pitted against your friends’ via DS Wireless Play, but this isn’t anything that you’re likely to spend a lot of time with. To be honest, it feels more like a hassle than anything else.
The Real Improvements
Don’t think that this new version of Chrono Trigger hasn’t seen some improvement, however. Several notable enhancements have been made; and although most of them are merely supplementary, taken as a whole, they’re significant enough to warrant even another purchase by existing fans.
New Translation – Topping the list is the fully-retranslated dialogue. Chrono Trigger’s localization was never bad to begin with, but this new translation brings out many nuances that were lost in the original effort and forgoes the subtle censorship that was common with localization in the nineties. Everything sounds much more natural and mature now—though the acute sense of humor is tactfully retained. Gamers will smile when they pick up on connections in the script that were previously muted by the original translation.
Full-motion Video Sequences – These were originally included in the troubled PlayStation remake of the title and are hand-animated by the game’s legendary artist, Akira Toriyama. There are only ten of these total, but they appear at the most memorable moments of the experience, and they never seem invasive. For continuity purposes, the original in-game sequence of events still plays out following the video. If these really spoil the experience for you, it’s always possible to switch them off as well.
New Battle Controls and Screen Organization – Thanks to the dual-screen handheld, all of the battle menus and indicators have been relegated to the bottom screen, where—if you’d like—you can also control them via touch (though I prefer the trusty old D-pad). This frees up precious real estate on the top screen, leaving plenty of room for all the action. As with the FMVs, you can switch this new system on and off—though I don’t know why you’d ever prefer it any differently, because it genuinely is an improvement.
Collectors’ Extras – These are quite a nice addition. As with many of the recent Final Fantasy remakes, you’ll find various referential extras which list some of the elements of the game.
Dojo – Where you can view information on techs
Treasure Atlas – This is one of the coolest new additions to the game if you ask me. Here, you can choose any area and drag and tap your way through the entire map. Along the way, you’ll find icons to indicate doors and other paths you can take by tapping and even labeled treasure locations. It’s a great way to reminisce over parts of the game that you enjoyed or check and see if you missed anything.
Finally, you’ll also find other occasional enhancements, such as the always-convenient inclusion of Auto-Run (where you hold a button to walk rather than run). If you have only played the PlayStation version of the game, you’ll also be floored by how nonexistent the load times are in the DS version. To reiterate, this is simply the definitive version of Chrono Trigger, and now that it’s portable, you can get lost in this magical world wherever and whenever you like.
Chrono Trigger is simply one of the greatest videogames ever created, driven by a sense of imagination that is unparalleled in the industry even today. Thirteen years later, this game still shames most modern RPG efforts with its endearing cast, epic storyline, masterful art and level design, flawless pacing and balance, perfect length, and classic soundtrack. It couldn’t be more obvious that the development team responsible for this stellar title consists of the best of the breed, and that their work together on the project was riddled with synergy. With just a few small missteps, this DS version of the classic SNES title greatly preserves—and in some ways, even enhances—the magic of the original. If you’ve yet to experience this work of art, now is your chance… but even if you’re a longtime fan, you’ll likely find enough to love in this reworked iteration to justify serious consideration. Put Chrono Trigger on your list this holiday season and experience the best that gaming has to offer.