Author: Jonathan Chapman
What do you get when you include Akira Toriyama (the creator of the Dragon Ball manga) with Square (famous for the Final Fantasy series)? Well quite possibly the best RPG on the SNES and a contender for one of the best of all time.
I will rarely give any game an A+ rating… it has to be a very special game and not just a personal favorite. To achieve the rating, the game has to be nothing short of a masterpiece. There are a lot of things that can go wrong in a game that would make it stumble down to an A, and it only takes one or two. To get an A+, a game must cover all fronts including graphics, sound, and gameplay (and it’s harder for RPGs as they have to include a great story). Besides the story aspect, the bar is generally set higher for RPGs than for platformers due to the time investment involved by the player. Given this, you should understand how important a game is when it’s an A+. It’s nothing short of being a must-play game. Chrono Trigger is just that sort of game.
It doesn’t matter that this game doesn’t have the same graphics capability later systems had. Toriyama’s excellent design work still shines – even today. When the art of a game thrives on looking like anime or cartoons, it takes on a sort of timeless charm. The only other games I can compare this quirky style with are Earthbound and Lunar. That’s excellent company to be in for any game.
As far as graphics go, this is at the top of the SNES library as far as attention to detail and colorful, vibrant sprites. The art direction in this game is amazing. Sometimes you pause the game just to check out all the details on the screen. When you’re in a forest it’s comparable to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past… it’s that good. Every boss has nice details and a sort of character all their own. Even the regular enemies have a sort of quirky sense of humor. When you’re in a dark cave you feel like you’re in a dark cave. Likewise, a castle is regal and well-lit whereas a run-down castle is spooky and lonely. From abandoned high-tech laboratories and post-apocalyptic frozen landscapes to bright happy country fairs… the game makes you feel like you are where you’re supposed to be. It takes very little imagination to lose yourself in the story and background. Even the psychedelic Mode 7 backgrounds on the bosses make the fights seem epic.
Now about the sound… it’s even better than the graphics. I don’t know how that is even possible. Every track is a masterpiece. This really shows off the SNES’ sound capabilities. At no time will you be wishing the music would change. The whole game lends itself to remixes and remastering that many gamers have taken on. You will find no shortage of excellent Chrono Trigger music remixes, but the original is pretty good on its own. There are even parts of the story with their own music score (like with US Final Fantasy III) – in particular the court trial (which you’ll know when you play the game).
But wait… there’s more. This isn’t one of those games where the story and atmosphere are awesome, but the gameplay sucks. This is a finely polished role-playing game on mechanics as well. When you start the game you will get to pick your battle system: Active (where a clock on each character winds down between moves) or Passive (your classic turn-based system). The first time I played I picked Passive (because I’m a bit of a micro manager on my RPGs), but the second time I used Active and was amazed how much more interesting it makes the game. You have to really pay attention and plan your attacks so you can pick the menus and attacks and execute them before it’s time for your enemy to attack. If that sounds too hard or complicated, then by all means pick Passive. It won’t affect the enjoyability very much in the end. It’s just nice that the creators offer you the choice. You can also use items to restore health, restore magic, or help with a status effect. To summarize, you can make gameplay more complicated if you wish, but in the end it’s a very simple system. You will be able to pick up the system on your very first encounter with no problem.
Characters have HP (health points) and MP (magic points), like most RPGs. Unlike early Final Fantasy games (or I should say like Dragon Warrior games), you will not randomly start a battle every few steps. Instead you will see enemies and be able to maneuver around them instead of battling. You probably don’t want to do this all the time – as you want to level up. But it’s always nice to have options. Speaking of options, there are three sort of modes on attacks: a regular attack, a magic spell or ability, and a combo move. Spells cost magic points. Combos can be between two or three characters and each combination results in an interesting move. Like with other RPGs, each character represents a flavor of attack or magic. For example, Chrono is lightning while Lucca (his inventor friend) is fire. Their combo is Chrono spinning his sword while Lucca adds fire to it for the attack.
The first thing you’ll notice when playing this game is that it starts out slow. This was my major complaint on the first playthough. Why do I have to talk to Chrono’s Mom? Why do I have to go find Lucca? Why do I have to go to this stupid fair? That’s probably what you’re going to think when you start the game. Well the reason is that you need to invest your feelings into the characters… and you can’t do that unless you get to know them. This only lasts a little while, and the pay-off for this little bit of annoyance is huge. You seriously want to try and go for the story with this game. You will not be disappointed. Also, after you finish the game, you’ll really cherish the replay value (which I’ll get to later). It adds a whole other dimension to these scenes.
Enemies are fun for the most part. The bosses aren’t overly complex and there’s usually some trick to beating them. Keep in mind the elements of the game. You’ll want to hit an ice guy with fire and a fire guy with ice. Sometimes you need to attack in a certain pattern. The bosses aren’t really too hard, but some aren’t a walk in the park either. Sometimes the combos can be a little over-powering, but I see this as a way the game leaves the experience up to you. If you want to repeat the same cheesy moves over and over to get to the story that’s fine, and if you want to make things harder on yourself during combat that’s also fine. But in the end, you aren’t pushed in either direction necessarily.
As you may have guessed from the title, the game involves time travel. There’s a main, somewhat linear plot, but along the way there are little sub-plots and there’s a fair degree of back-tracking. The beauty of the time travel is that each period covers the same area but with different characters and buildings. And doing something in one time period can have consequences in other time periods. While this isn’t explored quite as much as I’d have liked, it is a welcomed element to the game and well designed. The overall story is rich if not deep (but not deep enough to be boring) and there are a ton of endings to the game. The ending, in fact, depends on what you do during the game.
After you beat the game, you can play again with a New Game Plus mode that lets you keep your items. That might seem a little cheesy, but by this point you’re going to want to go check out the parts of the game you didn’t finish or didn’t finish the way you would have liked before. This system actually gives the game a lot of replay.
In conclusion, if you haven’t played this game and are even remotely a fan of RPGs, you need to play this game. I know it’s not cheap on the SNES, but it’s available on Playstation, PSN, Nintendo DS, and Wii virtual console. They even have video cut-scenes from the creator on the Playstation, PSN, and DS versions.
Five out of five stars
Editor’s note: You can follow the author of this review on his twitter page @UrzasRage
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