Retro Gaming Project #2: Chrono Trigger [DS]

Earlier this year, I announced the creation of a Retro Gaming Project in which I would finally go back and play through all of the classic NES and SNES games I missed over the years. This is a long work in progress with no set end date, but it will be a fun adventure while it lasts.

Chrono Trigger [DS]

Chrono Trigger
System: Nintendo DS (originally on SNES, also available on PSN, mobile devices and Virtual Console)
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Square
Developer: Square
Release Date: November 25, 2008 (originally March 11, 1995)

If there was one game that was glorified more than any other during my youth, it was Chrono Trigger. I seemed to have heard more about this Square RPG than any other, as it was often ranked near or at the very top of all types of “best of” lists. For years I skipped over it, either due to its insane SNES cartridge price or simply because I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype. Looking back, it’s kind of amazing how a once-rare game is now available on so many platforms, including Android and iOS devices. For review purposes, I played through the Nintendo DS port.

Chrono Trigger tells the story of Crono (no “h”), a vibrant young lad with spiky red hair, and his efforts to save the world from its impending doom. Crono becomes aware of this future apocalypse after a freak accident with a teleportation device sends him back in time. Now, with the capability of time travel, Crono embarks on an adventure that takes him all the way back to 65,000,000 B.C. and forward to AD 2300. Along the way, he meets a number of interesting characters (including a robot and a talking frog) who help him on his adventure.

Chrono Trigger [DS]

The time travel dynamic takes an otherwise familiar RPG storyline (youth prevent the end of the world) and adds a fresh coat of paint. Being able to travel to the past and the future is fascinating, especially as Crono attempts to keep the course of nature on the right track. In one early moment, his ally Marle is mistaken for her ancestor, a queen in AD 600, so the group has to find a way to bring back the real royal leader. The ability to travel through time at will is much welcomed.

The RPG gameplay is also familiar, but it is so refined that it ranks among the best I have seen in the genre. For one, there are no random battles. This has always been a pet peeve of mine, and Chrono Trigger thankfully provides visible enemies on screen. This means that many of the battles can be avoided if desired, giving the gamer a bit of added flexibility.

The battle system itself is fantastic. The game uses an Active Time Battle system, which allows attacks to be made once a character’s personal timer fills up. Since this is not entirely turn based, this allows for more freedom and requires a bit more strategy. On top of standard attacks, there is an option to use Techs, which allow for powerful spells that can be combined with multiple characters. These use up MP points and drain each character’s timer, but their damage to enemies can often be very rewarding.

Chrono Trigger [DS]

The game’s dungeons and combat areas are all well-designed, and many of them allow for a good amount of exploration without that frustrating feeling of getting lost. There is a quite a bit of loot scattered around, and some of the bonus dungeons in the DS port include some truly powerful weaponry. Side quests also warrant deep expeditions, and they can help with leveling up before the final epic boss battle.

Upon concluding the game, a new mode opens up: “New Game+”. In this, a new game is started but all of the weapons, equipment, etc. from the first game are carried over. This allows for a quicker playthrough in order to get to a different ending, of which there are thirteen. For those who want to see other possible conclusions, there is a surprising amount of replay value to be found.

Chrono Trigger [DS]

In terms of aesthetics, Chrono Trigger holds up remarkably well. The 16-bit sprites are as gorgeous as ever, and the DS port throws in some well-crafted anime cutscenes as well. The real treat here, however, is the astoundingly beautiful musical score. Composed primarily by Yasunori Mitsuda, the game’s music is unforgettable, as it uses a wide variety of instruments and does not focus on any one genre. Every town and locale in the game has its own unmistakable tune, many of which are outright classics. A quick YouTube search will find countless remixes and tributes to Mitsuda’s work in this game — I cannot emphasize enough how beloved this soundtrack is, and it sounds just as impressive today.

So, does Chrono Trigger live up to the hype 15+ years later? Yes, mostly. I loved the style, the music, the battle system and many of the characters. If I were to find any faults, it would be from the handful of moments where I became stuck and wasn’t quite sure what to do. Thankfully, guides are more abundant today than they were in 1995, so it usually didn’t take long for me to figure out where to go next. I’m not ready to crown Chrono Trigger as the best RPG ever as many do, but I can say with confidence that this is a damn good game that will likely be as endearing in another twenty years as it is today.


20 thoughts on “Retro Gaming Project #2: Chrono Trigger [DS]

  1. Morgan R. Lewis says:

    I came to this game late as well, though not as late as you — I played it on the re-release for the original Playstation. I agree, it’s a great game, a lot of fun, and possibly the most beautiful RPG of the 16-bit era. Love the music; I still keep Frog’s theme in my MP3 mix.

  2. At the Buzzer says:

    As much as I liked this game way back when, I’m still a little surprised at how well it’s held up over the years. The sprites look great and the music still resonates, as you mentioned. There’s a joke here somewhere about Chrono Trigger and standing the test of time, but it feels too easy.

  3. Anders says:

    Aha, I didn’t know this was so widely available! Thanx for the info πŸ™‚ I have also “avoided” it mainly for the same reason you gave, unreasonably pricy SNES cartridges… Cool, then I can finally play it, Not sure if I will buy it on PSN or DS though… Good review! Based on it, it seems like a great RPG. I like the classical RPGs, so will surely check it out when I want a cool RPG, reminding me of the good ol’ jrpg days πŸ™‚

    • Eric says:

      Thanks, man. I was surprised to hear this made it over to smartphones, and from what I’ve heard it’s a flawless port. I think I would still prefer to play it on PSN or DS, but it’s cool to have the option. You’ll have to let me know when you play through it!

    • Eric says:

      Secret of Mana is on my list, too, actually. Unfortunately, it seems to only be available for iOS devices and Wii Virtual Console (which I don’t have). I wonder if a cartridge is affordable these days…?

  4. saymber says:

    This is one of my husbands favorite RPG’s and he’s seen all 13 endings. His other favorite is Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. What’s good about retro games is the replay value — you really get your moneys worth unlike current games that seem to be made by frustrated movie producers. Lots of cut scenes, little actual gameplay, story driven so you really can only play them once through. I think the new style of video games are basically raping consumers.

    • Eric says:

      Ouch. That’s a bit of a harsh statement, but I can see your point. A lot of games today do overly rely on cutscenes, but there are some that nail the experience. Most recently, I played through Max Payne 3, which I would say is better than a lot of recent Hollywood action movies. It’s narrative-driven, but the cool thing about it is that you also have the ability to play through each stage arcade-style without having to deal with the cutscenes. If more games offered options like that, there would definitely be better replay value.

      But wow, all 13 endings, eh? Impressive! I’m curious how long it would take to play through again on New Game+… I only went through it the one time.

      • saymber says:

        I’ll have to ask him how long it took him — he’s replayed the game countless times, likes to play before bed to wind down lol. I understand what you are saying about some games. One in particular I was thinking of when I made my comment was the God of War Series. I watched hubby play it and he got through each installment in about 8 hours and that was it. So glad he uses Gamefly and didn’t buy it! I just think games should give the players their moneys worth! Another pet peeve is the DL content. My husbands little brother spent hundreds of dollars on Little Big Planet 2 downloads after the folks spent $40 on the game. I think it’s ridiculous to make people pay for costumes!
        Anyhew! My hubbys the hard core gamer – we met playing FFXI, played WOW for almost 4 years and quit after Cataclsym came out. Look forward to more of your reviews!

        • Eric says:

          Oh yeah, don’t even get me started on DLC! I think game expansions have the potential for some serious value, but the problem is when publishers start charging for content that is already included on the disc. Like the most recent Batman game, for example. It was ridiculous to charge for the Catwoman content that was already clearly added as part of the game. So frustrating.

          I can see where you’re coming from with the God of War games. I love them all, but there really isn’t much to do once you burn through the quick campaign. I think the next release will have multiplayer content — it’ll be interesting to see how that works.

          • saymber says:

            Hubby just told me if he hadn’t bought Mass Effect 3 new, he wouldn’t be able to play multiplayer content online. I think all games should have multiplayer potential WITHOUT having to buy additional content. The current game makers don’t want people to get longevity out of their games and that’s why I think a lot of them do the “movie” games, DLC and single player stuff. If God of War went multiplayer I’d even consider playing it. Balder’s Gate (spelling) was one I played with hubby and we had fun. The biggest reason I don’t normally play is jumping! Every single game I’ve played, it’s the jumping that frustrates me the most. White girls can’t jump I guess lol.

          • Eric says:

            Oh yeah, forcing to pay for multiplayer is probably my biggest pet peeve in gaming right now. EA is notorious for doing that — if you buy one of their games used, you have to cough up another $10 to play online. So lame. It makes renting these games virtually useless now.

            It’s also a big problem in lesser-played titles such as Dead Space 2. The multiplayer portion of that game was fairly small to begin with, but the community had little chance to thrive because of the ridiculous online pass requirement.

            Ahhh, it’s fun venting! I may have to make a new post just for my pet peeves. πŸ˜€

  5. John says:

    I too played through Chrono Trigger relatively recently. I was aware of how beloved the game was, but it actually took me by surprise just how fantastic it was.

    What has your previous experience with the genre been?

    • Eric says:

      Yeah, I wasn’t expecting CT to live up to the hype, but it was great.

      I really don’t have much experience when it comes to SNES RPGs. I didn’t get into the genre until the PS1 era, and my favorites from then were Suikoden 1&2, Star Ocean 2 and Xenogears.

        • Eric says:

          You know, I’ve never actually played a Pokemon game.

          Come to think of it, I can’t recall playing any RPGs past the PS1 era. I played a few hours of FFX — and loved it — but I can’t think of anything else from the PS2/Xbox generation. I guess I have a lot of catching up to do.

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