Fans of Japanese-style Role Playing Games have had a great 2008/2009, particularly on the Nintendo DS, which has become the hottest JRPG platform. The list from the last 18 months is nothing short of amazing, including many titles that are sure to excite fans such as World Ends With You, Final Fantasy IV, Dragon Quest IV, Dragon Quest V, Izuna 2, Avalon Code, Fire Emblem, Rhapsody, Blue Dragon Plus, Luminous Arc 2, Etrian Odyssey 2, Sonic Chronicles Dark Brotherhood… It’s easy to get carried away, but you can see my point.
Chrono Trigger, like many of those mentioned above, is another remake of a former SNES/PSOne classic. However, this is no straight port – it’s a very lovingly crafted homage to the original, essentially feeling comfortably familiar and brand-new at the same time. But unlike most of the ports coming for Nintendo’s portable machine these days, Chrono Trigger excels at reliving what made the original game so enjoyable the first time, and brings that feeling (and technology) into the present for a new generation of gamers to fall in love with.
The visuals are very traditional looking, featuring small, but colorful and detailed, sprites. The animations are limited, but work just fine, and the level of detail in the game world varies from tile-based repetition to very artistic and wonderful. There are a small number of nicely done full motion cut-scenes (taken directly from the PSOne edition), and bits of spoken dialog scattered throughout. The biggest star here is of course the the terrific music, which remains one of gaming’s most beloved and inspirational scores for good reason.
The true strengths of Chrono Trigger, both in the past and in this edition, are the story and characters. The story avoids so many of the linear, cliched story lines in other JRPGs. The game bounces through time, and actions/choices done in one era can have a direct impact on another. It’s even more subtle than it sounds, and works really well. The time shifts also provide ample changes in scenery, enemies, allies, and music, keeping the game fresh. Character dialog is generally well done, and does a nice job of giving all of the characters their own personalities and motivations.
Combat is carried out in “phased real time”, which means it’s a hybrid of turn based and real time. Time passes like a real time game, but each character is only allowed to attack when their attack gauge is full, meaning everyone generally attacks one at a time depending on their stats. Also, you don’t move your characters (like in turn-based games), you simply choose your action and on whom you’d like to target the action. Creatures are visible on the game screens before combat, so they can, aside from ambushes, be avoided.
However, you’ll not want to avoid too often, as there’s a need to “grind” a bit to ensure you’re leveling up well enough. Your characters level up on their own as you accomplish tasks and beat critters. You collect loot as you go, finding/buying/selling items to improve your skills. You gain magical abilities, “buffs” and other helper items, etc. There’s a decent variety of equipment and spells.
Just as long as you’re not expecting cutting-edge visuals, and share a love for deep and emotionally creative JRPGs, then Chrono Trigger might be one of your best choices on the DS. Despite the decade-plus since its release, it still feels much deeper, fresher, and more interesting than Dragon Quest IV or any of the newer Final Fantasy DS ports. The newest game elements add very little more than repetition (which can be avoided), but nothing that you loved about the original has been taken away. Still highly recommended, even after all these years.