There are few fourteen-year-old games I’d be willing to pay the best part of thirty pounds for. While anthologies such as Taito Memories or the recent Sega Megadrive Collection provide reasonable value for money by stuffing plenty of games onto one disc, Square Enix has seen fit to release an RPG from the days of the Super Nintendo all on its lonesome and expect the game-buying public to pay pretty much the same price that it was available for back in 1995. If this was any normal retro game, Chrono Trigger could be seen as a rip-off of the highest order. Fortunately, this isn’t just any retro game.
It helps, of course, that Chrono Trigger had such a magnificent pedigree to begin with; developed as a joint venture by the legendary Square and Enix (who previously created the classic Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises), the game featured gorgeous, vibrant visuals designs from Akira (Dragonball Z) Toriyama and a stunning score by Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu.
Released in March 1995, Chrono Trigger was greeted with a rapturous response in its native country, with rave reviews and sales of around 2.6million copies. Yet, despite its success in the east, Chrono Trigger was never officially made available in Europe, earning the game an almost mythical reputation among hardcore RPG fanatics. Now it’s finally available for the DS – so has it been worth the wait?
Your first impression, if you’ve never played Chrono Trigger before, could be one of mild disappointment; the charm of the colourful sprites may be undiminished (their reduced size on the DS’s dinky little screen only adding to their appeal), but there’s initially little to suggest that this is a game worthy of such dewy-eyed praise – its plot, setting and controls all seeming strangely generic. It doesn’t take long, though, for Trigger‘s true brilliance to become apparent; a traditional 2D RPG it may be, but the balance of its gameplay and the quality of its production sets it apart from the hundreds of other genre offerings that have been long since forgotten.
Chrono Trigger is a great game simply because it gets everything pitched just right: you’re thrown straight into the shoes of Crono, the game’s spiky-haired protagonist, and the story unfolds rapidly with a minimum of tedious dialogue or drawn-out cut scenes. The adventure begins in the present day, when Marle, a plucky young princess, is accidentally sent back in time after a prototype time machine goes haywire. Bravely throwing himself into the vortex after her, Crono embarks on a quest to retrieve the hapless princess – and quickly becomes embroiled in a much larger adventure which spans the past, present and future.
Chrono Trigger‘s lack of random battles – an affliction common in many nineties RPGs – speeds up the action tremendously, and while battles do regularly occur, they’re not to the detriment of the story. And while killing plenty of monsters is important if you’re to level up your characters’ attributes, as well as earn more cash and equipment, the game doesn’t rely on tedious grinding to bulk out the play time. The turn-based battles are also a snap to control; beginning with simple sword attacks, Crono rapidly learns a broad repertoire of combat moves, as well as techs, the game’s equivalent of spells. Other characters will join your quest as the narrative moves on, and each of these has a moveset and a range of techs all of their own. The techs in your party can also be combined to create new, more powerful attacks – a clever conceit that adds tactical depth to the combat.
The game’s time travel concept adds plenty of variety to the adventure, throwing you headlong into a pastoral 600AD one minute, and a grey, devastated 2300AD the next, while the puzzles and fights in each zone are delivered with pathos and a surprisingly gentle touch of humour. Exposition and dialogue may be noticeably pared back, but that doesn’t mean that the game’s characters suffer as a result – indeed, it’s hard to remember a more odious, irritating villain than the scheming Chancellor. And while Chrono Trigger isn’t the longest or most difficult RPG you’ll ever play, it’s easily one of the most engaging – and with ten different endings there’s plenty of replay value too.
The DS edition also has the welcome addition of an arena battle mode, where you must raise a monster and enter it into battles – you can even fight against a friend using the Nintendo’s wireless mode.
Chrono Trigger is a rare gem indeed – a retro game that can be enjoyed in 2009 without the rose-tinted spectacles of nostalgia that older titles often require. It’s ironic, in fact, that a game that involves the manipulation of time should prove to be so utterly timeless itself. A classic.