Years before powerful Japanese RPG-smiths Square and Enix merged, the minds behind Enix’s Dragon Quest and Square’s Final Fantasy came together to create a dream project that would allow them to experiment in ways their established franchises wouldn’t. The resulting game took the Super NES as far as it could go, technically speaking, and it has had only one other release since, an admittedly half-baked port to the PSOne. But now this not-so-forgotten masterpiece, Chrono Trigger, gets a deserving revival on the DS.
From the outside, CT appears to be a pretty standard JRPG that follows turn-based conventions, but so many of its then-revolutionary gameplay decisions still come off fresh 13 years later. The battle system keeps everything fast-paced, with encounters moving seamlessly from exploration to fighting without going to a different screen. That causes it all to flow together perfectly. Plus, it eliminates the annoyance of constant random attacks from unseen enemies, as you see most standard enemies wandering around before you fight them.
CT also improves the typical magic system of 16-bit RPGs, with each character having a unique set of spells, or "techs." As each character’s skills grow, they become very specialized, and if some team members are used enough in the same party they can gain duo attacks or especially devastating techniques involving the whole party. These duo attacks are more effective, but the characters involved use both their turns, adding an extra level of strategy to the fights.
CT’s story is rather diverse and complex, even if a ragtag group of young adults (including the boy next door and a spunky princess) saving the world from the ultimate destroyer doesn't look novel on paper. However, the game makes this tired premise new with masterful storytelling and a great translation. Time travel is a major device in the story, which weaves its way through a winding path of history, going places as diverse as the Stone Age, the Renaissance, and the far-off future. These settings all make sense, but still surprise you. Plus it's filled with extra quests and paths just to make the adventure even fuller.
The main quest itself is long enough at 30-odd hours, but when taking into account the 14(!) possible endings, including a new one created for the DS, Chrono offers great depth for the dedicated to explore. On top of that, it's slathered in extras: a bestiary, soundtrack, item catalogue, animated FMVs from the PSOne release and a new dungeon. And while the graphics are the same as ever, you can switch between a classic button layout or stylus control at any time. Perhaps all these frills are small on their own, but together they make quite a package.
If you've never played Chrono Trigger, you owe it to yourself to finally give this gaming touchstone a whirl. And if you have played it before, you can play it again, for no other reason than to see how new it all still feels. We would normally hesitate to give any rerelease such a high score, but this is the ultimate edition of a true classic.
Nov 24, 2008