Chrono Trigger Review

This perennial time-travel adventure is worth falling in love with all over again.

It's been more than 13 years since SquareSoft first released its time-travelling epic Chrono Trigger on the SNES. With an endearing cast of characters and a fantastic story that took place throughout the ages, it went down in history as what many would call one of the greatest games ever made. It was later rereleased as a part of Final Fantasy Chronicles on the PlayStation, and though it included several new features such as anime cutscenes and a detailed bestiary, it suffered from long and frequent loading times. The Nintendo DS rerelease includes new areas to explore, an all-new ending that better ties into its sequel, Chrono Cross, and all of the additions of its PS1 predecessor (minus loading issues), making it the definitive edition of Chrono Trigger.

When the Kingdom of Guardia gathers to commemorate its millennial anniversary, the young Crono celebrates by sleeping in. Roused out of bed by his mother, he rushes to the festivities to catch the public demonstration of his inventor friend Lucca's latest creation, and in his haste literally runs into Marle, a hyperactive girl who looks more than a little familiar and insists that he show her around. With little choice in the matter, Crono brings his new companion to Lucca's show, where an experimental teleportation device malfunctions, sending Marle through a rift in the space-time continuum. Armed only with a wooden sword and dangerously spiky hair, Crono follows Marle into the past to attempt a temporal extrication, only to begin a long and arduous journey to prevent a tragic future from unfolding.

Enemies visibly wander the map, and battles begin immediately wherever they may be encountered.
Enemies visibly wander the map, and battles begin immediately wherever they may be encountered.

Along the way, Crono and his friends encounter an exceptional cast of allies, including the heroic Frog, a medieval knight sworn to defeat the sinister Fiendlord who turned him into an anthropomorphic amphibian; Robo, a humanoid robot from the future with a penchant for gardening; and Ayla, the hotheaded and enormously strong chieftain of a prehistoric tribe. Together, these time trotters face down a memorable cast of villains, from the cold and calculating Azala, queen of a race of hyperintelligent dinosaurs, to Magus, the scythe-wielding sorcerer supreme better known as the Fiendlord, in their quest to defeat the evil entity known as Lavos. From beginning to ending (all 14 of them!), Chrono Trigger offers a deeply satisfying combination of storytelling and character development that few games have managed to top, and that even the most stone-hearted will find emotionally stirring.

To this day, Chrono Trigger is a fairly nonstandard role-playing experience due to a number of innovative design decisions, but this was especially true at the time of its release. Its combat system allows for your three party members to attack separately or to combine their skills to create double or triple techniques of enormous power. Given that enemies are not randomly encountered and instead appear to wander the various dungeons that you explore, it's very possible to skip the vast majority of your fights should you choose to. As a result, the world map, which is represented by an extreme birds-eye view of your party, can be peacefully explored without fear of ambush. Considering that Chrono Trigger deals with the concept of time travel, any decision you make can have world-changing--and often not immediately noticeable--effects on the future. For example, your every deed at the Millennial Fair in the very beginning of the game may potentially come back to haunt you not long afterward. This cause-and-effect gameplay forces you to consider the short- and long-term consequences of your actions, and is also used to great effect in completing side quests.

In addition to all of the bonus content originally added as part of the PS1 port, the DS version of Chrono Trigger includes an optional touch-screen control scheme, the Lost Sanctum quest hub, the Arena of the Ages monster battleground, a series of dungeons called the Dimensional Vortices, a revelatory new ending, and a polished-up retranslation. The touch-screen controls move battle commands from the top screen into the bottom to free up more space, and the new translation maintains the charm and gravitas of the original while reinterpreting some words and lines to give them a bit more meaning. The Dimensional Vortices and new ending offer additional challenges, new items, and story closure on several ambiguous issues directly relevant to Chrono Cross. The Lost Sanctum is an isolated region that exists in two different eras and is ultimately forgettable thanks to its unimportance to the story and the frustrating fetch-quest nature of its missions. The Arena of the Ages is a new area that lets you adopt a monster and train it to battle against other monsters for potentially useful items. As with the Lost Sanctum, the Arena serves no story purpose, and even the ability to pit your monster against a friend's via local Wi-Fi isn't enough to make it worth accessing regularly.

Some bosses like the Black Tyrano fill up the entire screen!
Some bosses like the Black Tyrano fill up the entire screen!

Visually, Chrono Trigger hasn't changed one bit throughout the years, and its rich, sprite-based graphics, beautiful vistas, and colorful spell effects actually look better than ever on the DS. Similarly, the epic and moving soundtrack brilliantly crafted by famed composers Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu continues to amaze years later.

Chrono Trigger is a fantastic synthesis of excellent storytelling, game design, music, and gameplay that has withstood the test of time and should be considered required playing for any fan of role-playing games. Though its extra content is hit or miss and it's essentially a direct port of a game released 13 years ago, the DS version is easily the definitive edition of this masterpiece, regardless of whether Chrono Trigger is one of those games you've only ever heard of before or you're a dedicated fan who has played through it dozens of times.

The Good

  • A lovable cast of memorable heroes and empathetic villains
  • Epic story with 14 possible endings
  • Innovative, engaging combat system
  • Brand-new ending, dungeons, and items give veterans something to look for
  • Beautiful, haunting soundtrack

The Bad

  • Monster arena is a lackluster addition
  • New missions are frustrating, repetitive fetch quests

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