Time travel – it’s an amazing concept. It’s a fantasy we all wish for; the opportunity to travel the realms of time, from night till morning, present to future. It affords unlimited possibility. It transcends the things dreams are made of. Only a handful of videogames dare mess with time, whether it’s through slowing it down a la bullet time, zooming through time portals, or envisaging the future. Chrono Trigger is arguably the best example of a game that works on the idea of time travel, carving a videogame that has an intriguing story, marvellous characters, and a decent combat system within a lovable RPG structure. Now it’s been re-released on DS, a whole new generation of people can enjoy its many delights.
The story is a simple affair but no less enjoyable. It takes the player through various locations, time-zones and scenarios to keep things feeling fresh, never outstaying its welcome. The inclusion of time-gates, which transport the characters to the various eras means many twist and turns involving these can surface, and to great effect. It makes the story feel unique amongst the RPG crowd, even today, and is one you’ll happily see to the end.
You play Crono, a redhead extraordinaire who’s admired by the masses. The game starts in a hugely charming fashion, with the town your character lives in having an anniversary fair. The fair holds host to a multitude of games and stalls, and serves as a great introduction to the world of Chrono Trigger. Not long after entering, your friend Lucca promises you a special invention she plans on unveiling to the local townsfolk. After watching a demonstration, you see she has created a wonderful teleportation machine. As you’d expect, it doesn’t take long until it backfires and unintentionally turns into a time machine. From here on you travel into the past and find out of the problems of yesteryear. After some delightful little tasks you soon discover an evil force set to destroy the world, and it’s up to you to change the course of time for a better future, inevitably saving mankind.
The setting of a game like this is constantly changing, so you can’t contest a lack of variation. You’ll traverse dinosaur-ridden lands, futuristic domes, and medieval castles. You even get to visit the end of time, a finely designed stop-gap that acts as a hub for all the eras you visit. As you’d expect from a game over twelve years old, the graphics aren’t as impressive as they used to be, but they retain a lot of the charm, and seeing as it has been released on the less tech-heavy DS, you won’t feel aggrieved. The world map may feel a little outdated, as well as the accompanying character models, but it’s a small gripe in comparison. Thanks to some finely detailed textures and drawing in the main areas, and some beautiful touches in lighting and background, it still preserves an artistic shine, and is mostly as enchanting as it ever was. Fantastically drawn anime sequences occur throughout the gameplay, too, which give the characters a whole lot more life.
Unlike the visuals, the audio hasn’t aged at all, with a tremendous orchestral score courtesy of two prestigious composers in Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu. The music moves from standard action-RPG battle music to the more beautiful orchestral pieces that enchant you as you explore the many forests of the game. Regardless of the quality available from your DS’s speakers, it’s certainly worth a listen.
In order to proceed through the story arc, you need to master the combat system. Thankfully, it’s both intuitive and enjoyable. You’ll have learned the ins and outs of it after the first battle, such is its simplicity, and while it’s straightforward, it has depth in the amount of moves that can be learnt. As there are three characters in your party almost all throughout the game, not only can you learn standard solo character moves, but you can learn dual techniques which are used by two characters, and triple techniques for three characters – naturally the most effective. Battles work in a cleverly disguised turn-based manner commonly known as ‘active time battle’ system – a timer loads at a speed dependent of your level as you wait for your turn and the ability to strike the opponent.
There are, strictly speaking, no random battles in the game, as you are able to walk past the enemies that roam each area. However there are times when a battle can’t be avoided as creatures burst onto the screen in a mini-scripted event. These can start to grate when you just want to get somewhere, but for the most part the lack of true random battles is welcome, and for a game this old, impressive. You’ll encounter a whole wealth of monsters and the like throughout the game, with most demonstrating Square Enix’s immense ability with memorable character design. You need only look at the game’s extensive bestiary to see the amount and quality of enemy creations on offer.
If there are criticisms to be had, it’s in the lack of decent signposting. There are many times in the game where you’ll be stuck for exactly what to do, and there is no way to find out, save for reading a guide or scouring the land to trigger an event. Locations are also designed so that sometimes it’s unclear where to progress. A pathway south may be available, but you wouldn’t know on first glance. A bush may be home to a talking frog, but unless you actively click on it, that hideout will be but a mystery to you. It’s a shame, as there are times when you’ll want to really press on with the story, only for a frequent misguiding to halt your progress.
As this is a remake of the SNES classic, there are some extras, but they don’t fare particularly well. Apart from some simple but neat touch-screen functionality and the option to have all of the HUD on the bottom screen, there are new dungeons and a ‘monster arena’. The new areas named ‘The Dimensional Vortices’ offer some harmless fetch-quest fun, but are fairly uninteresting compared to the main game. Similarly the monster arena is passable but of little importance in the whole scheme of things, giving players the chance to adopt a monster and fight their friends locally – you won’t be coming back to it day after day.
All said, it was certainly worth it for Square Enix to port Chrono Trigger to the DS. Now able to reach a younger generation of gamers, and those who maybe were not so lucky to sample it on the SNES, people can prepare to be charmed by this lovable RPG. Chrono Trigger is worth travelling back in time for again and again.