Chrono Trigger is one of the greatest games of all time. Its PlayStation version, which became its PSOne Classic version, is a laggy port whose gameplay detracts from the quality of the original.
The original version, released in 1995 in the cartridge format used by the Super Nintendo, had quick transitions into and out of battle, as well as easy switching into and out of menu screens. The PlayStation version, though on a CD and for more powerful hardware, couldn’t preserve this. Instead, it adds several seconds of black screen every time the menu is opened or closed, and when going into and out of buildings or towns. If you’ve ever played an RPG, you know that these happen often, meaning that time starts to add up.
Battles suffer a similar hiccup. At the beginning and end of a battles, there’s this slight hangup. Gamers who grew up with the delays of disc-based gaming might not notice it, but it’ll stick out to those who played the original version of Chrono Trigger.
Players coming in fresh might not know what they’re missing and therefore might not be bothered by the new load times or spots of lag, so if that’s you, and you’d rather play this game on a PSP, PS3, or Vita than a DS or 3DS, then that’s something to consider. Bad as it was by comparison, I still made it through. Chrono Trigger is a strong enough game that such things can shrink in importance.
Outside of that, however, there’s a great RPG to be found — one that serves as a piece of game history while remaining fun to play.
Its battle system is original without adding too much craziness to the standard JRPG formula. You’ve got your ATB meter with adjustable speed, active and wait modes and all that good stuff, but certain pairs and trios of characters can do special techniques by using their turns in unison. It doesn’t sound like a lot of flair, but it’s surprisingly effective. Even during my playthrough for this review, I got killed in some battles, and the solution was to change something about my strategy.
Chrono Trigger was among the Super Nintendo’s finest looking games, featuring a bright color palette, beautifully designed world, and characters designed by Akira Toriyama. When the PlayStation version arrived in 2001, it got animated movie sequences to go with key story moments. These look great and serve to add new life to a story beloved by those who’ve played the original, while giving a modern touch for first-timers.
Yasunori Mitsuda’s music holds up well, even in its 16-bit form. Good tunes are good tunes.
The story is both typical and unique. Chrono Trigger does indeed have genre stereotypes, but they weren’t quite as stereotypical in their time, and more importantly, they’re done very well. Where it separates itself is the pile of endings and ways that the player decides the fate of the world.
I’m a sucker for time travel to begin with, but Chrono Trigger doesn’t just use it as a plot device, it uses it as a gameplay mechanic. There’s an important difference. The player can eventually take control of time travel capabilities and manipulate the gameplay and story. Even by today’s standards, the way this was done is outstanding.
Gameplay rolls on in usual RPG fashion and features all kinds of secrets lying around, waiting to be discovered upon subsequent playthroughs. This adds replay value and is surely one reason the game is so fondly remembered and frequently replayed by RPG fans today. That, its relatively short 20-hour length (give or take), the New Game+ mode, plus the time travel make for a replayable RPG.
One thing I didn’t like then and still don’t like is how many staged battles there are. I don’t mean bosses and mid-bosses, I mean spots in the dungeons where a fight is guaranteed to happen. Chrono Trigger doesn’t feature random battles, which sounded great at the time, but there are tons of spots where combat is inevitable, meaning the end result can feel the same. If you need to leave and heal, then come back, those set piece fights will often be waiting for you anew, so you still might end up doing more battling than you’d like.
When modern RPG fans ask for games that remind them of the good old days, Chrono Trigger is often one of the games they’re talking about. It was a genre pioneer in the mid 90’s and remains very enjoyable to this day. Due to the lag issues on the PSOne Classic version, I actually recommend the Nintendo DS version as the ideal way to play the game (hey, it’ll work in your 3DS), or the SNES if you happen to have one of those sitting around. But, failing those, I managed to make it through the PSOne Classic of this long-cherished RPG. It’s as good now as it was then.
Review copy purchased by reviewer. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.