Chrono Trigger first impression

So now that I’ve played several hours on Chrono Trigger, I think it’s about time I write down my first impressions of the game.  They say the first few minutes is the most important part of the game, but I’ve always preferred a great journey over a five minute spectacle.  Anyways, I figured it’d be interesting to jot down some notes now, and see if my opinion on the game changes as I get closer to the ending.  Call it the indie developer’s notes on retro games he/she has not played before.

Background

While I like JRPGs, my taste lean towards action-RPGs than turn-based or strategy.  Games like Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door or Xenoblade Chronicles — both of which are my favorite JRPGs — are much more my jam than, say, Earthbound and Golden Sun.  Additionally, while I have dabbled in gaming in NES and SNES days, the first console I’ve owned, and the one I remember the most is the Nintendo 64, so I tend to prefer playing 3D games over 2D ones.  Naturally, this colors my opinion on retro games that I haven’t played before.

Additionally, I’ve been constantly informed by friends both online and offline how much I should play Chrono Trigger (and Final Fantasy VII, but Chrono Trigger takes priority), so needless to say, I was a bit concerned that this game was too hyped when I started playing.  Additionally, I kind of like spoilers, so here’s what I already know about the story:

  1. Crono, the lead character, dies at some point.  He hasn’t died yet in my playthrough, but I did get to a point where the prophecy is thrown at the party, so I suspect it’s coming soon.
  2. Lavos is the bad guy the party members find out exists at the very far future.  Or maybe Lavos is a thing.  Actually, I don’t know what it is.  Giygas?
  3. Frog is a formerly human prince…of something.
  4. There’s time travel!
  5. There’s significant decisions that affects both the story and game settings, often reflected in the future.

Lastly, I’ve decided to rename characters based off of other video games, and will be referencing them to my custom names (just to confuse you):

  • Crono as Link
  • Lucca as Samus
  • Marle as Jade
  • Frog as Slip
  • Robo as Ness
  • Ayla as Croft

The Parts I Like

The story-changing decisions are subtle.

I was initially unsure whether I liked how subtle the story-changing decisions were, especially when playing games like Tales of Symphonia and Golden Sun trained me to make multiple saves when I noticed a conversation was making me side with one sanction or another.  I’ve come to appreciate this, though, as I go along.  It makes the journey feel a lot more organic as I go through them.

So how does Chrono Trigger implement story-changing decisions?  The part that sticks out to me most is when Link is thrown into jail.  You have a choice to either backstab one of the guards, or simply wait out until Samus saves him.  The backstabbing option is not obvious: it takes several steps to make that option available, and I had to scamper around the cell multiple time to figure out how to get there.  Aaaand I actually restarted after that because I prefer to approach the problem more peacefully (and expect a Game Over screen).  Anyway, the important part is that Chrono Trigger tends to hide some details that you have to figure out yourself, and this serves to be a great advantage from the decision standpoint.

Clear personalities.

Outside of Link, all the characters have very clear personalities.  We have Samus as a smart bookworm; Jade as a tomboy princess; Slip as a loyal swordsman; Ness as a naive robot; and Croft as a blunt barbarian.  I find these comical caricatures to be quick to understand and easily relatable.  Seeing them respond differently in various points of the story creates a very interesting narrative dynamic.  It’s very fascinating to see one character respond in awe to a destructive weapon, while another question whether one should be forged from the first place.

Combo tech attacks encourages different party combinations.

It took me a while to get used to how combo techs would use up turns from two or more party members for a single devastating attack, but other than that, I’ve come to like it.  Basically, unlocking combo tech attacks requires not only for your party members to learn normal tech moves, but also be in a battle at the same time.  Considering how your characters don’t gain experience points unless they’re in battle, cycling through your characters turns out to be an important strategy to make sure your party members remain balanced.  I like that from a simple game mechanic, you’re actively made aware of this important detail, and have to plan accordingly.

Some introduction to different eras are magical.

To me, there were two moments that was really striking: first time being introduced to the very far future, and first time entering the magic palace.  Considering how drastically different these two environments look like, they both took me by surprise, and I couldn’t help but explore every nook and crannies in each of them.

The Parts I Don’t Like

Over-reliance on the overworld.

The world in Chrono Trigger honestly feels vast and…boring.  I feel that to create a sense of epicness in the lands Link and his party travels, the game relies too much on overworlds, and since there’s no random encounters in this game (thank goodness), this part feels very boring.  Don’t get me wrong: I know there’s going to be an item that’ll help shorten my travels, as it’s already hinted with the flying dinosaurs, but I’m already tired of the worlds I’ve visited in.

There’s also the fact that any non-overworld portions of the game feels utterly inconsistent.  Some normal-world levels are only one screen large, while others are a full dungeon.  Seeing as both of these levels are divided by an overworld, it’s hard to predict where you’re entering will be large or small.  This makes it hard for me to judge when I should and shouldn’t save.

Sudden and unavoidable battles.

You know, for a game that prizes how there are no random encounters, I’m often annoyed at how many of those encounters are unavoidable, and come at you without warning.  Most modern RPGs are much more fairer by making it clear that if you talk to an enemy, they’ll give you a choice whether you want to fight it or not.  Chrono Trigger, however, has moments where you’ll be running into a required door, only to be pushed out and swarmed by enemies.  That just feels unfair.

That’s not to mention how difficult it is to judge the trigger box for avoidable battles.  Sometimes, I don’t even touch an enemy, and yet the battle starts anyway.  That’s bad UI, in my opinion.

No run option.

You can’t escape from battles.  It makes the last problem even worse.

Selecting attack/item options cover your stats (like HP, MP, etc.)

In an attempt to not obscure the view, the attack/item selection menu during battle uses as much menu space as possible.  This means that menus will cover your party’s HP/MP bar, making it difficult to judge when my characters are about to die.

Outdated battle system.

I wasn’t fond of Chrono Trigger‘s early Final Fantasy-like battle system, and it only barely grown on me as time went along.  Technically, there’s an option to make the battle system fully turn-based, but I didn’t find this to be much of an improvement, either.  The only mechanic I think is clever about it is when combo-tech attacks are being selected.

It’s kind of hard.

OK, I should be expecting this from a retro game, especially considering how I played through Earthbound 0 before, but Chrono Trigger is old-school hard JRPG.

Most puzzles are fetch quests.

Fetch quests.  My biggest pet-peeve in video games.  Chrono Trigger is filled with them.  See, I really like Golden Sun for its inventive and difficult puzzles, and I can tolerate Earthbound for its humor, but Chrono Trigger has neither of these advantages, and it really irritates me.  When stuff like this are passed as “puzzles,” naturally it’ll ruffle my feathers the wrong way.

No synopsis.

I’m playing Chrono Trigger on and off, and I often lose track of where I was at, or skipped an important detail.  The fact that there isn’t some notes indicating where the story is going, besides maybe the name of the save file, makes it hard to get back to the game, sometimes.

Link is a forgettable mute protagonist.

It’s possible to give personality to mute protagonists.  Earthbound and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker are two shining examples of this.  There’s a very real sense of character development and progression from both of these games simply from character interactions or observations that slowly changes towards the positive.  Chrono Trigger, however, doesn’t have moment like these, so I’m having a hard time judging what kind of person Link is like, other than that he has impressive sword skills.  It makes it hard to support the hero when they’re basically an uninteresting blank slate.

In Conclusion

I’m afraid Chrono Trigger was over-hyped for me, since the flaws in the game are very obvious.  Hopefully my opinion will change as I go along, but some of these flaws are leaving a very bad taste in my mouth.

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