Chrono Trigger Review

Quite some time back, I wrote a first-impression review of Chrono Trigger. I called it, “the indie developer’s notes on retro games he/she has not played before.” A few months in, I finally finished the game, and now ready to talk about whether my opinion on the game has changed or not. Warning: there are spoilers everywhere!

Background

As a quick refresher, the first console I’ve owned is the Nintendo 64. My taste lean towards action-RPGs than turn-based or strategy. Charles Barkley’s Shut Up & Jam: Gaiden is awesome.

Before playing the game, I already knew that:

  1. Crono, the lead character, dies at some point.
  2. Lavos is the bad thing.
  3. Frog is a formerly human prince.
  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 will be referencing characters 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
  • Magus as Luigi
  • Epoch as WiiU

Corrections

Last time, I’ve mentioned that I couldn’t run from battle. Apparently, I misread the instructions given at the beginning of the game, and you actually can run away from battle by holding the L and R button at the same time, and waiting until it’s your party’s turn.

Secondly, I also mentioned that experience points aren’t shared. They sort of are: party members not in battle will still receive 75% of the experience from battle.

Positive Changes In Opinion

Overall, I’ve warmed up to the game’s story and battle system. In the beginning, I’ve mentioned that I didn’t like Link that much for having very little character. My opinion changed somewhat during the first story-sequence based encounter with Lavos (the part where Link dies). I have to praise that cinematic portion because the player character does something I would not have done, and helps define the determination the player character has. It was a scant few minutes, but I definitely ended up liking the character more than, say, Link from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

While the battle system itself isn’t much to speak home of, especially when it comes to regular enemy battles, I found the boss battles to be a fascinating. Many bosses acts as a sort of a puzzle, requiring certain magic attacks or targeting specific parts first to expose their weak-points. Puzzle battles are certainly one of the many reasons I play JRPGs, and I really appreciate how the player needs to discover the “one right way” to beat the boss. That said, the boss battles themselves aren’t without some serious flaws. For one, I couldn’t see a way to swap out characters during battle, which can royally screw you over when you realize the right members aren’t in your team at the moment. Next, there are very little clues to indicate what magic spell is necessary to really pummel a boss. The one example that comes to mind is the skeletal sand monster in the desert. The proper way to defeat the boss is by stiffening it with water spells, then pummel the lower body that heals the upper one. One would think that since it’s a┬áskeletal sand monster, maybe ice magic would cause it to freeze up. Nope, time to go back to the blackboard. The fact that you have to read a temporary text indicating that you did the right thing is a bit annoying, and worse, easily miss-able.

Next, I felt that the first part of the story was meandering a bit to establish each character’s personality. Which would have been OK — Paper Mario and its sequel are one of my favorite games, and their narrative uses the same technique — have the characters been a little more fleshed-out beyond their classic anime stereotype. Unfortunately, these meandering stories only re-establish the stereotype rather than fleshing the character out. So I find it a bit ironic that the game has to provide optional side-quests to show a little more depth for each character (with Croft as the only exception). Needless to say, I really liked the side-quests. They’re pretty short, their objectives are hinted clearly by Gaspar, and their narrative is poignant and to-the-point.

Lastly, I like how the plot wraps up towards the end of the game, as for once we aren’t focusing on a single character, but rather Lavos and Zeal. These moments helps provide reasons for the player to be motivated in taking out the main villain. Lavos itself is kind of a pointless villain, being mostly static and not being reactive to the world, but I’m OK with that: Queen Zeal takes its stead on being an interesting villain. I found it quite refreshing to find a villain that is not only selfish, but also manages to turn an entire population into a lazy, entitled culture, not unlike Brave New World. Sure, it’s implied that she was manipulated by Lavos to become like this, but that detail to me was less interesting than the fact that we’re dealing with a character who has influential power that prefers to use manipulation over violence to enforce its cause.

Negative Changes In Opinion

There were a few things I liked at the beginning, but as the game went along, I’ve become to like less. The first are the story-changing decisions: it may just be me, but I felt like they completely disappeared towards the end of the game. The lack of such mechanic made the end set of stories feel more linear.

I also felt the time-traveling mechanic to change the future was really under-utilized, especially compared to Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Only a few side quests made me feel like I was really changing things for the better or worse. A good example of quests making me feel like I’m making changes is getting rid of Luigi’s underling quest. Doing so in the middle ages drastically changes the monster village in the present era to be more friendly towards humans. On the other hand, there’s a small step in a side-quest where you change the personality of a mayor in a village by traveling back in time and showing altruism to his mother. This has no effect whatsoever in the village despite the full 180 the mayor makes, making the whole thing feel rather pointless. It’s such a shame that the majority of the side-quests take place only within the present and middle-ages era. It would have been more interesting to see what would of happened in the dark ages, the future, and pre-historic eras.

Lastly, I find myself utilizing combo techs less and less. Ultimately, a lot of single-character techs proves to be powerful enough that I’ve come to rely on them more as the game went along. So it becomes easier and easier to stick with a single favored party configuration instead of going for more variety as it nears the end of the game. This may be intentional, but given how combo techs are unlocked, I’m inclined to think it isn’t.

Other Parts I Forgot To Mention

I didn’t say anything about the audio last time, so here’s a paragraph devoted to just that: the music is hit-or-miss, and the sound effects are awesome. First the sound effects: they feel absolutely spectacular, as slashes sound great, and critical hits even better. There’s a huge variety of them, especially for a console that couldn’t render many, so I’m quite impressed by what they were able to achieve there. The music, on the other hand, swayed me from great to forgettable. The game’s soundtrack frankly doesn’t stand out, at least in ways that Cave Story does, and falls rather neatly between the “meh” list that includes Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy X. I guess I’m not that huge with Nobuo Uematsu.

Next, I haven’t mentioned my opinions about graphics. The game does look pretty good for its time, and there are places where I was surprised with the amount of detail they were able to put in. There were a few problems I had with it, though. In some levels, I felt like artistic details sacrificed the readability of walkable grounds, particularly the prehistoric and future ones. I also felt all the animations for enemy and player characters were pretty good, except for Luigi. I don’t know what he’s doing when he’s casting spells, but I swear it looks a lot like Mr. Game & Watch’s random shuffles.

Lastly, with the WiiU: I like it! I kind of wished more games has it because lets face it: overworlds are boring. I really appreciate there are cool quick-travel options in this game, though I’m not exactly a fan that it was introduced so late in the game. Still, cool stuff.

In Conclusion

Overall, I thought Chrono Trigger was good, but not great. It’s quite a slow-burner JRPG, with most of the best parts left for last. The game definitely feels like it suffered from age, especially when there are other wonderful and innovative JRPGs out there. The slow start in the game, coupled with some missing convenience features in modern games, makes it a piece I am hesitant to recommend.

Also, favorite party member combination: Link, Slip, and Ness.

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