i haven’t been motivated to play anything even remotely taxing for a while, but hopefully i’m over my summer slump. this week i finally “finished” a game that i’ve been slogging through off and on for ages, the original chrono trigger for SNES. over the years i’ve realized i’m really not much into RPGs in general, but as one of the most lauded games of all time i felt compelled to check it out. as you might have guessed, i clearly didn’t love the game, and although i grew to quite like “the other” mega-popular SNES RPG classic, final fantasy 3 (i.e. FF6), when i played it a couple of years ago, the needle of my interest in chrono trigger rarely moved past mere tolerance.
the ardent devotion for the game among its legion of fans (evidenced by any number of reviews, such as this one at nintendolife.com) may in part be due to simple nostalgia and in part to elements that can only be appreciated by fans of RPGs, but jeremy parish’s look back on gamespite.net (in which he posits that the game combines the best elements of the FF and dragon quest series) does a good job of providing some historical context and highlighting the game’s innovations.
first off, the revamped ATB battle system takes the system from FF6 and adds combo attacks on top of it. the game is so mindlessly easy overall that i didn’t even bother with combo attacks until late in the game when i actually had to start strategizing during battles, and in retrospect i should’ve at least tried each of them out. the game auto-levels the characters you’re not currently using, so i probably also should’ve experimented with the other characters and combinations instead of just sticking to a core group as i usually do (in my case, crono, frog, and marle). the seamless transition between dungeon crawling and battling is very well done and keeps the game moving forward, but the much-touted claim that “random battles are optional” since you can see the enemies onscreen and choose to engage or not is completely false for the majority of the latter parts of the game where literally every battle you fight is a mandatory surprise attack. likewise, exploiting the enemy’s physical positioning when choosing your attacks is completely underutilized.
aside from the battle mechanics which i found less than engaging (which i’ve come to realize is pretty much the sole determiner of whether or not i’ll enjoy an RPG since you spend 90% of an RPG battling), the game is also known for its sidequests, multiple endings (which personally didn’t interest me much at all), and completely novel “new game +” mechanic in which you can carry over all your stats, equipment, and items of a completed game to a second playthrough. i didn’t investigate the latter elements at all, and although the game lets you attempt to beat the final boss early on it seems pointless on a normal playthrough since your characters aren’t going to be at a high enough level. i completed only a few of the obvious sidequests since apparently many of the others require you to fly around and track down what new areas have appeared and then trigger certain events by using certain characters. as i’ve come to realize is often the case, the final dungeon is a dull, drawn-out affair, and i was exceedingly annoyed that the final boss is so much more difficult than the entire rest of the game, so much so that i refuse to grind to finish the game and have set the game aside indefinitely.
this isn’t to say that i didn’t enjoy the game in general, to some extent. the music is quite good and the graphics are memorable. the time travel hook is unique, although, again, the past-future causality elements are somewhat minimal, which makes me interested in trying and comparing the well-received recent DS RPG release radiant historia which seems to more fully use time travel as its central mechanic. i found the characters and the story to be reasonably engaging, although even given the fact i played this game in fits and starts the story seemed to be presented in a piecemeal fashion.
so it seems this is another classic that i found to just be dated. glad i can finally cross this off my list, and hopefully i’ll be working my way through the last handful of all-time classics i have left sooner than later.
time for some chrono trigger links:
– the two main sources for info on all things chrono trigger are the entry at strategywiki.org and chrono.wikia.com. the former includes a nice summary of all the endings, a guide to all the characters, and a table comparing the names in the original vs the DS releases, while the latter includes a nice page on the enemies with sprites.
– speaking of the DS rerelease, IGN has some good information on the added multiplayer monster training features