An important chapter in gaming history.
Not many games get to have a legendary status that dares to transcend the test of time, among this panteon of titles stands Chrono Trigger as one of the few that helped define the action RPG scene, moving a large fanbase over the years. The re-release of this beast makes a loud statement that games are not only meant to be carried on by nostalgic fanboys from days gone by. One of the most noble acts which the 3DS gets to perform is finally enabling later Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 titles to be played on-the-go with no major downgrades and, sometimes, with better remakes.
Sure, relive classic games is fun enough, but anyone who didn't have the chance at the time has a pretty good reason to right the wrongs of the past. Chrono Trigger is not a technically impressing game per say. It was released at the end of the Super Nintendo's life cycle and pretty much missed the full 3D party by a mere 1 year. The Playstation was doing well in Japan and eventually crossed the Globe to become the messianic anti-Nintendo. The title would eventually reach the shores of Sony's console, once again, late in the cycle.
One might say Chrono Trigger was caught in the eye of the storm when it came to be, shortly before two heavy-weight home consoles that would forever change how the industry nurtured decision-making in the years to come were released. Chrono Trigger was meant to be played on the Super Nintendo and the looming new technology apparently didn't have much effect on it. It would certainly tarnish the work done at that point and, as we're led to believe, hard work is one of the recipes for this.
The game mimics 3D the best way it can during the demise of 2D-focused releases of the time. The Nintendo DS version is not a remaster nor a remake, it's a straight-out port with a few add-ons thrown in there. Most of them aren't really stellar, a side-story about a reptile-like individuals with consequences that go through the ages and insane amount of back-tracking to the point it gets boring; a few vortexes popping around to revisit a few locations and enemies; and a spin-off of the main antagonist featuring rehashed pallets and familiar battle location.
The main adventure is a blast from the past, both in-game and history-wise. It features a pretty self-explanatory action-oriented battle system in real time. The "real time" I'm talking about here is still distant from what we would later get used in games like 'Tales of' and it's also the root of dozens upon dozens of brand new ideas from the best minds in Square to create an appropriate RPG gameplay and an engaging story hardly ever seen in video games. The 'Tales of' series for example would go on to integrate the overworld gameplay with some giant flying machine that in this case, is an improved time machine.
The art style is colorful and the ambiance fits every location pretty nicely. Since it deals with time travel the artists had a wide range of artistic decisions dealing with how the atmosphere was going to be crafted. The characters travel back and forth using time portals from pre-historical backgrounds to devastated futuristic landscapes in a period where 3D wasn't yet a thing. It goes to show how some older games reached a pinnacle of 2D design around the mid-90's before having to deal with increasingly more powerful machines and bigger budget gaming.
Everything is perfectly wrapped up with the absolutely amazing soundtrack. You don't really need nostalgia to understand that the tracks are showcased in the right amount to stick with you long after playing while still not sounding overdone, overused. The DS version has a pretty handy sound-test menu option that lets players easily access the music included. It still sounds like your typical 16-bit arrangements, but they're memorable 16-bit tracks that might pretty much be some of video-gaming's best to date, especially taking in consideration the experience as a whole.
The story is surprisingly inventive. The fact that Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama was part of the project could automatically indicate a level of genius that, although not certain, had high chances of becoming reality. As always, his characters are extremely likeable and unworldy. They all gather around the three present day heroes to help them save the world from a mysterious life-form known as Lavos, each joins the party at certain events in their own time and stays in the crowd depending on how the story unfolds, some leave during brief periods while others can leave for good -- or never actually join you.
The battle system has aged fairly badly compared to what we have today, it's still tolerable and adds the right dose of depth not to become robotic or mechanized. You have a melee attack, special attacks and item usage. The special attacks can be performed single-handedly by one character but the stronger ones require two or all three to be used. All players must be ready, and this readiness happens after a while depending on the character's speed skill.
One might be unsure whether the system is turn-based or some hybrid set at first but it's actually the way action was handled at the time. You don't control your character and only chooses their actions; still, how fast you perform actions have a play on the whole thing since you're always prone to being attacked, time only stops while someone or something is actually attacking or using some item. The depth of battling is designated by differences in elemental damage or certain enemies that are imune or resilient against magic or melee.
The story unfolds in a very weird manner since it involves constant time-travel and the same world being re-imagined in different time frames, even the continent's movement is simulated as time goes on. Most of the time it's somewhat easy to understand what to do next but sometimes it simply leaves you in the dark. There's not really an objective screen so it features some of that legacy difficulty we were so used to in younger days.
Even side-quests are featured in a nifty kind of way. Some weird-looking man in the end of time itself will mention them and it's up to you to go after the requirements. After finishing the quest the old man stops mentioning it so it's easier to keep track without an objective screen to index what you're meant to do next. As I've said, the game has aged a fair bit since it was released and some newer audiences might find it a little overwhelming at first but it certainly doesn't stop the adventure from enduring.
The way the art-style was handled is probably the stronger aspect, it succeeds in setting the mood for basically everything it sets out to portray. The enemies are varied and although the gameplay doesn't offer much in terms of options aside from the duality melee/magic, with spells being learnt as the character progresses, the player still feels they can pull some trick out of their sleeves.
This game offers an experience that truly is memorable and should entertain any gamer who enjoys role-playing that takes its time to develop while providing the right amount of gameplay. It does show age and pales in comparison to how action RPGs are created this day. Very few other games have the soulful playfulness and attention to detail featured here. Players should be aware that while they might not have nostalgic reasons to pick this one up, it still showcases an important part of gaming history that shouldn't be passed.