A Timeless Classic About Time Travel
1995’s Chrono Trigger is widely considered to be the quintessential JRPG. The product of a “dream team” of developers from both the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy franchises, it had to live up to some almost impossibly high expectations. Here we are, a full 25 years later, and I think it’s safe to say that it lived up to those expectations and remains a beloved SNES classic that absolutely oozes charm.
The problem with games like Chrono Trigger is that they don’t really require any updates to appeal to modern gamers. The gameplay remains accessible and the colorful graphics and lush music have held up extremely well. Rather than remaster the game, Square-Enix has the unenviable task of simply not screwing it up when porting the game to different platforms.
What’s the Difference? Which is the Best Version of Chrono Trigger?
Four ports have been completed since the original Super NES release, but there was only one that earned the status of “definitive version” until very recently. Let’s take a look at each version individually to see how they stack up.
Super NES (1995)
The original release still looks gorgeous, with character designer Akira Toriyama’s distinctive art style lending well to the graphics. Yasunori Mitsuda’s iconic music remains one of the very best video game soundtracks, and the Super NES version is still the best-sounding one. It’s also worth noting that if you happen to have the Virtual Console version downloaded on your Nintendo Wii, it’s a pretty flawless reproduction of the original.
Verdict: Play it if you can get it
Released outside of Japan as one half of Final Fantasy Chronicles (the events of Chrono Trigger have nothing at all to do with Final Fantasy) alongside Final Fantasy IV, the big draw for the PlayStation port of Chrono Trigger was the addition of a handful of gorgeously animated cutscenes. The intro and ending in particular are things of beauty, with the latter even hinting at the story of Chrono Cross. An “Extras” menu was also added, allowing the player to watch the animated cutscenes or listen to the soundtrack upon completing the game, along with a bestiary, item encyclopedia, ending log, and more.
The graphics and music do not suffer noticeably in the transition from Super NES to PlayStation, but this port has a rather gigantic flaw that turned off most fans to it completely. That flaw is excessive loading.
You have to stare at a black screen for about 7 seconds just to enter a house from the overworld map, and worst of all, every battle is preceded by loading. Every. Single. Battle.
I was personally so disappointed by this in 1999 that I simply replayed the Super NES version and watched the animated cutscenes on the Internet. Considering Chrono Trigger is a game about time, it’s ironic that this version wastes so much of the player’s.
Verdict: Skip It
Nintendo DS (2008)
Now we’re getting somewhere. Programmed by Tose with the goal of faithfully recreating the Super NES game while also integrating the animated cutscenes and extras from the PlayStation version, this is the aforementioned “definitive version” of Chrono Trigger – or at least it was for just over a decade. Square-Enix didn’t just stop at porting the game, however. They also added a rather significant amount of entirely new content, which while not all great, certainly doesn’t detract from the overall package.
Graphics and sound both made the transition to the handheld DS impressively. The game looks every bit as good as it did on the Super NES, but the music was slightly downsampled. It still sounds amazing, however, even with headphones, and most would be pressed to notice the difference.
The game’s translation was also revised with this version. Translator Tom Slattery updated some of the dialogue (Frog’s dialect, or lack thereof, is probably the most noticeable example of this) along with many item and enemy names. There’s nothing too significant, but it feels like an improved localization overall.
The game benefits from a dual-screen presentation that moves all menus to the bottom screen. Chrono Trigger hardly had a cluttered user interface (UI), but it’s nice to have the top screen devoid of menus, so one can focus on the amazing sprite work. Touch screen functionality is also added, which is nice for anyone who prefers that method of selecting commands.
All in all, this is a fantastic port of Chrono Trigger with a faithful reproduction of its graphics and sound, the best aspects of the PlayStation port (animated cutscenes and Extras menu), and brand new content. Really, the only remotely bad thing I can say about it is that the music sounds a tiny bit compromised.
Now onto the new content! There is a lot to dig into, so I’ll just provide a brief summary of each new addition:
The Lost Sanctum – Accessible midway through the game, this content is composed of two dungeons and a village of Reptites. Take on requests from the Reptites and eventually clear out the two dungeons while earning rewards along the way. This content is repetitive, with a ton of backtracking, and there is nothing particularly unique or memorable.
Dimensional Vortex – Accessible after completing the game, the Dimensional Vortex is a dungeon with three forms, depending on which time period you enter it. The dungeon can be a bit of a slog, but it culminates with a brand new boss that ties into Chrono Cross’ story. Players who complete the Dimensional Vortex are even rewarded with a new ending, so I would highly recommend playing through it.
Arena of the Ages – The Arena content can be accessed either at the title menu (a proper save file must be used) or at the End of Time. You can train and battle monsters at the arena to earn items and equipment, and you could even battle against a friend over wireless Internet. The latter feature is sadly not available anymore, but this content is highly skippable, so don’t feel too bad.
Verdict: Buy It!
Mobile (iOS, Android; 2011)
The good news: the mobile port is based on the DS version (sans animated cutscenes). The bad news: it was a hot mess when it launched, and remained so for quite some time.
“High resolution” smoothing filters were used for the graphics, and similar to the filters used in other Square-Enix mobile ports, they make the graphics look rather unappealing compared to previous ports. The touch-focused UI doesn’t help matters, as it takes up a large amount of the screen, making the entire affair look like a cluttered mess.
Fortunately, improvements have been made, slowly yet surely, and the mobile version is now highly playable. The animated cutscenes were restored in 2018, and players now have the option to turn the graphical filtering off. The UI has been improved as well and is no longer as obtrusive. There are some DRM checks present that can interrupt the flow of the game – particularly in the Android version – but they’re a minor annoyance for the most part.
Verdict: No DS? Try It!
Windows (Steam, 2018)
The Steam version is the one that surprised me the most. I purchased it on day one and was horrified when I saw that it was essentially a port of the bad mobile version. The forced graphics filter was in place, the font was a hideously generic sans-serif, graphical glitches were noticeable even early on, and they even maintained the touchscreen-focused U.I.! To this day, this is the only game that I requested a refund for on Steam. It was a complete disaster of a port.
While preparing for this article, I started the Steam version up again (it was part of a bundle of games I purchased early this year) and was shocked by how much it had improved over the last two years. Square-Enix diligently patched the game numerous times after its disastrous initial reception, and I am happy to say that it now looks and sounds like proper Chrono Trigger.
The Steam version has all of the content from the DS version with the exception of the Arena of the Ages. Honestly, though, that content wasn’t anything special and shouldn’t heavily affect anyone’s decision of which version to play. I still have some minor gripes about the presentation, such as the decision to put health and ATB bars next to each character, giving battles a more cluttered look than necessary, but overall this is a very good version of the game. The music quality is accurate to the original and does not suffer from the downsampling that affected the DS version, so in some ways, this is the definitive version.
Verdict: Buy It!
So which is the Best Version of Chrono Trigger to Play?
Just before I started researching for this article, I was certain that I would crown the DS version as the victor, but I feel that it’s a tie between the DS and Steam ports. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. The DS version has a fantastic dual-screen presentation and can be played on the go, but the music quality takes a slight hit. The Steam version has a couple of annoying UI quirks, but has some quality-of-life updates such as autosave, and can be played on a television set with little hassle.
And don’t entirely discount the mobile version! It’s a little jankier than the DS version, but a perfectly viable (and very affordable) way to play an all-time classic on the go without having to carry a handheld system around. Really, the only version of Chrono Trigger I would suggest avoiding altogether is the PlayStation port since it’s almost entirely obsolete now. So grab your DS, log into Steam, heck – pop that cartridge into a Super NT, even – whatever it takes to play this wonderful game and be in awe of how well it has aged.
Be sure to continue the fun with our Chrono Trigger 25th Anniversary Celebration by checking out all our other posts.