I finally completed my first play through of Chrono Trigger and… I gotta say… I was pretty disappointed in it overall. I do wonder if this might be a somewhat reaction to the hype of the game. I am a firm believer in hype affecting what you think of something. If you go into a movie thinking it’s not going to be good, and it turns out OK, you end up liking it much better than if you went into it thinking that this is going to be AMAZING and then you end up thinking it was terrible just because it was OK.
Chrono Trigger, I had seen many reviews and rankings as potentially being better than FF6, or at least in that general area of goodness. I absolutely love FF6, I have played it several times at this point and I still very much enjoy the game. This game, I pretty much had lost interest in about halfway into the game. While I do think it gets better towards the end, it wasn’t enough to save the game for me. Warnings… there will be spoilers here.
Story – Meh
So honestly one of the bigger problems of the entire game to me is the story. Is it bad? No, not at all. Is it great? Nah. (spoiler incoming) I think the reason people feel so highly about the story is that Chrono does indeed die in the game which is a pretty bold move by the developers. In fact, if not for this death, I probably would have given the Story a thumbs down, so it definitely did improve my opinion of the story as a whole. But other things I saw coming a mile away, like Magus joining my party. After looking at guides after that choice was made, I found out that I just happened upon the choice, and that if I chose the other method, I would have instead killed him. I do think the number of story endings is the second major thing to take home, how the game ended could vary pretty large. I could have done everything else the same, just without Magus, but there were also other endings to take into affect. This game has definite replayability to it, and I may go back and replay it at some point just to see if my opinion changes. But my overall opinion of the story is that it was really… really… really boring. I don’t think the endings really affected this to me, as they don’t really come into play until… the end. And I was already lost by that point. I didn’t feel anything for Chrono, or the princess, or that other girl that we start with, or the robot, or the frog… honestly most of the characters to me felt like the kid in the veldt in FF6, or the Yeti. Just kind of there. May have had a couple of lines for backstory, but that’s it.
Mechanics – Meh
I was actually torn on what to rate the mechanics, because this was another major issue I had with the game. I ended up giving it a meh because of the multiple endings, but more importantly… the New Game+. New Game+ wasn’t new with Chrono Trigger… it looks like the original concept actually started with Megami Tensei back on the Famicom. But with Chrono Trigger, they took the idea, they named it, they refined it to work in the genre, and they popularized it. Since Chrono Trigger, the option has been there in a large number of console JRPGs.
Thinking of other mechanics in the game… Random battles weren’t really a thing, neither was grinding (I think I may have killed a few extra creatures ones or twice for the xp). Even though you had several characters, they all stayed about the same level regardless of if they were in the party or not, so you never had to bother switching to make sure everyone was leveled. This may have been another reason many people like the game, but I like the grind, it’s one of the things I like the most about the genre, to me it is a defining feature of the genre and thus it was sadly missing from this game. I will say this was way ahead of its time. Especially other party members staying leveled. When I first realized it was happening I did think that was neat.
But those characters staying leveled went to another issue in the game, I really had no care to play more than 3 characters in this game. I never felt I had a huge advantage with one over another. I felt there was a sameness with all of them. Sure they each had different elements, but for the most part, there wasn’t a strong elemental relationship in creatures of the game, so you never felt like “oh this is a tree so it needs fire dmg.” The few times it was there, you just did a normal attack and honestly I mostly just did normal attacks. Most of them had a way to heal, most of them did similar damage. I switched to Magus at the end largely cause I thought he’d be amazing being an end game character, and I had lost Chrono anyway (I also didn’t like being stuck with Chrono). But honestly, he wasn’t any better than anyone else. I actually thought the effectiveness of the group went down because he wasn’t to their level.
I wasn’t a fan of the way the combo system was implemented. I felt it was confusing, it was hard to know what some of them actually did, and more often than not I felt like if I attacked normally I would have done more damage with 2 characters rather than the 1 special attack. It also made the tech menu very messy, the group ones showing up at the bottom regardless of if you could do them or not. It took me until mid-game to realize that I got new techs as I leveled, but there was no way to customize the techs I got. There wasn’t much customization or choice at all in the game as far as I could tell. I had to use the weapons, the techs, the everything that the character had.
Magic, Combat, & Items – Thumbs down
It wasn’t good. There’s not much more to say about it. I was REALLY annoyed that each character got a set weapon to use, and a set element of magic. There was no way to change it in the game. There was no modicum of choice in character development. It was what it was. The only real choice you had was with the tabs, you could make characters better with the limited number you could find. But ultimately, you ended up just loading the best character with those. It was best not to spread them out, because the characters were generally so balanced that it didn’t matter who you had for any particular situation, so you may as well drop them on all.
There wasn’t a lot of variety either. I see this problem a lot in RPGs. You do damage normally, and then with each element, and then aoe vs single target. Everyone had a heal that could be combo’d into a group. I don’t think there were hots even. As far as I can recall, there were only 2 buffs… haste and magic wall… and no debuffs (this isn’t entirely true. In the last couple of fights I learned that lightning does debuff defense, who knew?!). This lack of variety leaked into items, there was an accessory slot that let you increase any stat by various numbers, there were some items that gave haste or protected from status issues, but there just wasn’t much give and take between items. I think the only real choice I felt I had was Haste helmet which gave haste but had 1 lower armor vs the normal helm at the time which also provided protection from statuses (that didn’t work, I tended to get status ailments anyway). Even if the status helm worked, it wasn’t much of a choice.
To me, this limiting of choices from your character’s development really made it feel less like an RPG. The weapons being, well only this guy can use a bow… and there’s only one bow for this level range… well it felt like Secret of Mana, an excellent Action-Adventure, but a terrible RPG. I tend to still call Chrono Trigger an RPG, but it felt weird. I almost want to coin it as an Adventure-RPG because it really did take a lot from the Adventure genre.
Visuals & Audio – Thumbs Up
Speaking of Secret of Mana, this game looked A LOT like that game. Thus it looked gorgeous. There’s not a ton to say here, it was beautiful and had a great soundtrack. I did have a couple of minor complaints. One was that items in the world had a weird bubble around them that made it sometimes difficult to interact with them. I would walk up to them and then around it because it wasn’t a straight edge to the item, so it would sometimes take a few attempts to get in front of it. Another issue, I ended up just having the dungeon maps open because I kept on getting stuck in them because I couldn’t tell that doorways were doorways. I also was not a fan of the overworld. It looked weird, and the idea that places you could go were solid objects that you clicked on in order to enter was fairly unintuitive. I also had issues realizing some places I could go. I remember there was one mountain area I was supposed to go to that I spent about 30 minutes travelling over the entire map trying to find it and eventually opening a map online because I apparently didn’t notice a tiny crack. This last bit was made worse by the multiple timelines. While annoying, I thought these issues didn’t warrant lowering the rating I am giving it.
Skew – Thumbs Down
Like I said, this game just did not connect with me. So I really have no choice but to give it a thumbs down. I didn’t feel connected to the characters or the story. I missed the grind, and got frustrated at many points at getting stuck due to issues with graphics. I do think I’ll end up playing this game again at some point, to try my hand at a different ending and to give it a second try without all the hype. But based on my first play through, it isn’t for me. And that’s fine.
Overall – Meh
When I look at the average weighted rating, it ended up with a 1.8 out of 3. I generally consider 1.25 to 2.25 a meh so this one was squarely a meh to me. To compare it with the last game that I sat down and gave a review for… Bravely Default 2, also got a meh overall, but ended with a 2.1. It’s weird to me, I felt guilty on that one rating it so high. I don’t think that it is a tremendous game but I enjoyed playing it so much, I had a lot I could hang my hat on. This one I feel guilty for rating it so low, but I just didn’t enjoy it. I think it is a testament to the quality of the game that it actually stuck in the meh range. It really was a good game, I could see why people like it, it just wasn’t for me. I don’t particularly understand why people would like it more than… say FF6 however. My only thought on that is that these people just don’t like RPGs.