Apparently, if you have enough monkeys, typewriters and time, every book ever written will eventually be available to you. Presumably, throw in enough PCs, copies of Visual Studio and some Wacom art tablets, and the thought experiment also extends to computer games. It's the sort of thing you could imagine turning up in an episode of Lost or Heroes; a rich kingpin using his army of ill-trained simians to fulfil some dark desire.
Or maybe not. Maybe he's just a game-obsessed rich kingpin, who wants to play some of those seminal SNES titles that never got released outside Japan.
If so, he'll be able to blame the credit crunch and lay-off his apprentice chimps now because publisher Square Enix has –14 years late – finally got around to releasing seminal SNES role-playing game Chrono Trigger in Europe (at least, it will in February – we're stealing a march and reviewing the US version).
You see, Chrono Trigger is one of those games that attracts a rabid following of dedicated fans, and rightly so as it's one of the finest RPGs in existence.
Even the plot extends beyond the usual 'evil spirit accidentally released, out to destroy world' (although there is an evil creature out to destroy the world). There's also the typical group setting as fearless youngster Crono, together with steampunk mechanic Lucca and daring princess Marle, plus assorted other chums get into various scrapes.
More importantly, you have to skip between past and future time zones to bend history to your advantage. For example, if a character in the present day poses a stumbling block to your plans, you can zoom back a few hundred years and help out one of their ancestors; subtly altering what happens in the future.
Granted, the manner in which you're able to influence the passage of time is limited to pre-scripted acts – and you're only able to skip between four eras – but the game does an excellent job of masking this lack of freedom by piling on layers and layers of character-building subquests that constantly keep you busy.
Time travel is just one facet of Chrono Trigger anyhow; there are numerous other novel ideas that remain as refreshing today as they did all those years ago. Take the combat system, for example. It avoid the frustrations of the traditional random encounter format that's omnipresent in other RPG series. Instead, enemies appear onscreen before they attack, giving you ample opportunity to avoid a scrap.
Combat is still turn-based to a degree, with each character having an action gauge that has to fill up before any moves can be made. But this Active Time Battle system (originally designed for Final Fantasy IV) means you experience flowing, unhindered battles. And instead of switching to a battle screen whenever a combat situation occurs, the conflict merely plays out seamlessly using the same top-down viewpoint you have for the exploration part of the game. It all works brilliantly and avoids the tiresome stop/start progression of most role-players.
In fact, if anything is surprising about Chrono Trigger, it's that unlike many of the old games reissued on DS – such as Final Fantasy III – Square Enix hasn't really updated it. Aside from the option of touchscreen controls, a mildly improved English translation, Wireless Play mode, and a smattering of new (and, we must say, slightly disappointing) dungeons, this is essentially the same game as released in 1995.
Depending on your point of view, this could be a blessing or a curse. The 2D visuals are undeniably attractive, although they betray their roots at times. The animation is stiff and many locations suffer from repetitive design, but in all honesty these are superficial criticisms when you consider the overall gorgeousness on offer. And when it comes to the music, the game remains on a higher plain. Yasunori Mitsuda's soundtrack is haunting, ranking as one of the finest selections of 16-bit music ever; the famous anecdote that he pushed himself so hard he became physically ill just makes you appreciate it that little bit more.
Still, whether or not you see this devotion to the past as positive or negative rests largely on your previous experience with the game. If you're a dedicated fan who's explored every inch of the land of Guardia, investigated every time paradox and seen all of the 13 endings, then there's little here that's going to surprise you in any way (aside from the DS-exclusive 14th ending maybe). Like a classic novel or much-loved film, Chrono Trigger is one of those rare games that can withstand repeated play however.
But, if you are a role-playing fan who's never experienced this game before (highly likely given the lack of a European release), then you're in for a treat. Fourteen years may be considered stretching the point, but, in this case at least, a good thing's coming to those who've long waited – and all without the assistance of an infinite number of monkeys, too.
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