Game criticism law stipulates that every single review of Chrono Trigger has to start with a rose-tinted explanation of why it’s one of the best RPGs ever made. This particular critique is no different.
Released towards the end of the Super Nintendo’s glowing career, Chrono Trigger is seen by many to be one of the finest titles every produced by Squaresoft (now Square Enix, of course).
Until very recently, it was unreleased in the UK, but the launch of the DS and Wii Virtual Console editions rectified that oversight. Now, those ports are joined by a version for Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch devices (sadly, iPad owners aren’t invited to the party yet).
What made Chrono Trigger so amazingly innovative at the time of release is the storyline's time-travelling focus. Your character shifts between various time zones in order to save his beloved planet, and it’s genuinely fascinating to see how the world changes between each one.
Running out of time
Another massive part of the game’s appeal is its presentation. 15 years have done little to dull the impact of the sumptuous 2D visuals, although it’s bitterly disappointing to find that Square Enix has simply blown-up the graphics so that they fit the increased screen resolution of Apple’s devices. We’d loved to have seen properly up-scaled visuals, but alas, it’s not to be this time.
The game’s aesthetics aren’t entirely untouched, however. The in-game menus and text have been enhanced, which is likely to infuriate purists. Chrono Trigger on the SNES used the now-iconic blocky font made famous by the Final Fantasy series, and it’s hard not to miss it here (cue cries of “No pleasing some people” from disgruntled Square Enix designers).
Back in 1995, Chrono Trigger (along with Square sibling Secret of Mana) broke new ground by moving away from random, turn-based battles to semi-real-time encounters. It was a revolutionary change, but unfortunately the hectic playing style isn’t wonderfully suited to the touchscreens of iOS devices.
Because reaction and timing are vitally important in order to chain together team attacks and combos, you need precise controls. The SNES original offered that, thanks to its legendary joypad, but on iOS we’re saddled with indistinct virtual commands, which are difficult to hit in the middle of an intense confrontation.
We encountered similar issues with the iOS port of Secret of Mana, but here such interface problems seem especially jarring.
It may be an unrealistic dream, but we’d like to see Square Enix re-tool the game’s interface to make it more touchscreen-oriented. Why do developers continue to insist in bolting-on virtual controls when you could use the screen to select characters, pick items, and target enemies?
Despite our ranting and raving, Chrono Trigger remains a solid purchase on iOS. The intricate and engaging plot is worth fighting the controls for, and the old skool RPG goodness that permeates every element of the game will please those of you who yearn for the innocence of the 16-bit era.
It’s also worth noting that this particular edition of the game benefits from the new translation commissioned for the DS version, and also features new dungeons to explore.
While it’s disappointing to see Square Enix take its conversion duties so lightly and push out what feels like a very quick and easy port, that doesn’t detract from Chrono Trigger’s intrinsic appeal.
This is a game that was sired when the company was arguably at its absolute peak, and as such remains a glittering example of how to create a truly classic RPG. The content certainly lives up to expectations, even if the manner in which it has been presented doesn’t.