There are some games which you only hear spoken about in a hushed whisper, such is the awe and respect they command. Chrono Trigger is one such game, routinely cited as one of the very best role-playing games ever made. Designed by the developer dream-team of Hironobu Sakaguchi (creator of Final Fantasy), Yuji Horii (creator of Dragon Quest) and Akira Toriyama (creator of Dragonball Z), it presented players with a radical new take on the genre, including multiple endings, character side-quests, and a unique battle system.
Another reason why the game has such a dedicated following was because it was never released in Europe. In Japan and America it appeared on the Super Nintendo Entertainment system in 1995, and later resurfaced on the Sony PlayStation in 1999, so European gamers had to rely on the grey import market to find out what the fuss was about. It wasn't until 2009, when the game was remastered for the Nintendo DS, that we got an official release. And now, here it is on your iPhone. Does it live up to the hype?
How does it play?
As the title implies, time-travel is a large part of the storyline. Crono and his friends are trying to prevent a great apocalypse from befalling their civilisation, so they hop into a time machine and embark on a series of quests. This involves resolving a grandfather paradox or three (y'know, like in Back to the Future), and gathering allies and items from different eras in history.
The game world is presented in the classic two-dimensional, top-down perspective, where characters navigate between locations via a map. When encountering enemies, a real-time battle mechanic kicks in, where quick reflexes are needed to to plan out a strategy and chain together combos. It might appear a little dated now, but it's still pretty effective.
The character design, music and graphics are definitely old-school – we're talking 16-bit sprites and melodic chip-tunes – but the game is truly epic, and could potentially take 30 hours of continuous play before you even approach completion. The iPhone version is a direct port of the Nintendo DS version, with revised menus and commands that can accomodate a touchscreen interface. Also, it features two bonus quests which were designed especially for the DS.
Why do we like it?
It's always exciting to see a long-dormant property get dusted off and rereleased on the App Store. Chrono Trigger has a particularly tangled history, so this is a great opportunity to experience it in full. Also, the concept of time-travel and causality is one you don't see often enough in games, and 15 years later it remains pretty radical.
A few niggles though. This port has been targeted primarily at the iPhone. iPad owners can still play it, but they won't get an upscaled resolution on their bigger screens. Also, at nearly 600 MB, the file size is massive. Since the game doesn't contain any cutscenes, this is something of a curiosity. Finally, seven quid is incredibly steep pricing in this age of austerity, and we expect it to be lowered before very long.
Despite some fuzzy logic on the part of Square Enix, the game remains as magical and as riveting as ever. Chrono Trigger is a step back in time, where an RPG could be simultaneously pivotal in game design and present a masterclass in storytelling. They don't make 'em like that anymore.
SIDENOTE: The game has a minor bug where the playtime counter is still running when you leave the app, but don't close it down completely within iOS. Definition of irony, no?
Chrono Trigger is available now on the App Store, iPhone £6.99