Hello, gentle readers, and welcome back to RPG Reload, the regular weekly feature where we jump into the time machines in our minds and take another look at an iOS RPG from days past. All types of RPGs are welcome here, and just to make sure things don't get tilted entirely towards my tastes, each month I'll be playing and writing about a game chosen by you. Right now, it's looking very much like The Quest Gold [$7.99] will be the topic of RPG Reload 004, but if you have a different idea, please make your voice heard in the comments below. I also encourage you to share your thoughts on the topic game in the comments, and if you have some spare gaming time, fire it up and play along in the RPG Reload Club thread in our forums.

Okay, so maybe last week's hint was a little bit too easy. If anything, that likely speaks to the fame of the subject of this week's installment, Chrono Trigger [$9.99]. Last week, we kicked things off with a look at Square Enix's Chaos Rings [$6.99 / $8.99 (HD)], and a commenter expressed concern that this feature might end up being completely dominated by their games. I want to assure you that I'm going to do my best to spread them out in the future. Unless, of course, you guys vote differently, but then it's on you. I have a good reason for wanting to cover Chrono Trigger this week, because August 22nd, 2014 just happens to be the 19th anniversary of its first release in the United States. That means Chrono Trigger can legally drink alcohol in Toronto! It's a perfectly good excuse to replay one of the greatest JRPGs ever.

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I can't exactly remember when I first heard about Chrono Trigger, but I do remember I was coming down from the high of playing Final Fantasy 6 [$14.99], and like many JRPG fans of that era, I was going through one heck of an anime phase. I think it was just a single screenshot in a magazine, perhaps of Crono destroying the Dragon Tank on his way out of prison, but the style was clearly Dragon Ball/Dragon Quest artist Akira Toriyama. Reading the short blurb of text underneath, I saw that this was a new project hatched from a genuine dream team: Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii. Now, these days, that might not seem so weird, but back then, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest were heated rivals. Yet somehow, these two defining directors were working together, an almost impossibly exciting concept.

After a long wait and tireless scanning of any and all magazine coverage, I finally got my hands on a copy just as summer vacation of 1995 was coming to a close. To date, it's the most money I've ever spent on a game, coming up to a cool $132 Canadian dollars. It was worth every cent. I think I ripped through the game in just a few days, after which I took advantage of the cool New Game+ feature to run through it again and again, looking for more endings. At first, I was upset at how much shorter it was than Final Fantasy 6, but the sheer pace of the game won me over quickly. Even now, I think that is the game's biggest strength. RPGs sometimes have a tendency to drag events out, perhaps trying to achieve a longer runtime to give the whole thing a more epic feel. Chrono Trigger, on the other hand, has little interest in wasting your time. It's a remarkably lean affair compared to its contemporaries, feeling very much like a manic Saturday morning cartoon. It somehow manages that trick without sacrificing an epic feel.

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The snappy pace comes through in so many ways. You don't shift to another screen to battle enemies, you pull out your weapons and start duking it out right there on the map. Speaking of maps, the overworld opts for a reduced scale with no encounters, making traveling between event locations hassle-free and brief. With fully-animated enemies shuffling around during fights, the Active Time Battle system borrowed from Final Fantasy feels more kinetic than ever. The game is also quite linear for most of its run, though it does this in a very sly fashion by using the time portals as a narrative excuse. When it finally does open up, you're only a quick hop away from the end whenever you decide to make a go of it. All throughout the game, it keeps the set pieces rolling, one-upping each one with the next like a ridiculous caricature of a football dogpile. You reach the end, that final crescendo, save the world and time itself, and no sooner do the credits finish rolling than the game challenges you to do it again. Faster, this time.

Yet for all it does to maintain its breakneck pace, Chrono Trigger also allows itself to slow down at point. After a dynamite opening capping off with a thrilling prison escape through time, you find yourself in the distant future, and suddenly, the whole tone of the game changes. The thrilling, high-energy, rhythm-heavy music heard up to this point gives way to a somber, unsettling, ambient piece. The bright crayon colors are replaced with browns and grays. The air is full of dust, and the people you meet are hunched over and in a bad state. Welcome to the future, where you can restore your HP and MP anytime you like, but you'll still be hungry. It's a gutsy move to grind your story's momentum to such a dramatic halt. It's equally risky to shift plot gears in such a way that most of the things you saw as problems up to this point are almost entirely inconsequential. I hope you're done playing around, the game seems to urge, because now you've got serious work to do.

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It holds on this moment just long enough to drive the consequences of failure into your head. Before long, it gets back into things like motorcycle cyborgs and dinosaur jump-kicking, but the image remains, perhaps partly owing to its status as a rare slow-paced downer in an otherwise peppy game. Not many games allow you to see the outcome of failure and still let you fix things, but Chrono Trigger's time travel plot is perfectly setup to handle this situation, making the eventual knockdown battle against Lavos feel that much more meaningful. There are a few other areas in the game that ask you to slow down, such as the eerie trek through Magus's stronghold and the fairly lengthy stay in the rotten-cored Kingdom of Zeal. I'm not sure whether it's by design or happy accident that most of these areas instill a sense of dread in the player. It's implied that time is moving, and if you're not moving with it, you're as good as gone.

This could all get incredibly heavy if it weren't for the fact that Chrono Trigger uses comic relief almost perfectly. The game is not above using a stupid gag as a way to break tension, and there are also plenty of little moments of oddness that, while not necessarily funny, might make you do a double-take. It's awesome, funny, weird, sad, thought-provoking, and cheerful in just the right measures. I think it speaks strongly to the variety of talent adding their input into the game's scenario. This very easily could have ended up as a "too many cooks" situation, but instead we got one of the most optimistic possible outcomes. It's unfortunate that this particular combination of talent will likely go down in history as a one-off.

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The story is just one part of the excellent whole, though. Chrono Trigger also has one of the more interesting takes on the Active Time Battle combat system, with every character having shared combo attacks they can activate with others. You have to consider whether it's better for your overall strategy to have a speedy character wait for a slower one to join them for a technique, or if you should just have them take their turns as they come. There are also quite a few puzzle bosses where you need to attack a certain part before going after others. The combo techniques give an added weight to your party selections, making up for a relative lack of individual customization. The visible enemies are another interesting deviation that paid off. Sure, most of them weren't really avoidable, but it gave the player the power to dictate when a battle would happen.

I think that gets at another thing that makes Chrono Trigger stand out. The game wasn't afraid to buck the tropes of the genre. You want to go try to fight the end boss 15 minutes into the game? Go for it. You can even win, if you're strong enough. One of my favorite instances of this is when, late in the game, an enemy imprisons you, taking away your weapons and gear. You're meant to sneak your way through this section until you can recover your stuff. On the other hand, if you have Ayla in your party, things go a little differently. Ayla fights with her fists, so she's just as capable of taking out enemies as ever, circumventing the design of this area. It would have been all too easy for the developers to just handwave the logic gap, but they didn't. I think that goes a long way towards showing where their mindset was.

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Of course, one of the big pitfalls when modern gamers go back to classic games is the presentation. I grew up with the medium, so I can easily slide back into classic stuff, but that's not the case for everyone. Perhaps due to its relatively late release in the 16-bit cycle, Chrono Trigger is a visual and audio dynamo that still holds up well to this day. This was the first game that Yasunori Mitsuda composed the soundtrack for, and he worked himself literally into sickness creating it. After Mitsuda was hospitalized with stomach ulcers, Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu came in and finished the last few tracks the game needed. It's not Mitsuda's best work, but it might be his most memorable, and when you consider that this was his first attempt, it's absolutely incredible how it all came out. The visuals similarly rise to the challenge, with some of the most expressive renditions of Akira Toriyama's artwork in a game to that point, a huge variety of locales, impressive hand-drawn lighting effects, and an excellent use of the Super Nintendo's rich color palette. Nearly 20 years later, most sprite-based games don't look as good.

Chrono Trigger is one of the true greats of the genre. It's not hard to see why many people still feel it's the best JRPG ever made. I don't precisely agree with that sentiment, but it's definitely up there. Unfortunately, in spite of its success both critically and financially, it ended up with a bad future. There were a few Chrono-related releases on the Japan-only Satellaview, but they essentially consisted a couple of mini-games and a visual novel that has been struck from canon. There was a port of Chrono Trigger to the PlayStation riddled with loading times and slowdown. Some cut scenes were added to help set up the next project, 1999's Chrono Cross. It was a very divisive game, to say the least. Chrono Trigger also received an extended port to the Nintendo DS, with the speed of the original and the extra features of the PlayStation version, along with a new translation and some new content tied directly to Chrono Cross.

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It's this version that appears to be the basis of the iOS port, released in December of 2011. The nicest thing I can say about this version is that it's not as bad as the PlayStation version and it runs pretty well when a new iOS update doesn't break it. First of all, it's an iPhone/iPod Touch app as opposed to a Universal one. It uses a decorative border on 4-inch screens instead of filling to the edges, and the graphics have a filter applied that looks like someone smeared lotion on the original game. The controls have been reworked, and while mini-games come out surprisingly fine, basic combat is a bit hard to work with due to a few bad choices with the UI design. Bafflingly, while Square Enix cut the animated videos from the PSX/DS versions presumably for size reasons, they opted to encode the music in a very high quality format, leading to an install size well beyond what Chrono Trigger should ever require.

Still, diving into the port for a proper playthrough, the original game's high quality cannot be denied. The positive side of the giant filesize is that the music sounds terrific, and your eyes kind of adjust to the filter after a short while. There's no slowdown or loading times, and it has most of the extra content from the DS version, if you happen to want to subject yourself to that experience. The sometimes-fussy controls can be an irritant, particularly during action sequences where you have to chase something or when fighting a boss that punishes you for hitting the wrong target, but generally, as long as you're okay with virtual sticks, you'll be fine. I found myself slipping into the game more easily than I anticipated, and had a wonderful time experiencing the adventures of Crono and friends again. I think I'll be sticking to the DS version for future replays, however, unless Square Enix does one heck of an overhaul on this app. I'm not going to hold my breath on that, though.

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If you're exclusively gaming on an iPhone or iPod Touch, I'll hesitantly recommend this as an RPG reload simply due to the quality of the original. Otherwise, there are at least two better ways to experience the game, one of which is conveniently portable. I want to know what you think, though, so please leave your comments below. You could talk about your memories of the original, what you think of this version, stories about Magus-shaped potato chips you found in your bag of Lay's, or just cast a vote for what you want to see me play in the article after next. Don't forget to pop into the RPG Reload Club thread on our forums and join the fun! There will be (no) punch and pie served. Thanks for reading!

Next Week's Reload Hint: Pack your graph paper and a lyre.

  • Design by Adrian

    Chrono Trigger is truly one of the greatest RPGs of all time! Depth, variation, a great cast of characters and the mix of sci-fii and fantasy should appeal to everyone!

  • AustinRa

    An article on Baulders Gate 2 yeee.

  • Poo

    No ipad?? Boo

  • PoloBaquerizoH

    The best JRPG of all times! I have it part of my collection on my ipad!

    • Andrew Fretz

      Yeah, this one is also on the top of my JRPG list. Can't wait for next week's article!

    • worldcitizen1919

      How does it play on ipad?

  • Winter9

    Amazing as always! Looks like The Quest is getting the love next. I have spent tons of hours with that game, probably a hundred. I struggle a bit with finishing rpg so this is still unfinished for me but it's really one of the most amazing out there..

    • curtisrshideler

      Shaun mentioned The Quest Gold being on Reload 004, but Chrono Trigger is only Reload 002. So, maybe there's one more before The Quest.

  • Gafferman

    Love this series so far! Just a suggestion though; how about alternating between reader's votes and more obscure RPGs, otherwise each new entry will inevitably fall victim to diminishing returns in terms of popularity. At least I personally would love to see some of the more obscure RPGs you can recommend every other week, rather than having to wait X amount of months for it to maybe have the most votes 🙂

    • curtisrshideler

      Like Fall of Angels? Or Frane: Dragons Odyssey?

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Don't worry, I'm only giving you guys the keys once a month. The other articles will follow a schedule I've planned, with plenty of small, interesting, or obscure titles among the more well-known games. Thanks for the feedback!

    • Winter9

      That is a great idea!

  • octopus

    I’ve beaten the SNES version of the game during a long summer while I was out there in the boonies of my country. I think it was one of the greatest games I’ve ever played. Maybe not the best game, but the best gaming experience. This whole experience was so heartwarming and immersive, somehow unique. I envy everyone who is to play and complete this game yet.

    If I’ll ever be replaying it, it definitely wont’t be iOS version, because I hate filtered pixel graphics and there seems to be no way of turning the filter off. I will probably stick with DS version.

    P.S.: Music by Yasunori Mitsuda was great. “600 A. D.” is my favourite. And I’ve always enjoyed Akira Toriyama’s characters.

  • Nullzone

    Next one is one of the original Bard's Tales, unless I'm completely off the path.
    While I enjoyed those as a kid, I couldn't play them anymore today. They didn't age well in my opinion.

    • Psac42

      Yeah, The Bard's Tale was a blast to play, and I was excited when they said they were updating to add the original BT1 and 2. Oh boy were they not good. Aged very poorly.

  • mkdms14

    It's a real shame that this port was not handled with the same care as other ports. My biggest problem with the game is the controls. Absolutely the worst. If they make an update I would be happy but right now the only two places I would recommend playing this game is on the Super Nintendo or the Nintendo DS. Avoid the iPhone and the Playstation 1 version at all cost.

    • M1st1ff

      Controls are ugly if you run. Set "walk" in options menu and it gets better.

  • dingdongfootball

    Wait..$132? Whaaaaat

    • T-REZ5000

      Not surprising. I paid $100 US dollars for Final Fantasy 3 (part six in Japan) on the SNES. Street fighter 2 cost me $80 on SNES. Premium square and capcom games were really expensive in the 90's. But they were worth every penny.

    • DanKetch

      Yep, I remember them launching for $120 (SquareSoft games on SNES) in the Canada. Still have all my old cartridges, how could you not hold onto them for that coin, albeit they were worth every penny.

  • pisiform

    Shaun, thanks for these articles, they're a great read. Sadly I've never played this one although my finger has hovered over the buy button many times. If anything this reload has made me want to play it even more but not (whisper it) on my iPhone.

    Think I'll borrow my son's DS when he's not looking and give it a whirl. When I can finally put DQ 4 down that is.

    • Shaun Musgrave

      That sounds like the smart play.

  • Hero Killer Id

    Chrono Trigger was a pivotal part in my RPG addiction. And Mitsuda's wonderful score was key in developing my love for VGM (video game music).

    I will always remember the chills I felt the first time I watched Crono float into the air to CSS Lumierre.

    I did however skip the IOS version of this one I own it on SNES, PSX, and DS so I didn't feel it was necessary.

    I played through and got all of the endings just a couple years ago. This is definitely one I've played more than most.

    Now I just need another play though of Cross. It's been awhile.

  • M1st1ff

    Maybe I am a voice out of the chorus but...
    I played SNES and PSOne version in the past and I loved them.
    Now I see the iOS version and I think it's one of the ports with less care in it.
    All I see is a repllica of the SNES version with a copule dungeon added (my luck they included italian text this time). All the game is about 600 Mb of weight (the SNES version was 32 Mbits = 8 Mbytes...).
    No iPad support; no animated cutscenes (present in the Playstation version); controls not fully optimized for the touch screen (play the game in running mode and you'll see what I mean); no retina support (at least in the early versions of the app, I don't remember if Square added it lately); no graphics or sound ehnancements at all if compared to the first SNES version. All this for the "moderate" price of 8/9€...
    Yes, the game is always great, even afther decades from it's birth, but it all seems only a low budget / low efforts production, with a few time available to the coders to get the game well optimized for a specific (new and much powerful) platform.
    I think that a game like this has a strong "nostalgia factor", so most of the people who buys the game are people who already played it in the past.
    In this case a software house can hardly ask money for a quite emulated version of the game. This is low consideration for the gamers, for me.
    Square seems to have understood all this, looking at the latest FF iOS ports (really nice, from FF3 to FF6). Sadly they still didn't realize this when they converted another masterpiece like Secret of Mana.

  • Jetjet

    Update for this game is WAITED FOR AGES !

  • rotsentu

    Excellent reading, thanks! I played this game back in 1995 and was so hooked that I didn't miss the beach that summer! LOL. Chrono is going to be my favorite RPG of the 16-bit era and still one of my favorite RPG's of all time. That game cost me (my dad) $80.00 bucks! It was pricey, but worth every penny. Indeed it was a dream team who created this. The art, misic and story blended so well that is hard not to love this game.

  • ImJPaul

    Now if only they'd make Chrono Cross for iOS. I would literally die of happiness.

    • Zerol3onheart

      My god. If I woke up to a notification from Touch Arcade saying that Chrono Cross was available to buy, that day, THAT VERY DAY, I would call out of work, order 6 pizzas, get 3 bottles of , and set up shop in the bathroom.

      I might just do this regardless of the release of the game or not.

  • curtisrshideler

    Glad they updated it to fix the iPhone 5 problem. And I'm super glad I'm experiencing it on iOS first because it'll only get better if I play on another platform!

  • curtisrshideler

    OH! About the file size... What if we took the soundtrack, compressed it, and relabeled it to match what is already in the app? Do you think it would still function using smaller music files?

  • Inaba-kun

    Chrono Trigger pretty much sums up SquareEnix on iOS - great games marred by shoddy ports. The recent Dragon Quest ports continue this trend, but this time the problem is the bizarre, unnatural portrait orientation, rather than SquareEnix's usual low frame rate, poor controls, and lack of iCloud support.

  • spedav

    I think The Quest would be a great installment to this new line of articles.

    It's an amazing game that more people should hear about.

    Just wish I had time to play it to completion. Sadly I don't think ill ever get to. Lol

  • DeNappa

    Among the top jrpgs i played. For a great part also thanks to the music, it breathes athmosphere at every turn. In contrast, it made the part where hunting the blue creature in the prehistoric rainforest (for what, i can't remember.. Power tabs?) somehow more creepy, where the music died away when the rain was starting.

  • worldcitizen1919

    Shaun - thanks to you I just bought this fantastic JPRG. I've almost finished DQIV and found it awesome, brilliant and although I expected this to be unplayable on an ipad its great. I just changed the run to walk and I'm very happy with the graphics. There's nice touches like when the mom opens the curtains the sun shines through which you don't see in current rpg's. I like the colours on ipad and I'll definitely put this on my iPhone also but I don't think it has cloud.

    Anyway thanks for bringing this to my attention. Really, really appreciated.

  • PoloBaquerizoH

    More ipad RPG's please 🙂

  • worldcitizen1919

    Worth every cent. Playing it on iPad Air. Fantastic. Loving it.

  • ElPumo

    Got this for SNES as soon as it came out and wasn't disappointed. Played through several times and got all the endings. Great graphics, music that worked great to set the environments, and New Game +! I still remember the music from the bleak future. Got the iOS version as soon as it came out to relive this excellent classic. Sadly disappointed playing this on iPhone due to the visual filter and controls that are difficult to use in ATB. Didn't finish on iPhone yet but probably will one of these days. Excellent article and glad to see the RPG Club!

  • tpianca

    Shaun, thanks for writing this, your article is excellent.
    I have always loved the music of CT, so when you said this is not Mitsuda's best work, I wondered: what is his best works in your opinion? I'm sure going to check this soundtrack out.

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Chrono Cross, in a heartbeat. He's done many wonderful soundtracks, but I could listen to that one forever.

    • Hero Killer Id

      Xenogears is my favorite.

  • timmfox

    Thank you again for this ongoing column. It is a great idea. I'm curious about play through time. What would be average for Chrono Trigger? Just asking because I have limited play time. Mobile makes this easier, however, I was just curious. Thank you again.

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Your first ever run? 25 hours is a safe estimate. I think my first time was 22 hours, but I also skipped the last dungeon that time. These days I can do a story complete run from scratch in 15 hours or so.

      • timmfox

        Thank you for your response. I just purchased! I am new to JRPG's. In the last year, I have best FF 1, 4 and 6. I struggled mightily with 1 because I was completely lost. 4 was my favorite. I'm looking forward to playing Chrono Trigger! Thanks again.

      • Shaun Musgrave

        You're in for a treat! Enjoy!

  • devilmachine

    Let me know when there's a decent iPad port and I'll check it out

  • Winter9

    This thread just makes me wanna play rpg more. Sadly I have this shoulder injury so I'm trying to be good and only play the ones that I can play in portrait mode. I find it completely okay to do so on my ipod touch 4. Generation.
    But it's the one I have, so no dragon quest iv on me yet.
    These are great ones I have:
    The Quest
    Shin Megami Tensei

    I like classic style, love old graphics, don't like all this new flashy stuff. I like strategy rpg too. Partia cannot be played properly in portrait mode for me so don't suggest that.
    But other than that, any good ones, with portrait mode that I have missed?
    I spend a lot of time home now, so I would really appreciate help:)

  • Rubius

    Across Age DX should be the next game on 'RPG Reload'. I'd also like to see Vay at some point.

  • TJF588

    I will continue to contend that Chrono Trigger is one of the tightest RPGs out there, where nothing (barring the Lost Sanctum, the introduction of which junked up the pacing of the late-game sequences it was jammed into) is superfluous, where everything is relevant. That every side quest really builds on the characters is great, compared to the padding of later games (may I say Zodiac Spear?).

    • TJF588

      Oh! OH! And on the same-screen battle transitions, the times when the background music didn't shift when going into battle totally set the mood. I can think of two main areas, and while the first was appropriately atmospheric, the second nailed the building climax with the impending anxiety furthered by the aurally uninterrupted cuts to "Meanwhile..." scenes. Loved that entire area.

  • Winter9

    No one? I try again.

    Shaun, do you know of rpg that is good and can be played in portrait mode?
    I already have Shin Megami Tensei, The Quest and Lunar and a couple of lesser ones.
    I have fourth generation ipod, so cannot play dragon quest iv. I need to know this for my ahoulder injury. It would really help.

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Have you played Knights of Pen and Paper and Nameless: Hackers RPG? I'm having trouble thinking of others that aren't just PAD clones.

      • Winter9

        No I haven't. I don't like such flashy new graphics. I am very much an oldschool type of girl:) I even struggle a bit with the new ffiv that everyone loves so much. And FFVI. Maybe there isn't anyone good I don't know of, but I wanted to ask because I didn't know that Shin Megami Tensei was released so there could be others I don't know of:)

      • DeNappa

        I don't know if i would recommend knights of pen & paper. Although fun to play, i found it getting repetitive after a while. Finishing it felt like a chore.

  • Winter9

    Or anyone else of course, but there wasn't much response on the øast one.
    Just thought what better place to ask than in this thread where people actually love rpg 🙂

  • Winter9

    I could try Nameless H. Rpg though. Going to read more about that one:)