Yesterday, something not entirely unusual happened. Square Enix, the company behind hit franchises like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Kingdom Hearts, put out a new release of one of their classic hits. This is something the company has done quite often in its history, with mixed results. Recently, the company has been trying to make versions of these classics that can serve as easily-ported baselines for other platforms as opposed to the platform-specific ports they used to create. A noble goal, but it makes that baseline all the more important to get right. This is especially the case when the port arrives on more advanced hardware, as anything ported from weaker hardware always gets an extra bit of scrutiny. Unfortunately, with most of these cases, Square Enix would have to work hard to do a worse job than they have.

Chrono Trigger is one of the most beloved RPGs in the history of video gaming. You don't have to look very far to find a fan that would consider it the greatest RPG ever, and even those that don't place it on such a high pedestal still don't have a lot of bad things to say about it. For such a landmark title, it has had relatively few releases over the years. There's the original Super NES version, an emulated PlayStation version that runs terribly, a Wii Virtual Console release of the original game, a rather excellent Nintendo DS version, a PSN release of the aforementioned terrible PlayStation version, and an iPhone version that is older than the hills. Apart from updates to the iPhone version to maintain compatibility with new iOS versions, Square Enix hasn't done a thing with Chrono Trigger since that 2011 mobile release. Until yesterday, anyway.

For approximately five minutes on February 27th, 2018, the gaming community rose up in cheers at the Steam release of Chrono Trigger. In the sixth minute, someone noticed that the new Steam version of the game had an ugly interface that seemed more designed for touch controls than playing on a desktop, that it was using a hideous font, and that Square seemingly busted out an array of filters and applied them unevenly, creating a hodgepodge look similar to the recent remakes of Final Fantasy 5 and Final Fantasy 6 that originated on mobile. That dastardly mobile! Bane of our existence! Ruining dreams and happiness at every turn! Square very quickly had a great deal of ire pointed their way, and in almost every example, that most bilious, contemptible phrase was mixed into the complaints: mobile port.

I'm not going to pretend to know people's beef with mobile games. I play across all platforms and recognize that each of them has strengths, weaknesses, and their own raisons d'etre. There's a hierarchy in gaming circles where the PC players dump on the console players, the PC and console players dump on handhelds, and all three of them dump on mobile. It's pretty well-known in the gaming community at this point that even if your game was made for mobile first, you're better off releasing the PC or console version before it, so as to avoid the stigma of being a yucky mobile port. Let's be charitable and assume people just want to play versions of games that are well-optimized for the hardware they're playing it on, and the inherent differences between the displays and inputs of mobile and other platforms can cause issues.

Anyway, from all appearances, it seemed like this Steam version of Chrono Trigger was one of those mobile ports that nobody wants. It's ugly and it has big buttons, after all, so that's that. And so everyone from the person in the street to the news reporters at some of the biggest gaming websites around, to the average player and the gaming historians, called this version of Chrono Trigger a mobile port while making their well-founded criticisms. To be honest, this is a practice that annoys me even when it is the case. There's nothing special about mobile that makes companies spit out lousy remakes. Blame the publisher, not the platform. But what makes it even worse in this case is that it's not true.

The Steam version of Chrono Trigger is not a port of the iPhone version of the game. It's a brand-new version that was pushed out simultaneously to Steam and mobile, and bears very little resemblance to the prior mobile version of the game. Granted, that version also used an awful font and smeared the whole screen with a filter to eliminate those pixels that publishers seem to think we all hate. But that's not where this new version came from. That wouldn't even make sense, as I can't imagine a seven-year old non-Retina port designed to run on an iPhone 3G would work out all that well on modern PCs. A quick comparison between the previous mobile version of Chrono Trigger and this new one makes the difference quite plain.

Now, some might say that there are certain indicators that this version was created for mobile first and just happened to be released on PC at the same time as the update went out. And you know, I can't say that it wasn't. But I don't feel like that is an especially likely scenario. Square Enix has had no problems updating the previous version of the app without making dramatic (and possibly costly) changes to the assets. I doubt the sales on mobile alone are sufficiently high to make that kind of re-design even worth doing. But a new baseline version of the game that they can more easily push out to a variety of platforms? That's probably worth doing. And I'm pretty sure that's what they've done here.

Ideally, Square should be trying to accommodate each platform's specifics as they go. Give the PC players a UI more suited to controller play. Make sure the kaleidoscope of filters you're using willy-nilly actually look decent on a screen bigger than five or six inches. Maybe lose that message about not turning the power off during saving, as though mobile users or PC owners are going to flip off their power switches in the half-second it takes to save the game. But that's not what Square is doing, and it's not what they have been doing. That's their failing, not the mobile platform's.

From their point of view, it probably makes sense. They can make great remakes that theoretically please everyone, like Romancing SaGa 2, Dragon Quest 5, or Final Fantasy 9 and watch them sink like rocks in the sales charts next to less well-received remakes of Final Fantasy 6, Dragon Quest 8, or Secret of Mana. Where's the incentive to do things well? Square Enix seems to have figured out the dirty little secret of re-releases: the name sells these things, not the quality of the port. So why not cut corners to get these games out on the largest number of platforms with the smallest amount of alterations possible? To properly preserve the history of gaming? Because I've got some bad news for you on that front, I'm afraid.

Now, don't get me wrong. I care a lot about gaming history and I get just as upset as anyone when I see Square Enix biff things up like this. But mobile gaming gets more than enough flack from its siblings in cases where there's a real connection without people jumping the gun and making things up so that they have an extra cat to kick. This weak version of Chrono Trigger is just what Square Enix thinks they can get away with delivering out to the wider audience these days, whether it be on mobile, Steam, or anywhere else. I suspect that belief is informed by the sales data from their many previous re-releases, ports, and remakes. PlayStation owners bought a lot of copies of Final Fantasy Anthology. PSP owners bought hundreds of thousands of copies of Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions. Mobile players bought plenty of copies of Final Fantasy 7. The votes have apparently been tallied.

Don't provide Square Enix with a handy scapegoat for efforts like this. There's nothing about mobile that forces Square to throw out ugly remakes. That's entirely on them. And especially so in this case, where the previous mobile version isn't even the same thing as the new version that's being sold. This wasn't an existing version Square Enix had laying around that they could port to Steam for a quick buck. This was a completely new effort, and is quite simply what Square Enix seems to feel is an acceptable remake to release in 2018, even knowing that it would be on Steam from day one and likely on other platforms later. If that bothers you, let them know. But you really can't blame it on mobile this time, no matter how much that's become a knee-jerk part of the traditional gaming narrative.

  • pisiform

    How is it weak Shaun? I've never played Chrono Trigger and often looked at the old version but was put off by some of the reviews and comments on the controls. Is this a version to try or to avoid?

    • François Lafrenière

      I’d say avoid unless you truly have no other means to play the game. The screenshots may seem fine, but in motion the look is off-putting. The modern interface and the pixelated sprites don’t mesh well. There is at least one inexcusable bug in the early going; a cat that’s supposed to follow you just plain disappears when you interact with it (this has consequences down the line). I had to see it for myself, but it seems the outcry is justified on this one.

  • Aggro Magnet Games

    Excellent points throughout this article.

    On one hand, I get how a business manager would look at Option A, which is to do individual platform-specific versions some or all of PC/Mac, handheld consoles, iOS, and Android, which play great, but at 4x the development cost; or Option B, which is to develop a single version using some cross-platform engine which plays adequately but not great on each platform at 1x the development cost; and opt for Option B.

    On the other hand, it's hard to measure the long-term cost of all of those negative Steam reviews to the company's reputation.

    • curtneedsaride

      Yeah, as a video producer/editor and businessman, I see way more upsides to creating one product that can be used on many platforms instead of many versions used on one platform each. People are going to just have to learn to enjoy classics like this in their one, modern form if they want to play the updated versions on modern devices/consoles/computers. After this annoying acclimation phase in gaming history, maybe we can all just enjoy the games again and introduce newer generations to beloved classics.

    • YaoYao

      We have different definitions of "adequate". I can fire up a SNES emulator and play the game, as it was. This new version is inferior other than being available on mobile, and costs a lot considering the quality of it.

  • baldeagle86

    Great article! I just want Chrono on Switch!

    • curtneedsaride

      I bet we'll see this version on Switch... and hopefully Vita and PS4 too.

  • JohnnyC

    It clearly is a mobile port. It just coincides with a actual mobile release.
    I think its still worth buying. But they really should do something about the hideous filters and odd tile edge bug.

    • HelperMonkey

      I think you need to recheck the definition of the word “port.”
      It’s not ported FROM anywhere. It’s a newly redeveloped release, apparently made to be workable across multiple platforms but not optimized for any platform.

      • JohnnyC

        You are wrong. This was made and designed for mobile and PORTED to PC. It was LAZY. very very lazy.

        Overall I like it. But the interface and filters leave a lot to be desired. I just wish it was not targeted for mobile, and wedged onto PC.

      • Ugh

        Lol,. no, it isn't. It's a straight port from Android.

        You probably shouldn't be writing about games if y ou have absolutely no knowledge on games or software development.

        Just a hint. Maybe you can gt picked up by Motherboard or Vox or one of the other dozens of sites staffed by people who have not only never written a line of code in their life, but also have never even seen a video game. You and the author.

  • Dailon Huskey

    I’m super happy with this new version on mobile
    At least the graphics fog is gone 🙂
    Classic game and I’m just glad I can play it
    Hope something like this is done with Secret Of Mana

    • curtneedsaride

      I totally agree! I fired it up, dove into my saves, played for a few minutes, and uploaded them to the cloud. It looks nice and somewhat pixely still. So, I'm pretty happy with it. I sure wish they would have just updated Secret of Mana's 2D version with a bunch of new quality-of-life improvements instead of making the 3D version. Then maybe they would've implemented cross save. Anyway, I hope they do give the 2D Secret of Mana the same treatment.

  • Dave

    I think that CT is the greatest game ever made, and I still have by SNES cartridge of the game. I also love Chrono Cross, and Radical Dreamers. I have the Crimson Echoes and Flames of Eternity fan games. I have the soundtrack for Chrono Resurrection, and emailed its composer in the day. I argued for that project to not be stopped despite Square-Enix's C&D.

    But this PC port of Chrono Trigger is garbage, and I will not be buying it.

    Through repeated actions, including with this abysmal release of CT, Square-Enix has shown themselves to be an entirely dishonourable company that doesn't respect its fans and customers, and which doesn't value its IPs beyond the money they can bring in - and even for the sake of that SE, in their arrogance, wasn't capable of being bothered to put in a modicum of effort for this release of a most-revered game.

    Bad interface
    Bad visuals
    Lack of options
    No choice between which translation to use
    The music has been made worse with its new mix and master.

    The SNES and NDS versions of the game are far superior to this PC port. Just play one of those.

  • The Kallizm Reaktor

    I genuinely don't think that critics of this release are using the term 'Mobile Port' in a way that's meant to deride mobile gaming as a whole. It's actually much more akin to the way that PC gamers, myself included, express their disdain for console ports. Many games that are built for consoles first and are then ported to the PC come with very limited customization options and they generally lack visual and sound quality optimizations.

    When you're paying the same price for a game as console gamers did upon the title's release, and you're playing it on superior hardware (debateable, I know) you expect your experience to at least mirror, if not exceed, that of the console gamers. However, the reality is that PC gamers are typically stuck with an incredibly buggy, poorly optimized, and graphically inferior shell of a game.

    I know you touched on this in your article, but it bears repeating.

    The Final Fantasy XV PC port is a prime example of how to do it right. Square has added true 4K support (vs upscaling), a first-person view mode, ambient occlusion lighting and HDR effects. They've also partnered with NVIDIA to include their proprietary HairWorks and Turf Effects tech in the port.

    While there's not much you can do to revolutionize the look and feel of Chrono Trigger, at the very least they could have splurged a little for a QA tester. Not catching a major game-breaking bug such as having the cat run off-screen at the fair just shows that not a lot of care went into this. That's not even touching on just how unrefined the graphics look.

    It may not be a rushed mobile to PC port, but it sure carries all the hallmarks of a mobile game that's simply had the assets resized to fit on a much larger screen instead of being properly optimized for it's intended platform. Which in no way reflects poorly on mobile gaming, just bad developer/publisher practices.

    • curtneedsaride

      Yeah, that's part of their new mentality towards classics and mobile gaming. I'm surprised they haven't put FFXV Pocket Edition on consoles yet. But they probably wouldn't optimize it either. The new version of FFIX on mobile was put on PS4, and it took a lot of complaining before SE resized the interface. Someone on Steam's community brought up having the option to turn off the touchscreen interface. It would've been smart to put that in there at least.

      I don't mind it, and will still play this version on Vita, PS4, or even Switch someday. But, it could have subsided a lot of frustration if they just added that one option.

  • Dave

    People, the PC version of CT is definitively a port from the mobile version. Here's a "Saving data. Don't turn off your phone" message in Spanish in the Steam PC release:

    The only way that the PC Steam release of CT would not be a port is if S-E had rebuilt the game's engine from the ground up. But, they clearly didn't do that, as the interface is directly the tablet mobile interface, with the mobile font, the mobile enter text boxes, the mobile settings menu... and, of course, the mobile "Saving data. Don't turn off your phone" message.

    • Christopher Dubois

      I just cant help but laugh at this. Square can do proper ports when they want to but this is the very definition of lazy. Its FF5 and 6 all over again.

  • Vid Icarus

    TIL a mobile port is not, in fact, a mobile port

  • Chris

    It even has the same content as the mobile version, come on. Look for the Arena of Ages.

    Yes there are FMVs but that's why it's 2GB, they didn't even uncompress them.

  • michael

    I totally agree! I fired it up, dove into my saves, played for a few minutes, and uploaded them to the cloud. It looks nice and somewhat pixely still. So, I'm pretty happy with it. I sure wish they would have just updated Secret of Mana's 2D version with a bunch of new quality-of-life improvements instead of making the 3D version

  • Hery Ng

    I might want to wait for the price to drop for a bit. The game looks good after upgraded.

    • Dailon Huskey

      It’s def better
      Hery square does sales usually around Christmas time though
      It’s rare but every once in a while they do a quick sale... not sure if CHRONO is usually one that goes on sale though

  • CobraA1

    It is in fact a mobile port, sorry. The big giveaway is in how you name characters and do other similar tasks. You type it into a dialog box that obviously came from Windows.

    In a mobile game, using the phone's own keyboard is easy, familiar, and provides services like autocorrect, so for the purpose of a phone-only game, most developers let the keyboard do its thing and just read in the final text.

    So the easy way to port an already mobile game to the PC is to do something similar: Provide a dialog so that you can read the final text. You don't need to make substantial changes to the way your mobile game worked if you do it this way in the port.

    This isn't the way the developers would do it if they knew ahead of time this would make it to the PC. Mobile keyboards do in fact allow you to read the individual keystrokes, as demonstrated by apps like TeamViewer. If they knew ahead of time that the game would make it to the PC, they would in fact have it read the individual keystrokes so they don't need to spend the extra effort of making a dialog box in Windows.

    Let's not forget how ChronoTrigger was actually designed to begin with: There were no fancy keyboards provided by the OS in the days of the SNES. You had to code your own keyboard from scratch, and in a way that works with a controller. There had to be some substantial effort to make it work with mobile keyboards.

    So they put in a substantial effort to make it work with mobile OS keyboards, while at the same time ignoring and going completely lazy with the PC keyboard. That's a bit of a paradox, if you ask me - I'm not buying it.

    To me, it's a pretty clear port of a version of the game that was originally meant to be mobile-only.

    • Shaun Musgrave

      As they had already released mobile ports to Steam to pretty good success by the time development on this new version started, I can't imagine they didn't plan to release it on Steam from the very start. What you say would be true if we were operating under the assumption that the developer cared. I can't imagine TOSE really gives a fig, though. They rarely do.

      This was obviously designed with mobile users primarily in mind, but almost certainly the expected Steam (and eventual PS4/etc) sales were why they put resources into developing a new app to replace one that was functioning just fine. I submit that Square knew all along this was going to release on multiple platforms, and that it was considered a multi-plat SKU from the get-go. From there all it takes is a little TOSE corner-cutting (they had already done the PS1, DS, and 2011 iOS versions of CT as well as the maligned mobile remakes of FF5/6) and we arrive at the present situation.

      I certainly agree this was made with little consideration for the needs of PC players. But I disagree that this is a port, as that implies a pre-existing version that wasn't originally planned to release on PC, and there's realistically no way that could have been the case.

  • 61050

    im confused. are we mad that this was made? or mad at the steam port, but mobile is ok? or is the mobile version bad too?

    im playing the mobile port now. just like i remember from back in the day, but now there is an auto battle. 👍🏻👍🏻

  • Ugh

    Are you joking?

    Yes it literally is. There's literally untranslated Spanish text left over in the Steam build that says "please do not turn off your phone while saving."

    The touch screen controls are STILL visible on the screen if you left click and move the mouse.

    You're wrong. Stop.