I hate Japanese RPGs. Ask anyone who knows me. “She hates milk,” they’ll tell you, “and Japanese RPGs.” I hate pretty much everything about JPRGs. I hate the random encounters. I hate the tedious, overwrought narratives. I hate the insipid dialogue. I hate the presumption that I should take seriously any alleged evil committed by someone who looks like they stumbled and fell out of a German power metal video in the middle of 1986. I hate that when I tell people I’m a gamer, it’s simply assumed I’ll allow a Final Fantasy game into my home.
And so when I say that Chrono Trigger, an authentic 100% pure JRPG (No Western Cynicism Added!), is absolutely fantastic, I’m reasonably confident it actually means something. Besides, nobody knows about my super secret stash of Dragon Quest cartridges.
The game was, of course, originally developed by Square back in 1995 on the SNES and later ported by TOSE to the PlayStation in 1999, although this DS version is the first time it’s seen a release in PAL territories. It’s apparently more or less exactly the same game, although this DS port features a new English translation, and includes two new dungeon areas, a monster battling arena, and one additional possible ending. Obviously, some touch-screen control has also been chucked in, but it feels mostly superfluous, and the game plays just fine using buttons.
Set in a world somewhat parallel with our own, Chrono Trigger sees mostly-titular protagonist Crono (the h a victim of the original’s 5-character name limit) and his motley gang of chums (including a wayward princess, a robot, and … a talking frog) scrambling through time in a daring bid to save the planet from some sort of huge, gross alien parasite thing that’s already wrecked the planet in the future. Wait, what?How it works is that this huge, gross alien parasite thing pretty much trashes everything else in the year 1999. Through a series of accidents, Crono is transported from his native year 1000 to 2300, only to find himself amid the charred and buckled remains of civilisation, and vows to prevent all that stuff from happening. Adventure promptly ensues, and all that time travel tomfoolery makes sense in context. You’ll also get to thrash dinosaurs with lasers.
Perhaps what makes Chrono Trigger such a great game is that it’s casually innocent of all the hubris and bloat of contemporary JRPGs. There are no random encounters. The story is elegant, simple, and immediately engaging. The dialogue is brief and poignant. The game might feature an anthropomorphic frog as a lead character, but there’s nobody with a patently stupid name like Cloud Strife.
Reappearing nearly 15 years after its original release, Chrono Trigger manages to remain infinitely better than any other JPRG currently assaulting retail shelves and slash fanfic indexes everywhere. Which is actually an enormously clever joke masquerading as a conclusion.