Chrono Trigger and Earthbound are the two first real RPGs I ever played, so obviously they have a special place in my heart. Bias aside, ithis game is one of the best RPG's of all time. If you know Chrono Trigger (and the bulk of you absolutely should) then the basics of the game are the same as they were when the game initially released on the Super Nintendo in 1995. Assuming the role of Crono, a young, amateur swordsman, the formula for the gameplay is simple, but addicting; you travel throughout the world and time, gathering comrades to your side and fighting baddies in turn based fights that can be set to active or wait, which allows you to carry out fights in a classic JPRG, you-take-your-turn, I-take-mine system, or the other, where you have to act fast in the fight menus or your enemy will have multiple chances to attack you while you make up your mind on what to do with your turn.
The Story & Flow
Set in the Kingdom of Guardia, the game begins on the day of the millennial anniversary, complete with a fair packed full of merchant booths, games and excitement. After being awakened by his mother, Crono heads to the fair to meet his egghead friend, Lucca, who is an inventor, among other things. On his way to her demonstration, he runs into Marle, a young girl who more or less hijacks Crono's day, forcing him to hang out with her and show her around. Before you can say "time travel plot," Lucca's device has malfunctioned, and Marle is whisked away through time. Being the chivalrous gentleman that he is, Crono grabs his wooden sword and decides to go after her. What starts as a minorly complicated rescue mission evolves into an insane journey across the space-time continuum as Crono tries to stop the apocalypse.
That description barely scratches the surface of the deep story of Chrono Trigger, which unfolds over many hours in some surprisingly emotional ways. There are visits to a time when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, trips to desolate futures where humanity has almost been completely stamped out, noble frog warriors to recruit to your party (a personal all-time favorite character of mine), jet-bike races, evil wizards, giant bosses and more. This game truly has it all in terms of story: characters find redemption, romance, betrayal, there are friendships forged in battle, rags to riches tales, evil characters who find their way to the light, and more. If you haven't played this, you could easily do so just for the rich cast of characters and the great story.
The game isn't all a great story, however. The combat holds up extremely well, due to a combination of classic gameplay and innovative (for the time) design choices. Your 3 man at a time party attacks one at a time, either healing, attacking, using items, defense or magic. Each character has a type of magic assigned to them (ice, wind, fire, water, etc.) and even Robo the robot has shadow attacks, since he cannot use regular magic due to his lack of a soul. While in battle, you can also do combination attacks that look as great as they did in 95; you can, for example, leap into the air as Crono and have Lucca light his sword on fire in mid-air, slicing down for a two-tiered attack. You can have Marle freeze and enemy in a block of ice, then have Robo robot charge into it for massive damage, combine shadow magic with water magic and so on. This provides for a robust amount of attacks, and it's a ton of fun to unleash new combinations of attacks on your foes.
The time travel aspect of the story was novel then and the concept and execution still holds up very well now. You can access and visit seven different eras, finding new allies, enemies and side quests. What you do in the past can affect the future, and you can watch this play out in real-time, a concept that was all but unheard of back in 1995. You travel through time by teleporting to an aptly named place called the "end of time" and there you can enter columns of light called time gates to do your traveling. There's also a strange being there who will teach you and your party magic, if you are able to defeat it in battle. Depending on your actions throughout time, you'll get one of fourteen endings. another relatively new concept back in the day, and even by today's standards is a ton of endings.
After playing all the various ports, including the SNES original, I can say that the DS version (which we played on a 3DS XL) is the definitive edition. You get the whole game, all the bonus content from the Playstation one port, a brand new Arena of the Ages where you can battle monsters in Pokemon style battles, a new, optional touch-screen control scheme (I personally didn't use it, but it's nice to have the option), the new series of quests in the Lost Sanctum, and the Dimensional Vortices, a new "level" that consists of a series of dungeons to battle your way through. If that isn't enough, there's also cutscenes and a polished up translation which is specific to the DS port. Although the translation doesn't change a lot, it does clean up some awkward phrasing and the occasional strange dialogue choice.
The Lost Sanctum is a bit of a non-starter. The addition is nice to have, from a content standpoint, but it is basically a series of fetch-quests that don't impact the story in any meaningful way. Unfortunately, the same can be said about the Arena. Although the idea of adopting a monster, bonding with it and then making it viciously fight other monsters to the death is a fine one, especially when you can potentially get some useful items from your victories, in the end, it's just not that fun, especially compared to the huge world of Chrono Trigger out there waiting for you. Using wifi to fight your friend's monsters is also just not all that exciting and as with the Lost Sanctum, none of it actually has much to do with the game's sprawling story.
Graphics & Sound
The graphics, while almost exactly the same as the original, remain charming, sharp and colorful. The character animations are full of life, everything pops, and the character models still look amazing. The music remains some of the best ever composed on the SNES, with strange song choices somehow working despite their apparent oddness and a great array of sound effects.