Unlike the traditional random battle paradigm of RPG's, both normal movement and battle occur on more or less the same screen layout. Enemies appear outside of combat, allowing the player to avoid some fights. Each character has different weapons and a set of 8 "techs," which operate a lot like magic (i.e., consume MP in exchange for healing, massive damage dealing, etc.). The more innovative component (I don't know if I'd go that far) to this system is that two or three characters can combine their techs to produce a more powerful ability.
The game has something like 14 distinct endings (depending on how finely you split hairs), though it is still highly linear.
News Flash: The PlayStation port of ChronoTrigger has been released in the US, along with FinalFantasyFour, under the title "Final Fantasy Chronicles". The ChronoTrigger rerelease features a few new anime cut-scenes (though the animation quality is pretty low, at least in terms of frame rate), most of which are fairly boring (though the new ending movie is ... intriguing). Also added to the mix is a "bonus" mode like that in the PlayStation remix of FinalFantasySix, with features unlocked by beating the game... except that they apparently put in different things to unlock for each of the game's twelve (according to itself) endings. One of the features is an endings list... (natch). The PlayStation version, also like the PlayStation version of FinalFantasySix, suffers from a truly hideous pause when switching to/from the menu screen(s); the battle graphic effects emulation seems to suffer a bit less, though that may just be because I haven't played the game on a SNES. I don't know the game well enough to tell if anything else was changed.
List of games which preceeded ChronoTrigger with anime-style elements (this probably deserves it's own node):
Setting, Plot, and Characters: ChronoTrigger's plot, while not anywhere near the level of complexity or depth of XenoGears and certainly not correct by the standards of PhySics, has always fascinated me with the combination of the tragic events beyond the power of time travel to alter and the changes the heroes are able to make, along with a few remaining unanswered mysteries at the end of the game. As a whole, the plot thus gives the game some of the epic flavor I enjoy so much. The characters are distinct and fairly well-developed, and there are few enough of them that no one gets lost in the shuffle ala FinalFantasySix or, worse by an order of magnitude, ChronoCross. The different times you travel to, while they ignore scientific and historial plausibility altogether, are distinct and well-done.
Gameplay: On a more technical of level of criticism, ChronoTrigger's characters are balanced in terms of combat firepower, with only a little variation between the strongest and weakest character. In other words, there's no one you can just afford to allow to sit and rot, especially since certain characters are required for certain quests. I have never enjoyed the random battle paradigm very much because I find them extremely annoying (never enough when you want them, always too many when you're running to the save point because you desperately need to quit); thus, I like very much the ability to avoid battles in many places and at least be able to know precisely where I'm going to be engaged. Plus, it increases the realism factor. It's hard for me to judge the difficulty, since I've played through it so many times that I can fight nothing but required battles and still beat it with ease, but as I recall the game is fairly tricky the first time through, especially one or two battles in particular. The tech system is neat though admittedly a bit limited, since each character only has 8, but there is plenty of equipment to play around with. There are quite a few optional sidequests at the end and plenty of interesting adjuncts which develop characters or story as well. ChronoTrigger has a lot of replay value because of the multiple endings and New Game + option, which starts you over at the beginning, only your characters have all the levels, techs, and equipment you had at the end of the game.
Eye-and-Ear-Candy: The translation is very good, though clearly not very literal, and the game has one one of the best musical scores I've heard for a video game. Particular favorties of mine include the last boss's music and the Zeal theme, and the theme played during the normal 'best' ending is good too. The graphics use the SNES's capabilities to full effect and are very well-done, especially the character models and battle animations, holding up even to my ever-more jaundiced eye.
ChronoTrigger does have a few weaknesses, such as . . . um, thinking . . . I'm sure there's something . . . oh yeah, one thing which has always really annoyed me is that there is no way to trash or sell relics, so by the time you've played through a few times you build up a huge collection of useless relics you have to sort through. Other than that, the game is basically perfect. Five out of five possible points for my favorite console RPG, bar none.
He would agree with most of Curtis' comments above WRT setting, plot, and characters, and would agree that the characters are more or less balanced (insofar as he chose his final party more or less arbitrarily) ... except that the Rainbow is a really cheesy weapon ;->
As to gameplay, he would hazard a guess that the game is about on par with FinalFantasySix and FinalFantasyNine for difficulty (if you rush, it may be hard; if you don't, it's still got some tricky bits), though he notes that he had played most of the way through the game once previously, albeit many years ago. Coping with the limited nature of the tech system is one of the things that provides the game with its challenge; each of the characters seems to have at least one thing that you'd like them to be able to do but that they can't (Crono has no heal spell, for example).
The music for the game is simply outstanding, especially the themes for the major dungeons. As for graphics, the game was made during the golden age of the 16-bit sprite-based CRPG; the only weaknesses (slight though they are) are with some of the graphical effects in battle (Andrew preferred those in FinalFantasySix).
Other weaknesses the game has are few and far between. One of the major boss battles seemed like a complete waste of time (saying more would be rather spoilerish)... though perhaps it was optional. A couple of other boss battles seemed like they dragged on for a bit too long (*cough* TerraMutant? (sic) *cough*). At least one more dungeon would've benefitted from the most excellent "hey, let's not switch over to the (by now) rather old normal battle music" motif. But these are minor things. On the whole, the game comes pretty close to perfection.
Andrew also has some rather more spoilerish comments, which he may even remember by the time school starts and he can repeat them to someone who won't be spoiled by them.
I thought this review deserved some random commentary . . . which boss battle seemed like a complete waste of time? Also, the Terra Mutant doesn't take too terribly long if you know how to beat it, though I recall it took forever my first time too. Also, you CAN e-mail me with any spoilerish comments :). Either that, or open a spoilers section like that for XenoGears. --CurtisVinson
ChronoTrigger is really a very refreshing RPG... especially for its time, which was riddled with formulaic games. For example, how often do you play an RPG, save the world, and when it's all over you could count the characters that KNOW you've saved the world on your digits? Or control a character that is... mute? (an elegant solution to the problem of character interaction, eh?) Square really seems to have done a good job with this one, addressing all the standard questions of an RPG, but striving to provide new answers.
ZeldaOcarinaOfTime?? Alundra? SecretOfMana?--AndrewSchoonmaker (referring to games with mute characters)
The Zelda games and Alundra, however, are adventure style games, a genre which traditionally does not emphasize character interaction as much as RPG's. While I have seen only a little bit of it and haven't played Alundra at all, from my experience both it and ZeldaOcarinaOfTime? hold true to the tradition, and at least don't go near as deep as ChronoTrigger--CurtisVinson
Perhaps. Alundra does do a fair bit of exploration of some of the characters (Giles, Septimus, Maia), though it's not particularly in-depth. I haven't really played ZeldaOcarinaOfTime?, but my impression is that Alundra does more character development. I'll admit some bias, however; Alundra is, IMHO, one of the neater PlayStation games I've played... --AndrewSchoonmaker
AndrewSchoonmaker would also note that while the mute-main-character thing is a cute trick, it runs into difficulties in a couple of spots (but nowhere nearly as badly as in ChronoCross... "Silent Protagonist" my ass...).
Clearly this must be a really good game since KaiLiu actually liked it, and is possibly the only RPG he's played through. That may have been because it's an RPG that's not pure fantasy and isn't nihilistic or overly militaristic.