Dec 312012

There’s an interesting thread over on Neogaf titled Has Chrono Trigger REALLY not been topped yet?

Chrono Trigger is an excellent game that did a lot right but there have been plenty of articles on why Chrono Trigger is a great game. Here’s an article on where Chrono Trigger could have been improved.

1. Character Customization. Quite simply, there really isn’t any character customization other than a simple equipment system. Most other RPGs give the player some control over how to build their characters, but Chrono Trigger features very linear individual progression. This is made up for somewhat with being able to choose who to stick in your active party & the multi-character combo system but it’s still the weakest aspect of the game. Now, it’s true that some players prefer highly linear character progression in their RPGs (see Final Fantasy IV’s huge popularity), but it is possible to give each character their own unique gameplay feel while still letting the player have some say in how they grow and develop over the course of the game. For a great example, see Persona 4 – the main character is a blank slate for the player to create, whereas your allies have more linear progression (although even there, you do have some say in how they progress, especially in P4G).

2. Localization and writing. Chrono Trigger’s writing wasn’t anywhere near as bad as your typical SNES RPG but even at the time, it was nowhere as good as say the writing in Lunar: Eternal Blue (which came out the year earlier on the Sega CD) or a well done PC RPG or point & click adventure game from that era. And these days, the writing in games from companies like Atlus & XSeed Games far exceeds the kind of localizations and writing we got back in 1995.

3. Tech limitation. This should be obvious but technology has progressed substantially since the SNES days. Even on the portable systems, you could make a game with a similar aesthetic to Chrono Trigger look much better now. If nothing else, games can be much bigger than 4MBs allowing for much more variety of visuals (Chrono Trigger looks great but several dungeons use palette swaps of earlier dungeon tilesets due to space limitations).

4. Names. A frog named Frog? A robot named Robo? They seriously couldn’t come up with anything better than those?

5. Endings. It was very neat that you could Chrono Trigger has multiple endings at a time when most console RPGs did not. However, most of the endings in the game could only be obtained by replaying the game in New Game+ mode and ending the game at arbitrary points. It would have been much better if the endings were more organically reached through the course of a regular playthrough.

With all that said, some of these “flaws” are pretty minor. It may not be perfect, but Chrono Trigger remains one of my favorite games of all time (though not the favorite) and is one of the games that we have been studying extensively to learn how we can become better RPG developers.

 Posted by at 11:38 am

  8 Responses to “How could Chrono Trigger be improved?”

  1. “Localization and writing. Chrono Trigger’s writing wasn’t anywhere near as bad as your typical SNES RPG”

    I admit that a lot of SNES RPGs had bad writing, but was Chrono Trigger significantly better in that regard? It seemed to me as if the game just threw a bunch of cliched settings together (Cave Man Habitat, Floating Island In The Sky, Post Apocalyptic World, you get the idea) and they loosely tied those together with a time travel plot. I get that it’s sort of interesting since it tells a planet’s history, but it’s all stuff that you’ve probably seen a lot of times before and not executed in a particularly great manner.

  2. I like the fact that if you level up hard enough you can defeat Lavos early when encountering him though I have never done that myself.

    Did you know that the maximum amount of silver points you can carry is 200? After that the text says “Cannot earn any more points”

  3. Quote by Chris C.
    “Graphics really and truly aren’t the be all end all. I am perfectly fine with Chrono Trigger’s graphics. I wouldnt mind higher quality, but I wouldn’t want it if my choices were to go with that claymation or flash animation quality a lot of old sprite-based games get when people remake them to be modern.”

    Chris C. You kinda missed the point on what the OP was referring to in graphics. He didn’t say to make this the most realistic game. He clearly mentioned that a lot of graphic sets were reused over again due to space limitations which we no longer have.

    In old days of computing you had to make graphic tilesets look alike in order for their to be room for music and text or speech then there is the issue of how stable the game is when running. Now we no longer have those issues and things can be spruced up without taking away the original feel.

    The game engine Temporal Flux is used and can be downloaded.

    People like you are what divides gamers between either being stuck in the past or only care about graphics with no in-between group.

  4. I’m a big fan of Chrono Trigger. I’ve played the DS port quite recently and thought it was a blast, although not the perfect game I thought it was ‘back in the day’. Not entirely for those reasons you’ve pointed out (like some people commenting, I too find the party to be customization element of the game rather than the characters – and there are always tabs for them to improve individually; also enjoyed some of the NG+ endings). I’d stick with two improvements:

    Plot. This last play I found the plot extremely lacking after the introduction to the Dark Ages. I felt people started to help me for no good reason, and the party started to do the same (it’s hard to explain without giving any spoilers and keeping it short). Correcting some minor plot elements wouldn’t hurt either, like stabilishing whenever the godfather paradox happens or not (it happens once, then it can’t be reproduced), but that’s aesthetic compared with the mess of the Dark Ages.

    Minigames. They have things with touchscreem running Chrono Trigger, give us better minigames at the Millenium Fair already!

    I guess better graphics & tech would be the next best improvement.

  5. If it was remade today, I would definitely say add extra customization options, some kind of point system like Mass Effect, or the extremely engaging power up road in Star Ocean 2. Matter of fact, a game mixing Chrono Trigger and Star Ocean 2 would be the best rpg ever made imo.

    You mention Final Fantasy 4’s linearity, but it wasn’t completely linear gear-wise. The one thing it does that Chrono Trigger doesnt is give you a reason to keep elemental based weaponry, and to me, that was huge at the time. The DS version takes the concept even further, which is one reason I can’t wait to fire it up, as my cousin gave me a copy last week.

    Graphics really and truly aren’t the be all end all. I am perfectly fine with Chrono Trigger’s graphics. I wouldnt mind higher quality, but I wouldn’t want it if my choices were to go with that claymation or flash animation quality a lot of old sprite-based games get when people remake them to be modern.

    As for Chrono Trigger’s story…for the time it was stellar. I grew up on those games, and they were written well enough to draw me in. I remember when I made it to the end of that prison at the start of the game, taking on that dragon tank, I was really wow’ed by the entire fight, including the hints of its weaknesses you found in the dungeon leading to it. No modern games wow me in the same way nowadays. I remember getting to the story of Magnus and the magic society….that was just so intriguing, seeing how the bad guy basically came to be the bad guy of the game. Yes, it doesn’t compare to today’s writing, but does anybody truly expect writing not to evolve as time flies. But I can say this, modern writing in “most” games nowadays still can’t compare to the writing in the old games when they were new, as far as immersion goes.

    I really had no problem with the names Frog and Robo. You learn the story behind Frog, so he is easily forgivable name wise, and Robo is a robot without a real identity at first, so that is easily understandable as well. I don’t think it was lack of imagination that got those two their names, as I find their names rather telling of the kind of character they are. Frog is filling in a mask he chose to wear when he became a frog, and Robo is, as i said above, a robot without a real identity he can claim when he gets the name Robo.

    So, an ultimate version of Chrono Trigger? I would not try to complicate the writing. Its one thing to expand on themes in the game, but don’t try to get creative and add stuff that isn’t in the game already. It waters the game down and makes it strange instead of a walk down memory lane. Add customization. Not just boring customization, but something fun. I would say something like Star Ocean 2, just not as “extensive” would be perfect, and allow a bit of fun to be had with new skills in game that are only gotten by doing the new customization. Graphics, sure, they could use a bit of a resolution bump, but don’t go over board. They just need to look decent on a HD t.v., and if they look like blocky sprites, thats fine, that is one of the games endearing qualities in a world where that type of game is truly rather rare. People make sprite based games still, but most of them are muddy, splotchy type sprites, not ones full of character as Chrono Trigger’s spirites.

    Lastly, as for the endings. A lot of endings were only available in new game + because it doesnt make sense to have them prior. You play a game the way it should be made leading to the normal ending, then you give a game replay value by adding a bunch of additional endings that a person can go and find as they enjoy the game a second time. You can add endings to a game that use and abuse characters you don’t really know when you are at the endings areas in the game by making a person play the game through once to learn about those characters. You up your freedom with the endings by saving them for new game +.

    Chrono Trigger just had so many WOW moments in it, and modern games choose to rehash those moments rather than make their own moments, and that is why it is a classic.

  6. That’s actually an interesting thought experiment. I remember the last time I played Chrono Trigger via the DS port the only thing I really felt it lacked for was a quest menu screen, but that was mainly for the post game area where there were a lot of subquests given out by reptites that were reprensented by identical sprites

  7. Chrono Trigger was really great at giving you the illusion of customization, which is something modern games have a lot more trouble with. Your choices in Chrono Trigger amounted to choosing party combination, which had a significant effect on how you played (because of the combos), and choosing between accessories/the occasional other equipment slot. Stats weren’t particularly noticeable except for speed, so you could see yourself making a choice (equipping plus speed gear; everyone did this, right?) and getting a great result. You also had the tabs, which are always excellent; every game needs tabs.

    Basically, I don’t think Chrono Trigger’s a lot different than its contemporaries, but it does an amazing, unparalleled job of making the player feel like they have a lot of control over their party’s development and over the story itself. You don’t, in either case, but you’ve been deluded into thinking that way. It’s kind of the polar opposite of FFXIII, which gives you a lot of control in terms of customization (compared to some other games) but doesn’t make you feel very responsible; and look how that worked out.

  8. Excellent post, I love it when people challenge old school nostalgia, however.

    One is a matter of preference, I love Zeboyd’s games for allowing me customization but largely the customization falls to ‘This Build’ or ‘That Build’ and occasionally choosing whether I AOE sleep with low success or single target with high.

    Chrono Trigger’s lack of customization was made up for by the fact I could switch out party members for others, the same way it felt when I played Rain Slick to some degree.

    Two, the localization was limited for sure, but the story was still quite gripping, especially for its time. It tells a story of a young man swept up into adventure and a grand tale of saving the world. His death was touching, the story of the decadent magical society caught up in its own power and immortality was tragic. The tale of Frog, who’s mentor’s death created in him a buffonish over the top heroic personality, a thing given by a generall eh localization.

    That said, I agree, the overall story was great but the localization could have used some serious work. I’ve never played Lunar though

    Three is agreed, I enjoy the sprite work for the most part but tech limitations were an issue. Not an issue I mind however, I don’t care about technical limitations so long as the style is fitting and pleasing to look at.

    Four, TO BE FAIR YOU COULD RENAME THEM! Also Frog’s name was fitting because of his whole backstory, there was a recent screenshot ‘Let’s Play’ that took a very indepth look into the game as a whole, and the look into Frog’s character was pretty neat. Ayla, Lucca, Marle were all fine names I think, Robo’s was eh.

    The endings were something of a high point I found, I think that adding extra endings was boon, there was no way to do the weird sequence breaking ones without it as a frame of reference without significantly altering content for no reason other than allowing them all to be gotten in one run. That said I appreciate a game with more choice and control of narrative, on that Chrono Trigger hardly delivers, the endings are kind of bland and unenjoyable to me.

    But the idea of an ending changing because I said ‘screw you game’ and killed the final boss early? Awesome.

    Glad to see you take the classics seriously in your design, not sure how much there is to glean but my personal favorite SNES Era game is definitely Earthbound, basically for it’s tremendous story and the way the player experiences the world.

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