This week sees the 25th anniversary of (the North American release of) what many argue is the best Role-Playing Game of all time: Chrono Trigger. Yes, before Square Enix was a mish-mash of the two greatest behemoths of the Japanese Role-Playing Game scene, Square took arguably the most iconic part of Enix’s Dragon Quest series- the character and monster designs from beloved artist Akira Toriyama- and applied it to their engaging Active Time Battle system, adding co-operative team-based “Techs” that combined the individual skills of certain characters, as well as a story that is delightfully simplistic in concept, tricky in execution, but most importantly, easy to follow while still possessing a degree of depth. This was then paired with the absolutely inspired soundtrack largely composed by Yasanori Mitsuda, with help from some guy you might know named Nobuo Uematsu. Though not as widely-recognized as some other projects from the studio, Chrono Trigger was a complex title for its time due to the seamless field-to-battle transitions, time-travel mechanic, and development and coining of the term “New Game Plus,” something that had been seen but never officially labeled previously.
With Square Enix’s current reputation of leaning heavily on nostalgia and remaking their old titles in new and often unconventional ways, I think it’s only fair that we see how bravely and boldly we can ruin the legacy of this title via a bit of theorycrafting! We’ve already seen a somewhat shaky PC port on Steam and a Nintendo DS port that added a few new features, so let’s imagine what a full-on Chrono Trigger remake would look like today.
I hear all of your cries for high quality sprite work to be championed via “2DHD” titles like Octopath Traveler and Eiyuden Chronicle, but I refuse to believe that Square Enix would be any less ambitious with a Chrono Trigger remake than they have been with another landmark 2020 release. If you think I’m talking about high-definition character models in the vien of Final Fantasy VII, you can stop right there- despite how utterly absurd and delightful that concept sounds.
I’m talking about models on-par with the Trials of Mana remake! Sure, we could go the distance and say that Square Enix would attempt the same level of polish and charm inherent in the aesthetic design of Dragon Quest XI, but let’s be honest: Square Enix hasn’t really touted Chrono Trigger as one of their high profile series for a while now, and Chrono Trigger is known for its iconic locations and environments. The Trials of Mana remake definitely offered a lovely polished sheen to the original world, but maintained a great deal of its environment design through some pretty direct translation. Similarly, Trials of Mana may have opted for an updated soundtrack, but the tracks sounded more like resampled versions of the SNES music, rather than the sweeping orchestration of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Let’s not shoot for the moon with our expectations.
Final Fantasy VII may have delighted with its character-customization system, but Chrono Trigger definitely perfected the Active Turn-Based system prior to this. Its snappy combat and neat “Tech” system helped the developers create puzzle-based boss battles and enemy encounters where positioning mattered just as much as power. With that said, remakes should never strive to replicate the gameplay of the original product- unless they’re released on the Nintendo DS or 3DS, then you need to be very faithful. No, we live in an era where the best way to generate discourse is via controversial changes, which can then be backpedaled upon with an alternate play style that is sort of a compromise, maybe…?
Enter what I’ve dubbed the “Rhythm Turn Action Combat System,” in the time-honored tradition of Square’s overly obtuse anagrams. People mostly remember Chrono Trigger for its music, so why not integrate that into the combat system? Since the game utilized a smaller amount of battle themes, you pair action-based combat similar to Final Fantasy VII Remake or Trials of Mana Remake with a little rhythm-game gimmick, where hitting enemies on the beat of Chrono Trigger’s excellent battle themes deals extra damage. This makes fighting Magus extra-hard due to the ominous, somewhat ambiguous pacing of his boss theme.
Don’t worry, people who absolutely hate this idea! You’ll get a pure turn-based mode similar to Final Fantasy VII Remake, as well! Everyone can have what they want, unless you’re a fan of the original ATB system!
Of course, we can’t have a remake without some convoluted additions to the narrative, can we? While the Whispers from Final Fantasy VII Remake were most-definitely a
stupid idea that was poorly executed brilliant new narrative twist, I see them being used for even greater purposes. Enter the Square Enix Cinematic Universe, something previously teased by entries in the Kingdom Hearts series, but now coming full circle with these new remakes. The Whispers can also exist in the Chrono Trigger universe, and in fact probably make a whole lot more sense existing there, but the real plot twist would come with their defeat once players restart their game in New Game Plus file, taking them out in what was originally an unbeatable encounter. Then Sepiroth shows up and tells Crono and friends that they can change their fate by journeying to Midgar! And Lightning is there, too! And Noctis!
Oh, and maybe we can make the game multiplayer, but not locally. Only online.
I think these are great ideas.
Or Maybe We Just Don’t Need A Chrono Trigger Remake, Because The Game Is Beautiful And Special And Deserves A Decent Port To Modern Consoles So That More People Can Access And Enjoy A Venerable Classic Created By A Dream Team Of RPG Artists And Designers
In case you haven’t already realized it, I don’t think Chrono Trigger needs a remake. Maybe a visual upgrade would be nice, but Square Enix seems to have a problem with that concept. Chrono Trigger was a game that I played for the first time as a Junior in college- which for all you whippersnappers out there, was actually only eight years ago- and I loved it. I would argue that, due to its styling and design, Chrono Trigger is one of the more accessible RPGs out there, and manages to capture some of the best aspects of the genre while avoiding some of the more problematic elements. It features a built-in hint system at the End of Time, a lighthearted-yet-heartfelt narrative, neat time-travel sidequests, and music that maximizes the limited soundscape of the SNES while sounding utterly unique and magical.
Something that is consistently surprising to me is the relative negligence of developers and publishers in regards to updating or translating prior experiences to new consoles. While some might find the number of “The Last of Us Remastered” or “Pikmin 3 Deluxe” -style releases on current generation consoles to be groan-inducing, these are opportunities for a game that may have flown under the radar to get a second chance at appreciation- or in the former’s case, some performance improvements. I understand that these kinds of releases might not generate the most hype, but they aren’t always for you, the individual who purchased the original on their Playstation 3 or Wii U- they’re for someone who is not as well-versed in the landscape of their particular genre. Chrono Trigger is just about as quintessentially SNES JRPG as it gets, and is a great gateway for fans in terms of evaluating whether or not they want to dive deeper into the genre and console generation or experience it at its peak.
If anything, I believe that more people should be able to play Chrono Trigger. For those not comfortable with emulation or who don’t want to deal with the game potentially crashing, I think the game could stand to have an improved port on modern systems, just as I believe the video game industry should attempt to champion the preservation of landmark titles for newcomers to experience. I’ve long-hoped for the announcement of a proper port, not for my sake, but for all those who haven’t played this game yet. But… the future refused to change.