Reviewing a new port of Chrono Trigger seems at the outset to be a straightforward exercise. The game, which many of us have played and enjoyed, is considered to be among the best Japanese Role Playing Games ever created.
It wasn’t until I looked at the opening scene of Chrono Trigger for iOS that I realized I was in for a bumpy road, or at least a muddy one. There are a few analogies at the ready to describe just how this version of the beloved game feels and plays: it is like listening to your favorite album through the worst set of headphones, viewing beautiful scenery through a clouded window, or drinking a tall cool glass of orange juice after brushing your teeth.
And so it is with Chrono Trigger iOS; Square Enix has delivered an experience so marred by control and visual fumbles, that it is hard to discern the original splendor of the game beneath. Put simply, the on-screen joystick is sloppy. Like a drunken ice skater, I careened through the environments, never moving at a comfortable speed and always finding myself stuck behind some element of the environment. This should be adjustable through menu tweaks, but the in game menus for speed only toggle control between a painfully slow walk and an Olympian sprint. You will want to run as fast as possible through this one, though, because the graphics on a retina display appear to have been attacked by the Vaseline monster.
I had to be sure that my eyes weren’t deceiving me, and immediately pulled out the DS version of Chrono Trigger. As I expected, everything looked much more crisp and vibrant on the DS version, and the lack of a massive on-screen joystick only bolstered the case for the DS port. I understand that redrawing the game’s sprites and environments in high definition is out of the question, so why not let gamers play Chrono Trigger in its original resolution with a d-pad off to the side?
While navigating the blurred levels is a chore, fighting in the game’s turn-based battles is well suited to the touch screen interface, and what a battle system it is. While journeying through the game’s world map or many dungeons, players are disrupted by malevolent creatures that can largely be seen lying in wait ahead. The player’s movement is then placed under the control of the game, and the option to attack is presented. Chrono and other party members will move automatically about the battlefield, while the player selects which attacks are most appropriate for the situation. Some attacks damage all enemies along a path, others have a radius of effect, while most will target a single enemy. As more characters join the party, special combo attacks become available. The spacial and tactical implications of battles in Chrono Trigger still make for an engaging role playing experience.
The battles aren’t all Chrono Trigger has to offer, though. This twenty-plus hour game features a tale that spans the ages, as Chrono and his friends leap between the distant past and the end of days. Each character is written with depth, and the overall narrative is enough to push the player through the more tedious moments that most JRPGs have. There are a couple of sections in the game that can turn into a repetitive grind for experience, the battle against Magus was just that for me.
Outside of the main quest, Chrono Trigger offers extensive replay value. Side quests, combined with an excellent new-game-plus feature, are the makings of an experience that will keep you coming back for more.
Chrono Trigger, in general, is a known quantity. A classic that has been done an extreme disservice in the case of the iOS port. The game was lovingly re-crafted for the Nintendo DS a few years back, and I suggest anyone interested pursue this version for a portable experience. The game is also available on both the Wii Virtual Console and Playstation Network. Any of these versions will control and look better than what Square Enix has offered on the iOS platform.
So where does this leave gamers that cannot play another version of Chrono Trigger? Out in the cold, I’m afraid. If this is your case I would suggest either purchasing a system that can play the game at an acceptable level of presentation- all of these systems offer many other excellent gaming opportunities. I would hate to see someone’s opinion of Chrono Trigger colored by this terrible port. You can ultimately become “used” to the iOS experience of Chrono Trigger, but it is far from optimal. There will be those that have no experience with other versions, and they may find Chrono Trigger on iOS to be acceptable. It is, after all, a terrible port of a wonderful game- meaning the end product ends up somewhere in the middle.
This is what iOS games should not be.
Chrono Trigger is available on the App Store for $9.99