Chrono Trigger Deserves Better Than This Flaccid PC Port

And so does the rest of Square Enix's classic back catalogue.

Analysis by Nadia Oxford, .

When you're a middle-aged person who's been playing games all her life, you kind of expect young people to pooh-pooh the titles you cherished as a child. You deflect comments about "cheesy graphics" and "lame music" with a serene smile and get on with life. Kids are ornery little punks incapable of appreciating the finer things in gaming, yes, but they mean no harm.

Luckily, my disappointment in society's unappreciation for classic video games isn't squandered. Thanks to Square-Enix's dismal PC ports of its classic 16-bit RPGs, I'm still able to exercise that disappointment regularly.

Chrono Trigger is Square-Enix's latest port, and oh boy, is it ever something. Excitement rustled across social media earlier this week when news got out about Chrono Trigger hitting Steam, but that enthusiasm wilted in record time when the first buyers revealed the port is a blown-up version of the 2011 mobile release.

Pictured: An average Chrono Trigger fan pondering the diminishing possibilty of sequels.

While Chrono Trigger's anti-aliased character sprites don't look quite as bad as the smears that pass for character sprites in Final Fantasy V and VI for the PC, the Steam release of Chrono Trigger is inexcusably sloppy in myriad other ways.

Most strikingly, the barest effort was spent on transferring the mobile game's touch-based user interface to something more appropriate for keyboards and controllers. Huge dialogue boxes and menu selections—which utilize a font so bland, I can only assume its name is "Unsalted Potato"—loom all over the screen. A necessary evil when you're playing on a smartphone and need to tap selections with your chunky finger, but totally uncalled for (and super-duper ugly) on a PC monitor.

Steel yourself, because it gets better. When a character asks you a question and the huge "Yes" or "No" prompts pop up to engulf Crono's world, the top selection isn't automatically highlighted. You need to perform an extra push on your controller's d-pad or perform an extra mouse-click to "activate" your cursor before you can choose.

The Secret of the Forest: Its seams show if you stare at it too hard.

Why? Because in the mobile version of Chrono Trigger, the same prompts are meant to be tapped, not moved around with a d-pad, so there's no need to automatically highlight the top choice.

It's sad enough the mobile-to-Steam port of Chrono Trigger doesn't bother optimizing its menu's visuals or font for PC screens. Its failure to make the game's touch-screen controls more suited for keyboards and controllers, however, is just foul.

And best of luck to you when it's time to get into a fight. Not that fights are an important part of Chrono Trigger or anything, so this is just a friendly heads-up. Again, the mobile game's menu nonsense is splashed all over the screen, but the setup is fine if you're feeding the party commands by tapping on a smartphone screen. On the PC, though, shuffling between your options quickly becomes a slog because, again, "activating" the menu requires those extra actions.

Oh, you want to run from battle? Might want to start praying instead. You'll get better results.

Worse, it's difficult, if not impossible, to reach some menu actions with your controller. Maybe I missed a cue somewhere, or maybe I didn't futz around with my controller options enough, but some of the vital battle options—running away, for example, or selecting "auto battle"—proved impossible with my controller. I had to click them with my mouse.

When my heart couldn't take any more abuse and I tried to abandon the gongshow, I discovered I couldn't return to the main menu. I couldn't select the option with my controller, and I couldn't even click on it with my mouse. I had to alt-tab out of the game and right-click to quit.

I wonder if there's any point in even mentioning Chrono Trigger PC's tiling errors, pointing out the ugly juxtaposition between the anti-aliased characters and the super-pixelated backgrounds, or sighing over the graceless music segues that occur as you travel across the overworld map. It all seems secondary to having another iteration of Chrono Trigger that's downright painful to play (Chrono Trigger on Final Fantasy Chronicles for the PlayStation is somehow even worse than the Steam release, nevar 4get).

You can check out any time you like, but you can NEVER leave (thanks to a poor menu layout).

I'm OK with Square-Enix cashing in on nostalgia. It owns epic properties, and it may as well flaunt them. Heck, I've tried my luck many times at the Gashapon games in Final Fantasy: Record Keeper and Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius. But those are free-to-play games that don't hide what they are. They're like, "Hey! You like Cloud, right? Feed us some money and maybe you'll see him. Oops, you got Shantoto. Try again." I made my peace with that concept a long time ago.

But Chrono Trigger isn't a cynical coin-vacuum dressed up in the skins of classic Square characters. Chrono Trigger is classic Square. It's one of the best games of all time. The trailer for the port crows about Chrono Trigger's legendary conception as a "Dream Team" project between Final Fantasy's Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest's Yuji Horii, and world-famous manga-ka Akira Toriyama, but the actual product on Steam (which sells for $14.99, by the way) carries all the markings of a project farmed out to the lowest bidder. It's a shrug in Square-Enix's mind, seemingly not worth the money or effort necessary for a half-decent port. It's apparently not even worth hiring a third-party studio that specializes in emulation like Digital Eclipse.

I can deal with punk-ass kids mocking the old games I love. But Square, when you try and charge me for the digital equivalent of a sneer in the direction of a classic, and then do it over and over, maaaan, you hurt my soul.

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Comments 19

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  • Avatar for sunotenko #1 sunotenko 8 months ago
    These mobile to PC ports of Square-Enix are really terrible. I felt the same way as you playing Final Fantasy III. Terrible UI and worst of all was that I loose my progress since my character was stuck on the middle of the ocean. They are buggy as hell.
    At least, this time they didn't try to remade the graphics, like FF V and VI.
    I love SE games and I apreciate the ideia of ports, but SE execution fall flat most of time.
    On a funny note, do you rename all your CT characters as Dragon Ball? I really laughed seeing Crono and Lucca as Goku and Bulma. lol
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  • Avatar for Stepout #2 Stepout 8 months ago
    Yeah, seeing games like FFVI and Chrono Trigger get released on Steam to a bunch of bad reviews makes me feel numb.
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #3 Vonlenska 8 months ago
    Square Enix is so weird. Brave Exvius, a free-to-play Gashapon game that is exactly what you said it is manages to get a level of obvious care, craft and love put into it. Its spritework is excellent, its music is excellent, its story and writing are actually pretty entertaining, its UI is great for the format. Underneath the diceroll nostalgia cash grab, there's a decent game that feels like someone enjoyed making it.

    Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI and V, Secret of Mana? Some of Square's most beloved titles? Meh, whatever. Port the already fairly lazy mobile versions; draw over the original spritework and don't even bother to be consistent about it; churn out a sterile remake that loses as much as it adds.

    It's like a museum that expends all this effort and care toward displaying some interesting garbage it found outside yesterday, but when it needs to move some masterpieces to another location, just folds the canvases eleven times until they fit unevenly in a standard mailing envelope. It's so weird to watch.
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  • Avatar for steve-mcsteve #4 steve-mcsteve 8 months ago
    It's like they release cost effective low effort ports because they expect very few people will buy them, and then very few people buy them because they're low effort ports.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #5 SargeSmash 8 months ago
    Even using ZSNES, a relatively inaccurate but functional emulator from the olden days, would have been preferable to this. I believe it has been released under the GPL license, so S-E could use it as they wish.

    Better yet would be to strike a deal with byuu of bsnes/higan fame. It doesn't even have to have many bells and whistles. It just needs to work right!Edited March 2018 by SargeSmash
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  • Avatar for Wellman2nd #6 Wellman2nd 8 months ago
    I get the feeling that way too many of the Giants of old among games are lost to us in terms of programming. Way to often do you see bad port jobs from companies who should be better.

    But mostly Square Enix when they port anything from their pre PSOne era to computers or mobile.
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  • Avatar for captainN2 #7 captainN2 8 months ago
    What is wrong with Square?! Where the rest of the entertainment industry is mining gold on people's nostalgia, they treat their classic titles like throw away garbage and give us one sub-par port or "remake" after another. Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy and Secret of Mana are incredibly beloved, classic titles. A corporation with some brains and foresight would turn those cherished properties into surefire profit machines. But here we are. How they manage their catalogue is disrespectful to the brands, the people that made them, and most of all the fans.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #8 MetManMas 8 months ago
    @captainN2 I'm sure Square Enix only seriously cares about the quality of a port when it's part of a package they can charge $40-$60 for. The Final Fantasy X duology, the Kingdom Hearts compilations, Final Fantasy XII, and even frickin' Type-0 got better ports than this.
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  • Avatar for LunarFlame17 #9 LunarFlame17 8 months ago
    @MetManMas The thing is, people probably would pay $40-60 for a really good version of Chrono Trigger.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #10 SatelliteOfLove 8 months ago
    I will continue to say that UI design went backwards starting with the first iPhone.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #11 MetManMas 8 months ago
    @LunarFlame17 I would be all for a cel-shaded Chrono Trigger remake that captures the Toriyama style as well as Dragon Ball FighterZ did.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #12 riderkicker 8 months ago
    @SargeSmash Square Enix Japan contracted the craftsmen at M2 to work on the Secret of Mana ports for the Switch. They could've just released the Secret of Mana portion as an Arcade Archive for Western Audiences while throwing away SD3. It is indeed puzzling that they could've done that!

    I know SD3 is tricky considering SE would have to hire somebody of Alexander O. Smith's Caliber for the translation, but they didn't want to deal with the loopholes of paying Neil Cortlett or something? Those SE suits will remain frustratingly tightlipped.
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  • Avatar for sketchlayerjosh #13 sketchlayerjosh 8 months ago
    My only issue with this article: the suggestion that the Playstation version of Chrono Trigger is worse than this...effort, I'll call it.

    I experienced Chrono Trigger for the first time on Playstation, and, honestly, I would have never known that it was such a bad port if I hadn't heard folks say so beforehand. The load times are worse than a SNES, sure, but they're about standard for a PS1 game. Legend of Dragoon's battles took so long to start that they gave you a chance to sit and ponder all of the bad life choices that led you to play Legend of Dragoon.

    But for CT? It's honestly one of those things that you get used to after a half-hour of play. If you're curious about the game and the choice is between this Steam version and the Vita/PS3 port, go with the latter. All of that great game is still there. And without having to see individual tile seams.
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  • Avatar for moochan #14 moochan 8 months ago
    Why does SE do things that hurt me? Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, those Dragon Quest iOS ports. All feel like they have no love put into them. Just a rush project for a outside source without any direction and when it's all done they slap a price sticker on it saying "have fun!"
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  • Avatar for LunarFlame17 #15 LunarFlame17 8 months ago
    @sketchlayerjosh That confuses me too. I played Chrono Trigger originally on the SNES, and then I played it again a few years later on the PS1, and honestly I don’t remember there being much of a difference between the two. Of course, it’s been 20 years since then. I do have the PSN version on my Vita. I should test it and see if it’s as bad as everyone says.
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  • Avatar for pdubb #16 pdubb 8 months ago
    You don't really see brutal take downs anymore in reviews. This takes me back to the days of Extreme Paintbrawl reviews and I like it. Good job Nadia.
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #17 The-Challenger 8 months ago
    The load times were the most memorable part of the ps1 version...what a hack job.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #18 riderkicker 8 months ago
    @The-Challenger It's a convoluted job, as Square forced the game to load English text ON TOP of the present Japanese text instead of just emulating the rom or replacing the text of the original PS1 version.
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  • Avatar for Electryon #19 Electryon 8 months ago
    The only true way to play this game is on a SNES. Get our hands on a classic. They are easy to hack, and you can easily add the game.
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