I don’t think I can overstate just how much I love Chrono Trigger. The music and characters remain some of the best in the JRPG scene and its legacy is still felt today in the way it changed the kind of stories that were told in video games. This is a game that has had untold impact on me and my love for games, which, as you might expect from someone who writes about games, continues to this day.
The SNES version of Chrono Trigger remains a classic and in a lot of ways it still holds up despite turning 25 this year. However, the cost of both the console and the cartridge make it tough to recommend, something that might stop people from being able to experience this game in all its glory. And since this year especially has seen a lot of remakes of both old and new JRPGs, from Final Fantasy VII Remake to Persona 5 Royal to Trails of Mana, it has gotten me thinking about the multiple versions and re-releases Chrono Trigger has gotten over the years. Some good. Some not so good. Some downright ugly.
To help protect you all from the horror of playing Chrono Trigger with a sub-optimal experience, here are my recommendations for which of the five versions of the game available in the West to pick up and which to avoid.
Which Version of Chrono Trigger Should I Play?
How do you make a classic game bad? Well, there are a couple of ways. One, you can fill it with technical issues that cause cutscenes to crash, fiddle with the background art to make it unrecognisable from the original, and give it confusing, counter-intuitive controls that make it difficult to play. That’s what happened with both the mobile version and the Steam version of Chrono Trigger that were released in 2012 and 2018.
The touch controls for the mobile game were just never quite right for me and the shading implemented in the on the background and character sprites took away a lot of the charm of the original’s visual style. The Steam version was originally a port of this mobile version, which exacerbated the visual miscues. A patch was eventually implemented that gave the option to bring the art closer to the DS port’s quality, but the controls remained clunky, particularly on keyboard and mouse. Both of these were a no go for me.
That said, they are also both the easiest to find and the Steam version now gives a much closer experience to what the original game intended, so if you have no other way to play, it’s your best bet.
The PlayStation version of Chrono Trigger, bundled with Final Fantasy IV, came out in 2001 in the West and was intended to both promote the game ahead of the release of Chrono Cross. It is largely a straight port of the original, with few quality of life adjustments or updates. However, it did include anime-style cutscenes from Akira Toriyama and Toei Animation, which breathed new life into character designs and helped to bring the plot more in line with Chrono Cross’ plot. The biggest drawback to the PS1 version is simply the unbearably long loading times between scenes. Still, the gorgeous animated cutscenes remain a mark in its favour.
The DS version, however, is easily the definitive version of the game and your best bet if you’ve never played it before. It included a bonus region, a new end game dungeon to further bring the plot in line with Chrono Cross, and, most importantly, a newly updated and more accurate translation to the text, doing away with some of Frog’s nonsense ye olde time speak.
Plus, it included the cutscenes that were the standout feature of the PS1 version without the unbearably long load times, making this both the most satisfying to play and the easiest to currently find. If you have a DS or a 3DS lying around, you owe it to yourself to pick up the best version of this game.
Chrono Trigger is one of those games that is screaming out for a Switch port or, better yet, an HD remake. I don’t think the remake is going to come any time soon but I expect the Switch version to happen sooner or later. With the 25th anniversary of its Western release coming up in August, I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened this year. Provided the Switch version takes its cues more from the DS version and skips pretty much everything with the Steam and Android versions, I will have no problem adding a fifth version of the game to my collection.