Credit where credit is due: Square Enix has done right by Chrono Trigger for its PC release. Praise is deserved.
Back in March, I went to town on the then-new PC re-release of classic Japanese RPG Chrono Trigger. Honestly, I was furious - I regard Chrono Trigger as one of Square's most important games, one of the top Japanese RPGs of all time and next to Final Fantasy 7 probably one of the best 'gateway drug' entrance points there is to the traditional Japanese-style RPG genre.
So of course I was mad. Square messed it up. Not a little, either - a lot. It was a disaster of a port with mismatched background tiles, once-characterful sprites smeared with an ugly vaseline filter and mobile-esque menus that looked like something spat out by RPG Maker. I called it a perfect example of how not to re-release a classic game. More than anything, it felt like the port lacked respect for its highly respected and beloved source.
Well, credit is owed to the behemoth Japanese publisher: I've been playing the game a little since its final patch last week, and most complaints have been fully sorted out. Square Enix took the criticism to heart and over the course of a string of hefty patches have slowly turned this into something that actually could be argued as the best version of Chrono Trigger.
I lit up Square Enix for the poor initial release, and now it only feels right to set the record straight: post patch, this is now a worthwhile version.
This is honestly a really shocking development, not least because Square Enix has left the also hideous mobile versions of Final Fantasy 5 and 6 on Steam untouched for years. At best I'd expected a polishing of the proverbial turd, but this is a do-over the likes of which is rarely seen. This is now a good version of this great game. It took Square too long to get here, but at least the publisher did in the end.
Whatever area of the game you look at most of the issues raised with the initial release have been vigorously attacked and fixed. The nasty filtered sprites and mismatched background tiles were dealt with early on, as pictured above. The font, which had been changed to a fairly generic one, has been restored to something more evocative of the Super NES original.
The best changes are to the UI and menus, all of which have been ripped inside out with the developers clearly working hard to find a way to restore menus that are more reminiscent of those from the controller-based SNES original while perhaps keeping one or two quality-of-life changes more suited to a modern release of the game.
There's even new content including an extras menu that features a bunch of frequent fan-requested additions. Via this section players can now repeat view the animated story scenes that were added to the PS1 release of the game and feature in this version - and one patch also improved the resolution of these movie files. You can also listen to the soundtrack, view artwork of from the game's development and marketing and re-watch any of Chrono Trigger's endings that you've unlocked through regular play.
Some features are sadly still missing: a few FMVs remain left on the cutting room floor and the beastiary and dojo found in the Nintendo DS release are also still absent. Others would still like a carbon copy of the SNES interface to at least be an option, too.
It's a shame these are missing, and twice as much so given that Square say the game has now seen its final patch of this type - but it is nevertheless difficult to understate how impressive a job this is of fixing this port and making it a worthy version of a classic. Sure, the way these updates were dished out slowly but surely over the course of a few months while gathering fan feedback does now mean that those who purchased Chrono Trigger early on had a sort of early access experience, but the point is that Square made the effort to listen and make significant changes.
This is honestly now a more impressive port than, say, the PS4 version of Final Fantasy 7, which is solid but doesn't have any of the nifty little extra features like a CG movie gallery. It's also corrected mistakes that even the better ports made - so while the PC, PS4 mobile versions of Final Fantasy 9 still feature an awful replacement font that loses the characterful, world-appropriate font from the PS1 days, Chrono Trigger on Steam has fixed that very same problem.
At best I'd expected a polishing of the proverbial turd, but this is a do-over the likes of which is rarely seen.
Obviously, I'm pleased. Chrono Trigger is a game that I enjoy a replay of every now and then and it's also a game as many people should experience as possible. That this version is now so high quality essentially allows more people to explore the joys of this unique little gem, and that's brilliant. I lit up Square Enix for the poor initial release, and now it only feels right to set the record straight: post patch this is now a worthwhile version, and a must-play for anybody unfortunate enough to have never experienced this classic before.
The title of definitive version will surely be heartily debated by hardcore fans in the future, with the defining points of the argument now left to more subjective matters such as the merits of the less accurate but charming SNES-era translation versus the modern one, or the appropriateness of the PS1-era animated cutscenes. Those debates are acceptable.
Of course, the only proper thing to do as a video game fan is now ask for something else, right? That's what we do to developers, I think - we're never quite satisfied. With the PC version of Chrono Trigger now an absolute beauty, the next question is obvious: will Square Enix extend this sort of courtesy to the rest of its classic Steam catalog?
Final Fantasy 8's PC version still features truly awful midi music (strangely this problem also existed in 7 but was patched - 8 was left with the inferior sound), while FF7 lacks feature parity with the PS4 and mobile versions. FF9 still has the rubbish font, and of course the less said about the PC versions of FF5 and FF6 with sprite art that's vaguely reminiscent of that botched restoration of a painting of Jesus the better. These are all classic games - so I hope they're eventually all treated with the care, respect and attention to detail Chrono Trigger has been in the wake of its botched launch.