One of gaming’s most treasured gems has gotten a surprise release on Steam, albeit in one of its most cumbersome forms. Square Enix’s classic Super Nintendo RPG, Chrono Trigger, appeared somewhat spontaneously on the online platform yesterday, though is already being derided for the inexplicable decision of opting for the inferior mobile port, as opposed to the original version, or the more robust edition on the PlayStation.
Despite this faux pas, the very fact that we now have the game on PC (the first release since it debuted on Android in 2012) is worth celebrating for fans of the sprawling adventure. It raises a few questions, however – namely, why it wasn’t publicized ahead of time, and moreover, whether this suggests big things on the horizon.
To recap, Chrono Trigger was met with critical and commercial acclaim upon its first release in 1995, universally recognized as a masterclass in storytelling, gameplay, and sound design. It has a memorable cast of characters, massive replayability due to its multiplicity of possible endings, a battle system that is fresh and intuitive without being obtuse, and is frequently mentioned among the best games of all time.
Its 1999 sequel on the PlayStation, Chrono Cross, did not receive nearly the same degree of adulation. The recipient of high review scores and a bestseller in its own right, some view it unfavorably for its radical departure from its predecessor, and it doesn’t hold the same retroactive sparkle that Chrono Trigger has been blessed with (for an excellently pensive look at its positive aspects, Satchell Drakes’ case study is a must-watch). It reappeared on the PlayStation Network in 2011, but has remained dormant since that time.
Failing to see the relevance? If you read the tea leaves a little, there is a faint glimmer of hope that this Steam release, for all of its warts, is the harbinger of a possible revival for Chrono Cross, and the series as a whole. Chrono Cross was first released on November 18th 1999 in Japan. Prior to this, the enhanced port of Chrono Trigger hit the Japanese market earlier that month, on November 2nd, both as a way to reintroduce the plot framework, and generate interest in the franchise. In North America, the timeline was not so clear cut, with the Chrono Trigger port (June 29th 2001) coming out almost a full year after Chrono Cross (August 15th 2000).
Regardless, where there was one, the other was soon to follow. And though this wasn’t the case when Chrono Trigger was brought to the Nintendo DS in 2008, the aforementioned PlayStation Network release of Chrono Cross had a similar, though perhaps somewhat coincidental, release window to Chrono Trigger’s 2011/12 mobile port.
Thinking bigger picture, one of Square Enix’s biggest upcoming projects is the re-imagining of its beloved classic, Final Fantasy VII. Such a major retooling, visually and mechanically, of Chrono Trigger would most likely not be well-received, bordering on blasphemy to some purists. Chrono Cross, on the other hand, comes from the same era as Final Fantasy VII, a generation of fantastic games that have not aged well, due to the limitations of the hardware at the time.
Could Chrono Trigger’s emergence on Steam be a way of testing the waters and whetting people’s appetites for more? Whether in the form of a Chrono Cross remastering or, be still my foolish heart, an actual third chapter in this storied tale? Or is this wishful optimism, and the more realistic expectation is the cynical one? The lazy, flawed port and non-existent marketing suggest that this was just a quick cash grab on a platform with guaranteed success for minimal effort.
Regardless, we will likely have an answer sooner, rather than later. The hype – and subsequent vitriol – for this unexpected release quickly caught on, a clear indication that this is a series that people will happily buy into, time and time again. We’re not sure which possible ending we’ll end up with in this situation, but we’re desperately hopeful that it’s a good one.