Chrono Trigger is a masterpiece. It's been around for many years now, and I still think it holds up after all this time; it's an absolute classic developed by a legendary team from Squaresoft, with famous artist Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball fame behind the game's character designs, and god-tier composers Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu producing the soundtrack. But you probably already knew all this seeing as I'm far from the first critic to sing the game's praises.
What's really interesting about this game is that despite it being roughly 25 years old now, I still haven't seen any other game pull off time travel quite like it on such a massive scale. Most games either use it as a brief plot gimmick or a limited mechanic like Tracer's ability in Overwatch, but in Chrono Trigger, time travel is a major central component of both its gameplay and narrative. Players travel across 6 different major time periods throughout the planet's history, altering the course of events both big and small. You can really get a sense that you're making an impact on the world as you travel through the different periods, because not only do your actions affect the present, but you can often even see their rippling effects into the future when you move forward in time.
And unlike so many modern JRPGs, there's virtually no filler or grind to be found in the game, even in its side quests. In fact these quests feel so polished that they could have easily been made part of the main quest chain and nobody would even notice a drop in quality; the game just gives them to you optionally anyway to add greater freedom and flexibility, but they're still entirely worth doing as they often flesh out the backstories of key characters in meaningful ways.
But we're not here to gush about Chrono Trigger today. The issue we're here to discuss is that Chrono Trigger has a major problem on its hands in 2022. With the recent release of the Chrono Cross remaster, many newcomers are discovering this franchise for the first time and looking back to not only try Chrono Cross, but Trigger as well. Yet many don't know or realize that despite there being numerous re-releases and ports of Chrono Trigger to modern platforms over the years, they all carry significant changes and flaws to the original Super Nintendo game; some of which even the veteran fanbase doesn't seem to be aware of. So to get a full sense of just how much of a clusterfuck this game has become, let's go over the various versions of it.
Starting with the Super Nintendo game, it turns out even the original carried a few bugs and glitches of its own back in the day; though I couldn't tell you exactly what they are or how to even replicate them because in all of my 20 years of replaying it I've never once noticed them. Supposedly there's some rare crashes, music glitches, and so forth that can be triggered through very specific circumstances, but I have yet to see them, so they do exist but you have to be fully aware of them and look them up in order to actually pull them off, as it's very unlikely that you're going to discover them on your own, making the SNES version of Chrono Trigger a generally rock solid choice for playing the game if you can somehow get your hands on it these days. But it's not even available on the SNES Classic or Switch Online service, making this version of the game very difficult to come by, as your only options for playing it are either original hardware or emulation.
Next is the Playstation 1 port of the game, which came out as part of a double-feature package called Final Fantasy Chronicles. This version added some really nice quality of life features, the coolest of which are some fully-animated cutscenes done in the style of Akira Toriyama's art, making them look like something straight out of the Dragon Ball universe. On top of this, there's tons of little unlockable extras, including an art gallery, monster data, boss data, treasure map, music box, and a theater mode for rewatching the cutscenes whenever you want. It's a surprisingly comprehensive addition. Beyond that, this release is mostly a straight and faithful port of the original SNES game, retaining largely all of the old visuals, sounds and gameplay.
So one might think that this must be the ideal version of the game to play, right? Well unfortunately, the PSX port contains one critical flaw that kind of brings the whole experience down, and that is the atrocious load times. The Playstation 1 was one of the earliest consoles to transition from cartridge-based media to discs, and because of this, load times became a common issue for many games, but it's especially noticeable here because there is a painfully slow wait time at the beginning of each battle sequence in the game that didn't exist before on the SNES. And since you're going to be doing plenty of fighting in this game, those load times start to add up quickly. Similarly any time you want to open a menu and equip some items, it's also a considerably longer load time over the original game. It's a huge pacing-breaker, and sadly the achilles heel for the entire port. Playing it on PS2 or PS3 backwards compatibility doesn't help much with reducing the load times either.
You might be tempted to go for this port just for those added anime cutscenes, but trust me, it's not worth it. Most of them are just rehashed sequences that were already in the original game anyway; they're just told with flashier animation.
Chrono Trigger: Definitive Edition
So in comes the DS version of Chrono Trigger, hooray. Now, many fans herald this release to be the "definitive" version of Chrono Trigger, as it contains all of the nice quality of life updates from the PSX release, but minus the abysmal load times. In addition, it even adds MORE content over the PSX version, with a little Pokemon-style battle arena where you can level up and fight with your pets against other players, and there's several new post-game dungeons to explore. BUT unfortunately once again, not all is sunshine and rainbows here.
For one, the further added features of the DS version feel a little tacked-on and not all that interesting. The new dungeons resort to a lot of recycling content and repetition, and they aren't particularly satisfying to play. Second, the script was heavily retranslated for this release, slightly changing the characterization of many characters, and while I guess it's possible that this was done to make it technically more accurate to the original Japanese, it loses a lot of the charm and fun from the original script nonetheless.
Glenn's character was arguably done dirty the worst, as he completely loses his funny Old English dialect that he spoke in. Some fans of the DS port will argue that no one else in the middle ages spoke this way in the game, so it only makes sense to remove the dialect, but this was already largely accounted for in the original translation anyway, as Glenn only developed this form of speech after he was cursed into his frog form, inferring that he got it as a result of his transformation. Still some might say this doesn't make much sense either, but I'd like to remind you we're nitpicking over the finer technicalities of a talking frog-man in a silly anime game. If you really wanna get that anal about it, then why are the prehistoric humans even able to communicate with us at all? Shouldn't they be speaking a completely different language considering they're from 65 million years in the past? Just let me have my stupid Old English frog-man god dammit!
Erhmm, anyways, point is, ultimately this does somewhat come down to a matter of taste, but I think if anyone's really giving it a fair shake, they have to admit that the original translation was just more fun, and overall this simply feels unnecessary. The script was already serviceable enough before and really only needed minor touch-ups around the edges, not a complete rewrite. This aint no Final Fantasy VII rush job we're talking about here.
But that's not even the most egregious change to this port. What really tanks this port for me, is the inescapable piss yellow tint that seems to have somehow smeared itself across the entire game. Yes, that's right. Apparently someone at Square must have dropped the final build in the toilet by accident and forgot about it for a few hours before pulling it out for mass production. A lot of fans seem to have missed this, but literally every single sprite and background in the game has somehow suffered some weird color alteration that has resulted in the game's art style being severely impacted and the colors overall being dulled by this strange yellow filter. You can see in a direct side-by-side comparison that the original Super Nintendo version just has way more vibrance in its color palette.
Some have described this as an intentional "color correction", but I really have to question that, as I don't see how anyone could think it's an improvement over the original art style. They've just dulled everything with a blander faded look that is not at all faithful to the original game. My best explanations are that either something went wrong during the conversion process from Playstation to DS but it was subtle enough that none of the developers noticed, or perhaps they made these changes to accommodate the lighting of the DS screen in some way, but either way I think it would have been much better if they just left it all alone.
Its only saving grace here is that it may be easier to overlook these details on the smaller screen of the DS, so I guess if you can tolerate this and the major script rewrites, the DS version of Chrono Trigger isn't the worst thing you could go with, but I still think it's far from ideal, and definitely not the so-called "definitive" edition that many like to herald it as. Content-wise this may be the most feature-rich version of the game, but I'd argue that all of it is frankly unnecessary, as the original SNES version already felt like a complete game and didn't need any extra content to support it. These extras are just luxuries and nice-to-haves, so they aren't worth the cost.
Moving on, we have the mobile phone port next. Now things really start to get messy here, because the mobile port inherits the aforementioned discoloration issues from the DS port, but now with a mandatory pixel smoothing filter applied that results in some strange artifacting around the seams of tiles; making the game look strangely blocky and distorted in really jarring ways. This is of course now compounded with the toilet filter over everything. It also has a completely redone interface intended to accommodate smart phones, but as the developers seem to lack basic competency in art and UI design, the new interface doesn't seem to properly mesh with the original 16-bit art style. The font and menu backgrounds use a smoother higher resolution look while everything else around them remains classic 16-bit. It's a sloppy and ugly mish-mash of clashing art styles, making this arguably the worst version you could choose for playing Chrono Trigger.
And seriously, why the forced pixel smoothing filter? You're already on a mobile phone screen! The original art naturally fits with the small screen. It's not like you're stretching the pixels out on a 4K home theater system. There's just no point to it. What's particularly hilarious is that you can have a much better experience just downloading the free SNES9X-EX+ emulator on Android and playing the original SNES version through that, despite that this version wasn't even designed for phones in the first place. Just avoid the mobile port at all costs.
Calling on the gods to save us
You might now be holding out hope that the PC master race surely reigns supreme, and with their all-powerful teraflops and gigahertz, the PC port will unquestionably crush the competition. SPOILERS: Nope. In fact, the PC version is actually based on the fractally fucked mobile port, so it carries over many of the same issues from the phone version. You still have the piss yellow discoloration, the redone UI that doesn't match the original art style of the game, the retranslation that diminishes the charm of the characters, and the poorly-implemented pixel smoothing filter over all the sprites. There are even further broken visual effects that weren't present in the DS version, such as the time traveling warp effect or the fog and mist in the middle ages. So in essence, we're basically playing a port of a port of a port at this point that has gotten so broken over the years through compounding problems that were never properly addressed; it's all just become a complete mess.
Now there are at least a few advantages that the PC version has over the mobile port. In this version you are now at least given the option to disable the awful pixel smoothing filter, and it does have an improved font for the UI that blends in better with the rest of the game's aesthetic; though the menu backgrounds still don't look quite right among other things. The PC port also features cleaned up versions of the anime cutscenes that originally appeared with the PSX port, and they now look sharper than ever; though of course in typical Square fashion they still somehow managed to screw this up, as a couple of cutscenes are just missing entirely for no discernible reason, along with a few other bonus features from the DS port.
If you can imagine it, the PC version was actually even more broken on release than what I've just described here, but over the years they have at least managed to patch it in order to fix some of the more egregious issues... but even THIS they've managed to screw up, as some of the more recent patches have actually added NEW bugs to the game, such as a distracting screen-shaking effect when you move diagonally with your characters. One can only hope all of this gets addressed, but given how many issues persist with this port on top of legacy problems that were never addressed on other versions of the game, it is unlikely that all of it will even come close to being entirely fixed in the foreseeable future.
The Chrono Trigger PC port, which should in theory be the definitive version of the game, is instead just a clusterfuck of porting jobs that have carried over from one another to create this stitched-together mess. So now Chrono Trigger's in this weird situation where yeah, sure, there's modern ports of the game--it's on mobile; it's on PC--but they're all fatally flawed to various degrees, and they're not real options if you want an even decently-polished experience with the game. You would think this would be something so simple; just do a straight port of the original SNES game with the added features of the PSX and DS ports and you'd have a slam dunk version for modern audiences, but I can't personally recommend these ports in their current state.
Is there any hope?
So many of these changes to the game have been pointless. They didn't need to completely renovate the UI; they didn't need to change the color palette, and they didn't need to rewrite the whole script. And now there's so many people playing Chrono Trigger for the first time without even realizing that they're getting a severely compromised version of the game.
So, this is my big warning to everyone who might be wanting to get into Chrono Trigger in 2022. Just stay away from all these modern ports. Now you might be asking, OK then, so how should we play Chrono Trigger if we want to get our hands on it today? Well listen my friend, I know some tend to grab their pitchforks when it comes to piracy, and I'm not saying you should pirate it, but ya know... I'm saying you might want to grab an eye patch and uhh, maybe get some fresh air sailing the seven seas a bit until oopsie, you just so happened to bump into some lost booty containing a digital rom of Chrono Trigger for Super Nintendo. In Minecraft.
Seriously though, emulation really gets a bad wrap despite doing some important work for game preservation, and particularly when it comes to Super Nintendo games, it's not overly complicated to configure and get going, and there are now emulators available which can fully replicate the original experience, with perfect accuracy down to the individual CPU cycles and even recreating slowdowns that occurred on original hardware.
Cleaning up a classic
To show you just how easy it is to get Chrono Trigger up and running in an emulator, let's take a look at one example with BSNES. So the first thing you'll want to do after downloading BSNES is set your video settings correctly so that you can play the game in fullscreen and stretch the pixels as large as you can make them without distorting the aspect ratio. That might sound confusing to someone who may not be familiar with these terms, but all you have to do here is go to the Settings menu at the top and then under the Output setting, select "Scale" and make sure "Aspect Correction" is also enabled. Show Overscan Area should be turned off. Under the "Shader" menu in Settings, set this to "None".
Next we need to set the inputs. Go to Settings > Input... One nice feature of BSNES is that you can have multiple inputs bound for one player, so in other words, you can configure it so that you can easily swap between keyboard controls or a controller like an Xbox gamepad without having to constantly go back and rebind the controls, so if you forget or are too lazy to plug in a controller one day, you can just keep on gaming with your keyboard; no extra configuration necessary. If you don't really know what to set the controls to, I'll provide a set here that I use for keyboard, and you can tweak them to your liking from there if you want.
Also keep in mind if you're using an Xbox controller, the X and Y buttons as well as the A and B buttons are swapped around compared to a Super Nintendo controller, so make sure to take this into account when mapping your buttons.
At this point your game is basically already playable, though we'll still want to make a few more tweaks just to give us a smoother experience. Open Settings > Drivers... Make sure the video driver is set to OpenGL if it isn't already, then check the box for "Synchronize". This will turn on VSYNC which will eliminate a "screen tearing" effect that can sometimes occur on your monitor. Next we need to configure the audio. "waveOut" is fine for the audio driver, but the main things we'll want to set here are "Dynamic rate" and the latency setting. Leave "Synchronize" turned off for audio. Dynamic rate must be turned on instead when using VSYNC with the video driver. Lastly, you may have to do some testing for best results, but try to find an audio latency that is as low as your computer can handle before sound in your game starts to crackle or distort. In my case, I had to set mine to 192 for best results, and if you really don't feel like fine-tuning it, this is probably a safe setting to go with generally for most PCs.
And that should cover everything! BSNES is ready to go. You can start the game by going to the "System" menu and then "Load Game...", and finally press the F11 key on your keyboard to enter fullscreen mode. There are a couple of last notes I'd make about this though. BSNES has a few built-in pixel smoothing filters which can help make the games feel a little more modernized for the big and sharp displays of today. You can fiddle with them if you want, but I'd personally recommend the LQ2x filter for best results. It's going to smooth over the pixels a little bit without creating ugly seams like in the mobile port, while mostly retaining the look and feel of the game's original art style.
Lastly, if you happen to have a fancier 120 Hz monitor over the traditional 60 Hz, then you may need to do some additional tweaking by turning off synchronization with your video driver and manually setting adaptive sync with half refresh rate in your NVIDIA control panel, otherwise you may still get some video stuttering issues when in fullscreen. If you don't know what any of this means or whether you have a 120 Hz monitor or not, then chances are you don't even have to worry about this because your screen is not running with these settings turned on.
BSNES is one of the most accurate emulators on the block these days, but there are other options too which you may want to be aware of. SNES9X is another good pick as well. Despite being less accurate than BSNES, it's a little more feature-rich and has a few advantages. Particularly if you have a potato PC, SNES9X is going to run faster and is generally less taxing on your system. Another feature I like about it is its inclusion of the 2xBRZ pixel smoothing filter, which in my view is the best filter for SNES games out of the numerous I have tested over the years. It really helps give your game a nice HD look for modern displays without being too overpowering with its smoothing effect.
I won't get into a finer breakdown of how to set up SNES9X as it's more or less very similar to BSNES, but I can show you some of my basic recommended settings here.
Going overkill because we can
If you really want to go full galaxy brain like me, you can also download RetroArch as your emulation software of choice, but that's going to take a lot more involvement to set up than the other options here and may not be necessary for your needs. There are also many fan patches to the game available on romhacking.net which can address the few issues that the SNES version had. These can be installed using an app called Floating IPS, or FLIPS for short. My personal recommendation would be the Bugfix and Uncensoring patch, which restores missing dialogue from the original translation while keeping all the good stuff that the DS port removed, and it even fixes the old bugs despite that you're unlikely to run into them anyway. It's a nice quality of life update if you really want to go all out on the SNES version, but like I said before, this is all honestly overkill anyway, as the original game is perfectly playable with just a basic rom and competent emulator. I'm just letting you know your options.
And if you really are that hung up about swashbuckling on the open seas for a copy of Chrono Trigger, then by all means purchase the PC version on Steam anyway while still choosing to play the emulated version for a better experience. Then your conscience can be clear. I'm not a big fan of giving companies money for something that they did a poor job on myself, though if that's what you need to do in order to sleep well at night, more power to you.
One final option is that apparently fans have been working on a Chrono Trigger Restoration Project for the PC version, which supposedly aims to restore everything that was great about the SNES version while retaining the newer features of the later ports, but I haven't been able to find any screenshots or videos of it online to verify its quality as a mod, and as Square is still continually updating Chrono Trigger for PC as we speak, it's hard to say how stable the mod currently is since it may not always be updated to support the latest version of the port.
Hopefully people have found this exhaustive guide helpful, so you can enjoy Chrono Trigger with the quality and polish it deserves. Such a fantastic game shouldn't have such a complicated and troublesome history, but alas these are the cards we've been dealt. Now excuse me while I go fix the timeline so we can play the Chrono Trigger HD-2D remake that came out last year.