The following is from an actual letter that the Chrono Trigger: Crimson Echoes team received from Square Enix, and it’s definitely not something that we just made up for the purposes of this review:
Good afternoon, Gozer the Gozerian Crimson Echoes Team. As a duly designated representative of the city, county, and state of New York, I order you to cease any and all supernatural activity Chrono Trigger ROM hacking and return forthwith to your place of origin or to the nearest convenient parallel dimension.
It hasn’t always been sunshine and double-rainbows for the Crimson Echoes team. (In fact, it pretty much never was.) Square Enix decided to stop these kind fellows from developing an unofficial sequel to the acclaimed SNES RPG Chrono Trigger with a Cease and Desist Order, forcing them to destroy all work on the project. (Somehow, they decided it was OK to post YouTube videos of the game, with nice commentary showing what could have been.) Later, in (I believe) late 2009, a version of the game was leaked, but that contained only 70% of the full build.
Now, finally, an approximately 95% complete build of the game has been released, which is probably the closest we’ll ever get to the full version. Technically, it’s considered a ROM hack, so you’d have to own the original SNES version of Chrono Trigger in order to legally play it; but assuming you do, you should be able to find the game through Google.
So what was the team’s goal with this game? To create a solid interquel between Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross that explains how the universe got to where it is in Cross, expanding upon the cutscenes from the PS1 and DS versions of Chrono Trigger. Guardia fell to Porre, but how? Who took the Masamune? What happened to Schala to get her in the state we see her in Chrono Cross ? What happened to the Cathedral from 600 A.D.? Did Gato ever run out of Silver Points? Is that pink sack lunch always going to be available at the Truce fairgrounds? Does anybody mind seeing a flying DeLorean time machine throughout various time periods? All of these questions and more would be answered in the next episode of Chrono Trigger. Of course, that was the plan, anyway.
Enter King Zeal. Who’s King Zeal? Well, he’s the King of Zeal, obviously. You know, that guy who was never mentioned in either game? Surely, if there was a Queen Zeal, there must have been a King…right? Riiiiight? Yes. Well, King Zeal is back from….wherever he was hiding, and he’s now a major contender for the title of most ruthless bad guy around. But don’t worry: Chrono and the rest of the crew, even Magus, are here. Yes, this game assumes that you took the path of destroying Lavos in 1999 by crashing the Epoch into him (or at least, there’s no mention or use of the original Epoch), and Magus is still kicking, whether you like it or not.
Despite my joking about this mysteriously new King, the game definitely has a great plot. It takes the consequences of time travel way beyond what Back to the Future did. It really puts the added content in Chrono Trigger DS to shame. (The few misshapen dungeons and an extra boss in that game were not enough to justify the port, or even really tie the original game and sequel together, which is one of the reasons I was very exicted to play Crimson Echoes.)
The game’s title sounds like the next sequel in the Twilight series, or some other emo drivel. Even the chapters when you save the game sound weird, with names like “…And the Darkness at Noon,” “Murmurs of Red,” and “The Gray Forgotten” (the CE team must miss Michael Gray, too!). But don’t let that fool you at all; the team did a lot of fine work recreating the worlds we’re familiar with (both on the outer world and individual location maps), even creating brand-new eras and parallel worlds. I’m really hesitant to give more of the plot away, but just know you’re in for one hell of a ride. You’ll learn the consequence of changing the timeline, both within this game and from the original Chrono Trigger. The lines of good and evil will be blurred, and you’ll have to make some ethical decisions. It’s definitely a refresher from most RPGs, where you can’t make any real plot-based decisions. It’s like Chrono Trigger, Sliders, and Back to the Future combined.
Playthrough Part 1 of 92.
My main gripe is that so much of the game’s dialogue is generic, rather than tailored to your specific party members. Regardless of who’s in your party, the same things will be said by your allies in slots 1, 2 and 3. Even Crono talks a lot in this game. Crono! The explanation here is that, since Crono is not the main character in this game, he no longer meets the requirements of “the silent protagonist.” It’s dissapointing to me, because each character in the original had a lot of unique dialogue (or no dialogue), and I used to enjoy switching out characters just to hear what they’d have to say when talking to Crono’s mom, or giving away that beef jerkey to that woman. Glenn, however, does go back to his roots of non-Medieval speak, such as in the original Japanese release, as well as the English Nintendo DS port. No one besides him in 600 A.D. ever spoke in that tongue, so it makes sense, though it still seemed different to me here. I didn’t have as much of an issue with this when playing the DS port, but the DS port also had different names for all the items and techniques, which was enough to create a unique experience.
The game feels unfinished…which I guess makes sense, since it is. Mainly, it seems that the team wanted to replace Ayla with Schala as a playable character. This never happened, and Ayla is only with the team for a short time. By the time you finally get her, you’re not interested in her abilities, as she has no magic and it would take so much time to get her techs up. Chrono Trigger was fairly unique in that it required hardly any grinding to get your team’s strength up. In Crimson Echoes, however, I had to do a lot of leveling. This is most likely because some final balancing had yet to be completed for the final release. The balancing unfortunately suffers in some areas, particularly the parts where you must engage in solo battles as Marle. Marle has no new or modified techniques, and she simply was not meant to be a soloist. You’ll fight hard to get through some areas with the standard ice magic, and it’s definitely a chore. Also, the game supposedly has alternate endings, and while there is a New Game+ feature you can use even without beating the game, it’s not clear when you can actually go and beat the game early. Chrono Trigger had the telepod as well as the bucket at the End of Time to go straight to Lavos—I couldn’t find anything like that here.
The team also added some new features, such as an area with random encounters, a casino, and a battle arena that puts Final Fantasy VI’s coliseum to shame. There’s really solid story and gameplay here, and while the game does suffer due to lack of professional polish, it does push the envelope in the Chrono series, something that an official sequel probably wouldn’t do. For that, we should be grateful. These guys weren’t in it for the money or the praise. They wanted to give the fans what they wanted, and they were shot down for it. Surely Square Enix recognizes that there are people wanting more from Chrono, and yet they can only deliver a DS port with some hackneyed additional levels for a $40 price tag.
If you enjoyed Chrono Trigger, you definitely need to play through this game. It’s difficult to supplement what I consider to be the greatest game of all time, and these guys did a fantastic job. There’s a whole new parallel world out there, so get to it!