Game Description: Combining the highly acclaimed titles Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy Chronicles offers fans a nostalgic journey back in time to relive a part of gaming history. Final Fantasy Chronicles features the best original elements of both titles, like groundbreaking epic storylines and memorable casts of characters, along with all new features that will delight every fan.
Final Fantasy Anthology seemed to be just what the doctor ordered for old-school role-playing game (RPG) fans like me. After seeing what Square did with the Japanese version (called Final Fantasy Collection), I was more than a little excited to see the game on these shores. Needless to say, when the US version arrives featuring only two of the three promised games—with only a mediocre music CD as a replacement for the third—I was very vocally imparted my disappointment in my review. I simply could not understand how Square could leave out my favorite RPG in Final Fantasy IV (Final Fantasy II in the US). At around the same time, there was noise being made over Squares decision not to port yet another Super NES (SNES) RPG that fans were clamoring for. That game was Chrono Trigger, widely believed to be the best console RPG of its time. Now, after quite a bit of time has passed, Square has either succumbed to pressure from activist RPG fanatics or just decided to throw consumers a bone. Whatever the reason, Square decided to bring closure to this saga and released both SNES RPGs together in a package dubiously called Final Fantasy Chronicles.
I say with great pride that I still have a working copy Final Fantasy IV (again, known here as Final Fantasy II) though it has been a while since I actually played it. I was worried that playing Final Fantasy IV after going through Final Fantasy VIII, Chrono Cross, The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, and The Legend Of Dragoon, wouldn't hold the same magic it always had. But once I began playing Square's PSX adaptation, it was like I was 16 again and playing RPGs for the first time. All the familiar pings and clunks of the midi-format sound effects are here—as is the wonderful musical soundtrack that helped make the game famous. The super-deformed little people are still in the game; they still walk in place and are incapable of more than two frames of animation. The story is still deep and melodramatic and the cast is the same eclectic bunch that I have always adored. And last but not least, the same random battles that I can no longer tolerate in today's games are as ever present as before—did I mention that you still collect gold from wild animals? That's what makes Final Fantasy IV what it is and that is what has been faithfully ported over to the PlayStation.
Final Fantasy IV won't win any awards for graphics or sounds—decidedly 16-bit (thus primitive by today's standards)—but no one should be expecting anything more than that at this point. In what I believe to be an unnecessary attempt to keep things fresh, Square added some computer generated (CG) cut-scenes to the mix. They are not as detailed or elaborately rendered as those in Square's recent RPGs, but they do at times make the game look more dated, not less. Then again, they are not nearly as intrusive as those in, say, Final Fantasy VIII, so in the end they are not that big an issue.
Square made some other additions to this port that fans will surely love. The original Japanese version has been translated instead of porting the Americanized (and dumbed down) version that appeared on the conservative, family-friendly SNES. That means that the infamous dancing scene (strip tease) is available for all to see. Whether this is a good thing or not is debatable—for the record, it is not nearly as risqué as I had secretly hoped—but I do appreciate Square not jilting gamers a second time. The dialogue has been rewritten so that it flows much more fluidly and the overall difficulty of the game has been improved as well for a more challenging experience. What I certainly didn't expect but relish completely is the addition of a run button. Speed was always an issue with me in Square's 16-bit RPGs. Searching areas could slow the pace of the game down to a crawl, but now I could practically zip through towns, dungeons, and caves with relative ease.
What isn't particularly great in the move to the PlayStation is the presence of load times. Never an issue with Nintendo's speedy ROM carts, Final Fantasy IV now pauses to pull data off the CD-ROM and when loading or saving to the memory card. Granted the wait (mere seconds) is not as horrendous as, say, Final Fantasy VIII, but given the primitive complexity of the graphics (save for the CG, full-motion video cut-scenes), I was expecting the CD-ROM to be accessed more quickly or not at all. There is also the issue of slowdown in the game during battle. Whenever I tried to manage menus during a fight, the game would slow down considerably. It's perplexing to see the PlayStation having problems handling bitmapped graphics, but I can only conclude that its a matter of shoddy programming.
Square's second offering, Chrono Trigger, came closer to the end of the SNES's era and runs as a stark contrast to Final Fantasy IV and the entire Final Fantasy series. It was the result of a unique collaboration between the best and brightest in their respective fields. It was dubbed "Dream Project" internally, bringing together Final Fantasy creator, Hinorobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest's Yuji Horii, and Akira Toriyama, creator of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. Its unique story, interesting characters, and winding storyline (complete with multiple endings) made it a hit with fans. Many have gone so far as to proclaim it the best console RPG ever made. But in playing Chrono Trigger, I realized just how special a game it really was. Seeing this game in action is to see just how close Square came to taking the traditional console RPGs in a totally different direction. In addition to eliminating random battles; party members also don't ceremoniously line up on one side of the screen for each and every battle; and seeing party members teaming up against enemies for more powerful attacks are the norm. Square, however, fell back on their conventions of the Final Fantasy series—conventions that have long since gone stale, but are continuously resurrected by Hinorobi Sakaguchi and his development crew.
Chrono Trigger not only threw out some standard RPG conventions, it also added some new ones. Yes, random battles are not an issue as enemies are always on screen for you to see and avoid or encounter at will, but how you battle against them is markedly different for a game outside the action-RPG genre. Members of a party are spread out on the battlefield, many times positioned right next to enemies. This calls for some strategy as the proximity of an enemy to anyone in the group or people in the party can influence the effectiveness of the attack. For example, characters in the game skilled at long range weapons are less effective when up close and attacking with clubs.
Positioning also plays a part in how many characters can be used in an attack. Chrono Trigger uses a unique tag-team feature that, given the staleness of the battle systems of today's RPGs, seems practically revolutionary. Up to three members can combine their attacks, magic, and weapon-based attacks for a truly devastating blow. The designers got really creative with these combinations and since they predate full-motion video, they are easy to watch over and over again. The magic spells are not as extensive as past and present RPGs, but depending on how they are used, they definitely add variety to the gameplay in a way that other games have not.
What was truly surprising was how well Chrono Trigger held up visually. Even on my big screen TV, which I've learned is great for DVD movie viewing but unforgiving to low-resolution video games, the relatively primitive bit-mapped graphics are still quite beautiful. In some areas, you can clearly see the ingenuity and graphical talent Square has long possessed (that also helped make it the highly touted developer it is today). The additional cel-animation (added in its porting to the PlayStation) was the gravy to an already hearty meal. It fits the game perfectly and, if nothing else, gives us a better look at the excellent character designs of Akira Toriyama.
The sounds in Chrono Trigger (and Final Fantasy IV for that matter) are a lot rougher than I remember. There are a lot of muffled background noises and special effects that are hard to ignore now that my ears have been spoiled by CD- and DVD-based games. The music, on the other hand, is still extraordinary. I would dare to say that it surpasses some of today's RPGs. Chrono Trigger also comes with some extra modes to make fan boys happy. As the game progresses, musical tracks, movies, and even game art will become accessible. This is a feature I wish were available in more of today's RPGs, especially the FMV-heavy Final Fantasy series.
Despite my high overall praise, this port is not without a few blemishes. Chrono Trigger suffers from some very annoying load times. They are worse than Final Fantasy IV's because they happen right when you want things to move the quickest. When entering or exiting a battle, the screen will pause for a second or two while the battle is loaded to or unloaded from memory. It's worse when trying to access the item menu screen for the all important inventory management. And don't get me started on saving and loading games from the memory card. I can understand some time being taken to access the memory cards given their speed limitations, but we're talking about a game that is over half a decade old. How can the PlayStation have such a hard time handling 16-Bit data?
It's not that I am not happy to see both Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger released at once, but as collections go this is what you would call a no-frills release. It would have been nice to see it receive some special treatment as both the Japanese Chrono Trigger port and Final Fantasy Collection did over a year ago. Here we dont get any of the music CDs or commemorative materials that our Japanese counterparts received for roughly the same price. Also, it didn't escape my notice that Square was actively promoting Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy: The Sprits Within in the packaging. Given the release date of the movie and hype surrounding the PlayStation2 game, I was surprised that there was not even a preview movie of either of these eagerly anticipated releases. At the very least it would likely have helped Square sell more copies. This final point may be nitpicky, but what's the deal with the name? Why is it called Final Fantasy Chronicles? Chrono Trigger is not a Final Fantasy game. Why not call it Square Soft Chronicles?
All in all, Final Fantasy Chronicles is an imperfect release that is just perfect for the nostalgic gamer like me. Though a long time coming, these titles are an ironic breath of fresh air in a genre laden with rip-offs and derivative sequels. No matter what camp you occupy—be it the RPG newbie or seasoned veteran—you won't find two finer examples of this genre than Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger.
After reading Dale's coverage of Final Fantasy Chronicles and being assigned the task of doing the Second Opinion, I was strongly tempted to simply write "Ditto" and call it done.
Dale has pretty much hit both nails on the head when it comes to the two games presented in this compilation, and theres not a lot that I can say that wouldn't be simply repeating what hes already written.
Interestingly, I will say that I was actually a bit fearful of doing this review. The reason for this was that despite my love for games that I consider "classics", I dont harbor any illusions about the fact that often the memory of something is greater than the thing itself. How many times have you gone back to experience something you had fond memories of, only to regret doing it after finding that the reality wasnt as good as what was recorded in your head?
Fortunately, such is not the case with Final Fantasy Chronicles. Unlike so many other "classics", RPGs are uniquely fortunate in that they seem to hold up better over time than other genres-- and I cant think of any examples more suited to stand the test of time than Final Fantasy IV (FF4) and Chrono Trigger. Despite the minor technical issues of loadtimes and some skipping music tracks, they remain two world-class RPGs perfectly showcasing the talents of SquareSoft while still at their creative peak. Like Dale, I was outraged when I heard that FF4 had been left out of Squares Anthology package, and their continued reluctance to bring over Chrono Trigger (debatably the internets most sought-after RPG) has never made any sense. Despite the misnamed final product, Final Fantasy Chronicles ended up solving both of these problems simultaneously, and is a much better value for gamers than the first release, in my opinion.
Besides the technical issues Dale has already mentioned, Chrono Trigger seems strangely easier than I remember it being back in the days. Im not sure if my RPG skills have improved, or if being older just puts a different perspective on things, but the difficulty level of it feels a lot lower than I recall. (No senility cracks, please.) In any case, this is a good thing, since it doesnt feel like Im doing any unnecessary leveling up, and the pace flows right along.
However, FF4 has some very noticeable differences compared to the SNES version. (One of my top ten games of all time.) One of the biggest changes is that this is the Japanese version of FF4, not the same one we previously received here in the USA. Notable things different between the two include lots of new items which are fairly mysterious since the games book doesnt give the usual informational rundown. Almost all the characters have some new abilities like Paloms "Bluff", or Rosas "Pray". Also, many of the names and terms have been changed. Snake Road is now Devils road, the town of Toroia is now Troia, and sadly, my favorite evil character from the game- Kainazzo- has had his name changed to Cagnazzo. These changes will be most noticed by people who have played the original, but in general I think that the additions (restorations, rather) improve the game.
The one thing that I dont like about the new version is that it is harder than the original. While some hardcore players will call the SNES version "dumbed-down", the pace and flow if it was utterly flawless with no extraneous leveling up since the characters gained enough experience simply traveling between areas. Playing through it again, Ive run into several spots that I remember being easy, and then getting my posterior handed to me by enemies that hit harder and bosses that have gained new attack modes. (2x Attack plus Haste? Where the heck did that come from?) Its still a superior RPG, but I think the delicate balance between flow and difficulty has been thrown off a bit.
All in all, not a person in the world can consider themselves well-rounded or knowledgeable RPGers if they havent spent time with these two games. Without a doubt, they are among the best of the best. While the visuals have certainly been eclipsed on newer systems, the core play and ideas here are as solid as any console role-player could hope for. With two titles of this caliber for one price, passing on this release simply isnt an option. Getting schooled on the classics has never been so much fun.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Mild Violence, Suggestive Themes
Final Fantasy Chronicles is a MUST for Square fans who picked up Final Fantasy Anthology and therefore missed out on Final Fantasy IV. Having a chance to play Chrono Trigger would be reason enough to pick up this collection.
Newbie gamers, who refuse to believe RPGs didn't begin with Final Fantasy VII - Final Fantasy IX and The Legend Of Dragoon should pick up these titles for perspective alone.
Chrono Cross owners should pick up this release for a chance to see how the series got started.
PlayStation 2 owners may find some relief from Final Fantasy Chronicles' load times thanks to the PS2's fast-loading feature. Though it helps speeds things up mildly in Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV suffers from choppy -- and sometimes missing -- music and video.
PSOne owners should be aware that reports are swirling of problems with the Final Fantasy IV disc not working on PSOne consoles. Square has not come up with a solution to fix this problem.
eBay auctioneers should start weeping now. Fans no longer have a reason to shell out $80 for the 16-Bit versions of either game.
Parents should be aware that these games now feature some mature themes -- like a stripping dancer. It's nothing graphic given the simplistic low-resolution graphics, but it is there so be forewarned.