If it looks like Chrono Trigger and smells like Chrono Trigger, it’s probably Chrono Trigger. Well, at least that’s what Zeboyd Games is banking on in their latest RPG. Drawing homage from so many different 90s RPG greats, does it have what it takes to roll with the big dogs AND be a solid indie title or is it simply a far cry and shallow copy of a time long past? Read on to find out.
A long time ago (2004 to be exact), one of the first perfect 10s I ever gave to any game was to Chrono Trigger. I was heavily criticized for this because a 10 shouldn’t be given out so easily. However, the reasoning I provided then will be the same thing I parrot now: “A 10 should belong to any game you absolutely cannot find fault in, no matter how hard you try. So please, tell me any one thing you would use to mark this game down with.”
Okay, it may not have been as eloquent, but the point was made. Chrono Trigger was an amazing game that aged well and it felt like no game since could possibly get down everything it did right. Even Chrono Cross, a follow up title riding on the coattails of Chrono Trigger, didn’t quite hit the mark. To be fair, it really had very little to do with CT since it was a sequel to Radical Dreamers, a very strange visual novel title that never made it to America for various reasons.
So before we continue, let’s talk about Zeboyd Games a little more. The first Zeboyd game I encountered was Breath of Death 7, a parodic, simple RPG that had various RPG tropes and was clearly meant to pay some homage to older JRPGs of the SNES era. The funny thing is as simple as it is, there’s actually a lot of good complexity within, such as the ability to retry fights, a heavy emphasis on strategy and buffs/debuffs, adaptive difficulty, branching skills upon level up, and so much more.
This trend continued onward and you could tell that with the release of each title (Cthulhu Saves the World as well as Penny Arcade Episodes 3 and 4) Zeboyd was growing and learning. So I absolutely nerdgasm’d when I saw he was working on an original scifi RPG title that looked a hell of a lot like Chrono Trigger.
And does it deliver? Well…yes and no. If you were expecting it to be the next CT, then no. If you accept it as a standalone experience that feels a lot like CT and pays homage to a bunch of other RPGs (as Zeboyd often does) AND is better than all of Zeboyd’s previous works, then hell yes it absolutely delivers.
Let’s dive into the most important aspect of the game: the combat. The combat is pretty much on point with what you would expect from CT, but with a few twists. Firstly, you can see and manipulate turn order. Second, yes, your characters run up and deal damage to enemies, so in a way it does feel like CT. However, you can take as much time as you want.
The game doesn’t penalize you for taking too long like it does in older Squaresoft RPGs. In other words, it’s almost like Final Fantasy X, but Chrono Trigger. As combat goes on, style increases, which increases damage for both enemies…and yourself. Style can be used for other things too that you’ll learn as the game goes on.
Every turn that goes by also adds a block to your hyper gauge. When full, you go into hyper mode where you do WAY more damage and this can (and should) be used in conjunction with a critical strike ability for massive damage. Many battles are won (and lost) by using efficient strategies (or lack thereof). Each character is radically different and offers many different types of abilities such as desperation abilities, suicide abilities, various buffs/debuffs, and what have you.
Speaking of which, desperation mode! If your HP drops below zero, your strength increases, but healing powers decrease. If you don’t win the battle or receive recovery that brings your HP back up to positive levels after that turn, you’re KO’d. This offers an interesting second chance/final stand moment depending on how you work your strategy.
Speaking of radically different characters, you have your main character (spy/hero class), a bounty hunter, a space cop, a dancing robot (I kid you not), a gunmancer, a space detective, and so much more. Now, since Zeboyd keeps up with modern RPG tropes, everyone levels at the same pace both in and outside combat, so you never have to worry about having to switch out peeps to keep them at the same level.
You can equip the abilities you want (up to 8 including a rest ability that charges your other abilities), items (which replenish after combat), and various abilities that are stored on shields that you equip as well. The key thing is there are MANY layers of strategy, which is something Zeboyd is excellent at.
So what about the story, music, etc.? The story is…well, it’s a little too straightforward. You work for an agency that tries to establish order, except it’s revealed that maybe they’re willing to do it through mind control, so you join the rebels, and yadda yadda. In many ways, I feel like the story isn’t weak, per se, but often takes a backseat to character introductions, combat, and Zeboyd’s newly refined artwork.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though (Arc the Lad 1 and 2 often had just enough story to advance the plot between one fight to the next and they were amazingly fun titles). The music, sounds, and graphics are on point. Also, there are cutscenes, which is a welcome new addition to Zeboyd’s repetoire of storytelling goodness.
Many may criticize that it’s style over substance, but I’d argue quite the contrary. The combat system is rather excellent and while the artwork doesn’t always hit the mark, it often does. Dialogue with NPCs is well fleshed out and the worlds (yes, plural) are massive, especially for a Zeboyd project.
Whereas I was expecting to get maybe 5 hours out of this (pretty standard for Zeboyd titles), I’m at roughly 15 hours now and not 100% sure how close to the end I am. Also, considering CT took about 12 to 14 hours to beat (ProJared proved this in a recent review), that’s damn impressive for an indie studio.
Zeboyd Games has really outdone itself this time. Is it on the level of Chrono Trigger? No, but does it matter? It feels like Chrono Trigger blended with Phantasy Star and lots of in-jokes. The art style doesn’t always hit the mark and sometimes it feels like the enemies are a little overpowered (at least in the higher difficulty levels), but it comes out feeling just right. This is a fantastic title that any oldschool JRPGer can’t help but fall in love with.
Overall Score (out of 10): 8.5