This sequel to Chrono Trigger was 98% done and in development for 5 years. Everybody likes it. IT got a 4.7 out of 5.0.
Lets look beyond those and look at the game itself, the parts that were actually completed. The plot line weaves a very compelling main narrative in which the heroes are summoned to put a stop to King Zeal. How was he resurrected? It turns out to be a friend rather than a foe that did the deed. While the original Chrono Trigger plotline focused on bending the rules of time to protect history, this sequel has much heavier undertones with regards to the consequences of one’s actions in time. The party triggers a timeline change in the past while battling King Zeal, and must consign an entire future of Reptite Kingdoms that spawned from the change into nothingness. Crimson Echoes does a terrific job of bridging the gap from Chrono Trigger to Chrono Cross in it’s storyline. It doesn’t do quite as well at wrapping up the loose ends. For instance, a sidequest to start Lucca’s orphanage was left woefully underdeveloped and felt tacked on, while the game’s idea of why Crono and Marle wind up appearing in Chrono Cross will make you think of the term “magic bullet” pretty quickly.
The aesthetic changes will either leave you cold or strike you as good ideas. One of each from me: I don’t mind at all that Crono learns to talk in this game, and as I read up on the reasoning behind it, where the group wanted multiple characters to shine, it struck me as a fairly well-thought out plan. On the other hand, Frog loses his middle ages accent and text because it isn’t there in the Japanese version of the game. While that’s all well and good, he loses a lot of his character in the switch. His dialog rings hollow and he speaks at times in a way that makes you wonder why the change was made at all. I don’t have any problem with them making him a little less stereotypical, but there are ways to do that without making it feel like he loses who he is in the process. I just felt like I had a stranger in my party.
One of my big pet peeves with Crimson Echoes is the amount of original areas made inaccessible. I don’t need every place in the world to be a gateway into a new sidequest, but would it have been so hard to keep the Dactyl Nest or the Denadoro Mountains in 600 A.D.? Post some guards out at the gate and come up with a magic bullet idea about why the party isn’t allowed in if need be. It just feels weird to navigate familiar world maps without access to every area. You’ll look for openings in mountains for minutes before you realize that something is gone. Then when some areas are beaten, they simply vanish from the World Map as if they never existed. Awkward.
The basic game play is unchanged, but through a lot of the game you’ll feel like the difficulty has been knocked up a notch. Partially this is because it has, but actually it’s because for a lot of the early game you don’t have three characters in the party most of the time. If you thought the Black Omen was difficult, try having to go through an entire forest when your party is Marle solo. You start learning just how many Ice spells it takes to kill an enemy pretty quickly, because there are a lot of eight minute battles involved. Some characters are given new moves, but mostly they retain their earlier skills. Magus got a pretty good makeover in terms of his learned skills, mostly because he loses all the multi-target elemental spells, but the characters as a whole average around two or three skills changed up.
One of the best things the game has going for it are the new areas and maps. The Reptite timeline has a slew of wonderful designs, and Singing Mountain is an incredible dungeon. They pass the smell test for sure, and you never question whether they are part of the game or not. At least after you find it, in Singing Mountain’s case. The final dungeon did a terrific job of integrating the idea of The Dead Sea from Chrono Cross with the sixteen-bit technology of Chrono Trigger. Wander too far off the map and you’ll suddenly find yourself moving from a castle that you erased to a portion of 2300 A.D. that died after you beat Lavos in Chrono Trigger.
I’d say this game rates a solid 8.3-8.4 on my scale. The flaws are very noticeable, but it’s hard to keep down a main storyline that’s this good. Contrast this to say, Final Fantasy 4’s The After Years, which could only be considered a truly good game if you played it with nostalgia, and I think you’ll find that Crimson Echoes is a better game. I wouldn’t call it a must-play, but if you still harbor any feelings for Chrono Trigger, I think it’s worth the 40-50 hours it will take to finish and the 2-3 hours it takes to find a copy of the 98% version. It’s a very ambitious vision that is still completely playable even though it wasn’t finished.