First, some good news: Square Enix just put out a surprise Steam release of Chrono Trigger, a stone-cold Super NES classic and one of the most revered games of all time. And now, some bad news: It looks like trash.
Like a lot of Square’s classic games, Chrono Trigger has found its way to plenty of platforms over the years. This is the first time it’s appeared on PCs, but this Steam release seems to be a repurposed dump of the version Square brought to smart phones, blown up to fit a computer monitor and given some prerequisite support for game controllers. The horrid looking menus, visible even in the game’s trailer, are the biggest giveaway; the simple SNES-generated fonts and text boxes of the original are replaced with a background and font that look straight out of Microsoft Word and badly clash with the game’s 23-year old graphics. These revisions come straight from the mobile version of Chrono Trigger, where they were used to help with touchscreen controls. That includes a big honking “menu” button that’ll now be hanging out in the corner of your game the whole time, even though this PC version has a proper pause button, whether on a keyboard or controller.
Unlike the glaringly altered menus, the game’s art could pass muster at first glance, but it too has suffered. It’s been passed through a filter to blur all the big beautiful pixels of the original 16-bit art, making the characters and backgrounds less defined and colorful than the way were in 1995. Game developer and Chrono Trigger fan Fred Wood posted a handful of comparisons on his Twitter feed, theorizing that the backgrounds and the characters were actually passed through two different kinds of filters, resulting in the strange, disjointed look that’s even present in the Steam version’s promotional screenshots.
This new Chrono Trigger is the latest in a string of disappointing rereleases from Square Enix, a publisher with a deep well of legitimate classics. It recently remade Secret Of Mana, another of its 16-bit landmarks, into an ugly 3-D modernization that, according to our colleagues at Kotaku, ruined everything about it. And Square’s been bastardizing retro Final Fantasy for years, bringing Final Fantasy VI, the most acclaimed game in the entire series, to phones with a tacky 2-D makeover and then, just as it did with Chrono Trigger, copy-and-pasting that version over to Steam. Final Fantasy V also received the same treatment.
Yes, all of these games still exist in other, better, and more faithful forms that, assuming you have the consoles to play them, aren’t terribly difficult to get your hands on. And no, a shoddy graphical touch-up isn’t going to erase everything that makes Chrono Trigger one of the most heralded games ever made. (Although, seeing those word-processor-font numbers popping out of monsters when you smack them is enough to make us queasy.) The problem here is that when a company releases a classic game for PCs, through Steam or any other digital store, it is bound to become a definitive, lasting interpretation of that game by virtue of the prevalence and accessibility of computers. They’re everywhere, and unlike a Super NES or a PlayStation 1 or a DS, all systems where Chrono Trigger is available, they’re not going to be replaced and turned into collectors’ items any time soon. And this version of Chrono Trigger, its ugliness immortalized on Steam’s servers, doesn’t deserve to be the one that’s just a few clicks away from anyone looking to experience it for the first time.