WARNING: this editorial contains some major spoilers of the two title games, Chrono Trigger DS and The World Ends With You. You’ve been warned.
The World Ends With You
North America Release Date: April 2008
Chrono Trigger DS
North America Release Date: November 2008
(originally released in 1995 on SNES)
The intrepid staff at Nintendojo has devoted its recent space to the celebration of Nintendo DS and its extraordinary library of games. The system’s titles include a star-studded collection of adventures, puzzlers, sports titles, and, yes, even the occasional first-person shooter. DS is also home to a robust collection of role-playing goodness, including a healthy collection of remakes and an equally impressive collection of original titles. Just an offhand listing of a few of the greats emphasizes just how deep this library is: Final Fantasy IV, Disgea DS, Suikoden Tierkreis, Shin Megami Tensei, every Dragon Quest game ever conceived… well, you get the idea.
Among DS RPGs, two of them stand out to me. The World Ends With You seemed an unlikely hit when it was released; its setting was the unfamiliar streets of Tokyo and its edgy punk style seemed totally antithetical to traditional role playing fare. Yet Jupiter’s project proved to be one of the most original RPGs of the last decade, with an overall package that was at once thoughtful and tense. Chrono Trigger DS, meanwhile, is anything but anonymous. The 1995 SNES title Chrono Trigger has long been a player in “best game of all time” discussions, and the DS remake keeps intact that same wondrous epic (with a few new extras, even) on the dual screen.
As both games are true classics, and both were released by Square-Enix in 2008, it seemed fitting to take this opportunity — some two-plus years later — to put them head-to-head and see how they stack up. Without further ado, here we go:
The World Ends With You was designed from the ground up for DS, and given what the game asks of the system, it acquits itself quite nicely. The combat plays out furiously on both screens seemlessly and simultaneously, and while the attack effects aren’t always mind-blowing, the graphics never trip up the experience. The game also boasts a real sense of style, with a cast of characters and villians brilliantly designed and executed. Add into that a bustling Shibuya district and you have a really wicked visual playground upon which the story plays out.
Chrono Trigger DS is essentially a graphical port of its 1995 ancestor, and while it still holds up well on DS, there is also a bit of a sense that this was a lost opportunity. Other Square-Enix remakes, such as Final Fantasy IV, got a visual overhaul and while some purists might have balked at tampering with the original Chrono formula, I feel like spiced-up polygons would have really made for a fresh take on the journey (not to mention justify Square-Enix’s pitiable cease-and-desist of the Chrono Resurrection project). The game does get some compensatory points for the integration of stylish anime cutscenes courtesy of the 1999 Chrono Trigger PlayStation version, but that isn’t enough in my mind to give it the edge in this category.
Edge: The World Ends With You
This is a tricky subject, because the games’ soundtracks are so wildly different that comparisons border on being an apples-to-oranges. The World Ends With You, for its part, really ventured into new territory with its soundtrack, building its game against the backdrop of Japanese-influenced hip-hop and technopop. The collection ranges from the smooth and ethereal to the chaotic and features some of the most extensive vocalized gaming music you’re liable ever to find outside of an EA sports title. Unlike Madden, however, The World Ends With You’s music is wholly original in its composition– this is no piecemeal collection of kitschy Billboard hits– which means the game’s sountrack fits the game’s mood much smoother for it. As an added bonus, the developers even managed to cram in a few voice clips into the mix as well.
And then you’ve got Chrono Trigger, whose sountrack is really the stuff of legend. Composed primarily by Yasunori Mitsuda, the soundtrack epitomizes everything an epic score ought to be, with tracks to suit just about every scenario, whether it be the foreboding Fiendlord’s Keep, the whimsical Millenial Fair, or boss battles that really feel like the fate of the world is on the line. Arguably the best song in the game, “Chrono Trigger,” was already awesome on SNES, but the DS version’s opening montage (itself borrowed from the PlayStation version), is even better, something I would have previously assumed impossible.
In the aural category, I have to give the slight edge to Chrono Trigger. As good as The World Ends With You is scored, the choice to use modern pop also leaves it more prone to being dated in the future, something I think detracts from its overall place among the DS elite. I also think the music at times felt less like a score where players had a rendevous with destiny and more like a night out with the DJ; it just wasn’t always the kind of music one would associate with moments of intense storyline gravity.
Edge: Chrono Trigger DS
When it comes to the actors, the two games forage off into different directions. At least, that is for the most part — both games do have the rather odd parallel of having erstwhile villans (Magus and Beat) join the heroes at opportune times. The similarities, though, pretty much end there.
Chrono Trigger DS features an ensemble cast, a veritable “Magnificent Seven” of heroes from across time to face off against a formidable group of enemies, not the least of them being the alien scourge Lavos. Each of the heroes in the game gets their own moment at some point in the game, a place where backstories are told and motivations revealed. The lead, Crono, is a prototypical sword-wielding spiky-haired silent protagonist, but the emotions that come to the fore when he is killed really testify to his endearing contributions to the story.
The World Ends With You, conversely, has fewer protagonists — the main character plus three different partners. The lead, Neku, is a rather irritating brat who borders on antihero territory at times during the adventure, although he also undergoes his own personal evolution through his trials. His partners each have their own distinct personalities and motivations as well, and it is a tribute to their development that the first two are sorely missed upon their departure.
Really, I think things are pretty close in the hero front, but I have to give the edge to Chrono Trigger DS on the villian front. Yeah, some of the bad guys in Neku’s world are pretty heinous, but the villians of Chrono Trigger — Queen Zeal, Dalton, Azala, Ozzie — prove to be a more memorable bunch as a whole.
Edge: Chrono Trigger DS
This is maybe the toughest category for me to adjucate. The World Ends With You is a potent story of a boy trying to escape a deadly game; Chrono Trigger is an epic tale of a boy trying to save the future. The World Ends With You employs the use of time in the form of a seven-day survival story; Chrono Trigger employs the use of time travel. Both games have major, unexpected plot twists that involve the (apparent) loss of major characters — players have to cope with the loss of Chrono in Chrono Trigger and the loss of Shiki in The World Ends With You.
As a whole, each game’s storyline has its virtues and vices. The World Ends With You is probably the deeper of the two games, with more plot twists and more intrigue. It is also more convoluted and occasionally hard to follow. Chrono Trigger DS is a much simpler plot overall, which, while a great romp, isn’t as nuanced as The World Ends With You. The game does, however, make up for some of that with its new post-endgame Dimensional Vortex chapter, which helps create better cohesion between it and Chrono Cross.
In short, both games are quite good here and have their individual strengths, enough so that picking a clear winner in this category is pretty difficult.
In contrast to story, this may be the easiest category for me to decide. Chrono Trigger DS certainly is well put-together game, anchored by a reliable Active Time Battle combat system that eschews random battles and incorporates two- and three-character attacks. The time travel mechanic is fun, espcially in the later stages of the game, and the game’s many locations and dugeons are wonderfully varied. Even the newly added arena battle system, while a bit tacked on, is nice bit of fun that puts local wireless to work.
That said, the sheer depth of and breadth of gameplay in The World Ends With You makes it one of the deepest experiences on the system this side of Infinite Space. The main world is expansive, the volume of fasionable equipment is mind-boggling, the “pin” development system is robust, and the way the game manipulates time (players get pin points between play sessions based on how much time has passed) and local wireless (passing by other active DS systems or other wireless phenomena can lead to bonus items) makes the game feel like it exists even when the system is closed up. Maybe the best microcosm of The World Ends With You’s superiority, though, lies in the one area they hold in common– the New Game +. Now, to be fair, Chrono Trigger deserves plenty of praise for pioneering the idea in the first place, and it may smack as cheap to knock Chrono Trigger when The World Ends With You was developed over a decade later. Even so, the replayability of the latter is huge, with bonus goals for each level, is a real feather in the game’s cap. Chrono Trigger DS gets bonus points for the aforementioned Dimensional Vortex elements, especially given it’s storyline connections, but that component alone isn’t enough to make up the difference.
Edge: The World Ends With You
It’s interesting to step back and look at how things ultimately sifted out. The World Ends With You took the edge in the visual and gameplay categories, while Chrono Trigger DS won out in the sound and characters department. I scored them a push in the realm of story. Given my high level of esteem for both games, I guess I’m not surprised that they would finish with an even 2-2 (with one tie) at the end. In one sense I think that is a credit to Chrono Trigger‘s design, which is so profoundly good that its 15 year-old design stacks up quite well to the newer, sleeker The World Ends With You. On the other hand, I think it is equally laudable that the that the latter does not dwell in the shadow of one the best games ever made. Both are outstanding components of a DS library that I think is the strongest of any system the last five years, particularly where RPGs are concerned.