Status update: Gotten to Mystic Mountain 60,000,000 B.C. for the first time and have Ayla in my party. I want Chrono Trigger out of the way before I properly sink my teeth into Xenoblade Chronicles.
This has been a grand experiment for me. I've vocalised in other venues my general distaste for most JRPGs (the exceptions being Pok√©mon, which I can get it into because it is so customisable, and Mario & Luigi, which is flat-out great). Others have since persuaded me to try out the universally acclaimed Chrono Trigger, which I have been told is a good entry point into the genre. I don't think I'm 100% on board with that line of thinking.
At the moment, I'm teetering back and forth on whether I like Chrono Trigger. My lack of experience with Japanese role-playing games has definitely been a barrier, and despite putting several hours under my belt, I still don't have a really solid grasp on all of its systems.
On a positive note, the underlying theme of time travel works nicely, and leads to a neat parallel world dynamic akin to the Dark World in Link to the Past or the changing overworlds in the Oracle games. It's a lot of fun to visit the same location centuries apart and explore these recognisable places, observing all the little differences in the characters and the environment. It would be even better if it pushed you along in the right direction little more. I've had to consult a guide a couple of times to find out where to go, something I would ordinarily try to avoid doing. If this is supposed to be relatively linear by 16-bit RPG standards, I'm alarmed, as Chrono Trigger certainly does not funnel you down the critical path.
Now, let's talk battle mechanics. On paper and out of context, they look interesting, especially the Dual Techniques; in practice though, I'm flustered. Firstly, when I learned of the Active Time Battle concept that Squaresoft apparently pioneered in several of their titles, I took that to mean that it was more action-oriented than the usual turn-based format, similar to how timing plays into attack and defence in Mario & Luigi. However, it wasn't long before I had to disable this feature. Active Time Battle is still very much turn-based, it's just that if you aren't snappy with your decisions, the enemy can hit you twice before you hit them once. Sod that.
Secondly, what is up with the elemental alignments? I was hoping to utilise my Pok√©mon knowledge when they were first introduced, but the strengths and weaknesses of the elements do not work in a rock-paper-scissors fashion - rather, it works in pairs. So water triumphs over fire, but fire also triumphs over water. What the hell? That makes no logical sense, and while I imagine it's probably explained somewhere, I obviously missed that memo. When I have to peruse a guide because I don't understand something mechanical, there is a problem.
Finally, I was informed that Chrono Trigger is a rare RPG that doesn't require grinding, which is always a plus. Grinding is insidious in practically anything. Unfortunately, there have been a few brick walls so far, particularly the fight against Masamune.
I realise I'm being totally sacrilegious with my analysis of this cherished title. Do keep in mind that there are many aspects that I am more fond of. Your party is a unique, disparate bunch of characters, and I like that each one has a distinct style of speaking to reflect their personality and the time period they originate from. In addition, the soundtrack... absolutely stupendous. Even though I haven't delved into a lot of Square's back catalogue, I had a clear impression of what their music sounded like. Chrono Trigger has defied those expectations. Here is my favourite example:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHbF4t5Unrs
I have surround sound hooked up to my gaming rig, and this song, which you thankfully hear with frequency, sounds soooo good. Ah, that bass! This was highly unexpected the first time I hopped into a battle.