I’ve been procrastinating on part three of my rhapsodic waxing re: Chrono Trigger, but then Joystiq had to go and link me. Now I’ve got guilt. Alas, this will be the last of these for a while, regardless of guilt; my next two weeks are pretty much slammed, and I haven’t made it any further into my replay than is chronicled here. Between my review of Heroes of Mana due tomorrow and the release of Phantom Hourglass Thursday and our upcoming online exclusive first look at _____ _ and the fact that I’ll be penning the next EGM cover story (eep), I don’t really have a lot of Trigger Time. Or, uh, any other time, really.
But enough about my woes. Let’s talk about whoas.
The Village of Magic
Throughout the process of writing these CT blogs, I’ve found myself constantly wrestling with the urge to say “This is where the game really begins!” I guess that’s a good sign, as it suggests the game evolves organically; players are constantly given new options, new abilities, new story twists. Does the game really begin when you fall into the first time gate? When you enter the cathedral? Once you bust out of jail? Once you’ve reached the future? At the End of Time?
Let’s go with the End of Time, if for no other reason than it’s really the last time you can really make the claim that “it all begins here!” legitimately. I mean, we’re five hours into a 20-hour game, you know? Besides, in the End of Time, you’re informed of the three-member party mandate, granted the gift of magic, and given the freedom to move freely through time. So yeah. This is where the game really begins!
The End of Time means facing off against Spekkio (the Master of War, not to be mistaken for Kratos or Nic Cage), which unlock the party’s magical techniques and make additional double techs available, which is good. It also means that anytime you come across a Time Gate, both sides of the gate become linked by a platform in the west portion of the End. Having leapt from the far-flung future, the party suddenly has the option of leaping to the distant past (like, way distant — 60 million years, give or take) or back to the comfortable safety of 1000 AD. “Comfort” being a relative term, no doubt, what with the party being hunted as terrorists and all.
Another reason you can make the case for this being the “true” beginning of the game is because it’s where the game’s mildly non-linear elements start to poke their head through. There’s not actually much point in traveling to 60 million BC just yet, since all you can do is wander and fight, but the option’s there, which is certainly more than most modern console RPGs allow. Ultimately, though, the way forward is by heading home, sort of. By way of some monsters’ closet. (There’s a joke about bottling screams for electricity in here somewhere, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.) And through the Heckran cave, packed with creatures vulnerable only to magic.
Now it is the beginning of a fantastic story! Let make a journey to the cave of monsters!
The Hero Appears
After you visit old man Melchior for some important foreshadowing and Antipode the Heckran into submission, there’s not a lot to do in the present besides head to Leene Square and leap into the time gate, linking it to the End of Time as well. (I also recommend stopping along the way to snag the old man’s lunch. Now that the trial’s over and done with, to hell with anything so mundane as morality or consequences.)
The next leg of the game is, in an entirely roundabout way, a quest to recruit Frog. With the rescue of Queen Leene, Frog’s gone totally emo, hiding out in a hole in the woods and sulking about how he’s not worthy to be a hero. Meanwhile, as he feels sorry for himself, evil runs amok and countless thousands suffer and die. I mean, yeah, being cursed to look like a frog sure sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. Being physically revolting hasn’t stopped Carrot Top from living an upbeat life, for instance.
Granted, you don’t immediately realize that you’re trying to talk Frog into joining your party (and/or spending his inactive hours standing beneath a light post in a timeless void); that objective sort of develops out of the story. The team heads back to 600 BC to put a stop to Magus, whom they believe created Lavos as part of his war on humanity, and in order to do that they have to fight past Zenan Bridge. Along the way they learn about the “legendary hero,” who appears to be a kid of some sort but actually turns out to be a poseur who swiped Frog’s stuff. And of course, here they have their first encounter with Magus’ general Ozzie, leader of a triumvirate of tone-deaf, evil fiends.
Yes, Ozzie, Flea and Slash, aka Vinegar, Mayo and Soy Sauce — say what you will about Ted Woolsey’s translations, but I’ll fight a heavy metal pantheon over a bunch of condiments any day. The generals are clearly where the dev staff said, “Alright, Toriyama, these guys are all yours,” which is why they look like hybrids of DragonBall characters and sound like they should be refrigerated after opening. And I’m OK with that.
Of course, Ozzie turns out to be as much of a chicken-wuss as the so-called legendary hero, making Frog seem pretty noble in comparison, even though the latter is moping in a hobbit hole and listening to Dismemberment Plan albums (on vinyl, no doubt, for maximum pretension value) as he weeps softly to himself. He’s so self-involved he doesn’t even notice when Crono lightfingers his prized treasure, the haft of the ancient sword Masamune. Which is, curiously, a broadsword rather than a katana, indicating that Woolsey’s localization liberties weren’t always spot on. The blade of Masamune, by a totally crazy coincidence, is hidden away in a cave in the mountains where the not-so-legendary hero is seen scurrying to safety when the party arrives.
The trek through the Denodoro Mountains really plays up some of the more unique elements of the gameplay. For instance, you’re kinda boned if you don’t bring Lucca along; she’s the only character capable of using fire spells, which are necessary to weaken the nastier breed of mountain goblin. The need to soften up foes with a particular style or element of attack is seen throughout the game, but this is the first time it really plays a crucial role; if you don’t burn away the goblins’ hammers, they deal double damage and take only a fraction of the full power of your attacks.
Equally unique are the battle setups. While Chrono Trigger doesn’t inflict random encounters upon players, there are certain fights that simply can’t be avoided. Even then, the game tries to keep them interesting. Enemies are usually visible on screen before a fight, and sometimes you can skip right past them by behaving certain ways. The small dinosaurs near the time gate in 60 million BC, for instance, will fight if you run into them as they’re patrolling their turf, but if you stand still as they run past they’ll brush right up against you without going aggro.
And then there are those stupid freelancers, the sword-slinging crow dudes in the mountains; although they’ll fight you directly, they greatly prefer to antagonize other monsters by throwing rocks at them, provoking them to attack the party. It’s annoying, but definitely clever. Almost every battle in the game has a “story” to it, whether its the roly-poly pink guy being attacked by Gremlins in the hills north of Guardia or goblins being teased into violence by rogue freelancers or a sleeping guard in the cathedral. The preludes to battle make each area feel as though each encounter was carefully considered without bogging the pace down with excessive dialogue or cinematics.
Did I mention already that this is a great game? Yeah, OK then.
The Rare Red Rock
Once the upper half of the Masamune is collected (requiring the player to defeat its spirits, Masa and Mune, next in the line of bosses capable of turning combo techs against the party), Frog is still all despondent. So Crono hauls the broken sword to Melchior who sends the team a-fetch questin’ in the prehistoric past in search of a long-lost red stone necessary for the blade’s reforging.
This introduces the party to Ayla, a welcome break from the typical weakling RPG female stereotype. No healing magic here, and no furtively smacking an enemy with a puny staff or rod for a fraction of the hero’s damage; Ayla has the best physical growth stats of any character in the game and is usually the first character to start hitting for quadruple digits. Also, her combo techs with Crono are pretty much capable of destroying anyone’s face. And to top it all off, she’s somehow mastered the art of hairstyling, depilation and lipstick application, despite her inability to form a grammatically correct sentence. In short, she was Square’s first female bodybuilder.
Actually, that’s probably an unwise joke to make, since I’m pretty sure any female bodybuilder reading this could snap my body into three tiny pieces. Just, uh, just kidding. Ah ha hah.
Like any floozy worth her salt, Ayla has a raging party to celebrate the appearance fresh meat. Crono and his crew get totally wasted and wake up with hangovers, which is pretty impressive since Nintendo’s 16-bit censorship ensured they were slugging back “soup.” Once they each down a V8 and a raw egg, they discover that the neighboring fraternity totally staged a panty raid while they were passed out and swiped Lucca’s gate key in the process.
Next (in a few weeks): Footprints! Follow! | Thanks as always to VGM for the images.