Retro Reanimation, part 4a

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…or Why I Think Chrono Trigger is the Greatest JRPG I’ve Ever Played!

It’s my junior year of high school.  I had made friends with this kid who transferred in from out of state named Bob Kimmel.  He was…strange…to say the least.  He introduced me to a whole new realm of gaming:  tabletop RPGs (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons to be specific) and collectible card games (Magic: The Gathering).  He wanted to start a gaming group after school so we could all get together and play and unwind after school was out.  It’s the first official day of Gaming Club and I only recognize one girl that was there because she was in one of my classes that semester.  I took a seat and, since I didn’t know anyone there, decided it was “study time”.  I pulled out the official Chrono Trigger strategy guide from Nintendo to brush up on what it was I was going to do next in the game when I got home when I caught the attention of two other kids in the room that would turn out to be lifelong friends once school was over and done.  I had no idea that this one small moment would be such an instrumental moment in my life until many, many years later…

Still have the official guide after all these years!  I keep it safe and sound inside my home made guide.

Chrono Trigger has long been a favorite RPG of mine and is definitely in my personal top 10 games of all time.  It’s also been one of the games that I judge other JRPGs by, to see if it stacks up to this game’s greatness (they rarely do for me).  I wanted to play this game again and share my thoughts on it, but since I don’t have my original SNES cartridge from back in the day (and boy do I wish I did) I’m replaying/reviewing the Nintendo DS version.

The sound of the pendulum takes me back.

The Dawn of Time

The game begins just like I remember it back in the day with Crono being told by his mother to wake up so he can go to the Millennial Fair.  After several minutes of play and random conversations with everyone I can see, I noticed that all of the dialogue has been re-written!  I don’t like this one bit, even if it does clarify what some people are trying to say at certain points in the game.  You don’t mess with perfection!  The Engrish translation (such as it was) was part of what made the game special and unique.

I also have noticed that they’ve changed the names of almost every item in the game (Tabs are now Capsules, Revive is now Athenian Water and so on).  I don’t really like this either simply because it’s a bit confusing when I need to use a specific item during combat.  I’m also not a huge fan of the DS mode (though it is growing on me) for the game even if it does keep the top screen uncluttered during combat sequences.  At least the mini map on the lower screen will help with navigation.  The mini map is cool and kind of annoying at the same time because I’m one of those players that won’t leave an area until it’s completely filled in on the map.  The character screens (I often refer to these things in every RPG as character sheets because of how much I used to do tabletop gaming) have been redesigned for the better I think.

I always loved that you could customize what color/design you wanted for the command windows and that you could set the cursor to “remember” what the last thing you chose was, that always made combat go by much faster than other JRPGs where you had to continually move the cursor where you wanted from a set or home position.

It still bothers me that the game is called Chrono Trigger but the lead character’s name is spelled Crono.  I don’t really know why that bothers me, but it does.

The soundtrack to this game is definitely among my most favorite 8 bit soundtracks of all time.  Each track invokes an emotional response of some kind from me every time I hear them:

May years ago when I came across the site OCRemix, I used to spend many hours downloading any and every Chrono Trigger track there that I could find and listening in amazement at what people from the community had created.  After a while, they put together a symphonic album of songs made by the community.  The final track, The Place We Knew, still brings a tear to my eye and always finds a place on my iPod.

http://ocremix.org/album/7/chrono-trigger-chrono-symphonic

Chronology

Overall, Chrono Trigger is one of my most loved games of all time: the story, setting, play controls, animations, characters and music are (in my opinion) simply the best or as close to perfection as it gets.  Reliving this story always makes me happy (even if having to start from scratch doesn’t).

Why did you change the song?!

Starting off the game running around the Millennial Fair was always fun.  Running into Marle and taking her to see Lucca’s invention when the time comes is so cool.  This event, this moment, is the catalyst.  This is the point that is the chain reaction that ends up saving the world from Lavos in the end.

…oops.  That wasn’t supposed to happen.
Always did think this was one of the coolest transitions I’ve ever seen in a game.

It is rather convenient that Marle ends up being sent to the past at the same point in time that Queen Leene has gone missing because she’s been kidnapped by monsters, but sometimes you gotta go where the plot takes you, right?  I always thought it looked cool how there was always a mist or a haze in the air in 600 A.D. but it was never there in 1000 A.D.  Finding Marle is pretty simple since she’s been taken to the castle and mistaken for the queen.  What isn’t simple is what happens next.  She disappears right in front of your very eyes since the real Queen Leene is still in danger and everyone in the castle, funnily enough, never bothers to enter the queen’s chambers after she vanishes and make sure she’s ok after some random kid with a punk hairdo wanders in to see her.  I still find this weird to this day.

Also, the rivalry between these two was weird, almost to the point of being homoerotic.

600 A.D. is also where we run into Frog (a.k.a. Glenn) who helps Crono and Lucca search for the real Queen Leene.  Frog has never been one of my favorite characters in the game, at least he wasn’t back then, but now that I’ve had some life experience I can relate to his suffering a lot more than I could as a teenager.  Back then he was one of those ‘just kinda there’ characters that I felt indifferent toward.  Maybe it’s his theme song?  Never really liked it that much.  Saving Queen Leene and “resurrecting” Marle is still fun, but its still not quite as cool as later parts of the game.  This story point at least lays the groundwork for how the time travel concept for the game works.  I still, to this day, love how things you do in the past can change the other time periods even if that mechanic isn’t used a whole lot in the game.

Lucca the evil genius.

After our quick jaunt in 600 A.D. is over and we go home to the present (1000 A.D.) are we greeted warmly when we take Marle back to the castle?  Nope, your ass is on trial for kidnapping.  Still such a crock to this day.

Still don’t like this shit.

I had forgotten, after all these years, that certain actions you do or don’t do during your time at the Millennial Fair can affect the verdict you get during the trial.  Helping the little girl’s cat get back to her (which is annoying since the damn thing gets stuck on the walls), whether or not you eat the man’s lunch, whether or not you purposefully run into Marle or you wait and let her run into you and whether or not you ask her if she’s ok before picking up her pendant are all the things that you’ll be judged on.  Since this is my first playthrough in a long time (and I was kinda in a hurry) I ran into Marle and grabbed her pendant in an effort to get the story going.

Once the trial is over you’re sent to prison either way.  Waiting for Lucca to rescue me is still just as tedious as I remember, though these days I wonder just how she got into the castle and into the prison section without getting caught.  Also, either because I’ve gotten good at keeping myself occupied when boring things happen in games or time in the DS port runs much faster, it didn’t seem like I had to wait as long for execution day and Lucca’s arrival to happen.  Who knows.

On my way out I knew I had to help this guy but couldn’t remember why.  Once I escaped the prison and got back to town, I realized he’s the shop keeper’s son!

At least the mini map helped in navigating the confusing prison after the trial.  Made it out faster than usual.

I still find it so satisfying to step on this old bastard after destroying the dragon tank.

Once we’re done with all the legal bullshit at the castle, it’s time to make our escape to…the bleak, horrific future!

Chronometer

This part of the game, I still feel, was definitely a plot twist.  Instead of a happy, prosperous and bright future, we’re greeted with a destroyed, bleak and miserable place.

I like that it’s called Site 16 because of the numbers painted on the highway when you first enter the area.  Same with Site 32.  I also remember that in the original they were called Lab 16 and Lab 32.  Maybe it was a translation snafu?

I still wonder to this day what it is that’s in the air in 2300 A.D.  Nuclear fallout?  Snow?  Both?  Either way, this place is awful.  In the very first room of the dome that we begin our trek through a destroyed future, we see doors with a glyph that mimics the Mammon Machine.

Treasure!

It used to reeeeeeeeeally bother me that I couldn’t open those things for a long time until the moment in 12,000 B.C. when Marle’s pendant gains the power to unlock them and those strange black boxes in 600 and 1000 A.D.  Navigating Site 16 is still just as annoying as I remember it, with impossible to avoid enemies and easy to miss treasure chests.  The mutants with that annoying squeal are still as hideous as I recall.

Getting through Site 16 to Arris Dome was/is definitely another painful moment in the story.  Here we find a few more survivors barely clinging to life like the ones previously found in Trann dome.  I still feel bad that we find the body of the man who went looking for food, clutching a seed.  It’s a little bit of symbolism going on in that room, the end of one life clutching the beginning of another in its hands.  Kinda sad really, if you think about it.  The other bad thing in that room is finding whatever food the survivors hoped to have has rotted since the storage units’ refrigeration had failed.

Arris Dome is also where we get the big reveal of Chrono Trigger:

Finding out that Lavos is what’s responsible for destroying the world.  This is the game’s next defining moment, the next Ah-ha! and the place where we discover our heroes’ purpose.  After all, it wouldn’t be a Square Soft RPG if we didn’t have to save the world, right?  After the heartbreak we find in Arris Dome we have to go through Site 32 which I find easier to deal with than Site 16.  The distance to walk across it is much shorter and the enemies that are there are fewer.  You do, however, have the option to race a motorcycle robot named Johnny instead of walking if you like.  I used to prefer racing against Johnny, but these days (and my growing impatience) I prefer to just walk and get more experience points.  Having to race against Johnny was always irritating to me anyway.

After either racing against Johnny or walking across Site 32, we reach our destination – Proto Dome – and the coolest character in the game:

YAY!

I love Robo’s theme song!  He’s the most unique character in the game (he’s the only one that’s not flesh and blood) and I gotta say he’s probably my favorite after Crono.  I can relate to him on a few levels:  he’s considered an outcast, gets abandoned, gets put down by others of his kind.  His story is probably the saddest one in the game after Frog’s.  The next thing we gotta do is power up the door in here by powering on the generator in the nearby factory so we can use the gate and go back to the present.  On a fresh playthrough like this one, I prefer to take Marle for her healing ability.  On a New Game+ playthrough I always take Lucca so I can quickly destroy the evil robots in the factory after turning on the power to the dome.

Those little green arrows that mark areas where you can walk had me perplexed for the longest time because I didn’t notice them at first back in the day.  Once I figured it out I was good to go.

One of the things that I love about the factory (and other areas of the game) is how it incorporates control pad commands into the world to interact with the environment.  Like for example, in order to move the barrels out of the way on the factory floor, you have to input the commands X, A and B, B on the controller in order for the crane to move the barrels.  This game is, I feel, one of the first that I ever played that does that.  I always think that’s such an amazing and neat feature of this game.  After navigating the rest of the factory and fighting off the six evil versions of Robo (presumably from his product line) it still bothers me that Robo is more or less shit on by his brethren just because he refuses to kill humans.  Never the less, once we carry his broken body out of the factory and back to Proto Dome, he joins our ragtag cast and jumps in the portal with us, which leads us to the game’s next big surprise…

The End of Time

I find The End of Time both quaint and homely and also very lonely.  I also find the explanation in the above screen shot to be a very convenient way for the game developers to keep your party limited to three members at all times, but ultimately it’s a decision that works in favor of the game.  It’s here that we meet a strange old man standing under a lamp post.  I’ve often wondered just how this platform and everything on it came to be at the end of all things, but at the same time I think that I’m thinking about this waaaaaaay too much.  This place is also where the game gives us a new toy to play with:

Ipso facto meeny moe….magico!

Magic!  Our annoying little friend Spekkio judges each character that you bring to him and then gives them an element based on their personality.  I still think it’s a little silly that he even needs to judge Robo since he’s not “alive” and it’s a total sham that Ayla never gets magic since she was born before magic was a thing.  That being said, I’ve always loved how magic was incorporated into everyone’s attacks during combat, and I love how fire, ice and lightning sometimes makes enemy character models glow with each element’s respective color.  I never get tired of seeing that effect happen in battle.

I also noticed something new in the DS port at The End of Time:

I know it’s been a few years, but at first glance, the random pillar of light next to the Guru of Time threw me for a loop for a few until I stepped in it and went to this new area they’ve added called the Arena of Ages.  It’s basically Chrono Trigger meets Pokemon, which I’m not the least bit interested in.  If I want to play Pokemon, then I’ll go play Pokemon.  I feel like this was a completely useless addition.  After discovering what this area was and what it was for, I immediately left to continue my adventure.

Returning to 1000 A.D. and popping out of the wardrobe in the fiend’s house is still a rather funny moment and one that I still wonder why this portal was hidden in such a manner.  Either way, I still don’t like Heckran Cave since most of the enemies and the boss himself seem to be only susceptible to magic, but at least the mini map helped with navigating it.

Fuck this guy.
This thing is near the monster’s village and until Marle’s pendant gains the power to unseal the Mammon Machine doors, you can’t get inside.  This used to bother me to no end.  Only being able to choose one of the two chests that’s inside also used to bother me.

After Heckran, we go back to foggy old 600 A.D. to fight Zombor.  Always hated fighting it because I can never remember what element heals or harms which half.

Fuck this guy too.

This section of the game with the fights across the bridge is both cool and a little annoying.  I like at the end of the bridge, Ozzie fuses the remnants of the skeletons to create Zombor but getting that far is the challenge.  After we take out the giant skeleton, we head to the Denadoro Mountains in search of a weapon that we can use to stop Magus.  Two things about Denadoro that stick out to me.  One is the enemies with the wooden hammers.  I think it’s a very neat detail that if you hit them with fire, they lose their hammer and become much easier to kill.  The other is the “rolling firefight” section where you hop from battle to battle.  Similar to the fight across Zenan Bridge, only more irritating since there’s no break between fights.  Once we reach the top of the mountain, we find what we came for:

The Masamune!

I think the way the Masamune was used in this game was very creative.  Two kids named Masa and Mune form together to make the blade once he wielder proves himself worthy to use it.  The Masamune, if I remember correctly, has been used in several Squaresoft/Square-Enix games but the way it was used in this game is the one that sticks out the most (and best) for me.  Once we prove ourselves and get half the blade (the other half being in Frog’s hiding place) we head back to Melchior’s only to find that he needs a special stone to repair the blade.  Off to the distant past we go!

Upon reaching 65 million B.C. we are greeted by a sudden fall out of the portal that brought us here and then we meet the resident bad ass herself:  Ayla!  We also meet our prehistoric enemies, the Reptites.  I like the way the Reptites are designed and animated, but I always have the overwhelming urge to kill them, even if it’s an optional fight.  The one stand out thing about 65 million that I’ve always hated was the annoying fang, horn, petal, feather bullshit.  Trying to get the game to randomly drop the items you need to trade in is a pain in the ass and even once you get the items you want, they’ll be made useless rather quickly (at least they always were for me).

I’ve always thought that Ayla’s dinner party for the gang was fun and the rhymes that each group sings are fun.  Kino’s thievery of Lucca’s portal key just totally ruins any fun to be had during this visit.  Working your way through the Forest Maze is always such a pain as some of the paths aren’t readily apparent and there are ambushes at nearly every corner.  Once the dungeon is complete (I’ve never really thought much of it beyond thinking that the Reptitie leader – Azala – is a trouble maker) and you get the portal key back, it’s time to travel back to the present to Melchior’s hut and repair the Masamune.

Once it’s fixed, it’s time to go back to 600 A.D. to give Frog the Masamune and request his help putting an end to Magus’ evil before he can summon Lavos.

There’s also this poor bastard.  He ends up being a footnote in a sidequest later in the game.

After traveling through the small woods where Frog stays, you present him with the sword.

He requests that you spend the night.  While you sleep, poor Frog ruminates over his previous encounter with Magus and the loss of his friend and mentor Cyrus.

When you wake the next morning, Frog accepts your request and off you go with Masamune in hand to Magus’ Castle!  For some reason I didn’t think to take any screen shots of this section of the game, but, I always feel like this is the turning point or halfway point of the game.  After battling through Magus’ castle full of horrors and his three incompetent minions Ozzy, Slash and Flea (bonus points if you get the musical references in their names) and the unique Donkey Kong-esque rooms, you eventually face the man (is he a man though? looks more elven) himself.  As it turns out, he was trying to summon Lavos and kill it himself because he knew what was going to happen before you did and you interrupted the whole thing.  Talk about a great big whoops.  After the epic showdown with Magus is over and you’re all sucked into another time portal, you wind up back in 65 Million to find out the origins of this monster.

In all the years since I first played this game, it’s bugged me – and still bugs me – a little bit that Crono and crew somehow ended up at just the right time and place to witness Lavos’ arrival on Earth and what it meant for the future.  I’ll pick this up in a future post where we will continue our journey through time in 65 Million BC and witness the arrival of Lavos and the end of the Reptites.

To Be Continued…