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5/29/2015

Spoony Plays Terranigma, Part 9

More sidequests, then we rescue Will. No, not the Illusion of Gaia character.

 

5/26/2015

Chrono Trigger in a Nutshell

I've made no secret of my disdain for Square Enix or its fans, but Chrono Trigger is a rare outlier in that it is not only a legitimately good game, but it also really is as great as its fans claim it is.  It all  just makes me wish the company wasn't so apt to wasting talent so they can churn out "reliable" C and D-grade dreck on a consistent basis to line their pockets.  Then again, as a wise man once said, "something new is a risk, but the same old shit is money in the bank."

Our story begins in the Guardia Kingdom in the year 1000 AD, as our allegorically named hero Crono sets off to the Millennial Fair to partake in silly minigames and have a good time.  As he does so he encounters a girl named "Marle" who accompanies him to his supergenius friend Lucca's science experiment, a teleportation device.

Spoony: 1000 AD is a bit of a steampunk setting, as we see between Lucca's teleporter and her robotic creation "Gato", a big robot with a punching bag gun in its chest who you get to beat up for Silver Points.  Among other things.

The teleporter works surprisingly well, taking Crono from one place to the other (and not turning him into some sort of horrific human-fly hybrid who melts peoples' limbs off with his acidic saliva).  When Marle tries it, though, a strange portal opens up and she gets flung into it, losing her pendant in the process. Crono volunteers to follow her and ensure her safety whilst Lucca tries to figure out what went wrong, and thus our journey begins.  As does our first instance of what is undeniably one of the greatest video game theme songs of all time.

Spoony: And that's a general theme of the game - the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic from start to finish.  Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu's talents are really shown off in full force here, and it's a prime example of the SNES just completely outclassing the Sega Genesis in terms of sound hardware.  Not that the Genesis didn't have some amazing soundtracks of its own, of course, but they just couldn't capture the same orchestral feel of a lot of great SNES titles.

We end up at a cliffside, where we get our first taste of actual combat in the game and - shock of all shocks - there's actual combat animations for both your characters and for the enemies.  Well-animated ones too - you actually see enemies interact with one another in all sorts of creative ways.  There aren't any invisible random encounters either - nearly all of your enemies are visible on the game map and triggered by approaching or touching them.  .  Did Square finally step out of the shadow of their legacy and move into the new age of RPG development?  ...Sadly, no.  This style of game design became the exception rather than the rule with many of their later products (with Final Fantasy in particular desperately clinging to invisible encounters until the twelfth game in the franchise).

Spoony: If you want to know why invisible encounters irk me so much, it's not so much the padded feel of having fights every 3-4 steps (though that is certainly a factor) so much as it's a tiresome, outdated element of game design.  Invisible encounters were originally born of a hardware limitation on older game consoles - namely that they could only display a number of sprites on a particular scan line at a time.  So the natural solution for early JRPGs was to have enemy encounters occur either on a timer (Zelda II), have them occur after a set number of steps (Phantasy Star) or via a random algorithm that varies depending upon the current terrain (Dragon Quest).  Once technology improved, though, this element of design remained behind for some reason.  Now granted, it is possible to do random encounters well (witness the early Fallout games*), but for the most part it just feels like a lazy way to pad the game out with constant, repetitive battles against the same half-dozen enemies and a cheap excuse to have 80% of your game's environment be open, empty plains and nondescript forest tiles.

*Fallout's random encounters actually make sense, since the game largely takes place in a barren wasteland devastated by nuclear war, so encounters with other people are naturally sparse (and could run the gamut from merchant caravans to bands of raiders to hordes of wild dogs to hulking mutants).  Not all encounters are hostile, however, and some even provide a bit of fourth wall breaking humor to liven things up.  A much better alternative to having every other step on the map be just another fight full of the same enemies you've already dominated a half-dozen times.

Enemies in this game are also unusual in that the majority of them will not respawn if you exit and re-enter an area.  This works a bit of a double-edged sword; on one hand, it does save you some work if you need to retreat and resupply.  On the other, if you want to grind levels or skill points, you're going to need to fight an awful lot of the same few weak enemies.  And if you want to face the game's ultimate boss (who only appears when your party is at level 99), you're probably going to have to play through the entire game several times, experience boosters equipped the entire playthrough, to get to that point.  It's a minor gripe, but still.

Anyway, it turns out we're still in the Guardia Kingdom, just 400 years in the past, when they were still at war with the forces of the Mystics (intelligent monsters, basically).  We make our way to the castle, where Marle's apparently been mistaken for the queen of this era, but she suddenly vanishes before your eyes.  Lucca appears shortly thereafter (having built the "gate key" that enables travel through various time portals throughout the game world) and explains that Marle's appearance has apparently disrupted the time stream, causing her ancestor to never be rescued from the Mystics and thus causing her to never exist.  Oh, and she's the princess of the modern day Guardia Kingdom.  What a twist!

Spoony: And yes, as you may have guessed, her pendant is one of those magical RPG pendants that ends up being integral to the entire plot.  We don't get an explanation for it until much later, but it's practically a cliche of the genre, so there you go.

It's also worth noting that Chrono Trigger, while not the first RPG to utilize time travel as a central mechanic (that honor goes to Ultima II as far as I know), it is the first (and arguably only) one to take full advantage of the concept.  Your characters not only visit many different time periods, they change events in the past to alter the future in numerous clever ways.  Fun stuff that makes for a very compelling game experience, and I can only wonder why more games haven't attempted it.

So we set out to find 600 AD's queen before she meets her fate, coming to a church populated by undercover Mystics.  We also encounter the queen's knight... a frog.  Who calls himself Frog.  Funny story, but we don't get the details until later.

It's around here we also get a glimpse at another unique facet of the game's combat system - namely, that two or even three characters can combine their skills together to create new effects.  Crono and Lucca can do a "fire spin" attack that hits all enemies in an area with a fire-element attack, while Crono and Frog can do a double slash that hits a single target for heavy damage, among many others. While not the first JRPG to implement a mechanic like this (that being Phantasy Star IV), Chrono Trigger took the idea to a new level, having it be an integral part of the game's strategy.  Bosses that are near impossible suddenly become much easier with a slight team change-up that enables a new dual tech that can more effectively exploit a bosses' weakness or give the party a better healing tech.  Great stuff, and very innovative for its time to boot.

As for our character archetypes so far:

Crono's a pretty typical RPG hero, being mostly based around physical attacks and speed.  He also wields a plethora of lightning-themed attacks, making him a solid all-around fighter both physically and magically..

Lucca's more or less a combat mage, wielding guns (which are on the lower end of the power spectrum, albeit relatively accurate) and a plethora of fire-based and support techniques.

Frog is a fighter type, having good attack and defense power but being slightly slow.  He also serves a dual-role as a party healer, getting one of the few party-healing Single Techs.

Though we haven't use Marle a lot yet, she mostly falls under the moniker of being the party healer.  Most of her spells are healing-oriented.

We do the dungeon, which has quite a few fights but also some pretty clever puzzles to unravel, and come face-to-face with the Queen's kidnapper - a weird creature named Yakra.  He hits pretty hard for an early boss, but Crono and Frog's X-Strike makes short work of him.

And so with the queen rescued, Marle is no longer erased from history and we can go back to our own time.  Yay.  But that would make for a pretty short game, so we're right into another crisis.  Namely, Crono gets arrested for attempted abduction of the princess and put on trial for it.  A little shoehorned, maybe, but at least the court scene is decently written and actually follows a degree of realism in that the outcome actually varies depending upon your actions at the Millennial Fair.

Spoony: I'll go ahead and credit that to Masato Kato, as he's proven himself to be a pretty solid writer with a keen eye for detail in his storytelling, as evidenced in games like Ninja Gaiden, Xenogears and Baten Kaitos.  Granted, he has also had the occasional misstep (cough cough) but for the most part he's a pretty talented writer.  I just hope his next game is good!

Regardless of the trial's findings, though, you get sentenced to a jail stay and the chancellor slates you for an execution in three days.  You get another choice here as well - you can either break out yourself, or, if you wait it out, Lucca will come to your rescue.  It doesn't make much difference overall, but it is nice to see a game where the plot has some decisions and varying paths for you to take.  Not a lot of JRPGs of the time did that, and a lot still don't!

After a daring escape through a lot of guards, guard monsters and Guardia's steampunk dragon tank (yep), we finally make our way back into the castle where we get rescued by Marle.  ...Sort of.  The chancellor is still out for your blood for some reason, so the three of you flee the castle, get cornered in the woods, and escape through another time gate.

Rather than ending up in the past, however, we end up in a desolate world full of mutated animals, robots and wrecked buildings, with humans are relegated to surviving in only a few scattered "domes" due to heavy pollution and a lack of food.

So what led our world to this state?  We soon find out in the form of a video record revealing that it was destroyed by a colossal monster named "Lavos" that erupted from the ground, devastating the world in a hail of fire.

Our heroes are crushed at first, but soon resolve to find a way to stop the cataclysm.  After all, they have time travel on their side, so there must be a way.  Or so we hope as the party sets out for another dome where a second gate awaits them.

Upon arrival we find we can't get inside, but we do meet our next party member: a robot code-named Prometheus, which gets shortened to Robo.  We get directed to the next dome over to restore the power to this one, leading to our next dungeon.

Contrary to what you'd expect, though, Robo is not the party tank; in fact, his standard attack is actually fairly weak compared to most characters.  He also can't use magic per se, though he does have elemental properties on some of his attacks (with a fire-element explosion, an electrical burst and a laser that inflicts Shadow damage) and is one of the few characters with a multi-target healing tech.  So while he may not be your team's hardest hitter, he is a solid all-around supporter.

After a few more puzzles, we re-activate the power, but before we can depart we encounter Robo's "brothers", the R-series.  Unlike him, however, they seem to have turned against humanity, wanting to not only destroy Crono and his friends, but even Robo for having "betrayed" them.  Try as he may, though, Robo can't bring himself to fight back against them, causing him to get beaten to a pulp and leaving you out numbered two to six in the following battle.  Still, it's not too much of a bother, especially if you brought Lucca along to use the Fire Spin tech.

After we scrap Robo's family and get him repaired, the party steps into the gate.  However, something goes wrong and we get flung not to another time period, but rather to a place outside the flow of time entirely (appropriately called "the End of Time".

There are only two other inhabitants here: Spekkio, "the god of war" and an old man named Gaspar, who explains that we ended up here because the portals can only accomodate three people at a time.

Spoony: And yes, that is an artifical way to limit the party to three characters.  But at least they don't have to keep coming up with excuses to split the party now, and, with the exception of a few situations, you can still rearrange your party at any time with a press of the Y button, so it's not really a limitation either.

We talk to Spekkio and get granted the gift of magic, which unlocks most of our characters' special techniques.  He also serves as the game's optional boss(es), with his form changing depending upon the party's current level.  At level 9 and under he's a rather weak frog-beast, while at level 99 he becomes a red Nu who is extremely tough to defeat.  Each of his forms also grants a different set of items when defeated, so it's worth your while to keep checking back and challenging him again after you've gone through the game a bit.  Just keep in mind that normal attacks have no effect on him at all - only elemental attacks will deal damage.

Also of note here is the bucket, which serves as a portal to the final battle which you can access at any time from here on.  Of course, you won't want to actually go there yet, but if you're feeling confident, you can always give it a shot!

Anyway, once they've both said their piece, you form a party and can exit the End of Time through any of four portals.  Three just lead back to places we've already visited (Guardia Forest in 1000 AD, the cliff at 600 AD and the dome from 2300 AD), so we take the fourth one and end up in a Mystic village in 1000 AD.  Here we meet Melchior, said to be the greatest weaponsmith in the world or somesuch.  Not much he can do for us now, but we'll be back later.

We go through another cave, fight a monster (which is all but impossible without magic) and come to the conclusion that the Mystics' old warlord, Magus, must be the one who created Lavos.  So we return to the Millennial Fair, go through the gate and end up back in 600 AD.

Here we reunite with Frog, who has gone into exile and gotten all mopey over his failure to protect Queen Leene, so he won't join us yet (despite wanting revenge against Magus himself for cursing him into his current form).  Bleh. Instead we enter a mountain dungeon, fight a pair of wind Mystics named Masa and Mune, who form together into a giant monster called the "Masamune" whose true form is a sword, or something.  This game's kind of weird at times.

Defeating the two gets you the blade of the sword, while Frog has the hilt.  Unfortunately, the weapon is made of some odd material that modern blacksmiths can't do anything with, so we have to ask Melchior.  He says that it's made of something called "dreamstone" that hasn't existed in a very long time.  Hm...

We return to the End of Time once again and find a new gate there, taking us even further back in time - 65 million years BC, to be exact.  When the world is ruined by intelligent lizard-people named Reptites and cave-people apparently exist.  But whatever, we're in a fantasy world so I'll roll with it.

Spoony; And at least they don't try to make their culture into a parable of the Flintstones.

We also meet our next party member in Ayla, a cavewoman who is pretty much the party's speediest character and heaviest hitter.  With her bare fists, no less.  Most of her techniques are offensively-oriented, but she also has a healing tech and the only steal ability in the game (useful for getting a lot of items you can't otherwise get!), so she proves to be quite a valuable ally even without any magic to speak of.

We help Ayla beat up some dinosaurs for a while and get ahold of some Dreamstone, which allows us to return to Melchior and repair the Masamune.  With that in hand we return to 600 AD and present it to Frog, who, blessed with an absurdly powerful weapon capable of cleaving mountains in half (yes, really), gets his confidence back and agrees to help us fight Magus.

(Of course, before you venture in, it's probably a good idea to pay Spekkio another visit to unlock his Water magic.)

Magus' castle is mostly a long string of monster battles, including a few with his three main underlings, rock legends Ozzy, Slash and Flea.  Then we come to Magus himself and... Holy.  Shit.



This introduction is just pure perfection.  The ominous buildup, the exchange of banter between these two foes, the absolutely badass theme song that starts up at just the right time before erupting into orchestral bliss... it's utterly amazing and I never get tired of it.  Magus is awesome, pure and simple.

He's also our toughest opponent yet by a wide margin, having a whopping 6,666 HP and a plethora of nasty spells to throw at us.  This battle starts off as a gimmick fight, having him only be vulnerable to attacks of the element he's currently using (and switching with each hit he takes).  Once his HP is cut to roughly half, though, he pulls out all the stops, launching his best spells at you (including his strongest one, Dark Matter).  Still, just keep up a constant assault against him and you should win out.

Spoony: And now it's plot twist time!

It turns out Lucca's assumption was incorrect, though, as Magus did not create Lavos.  Rather, he enlisted the aid of the Mystics in an attempt to destroy him, and our battle has apparently disrupted his magical wards, causing Lavos' energy to be unleashed and the time stream to fly out of control, which flings us back into 65,000,000 BC and Magus into parts unknown.

After our last battle, Azala (leader of the Reptites) apparently decides that he's had enough of our species and has launched a campaign to wipe us out for good.  So naturally, we set off with Ayla to stop him with a preemptive attack.

Humorously, the biggest threat in this battle is not Azala herself (despite being a dinosaur queen with telekinetic powers), but rather her steed, the Black Tyrano.  A colossal monster of a dinosaur with nearly impenetrable defenses and fire breath.  It's actually not as hard as it sounds as he gives you plenty of warning between each of his attacks.  It's just that this battle tends to drag on for an exceptionally long time owing to Tyrano's limited vulnerability and high HP.  Still, keep chipping away at him and eventually we'll move on to the next scene... where we see that Magus was telling the truth.

Yes, Lavos was not a creation of the Mystics, but rather an alien creature who fell from the sky millions of years ago, burying itself deep within the earth and waiting for its time to awaken.  Its appearance also seems to cue the beginnings of a lengthy ice age, which is presumably how the Reptite race died out.

Lavos' landing site is also the site of a new time gate, so we check it out to find a new era.  12,000 BC to be exact, which is apparently in the midst of said ice age as the world is wracked with blizzards and high oceans.  However, humanity has advanced quite a lot technology-wise, as humans have taken to the skies in a floating city known as "Zeal".  A place of high technology and, more importantly, magic.

We also meet the princess Schala and her younger brother Janus, who have run of the place thanks to a magical amulet.  Sound familiar?  Well, it proves to be a pretty important key.  Take Marle's pendant, charge it up with the Mammon Machine, and we encounter Queen Zeal, a righteous tyrant of a woman who sends her pet Golem after you.

You're technically supposed to lose this battle, but it is possible to win if you know the Golem's gimmick - namely, that it will absorb the properties of any attack it's hit with and retaliate in kind.  If you use fire spells, it will counter with fire spells, physical attacks cause it to use physicals, and so on.  Fire and water spells are actually your best bet here though, since the Golem's fire and ice attacks will only attack one person as opposed to the whole group.  Its attacks still hurt though, so be prepared to blow through a lot of healing items if you plan to win!

Whether you win or lose, though, your party gets captured by Zeal's goons (Dalton and the Prophet)  and you get tossed back through the portal from whence you came, with Prophet sealing it behind you.

Thankfully they don't think to revoke your pendant, though, so we now have another lead for what to do next.  Remember all those mysterious "sealed" chests and doors we've been encountering throughout the game to this point?  Well, the pendant allows us to open them.  This not only allows us to reach some pretty cool hidden caches, but also enables us to get some new equipment by taking advantage of the game's time travel gimmick.  If you check a sealed chest in 600 AD but don't open it, it will "charge" the item inside.  If you let it "cook" for 400 years and then open it in 1000 AD, you'll get a stronger item. This usually means that rather than getting an item that halves damage from a particular element, you'll instead get a stronger piece of gear that absorbs spells of that element.  As you can imagine, this proves to be immensely helpful against the Golems we'll have to fight later.  You also get two nifty accessories from the one in Heckran's cave, and your choice of either a Safe Helm (second strongest helmet in the game + permanent Shell effect) or a Lode Sword from the prism in the Mystic village in 1000 AD.  Good stuff all around.

Spoony: And the best part is, once you've gotten the powered up items in 1000 AD, you can go back to 600 AD and get the weaker versions too.  The best of both worlds, so long as you know the trick.

This also seems to imply that the same bloodline has stayed in a position of power in this world for over 13,000 years, which is a bit far-fetched.  But whatever, fantasy world.  But more importantly, does this imply that Magus is Marle's great great great great great great great great (...) great grandfather?  We know Schala is indisposed between games while Magus' whereabouts are unknown, so it's a distinct possibility...

Anyhow, once you've gotten all the cool swag, return to 2300 AD and visit the Arris Dome, which didn't have much for us to see earlier.  Now we can unlock the door, though, and behind it rests... a time machine.  Yes, the Nu here is a refugee from 12,000 BC named "Belthasar" who is just as interested in stopping Lavos as we are.  He entrusts the machine to us and even lets us name it.  Awesome.

Back to 12,000 BC we go, then.

As Queen Zeal has apparently sealed up the skyway, we have to take the tough road to get back up there.  Namely, enlisting the help of the Earthbound ones (the second class citizens in this time period) to climb up Mt. Woe and fight another of Zeal's pet monstrosities, the Giga Gaia.  He's a hard-hitter, but with our newfound shadow and fire-resistant armors (and Chrono and Ayla's Falcon Hit Double Tech) he doesn't prove to be too difficult.  Defeating him frees... Melchior?

Spoony: As you may have guessed from their names, Belthasar, Mechior and Gaspar are all refugees from 12,000 BC, and all are key players in the plot.

With Schala's aid, we're able to get back into the city, and even given a Ruby Knife to aid in the job of destroying the Mammon Machine, Zeal's source of power.

So back we go to Zeal, confronting Dalton in a three-on-one battle.  He's actually rather weak considering his station.

Spoony: And yet we're supposed to believe this clown not only led a successful conquest of Guardia, but slew all three of our heroes in battle prior to the events of Chrono Cross.  ...Yeah right.

Anyhow, we trounce him, fight our way through Zeal's Ocean Palace, fight two more of her pet Golems at the same time, and come up to Zeal herself.  She reveals herself to be quite drunk with power here, not only revering Lavos as a god but being utterly obsessed with becoming even more powerful than she currently is.  Then things get crazy.

We attempt to destroy the Mammon Machine, but the Ruby Knife doesn't prove strong enough to do the trick.  However, it does absorb some of the machine's power, transforming into the Masamune in the process.  So that's where it came from.

The prophet reveals himself as Magus, who is prince Janus all grown up.  He took up the deception in his ongoing quest to stop his mother's mad plan and destroy Lavos, but even his considerable strength falters before the combined might of Zeal and Lavos.

Lavos gets summoned before us by Zeal, resulting in him wiping us out in one hit.  (Note that he's much stronger here than he normally is when fought in 1999 AD...).  This causes Crono to, rather shockingly, sacrifice himself in order to buy his party enough time to escape.

Spoony: Yes, the main character of the game actually dies, being hit by a Lavos death beam and disintegrating before your very eyes.  It's honestly a pretty shocking moment, because you don't expect the hero of the game to be the one who goes down like that!

At least his plan works, buying Schala enough time to teleport the rest of the party to safety on the mainland as Lavos' power erupts, destroying the city of Zeal entirely and causing the ocean palace to rise into the sky and become the "Black Omen".  Yeowza.

We're not quite done here yet, though, as Dalton is apparently still alive, having seized the opportunity to conquer what remains of humanity with the remnants of Zeal technology and magic at his disposal.  To that end, he captures the party (albeit through blackmail) and holds you captive above his airship.

Now, what follows can either be a fairly standard beat-em-up section, or a pain in the ass stealth segment.  It all hinges on whether you brought Alya along, since she just uses her fists to fight anyway.  If you did that, you can just punch your way through all the baddies, get your equipment and items back, and go on your merry way.  If you didn't, you'll have to sneak through air vents and avoid being caught by sentries, and getting caught at any point means going back to your cell.  Aye.

Once you've got all your stuff back, you find that Dalton is retrofitting your time machine for flight.  So we beat up his pet Golem Boss (a joke battle that offers the opportunity for a massive reward if you beat it fast enough) and then hop aboard the now-flying time machine, battling him again and ejecting him into the sky once he's defeated.

From here, the game becomes surprisingly open-ended.  There are numerous quests to complete at this point, and you can do them in almost any order you wish.  Each one also has a very useful reward, which will only make the coming battle against Lavos all the more manageable, so it's very much to your advantage to do them all.  A short list follows.


  • You can meet Magus up on the cape in 12,000 BC, who will be none too glad to see you considering you've foiled his plans twice now.  You can choose to fight him or not; if you do so, you don't really gain anything save for some experience and a slight ending change (with Frog becoming a human again at the end of the game).  If you don't, he puts aside his differences with you and joins the team, figuring that you're his best chance of vanquishing Lavos (and giving you a hint on how to save Crono).  He also proves to be quite a badass party member, wielding magic of all elements as well as some wicked powerful shadow magic of his own.  He's not much of a physical fighter nor a team player as he lacks any double techs (and his only triple techs come from equipping special items), but he's nevertheless an offensive juggernaut.  
Spoony: The fact that Magus is not only a cool character, but also a complex and well-defined antihero whose personality and actions aren't on par with (if not worse than) most of the game's villains is also a nice breath of fresh air rarely seen in the gaming medium.  Thumbs up!
  • It's not strictly necessary to spare Magus for this, but you probably wouldn't know where to look without doing so.  If you wish to save Crono, you must return to the end of time and talk to Gaspar again, who will give you the titular "Chrono Trigger" and tell you to visit Belthasar to learn how to use it.  He'll tell you to bring him a "clone" of Crono (which you can win from the fair in 1000 BC, if you didn't already do so at the start of the game).  Once that's done, he'll open the path to Death Peak and tell you to use the Trigger at the moment of the solar eclipse.  So we fight our way up the mountain, through several of Lavos' children, and reach the summit.  Using the egg transports us back in time to the moment of Crono's death, allowing us to swap in the body double and escape with the genuine article.
  • You can visit a new area in 600 BC with Magus in the party to find that his old underlings now consider him a "traitor" and turn against him.  After defeating the combined forces of the three rock legends, you gain Magus' ultimate equipment, as well as some cool swag for the rest of your party.  If you want, you can also steal the "Ozzie Pants", a helmet (hehe) that gives a permanent Confuse effect to whoever equips it.  Kind of pointless, but good for a chuckle.  This also makes his descendant in 1000 AD less of a jerk and eases tensions between the Mystic and human races.  Yay.
  • There is a run-down castle in 1000 AD that is haunted by the angry ghost of Frog's old buddy Cyrus.  If you go back to 600 AD, however, you can speak to him.  He gives Frog a pep talk and vacates the building, allowing you to pay some carpenters to rebuild the place and giving you access to some cool swag in 1000 AD (including powering up the Masamune into Frog's ultimate weapon).  Awesome.
Spoony: It is interesting to note, however, that Cyrus will not react to Magus' presence during this scene.  You'd think he'd have some harsh words for the guy who killed him, or at least for Frog for partying with the guy who cursed him and killed his buddy...
  • Back in 12,000 BC, you may have spoken to a woman who debates over planting a seed or burning it.  (If you missed her in Zeal, she'll appear again in the Earthbound Village after the Black Omen appears).  If you tell her to plant the seed, it will unlock an area in 600 AD called the "Sunken Desert", a big whirlpool of sand that's steadily swallowing up the nearby forest.  Enter, collect the cool swag and defeat the monster inside, have Robo stay behind to tend to the woods, then jump forward in time to 1,000 AD.  Here you'll find him again, rusted and worn down to almost nothing but having successfully cultivated a new forest.  After Lucca fixes him up (and a pretty cool conversation amongst your party members in which they ruminate on the appearance of the time portals and the force creating them), Lucca embarks on a journey of her own, using a mysterious red portal to return to ten years in her past to save her mother from being crippled by a machine gone awry.  If you succeed, you get a special item called the "Green Dream" which is basically a once-per-battle free revive.  Nifty.
  • Travelling to 2300 AD and entering a temple on a previously inaccessible island will pit you against a boss called "Son of Sun" who acts as a gimmick battle (attack one of the five random flames - he'll either take damage or counter with a full party fire attack).  Defeating him nets you the "moon stone", a powerful artifact that unfortunately has no power left in it.  But there is hope - return to 65,000,000 BC and set it in a cave called the Sun Keep, where the sun never sets.  Let it charge up for a few million yes (with one minor detour to recover it after some dick steals it) and collect it again in 2300 AD.  Lucca will harness its power to create the best (and worst) weapon in the game, the Wondershot.  A gun which does completely random damage ranging from low double digits to a couple thousand.  Fun!
  • Another hidden cave in 600 AD contains the buried remains of Azala's lair, which has held up remarkably well over the ages considering Lavos fell right on top of it.  Fighting your way through some surviving dinosaurs (including a palette swap of Black Tyrano) will earn you an artifact called the Rainbow Shell.  However, it's too bulky to carry back out, so you entrust it to the Guardia royal family for now.
  • Following up on the last one, the king of Guardia in 1000 AD is accused of pilfering the Rainbow shell for his own use by the chancellor and is put on trial.  So we fight our way through some monsters, grab a fragment, and interrupt the proceedings in order to clear his name.  Then we find out just what this guy's deal is - like the other chancellor in 600 AD, he's an impostor.  A descendant of Yakra, to be exact, who wants revenge for his ancestor's defeat.  Vanquish him as well and you get the option of either one Prism Dress (best armor in the game for the ladies, cuts magic damage by 1/3) or three Prism Helms (the best helmet in the game which anyone can equip, also protects against all status effects).  If you did the Sun Stone quest, you can also talk to Melchior to get the Rainbow (Crono's strongest weapon) and the Prism Specs, which makes your attack power skyrocket when equipped.  Marle also makes amends with her father.  Yay.
  • The future (2300 AD) also holds one last very grim quest which Robo must be a part of.  On another previously inaccessible island lies another Dome, which turns out to be a factory where a robot force has taken to slaughtering humans en masse to make themselves the dominant species on the planet.  Yeesh.  Here we meet another R-series robot named Atropos (another allusory name) who provides a significant powerup to Robo when defeated, and fight against Mother Brain, the mastermind behind the whole robot supremacy plot.  Defeating her gets you both Robo's strongest weapon and a gimmick weapon whose power varies depending upon the last digit in Robo's HP (with it being extremely powerful at 9 and doing single digit damage at 0).
Spoony: And if you're a Phantasy Star II fan, I'm sure you're probably tired of people drawing comparisons between this Mother Brain and that game's Mother Brain.  I know a lot of people who kept drumming up that stupid argument back in the late 90s...

Once you're ready for the final battle, there are several ways to approach it.  

  • Use the aforementioned bucket at the End of Time, which takes you straight to 1999 AD.
  • You can go through the Black Omen in any time period between 12,000 BC and 1000 AD, which pits you against a long gauntlet of tough monsters and bosses (but which also has many cool pieces of gear for you to collect, hence why I recommend it for first time players).  This is also the most satisfying plot-wise as it finally lets you settle the score with the Mammon Machine and Queen Zeal herself.
  • Use the time machine to travel to 1999 AD.  This allows you to embark on a suicide attack with the machine, which destroys it (altering the ending a bit) but allows you to skip the first and second phases of the fight.
  • If you're playing on a New Game Plus, you can also use a new portal on the right teleportation pad at the Millennial Fair to go straight to the final battle at any time.  This also skips the first phase of the fight.
In any case, the fight is on.  The first phase has Lavos mimicking several of the key boss fights from earlier in the game, from the Dragon Tank to Azala to the Giga Gaia.  (Un)fortunately, they're not any tougher than the first time you fight them, so you can just power right through the majority of them with your newly collected gear.

Spoony: I think it would be nice to have a harder option here, honestly.  Power up the "old" bosses to put them more on your level and make the fight into a bit more of a war of attrition for later playthroughs.  Minor gripe, but it does feel a bit silly to come this far only to easily breeze through a lot of the first stage of this fight.

The second phase is where Lavos begins fighting us in earnest, unleashing some powerful magical attacks that lay waste to the party.  Still, this fight is pretty straightforward - his only target is his big mug, so just keep firing away and healing up after his big attacks until it's destroyed.

Once it's dead, you find out that' it's not over yet - the monster we've seen throughout the game is just its outer shell.  Entering its body, we find a larger, more humanoid creature at its core, cuing the second phase of the fight (and some truly badass music).

The third phase is where it starts to get tough.  There are three targets this time (both arms and the body) and each has its own plethora of nasty attacks.  They'll confuse your party, hit you for heavy damage, nullify your buffs and even heal the main body, meaning that it's all but necessary to take out both arms before you start wailing on the main target.

Spoony: I hate to draw another Phantasy Star comparison here, but this fight is remarkably similar to the final battle from Phantasy Star III.  Take out the left arm first so it doesn't heal the main body, then the right arm, then target the big bad.  It's not a point-for-point copy or anything, but it does make you wonder...

With the big beastie destroyed, yet another form lies within - another humanoid creature, albeit significantly smaller.  It's also here that the true nature of Lavos is revealed - it cultivated life on the planet into its current form so that it could harvest all of the resulting knowledge and genetic data that resulted, breed, and then launch its children into space to continue the cycle.  Essentially, it's a life form that consumes entire planets.  Pretty spooky stuff, and definitely the makings of a great monster.

Spoony: And also the source of one of my major gripes with the sequel.  As with any great monster, a lot of the fun of it comes from it having an ambiguous element.  We never learn that much about Lavos in Trigger, so we're just left to speculate as to its true nature.  Is it a naturally evolved life form from some harsh, forgotten planet?  A biological weapon gone horribly out of control?  A far better analogue to a malevolent creator god than the turds who worked on Final Fantasy X could ever dream up?  We never really find out for sure.  But then along comes Chrono Cross to completely piss on that mystery in a speech laden with Nietszche-isms and writer hubris.  Aye, I really don't like that game...

In any case, it's now time for the final battle, the big yellow monster flanked by two "Bits" that heal the monster and inflict all sorts of nasty status effects and deal heavy damage to the party.  We're also apparently cycling through a time vortex as this fight occurs, as you see each of the seven time periods in the game flash by throughout the battle, implying that Lavos is the core event central to their creation (though, again, it never states for certain who opened them).  Contrary to what you first think, though, the ham-handed monster is not your target here; after a while, you'll notice that the bit on the left side of the screen doesn't do a whole lot.  It just kind of sits there, throwing out some single target attacks and removing buffers from your party, only reacting once in a while to revive the other bit or the yellow monster if they get destroyed.  Well, the left bit is actually Lavos' true form.  Essentially, you have to take out the other two parts to get it to lower its defense, then sneak in some hits while it's storing up the energy it needs to revive the other bit and the yellow guy.  Once they're back up, you knock them down again and repeat.  Keep that up a few times and eventually you'll destroy the left bit and win the battle, saving the world and averting the Day of Lavos.  Yay.

Now, depending upon your actions, the ending will vary in several ways.

  • If Crono or Magus (or both) are dead, they obviously won't be around to celebrate.
  • Killing Magus causes Frog to regain his human form, which results in some funny dialog from Lucca and Marle before he returns to his own time.
  • If Magus is alive, he departs through the time portal to search for his sister.  Apparently he doesn't find her though, since he doesn't reappear in Chrono Cross (despite being in the original draft of the script).
  • If you didn't free the Chancellor during the Rainbow Shell subplot, he won't be here.  Kind of dark, but also funny.
  • If you saved Lucca's mother from being mangled, she'll be up and about during this scene.  If not, she'll be sitting at the fountain.
  • The biggest difference comes from whether you destroyed the time machine or not.  If you did (and Crono is still alive), his mother will chase his cats through the portal before it closes, causing him and Marle to depart through time in search of her.  
  • If you didn't destroy the time machine, the scene with Crono's mom is skipped, and he and Marle float through the sky on some balloons instead.  
  • This is also the closing scene you see if Crono is dead, sans Crono of course.
There are also several other endings you can unlock on a New Game Plus, by visiting Lavos and defeating him in between certain story events.  I won't go into detail on all of them, but they include such sights as a Reptite-dominated world, Frog having a one-on-one duel with Magus in 600 AD, one where Crono gives his only speaking line, and even meeting all of the developers of the game, who take the form of various monster sprites.  Pretty cool stuff, and it lends the game quite a bit of replay value.

Spoony: That's Chrono Trigger, and like I said at the beginning, it's brilliant. Whether you're a big fan of RPGs or just a casual gamer, there's no denying that Chrono Trigger is a masterpiece.  It's immaculately well written (with a humorous edge that never becomes overblown or distracting), the pacing is excellent, there's virtually no filler quests, the characters are much more than just stock cliches and don't get pushed into the background and forgotten two hours after they're introduced, it has some fantastic visual effects and animation for its era, the soundtrack is one of the finest ever composed, and the gameplay was very fresh and innovative for its time.  Chrono Trigger really is as good as its fans claim, and even twenty years after its release it holds up amazingly well stands as one of the very finest RPGs ever made.  Not even I can deny that despite my less than stellar track record with the company.  So if you haven't played it, then do yourself a favor and pick it up on the PSN, Virtual Console or even the original SNES version if you can find a copy right this moment, because it truly is a game that must be experienced.

You could also get the DS version, I suppose, but that release does suffer from "bad Square Enix rerelease syndrome" in that it has a much less charming "retranslation" done on the dialog and some lazy tacked-on exclusive content included solely to tie it more closely into Chrono Cross.  It's still the same great game underneath that, but it's my least favorite version for those reasons.

Spoony: Say what you will about Ted Woolsey taking liberties with his translation jobs, but he also added a lot of personality to their characters, and for square to pull a damnatio memoriae and strike him from their history books just to appease a few whiny "purist" fanboys (95% of whom have never learned more than a dozen Japanese words, let alone played and understood the original Japanese release they clamor about constantly) is downright insulting.

And while we're on the subject, let's discuss another stupid fanboy rumor I'm tired of hearing, namely concerning Mr. Woolsey's career post-Square.  Apparently a few whiners credit themselves for getting him "removed from the industry" over his translation jobs despite having no evidence to back up their claims (other than the whole "siccing my personal hate mob on someone for questioning me in any way" bullshit they love to flock to).   Yes, he did depart the company after Final Fantasy VI, help found another studio (Big Rain), worked on a Playstation 1 RPG that got a rather lukewarm reception (Shadow Madness) and then the company went bust when Crave Entertainment went under.  The end of his involvement in the game industry right?  ..Nope.  He later joined RealNetworks and acted as a director for their online RealArcade service, then departed that job to work for Microsoft (aka the biggest software company in the world) to become a content director for Xbox Live.  The guy certainly has talent and a genuine love for games, so show some respect for his part in letting you discover and play your favorite games translated at all (and be glad he had the courage to inject some livelihood into what was otherwise a dry set of scripts, if the "retranslations" are anything to go by).

This stupid circlejerk is almost as pathetic as the whole "Secret of Evermore isn't the untranslated game that I didn't even know existed until five-plus years after it came out and now that I know it's not I HATE IT" bullshit... but that's a rant for another day.  Chrono Trigger is great and if you haven't already, you should play it.  The end.

Spoony Plays Ultima VII Part 2: The Serpent Isle, Part 9

We get pulled into a rather arbitrary side-story (but we get a Serpent Item out of it so whatever) and then we get to bop around in the woods for a while to find the Hound of Doskar and track Cantra.  Remember that subplot?  I don't blame you if you don't.



Before you move on from this point, make sure you have a set of "warm" gear (boots, cloak, helmet) for each member of your party.  If you're short, you can buy some more from Cellia in Monitor.

(The Helmet of Light also counts as warm headgear.)

No reclaimed items or teeth this time.

5/25/2015

On how gaming has become less of a pastime and more of a second job

Spoony Plays Ultima VII Part 2: The Serpent Isle, Part 8

We depart Moonshade and, after a long trip through Furnace, end up back next to Monitor, where we finally decide to complete that whole "stopping the goblins" quest we started a while back.



I accidentally skipped a key item here.



I overlooked the other scroll on the table in the Goblins' hoard.  It contains a second letter implicating Spektor.  If you show both to Caladin or Brendann, they'll both be jailed.  If you're missing one or the other when you show him the evidence, though, you won't get a second chance!

This also allows you to talk to Marsden and Spektor in jail, then to Lucilla, who will point you to a secret stash and give you a key.


Enter a fake wall here and you'll find a cache with several powder kegs and four locked chests that contain some cash and gems (as well as Cantra's deceased father).



You can also get a confession from Spektor if you kill him while he's out of jail, but this doesn't seem to trigger the plot flag that causes Lucilla to give you the key...

And for a few other things I missed:


Pomdirgun's house has our missing Burst Arrows, so we can finally ditch that hairbrush we've been carrying around for the better part of the game.


And our missing spellbook is just northwest of the bridge to the Monitor cave path in Furnace.  As that dungeon is a fiery inferno, though, it's now quite unusable.  Not that we need it anymore after our trip to Moonshade, but it's at least a bit of closure.

(Double clicking on it causes it to be hit by lightning and explode, by the way)


Much more vitally though, one of the trolls in this room has a key.  Behind a nearby locked door is another of the Serpent Items, the Serpent Staff.  This is absolutely necessary to finish the game, so don't forget to grab it!


Oh, and I did some training off-camera because we haven't had an opportunity to do that in a while.  As you can see, our party is now quite beastly.



Finally, I went ahead and got the few spells Ensorcio has that no other mage carries - namely Great Douse, Sleep and Fire Ring.  That all but fills out our spellbook, save for three slots (which will all be provided to us as the plot dictates).

(You will have to talk to Ensorcio quite a bit to get him to offer you spells.  Click on the various options until Moonshade comes up, then click storms, Batlin, thugs, mentor and spells.  He accepts Guilders or gold coins, so be sure to bring some of those too.)

Items Recovered
  • Spellbook -> Pumice piece -  Found in the possession of some trolls in Furnace, quite destroyed.
  • Burst Arrows - > Hairbrush -> In the possession of the Goblin King himself.

Items Still at Large

  • Magebane -> Blue egg - It's in a penguin nest up North, as viewed through Erstam's telescope. We haven't been up that way yet though.
  • Blackrock Serpent -> Fine stockings - They belong to Columna and both she and Torrisio want them back. They seem to have no knowledge of the Blackrock Serpent, nor is it anywhere to be found in their manor.
  • Rudyom's Wand - Lab apparatus - Ask around in Fawn and Moonshade. (Erstam claims that it's his, but this is not correct. It's actually in the possession of another character we'll meet later).
  • Glass sword -> Pinecone - Most likely came from the forests to the north.

Serpent Jawbone



5/24/2015

Pokemon Crystal "Ultimate Death Challenge", Part 9

The downward spiral ends, and with it goes any renewed interest I had in this franchise.



Pokemon Lost

Gloom
Slowking