Monday, 30 June 2014

Article 100 - Chrono Trigger

Let the epic, begin

So it's the 100th article of the blog and I thought I'd go and look at what I feel is on the best RPGs of all time and nay, best games of all time. Yes, I believe this game should be in anyone's Top20 list, likely in my own Top5. The problem with such lists is that they always swing and sway but I'd place Chrono Trigger there any day. Here's why.

Looks lovely and happy, that never is going to last long is it...

Let's get the basics out of the way first. You play as Chrono and his band of friends that he picks up from around time and space, sort of like a kid Doctor Who and you find out that when you try to use a teleporter at the local fair, some girl's pendant sets off a temporal flux and you're flung back in time 400 years to where you realise that some asshat has bollocksed up the timeline by mistakenly assuming that the girl who has gone with you, is the queen of that time period. This causes a huge bullshit session of the girl you're with being unwritten from time as the queen of that time is your friend's ancestor.

We don't really know Flea's gender, we don't care either, kill it.

All this is carefully explained with monsters and images by the way in such a way most kids could get this, really playing to the mass audience with aspects of consequence and causality. To which you and another friend and a man-sized frog (keep with me) go and rescue the real queen to set the timeline right again. This is just the first hour or so of the game.

Batter up, it bashing time.

Eventually your rag-time friends from across time spanning back to the age of man vs. dinosaurs (don't think too hard on this) to the future where the apocalypse has had an apocalypse (Yes, Blood Dragon, well done), you're left to hop back and forth through time, fixing the problems as you go and solving things in a sort of Dr Who meets Back to the Future in order to try and stop the world ending in 1999 (You start in 1000), while the future in 2300 is bleak and shitty.

Looks nice and friendly.

Each time period represents issues within our own history. 65 mil BC is our dino era with mankind learning basic language skills and fighting T-Rex's as often as one lights up a cigarette in a sort of "evolution represented by one big punch up" race between dinos and apes. 23,000bc has the segregation system in place of the underlings represented by non-magical users and the uber-class of magical users which also seem to cause most of the problems in this game. 600ad is your usual might and magic era, expect knights, maidens, talking frogs and an out of place magic user. 1000 ad is pseudo steam punk pleasant modern day, 1999 is just one event, the end of the world and the game's final boss and 2300ad is the bleak future of starvation, dying, disease and lots of robots and mutants. There's also the end of time populated by one old dude, a god of war and a streetlamp straight from some old 1960s film-noir.

5v3, no contest.

It's varied, it's memorable and it approaches the time travel aspect in a rather interesting way. Initially you'll be hopping through gates from one time period to another until you get to a point where you get the "Fly around the main map and time hop when I want" but until then it's fairly rail-roaded. The more interesting aspect taken into account is that nearly EVERYTHING you do has an impact later in the game. Even the first area, where you're walking around with the new girl, all of your actions can bite you in the arse 4-5 hours after they've happened. Summarised in such a way that you realise that 'yes, doing that in game would make me look like a total prick' in one of the biggest parodies of the genre before accepting it wholeheartedly in the next breath.

Large zombie skeleton things, not quite what you expect to see in 600AD

As you progress through the game you'll end up solving quests and puzzles that require thinking in time zones. Need a forest now? Go build it back a few hundred years ago. Mum's a cripple? Go back and save her from the accident she had.

The Epoch, a time machine unless you named it something else. I called it Dave.

Aside from this, the game has over 10 endings and variations all depending upon when and how you fight the final boss. The variations depend on whether you completed the big missions to improve things while the actual endings are all about at what point in the game you decide to destroy the giant flea from space that screws up time, Lavos. Some endings are done purely for laughs, while others take a serious "Here's the consequences of your actions deal".

Either everyone got tired, or you screwed up.

As a game, it's an RPG so you've your chars and their experience, stats automatically are designated on levelling up but you can also boost them with items if you can find them. You'll get a weapon, helmet, armour and accessory for each character (some can't be adjusted, but usually you can) with greater armours and weapons throughout the game and some coming from some very convoluted missions. So a lot of the personalisation with the characters is gone as you can't focus their talents and are just told "You levelled up, here's a spell that makes an enemy's arse explode" while fighting in a zone of monsters with no buttocks, or something similar...

This only goes to show how BADLY you messed the game up.

Combat takes the guise of mostly scripted events, even the location and placing of characters is pre-determined while some of the attacks and techniques you can use are 'area of effect' or 'line of sight' and characters are kept stationary except when attacking. There is no "random" battle, monsters you fight in a zone/area will be there each time you go through that zone/area, giving you a chance to be ambushed just the first time you go through (or if you forget) while other fights are entirely of the "walk into them and kick arse" type. You can often prepare for a fight with the right items and checking health/mana levels.

Oddly enough, you see this in all points in time, can fight it all points too.

Each fight gives you the choice to attack with the weapon, use a technique or combo technique if multiple compatible characters have the right moves available i.e. Froggy and Chrono can perform an X-attack, while Froggy and Marle do a different attack with different results and impacts, some techs can be done by all 3 working together. However later in the game, individual chars tend to be able to just hit high on their own anyway. Chars can also use an item instead and at the start of the game these will likely be essential to recover health and such.

Magic and technology, looks friendly with that blue-hue trim over the planet.

Enemies run the variation of being standard, high-def low-magic, high-magic low-def, switchers and puzzles where you have to do one thing, then another, then another to kill them. Bosses are almost all puzzles, particularly the final boss when you realise just what actually IS the real core of the boss. Other bosses need to be destroyed in order of parts, or have weaknesses initiated by magical impacts. Magus being a key one as he'll fight with magic and changes immunities every other turn or so. Puzzles of such degree that even when playing through in the New Game+ modes, you'll STILL have to be careful. Yes you can hit harder than GOD and already killed monsters and enemies that transcend time and space, but that robot dragon will only die when you hit it in the RIGHT ORDER.

Yep, riding dinos. How else do you get around?

There's a lot to do in this game, puzzles, quests, missions, so many things one can miss and WILL miss even after many years of playing (I've still not seen ALL the possible endings, most of them however), questions to ask yourself such as "Do I take the item now, or wait 400 years and take it later?" "Do I give it for free or make him pay? What's the knock-on implications for this?" "Do I really want to save a crippled mother's legs?" Some very hard questions one has to ask oneself.

The game has some truly inspired graphics and interior decor.

As a story, the pacing is fairly solid up until the final session when the last few dungeons are just a long slog of "Oh this guy again, ok let's hit him with attack A C B... and again a few rooms later... and again... here's his powered up form so let's... just... do... the same thing again..." While the missions and questions to improve the world before you fight the final boss add a little extra element of thought and impact rarely seen in games at that time. It gets complicated after a while but never so much that it becomes unfathomable and new elements are introduced gradually rather than being tossed in.

This enemy cannot die. You can re-fight it again and again and again. Why didn't they send this into battle instead?

Some parts of the game are poorly thought out however, one in particular is where your band is kidnapped and held hostage and while attempting a daring escape, need to recover their weapons, items, armour and gold, of which some can be left behind and lost forever. Also, if all three of your party fight with weapons, you'll HAVE to stealth it around the level and getting caught puts you right back where you started making it a sort of Spy By Trial And Improvement type of deal. Other parts include mandatory repetitive battles that serve no real purpose other than to pad the gameplay out, of which there's a lot of it already while other parts of the game.

Nope, not dead yet, in fact it's only just begun.

The music within the game really adds to the atmosphere and ambience created in tandem with the artwork and graphics. Every piece of music is not only distinguishably different, but either increases a sombre mood, enhances an adrenaline rush of a boss fight, or more epic boss fight, or highlights the joviality of a scene punctuated by the more light-hearted and flittery scores of music composed for use in this game.

The final boss, but which part is the REAL thing? Hint: Not the big thing.

With regards to the graphics, everything looks stunning, from the spell effects to the time travel warps, to the characters themselves and the detail and attention on the backgrounds is mind-blowing to see from the logs of wood on houses to the slates and cobbles in the streets. Even the smallest time zone, the end of time, is lavished upon in detail and gloom adding a real impact that this is all that's left once time itself has finished. An old man by some cobbled streets with a single lamppost almost out of Victorian era industrial revolution times.

Grim, bleak, mortifying. Detroit never looked so good.

Does it have replay factor, yes by the bucket-load. With each completion players can run through again on New Game+ giving them the chance to play in a different manner, try different things and gain items they couldn't have done the first time through because of the "This OR That" choices that had to be made. Try to win the trial by jury, complete or fail to complete specific quests, save people or condemn them and see what the impacts are upon the game's world. With also over 10 different endings including the "I beat the game by myself as one character because I took the second teleporter right at the start" which, while difficult, isn't impossible and certainly feels great when fighting the last boss through time and space SOLO. (Yes... yes I have, thank you for asking).

Well he IS the God of War.

It's bright, it's bold, it's different and done very well and remains a game I'd recommend to anyone who hasn't played it before and especially in this day and age where it can be found on handhelds and mobile devices. Pick it up, have a taste of how it should be done right and realise that few games will compare even closely to this one.