Thursday, February 05, 2009

Chrono Trigger DS

Sometimes I wonder: whom exactly do I think I'm writing for here? Who reading this blog would possibly be interested in the minutia in the second half of this post? Then I remember, narcissism is what blogging is all about. So I don't worry about it.

Sure, there are things in Chrono Trigger that don't make a great deal of sense. How come Lucca instantly has a perfect understanding of technology from thirteen hundred years in the future? If Magus just wants to get Lavos, why the whole Evil Fiendlord fooferal? Do we really buy that Guardia's judicial system is so dysfunctional? And let's not even get into the endless litany of inevitable time-travel-related paradoxes.

But the thing is, you just don't care. And not only don't you care: you feel as though caring would make you a horrible, joyless person--as indeed it would. There's something about the game's jazzy insouciance; it's complete, fully-justified self-confidence that leads to perfect acceptance. You might think that it would be tonally jarring, in the grim, post-apocalyptic future, to suddenly run into a fifties-rock-and-roll-robot biker. You might think that Chrono's mom would be in some way nonplussed to be introduced to her son's friends, who include a cavewoman, a giant, anthropomorphic amphibian, and a grim, gothic-elf-looking dude. But in both cases, you would be wrong. Johnny doesn't even invoke a raised eyebrow, and Ma takes it all in stride. That's just the kind of game it is.

Leaving aside issues of personal preference, I think Chrono Trigger is the best Japanese RPG I know (assuming that the Mother series doesn't quite fit under the traditional "Japanese RPG" aegis). At the time that it came out--and, when you think about, still, almost--Final Fantasy VI seemed like the only serious competitor for that spot. But while FFVI obviously has more complex, pathos-ridden characters and a more fearsome story, one is forced to admit that--while still FUCKING GREAT (he said, somewhat defensively)--the story does go kind of slack in the back half. CT provides the perfect balance--bright, briskly-paced, aesthetically impeccable (the Kingdom of Zeal will always be one of the most breathtaking videogame things ever), just as long as it needs to be and no longer.

Obviously, "Chrono Trigger is great" is not any sort of news flash to any RPG fan (if it is, god help you), but I just finished the DS version, so I thought I would talk about it.

The important thing: it's perfect Chrono Trigger: perfect music, no slow-down or any other bugs I could see--nothing. It was, as always, a great pleasure. The translation is somewhat revised, but it's not noticeably better or worse (although fans will mourn the loss of "or am I a bowling ball dreaming I'm a plate of sashimi"). And there are now six letters for names, so you can replace the 'h' in 'Chrono,' although it's still gone by default for some reason. But what about the new content? I will note, first, that there are almost no new graphics--it's all recycled, which is disappointing if inevitable. But there weren't many new graphics in FFIVA's Lunar Ruins, and those are awesome, right? Right.

First, there's the Arena of Ages, a rather aimless monster-fighting game, accessed from the title screen or from a gate at the End of Time. There's no real goal, except to unlock the higher tiers; you can get some decent items and equipment, but that's about it. There's no challenge whatsoever; I never even came close to losing a battle. Somewhat amusing in small doses, but that's about it.

The Lost Sanctum exist in the prehistoric and medieval periods. Here, you must complete various mostly-banal tasks from some very demanding Reptites. The problem is that this necessitates you going back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over through the SAME TWO ENVIRONMENTS, and if you think that was tedious to read, imagine how it feels to actually DO it. I actually didn't hate it as much as all THAT, but I do have a higher tedium threshold for these things than many people. I just wanted to see what cool new equipment I would acquire. Answer: some new equipment, but nothing compared to what you find in the last area, the

Dimensional Vortex. Which is...kind of lame, actually. You know how the Lunar Ruins in FFIVA used recycled floors, but spiced them up with occasional cool, non-combat floors, individual character challenges, and even a new village? Well, there's very little of that here. You play through a lot of VERY familiar territory, with very little to break up the monotony. Yes, there are new bosses. They're not very exciting or difficult. I suppose the bright spot is that in one of the sections you get to hear "Singing Mountain," which was on the soundtrack but did not appear in the original game.

Once you've done the Dimensional Vortex in Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Future, you can access a new last boss and get a new ending. It DOES deal with the infamous Schala lacuna about as well as it probably needs to; unfortunately, it does not do us the courtesy of pretending that Chrono Cross never existed, which leads to unfortunate attempted linkage. Not something we need from a game with as much structural integrity as CT.

So basically, you get some stupidly overpowered equipment (say hello to ninety percent chance of critical hits for Chrono and quadruple-nine-damage criticals for Robo and Ayla!) and get your levels stupidly high and...that's about it. Don't get me wrong; I'm sufficiently immature that I enjoy this absolutely pointless superpower to a certain extent, but it feels very, very superfluous, and you will not miss much if you give all the extra content a miss.


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