Chrono Trigger Review

Quite some time back, I wrote a first-impression review of Chrono Trigger. I called it, “the indie developer’s notes on retro games he/she has not played before.” A few months in, I finally finished the game, and now ready to talk about whether my opinion on the game has changed or not. Warning: there are spoilers everywhere!

Background

As a quick refresher, the first console I’ve owned is the Nintendo 64. My taste lean towards action-RPGs than turn-based or strategy. Charles Barkley’s Shut Up & Jam: Gaiden is awesome.

Before playing the game, I already knew that:

  1. Crono, the lead character, dies at some point.
  2. Lavos is the bad thing.
  3. Frog is a formerly human prince.
  4. There’s time travel!
  5. There’s significant decisions that affects both the story and game settings, often reflected in the future.

Lastly, I will be referencing characters to my custom names (just to confuse you):

  • Crono as Link
  • Lucca as Samus
  • Marle as Jade
  • Frog as Slip
  • Robo as Ness
  • Ayla as Croft
  • Magus as Luigi
  • Epoch as WiiU

Corrections

Last time, I’ve mentioned that I couldn’t run from battle. Apparently, I misread the instructions given at the beginning of the game, and you actually can run away from battle by holding the L and R button at the same time, and waiting until it’s your party’s turn.

Secondly, I also mentioned that experience points aren’t shared. They sort of are: party members not in battle will still receive 75% of the experience from battle.

Positive Changes In Opinion

Overall, I’ve warmed up to the game’s story and battle system. In the beginning, I’ve mentioned that I didn’t like Link that much for having very little character. My opinion changed somewhat during the first story-sequence based encounter with Lavos (the part where Link dies). I have to praise that cinematic portion because the player character does something I would not have done, and helps define the determination the player character has. It was a scant few minutes, but I definitely ended up liking the character more than, say, Link from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

While the battle system itself isn’t much to speak home of, especially when it comes to regular enemy battles, I found the boss battles to be a fascinating. Many bosses acts as a sort of a puzzle, requiring certain magic attacks or targeting specific parts first to expose their weak-points. Puzzle battles are certainly one of the many reasons I play JRPGs, and I really appreciate how the player needs to discover the “one right way” to beat the boss. That said, the boss battles themselves aren’t without some serious flaws. For one, I couldn’t see a way to swap out characters during battle, which can royally screw you over when you realize the right members aren’t in your team at the moment. Next, there are very little clues to indicate what magic spell is necessary to really pummel a boss. The one example that comes to mind is the skeletal sand monster in the desert. The proper way to defeat the boss is by stiffening it with water spells, then pummel the lower body that heals the upper one. One would think that since it’s a skeletal sand monster, maybe ice magic would cause it to freeze up. Nope, time to go back to the blackboard. The fact that you have to read a temporary text indicating that you did the right thing is a bit annoying, and worse, easily miss-able.

Next, I felt that the first part of the story was meandering a bit to establish each character’s personality. Which would have been OK — Paper Mario and its sequel are one of my favorite games, and their narrative uses the same technique — have the characters been a little more fleshed-out beyond their classic anime stereotype. Unfortunately, these meandering stories only re-establish the stereotype rather than fleshing the character out. So I find it a bit ironic that the game has to provide optional side-quests to show a little more depth for each character (with Croft as the only exception). Needless to say, I really liked the side-quests. They’re pretty short, their objectives are hinted clearly by Gaspar, and their narrative is poignant and to-the-point.

Lastly, I like how the plot wraps up towards the end of the game, as for once we aren’t focusing on a single character, but rather Lavos and Zeal. These moments helps provide reasons for the player to be motivated in taking out the main villain. Lavos itself is kind of a pointless villain, being mostly static and not being reactive to the world, but I’m OK with that: Queen Zeal takes its stead on being an interesting villain. I found it quite refreshing to find a villain that is not only selfish, but also manages to turn an entire population into a lazy, entitled culture, not unlike Brave New World. Sure, it’s implied that she was manipulated by Lavos to become like this, but that detail to me was less interesting than the fact that we’re dealing with a character who has influential power that prefers to use manipulation over violence to enforce its cause.

Negative Changes In Opinion

There were a few things I liked at the beginning, but as the game went along, I’ve become to like less. The first are the story-changing decisions: it may just be me, but I felt like they completely disappeared towards the end of the game. The lack of such mechanic made the end set of stories feel more linear.

I also felt the time-traveling mechanic to change the future was really under-utilized, especially compared to Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Only a few side quests made me feel like I was really changing things for the better or worse. A good example of quests making me feel like I’m making changes is getting rid of Luigi’s underling quest. Doing so in the middle ages drastically changes the monster village in the present era to be more friendly towards humans. On the other hand, there’s a small step in a side-quest where you change the personality of a mayor in a village by traveling back in time and showing altruism to his mother. This has no effect whatsoever in the village despite the full 180 the mayor makes, making the whole thing feel rather pointless. It’s such a shame that the majority of the side-quests take place only within the present and middle-ages era. It would have been more interesting to see what would of happened in the dark ages, the future, and pre-historic eras.

Lastly, I find myself utilizing combo techs less and less. Ultimately, a lot of single-character techs proves to be powerful enough that I’ve come to rely on them more as the game went along. So it becomes easier and easier to stick with a single favored party configuration instead of going for more variety as it nears the end of the game. This may be intentional, but given how combo techs are unlocked, I’m inclined to think it isn’t.

Other Parts I Forgot To Mention

I didn’t say anything about the audio last time, so here’s a paragraph devoted to just that: the music is hit-or-miss, and the sound effects are awesome. First the sound effects: they feel absolutely spectacular, as slashes sound great, and critical hits even better. There’s a huge variety of them, especially for a console that couldn’t render many, so I’m quite impressed by what they were able to achieve there. The music, on the other hand, swayed me from great to forgettable. The game’s soundtrack frankly doesn’t stand out, at least in ways that Cave Story does, and falls rather neatly between the “meh” list that includes Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy X. I guess I’m not that huge with Nobuo Uematsu.

Next, I haven’t mentioned my opinions about graphics. The game does look pretty good for its time, and there are places where I was surprised with the amount of detail they were able to put in. There were a few problems I had with it, though. In some levels, I felt like artistic details sacrificed the readability of walkable grounds, particularly the prehistoric and future ones. I also felt all the animations for enemy and player characters were pretty good, except for Luigi. I don’t know what he’s doing when he’s casting spells, but I swear it looks a lot like Mr. Game & Watch’s random shuffles.

Lastly, with the WiiU: I like it! I kind of wished more games has it because lets face it: overworlds are boring. I really appreciate there are cool quick-travel options in this game, though I’m not exactly a fan that it was introduced so late in the game. Still, cool stuff.

In Conclusion

Overall, I thought Chrono Trigger was good, but not great. It’s quite a slow-burner JRPG, with most of the best parts left for last. The game definitely feels like it suffered from age, especially when there are other wonderful and innovative JRPGs out there. The slow start in the game, coupled with some missing convenience features in modern games, makes it a piece I am hesitant to recommend.

Also, favorite party member combination: Link, Slip, and Ness.

#WeeklyGameMusic: Men’s Hair Club (LISA: The Painful RPG)

#WeeklyGameMusic: New week, new music.

So, quick note: I’m going to be holding off on posting #WeeklyGameMusic, as I’m now hard at work on finishing Not a Clone. So today is a special treat: Men’s Hair Club by Widdly 2 Diddly is a bizarre chiptune composition that sounds awfully like dubstep. Sounds weird? Oh, man, you’ve seen nothing, yet! The game the composition is for, LISA: The Painful RPG, is an incredibly surreal, Earthbound-inspired adventure that has frequent mood changes, absurd scenarios, and a very, very disturbing set of unavoidable situations.

LISA: The Painful RPG stars Brad, a gruff, middle-aged man adept in martial arts, and with a broken past. One day, Brad wakes up from his pain-killing drug trip (aptly named “joy”) to suddenly find a crying baby girl. Claiming it’s his “second chance,” Brad brings the girl back home with his friends and raises her in secret. Did I also mention that Brad lives in a post-apocalyptic world where all women has died? Right when his adoptive daughter, Buddy, grows to her tweens, a breakout occurs, with Buddy kidnapped and one of his friend slaughtered. Angered, Brad immediately ventures out to find who kidnapped Buddy, while a confused tipster Terry follows along.

There’s a good reason why “Painful RPG” is in the title of LISA: The Painful RPG. The game starts off as a side-scrolling adventure, where Brad can jump up or down cliffs. Unlike most platformers, Brad can not initially jump across gaps; the ability is later unlocked with an item. Walking into other grown men or monstrous abominations will often initiate a turn-based RPG battle, where Brad can use his martial arts via WASD while Terry…does something. Unpleasant decision-making is this game’s main jam, though, as Brad is frequently forced into making some terrifying choices. Would you sacrifice an arm to keep a vital party member alive? Would you go through a Russian Roulette just to get a powerful ally? The world Brad lives in is vast, darkly funny, and absolutely brutal.

LISA: The Painful RPGis available on Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

#WeeklyGameMusic: Main Menu (Epic Mickey)

#WeeklyGameMusic: New week, new music.

Now that love is over, it’s time to return to an old classic (made new (but is now old (this is so confusing))).  Epic Mickey could be described as Warren Spector’s darker remix to the classic Mickey cartoons, and its music follows suit.  James Dooley’s composition has such a classic Disney charm to it, yet manages to be more ominous than its inspiration.  A fitting re-arrangement to a game that looks at Mickey’s less kind, devious personality.

Epic Mickey‘s story is a simple one: darn old Mickey screws up big time when he fiddles around with Yen Sid’s beautiful sculpture that, itself, holds many denizens such as Oswald the lucky rabbit.  Out of pure curiosity, Mickey tries to create his own things using the magical brush, but instead creates a living monstrosity that tries to consume him.  Panicking, Mickey chucks paint thinner at it and flees before Yen Sid gets back.  Years later, and significantly more famous, Mickey completely forgets about the incident until Blot, the monstrosity, manages to take Mickey while he’s asleep into the demented world named Wasteland.

Epic Mickey is a 3D platformer that revolves around an unusual tool and weapon.  Mickey’s paintbrush can throw both paint and thinner, something that he uses to both construct and destruct the world around him.  This proves to be important when Mickey needs to construct new platforms, or break down a wall that’s in the way.  The paintbrush can also be used for combat, with paint turning enemies to allies, and thinner practically destroying them.  Much of the morality plays around which type of tool you prefer to use, and as a result, a few story elements may change on your play habits.

Epic Mickey was original developed for the Wii.  No other ports exist.

#WeeklyGameMusic: Where the Sun Shines (Suiheisen Made Nan Mile? – Deep Blue Sky & Pure White Wings -)

#WeeklyGameMusic: New week, new music.

Cover Art
Cover art from https://vndb.org/v972

With love up in the air, I had to look for something special.  And now, I’ve found it…in a obscure Japanese visual novel called Suiheisen Made Nan Mile? – Deep Blue Sky & Pure White Wings -!?  Regardless of its hentai origins, this week’s music is incredibly catchy.  I’ll forgive you if the moment you’ve played Where the Sun Shines, a lovely tune by Yasuhisa Watanabe, you started dancing.

So, forgive me for the scarce information, but this is what I can gather about Suiheisen Made Nan Mile? through a few Google searches.  The game is a regular visual novel that focuses on a simple slice-of-life of an average Japanese high school club.  You play as Sorata, an average student and a member in astronomy club.  As it turns out, the student council deems the club unworthy (which, unfortunately for the lazy club members, is a logical conclusion), forcing the members to come up with a ridiculous plan to redeem themselves: compete with the aviation club to pilot electric gliders for a world competition.  And so, their flight begins…

Unfortunately, I was not able to gather what kind of visual novel Suiheisen Made Nan Mile? is.  That is, typically, visual novels can be divided into one of the two categories: choose-your-own-adventure like Katawa Shoujo, or stat building like Long Live the Queen and Hatoful Boyfriend.  Given the (very) few reviews out there that mentions that honing in on which girl (and a guy) to date tends to be easy lends me to believe it’s the former type of game, but I can’t be too sure.  What I can confirm is that, yes, this is another erotic Japanese game (unlike Long Live the Queen and Hatoful Boyfriend), though a tame one at that.  Much like Katawa Shoujo, sex scenes are treated as an end reward rather than a pornographic journey.  Additionally, since the settings is set firmly in a non-magical world, there aren’t any tentacle monsters or other bizarre fetishes.  Lastly, replaying the game with the same starting choices actually leads to new branches in the story as well, increasing the replay value.  This does, yes, include more sex scenes.

Suiheisen Made Nan Mile? – Deep Blue Sky & Pure White Wings - was released on the Playstation Portable and PC.  It is, as far as I can tell, a Japan-only game.

#WeeklyGameMusic: Miller House (The Witch’s House)

#WeeklyGameMusic: New week, new music.

What better way to start a romantic month with an RPGMaker horror game? Accelerated heart rate is easily mistaken for love and all that. Anyway, this week’s music is a free music called Miller House, composed by Presence of Music.  It’s used effectively during a shocking plot twist from a Japanese horror game called The Witch’s House. A twist so good, it makes every M. Night Shyamalan plot-line boring.

The plot of The Witch’s House is deceptively simple. A young blond-haired girl named Viola wakes up in an opening of a forest, and finds herself stuck in a very unfortunate situation.  The forest itself is too thick to pass through, and the passage that it creates only leads to one of two dead ends. One end is blocked by an enchanted and stubborn set of rose bushes that can’t be cut by a machete; the other leads directly to a haunted house. Without much else to do (and being encouraged by a creepy, talking black cat), Viola dives right into the house.

It’s worth noting that for most first-time players, the house will kill Viola within the second room she enters. Yup, it’s that kind of game. As a defenseless girl, Viola will very frequently get hanged, poisoned, crushed, decapitated, eaten, fall, and other wonderful ways to die in this surprisingly detailed game. This game relies on a trial-and-death mechanic to solve every puzzle, although the majority of the puzzles do provide cryptic hints. Similar to other RPGMaker horror games, The Witch’s House also has a few chase moments that, due to its rarity, is shockingly effective at making the player’s hair stand on its ends. It’s rare to find a game that utilizes jump scares well, yet still feel fair and possible to beat. Just be prepared for all the blood and gore: this game does not compromise.

The Witch’s House is a freeware PC game originally developed in Japanese by Fummy (ふみー). An English translation of it exists as a free download at:
http://www.vgperson.com/games/witchhouse.htm