Sunday, September 25, 2011

Chrono Trigger 2: Crimson Echoes - Part 1

"Chrono Trigger" is one the greatest video games ever made.  If you're looking for an absolutely perfect example of a JRPG, this is it.  The craftsmanship of this game is beyond reproach, perfect pacing, excellent sprite-based graphics that hold up even today sixteen years later, a great simple battle system that can be picked up, played, and understood in minutes.  This is the classic of classics, a fantastic achievement in 2D RPGs, which I do not think will ever be topped.  This is the Concorde Moment of the genre, a masterpiece which has not been topped since.  You can argue that games like "Final Fantasy VI" or "Final Fantasy VII" were actually better games, but they simply do not have the grand vision, the unequivocal balance of tone, difficulty, and story pacing that "Chono Trigger" has.  And "Chrono Trigger" doesn't have random encounters.

"Chrono Trigger" is a magical experience.  I'm not talking out of blind nostalgia here, I only first played this game a few years ago on the DS, when it was able to hold its own against far more advanced games like "Final Fantasy XII".  By the end of "Chrono Trigger", I could not conceive of a single failing, not one.  It was a perfect game, bringing forth its time-travel based storyline with clever originality and style.  There was nothing missing, aside for Schala's plot thread, which honestly is a minor B-plot.  Everything, from the cast to the exploration to the soundtrack was done with the unrepeatable flourish of a master's brush.  Square Enix took a Dream Team of the greatest RPG names in the world at the time, gave them a limitless canvas to work with, and what was created was true art.  A cartridge of "Chrono Trigger" should hang next to the Mona Lisa.  Leonardo Di Vinci never made a sequel to that painting, how can you make a sequel to "Chrono Trigger"?

Square Enix tried with "Chrono Cross", a game I have yet to play.  Its inferiority is too obvious, its story too much of a jumbled mess, its cast a bland sea of underused characters, its battle system complex and confusing compared to the undeniable simple brilliance of "Trigger".  Some day I'm sure I'll have to try it out, but its going to be on the backburner for a long time.  What I have here instead for you is "Chrono Trigger: Crimson Echoes", the unofficial fan sequel that SQUARE ENIX DOESN'T WANT YOU TO PLAY.

Oh, and this is a huge review, I suspect, so this is only Part 1.  Here we're going to discuss, among other things, the technical details of this game, its controversial history, and whatever else I feel like.  Part 2 will be a more direct qualitative review, where I finally decide if you should play it or not.

I'm only halfway through this game, so this review is only half the things I want to say about this topic.  Enjoy what I got now.

The "Crimson Echoes" project began in "Chrono Cross", the second sequel* to "Chrono Trigger".  "Chrono Cross" is a bizarre game, designed intentionally to be as much of a break from the original as could be made.  Instead of time-travel we have inter-dimensional portals, instead of Crono and co. we have some guy named Serge and a cast of millions, its a completely different world map, and instead of a light-hearted adventure you have a dark complex anime-plot filled with enough plot twists to make Shyamalan blush.  From the start, its hard to actually tell if this game is a "Chrono Trigger" sequel, or some kind of completely new story.  Thanks to "Cross"'s weirdness, the Chrono Compendium, the number 1 fansite for "Chrono Trigger" stuff has become a huge forum of academic discussion into interpreting the series' many odd plot points.  I'm not joking, you could teach a college-level course in Chrono Theory at this point.  The plot confusion was so bad that the "Chrono Trigger" remake for the DS had to include a whole new ending just to explain some of "Cross"'s plot choices.  It would take me another fifteen posts to even begin to cover that subject.

I'll say this:  if you want to make a sequel to a fan-favorite RPG, never kill off the main heroes off-camera.  I mean, seriously.  No wonder why "Chrono Trigger 3" will never be made.

"Crimson Echoes" was a fan project made by several members of the Chrono Compendium, hoping to develop the numerous fan theories of what actually happened between "Trigger" and "Cross" into a coherent game.  The design team, Kajar Laboratories, decided to make the game as a rom hack of the original "Chrono Trigger" code.  Work began in 2004 and continued up right up until just two weeks before they were set to release it.  The main project designers, Director "Agent 12", and his two main designers, "ZeaLITY" and "Chrono'99", hoped to release it to be played on a SNES emulator, ZSNES specifically, I think.  They also took pains to cover up the original "Chrono Trigger" code, so as to not release an illicit rom of that game on the Internet - as if it wasn't stupidly easy to download that game for free just about everywhere.

In what has to be the ultimate dick move of all time, the Kajar team were sent a Cease and Desist letter from Square Enix's legal department just two weeks before they were planning to release.  This was at the point where their game was roughly 98% complete, they literally were putting the final touches on the game when it was shut down.  So in response, Kajar Laboratories shut the project down to comply with the C&D, then released a Let's Play of the game on Youtube, to show the world the game they couldn't finish.  At least "Crimson Echoes" got a lot further than "Chrono Trigger Resurrection", a fan-remake of the original game in beautiful 3D.  When they got shut down by SE, it wasn't even remotely close to being finished - if they ever could finish it all** - and so that project died forever.  For Chrono fans, the 2000s had been a rough decade, and "Crimson Echoes"'s death was just the last disappointment in a very long line of disappointments.

And that's where I thought the "Crimson Echoes" story would end, an LP on Youtube.  The world would have sit back and suffer under SE's awful miscarriage of justice and never see another Chrono game again.  Then a miracle happened, somebody leaked the rom of "Crimson Echoes" on the Internet.  At first it was a rough alpha, then a 95% completed version.  Yes, right now, you can play "Crimson Echoes" on your computer.  Just track down a file sharing site, download the rom, try to avoid viruses, and boom, the game is completely finished for your gaming pleasure.  And you can tell Square Enix to go fuck themselves.  I'm going to tell anybody who has an issue with me playing "Crimson Echoes" right now to go fuck themselves too.

The rom out there is basically the same as the one that can been seen on Youtube, lacking only the new music and having extremely slight differences.  Its fully playable, and can be beaten from beginning to end.  "Crimson Echoes" found new life.  The "Chrono Trigger"midquel that Square Enix tried to stop has now been finally released for the whole world to enjoy.

As for the game itself, its pretty clearly a "Chrono Trigger" rom.  Kajar Labs have clearly given a huge amount of work into this game, but still, it plays exactly the same as the original.  All the playable characters are back, and they all play mostly the same, aside from small tweaks to their abilities here and there.  Most of the locations either have returned whole cloth or have been reshuffled and repackaged as new zones.  Its pretty obvious to spot which graphics Kajar Labs took and re-purposed to create their new dungeons.  Most of the enemies are reused "Trigger" enemies, with maybe a small difference in behavior here and there.  No dungeons were repeated whole cloth, but several bosses were only given a skin job and a new name.  Mother Brain is now a Spirit Serpent, for one.  There are new characters, and some new sprites, but ultimately the experience is pretty clearly "Chrono Trigger" rehashed.  An untrained eye would never be able to tell these two games apart.

Same classic 3D Attack.  Same classic game.

I'm not going to say that Kajar Labs are lazy, or cut corners.  Clearly they made the best game they possibly could with the resources available.  There is a set limit to what can be done with a rom hack, and "Crimson Echoes" has most likely reached it.  Ultimately its obvious that it would have been better to make a whole new game largely from scratch, but that's a tall order for a small fan project, even one that took five years to complete.  "Crimson Echoes" is considerably more of a game than I could ever hope to make, even if 90% of the work belongs to the original "Chrono Trigger" design team.  The only bits of new graphics in this game that are truly memorable are the updated menu sprites, most new graphics are pretty obvious composites of "Chrono Trigger" originals.

The most ambitious parts of the "Crimson Echoes" project ultimately didn't make it into the final product.  For one, they wanted to replace Ayla in the party with Schala, now fully playable.  (I'm thankful they scrapped this idea, because I love Ayla.  She's as strong as she is hot, and that's a great combination.)  The Schala plan fell apart because they couldn't figure out the coding, so we're left with Schala spending the entire game standing around doing nothing in the background.  Also, inexplicably, Ayla doesn't join the party until really really late in the game, exactly what Kajar was thinking there is beyond me.  The other big addition was going to be Frog in human form, which got lost in the remaining 2%.  A different rom hack of "Crimson Echoes", "Flames of Eternity" - basically a rom hack of a rom hack - was actually able to implement human Frog, but I haven't play that one yet.  I'm still not sure if Frog is supposed to be human or not in this game.

Mostly the game looks very good, and could pass for a real SNES game made by a game developer.  However, there are a few zones in the game that look very rough, with blocky sprites and ugly cut-offs.  This is especially bad in the return to the Black Omen, which is the ugliest zone I have ever seen in a video game.  And their attempts to show off a destroyed Guardia are laughably bad - ruining what should be a shocking visual scene of your home town in ruins.  The best way to describe it is pixel shit.  Most of the game looks exactly the same as "Chrono Trigger", even locations that should plot-wise, look very very different.  The future has the same look when Lavos has destroyed it, when Lavos was defeated, and when Reptiles ruled instead of humans for all history.  There a few new location sprites, but these all seem very rough.  2% is one excuse, but I don't think Kajar Labs could have ever fixed these problems.  Also, a lot of areas are unfinished, so are blocked by guards or "cave-ins" or other obvious short cuts.  Instead of a train in the future to go between continents, there's a tunnel filled with bizarre static music.

 Sinkholes, huh?

For a rom hack, the game works extremely well, without many glitches.  It is considerably rougher than "Chrono Trigger", but this is to be expected.  The game has only completely crashed on me once, which killed my save file, but beyond that it works really well.  There are lots of fun glitches to be seen though.  My favorite is the BlackTyrano, a bizarre glitched enemy that replaced Gato in the Millennium Fair.  Its just a giant dinosaur skull that kills you instantly, leaving your party dead on the floor.  But instead of a Game Over, you can move the corpses around and leave the area, then continue the game as normal.  Crono's dead body just floated across the ground and he came back to life.  Let's watch:

 Hey, you're not Gato.

Huh?

Oh fuck!

And I'm dead...

But only mostly dead.

Going home.  Wonder how Mom will react when she sees this!

This is the exception rather than the rule, Kajar Labs actually did do a great job to finish this game the best way they could.

There are little bits and pieces off here and there, like you can't seem to rearrange your party until you get more than three party members to choose from.  The normal options of changing a name don't work, the game only accepts the standard names.  You have to find a Nu in Melchoir's hut to change say, Crono's name to "Blue".  At one point during a start of the battle, a Reptite tried to stand on a chair and flew off the screen, disappearing from history forever.  There was a robot shopkeeper in the Dinosaur Future that broke or something, because I could only shop with him one time.  Maybe I pissed him off, because I could never talk with that robot again.  You can never be sure if you're just lost or if the game glitched up, its a unique experience.

But on that, we've reached the conclusion of this part of the review.  When I actually finish the game completely, we'll get a proper review of the story and gameplay.  Part 2 is coming, I don't know exactly when, but it will be there.  As I've said before, I'm really busy, and at the moment I got three other posts to make along with everything else.  I think Part 2 should be up in about two weeks.  For now I'll just say this:  the game is fun, super challenging, and has a really really good plot for fanfiction.  See you then.

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* Before "Chrono Cross" there was "Radical Dreamers", a Japan-only text-based game released on a Japan-only satellite-television add-on for the Super Nintendo.  That alone should tell you its weird.  I don't even understand how the satellite business works.   "Radical Dreamers" vaguely follows the same plot as "Cross", starring a guy named Serge with a love interest named Kid who are looking for the Frozen Flame.  It also includes Magus, a major character completely absent from "Cross", as a magician named Magil.  "Radical Dreamers" is basically a choose-your-own-adventure book with a soundtrack, its hardly a game at all.  This is too bad, because the game actually does have the makings for an excellent RPG, and could have been a far better sequel to "Chrono Trigger", I feel, if Square hadn't been incredibly stupid and rushed production.  It has a stronger story, a solid cast of characters, and Magus!  The story basically ends at the first dungeon, without any conclusion or closure.  "Chrono Cross" makes all of "Radical Dreamers" non-canon (or an alternate dimension) anyway, so its a total waste of what could have been a great game.

Also, they should have made it a fucking RPG!  What was Square thinking??

** "Chrono Resurrection" was actually designed by serious graphic artists, unlike "Crimson Echoes", this is why that game feels considerably more polished and has much better artwork.  However, it was never going to be a full remake of "Chrono Trigger", instead it was going to be ten "interactive scenes", whatever that means.  So it was never going to be a full game.  The trailers released on Youtube might just be CG movies dressed up to look like a game, I can't actually be sure how forward in development they were.  One thing that must be said about "Chrono Resurrection", at least, is that were to capture Akira Toriyama's artwork in 3D brilliantly.  Also, the musical remixes of the original "Chrono Trigger" score are astounding, to say the least.  "Crimson Echoes", in comparison, has next to no passable artwork (aside from the picture at the top), and its original music is clearly inferior.

15 comments:

  1. I remember reading your "Tales from the Q" about Chrono Trigger. Back then it didn't seem your opinion on the game was that high. When you wrote that, Akira Toriyama's art was a bad thing if I recall.

    I am one of the fans who suffered those disappointments. It's clear that Squeenix not only will let this IP rot away in their basement, but will also stop any attempt at keeping the interest in the game alive.

    BTW, I have said that before, but if you liked Chrono Trigger you should really try your hand at Radiant Historia for the DS. It has an interesting and simple turn-based combat system in which the enemies are disposed in a 3x3 grid and you can beat them into one tile and get lenthy combos on them. The graphics are 16-bit styled sprite on a 3-D background. The music was composed by Yoko Shimomura. The plot involves time travel, taken to a whole new level (various points in time, separated into two alternative timelines) likeable characters and a political assassination plot that turns out to be (what else?) a quest to saving the world.

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  2. @Eri: I wouldn't take all that much I wrote back in high school with all that much seriousness. At the very least, I was a moron. Clearly I didn't write that review very well at all, because I always loved the way Chrono Trigger looked.

    Now as for my review of Crisis Core, those opinions haven't changed at all.

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  3. If you're going to play the fan sequel, you HAVE to play the official sequel. It was all written by Masato Kato, the guy who wrote the Zeal parts of Trigger, the flashback scenes in Final Fantasy VII, and most of the best parts of Xenogears. And it has some of the best music of any RPG. Just look up the song "Scars of Time" on Youtube, it's riveting.

    Cross isn't as bad as people say it is.

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    1. Cross was amazing and the reviewer sounds like an idiot. Why would you talk down about a game you haven't played?

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  4. I'll tell you right now, Chrono Cross SUCKS! It is a horrible game and be glad that you will never play it. It is trying to redo what Chrono Trigger did and was a giant fail.

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  5. Uh, I don't think Chrono Cross tried to redo what Chrono Trigger did at all. New battle system, mostly new characters, new setting, and a new story that builds on the foundation the original established. If anything, Kato tried to distance the beginning of the plot from Trigger so new players could understand the story (apparently, most SNES gamers moved on to the N64 and not the Playstation).

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  6. Kato wanted to make Chrono Cross undertandable? he should have kept it simple then.

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  7. I've been looking at the list of Bleach episodes on Wikipedia. The battle between Ichigo and Ulquiorra doesn't properly begin until episode 267, about 34 weeks from now.

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  8. Teach a college course on Chrono theory?
    You're probably right.
    Look at this: http://faqs.ign.com/articles/678/678765p1.html
    Yeah, I know it's IGN but I can't find anywhere else.

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  9. @Drake...
    I guess I can understand what you're saying, though you both are right in a sense, I think that they tried to make the game fresh and new to meet with the graphics of the PSX as well as try to make it stay like a sequel or to see if it will expand into its own game series. They saw that Chrono Trigger had potential, but that was for the Snes graphics, and they tested it in 3D, and got failure results in the end and eventually trashed the idea of ever making it into a continuous series because they knew that 3D games was what the big money was going to go into, so they never made a sequel because they think it will end like Chrono Cross did and will be a waste of an investment and more angry fan mail, SO they try to just preserve the memory's to try to keep the angry fans down.

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  10. Blue, I didn't know you were into hacks. Have you tried playing Legend of Zelda: Parallel Worlds?
    -- Vincent

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  11. I appreciate this review. Yes the game is flawed, and mad credits to a few people trying to make a whole game. If you can look past the flaws, this is a sequel to one of the best games ever made, and this, for me, is one of the best games I've played in my life.

    I loved Chrono Trigger so much that I did play Chrono Cross. It feels like a totally standalone game that simply threw in a few Chrono Trigger references, like they did it just to ride on its coattails and sell more. If you translated the game from Japanese yourself and changed some words, this would be a totally separate game. Except for the fragment of the Arris Dome, some names, and the popup of Schala at the very end, it had no correlation at all. I'm glad I played it but won't play it again, there are too many characters.

    Having played both, that made Crimson Echoes just awesome to play. Yeah parts are really hard, some may look like they had a limited budged, I'd have changed things myself...but playing with open eyes and no expectations I'm glad I played it and will replay it again in a few months.

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