Friday, September 30, 2011

Chrono Trigger 2: Crimson Echoes - Part 2

Guess what?  I beat it!  Yay!  So now we can conclude this epic two-part review of "Chrono Trigger: Crimson Echoes", the only RPG so hot that playing it could potentially make its creators liable for tens of thousands of dollars in copyright damages.

In Part 1 I ultimately decided that the game could not develop an identity of its own distinguishable from the 1995 RPG classic it was romhacked from.  It plays the same, it looks the same.  All the best features of "Crimson Echoes" are not the work of Kajar Labs, but instead Square Enix's original Dream Team.  So as a sequel, it has to suffer in the shadow of "Chrono Trigger 1".mostly because its creators simply lacked the technical skills and possibly the ambition to make an experience that could properly be called its own game.  I'd say "Crimson Echoes" is less a sequel than an expansion pack.  A very long expansion pack with a story the length of a sequel, but an expansion pack still.  You can't really appreciate this game on its own without having played and loved "Chrono Trigger", that much should be clear almost immediately.

The ultimate goal of Kajar Labs was never to make a new game, even though they called this game a "sequel".  They wanted to make an extremely elaborate platform by which to tell the story of what happened between "Trigger" and "Cross".  That's not to say they neglected the gameplay, they did an excellent job creating a full-length RPG full of dungeons and bosses.  But making an original experience was never their aim.  Honestly this comes up in the storyline too, which somewhat of a disjointed adventure because the story constantly has to go out of its way to explain one of "Chrono Cross"'s many mysteries.  If only Misato Kato wasn't in such a pretentious mood when it came to "Cross" then maybe this game could go ahead and be something of its own instead of doing the plot-building work he refused to.  Honestly, Kato doesn't need any help, he needs a kick in the ass.

Well, Kajar Labs still did the best job they ever could, we have to remember that.  But is their best good enough?  We're about to find out.

The main problem of "Crimson Echoes" seems to be a constant battle to keep the timeline intact.  Crono and co. now basically are "Time Squad" only without the gay robot.  (Robo gets all the cyber honies.)  Balthesar, one of the Three Gurus from "Chrono Trigger" has built a huge time fortress called Chronopolis in the Lavos-less future, where he conducts weird experiments and fights against mysterious forces within the timeline.  You see, King Zeal, Magus and Schala's father has returned from his death pre-"Chrono Trigger", and he's pissed off now that his floating empire has fallen into the sea.  He's got a piece of Lavos' soul called the Frozen Flame and is wrecking havoc across all the eras in order to...  Well, I'm not entirely sure what he's trying to do, but we'll get to that later.  Its up to Crono and the others to join together and kick ass once again.

 The old crew reassembled.

So immediately with "Crimson Echoes", all the old time zones are back.  We got all the old playable characters, most of the non-playable characters, and since this game is rom hack, most of the bosses are back too.  As I mentioned before, the game plays exactly the same as "Chrono Trigger 1", with only the slightest tweeks to the combat.  And by "tweeks", I mean that just made the game a heck of a lot harder.  Most of the Techs are back, though some characters' Tech sets have been tweeked considerably, especially Magus.  However, I really can't think of any character who plays hugely different.  My final party was still Crono-Frog-Ayla, no matter what changes were implemented.

There are a handful of new eras to explore, most notably a Future That Did Not Refuse to Change, where you can find Chronopolis.  Here we have the futuristic domed world that only appeared in a cutscene in the original game come to life.  Robots live happily with humans in a world ruled by a harsh dictatorship called "the Central Regime".  There's also a complete dinosaur timeline, where thanks to King Zeal's meddling an alternate future of reptile people rule the world... and build roughly the exact same world as the humans do.  I can't help but be disappointed when "Crimson Echoes" failed to imagine what a world ruled by Velociraptor-people would look like.  (Kajar Labsattempt to make a cool "Chrono Cross"-inspired design for the dinosaur capital, but for some reason left it on the drawing board.)  The dinosaur timeline has three separate eras, but one clearly was unfinished because it doesn't have a world map.  Finally there's 1 AD, another brand new timeline that depicts the foundation of Marle's Kingdom of Guardia during a derange lunatic king named Cedric.  Unfortunately you can't fly your time-traveling Airship through any of these new worlds, and a lot of locations within them seem unfinished.  You can spot half a dozen places in the Good Future that bizarrely you can't enter.

"Crimson Echoes" comes off ultimately as a far flatter and less visually rich game than its predecessor.  There are plenty of great designs from "Chrono Trigger" that didn't make it here.  They really couldn't find a place for the downright stunning exteriors to the castle prison?  "Chrono Trigger" had plenty of locations that were able to bring in different camera angles other than basic top-down, "Crimson Echoes" has none of them.  The only impressive set piece in this game is the final dungeon, when the Time Compression (or whatever is going on) causing the background to shift wildly to completely different locations.

I mentioned before that the game is harder.  This is probably the hardest or the second-hardest* RPG I've ever played.  Unfortunately, there's a difference between good difficult and stupid difficulty.  In good difficulty, the game is legitimately challenging and forces you to think up new strategies to defeat the next boss.  In stupid difficulty, you just increase enemy HP to a ridiculous degree.  "Chrono Trigger" was the most streamlined and simply fun RPG ever made next to "Final Fantasy XII", and "Crimson Echoes" found a way to make it tedious and slow.  Get ready to enjoy eight-minute battles folks.  Sometimes these enemies don't chance of ever winning, they simply cannot hit hard enough, but their HP is so high that it takes forever for the battle to end.  I don't know why they thought that "Chrono Trigger" was too easy, the game was plenty challenging.  Weirdly, "Crimson Echoes" is actually really easy in ways that "Chrono Trigger" wasn't.  For example, rare drops do not exist, enemies will always drop items all the time.  So you'll end the game with dozens of Hi-Ethers and super items.  The biggest balance issue beyond enemy HP is how friggin' long it takes to learn Techs.  Somebody apparently thinks I enjoy spending hours grinding in order to learn a spell essential to overcome the next dungeon.  "Chrono Trigger" required no grinding, it was a perfect game.  Learn from that.  A lot of people complain about the Marle-solo sections, because Marle is definitely the one character you don't want to solo.  She's the White Mage.  But I actually thought this part was a nice change of pace, and is actually doable because you can find a weapon that causes Confuse almost 100% of the time.

Oh, and there's an optional dungeon with random-FUCKING-battles.  Random battles in a "Chrono Trigger" game!  Nooo!  Just No!  Wrong wrong wrong.  You are missing the point, Kajar Labs.

As for the main game content, its divided into a series of chapters.  Since we already explored all the eras, the new game layout is basically episodic.  Balthasar in Chronopolis gives you a mission, you go out, kick ass, return to Chronopolis over and over.  There is very little continuous adventuring, aside from the high-paced adventure in Dinosaur Times, which by the way, is the best part of the entire game.  Ultimately you don't get the sense of an opening evolving world, its the same world, just with a new thing attacking it.  There are interesting new additions like a Dragon Quest-style casino, a Battle Square from "Final Fantasy VII", and... that's it, actually.  There are new dungeons, and new bosses, but since bosses are often reskins of old bosses, you'll know exactly how to beat them.  Son of Sun shows up again, for no reason, and you can beat him the same way.  The game ultimately ends with sidequests, but few of them are nearly as creative as "Chrono Trigger"'s.  Its just a Zelda trade sequence and museum collection thing from "Dragon Quest V", along with a few other unmemorable quests.  You won't find anything as brilliant as changing history to make the Porre Mayor a nicer person, or leaving Robo behind for 1000 years to make a forest**.

At the very least, the final boss is a real hard motherfucker.  And a really impressive-looking original sprite.  "Crimson Echoes" is an odd game in that it the production value seems to keep on improving as time goes on.


Okay, let's talk story now.  (This review is massive already, I see.)  Since the main point of this game is to link together "Chrono Trigger" and "Chrono Cross" there are at least four major issues you need to address.  Misato Kato dropped a ball the size of nine tons when he forgot to answer these questions, and now its Kajar's chance to answer them:
  • What happened to Crono, Marle, and Lucca when the Kingdom of Guardia fell?  Are they dead?
  • How the heck would Crono and Marle let Guardia fall anyway?  If you can beat Lavos, the ultimate evil of the cosmos, how would a human military be a threat?
  • Where is Magus?  Originally Guile was supposed to be Magus in "Cross", but when the game's cast ballooned to forty-five, Kato cut this information out so that Guile wouldn't over shadow the other nobodies.  Kato has a really stupid streak.
  •  How did Schala go from a sweet princess to half of an evil monster out to destroy the universe?
Well, the game does answer all those questions, along with a ton more that nobody asked for.  Like why "Cross" uses Elements instead of magic, where Dinopolis came from, the origins of some folks called the "Dragoons", and a lot of background info on various theories that ZeaLITY held about the Chrono series' time rules.  The main issue is if the answers that "Crimson Echoes" supplies can be satisfying.

 King Zeal on a typical Tuesday.

As I mentioned before, the main driver of the story is King Zeal returning from the dead.  Since he holds the Frozen Flame, his mind is being corrupted by Lavos to go wander the world and cause chaos.  Zeal joins up with Dalton, the douchy joke villain from the first game, and later with Kashmir, Magus's successor as the leader of the Fiends***.  Zeal appears, summons a couple of fire balls, says something menacing, then moves on to the next plan.  I really don't get his goal in this game.  First he's trying to kill Lavos in the past to save Zeal, then he's trying to kill off Crono and co., then he's just summoning Zeal again, then he's trying to Reunion his way with Lavos and become a God.  Its really inconsistent.  Also, Zeal seems like a really clumsy villain, since his first plan results in the Dinosaur Timeline and the extinction of humanity.  Later he gets Schala killed, completely by accident.  Zeal also has a weird habit of saying really random stuff like when Schala dies he says "dirty pool".  What?  He also compares Lavos's hatred to "porridge".  Perhaps King Zeal is what happens when a short bus kid ends up as the greatest mage in history.  Oh, if you haven't noticed yet, King Zeal is a pretty blatant Sephiroth stand-in, and Lavos has become Jenova.  There is a lot of "Final Fantasy VII" in this game, trust me.

"Crimson Echoes" is a considerably darker game than "Chrono Trigger", though this is inevitable if you're going to connect with "Cross".  The game repeatedly calls you out on screwing with time and erasing possible alternate universes, thus locking the inhabitants of those times in the Void beyond existence.  At one point, Crono flat out murders two random NPCs because he's pissed to see Marle die (she gets better).  Like what the Hell??  Then there's a sidequest where the game forces you to poison a completely innocent historical figure because he needs to die in order for the timeline to be secured.  I don't remember "Time Squad" doing an episode where Larry 3000 slices Lincoln's throat because John Wilkes Booth failed.  This is just plain fucked-up game.  Oh, you have no choice at all in this, you have to murder that guy.  This isn't "Tactics Ogre" where you can be a saint, you have to be evil, there is no choice.  I don't think Kajar Labs thought this one through.  There was an attempt to include some kind of political and economic overtones in the game, but this only succeeded in boring the shit out of me.  "Chrono Trigger" was a happy adventure, when its sequel tries to talk about trade balances and other serious topics, I go to sleep.  I like it when Yasumi Matsuno goes dark and serious, but not when the words "trade routes" are uttered.

 Crono... you talked!

The most major change in the basic character line-up is that Crono can talk now, I guess Marle taught him how in the years they've been married.  This is a bit unsettling at first, but luckily Crono says so little you never really notice, except when he does something wildly out of character like murdering lizard people.  The rationale is to make "Crimson Echoes" an ensemble game, they didn't want there to be a single hero.  Well, Crono was the hero, I think he's going to stay that way in this game.  I still named him "Blue", and I was still way freaked out when he starting killing, because he's supposed to be my personal avatar in the game.  My video game avatars typically act like Link, Hero of Time:  kind, selfless, utterly incorruptible.  Its just the kind of person I want to be.

...

The cheapest thing the story does to seem more serious is killing off Kino, Ayla's way younger husband.  Kino and Ayla was a touching kind of dynamic in the first game, killing him off does nothing.  It affects the story in no way because Kino dies in the prologue.  Maybe if Zeal killed him it might have meant something, but it doesn't, its just stupid.  Plus I have the uncomfortable feeling that Kino was killed to pair Ayla up with Frog... which is just weird.  Doubly so if Frog is still a frog because you didn't finish implementing his human sprites.  Frog x Ayla... what?

The Fall of Guardia is where "Crimson Echoes" should reach its climax.  This is the single darkest moment of the entire series, the loss of the hero's homeland.  Guardia only falls because King Zeal summons an entire Fiend army along with Dalton's forces.  You beat Dalton, then the enemy army massacres Guardia and Crono's hometown.  This should be an extremely frightening moment, but its ruined by the tone-killing addition of slapstick and jokes.  Plus, Guardia only really falls because Crono and Marle don't feel like fighting for it, they just sort of let Porre bully them out of the monarchy.  Well that's a load of bullshit!  I'd fight for that kingdom!  You don't just let your country fall without a fight, this is ridiculous.  Crono and Marle probably needed to die during this story, its the only solution to Kato's huge plotholes.  Instead "Crimson Echoes" says they go on a different adventure to fix some time distortions caused by King Zeal's endless clumsiness.  (This was supposed to be a sequel hook I think for a Kajar Labs "Chrono Break", but that clearly will never happen.  That's really sad.)

As for Schala, she is saved relatively early in the game with hilarious ease.  This is when she was supposed to be playable.  But since she isn't playable, she hangs around the base, doing nothing in particular all game.  Oh, but then she gets sucked into the Void by King Zeal, because once again, that guy is serious clumsy.  "Oops, got my daughter caught in the Void, shit.  Well, I'll deal with that later, first to complete my constantly-changing evil plan."  Then Schala fuses with Lavos and becomes the Dream Devourer just as "Cross" depicts.  So ultimately her rescue goes nowhere, because she's right back where she started, now she just gets to die twice.  Schala's disappearance means that Ayla has no reason at all to not be playable from the moment you meet her.  But I guess the developers had an issue with the world's most nubile cavewoman (they did plan to kill her off at one point), because Ayla doesn't join until three dungeons left in the game.  And there's no explanation as to why she didn't join before, suddenly she's feeling better.

By the way, Ayla looks great even after having a kid.  Rock me momma like a wagon wheel, indeed.

Oh, as for where Magus is in "Chrono Cross", nobody answers that at all.  "Radical Dreamers" had a perfectly fine solution for this one until Kato had to retcon it and screw everything up.  "Crimson Echoes" has no answer, he learns some time magic from Papa Zeal, and that's it.  So no closure at all there.  And really, I still don't think "Chrono Trigger" has concluded.  There's something still missing, something that needs to tie everything up.  "Cross" ties nothing up, it only created way more problems.  I guess SE just needs to make that "Chrono Break" already, huh?

I mean, "Crimson Echoes" does manage to accomplish a huge lot for a piece of fanfiction.  It manages to create a really dark atmosphere without seeming like a massive break from "Trigger"'s happy-go-lucky Yuji Horii atmosphere.  There are a few funny moments, legitimately good scenes.  There is a lot to love here, I just feel I have to be as precise as possible in this review, because not a lot of people will play "Crimson Echoes".  This post might just be the end of your "Crimson Echoes" experience.

Well, that's unfortunate, because I can't say "Crimson Echoes" is a bad game.  Was it a good game?  Not really, because its too much of a rip-off to really say its any good.  But still, its more "Chrono Trigger".  It might be a rehash, but its a rehash of something really really fun.  Plus since this game can be really friggin' hard, its another game that really feels like an accomplishment once you finish it.  The story was far from terrible either, even if it had some issues.  "Chrono Trigger" is "Chrono Trigger", even a filtered version like this shines through.  Definitely I hold no regrets in playing it.  I can't say if this game was enjoyable thanks to Kajar Labs, of course, they really couldn't add anything interesting the experience.  They simply stood on the work of greater designers, so they don't deserve the credit for this.  "Crimson Echoes" is a fun game thanks to Yuji Horii, Akira Toriyama, Hironobu Sakaguchi, and yes, even Misato Kato.  If you aren't convinced for this game, "Chrono Trigger" is right there.  Enjoy it.  Cherish it.

I guess this means I have to play "Chrono Cross" now, huh?  I only bashed it nine or ten times...  Shit.  Its the only fair thing, I guess.

------------------------------------------------
* Nothing can top "Final Fantasy IV DS" of course.  That game is the digital equivalent of baby murder.

** You can talk with Robo when he's left behind in the past, by the way.  He ignores your current quest to keep on gardening.

*** The original translation called the monster race "Mystics" for no obvious reason.  The DS remake called them "Fiends".  This game uses the old translation, so I get really confused a lot.  Also, since this is a full SNES game, it has the faults of the SNES as well, such as text limits.  "WoodnSpn" is an item here.

10 comments:

  1. How do you kill of Kino? That's just messed up.

    Is Cross available on the PSN now? I know they were talking about releasing it digitally, but I don't know if they ever got around to it? I have a few copies of it that I amassed over the years (once game stores stopped selling PS1 games I started buying any I could find that I liked, even if I already owned copies of it, just in case).

    I really don't think you'll dislike Cross as much as you do when you've only read about it. You'll want to, but it has it's own charm, and despite there being a bajillion characters, there are some that are pretty cool.

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  2. I didn't know you were into hacks, Blue.
    Knowing that you're a die-hard Zelda fan, I assume you've heard of the "Legen of Zelda: Parallel Worlds" hack? Have you given it a shot?
    PW is my kind of hack, it's a complete over-haul of Link to the Past, the graphics are improved, new map, new dungeons, new story, new items even!
    If anyone is reading this comment, look it up/try it! It's challenging, but Zelda-hard-challenging.
    -- Vincent

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  3. Hi I started playing chrono trigger in 2008 it was nice but then it began to get hard i stopped playing a while then I started playing a Zelda made rpg Dink Smallwood I eventually finished after many months then it reminded me of Chrono Trigger I forced myself to finish it as Frustrating as it was till Ive fallin in love with it because the game allows you to play with one foe magus it was awsome then I stumble Upon Chrono trigger crimson echoes I didnt know after all this time that fans worldwide also was interested in the game I started playing it then I got stuck by some point I cant seem to find the three people who are dreaming of becoming knights A young boy in the present age is lost which of the heroes families will take him in who is this young boy The museum in 1005 is curious for ancient artifacts and last but not least I cant find the God of war anywhere he also needs attention So Mr Blue I know its alot to ask But I really to finish the game I have a reputation Of that I dont leave a game unfinished Pls? help me

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  4. Ugh.
    I was looking for a walkthrough for the sidequest in which Frog trains the new Guardia Knight recruits and, what do I get instead?
    Some nostalgia-addled wanker nobody complaining about a pretty damn sweet fangame. Typical luck of mine. Heh.

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  5. Actually if you looked, Magus in the ending wanted to open a portral so he could save Schala from the dream Devour, which connects to the DS extra fight. Also I don't see how Chrono was ooc, he doesn't know those Reptites on a personal level, and he just found out Marle was dead. As for Chrono and Marle not protecting Guardia-you realize there were far more important things to deal with right, like you know King Zeal? As for King Zeal, his spell was interuppted when Chrono hit him, so Lavos never rose, and even before that it is possible Zeal decided at the last minute to stop the spell and go have Zeal rise up first. He was being manipulated in desire by Lavos, which was why he was trying to get the gang out of his way and toying with them (he even realizes it). He wanted to fuse with Lavos to ge stronger. All in all, I really don't agree with the story flaws you said, because if you look what happened, it makes sense.

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  6. I found an interesting little glitch by complete accident. Equip magus/janus with the cyan cover armor. That's it. For some ridiculous reason known only to God and perhaps fate, it jacks up the power of his double tap tech. I found it when I was doing 8800+ damage... per hit... 17000+ damage... and I was only level 30 ( without the armor it was something around 250 each hit). Makes the game almost too easy, but especially useful at the coliseum, at least until you get the "bad armor" handicap. So go forth and enjoy crushing everything in your path like worthless insects LOL!

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    Replies
    1. Duuuuude
      The last Battle lasted like 2 minutes instead of like 36 years of hitting my head agains The keyboard.

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  7. 1000000000000000000000000000000000000% disagree with you.
    Honestly I loved that game.
    The story is darker, and I like that.
    One thing I hated in Chrono Trigger was the silent Crono, but Crimson Echoes not only gives Crono a personality, but also makes him not a 100% good charactr (I like when a character is not 100% good because in my opinion it feels like that character is more human).
    Another thing I liked was King Zeal, who feels like a more empathetic villain than Lavos (Lavos had no personality whatsoever, while King Zeal is driven by revenge because Lavos has destroyed his kingdom).
    I also find the difficulty of that game the good kind of hard, except for some parts, and I really liked the story in general.

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  8. I for one will reccomend any Chrono Trigger fan to play this game, its a staple and no question should be played. I agree with the review of it to a large extent, though considering this game was made by basically 3 people with a monetary budget of 0$ over 5 years, fighting a bitch-ass cease and desist letter (screw you for that letter by the way), i think Zeality and his crew did a tremendous job. This was not some Mario Bros. hack, this was a full on game. Yeah there were lots of flaws, but there was no dream team of professionals and millions of dollars and a cast of hundreds. For the guys who made this I give a massive amount of credit.

    I read and write CT fanfiction, I've played the original game 6 or 7 times all the way. My gauge for difficulty is ...I think Lavos was legitimately one of the hardest bosses (without cheating or leveling up for hours), and I've beaten old NES games that weren't even fair, forget Ninja Gaiden Black, try the old NES one. So based on my gauge of what I consider hard, I would put Crimson Echoes up there maybe a 7/10 from me personally. The solo Marle part was aggrivating a bit, as was Magus's at the beginning. In other words if you tried that Zelda Parallel worlds and gave up after 5 minutes, you won't finish this either (I'd consider parallel worlds just a little harder, and I beat the original difficult release by myself.)

    So...yeah its hard. But its rewarding. As a piece of fanficion as you called it, its brilliant. As a standalone game, its 'good' and for any fan of CT, you will no question want to play this game, go download it now.

    One last thing about the difficulty. The gameplay and 'comprehension' may be two different mindsets. Meaning beating it as a video game is one thing. Trying to mentally tie together Chrono Trigger, Crimson Echoes and Chrono Cross into a timeline in your own head may drive you bonkers. I first played this 3 years ago and I got out graph papers to try and figure out the chronology of this game (confusing as crap at times).

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