Posted in Retro Gaming

Chrono Cross Part 7: Shopping in the past

(This is part of my journey going playing through Chrono Cross. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

The crew continue to penetrate deeper into the Dead Sea, where we get an increasing picture of a monumental disaster paused right at its peak. Massive waves are frozen as they crash through high-tech-looking buildings, and we’re just strolling on top of the surf like nobody’s business. We also fight “robo duckys” here, because why not?

On one of the monitors, we get yet another one of these infuriating sort-of (but not clearly explained) connections to Chrono Trigger, as Lavos is directly called out. There’s also an Enerton device (“but you’re still hungry…”) later in this level. But this isn’t a sequel, oh no!

At the center of the Dead Sea is the tower of Geddon — actually, several towers fused together somehow. Maybe the robo duckys have been busy over the past thousand years?

It is a really neat place — maybe one of my favorites in the game so far. It’s like a fusion of subway, shopping mall, and even dinner theater jammed together.

We keep encountering what looks like the shades of Chrono, Lucca, and Marle, but as kids.

They then encounter Nadia’s Bell (from 1000 A.D.) smashed on the courtyard floor. Argh, this game is so infuriating with these vague teases. Anyway, the shades accuse Serge of ruining the planet and messing up the victory from the previous game, which is explained in further detail by a friend of Serge’s father, Manuel. Manuel said that the aversion of future disaster by Lavos was somehow undone by Serge surviving a storm a decade ago, so now the planet is on track to be ruined again.

One of the fun little things about this game is that you can sometimes have the same characters from the two worlds encounter each other. There tends to be a lot of head-scratching and paradoxes afterward.

Before there was ever “Pray return to Waking Sands,” there was “We gotta go to Viper Mansion AGAIN?!?” Hey, Chrono Cross’ world is only so big, so the devs obviously liked getting the most out of every location. So yeah, we’re back in the mansion, this time trying to rescue Viper’s daughter Riddell and pick up a few more recruits.

The whole affair in the mansion this time ends in — naturally — a dinosaur stampede over the oppressing military. As these things often do.

Posted in Retro Gaming

Chrono Cross Part 6: Crossing the Dead Sea

(This is part of my journey going playing through Chrono Cross. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

It’s part of the quirky charm of this game that almost every character “speaks” in a written dialect, even though it makes no sense why such a small world would boast such a wide range of earth nationalities and languages. Hey, it gives the characters more personality, right? I’m down with it.

Anyway, a mermaid encourages the crew to head over to the pirate ship in this world for more answers, including why there’s an island full of ghosts walking around. Actually, in this world, the Zelbess is a cruise ship, so I guess it had a better life.

It turns out that this world’s Fargo took away the sage who would sing some sort of song to give peace to the spirits, hence why they’re all uppity now.

On the ship, Chrono Cross takes a stab at being an adventure game for a bit. The initial goal is to get to a fight club section in order to meet the sage. But to get there, the characters need the captain’s permission. To get the permission, they have to beat him at roulette in the casino (which is rigged). To unrig the table, they have to be turned into cats during a magic show and then roam through previously inaccessible areas. It’s kind of neat, and it doesn’t go on for too long.

Finally the team catches up with the Sage to find out how to get into the Dead Sea. He lectures us about how humans are bad and have oppressed the demi-humans, a plot thread that I think this game does a really poor job expanding. Besides, aren’t I — as Lynx — a demi-human? Lay off the guilt, dude. At least he gives us crabs in the end. Er, a fiddler crab, which apparently unlocks the way into the sea.

While we do that, however, rock star Nikki asks us, a mermaid, and his band to help save an island from all of the monsters/ghosts inhabiting it. Sounds like a profitable time to me! The plan is for the band to throw a concert with a special song learned from the sage while we… beat up monsters. I’d rather be playing the music, to be honest.

And it’s not a JRPG if you don’t have to acquire a super-spiffy sword with a proper name at some point — probably to defeat some other super-evil sword with a proper name. What is it with all the sword-love? Why not a spoon once in a while?

With the good sword beating the bad sword, the path opens up to the Dead Sea — a landscape frozen in time. It may just be my muddle memories, but “giant frozen seascape” seems like it’s a repeated Square motif.

What’s stranger is that the Dead Sea holds remnants of what is clearly a more advanced civilization with cars and highways.

And, naturally, we end up fighting a giant punk robot tank. You’d think he would be desperate for company and a good conversation, but no, it’s all attack-on-sight with him.

Posted in Retro Gaming

Chrono Cross Part 5: From weird to weirder

(This is part of my journey going playing through Chrono Cross. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

I still think it was a pretty daring move for the Chrono Cross team to abruptly throw the player into a completely different character’s skin — the skin of your main enemy, no less. Maybe not a smart move, since nobody likes to have that much control and connection to a character wrested away from us, but it certainly does make the player feel uncertain and shaken up.

So Serge, who’s now in the body of Lynx, wakes up in some sort of realm that’s an impressionist painting come to life. There he meets a weird creature named Sprigg, who helps to form the new party for this section of the game. Harle joins not too long thereafter.

The painterly world, with its optical illusions, is a mere three screens, so it’s not like we’re here that long. The way I see it, the fights are a good opportunity to get to know how these three characters work in combat. Lynx’s T5 ability, Feral Cats, is pretty cool to bust out.

Before too long, the group is in the real world — Home World, specifically — and has a series of tasks ahead of it. Namely, figure out how to switch Serge back with Lynx, be able to dimension-hop again, and get Sprigg a bottle of whatever constitutes the “hard stuff” around here.

Serge’s mom is surprisingly cool with all of the weirdness of this plot and her son, y’know, getting turned into a cat-person. Also appearing in his home is Serge’s former mentor, who takes a beating before deciding to join the team. He suggests they pursue the disappearance of General Viper in this world.

There are a few significant weaknesses to Chrono Cross, and probably the biggest is its story. Compared to Chrono Trigger, this game’s narrative feels unfocused. There’s no clearly defined goal or threat, no “we have to save the world from an alien destroying it in the future” mission. Just vague objectives that are SAID to be important but not adequately explained WHY they are important.

World-hopping is sort of interesting, especially when you visit the same spot in both and see significant differences, but c’mon — it’s nowhere near as exciting as Chrono Trigger’s time travel.

At least Chrono Cross has a wonderfully chill vibe to most of its areas, making them a pleasure to gradually explore and exploit. Why not dive down to the ocean floor for a little scouting!

On the Sky Dragon Isle, the team bumps into — and fights — an alien named Starky. He is absolutely adorable, in the way that most JPRG aliens tend to be. And, best of all, he joins the party!

You just know that I’m going to be traveling with Starky from now on. We’re a match made in the stars!

Posted in Retro Gaming

Chrono Cross part 4: Up the slopes of Mt. Pyre

(This is part of my journey going playing through Chrono Cross. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

With the ice breath ability in hand, Serge and Co. chase after General Viper and Lynx to Mt. Pyre — a huge volcano that screams “yeah, please come climb me, I’m totes safe!” In any case, this is a massive dungeon that’s going to take a good long while to complete, so I best settle in and get it done.

Mt. Pyre is basically a boss clearance warehouse full of strong encounter after strong encounter. At least the team gets a couple more star levels, which will no doubt help in the fight to come. And we get to tick off Marcy again, who throws a temper tantrum and makes me wonder who at Square thought that using a little girl as a serious threat was a good idea.

In the middle of Mt. Pyre is, naturally, a huge boss lair. Those evil villains, always planting their flags in the middle of volcanoes! Unfortunately for me, Fort Dragonica is my most dreaded of RPG dungeons, the puzzle dungeon. Every room is some sort of puzzle to figure out and slow down progress. Huzzah, I say.

I actually died against a boss here, which stunk because it was at the end of a maze that I had to re-do. One consolation prize I got was that my characters are starting to come into their level 5 techs, which are powerful once-per-battle abilities that can attack all of the mobs at once. It definitely makes fights against packs of mobs a ton easier.

Seriously, there are SO MANY bosses in this place. Including — why not — a sun that tries to kiss you to death.

After a long time, the party finally makes it to the central chamber to face off against General Viper (who literally gets stabbed in the back) and Lynx.

The mysterious connection between Serge and Lynx is brought to the forefront after the battle — we get another little slice of flashback where a panther attacked someone somewhere at some time. This is what JRPGs do, continually tease you with a tiny little bit of revelation for a long, long time. It’s kind of tiresome, to be honest.

As has been foreshadowed since the start of the game, Lynx and Serge switch bodies through the Frozen Flame. Serge/Lynx gets his butt handed to him, and Lynx/Serge up and stabs Kid in the stomach. For an encore, Serge/Lynx is banished to some sort of impressionist painting dimension. See you next week!

Posted in Retro Gaming

Chrono Cross part 3: Ghost pirates and angry faeries

(This is part of my journey going playing through Chrono Cross. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

I think I’ve mentioned before that it’s a slight irritation that Chrono Cross often makes confusing allusions to Chrono Trigger without being explicit — or making sense. Such as Lynx calling Serge “the Chrono Trigger,” Guile being Magus, or Glenn obviously being a Chrono stand-in with the name of another character from CT. It’s like… poop or get off the pot, as my mom would say. Either be connected or not. This quasi-relation helps nothing.

In any case, Serge and company pick up several new recruits in Terminus (including Glenn, who’s going to be a main character in my party) and head off to a fort to follow the general and Lynx as they, too, seek the Frozen Flame. Motivations for everything are super-murky at this point, but hey, it’s a direction and we need to travel somewhere.

Harle continues to be a major pain in my behind, as she both flirts with Serge and acts as an antagonist in service of Lynx. Here, she burned to the ground the home of Glenn’s foster father (but he’s OK, so rest easy tonight).

I backtracked to Viper Mansion to pick up Luccia and some other odds and ends. I do appreciate that there is some purpose to these places after they’re done being setpieces.

Around this point in the game, we got a little boat that let us go explore the small archipelago of Another World. Among the sights that we found was a “ghost ship” that was, in actuality, a pirate ship. That gets boarded by a real ghost ship. Such are the complexities — and coincidences — of Chrono Cross.

The pirate ship ended up being a somewhat lengthy side dungeon with a whole lot of unskippable combat scenes. Nothing too tough, just annoying, especially considering that Steam’s version of Chrono Cross suffers from random speed fluxuations (slowing down, speeding up). Eventually the boat was cleared of enemies and we even gained a new companion, Pip the Definitely-Not-A-Pokemon. (But he totally is a Pokemon.)

So Kid’s OK, I guess, without me having to do anything to help her. Glad that unnecessary crisis is past!

Happily, this means that she forks over her amulet, which lets the party travel between the Home World and Another World settings. This is going to come in handy to get the protection needed to head to Fort Dragonica.

As you might expect from other games with this dual-world mechanic, Chrono Cross welcomes you to explore the differences between the two worlds and use one to achieve something to help in the other. One small example is learning that a waitress from one world is really into poems, while her counterpart in the other world has given up on her dream of poetry. You can end up inspiring that second waitress with the first one’s book of poems, which nets you a nice goodie.

And speaking of goodies, I spent waaaaayyyy too long in the Hydra Marshes working to get a second Recover All magic element. These are great spells, as they heal your whole team, but both of the ones I’ve gotten were not that easy to attain.

Getting the protection we needed for Mt. Pyre meant clearing out the Water Dragon Isle of an infestation of comically coned dwarves. And what thanks do we get for all of this hard work, I ask you?

Yup, that makes sense. Thanks, JRPGs, for kicking me after I put in a hard day’s work of heroism.

And speaking of JRPG tropes, here’s another installment of Everyone Has A Sob-Worthy Backstory, starring Kid. Apparently she grew up in an orphanage led by Chrono Trigger’s Lucca, for some reason. And then it got burned down by Lynx and she lost her sister and boo hoo.

Posted in Retro Gaming

Chrono Cross part 2: Attack on Viper Manor

(This is part of my journey going playing through Chrono Cross. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

The party arrives in Termina, the only real town on the island, and Kid is waiting to shove her way into the party. Persistent teen, ain’t she?

Kid gets really keen on the idea of sneaking into Viper Manor, the home of the island’s master and ruler. She has some mysterious business there and figures that Serge might be able to figure out why the Dragoons are after him. But to get in, we’ll need a guide…

After having an encounter with a decidedly non-froggy Glenn (!), the team finds a magician to guide them into the manor and a boat… pilot? Paddler? Something, at least, to row them into the right spot. Thus begins a long sequence of climbing cliffs, fighting enemies, and infiltrating the castle under the dead of night.

Chrono Cross does a lot of things unusually, including its leveling system. There’s no experience in the game. Instead, you only level up by defeating certain boss mobs — every encounter between those fights gives you minor stat boosts up to a point, and then you have to level again to start receiving stat boosts from fights. It’s odd, but it does cut down on the sheer grind that JRPGs usually have.

Infiltrating the manor requires engaging in a minigame to feed dragons fast before they get too hungry — and too mad. It’s not a terribly hard game if all you want is the key. But I wanted the RecoverAll element, as it heals the entire party, so I had to keep going until I could feed 40 dragons in a row without failing.

The mansion itself is a pretty darn interesting place. It’s part dungeon and part recruiting ground for about a half-dozen new party members. There’s a mad scientist, her weird Jigglypuff-like creation, a little girl who’s supposedly a knight, a harlequin bodyguard, and more. Plus, there are a few boss battles to beef up the party’s star rating, which definitely helps.

Not everyone here is hostile, either. There’s a mysterious prophet who slowly explains what we know already — that there are twin parallel worlds with slight differences, such as Serge dying in one but living in the other. Thank you, Elder Exposition!

Finally, the team encounters the man — er, cat — behind Serge’s near-abduction. We find out that he’s a murderer, that Kid hates him, and that Kid is actually a member of a group called the Radical Dreamers. Even though the team beats Lynx, it’s just his “shadow.” Kid resorts to using a human hostage to getting them out of the manor, but she gets fatally poisoned in the process…

The team regroups in Guldave, another coastal town, and decides what to do. Serge gives up on saving Kid and heads off to find his way in the world. Hey, it’s for a good reason — there’s a character down this path that I really want to add to the party!

Posted in Retro Gaming

Chrono Cross part 1: Crossing between worlds

(This is part of my journey going playing through Chrono Cross. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

After putting it to a Twitter poll, I whittled down three possible JRPG retro gaming projects to a single one: 1999’s Chrono Cross, which originally came out on PlayStation and within the last year released to Steam. Now, I’ve heard the “Radical Dreamers Edition” wasn’t the best port, but hey, it WAS a port to the PC, so I’m not going to complain that loudly.

I originally played this back in 2000 on my PlayStation, giving it a couple of run-throughs before packing it in. My memories were fairly positive, with most of my praise going to the visuals and music, but I’m curious how it holds up to me today. So let’s get started on a journey with dimension-hopping adventurers!

For this playthrough, I’m really going to have to shove down that slight frustration/irritation that exists for fans of Chrono Trigger. The problem is that Chrono Cross is *sort* of a sequel (but not really) with many small connections to the original (but it’s not a sequel!). So it’s not as detached as it needs to be, but you’re in for a lot of disappointment if you go trying to connect the two games.

Small stuff leaps out at me right away — the oh-so-familiar beginning of a character waking up in his bedroom to open windows to a bright sunshiny day, or the victory music after a battle.

So our main character is Serge (not the ’90s soft drink), a teen who lives with his mom in this Polynesian-like town. I’ve always thought it was such a cool aesthetic to go with a tropical island theme for this game. That, paired with the music, makes for a very chill experience.

Speaking of the looks, this port had to make some compromises with the much lower-res background (non-3D) images, kind of stretching them out and muddying them a bit. It’s fine, as long as you don’t examine specific parts of the screen too closely, but it makes the 3D stuff pop out more than it used to.

Arni Village is a fun little place to run around, interact with the locals, and get a sense of Serge’s life in this fishing community. One neat little aspect of the game I like is that you can collect frames to customize how the chat box popups look.

Chrono Cross has a ridiculous 45 companion characters you can recruit, some taking as many as three playthroughs to get. I’m not going to be that insane, mind you. But I will start things off by grabbing the very, very pink Poshul — Arni Village’s slobbery watchdog — to join me on these early adventures.

Serge and Poshul fight their way across a beach area to collect three scales needed for their quest. I’ll probably talk about Crono Cross’ combat another day, but suffice to say right now that it’s definitely unique and quite engaging for a turn-based system.

After collecting the scales and heading to Odessa beach, Serge’s childhood friend Leena up and vanishes when a light show splashes over him. I’m not really spoiling much when I say that this is when Serge crosses over to a different dimension of the same world. Somewhere in the distance, A Link to the Past is shouting, “I did it first!”

In this version of the world, Serge’s alternate self died a decade before (shortly followed by his mother), which is the most significant change that I can see. It’s also the most clearly explained plot twist that this game will ever have. It gets a whole lot more convoluted from here, folks!

Serge goes to check out his tombstone (wouldn’t you?) and is accosted by a trio of knights: Karsh, Solt, and Peppor. I guess the latter two are the Biggs and Wedge of Chrono Cross. In any event, a spunky Aussie with the midriff to end all midriffs named Kid (the girl, not the midriff) shows up and defends Serge.

Now the interesting thing is how the game has all of these secret ways to collect characters, depending on your actions and inactions. For example, I’d wager most everyone agrees to team up with Kid when she offers here. But if you shut her down — three times, no less — than Leena from the Another World will join in her stead.

I also picked up Mojo, because who wouldn’t want to have a “lucky” voodoo doll with a giant nail sticking through it in one’s party?

Speaking of collectable characters, I found a clown skull in a canyon that wanted to be reunited with his other parts. That surely won’t herald the end of the world, right? Right?

Posted in Retro Gaming

Retro games I’d love to see on GOG.com

With GOG.com apparently re-committing itself to supporting and promoting retro PC games, my mind’s been turning to more than a few titles that I’d love to see revived and sold there. GOG does a fantastic job restoring old games to playable states on modern computers, and here are a few I’d like to see:

Sims 1 and 2

I keep reading about the lengths that people go through to get the first two Sims games running on modern PCs. EA doesn’t really sell or support these any more, so I think they’d be great candidates to hand to GOG for future stewardship.

No One Lives Forever 1 and 2

Terrific, clever, and charming spy shooters that really deserve a renaissance. I had a great time with these back in the day.

Fable trilogy

I’ve actually never played a Fable game. I think they’d be very interesting to explore as a blogging series, and I heard the second game never got a PC release at all.

Chrono Cross and Castlevania Symphony of the Night

These console ports are two of the most beloved from the PlayStation era and would be great fits. I am going to wait for a patch or two for Chrono Cross before getting it, anyway.

Sid Meier’s Civil War trilogy

These Civil War strategy games are some of the most highly rated of their kind and would be definitely worth checking out.

Discworld series

Due to exploring and enjoying the books, I really wouldn’t mind seeing the three Discworld games on the platform.

Posted in Retro Gaming

The return of ‘Good Old Games’ and thoughts on future retro gaming projects

Last week, GOG.com — formerly Good Old Games — posted a strange manifesto in which the company declared its desire to get back to its “good old games” roots with more support and love for classic DOS titles. Other than promoting the release of Wheel of Time, there weren’t any specific future projects mentioned, more of just a general feeling of “we’re getting away from our roots and we want to get back.”

So far, all this boils down to is a new category tag so that players can find genuinely classic games rather than the same stuff that Epic and Steam is putting out. Reading between the lines, I think GOG is realizing that it really can’t compete with new releases and perhaps needs to focus more on what it does uniquely in this space, which is reviving and supporting older titles.

Hey, I’m all for that. As great as the site is for retro game enthusiasts, there are still thousands of titles that it doesn’t have yet. It would be great to see some more “must play” releases.

But since we’re thinking about and talking about retro gaming, I thought I’d pause to consider what I’m doing in that field lately. Mostly, not much. I used to do retro playthroughs pretty regularly — ever since 2013! — but the last one I did was Curse of Monkey Island back in July 2021. I kind of got out of the habit (dang MMOs, so addictive) but have considered coming back to work on the many, many other titles in my library that could use some blogging love.

So looking down at my list, here are six candidates that I might be up for covering on a weekly basis, start to finish:

  • Deus Ex — Classic RPG/shooter/stealther, only played it way back in the day, has an amazing reputation.
  • Day of the Tentacle — I’ve never played this classic LucasArts title. Is it time?
  • King’s Quest VI — Continue the series that I’ve done parts 1 through 5.
  • Fallout 2 — I never finished my first playthrough, perhaps it’s time to do it right?
  • Normality — A dark horse candidate, a first-person adventure game done with a Duke Nukem 3D-style interface
  • Kohan 1 — This used to be one of my all-time favorite RTS titles. Would you like to know more?

I’ll toss those out to you guys. Are you interested in more retro playthroughs for this blog? If so, do any of those titles seem more appealing than the rest?

Posted in Retro Gaming

The Curse of Monkey Island: Wedding bells

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1997’s The Curse of Monkey Island. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

As if it wasn’t bad enough to have LeChuck kidnap Elaine in an attempt to marry her on his rollercoaster, the zombie pirate has transformed Guybrush into a little child. Hey, that skull there looks a little familiar…

To get out of this predicament, Guybrush has to mess around at the carnival to whip up one of those hangover cures he used on Goodsoup. This includes greatly angering Murray, as Guybrush chooses a different prize from the game. He goes on at great length to lambast Guybrush for the poor choice. I do love me some Murray.

After turning back in to a 20-year-old adult, Guybrush jumps on LeChuck’s rollercoaster of death in hot pursuit of Elaine. But you know me — I do love me a good rollercoaster ride in a video game! So I sat back and enjoyed the four scenes as they looped one after the other.

Poor Wally returns as part of this set dressing. Guybrush tries to rescue him, but nothing doing. Poor Wally.

In the inexplicable snow scene, Guybrush rigs up an explosive giant ape, then tricks LeChuck into lighting the fuse and blowing up the mountain. Also, apparently Elaine gave the pirate the slip, because she’s OK.

And with that, the game comes to a close! Elaine and Guybrush finally, finally get married and sail off into the sunset to live happily ever after. At least until the sequel.

So that was The Curse of Monkey Island, start to finish! Thanks for going on this journey with me. I love it just as much as the first two games, which is to say, an awful lot. It’s hilarious, the setpieces are gorgeous, and the puzzles quite tricksy indeed. I have just one game left in this series, but I’m going to leave it for now and embark on a different adventure come next week.