Chrono Trigger: A grim future indeed

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1995’s Chrono Trigger. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

To escape an unjust execution and a stifling family life, Crono, Lucca, and Marle step into another time gate and make a quantum leap from 1000 A.D. to… somewhere else. Lucca immediately determines that it’s an advanced civilization due to the technology, but this definitely isn’t the familiar Guardia Kingdom any longer.

It may be an advanced civilization, but it looks like it’s a ruined one. Smashed domes lay around the crater-ridden landscape, and either ash or snow blow relentlessly across a sunless sky. Something’s very wrong here.

The trio do discover survivors, but that’s all they are — merely surviving instead of living, huddled up inside of broken domes.

I’ll be honest, the future apocalypse map isn’t my favorite part of the game, but of course, it’s not meant to be.  It’s just so dreary and grim, what with the few remaining people facing extinction due to mutants and rampaging robots keeping them from food. Fed up with the situation, Crono and company decide to help retrieve the food from a storage facility.

Guarding the food is one massive robot — so big, in fact, that I have to yet again wonder how it managed to squeeze through tiny doorways to get here. It’s a slightly tricky fight involving some adds that have to be killed or else they can wipe the party in a hurry. At least Crono and Marle’s combined Healing Aura move allows for a party heal. Love that ability.

Unfortunately for all involved, the food in the next room has all spoiled due to a malfuctioning refrigerator. The only hope lies in a corpse sitting here clutching a single, solitary seed. Well, that’ll make a light snack at best.

Deep inside Arris Dome, the trio discover a supercomputer that not only points them toward another possible time gate but (thanks to Marle’s random switch flipping) a visual record of the “Day of Lavos.” This pulls up a video of 1999 A.D. — 999 years after Crono’s present — where a spiky monster erupts from inside of the planet and triggers a global apocalypse. Right now, it’s 2300 A.D., so the Day of Lavos was three centuries prior. Agast, the trio vow to do whatever they can to stop this horrible future from happening. But first, they have to get home and attempt to do some research on it.

It’s an indication of how dreary 2300 is that the sewers actually end up being the nicest place. There’s none of the smog, and the music is actually kind of peaceful and pleasant. Plus, there are cats to kick around for fun and sport. It’s a non-mandatory area, but I like doing it for the XP, the change of scenery, and a couple of good items (including a counter-attack accessory that I like to leave on Crono).

Naturally, there’s a robot motorbike gang along the way that wants to race Crono. I’ve always cheesed this race by not doing anything until two seconds before the end of it and then hitting the turbo button. This time? I walked the length of the highway, which is another thing I’ve never done in CT. You can get a “race recorder” that allows a second type of race mode, which shows how I’m still learning about this game even in 2020.

The gang gets to Proto Dome — the site of the second time gate in this era — but they can’t get to it because the power’s shut off. The good news is that there’s a decommissioned robot here that Lucca restores (and names Robo), who joins the group and informs them that the nearby facility can restore the power. Robo’s just one of my favorite characters, more for his fighting prowess than his personality. Still, it’s always cool to have your own personal robot when you’re traveling through time. He’s got a chunky, vaguely bug-like look to him, but he’s awesome at throwing out heals and AOE attacks like no one’s business.

Chrono Trigger: Guilty until proven guilty

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1995’s Chrono Trigger. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

As if they never left, Lucca, Crono, and Marle return to 1000 A.D. at the fairgrounds. Lucca’s a bit disturbed as to why the time gate appeared in the first place and heads home to do research on it while Crono escorts Marle back to the palace.

This… does not go well.

Upon arriving at the palace, the 1000 A.D. Chancellor, flush with a full sense of justice (thanks to the events of 600 A.D.), orders Crono beaten and arrested for the kidnapping of the princess. Marle is incensed, but nothing to be done — Crono is put on trial for his great crime.

The trial is perhaps the most talked about part of Chrono Trigger, mostly because it’s one of those huge shared experiences that impacted most players in the same way (assuming that they went into this blind on their first playthrough). A lengthy cutscene plays out, during which the prosecution and the defense attempt to establish whether or not Crono is the kidnapping type. This means a lot of character witnesses — all from the Millennial Fair from a couple of hours ago. I think players were stunned to realize that a set of six choices (actions and dialog) were recorded and used during the trial to shine a light on Crono’s character. Chances are that, assuming you went into the game blind, you probably made the “wrong” choice and had to rewatch those bits during the trial.

It’s just such a great scene, even if you can’t do much of anything in it. And, yes, you can be declared innocent, although the ultimate fate is the same — the Chancellor uses his influence to order Crono’s impending execution. I think the only real difference, other than a roleplaying one, is that you get some extra pots in your cell if you convince a lot of jurors that Crono is innocent.

Locked in his cell without any outside support — but, strangely enough, still fully equipped with his trademark katana — Crono has to figure out a way to get out before his execution day. Or just sit around until he’s killed. Seriously, that’s an actual choice you can make. And it’s actually better to wait, because then you get another party member sooner rather than later.

Just as Crono is about to get his head sliced off, Lucca shows up with a new ray gun and zaps the guards before freeing her friend. Way to go, Lucca! I love her character, she’s brainy AND gutsy. That’s a good combo. What follows is a nail-biting jail break (which is a thinly disguised dungeon crawl with a much better theme than most).

Marry me, Lucca. You’re too awesome for worlds.

Standing between the duo and freedom is, naturally, a giant steampunk dragon tank. On top of a bridge. Was it built for just this place or did they have to lug it up stairs? I think we are owed some explanation. In any case, this boss fight is pretty simple as long as the head is destroyed first (as it heals everything else).

There are so many great sprite animations in Chrono Trigger. I love this one of Crono delivering the final blow to a short-circuiting tank. His hair sticks up and goes wavy and he’s just as cool as Lucca in this moment.

Another great animation moment: The Chancellor and two guards come in and then hover in midair as the dragon tank explodes and plummets. The three grab on to each other and form this quivering person bridge that Crono and Lucca use to flee. Marle defies her father, the king, and joins the two as they attempt to make their escape. Unfortunately, the pursuing guards corner them in a dead-end glade of the forest.

Fortunately, there’s a time gate there.

Anywhere’s better than here, Mighty Lucca. Let’s roll our dice and take our chances with another time jump!

Chrono Trigger: Back to the future

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1995’s Chrono Trigger. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Currently stuck in the past, Crono and Lucca race to find the kidnapped Queen Leene and thereby save their friend (and her descendant) Marle, aka Princess Nadia. There isn’t a lot of places to look, and from some of the suspicious remarks about the kingdom’s Chancellor, the local cathedral seems an ideal place to go.

As an aside, I’m struck by just how many different musical themes this game throws at you in the first hour or so. The total soundtrack was pretty big for the day — 64 tracks covering 2 hours and 39 minutes of music. It helped that many of them were total earworms, and even the ones that weren’t, like the hallowed sound of the cathedral, were perfect in setting an appropriate mood.

Investigation of the cathedral reveals Queen Leene’s hairpin on the floor, which means that the jig is up. The nuns reveal themselves to be naga, and a fight is on — but happily, a giant humanoid frog leaps in to help. His name is, naturally, Frog, and he is a knight of the realm sworn to protect Leene. Lucca’s a bit freaked out, but she goes with it because we need a third party member and why not? Frog’s kind of awesome.

Secret passages in the cathedral lead to chambers of the Fiendlord’s army, all hanging about like they’re not a stone’s throw away from the castle. It’s about this time that Chrono Trigger’s combat system gets more fun, as the game introduces dual and triple techs. Basically, these allow two or three characters to combine abilities for powerful attacks or buffs. Lucca and Chrono have a nasty Fire Whirl attack that can wipe out an entire crowd if timed right.

This is one of my favorite bits in the game — there’s a break room for monsters who are snacking before they have to put back on their human disguises and get back to work. I always wonder what enemy mobs do during their downtime. One of the monsters says that Yakra, whoever that is, imprisoned the real Chancellor, took his place, and has been infiltrating the palace to bring down the kingdom.

Speaking of the Fiendlord, the monsters even have a shrine to the guy — Magus the Great — and they sing to him. It’s silly and charming, and I definitely feel bad killing all of them. Seems like their hearts are in a good place, even if they kidnap and eat people.

Eventually the party arrives at a chamber with the fake Chancellor and the real Queen. Yakra throws off his disguise and the game’s first boss battle commences. Thanks to Frog and Crono’s X-Strike dual tech, it’s a cinch.

With the queen and the real chancellor rescued, all looks to be good, aside from this slightly ominous reference to making the justice system stricter. I’m sure that’ll have noooo impact on the future, no sirree. Frog feels disgraced that he allowed the queen to get kidnapped in the first place, so he heads of to brood (Frog is a big brooder). Marle reappears, as her ancestors have been protected. It kind of feels like the end of a very short game — or the end of an extended tutorial.

The question of how to get back to their own time proved to be much simpler than driving a DeLorean through a lightning storm. Lucca managed to stabilize a time gate, allowing permanent passage between the two eras from now on. With that, our intrepid heroes head back to the future and a peaceful resolution.

NEXT: No peaceful resolution for you!

Chrono Trigger: Gentlemen… we’re history

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1995’s Chrono Trigger. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Important Note: Back in 2018, I started a new Retro Gaming series to cover Chrono Trigger. Unfortunately, I had to abort this after one article as Steam’s version kept crashing on me, thereby making the game unplayable. I looked at it recently and it seems more stable, so I’m going to give it another go. Please read Part 1 of this series before proceeding.

With most of the fun of the Millennial Fair enjoyed, Marle and Crono head to the far square to meet Crono’s friend Lucca. She’s an inventor (as you can tell by the big glasses and penchant for smashing things with wrenches) who’s created a teleportation device. Crono agrees to test it first for the crowd’s delight, but when Marle steps onto the pad, her necklace interferes and… she vanishes into a glowing blue hole. Oops.

I get chills from this part, just because I know now how this is all kicking a grand adventure into high gear. And while it may *seem* like a horrible accident, it ends up being the event that makes it possible to save the world.

Crono grabs the pendant that Marle left behind and vows — in his trademark silent fashion — to go after her. Lucca and her father activate the machine again and Crono vanishes into the void… only to be dumped out into a strange wilderness populated by easy-to-defeat mobs. I love the combat in this game. It’s quick, satisfying, and so well animated. And Crono’s cyclone attack is a terrific AOE strike when the enemies bunch up together.

Out onto the game map, it’s a case of similar-yet-different. It’s obviously the same continent, but the Millennial Fair is gone, gloomy clouds coast by, and — most importantly — there’s a different soundtrack. Ah, this soundtrack. Could listen to it for hours. Anyway, it’s up to Crono to figure out where (and when!) he is and rescue Marle if he can. That’s a good start to the game, with a twist that keeps the player on the edge of his or her seat right from the get-go.

Well, that’s one question answered at least. Somehow, the combination of Lucca’s invention and Marle’s pendant created a hole in time that sent Crono back from 1000 A.D. to 600 A.D. He’s now 400 years in the past, but in the same world and on the same continent. In a nice touch, the overworld map changes its legend from “?” to “600 A.D.” once I talked to someone who gave me the date.

It’s kind of my tradition to spend some time grinding up a few levels in Guardia Forest here, especially when I get another party member (soon). It’s perfect for that: Lots of good consumables drop, plenty of enemies to fight, and there’s a Shelter (a full MP/HP restore) that you can loot every time you head in here.

At Guardia Castle, Crono is held up for looking as though he might belong to a member of the Fiendlord’s army (whoever that is), but the queen shows up to — oddly — vouch for him. Turns out that this is actually Marle, posing as Queen Leene of 600 A.D. The two look pretty much identical, and Marle is only able to step into her shoes because the real queen is missing.

Just as Crono catches up with Marle in the castle to try to unravel this mystery, Marle starts glowing and disappears (again). I don’t know how many times a man is required to jump through space and time to rescue disappearing princesses, but I draw the line at three. Just putting that out there.

Fortunately, Lucca appears (thanks to some adjustments to her machine, which is now serving as a time portal maker of sorts) and offers up some explanations of what’s going on. That’s a good thing, because we’re heading into our first time paradox, and it was probably very important for the game’s writers to walk players step by step through it. In short, Marle is royalty in 1000 A.D., descended from Queen Leene. And because Leene is about to get killed in 600 A.D., Marle is erased just like Marty McFly’s family was in the photo he carried to the school dance. It was a movie. You probably didn’t see it. So Crono’s (and Lucca’s) mission is clear: Rescue Leene to preserve the time line and get Marle back.

And grind a few more levels. It’s always fun to be overpowered!

Toonstruck: Nefarious H.Q.

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1996’s Toonstruck. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Things have never looked more dire for Drew. Separated from a mind-addled Flux, stripped of all of his possessions, and locked away in Nefarious’ dungeon, what chance does he have? Guess we’ll find out!

Escaping isn’t too difficult; Drew uses a dusty mat to make the guard sneeze himself unconscious — and sneeze out the key inside of his nose. Gross, but we’ll allow it. And speaking of gross, Drew soon has to transform himself into…

…to climb a vent. Don’t worry, it’s just a costume. I do get a kick out of seeing Lloyd spin around as he transforms, though.

So here’s a free tip that I’m going to give to all of you: If you come upon a clown-shaped door like this in your life… don’t go through it. Nothing that’s worth it lies on the other side of that painted maw.

Drew doesn’t heed my advice and therefore encounters Spike the Clown. Forget about It; Spike is the real deal in the scary clown business. He’s certifiably insane — and loves to torture balloon animals. There’s a backstory there, I think. In as many words, Spike admits that Miss Fortune electrifies his brain for the amusement of Nefarious. “Poor, poor clown” Drew says in a first for human history. In a fit of mercy, Drew secretly drugs Spike’s red nose and puts him to sleep.

It’s about this time that Drew experiences his first fit of turning into a toon himself. That’s an old hat for Christopher Lloyd, of course.

This game had gone way, way too long without a choreographed gator ice skating routine, and so we have a break for one. Actually, Drew iced up Nefarious’ bathroom floor and these gator guards end up skating right out of the window. Clever!

Earlier in the game, Drew met a couple of frog brothers who were lamenting how their third brother had gotten kidnapped. I was mildly impressed that he turned up in a chest in Nefarious’ castle. At least he was useful for some exposition, namely that Nefarious was working on a warp device to break into our world. Sounds like just the thing to get Drew home!

I only now noticed that Nefarious’ trio of henchmen are just pencil outlines of cartoons — kind of like how animators will start drawing a character. That’s pretty clever too.

OK, this was pretty funny. So Drew puts some TNT in a turkey (stuffing!) and sends it up to gator guards in a rec room. They try to eat it, the TNT explodes, and all of them turn into… alligator skin purses, boots, and belts. Took me a second and then I laughed.

There’s another funny bit when Drew attempts to get some sunglasses in a storage room and ends up wrecking the place as the glasses keep eluding his grasp. If you ever wanted to see Christopher Lloyd wearing a blind donkey’s head, this is the game for you.

One of the big criticism that ’90s FMV games get is how awkward the characters interact with the scenery and items. Toonstruck gets major points in my book for making most of the cartoon/Drew interaction very seamless, including all of the cartoon props that Drew uses — such as these sunglasses, which reflect Miss Fortune’s hypnotic gaze back to her.

After an entire second act of farting around Nefarious’ castle without Flux, Drew finally gets the warp device and hijacks the Malevolator. He blasts Nefarious and Fluffy and then transforms Flux back into his old self — seconds before the two crash and plummet to their doom. Drew activates the warm device and heads back home…

…where he attempts to pitch The Flux & Fluffy Show to his boss. Ben Stein ain’t having it, and dejected, Drew returns to his office yet again. Except that now, Flux contacts him and tells him that Nefarious and Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun are still on the loose and the cartoon world needs Drew once more. As the toon mutagen takes effect, Drew is sucked back into that weird place…

And that’s it for Toonstruck! Apart from a couple of frustrating puzzles, I have nothing but high praise to give this game. It’s well-done across the board with plenty of funny lines, entertaining cartoon cutscenes, and a terrific performance by Lloyd, Curry, and Castellaneta. It’s a crying shame that plans for a sequel — which the ending clearly sets us up for — was scrapped after the adventure game bust of the late ’90s.

Toonstruck: Flushing for fish

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1996’s Toonstruck. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

We begin today’s jaunt in Toonstruck by flushing for fish. In Zanydu, obviously. I love how casual Drew takes all of the weirdness of this world. He understands cartoon rules, being a cartoonist, so I guess that all makes sense.

I mean, if you know cartoon rules, you’ll know how easy it is to kill a vulture by feeding it poison meat. ‘Course, you could do that to normal, non-cartoon vultures as well, but we here at Bio Break do not condone killing the most majestic of birds.

So yeah, lots of bouncing back and forth between areas to use one item to get another. And also to infect my brain with scenes that I dearly wish I could scrub clean. Punisher Polly, why won’t you get out of my nightmares?

Because I love you so much and I know how sensitive you are to spoilers, I won’t reveal the AMAZING SECRET that is locked away in this cupboard. But it is. Truly amazing, I mean. Would blow. your. mind. if you only knew. Whew! So amazing!

For the final ingredient for the Cutifier, Drew and Flux have to do some serious bowling in the Malevolands. This involves making a “bear trap” (gluing a bowling ball to a bear) and then bowling for a strike using Flux as the ball. Eh, whatever works. And as Flux said, “For a minute there I was afraid you’d have to shoot me out of your butt!” Er… what now?

This right here is the ultimate goal of the first part of the game — to collect and assemble 12 items into the Cutifier. They’re all pun opposites of what’s in the Malevolator, such as a roasting spit to the Malevolator’s polish.

So the good news is that Drew and Flux are able to use the machine to reverse all of the damaging effects that Nefarious did to Cutopia. The bad news? It turns out that King Hugh has gone a little off his rocker… well, a LOT off his rocker. He orders Drew to use the machine to turn every land cute, including Zanydu and the Malevolands — and Hugh won’t help Drew get home until he does it. Drew refuses, and Hugh unmasks to reveal that he’s…

Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun! OK, I saw the “Hugh being evil” thing coming, but not the fact that he was actually a bunny (who apparently kidnapped and imprisoned the real King Hugh). In the ensuing 10 minute cutscene, Flux gets zapped and gets a mental transformation, Drew goes on the run from the guards, Nefarious’ minions show up, and Drew gets kidnapped and brought to Nefarious’ castle.

And that’s not the end of it! Seriously, it’s a very long mid-game cutscene. Nefarious shows up to taunt Drew and attempt to turn him over to his cause. Drew discovers that he’s been injected with a serum that will transform him into a toon himself (which is a weird counterpoint to Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s mystery dip) — and to make matters worse, Nefarious’ number two, Miss Fortune, hypnotizes Drew and gets him to tell them where the Cutifier is and what Drew intends to do to escape. It’s certainly a very dark moment for our heroes!

Toonstruck: Doing serious time

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1996’s Toonstruck. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

The more I play Toonstruck, the more I become deeply impressed with the skill and art that went into this adventure game. No corners got cut here; everything is simply superb. Now that Drew and Flux have entered the sinister Malevolands, I’m impressed all over again at how this nails the cartoony evil landscapes that we’ve seen on TV shows and the like. At least it’s not as sickeningly sweet as Cutopia!

Gotta say, I’ve seen many a prison in video games, and this one is not the worst by far. I don’t think it’s possible to exaggerate proportions or skew those windows any more than they are, but it’s certainly fun to look at, if not break into. Hope those two manage to stay on this side of the bars, though!

Had to open my big mouth, eh? Drew and Flux got nabbed by Nefarious’ nefarious henchmen three screens later, ending them in the slammer without their inventory. Flux freaks out, what with the prison sentence being obscenely long, and the only way to get out is by using some selective static electricity to short-circuit the door.

I am NOT too keen on the fact that the game makes me do this slidey puzzle thing to open a safe to get my inventory back, however. These kinds of puzzles should be taken out and shot… many, many times.

Count Nefarious’ takeover of Cutopia continues even as Drew and Flux scramble to build their machine. The Carecrow, moments after getting a new outfit, is turned into a horrifying version of his former self.

Back in the Malevolands, the duo encounter a cybernetic cliche — a Dalek-wannabe who talks like Christopher Walken. He’s like HK-47’s nerdy younger brother, all antagonistic and quick to suggest “death” to anything that crosses his path. He even drops a bit of a Terminator 2 reference, but his superior attitude is blown to smithereens when Drew gives him a book he can’t absorb. All this nets me a plunger, which I assume will save the day.

There’s very little logical progression in Toonstruck; it’s a lot of backtracking, trying to figure out which thread can be advanced on which screen. That had to be frustrating to a lot of folks trying to get through the game. Personally, I’d rather a few screens at a time with puzzles inside of them that had to be solved first before advancement.

The fish toilet room in Zanydu instantly became my new desktop wallpaper. It’s so “What The…” that it appeals to me greatly.