Friday, August 14, 2015

Chrono Trigger Warning

As in, a warning I'm going to make a terrible Chrono Trigger pun. Also, flippancy aside, I think trigger warnings are a useful thing, and I encourage people to do them. I was proctoring for an examination today, and that means essentially three hours of standing around not using your phone or reading. It was an English test, so cheating is generally at a minimum, which meant I was largely there to escourt male students to the washroom. As the prehistoric pelican said, it's a living. It's not a particularly exciting living, though, so to keep my mind occupied, I thought I'd spend the time going mentally over the ins and outs of a favorite series. I came into the quick problem, though, that I'm not really a repeat viewer anymore. There are books I'll read again, and episodes I'll rewatch, but an entire series overview isn't where my media interest is these days. So I needed something lengthy that I'd been through so many times that it was more or less embedded in my brain. I waffled a bit, and wound up with the 1995 Super Nintendo game Chrono Trigger. I'm sure I've talked about Chrono Trigger before, though I'm not in the mood to track down those entries. And I'm also not in the mood to offer much by way of explanation of the game's basic plot or mechanics. So the rest of this post is one for the Chronoheads (as I'm sure they call each other despite me just making the term up). --I could go through most of the plot in my head, with two exceptions. First, how the party learns about Melchoir--I'd totally forgotten about his Millenial Fair appearance. Second, how the party gets to the Antiquity time period--Lavos' arrival creates a convenient crater. So there you go. --Unlike its contemporary, Final Fantasy VII, the party-characters of Chrono Trigger don't really have an arc to them. They're just a bunch of happy-go-lucky folk (and Magus) who resolve to save the world from apocalypse. I'm largely ok with that, because they're still fairly fully-realized characters, if a little one-dimensional. You give me a bit of dialogue, and I could still probably determine which character said it. That's memorable character writing, in my book. --Ozzy's a perfect mid-boss character. He's scheming, manipulative, but not really good at it. He's distinct enough and difficult enough to be acceptable as a repeat character, and hits just the level of annoying you need to make beating him satisfactory, but also sufficiently annoying that it wouldn't be dramatically acceptable for him to be any more significant than that. Other JRPG characters fill similar roles: Liz and Ard in Wild Arms 2, Geshp in Shining Force II, and Ultros in Final Fantasy VI. Disgaea lampshades the mid-boss role to amusing effect. I'd have to go back to check this out, but I think one of the points in Final Fantasy VI's favor is that Kafka is largely presented as a mid-boss (albeit a particularly murderous one) until half way through the game. --And while he's largely a joke, I always felt sorry for him if you bring Magus in the party to fight him the final time. He expresses anger at Magus betraying the Fiends, and Magus utterly dismisses him: "Hear that? It's the sound of the reaper." Under Ozzie's goofiness, there's some untapped tragedy. --(I really, really hate to say this, but given the Reptites' and the Fiends'struggle against humans, and how Chrono and co are utterly uncaring about either except for how it gets in the way of their larger goals, Chrono Cross does a much better job of exploring the uneasiness of that dual existence. And given that the fiends seem largely extinct in the future (maybe they're the mutants and such?), their struggle does seem necessary.) --Two really fun longform accounts of Chrono Trigger:Reverse Design blog's version, which as you'd expect, focuses mainly on design; and Michael P. Williams' book Chrono Trigger from the Boss Fights book publisher, which digs more into the cultural and philosophical sides. --Re-using enemy sprites is pretty common in videogames, and Chrono Trigger is as guilty of this as anyone. (Though I do like the subtle visual suggestion that the Fiends are the descendants of the Reptites.) But what the game does really well is offer variations on monsters you've already encountered that require the player to shift tactics. For example, it becomes pretty clear immediately that Queen Zeal's final form is like the much earlier Giga Gais--a central head, and two appendages. But with Giga, the strategy is to take out the powerful hands and go after the defenseless head after. with Zeal, attacking the hands results in a devastating counterattack. Similar things going on with Guardian and, much later, Mother Brain. --When all's said and done, my favorite part of Chrono Trigger (besides the time travelling, maybe) is Lavos as a villain. It exists on such a larger scale than any other creature in the game, it played a pivotal role in shaping the history of civilization, and for the most part, right up until the final battle, it bares acknowledges or can acknowledge that the heroes even exist. It's just too alien to think in terms of individual humans. --I wonder if the giant decomposing corpse of a space monster in the earth's core will create any problems. Also, the whole point of the Antiquity era is that it's a society built from channeling power from Lavos, but where is Lavos getting the energy? Presumably, it's feeding off the earth in some way--if it wasn't, it wouldn't need to inhabit the planet's core. OK, looking at the game's script, it's not clear that that's what Lavos is doing; it may be sucking the earth's vitality, but the big work is harvesting the DNA of its organisms, which it does by... hanging out at the earth's core? At any rate, when the player goes to 1999 to fight Lavos on the day it arrives, it occurs to me that this is the worst possible time to fight Lavos--it's already harvested the life force it needs, and now all it has to do is bust out and leave. Is the earth in much better shape if you fight Lavos (via the Black Omen) in an early era? Or since the difference between antiquity and the future is so much less than prehistoric and any other time period, does that mean the damage has already been done? Chrono Trigger sequel: the Lavos energy crisis. --Speaking of Chrono Trigger sequels, going back and reading that Lavos (somehow) shaped all evolution on earth does lend some credence to the plot of Chrono Cross. But to say that it was responsible for humanity only, as Chrono Cross claims, is still off. We *see* humanity exist before Lavos arrives, and characters claim that it manipulated more than just humans in Chrono Trigger's final fight. So there and take that, decades-old videogame that is still rightfully considered a classic! So thinking through Chrono Trigger took up about half of the two and a half hour exam. I spent the rest thinking about this blog post. And here it is. Later Days.

Edit: I guess this is what happens when you do your whole post in HTML mode over compose mode; it eats up all your spaces. Well, I kind of like the ridiculousness of the lack of spacing, so I'll keep it as is. It makes the whole thing feel like an out of breath declaration, which fits, given my fannish obsession with the subject.