Part 4: Beyond The Ruins
Fresh from an exhilarating ten-day odyssey of examining space-inefficient rooms and soon-to-be tremendously important mysterious doors, lying down in such a way so as to confuse perspective as much as possible, and attempting to beat the 241-hour record for sitting motionless on a rusted floor before eventually becoming disheartened, it's time to finally explore the magical realm we've stumbled upon. What wonderful sights await discovery? What triumphs of the creativity of man exist to be unearthed? The wonders of the world are limitless, or are limited only by the existence of about eleven mid-sized homes across all time. Come then, let us see where fate hath brought us, and revel in the artistry that is the unending natural beauty of the world and the unparalleled work of man!
On second thought, there's a great comfort to be gained from familiarity. Why don't we head back to our own time? Why don't we head back right now?
Alas, they have guarded against the possibility that we would run directly towards the castle we just ran away from. Thankfully, Guardia apprehension techniques still involve little more than forming a wall and ineffectively walking in the direction of potential captives, gently nudging them into submission and staring disapprovingly.
Even that, however, can be a bit too much to consistently expect from pathfinding AI in the mid-1990s. Those guards who are not preparing to play the world's least exciting game of Red Rover often end up getting caught on scenery. In the resulting disorientation, they resort to studying bark samples to make sure you aren't currently eluding your pursuers by disguising yourself as a tree.
(Pictured: Criminal Acts)
While violence against hard working government employees is obviously out of the question (and I'm appalled you would even consider the thing), I suppose there's no reason we couldn't just avoid running directly past the castle. We could just slip through some trees.
Damn, Guardia has perfected their tree-wall defense. Well, there go all my ideas; better get back to the apocalypse.
In short, yes, this section of the game is a bit contrived. I would actually say that this first future visit, especially from a writing standpoint, is the low point of the game, though that isn't meant to come across as particularly damaging criticism. It's somewhat like judging a Faberge Egg because one of the diamonds isn't shiny enough, or complaining about my undoubtedly objective and level-headed analysis of this game because I can occasionally be a little bit too impartial. I'm sorry, I can't help it; it's a curse.
I've always loved the concept of the Enertron. Not only is it a nice justification for how these people manage to stay alive (it's implied that the Enertron basically sustains them, but in a barely-subsistence-level Malthusian kind of way), but it's a great microcosm of the future as a whole. This is an idea that seems fantastic until you think about it for a few minutes, at which point it suddenly seems unbelievably awful. This is going to be the future's common theme, though admittedly a lot of what happens fails to get past the "seems fantastic" phase.
Needless to say, those doors we keep seeing in the background are another bit of foreshadowing; when we try to open them a tune plays and we're told that they're sealed by a mysterious force (this also happens if we try to open the black boxes, like the one in the clearing earlier this update). The symbol on the door will eventually be shown to mean something, and I respect them for not taking the easy way out and just stealing some shallow Judeo-Christian iconography that they increasingly put off having to explain. If this hadn't come out before Evangelion made the practice acceptable and seemingly obligatory, those doors would be covered in crosses, fig leaves, and arbitrary Bible verses about how Neri begat Salathiel who begat Zorobabel. Instead, Square was far more sensible and had it symbolize something significant from later on in the game... which ends up being based on a shallow reference to that time they skimmed an article about the Bible. Oh well, I suppose even the best JRPGs are built on baby steps.
Lab 16, one of only two labs in the world, is one of only two labs in the world. The naming scheme is thus at least marginally questionable, but my personal theory is that it was a clever marketing ploy to increase the perceived market share of laboratory technology; "A Lab" was seen as lacking implicit legitimacy, and the original suggestion of "Lab Seventy Hundred Bazillion And One" tested poorly with focus groups over the age of five.
Crono and pals have an incredibly boring time here, which mostly consists of running away from everything and opening up some chests. Thankfully, contemporary science allows me to pretend that something more interesting happened, since, if I correctly understand the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, the fact that Crono's mom once measured how tall he was should have created a timeline where this kind of thing happens instead:
Lab 16 offers a saddening display of genetic experimentation gone wrong. Man tried too hard to intrude in God's Domain, and suffered for having incredibly bad ideas.
Scientist 1: Ah, genetic engineering. I propose we use this technology to increase crop yields, or maybe introduce new nutrients into easy-to-grow cereal grains. We could become the next generation's Norman Borlaug, rather than just being the people who annoy everyone at parties by introducing needlessly dense references into everything we say. We could change the world.
Scientist 2: Psh, crop yields? Fuck that. What if there was an angry salamander-turtle that was also a volcano?
Scientist 1: It would... what?
Scientist 2: Or a big colander-wearing tomato man that shoots probosces at teenagers and their girlfriends?
Scientist 1: I think I take issue with some of your methods.
Scientist 2: How about this: A plant that can cure anything.
Scientist 1: Much better. Maybe a bit optimistic, but it's a worthwhile goal to shoot for.
Scientist 2: But not humans. Something needs to keep the reptile volcanoes alive, after all.
Scientist 1: I don't want to work with you anymore.
Ultimately, neither scientist's work would find widespread acceptance, which critics would attribute to the unfortunate decision of saving money by throwing some garbage on an unused city street and insisting people call it a lab. This was intended as a sweeping social commentary on the horrors of corporate bureaucracy, where every man is but a lab rat in an elaborate experiment of increasing dehumanization and seeing which LP readers will catch on to referencing cult Australian novelists, but the social commentary was lost on investors who preferred to be financing laboratories that were actually labs.
Yes, I'm aware that this joke now has more punchlines than the entire rest of the LP; the people who waited ten days for this are basically playing an especially impenetrable game of Rope-A-Dope.
On the subject of actually talking about Chrono Trigger, these rats steal Tonics from you, though they first engage in a nasty bit of character defamation. By immediately running away and only spitting out an ambiguous message once offscreen, they attempt to make the noble cat-rescuing Felix out to be a lowly thief who steals from innocent floorboards. If you don't have any Tonics, they decide to steal your money to finance said crippling Tonic addiction. Darren Aronofsky is said to be chronicling their plight in his next film.
However, remember what we talked about in the first update? In a staggering show of support for the "Rats are actually a Tyrannosaurus Rex" theory of zoology, standing still causes them to run right through you, leaving your inventory undisturbed. It is worth noting, however, that dealing with an actual rodent infestation by letting them claw at your ankles until they stop noticing you is not recommended. In that case your best bet is the bribery option.
Going through that lab, Felix picked up another Lode Sword and a Berserker (the latter of which will be shown off next update), Mia acquired a Lode Bow, and Jenna finally realized why so many of her previous experiments had ended in failure; she knew she should have installed a second Empire State Building, if only she had listened when she had the chance.
Here the path splits in three. We can choose between another lab, a sewer level, or a dome that (spoilers) dies halfway through the game.
The lab is clearly the best option. Let's just...
We're not having much luck today, are we?
Trying to progress normally results in a robot attack, defeating them and progressing again sends out another robot attack, and so on ad infinitum. We actually can complete the sewer level now, but there's a rather convincing counter-argument to doing so: it's a sewer level. Let's just head for the dome.
We came from the laboratories to the west.
So there ARE people who can beat up those freaky mutants... Pardon me. I'm Doan. I'm the descendant of the Director of this Info center. In the basement, there's a huge computer and a storage center for food. But we can't get through 'cause of the robot guards. It's a pity.
My husband went down to the food storage area below. I haven't seen him since...
No problem, we can beat up some wait, robot guards? You can't just drop an excuse like "the robot guards" and not elaborate on it. That's a terrible explanation! You're terrible at explaining things! Stop pretending you can handle exposition! I hate you! You aren't even my real dad!!!
(Okay, deep breath)
Apologies, that kind of textual anger is excessive and admittedly rather awkward to read. I'm just unusually upset at this game because of the samurai, and I haven't had a chance to update in the last week or so because of the lava. I'm sorry; I trust that you'll understand.
Before we fight these guards, let's learn a bit about Chrono Triggernomics: disproving pro-Gold Standard rhetoric since 1995. Remarkably, Guardia managed to create a (fiat?) currency that never depreciates in value and only has a 98% chance of actually just being gold. Alternately, Crono is playing the role of the 80-year-old who rewards a day of work with a nickel, because back in my day this would get you all the Tonics you wanted, and we had to walk uphill both ways to use the Enertron, only we called 'em "inns" in those days, and...
Are you going down below?
But no one's ever returned from there.
Gotta try, right?
... It's nice to see such spirited young people for a change. Careful, now. And come back alive.
Well, I don't see any robots in here. Good thing, too; I need to change up a few things.
Future, I think there's a problem with us not exactly seeing eye to eye.
Yeah, for some reason robots suddenly appear if you use the menu here, and this encounter is inescapable. I haven't a clue why this is the case; perhaps the robot-makers lobby was just extremely persuasive and Arris Dome felt perfectly fine devoting exorbitant resources to highly specific forms of protecting their seeds.
Not opening the menu this time, walking a few inches forward triggers this giant robot falling from the rafters. Meh, it was cooler when Frog did it.
Back to Crono, Lucca, and Marle, it's time to take on the third boss of the game: The Guardian.
The Guardian is protected by two bits, and the three of them can perform a counterattack if you attack the core while they're out (one bit will also enable a counterattack, though it's just a normal move, Amplifire, being used more quickly). By this point, Felix and Mia can use Aura Whirl, a Dual Tech that restores a decent amount of HP for the entire party; Crono and Marle, however, have no such luck. Buying plenty of healing items is a must, as is taking your time. Queued attacks will be redirected and quite possibly trigger a counter-attack, and you'll want to make sure you never attack London's third-largest newspaper when it's not by itself.
The trick, of course, is to use your best dynamic flying to attack the bits first, whereupon the giant robot... does nothing. It counts to five incredibly slowly and then brings the bits back. I can't help but feel this security robot has a few conceptual flaws to it, like the fact that it's basically a wall with an eye on it. Would it really be all that difficult to just run past the thing?
There's a very clear divide between classic defensive attrition and all-out assault, and switching between the two makes for a very engaging and satisfying battle. Because the Guardian can't attack you by itself, however, it's important to keep track of its HP. An incredibly useful if not vital strategy for low-level boss fights is to use Notepad or an actual legal pad (or, if you're feeling particularly daring, an illegal pad) to keep track of how much damage you're doing and how much of an enemy's health is left. This enables you to decide whether or not to heal weakened characters, when to hold off on attacks, and generally how to keep your sanity intact during one of these runs. The Guardian has 1200 HP, and when he gets down to about 100 it's time for the obligatory getting whacked. Kill off one of the bits and then deliberately attack the Guardian itself as Crono and Marle, triggering the Amplifire counter-attacks necessary to knock them out.
Those attacks will have weakened it to where Lucca, our weakest character in terms of attack, can deal the finishing blows. As a result, she levels up twice to Lv. 5 (Crono and Marle are still at levels 1 and 3), and we've defeated what may have represented a touch of overkill for people attempting to steal some loaves of bread.
Everything's completely rotten. The refrigeration must have failed...
He's holding something. What do you suppose this is?
It looks like some kind of seed.
A seed? Do you suppose it could grow in a place like this?
The man also holds a note. I haven't a clue how he got past the guards only to die there of all places, or why he happened to be carrying some parchment and a pen, but, if the abundance of fog, fans, rust, and rather questionable motives is any indication, this could just be densely symbolic of Crono's guilt for not properly looking after his cat.
If I may, I'd like to propose a theory for why your society is in ruins: terrible urban planning.
Kid: Mom, can I have a sandwich?
Mom: Of course, Timmy, I'll just run across the narrow rafters above the city under the city and past the eighty-foot-tall robots to get you some bread.
Kid: After that can I go on the internet?
Mom: Sorry sweetie, I can't remember the passcode to get to the computer chamber, and it's so hard catching the talking cyborg statue rat in these heels.
Yes, this rat tells you how to get to the computer room. Regardless of how often you look closely at some slits, I can't think of any possible reality where this is somehow a secret. I think that man was using his dying words for the bizarre future equivalent of telling you where to find the keys to the toolshed if you happen to need the rake.
Don't make any mistakes, or you'll be sorry!
By the way, we won't be. This is a mistranslation that makes pretty much no sense in context, where the worst possible situation is being dismayed at your inability to remember simple codes. Come on, hold two buttons and press a button? That's like having your password be "12345".
Potential Tenant: I'm looking at renting out part of a nice dome. How are Arris' amenities?
Realtor: I'm glad you asked; just take a look at all we have to offer.
Potential Tenant: I have to say I'm a bit unconvinced.
Realtor: Would it help if I threw in cable?
Briefly switching back to Felix, here's a fun little aside: The SNES is capable of handling four graphics layers, with the top being reserved for effects like Arris Dome's interior troposphere (there are probably too many giant robots guarding the dehumidifier). Magic attacks, however, also use this layer, causing the clouds to spontaneously appear and disappear as you fight battles. While I can't test this for myself, supposedly this didn't happen on an actual SNES (where both would exist on the same layer) but is instead a problem with emulation, though this means that the problem also exists on the Virtual Console and PS1 (I don't know if this happens on the Nintendo DS). I'll admit that there isn't really a point to this observation..
Good! The computer's still operational! If we run a search on time warps, we might find our Gate!
We have a gate. A gate is not something that we currently need, let alone have reason to search for on what Lucca somehow recognizes as a computer despite most of her inventions stemming from the "beating things up=technology" school of design. I am not satisfied with this element of the plot, though in fairness I've heard it would have been more thoroughly justified were it not for the lioness cubs.
That grid is just superimposed on the map, and it stays in place while the map does a pan underneath it. It's entirely possible that the monitor is simply covered in tape.
That would be Proto Dome, I believe.
Leave it to Lucca! I'm beginning to think you could find anything with this device!
Say, what does this button do? 1999 A.D.? Visual record of The Day of Lavos...
You know, this doesn't seem to excuse a lot of what we've seen here. Don't get me wrong, I completely get that this could seriously ruin an ecosystem and environment, but it seems like the domes were actually completely protected. I'm sticking with my strategy of blaming the engineers.
Lavos?... Is that what's destroying our world?!
We must truly be in the future... No! NO WAY! I refuse to believe it!! This can't be the way the world ends...
There's only one thing we can do! We must change history! Just like Crono did when he saved me!
We can't just go back to our world and live comfortably after seeing this...
It was a stroke of luck that we were sent here through that Gate.
Crono! Lucca! Together we can do this!
Let's take a second and do some more research on Lavos' activities back in our time period!
Next stop, Proto Dome!
You know, we are in front of a computer.
Your point being?
Well, it seems like we could probably just research it here. There's apparently a "Show apocalypse" button; we could at least try to look for related links.
No, I'm pretty sure we should do the research in our own time.
999 years before it happened?
Excuse me, who's the scientist here?
To the present day!
This is...our future! This is all we could get...
You don't know how long the Enertron'll hold out. Those seeds might be your only hope.
You have to stay alive! And so do we!
Huh... You're strange... You're different from us...
I think it's because we're healthy!
Heal-thy? Got a nice ring to it! We'll try growing the seeds... They just might be our future... Heading for Proto Dome? Go by way of Laboratory 32, and take this with ya. It's a key to the Jet Bike in lab 32. I used to ride it when I was young. Hope it still works... They've got more powerful robots over there. Take care, and stay...healthy!
My husband...he's...he's...gone... But he left me precious gifts! The seeds...and our child.