Part 5: The Derelict Factory
Two months ago, having written an update about as comprehensible as [insert 1974 Serbian drama here], I was unceremoniously kidnapped by aliens, made to dig space ditches and formulate reasons why I don't know how to update my own threads (Space Reasons).
Now, having survived that ordeal, it's time to tackle a far greater one:
Fuel Efficiency, and the environmental degradation caused by
Cornered by robots, Crono's murder reflexes kick in and cause him to run directly away from the Screw-Attack-Hummer-SUV-o-Cycle to which he holds a key. Inspired by the multi-dozen sales of the Michael Jackson: Moonwalker game released a few years prior, Square had attempted to work a single black character into at least one of their games, and after months of consideration the team eventually decided "Fuck it, why not somewhere around here?"
You know, this is the first time we've seen robots with any degree of sentience. Do you think this leads to any moral implications for the wanton destruction we haven't been engaging in, or the nature of posthumanism, hard determinism, and their cultural ramifications? Perhaps this future's true enemy never was the evil space hedgehog, but the fundamental absurdity of the contradictions inherent in human existence. Can these robots be judged within traditional moral frameworks, particularly those that arise from deontology and presuppose an assumed knowledge of right and wrong? To say yes implies a breakdown in the definition of a free agent, which in turn necessitates a materialist construct of ethics. This further implies that Oh, who cares, can we just stab them already?
Level 1, remember?
I blame Kant.
You lowlifes can call me Johnny. Now listen up. Part of an old highway leads through these ruins. Think you can beat me in a bike race? Use that "Jet Bike" and don't chicken out, babe! The gas is on auto, so there's only one speed FAST!
That seems really impractical and probably rather unsa-
Let's go fast!
Eager to avoid being outdone by their competitors, Lab 32 Corp. made their lab out of a highway that's currently undergoing several lightning storms and/or raptures. In fairness, these "labs" were supposed to be translated as "ruins", but I suppose they could have just been doing Extreme Science!, mixing chemicals at 95 miles per hour and working out stoichiometry mid-HALO jump. Either that or they were testing the decay rates of different types of asphalt; it's honestly fairly hard to tell.
I don't really like this minigame, though I do like the design philosophy that led to its inclusion. Basically, you "race" by constantly bouncing back and forth; Canary Mary could be throwing blue shells at Joel Waul and be embarrassed by the amount of rubber banding on display. The trick is solely to use a boost when you're close enough to the finish line and to throw money at Square for doing cool effects with size-changing sprites and Mode 7. If you lose, you're given the chance to
You know what, screw this racing system; we will walk!
Alternate plan: Let's not walk. Not walking sounds good, right? I'm glad we're all in agreement here.
(Oddly enough, avoiding this bike race unlocks an extra feature for the bike race. Like everything else, I'll show it off either later or in the playthrough where actual things happen.)
Continuing my complaints about freely additional features, it's amazing that they put so much effort into the visuals (dynamic size changing, a multilayered parallax scrolling background, a dynamic bird's eye rotating victory shot, Schrödinger's wheel/hoverbike duality, and even different motorbike sprites depending on if you're moving toward the camera or away) for what's basically a long cutscene followed by a quick time event. This, of course, would soon become Square's principle design paradigm for years to come.
Alright, enough stalling, it's time to tackle the lowest point of the game. This section is annoying enough on a normal playthrough because it completely breaks everything's flow; you've triumphantly decided to save the future and become heroes of time and space, you're ready to go back into the past and do some heroic digging through files at the Guardia Library, and suddenly you get to go through a fairly uninspired dungeon because opening doors is hard. At Level 1 it's even worse, since we're going to face the biggest string of annoyances until Magus' Castle. There isn't a humorous or interesting way to end this paragraph, so here's a picture of a cool-looking fish.
First on the list of annoyances, more unavoidable exp. These challenges are never quite the same with a level-up-as-you-choose system like the Crystarium or Sphere Grid; they rob you of that paradoxical feeling of being annoyed when you have to actually pay attention and interact with the game you're playing.
Next on the annoyance list, we have these. The battle with these robots are inescapable, and consistently threading the few pixels necessary to avoid them is about as easy as being a rich man who enters the kingdom of heaven. We don't get an enertron out of the deal, but we do get a defining moment of character development:
Namely, Marle being shocked at the existence of a robot after having spent a day or so doing nothing but fighting robots. Thread challenge: Spend an entire day making that gesture whenever you ask a question.
This dome introduces Robo and, far more importantly, also introduces anime. While the PS1 rereleases of earlier Final Fantasy games had crude mid-90s CGI added to them, Akira Toriyama, creator of DragonBall Z and character designer for Chrono Trigger, chose to add substantially better-aging visuals when it came time to handle the Chrono Trigger "update". Along with other extras such as a bestiary and a tacked on ending that tried to pretend Chrono Cross was going to matter, these anime cutscenes were the type of bonuses chosen over things like load times shorter than the heat death of the universe. I know it sounds like I'm harping on this too much, but this is seriously how you played that game:
For comparison, this is how that played on a SNES:
I also made but decided not to upload a one-joke hipster version edited in a locally-owned coffee shop while thinking disdainfully about the bourgeois. It was set to the song "We Used To Wait" by Arcade Fire. Ho ho ho. Get it? Because it's like the lyrics of the song describe the things that happened int the game. Man, I'm the best at LPs.
It's worth noting that the PS1 version is how I first got exposed to Chrono Trigger. For years I put up with the load times because the rest of the game was so good, and Chrono Trigger became one of my favorite games even when it was presented like that. So yes, in case you haven't been able to tell, I really, really, like this game. A lot.
Anyway, in an attempt to excuse portsmanship on par with my ability to form coherent thought processes, they made anime cutscenes for it. Only two of them, in my opinion, really add anything, but they're worth seeing and were thankfully retained for a DS version that a human might want to play. Here's the first one:
... I think I can fix it.
What?! It might attack us!
I'll make sure it won't. Machines aren't capable of evil ...humans make them that way.
Lucca, you...pity them don't you?
Let me get to work now, okay?
Sadly, Lucca refused to comment on how this accounted for the five thousand times we've been attacked by machines.
After a given cutscene, the PS1 version plays the cutscene again in non-anime form. Personally I would have preferred to just show one or the other and give you an option for which you see, since the in-game versions look like fairly minor nonevents in comparison (Of course, in this case the dramatic event in question is walking upwards into a room), but I realize that would have required them actually spending time on the PS1 version, and we certainly couldn't have that.
I'm not your mistress. I'm Marle, and this is Crono, and Lucca here fixed you!
Understood. Madam Lucca fixed me.
Just Lucca will do.
Impossible. That would be rude.
Look, I hate formal titles! Don't you, Marle?
I understand, Lucca.
All right! Now what's your name?
Name? Ah, my serial number. It is R66-Y.
No! That won't do at all!
The best thing to do is name him R66-Y, which makes Marle adorably (though Robo isn't much better; is she the type of person who would name her cat "Kitty"?), and normally I don't put much thought into it because I rarely ever use Robo. While he's well balanced, he's probably the least interesting character in terms of dialogue and personality, and there are much better characters to use in pretty much every instance. In this runthrough, however, he'll be in our party enough to warrant some min-maxing. In particular, he gets our Power Tabs; the ability to play the guitar parts on hit Kanye West singles will prove invaluable.
I am... Robo. Data storage complete.
Hey Robo, why aren't there any people here?
What has happened here? There WERE many humans and others of my kind in this dome.
I think something awful happened here...
But how is it that you survived?
We came through a time warp from the year 1000.
While exploring Arris Dome we learned there was a Gate here. But the door to the inner chambers is locked, so we're out of luck...
The power is off. If we go to the factory up north, I can pass through security and activate this dome's generator.
You'd do that for us?
You repaired me. Now it's my turn to help you. But the generator won't run for long, so someone must stay behind to open the door while the power's on.
Robo is going to be our new exp absorber, which means that either Marle or Lucca gets to avoid earning any while the other earns 75% of the battle totals. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as just picking a character and sticking with her; we're going to do some fancy exp shuffling and, most terrifying of all, math.
This factory is guarded by a remarkably token inch-high laser, after union interests vetoed the original plan for "A hallway of patterned death lasers designed to kill everyone" due to cost overrun and difficulties with the engineering. The finished laser is well-equipped to protect against both sheep and paraplegics, and deactivating it triggers another unavoidable fight. We would have stepped over it, but it's currently National Don't Step Over Things Month; such rigid adherence may seem silly, but ask yourself: without culture and tradition, what do we as a society truly have? The answer, of course, is far too many undeactivated lasers.
The security acid is so taken aback by Robo's abysmal aim that it collapses in humorous mirth. I have to say, they probably could have sprung for a slightly better security plan.
Alright, now to switch back out to Marle, reinforcing that she's probably the type of person who would hold back joyous laughter while being waterboarded because it's a fun new experience for her. Doing this is going to allow us to shave off a level, though it's bit difficult to explain exactly why. Ignore this next paragraph if you don't want to read about math:
Because complex differentiation is linear and obeys the product, quotient, and chain rules, the sums, products and compositions of holomorphic functions are holomorphic, and the quotient of two holomorphic functions is holomorphic wherever the denominator is not zero. If one identifies C with R2, then the holomorphic functions coincide with those functions of two real variables with continuous first derivatives which solve the Cauchy-Riemann equations, a set of two partial differential equations. Every holomorphic function can be separated into its real and imaginary parts, and each of these is a solution of Laplace's equation on R2. In other words, if we express a holomorphic function f(z) as u(x, y) + i v(x, y) both u and v are harmonic functions.
And ignore this one if you don't want to read about Experience juggling in Chrono Trigger:
Keeping Marle at low experience levels is more important than doing so for Lucca, since Marle has more levels to gain and less exp necessary to gain them. As such, we usually want to keep Marle in our party so she can die off and absorb 0 exp while Lucca absorbs the 75%. In this case, however, Marle has a slight buffer and can absorb that Acid's 33 exp without a level up, while Lucca can save 195 exp by joining in the party for that fight. The reason this works is that, for whatever reason, a character gaining experience outside of battle (that is, obtaining the 75% exp consolation prize) will only gain experience until they gain a level. By the time we finish off Heckran, a boss in the next chapter, Lucca will be 5 exp away from a level up that she can't avoid. If Marle fought that acid, Lucca would have gained enough exp from it to make Heckran level her up, making a later mandatory fight give her 200 exp and eventually forcing her to gain another level than she needs to. Having Lucca fight this acid leaves her 5 exp from leveling up, which means that having her out of the party during that 200 exp fight will give her 5 exp, level her up, and then stop. Lucca saves 195 exp by dying to this acid, and you now begin to realize why normal people don't do minimum-level runs.
For those of you who aren't crazy and skimmed past that, I'm well aware that this is about as interesting as reading a TASer explain how they saved two more frames on a Super Metroid run. In an attempt to make up for that, here's a picture of a slightly less cool fish and also a cat.
Those green circles are elevators (no, not teleporters; they're less "Awesome sci-fi technology" and more "How can we cut down on space by having twenty-five workers stand on a one-square-foot floor?")
The left elevator is entirely optional, and the main point of coming here for us is getting a bird-shooting weapon for Marle. Other things of note include man-sized barrels that we can lift with floating cranes (probably less efficient, but it's the ~future~) and a conveyor belt that forms an endless loop and carries robots so as to give them a brief moment of respite from their drab and tedious lives. This isn't the most efficient design ever given to a factory.
Crono, now substantially less selective about which computers he can use, is going to ignore half of what this factory has to offer because I feel it's one of the weakest parts of the entire game. As I mentioned earlier, the design is fairly bland, and I feel it saps a lot of the momentum as the game shifts from "You can save the world because you're awesome!" to "Damn, opening doors sure is tough". I, of course, am perfectly qualified to talk about sapping momentum because I would never do something that poorly thought through. In case you missed that, I'm making another joke about how I don't update my threads.
Speaking of low-points, welcome to, for a low-level run, the second worst fight in the game. A random mixture of Acids (orange) and Alkalines (green) drop from the ceiling, and we need five acids for the proper exp count to avert another level gain. Incidentally, this is also going to be a setpiece in the upcoming Las Vegas-themed spinoff of Saw.
Since it's rather impractical to ship SNESs with large chunks of Uranium-232 to generate actual random numbers (though this would still probably be a bigger hit than the Virtual Boy / insert 3DS headache joke), Chrono Trigger, like every other sensible application of randomness, uses pseudorandom functions to figure out what's going to occur. These are based on seeds, which are difficult-to-control variables such as the last frame you opened the menu or how many milliseconds you've spent talking to cats, and are often determined well before the battle (in this case, when you enter the room, the entrance being about a 30 second run away from this terminal). As a result, just making a save state two seconds before this is insufficient, and on an actual system there's a lot of save scumming.
But I'm feeling lucky, and 31:1 odds against have never stopped me from investing in penny stocks or betting a retirement account worth of gum in Roulette on Red 23 (I lost). So let's play the most exciting game in America: Losing.
Hoorah! We can finally fight a unified fraternity of hydrogen potentials. Alkaline-Acid pairs tend not to work well together; the saddest part is that they can never hug...
Laser Spin is going to be incredibly useful; in addition to encouraging impromptu rave mobs, it's the only attack we'll have for a long time capable of attacking every enemy on screen regardless of position. In addition, that chest has a Hammer Arm, a nice weapon that makes Robo even stronger. Unfortunately, this is far from the end. We have a boss fight coming right up.
And we don't get to use Robo.
We do, however, need Lucca. It's worth noting that every time we switch out characters we have to weave through that group of inescapable robots twice.
Oh, and since they guard an Enertron, we have to go back to Arris Dome to heal. I'm having fun with this game, I swear; my next challenge will be playing it on the PS1 hammering nails into my eyes every time I see an exclamation mark.
The code is XABY (as in, pressing those buttons on the controller), and knowing this we've actually skipped about half this dungeon. Sure, we could have done way more over on the left to move absurdly large barrels with flying RC cranes and eventually have the translation told to us, but I have little respect for proper procedure in a factory guarded by more robots than are spit out by the Shinra corporation in a good year and that loudly announces its foolproof encryption of "pazzword".
Man 1: Hey, I need to change one of the fuses at Proto Dome again. How do I open this door?
Man 2: Oh, go to the factory a few miles North and go down to the basement. There's password protection like crazy, and you miiight get attacked by acid traps and half a dozen armed robots, and you'll be locked in by gigantic steel doors when you activate it, but after that you should be able to fix the fuse.
Man 1: I really think you could have found a more practical method.
Man 2: Like what, a staple?
Man 1: Point taken. Factory it is.
Emergency! Security system has gone haywire. Must escape immediately!
Since turning on electricity is apparently an emergency, we're now funneled through some hallways so as to confront yet another unspeakably deadly threat:
Chinese knock-offs. These third-party pseudo robots make use of a completely different numbering system, a color scheme designed to appeal to the hip young kids of today, and a pure cadmium-lead construction guaranteed to hold up to the toughest abuses of a security system that activates an hour after the building's infiltration.
You are defective. You have been tainted. Have you forgotten our mission? All intruders must be eliminated!
THAT was my purpose?
You shame us! You must be destroyed.
Wh, what are you doing!
No, stop! These are my brothers!
But they'll destroy you!
Please stop. Pl...ease...
The more things change, the more they stay the same, and it's comforting to be able to track the ways in which, for all the ebb and flow of the sea of time, the basic elements of human nature remain firmly anchored. When dealing with the problems of identity formed by a postman future, these existential safety blankets become even more important to the proper functioning of the human mind. For this reason, I am extremely thankful to learn that, even three hundred years in the future, the primary way to address a malfunctioning machine is by hitting it.
Now to take care of the intruders...
That was a really terrible comeback.
I know; roll with it.
Alright, this is tricky. There are six bosses for us to fight, and they can pack quite a punch. Normally we would destroy these guys with fire whirl, but that isn't an option for the tech point challenged such as ourselves. The problem is this battle is like a ticking clock, where even a semi-unfortunate string of attacks will absolutely destroy Crono and Lucca's camaraderie, typically by killing them. There is a simple solution, however:
Basically, turn Crono into a rabid beast.
The Berserker involves Crono being covered in tomato juice, reminding him of the miscarriage of justice that was Nix v. Hedden and thus enraging him such that his speed and power are increased in exchange for a complete loss of control. It's normally fairly useless for the same reason that Kasparov doesn't typically pop methamphetamine before a match, but in this case it allows us to give the Random Number Generator more time in the spotlight and finish the battle while remaining at least slightly alive.
In brief, Lucca spams tonics while watching Crono attack until enough numbers have shown up on screen. Maybe when Final Fantasy 12 and 13 looked for inspiration from this game they only looked at this fight, deciding that it was perfect except for the rabies-laden protagonist having too strong of a character.
With that, the future is over. We could run through a sewer level before we go, but I suspect this update has somehow managed to unsell people on this game and showing that off in the same update would probably result in a boycott.
To architects, ye bland, we bid farewell.
To drab designs that yes, we know, are bleak.
Our thirst for great design may soon be quelled.
We're back to getting whacked like Dominique ?
I don't know, there really isn't a good rhyme to use there.