Part 6: The End Of Time
By this point, arcs of electricity have been associated with danger to an extent of which Thomas Edison could only dream (prepositions are hard), making the chances of something terrible happening only slightly greater than the chances of waking up tomorrow to find the Earth continuing to exist. Naturally, then, electric gates teleport us to an area where the Earth no longer continues to exist. This area is fantastic, but I do consider it home to one of the few pieces of outright bad writing this game has to offer, as well as one of the few pieces of outright bad ironwork. Come on, architects, people have been doing things like this for centuries; you really couldn't have sprung for a nicer balustrade?
This slightly more apocalyptic apocalypse has only one resident, Gaspar, whose name was slightly altered from the original Japanese "Pay Attention To Me Because I Melchior And A Third Character Will Be Important To The Plot Von Subtlety" as a result of character restrictions. Gaspar is another pseudo-Biblical name often associated with the Magi and referenced by people who want to appear Biblically literate without doing actual work, and yes, a connection with an inevitable Balthazar is as sure a thing as me not really tying in or finishing my
What do you mean, "guest"...? And, where are we?
Why, this is The End of Time, of course! All lost travelers in time wind up here! Now, where are you from?
We're from Guardia Kingdom, circa 1000 A.D.
I come from 2300 A.D...
When 4 or more beings step into a time warp, the Conservation of Time theorem states that they will turn up at the space-time coordinates of least resistance: Here. Disturbances in the space-time continuum have increased recently. Far too many folks are just popping in here... I fear something is having a powerful effect on the very fabric of time...
Which means one of us has to remain here.
It is pretty bleak here... But not to worry. All time periods connect here... You can visit your friends whenever you wish! But you can never travel in groups greater than 3...
So traveling through time is unstable with four or more people?
But not with three people?
No, three is fine.
The last time three of us traveled through time one of us stopped existing. That seems kind of unstable.
Oh no, I wouldn't worry. Just as long as you don't try doing it with four.
So, why exactly does Robo tip the scales here?
Well, he's the fourth person.
He's a robot.
But a person-like robot.
He's made out of tin.
Is Lucca not allowed to wear certain helmets, then? I'm trying to figure out where exactly we get to draw the line.
Just don't travel in groups greater than three.
What if we went through the portals in pairs?
Well, we have two things capable of time travel: the key and the pendant. Why don't I just go through the portal with one of them and then have the other three go through right after?
It can't be done.
Because time wouldn't be conserved!
How do you know? Have you ever sent four people through time before?
The consequences could be dire.
You live in a world straight out of Antoine de' Saint-Exupery's boring period alone; I'm not sure what's more dire than that. Isn't the worst case scenario that we wind up right back here?
Yes, but direly.
Have you ever even seen another group of time travelers?
A guy named Fayt stopped by here once, mumbled about how his contract was almost through. Yep, you sure do meet some interesting people at the End of Time.
How do you eat?
What powers that streetlight?
Stop asking questions.
Why such an uninteresting balustrade?
It came with the plaza.
Can we go back in time yet?
For once Ted Woolsey gets to be absolved for writing something incomprehensible, even though he did slightly mistranslate this explanation similar to every other explanation and line of dialogue in the game (fun fact: his mother's "Good Morning Crono" was originally an indictment of neocolonialism and Marle was originally 95). This theorem is a direct problem in the original script, and I mainly object to it because calling attention to something is the best way to (incredible shocker coming up) draw attention to it. If the party limit is never commented on or was an active decision on the part of the characters (see for example FF7) it's easy to brush it off as a mechanic of the game that doesn't need to reflect reality, just like the polite way Lucca waits for an enemy bird to be ready before setting it on fire and pistol whipping its corpse.
Trying to justify it, however, especially in the DS translation where the relocation is attributed to "the torsion exerted on time's flow" (a compromise between the proposed explanations of "Math does sciency stuff" and "Quasicompact equivalence class Hausdorff manifold does sciency stuff") is painful enough to warrant my 538-page dissertation on how this unforgivable error irreversibly damages a game about raising cats. It also makes it incredibly obvious when the game suddenly stops caring about its own explanation, and I can point out the exact moment that happens.
Right there. The exact moment it happens is right there.
You know, you could at least let us all walk around together on this space plaza.
Schrödinger's backroom houses Spekkio, the Master of War, in a form that most people have probably never seen. Spekkio changes form depending on your level, and currently ranks roughly sixth on the list of most vaguely-menacing frogs we've seen thus far but, if you assume he's not a slobbering baby and instead wearing a tie, first on the list of most fashionably dressed.
Does this have something to do with internal concentration as a means of unlocking our natural talents?
Sure, let's go with that.
Passing the unbelievably difficult test of figuring out what "clockwise" is nets us various spells due to magical grade inflation, with Crono's swirling "Holy" surviving the translation to lightning somewhere around "Not even remotely well at all". Marle inherits ice, Lucca learns a slightly different form of fire than the one she already happened to have, and Robo is incapable of learning magic because Spekkio can't measure his inner strength. The fact that he's made out of metal is less of a handicap than you might imagine.
Right now we're meant to go back to the year 1000 in what may be the world's most convoluted method of avoiding some trees since every Zelda game, but we're going to throw caution to the wind and instead rush into 65,000,000 BC.
This scene, of course, satirizes the precipitous drop in belief suspension that accompanies such a date, as relatively careful mirroring of realistic timeframes for societal development turns into "Think of the biggest number you can and we'll go with that". While this isn't really sequence breaking, it does spoil a big location later on, so if you want to keep all of the time periods a surprise I advise you to stop reading two paragraphs ago.
The reason I don't consider this sequence breaking is that there's nothing plot-relevant we can actually do here. Other than a few huts, the only thing of interest is the Dactyl (Finger) Nest, presumably the remnants of some kind of Killing Fields / Belgian Congo-style atrocity. I was going to honor this tragedy with an excerpt from artistic short film Пиштољ оф Тиме, a dense and heartbreaking exploration of the darkest parts of human existence, but that ended up being too much effort so I just desaturated the next image and called it good.
The ultimate point of this excursion is this Intermediate-mail, or perhaps the Meat-mail if we happen to be around Croatia. Accepting the Serbian (Meat <-> Meso) translation is more artistically satisfying, it fits the time period, and I like the idea of Crono strapping raw meat onto his chest, so just imagine we're doing that. While it does make us far more likely to be attacked by rabid dogs, the Meatsuit raises Crono's Defense from 29 to 65, additionally setting up a fantastic subplot involving cleansing the party of near-fatal quantities of E. Coli.
Alright, that was fun, but irate sulking Crono will have no more of this. Enough stalling, time to return to the present day.
Oh, about that "People keep popping in here" thing, is that going to come up again?
Is that an actual no or a "Melchior is a guy who just sells potions" no?
No, that's actually never going to come up again.
I I see.
Yeah, to be honest I didn't really think most of this through.
I have agonized over this joke for the entirety of the last two months. If I make it, I will have fallen prey to the trappings of juvenality, and it can only be a short time before I start axing my twelve-paragraph dialectical materialism comments in favor of jokes about poop. If I don't make it, I am remiss in my duties as an LPer, and I will fail at bringing joy to the masses. It's right there, taunting me like forbidden fruit. I must allow myself to give in.
I fell out of a closet? Ar-moire god!
Forgive me, readers. Today I have ruined comedy forever.
Most Mystics hold a grudge against humans. Be careful...
Why are you being so nice? Mystics aren't supposed to get along with humans.
Humans fought the Mystics over 400 years ago. My motto is "forgive and forget" but not many seem to agree with me.
In the DS translation, 'Mystics" is replaced with "fiends", which somewhat undermines the message they were going for. Of course, the fact that you're regularly justified in widely slaughtering them for having the audacity to exist kind of does that as well, but you have to keep in mind that it was more or less fair for its day.
Aside from biting social commentary on the post-Jim Crow racial segregation perpetuated by members of both races and the ever-increasing divide between white man and blue midget, this city offers little of value for us. Going in certain stores sees us getting attacked because of gang violence (Square regrettably sent a Cease and Desist order to the creators of spinoff movie Impz N The Hood), so let's just check out the surroundings and hope that they have fewer black pe- Monsters. I mean monsters.
Of course, first we can steal another Speed Tab. Because the speed stat has a max of 16 rather than 99, these Speed Tabs are invaluable in allowing anybody to actually survive. We can also run into some kind of overweight grape octopus, but he seems largely uninterested in the human, princess, and giant robot parade and more concerned with how to get a tile texture on an area rug on a wooden floor. For best results we should leave before he starts talking about accent walls.
The forest behind the village is dominated by a gigantic pyramid thing, used to guard some incredibly important rocks and isolate them from a series of substantially less important rocks. It's also used to guard the plans for constructing impenetrable force crystals, lest that technology be used on something such as the royal palace or the village itself, but mostly you just don't understand how important those rocks can be.
Melchior apparently possesses the power of teleportation, as he made it to the other side of the world well before we did (although, in fairness, we did take a slightly indirect route going via the end of the universe and all). Desperate to avert the economic ramifications of Guardia being judged an untrustworthy lender (So as to avoid more two month hiatuses, I'm trying to make it as easy as possible to date my updates so I can be kept honest while occasionally leaving things in from earlier update drafts. I'm currently typing this on my Apple II computer, which I just used to preorder the new Nolan Bushnell game they're coming out with for my oscilloscope), Crono decides to take Keynesian economics into his own hands and stock up on enough tonics to kill a small housecat (parentheses).
Speaking as a shrewd and often ruthless Capitalist, I highly respect Melchior's business practices. Undeterred by the fact that, since we last met him, we slaughtered half of Guardia's royal forces and escape what could possibly be called justice, he is pleased to invite us inside, sell us enough tonics to max out our supply, and then promptly direct us to a cave of monsters and tell us to get the fuck away.
Alright Crono, let's go bust some more fiends!
What? Didn't we just see that fiends are every bit as sentient, reasonable, and deserving of life as human beings? How can you act so cavalier about this?
Murder Murder I love slaughter...
And and Melchior even lives here, so presumably peace between fiends and humans is easier than we imagined. Of course prejudices still exist, but-
Crono, do you prefer it when Lucca sets imps on fire or when I shatter them after encasing them in blocks of ice?
Sorry, but I have to go with fire. The screams really add a layer of visceral satisfaction.
They're just as close to you as the R-units were to me!
Crono, didn't you say you attacked them also?
Yeah, that was great. Lucca threw some tomato juice at me, so I flipped out and started slicing their bodies wide open, and Lucca would set the circuitry on fire as it smoked up the whole room- Oh, Robo, could you get these guys for us? I think I'm going to be a bit busy being dead.
Moments later, Robo fell over and the three had a hearty laugh at the humorous events.
Alright Quovak, it will be okay. Deep breaths. The cave won't hurt you. The cave is not your enemy. You can handle this. You can handle this.
You can handle
Take a look at this, Camelot; take a good, hard look. This is how to make a cave visually interesting. More importantly, this is also how to make a cave not the only element of your game. This game's cave : not-cave ratio is probably around .1; Golden Sun's, while I partially lost count, was somewhere around 943.
I have to say, when I decided to venture out into the world, I never thought that I would end up running away from pots.
Hey, pots are dangerous. A meadow of flowers is usually just one pot away from being a death trap of throwing stars.
I don't think that's how pots work.
Well, not all pots. But there are some pots where you can shake them and-
Crono, what are you talking about?
Do do you know what pots are? Have you ever actually seen a pot?
The enemies in this cave are vulnerable to magic so as to encourage you to try out your new toys, making it easy to go out of the way slightly and pick up an item for Lucca. Now that we've gained access to the End Of Time, there's a dedicated face button for switching out characters in an instant, the game presumably excluding the part where one of the party members treks back to a time gate to exchange places with a new member who walks back to your position. This probably could have been done back at the factory too, Square. Just saying.
Anyway, Lucca's going to join for the boss fight, and we're giving her a magic scarf to make her fire even stronger and further enhance the idea that we're probably wearing the most kitsch and garish items of clothing the world has ever seen. Platinum swords, shirts of fingers and meat, scarves straight out of Dr. Who but with sparkles and magic wands on them This is the type of gear that would get you beaten up even at Burning Man. On an unrelated note, keep an eye out for my Crono cosplay at Sakura Con in April 2012; I'll be the one riding the penny farthing.
Heckran is the boss fight that made me give up on this challenge the first time I attempted it about a year ago, which given that I had just handled six-on-two battles and acid roulette is somewhat like jumping out of a fifteen-story window and then dejectedly walking back in when you find out that it's raining. The boss follows a set pattern, and the game becomes more or less a timing puzzle where screwing up is pretty safely met with death. In order, he uses:
Bubble (~45 damage)
Cyclone (~95 damage)
Counter Attack Pose
Normally we can destroy Heckran rather trivially with Antipode, a Fire/Ice Dual Tech that, in the immortal description of Ted Woolsey, "Attacks enemies with Antipode". A physical attack from Crono will do a game-changing 1 point of damage, so Marle and Lucca need to use Fire and Ice magic while Crono takes care of healing and the inevitable getting whacked.
Further healing can wait until Heckran shows off his best hedgehog impersonation. Lucca should be the one wearing the meat dress so as to show off her best Lady Gaga impersonation, and Crono can wow the audience with his heartbreaking impersonation of Yorick. The game itself soon takes the opportunity to impersonate an action game, however, as Heckran switches to another pattern, completely independent of what you're doing:
1. Heckran uses Cyclone
2. Heckran again uses Cyclone
3. Heckran uses "Yes Indeed!" (~70 damage)
4. Heckran goes into counter-attack mode
The trick is to play extremely conservatively (it's a Battle of Attri- ) and consistently use a Mid-Tonic between moves 3 and 4, usually using another one during the counter-attack stage. When the ATB gauges are filled in an advantageous way, Lucca can get a fire attack in, and when Marle and Lucca have both exhausted their MP + 1 more attack (Crono's Lightning is mostly ineffective and not worth worrying about), Heckran will fall.
Well, Lucca's research methods seemed to work out fairly well. Having established Lavos' origin through a bit of smooth and realistic exposition seamlessly woven into the narrative, perhaps it's time to return to the medieval age.
Thankfully, a convenient whirlpool-monster cave network makes for an easy commute between continents. That would have also been a nice ferry route, urban planning dept.
A quick stop at Lucca's house lets us get the Taban Vest, a substantially less useful piece of equipment than something cavemen made by putting things next to other things and then hitting those things with rocks. We can also get 10 Mid-Ethers as our reward for saving Fritz's life, but other than that it isn't really worth sticking around.
I would love to see a spinoff of this game from Taban's point of view: Your daughter is irresponsible and headstrong, associating with terrorists and chasing impossible dreams. Her inventions have left trails of destruction in their wakes, and your reputation is one of insanity - a washed-up inventor with his head in the clouds. Nonetheless, you support her, attempting to be the best father you can be.
Finally, an invention works; time travel is achieved, and the world is to be revolutionized. But no one watches. The three or four spectators react with disinterest, and even your successes lead to destruction. Your daughter runs off to the past to clean up her mistakes, and you watch her lose her best friend due to the invention you helped approve. She risks her life, throwing everything away for the chance to help him, and you let her go, tears constantly in your eyes. She is hated, her face on wanted posters, blood on her hands, and the guards out for her life, and you can never forget that you swung the hammer that lead to her being pushed down this path.
Your reputation is dominated by failures and disappointments. Your wife has grown increasingly distant, and you can barely stand to show your face in the market without being bombarded by insults and threats. Silently, you retreat back to your work. You and your wife live on a pittance, neither of you holding any job. She can barely walk and you have few marketable skills, but you devote yourself to helping the one source of hope in your life, your daughter, nevertheless. Through sleepless nights, self-doubt, and despair, you craft a gift for her - a memento to show that you'll support her, even as she's run away and shows little sign that she cares to ever return. When she comes, you won't beg or plead for her to stay; you love her, and you'll let her cross the coals of the path she's chosen. There are no bars for you to drown your sorrow, and no outlets for your pain, save for this simple task.
But you can't appear desperate. You can't torment her with thoughts of guilt and mixed messages. You need to support her, and live vicariously even as she neglects to give you the time of the day. This is how it's always been. She's praised and celebrated her own genius, often ignoring the tears and sweat you've poured into her dreams. But she's happy. And anything you can do for her, any love you can show, is worth it to be the father she needs and deserves, even if she may not appreciate it for years, or for decades, or ever at all.
So she arrives. Her skin is bruised, her clothes torn. She's accompanied by a monstrous creation, or a runaway princess, and the most despised fugitive in the land. You smile. You offer her the gift that's been occupying your time. You worry, but you support her, because you know that she would never accept an offer of shelter or retreat. You offer her the vest, far better than any she could find at a store, and a sign of the work of dozens, if not hundreds, of hours.
And she grabs it, and she puts it in her pack.
And she runs out the door, never saying a word.
But she's happy. And that's what's important. And one day that vest will save her life.
So you hold back a tear. And you go back to your workbench. And once again, harnessing the harshest lessons of Camus, you work.
(Coming Fall 2012)
God dammit Melchior, how many times have we told you to pick up your swords? There are kids at this fair. Those could hurt.
We're done here for now, but before we go back to the medieval ages I think it's worth reflecting on something:
There are a few places you could go with designing a cover for a game like this. On one hand, you could do a straightforward lineup of character designs, as was the case with the PAL version. Alternately, you could focus on a simple motif, such as the title screen's pendulum, or a prominent visual symbol in the game, like a number of things I won't mention because I didn't even let slip that this game had time travel in it. Instead, Square made one good decision and then a series of bad ones. They decided to have Akira Toriyama draw an action-filled shot of an intense battle, then decided to draw random elements out of a hat to decide what would be going on. As such...
Chrono Trigger's cover depicts the Heckran battle as it would play out in an alternate reality, formulated during the "darker and edgier" planning stage of the game, wherein nuclear winter would have reduced all of the Earth's creatures to an anarchic fight for the planet's few remaining houses and neighboring grain silos. Marle, having absorbed much of Lucca's DNA, is now able to shoot fire when making gun gestures with an indeterminate number of fingers, and Frog is here because of, I don't know, time compression or something. Heckran, whose cave has recently been destroyed, is enraged by Marle's terrible fashion choice and recoils in horror at the sight of her atrocious battle bathrobe. Ultimately, this direction was reversed at the insistence of Square's art directors, though forums member John Luebke has informed me that one piece of concept art remains.
Sadly, the Scanline tech was also lost to the ages.