The Let's Play Archive

Chrono Trigger

by Quovak

Part 11: The Magic Kingdom

I always appreciate it when a game can surprise me.

My favorite game of this generation (cue the drumroll and laughs of derision) is Braid, and on the shortlist for some of my favorite games in general are the original Metal Gear Solid, Killer7, and a whole host of others that make up for flaws in presentation or uneven writing by embracing audacity and delivering something unique. I LPed the Chzo Mythos because of this mentality, and in general I have a much higher opinion of weaker games that catch me off-guard than solid games that etch out a comfort zone and stick to it. Chrono Trigger is the rare game that manages the best of both worlds.

When a game does try something different, the standards of genre are such that it's usually a safe bet to assume the worst.

It's always refreshing, then, to see a game completely shift gears on you and leave you scratching your head trying to make sense of it all, while leaving no doubt that it knows exactly what it's doing and is making it work.

Needless to say, there's a fine line between toying with the audience and betraying the core of your game, and it's definitely not something every developer can or even should attempt to pull off. A game needs to have done something to get you to care about what it's doing and trust that there's a method to its madness; if you want to know what it looks like when it hasn't earned this, just play any game by David Cage.

12,000 BC is when you stop having any idea where Chrono Trigger is going, and there's an amazing feeling to this sequence that I've only experienced in a handful of other games and almost never this well.

The reason is that this time period clearly and immediately doesn't fit. It's completely incongruous with everything else the game has shown us up to this point, including many elements of itself, and if the rest of the game had been slipshod it would be easy to see this as an announcement that it's out of ideas.

Instead, there's this great element of doubt to this whole section, where you know that the game is doing something with this but you have no idea what. And after the game has spent most of its running time playing to your expectations and having fun with them, suddenly you're left to throw your arms up in the air and just accept that you have no idea what's going on. You do, however, know that the writers and directors understand the things they're doing exactly, because the entire game up to this point has been a long demonstration that these people are masters of their craft. Your interest is piqued, and the developers are going to exploit that for all it's worth. Suddenly you're drawn into this game like never before, and it's glorious. It also helps that the music is fantastic.

This track played briefly when we reforged the Masamune, but now is its real time to shine. Listen to this music, because this time period has one of the best accompanying soundtracks I don't even need to finish this sentence. Even if you've never clicked on these Tindeck links, do so now. If you're listening to different music, pause it and start listening to these. If you're currently undergoing Clockwork Orange-style therapy that will leave you unable to enjoy what you're being subjected to ever again, stop reading things that involve me and watch any video on this list instead; listen to the music when the procedure's complete and you're an upstanding member of an enlightened society (I'm pretty sure that's how that film went, at any rate).

Just play this music. It's great.

But at what cost?

Zeal is full of half-explained callbacks and understated oddness, such as various books summoning pocket-sized elements when you try to read something shorter than the average update in one of my LPs. On the subject of incongruity, I must say that books made out of fire seem like a poor idea, and I cannot think of a single benefit those would have over a match. When you lose your library because you forgot which book to shelve I'll be shaking my head by the ashes to let you know I was right.

...Or a bowling ball dreaming I'm a plate of sashimi? Never assume that what you see and feel is real! Seek the hidden path, and open the doors of knowledge, each in turn.

What strange visitors! Welcome to Zeal! Is this part of a dream? Queen Zeal rules our magical kingdom. She is without peer in beauty and greatness. The Queen has given us everything! After the King died, she nurtured magic, which has advanced the kingdom. Zzzz...

The Queen's palace is at the center of Zeal. From there she protects the entire world. That's why we can sleep our days away. Yawn...

Zzz...zzz... Truths exist in dreams... Herbal tea...zzz...crystals...zzz...

Here's one of the major differences between the DS and SNES translations, and one where I unequivocally side with Ted Woolsey because I'm used to it and irrationally fear change. The original translation lets most of the Zealots' (ho ho!) lines actually sound like meaningful koans, while Woolsey's translation turns them into barely coherent ramblings that have less philosophical substance than Ayn Rand. In all honesty, this was probably just a quick way to add some comic relief, but I actually prefer this as a legitimate part of the story.

It's very clear that nobody in this society is at all self-aware and nobody is taking the time to reflect on what matters. It's strongly implied that, while they've been fairly well off by Pleistocene standards for some time now, the true extent of this luxury is very recent and only came about from the Queen's recent moves. It's a major plot point in either translation that (almost) no-one stops to really examine this society, and a culture of ordinary people cast as caricatures of philosophers fits into this better than if they're legitimate philosophers who just happen to be terrible at their jobs. Before you ask, yes; this society ends in downfall due to the hubris of man. It also has characters and words in it!

What's wrong with him? What a weird kid...
What wrong? That animal good food?

Ayla, you've been whisked across time to an era of unrestrained magic from a town where technology meant that you could hit apes with clubs. Faced with incredible wonders beyond anything you've imagined, the first thing you say is a comment about eating a cat. We can't take you anywhere, can we?

The black wind howls.

What?! And out of the blue, like that? Crono... This is kinda creepy.
Strange one... But not bad boy.

For some reason, the amazing magical abilities at play here have not resulted in the development of a bridge, necessitating the use of these transports to go between the two layers and cross glaciers for our daily commute. A quick detour reveals that this "some reason" is in fact the Blackbird, an airship twice the size of the nearest city and a docking bay bigger than that. DoD lobbyists never do tend to look out for the public good. was true then...! You're the ones the Prophet said would come and cause trouble! Let's see how you handle THIS little situation.

Dalton is probably the second best villain in the game, judged as always by the same 14-year-old logic as Frog cutting in half the mountain being the best scene. Dalton's abilities include distracting you with obviously-tiled cloud backgrounds and camouflage abilities that put Solid Snake to shame, but our surprising ability to handle the situation of being within ten feet of him ensures our victory and enables us to be left alone. To town #2!

We've been seeing a lot of Janus lately. He appears upset and paces around. His only friend, other than his sister, is that stupid cat. What tempest rages in his head?

Regrettably, a quick Google search tells me that nobody has ever written Chrono Trigger/Catcher In The Rye crossover fanfiction. That in and of itself isn't regrettable, of course; what's regrettable is that for a few minutes I was legitimately interested in finding Chrono Trigger/Catcher In The Rye crossover fanfiction.

Queen Zeal has two heirs, Schala and Janus. Schala's an incredible child who has extraordinary magical powers. Being so gifted, she'll breeze through life.

How did we come by our skills? And why do others lack them? Who cares!

I'm working on a tab that will boost magical skill. But my precious products have been disappearing lately... Must be the naughty Nu that hid them. They love pranks... What can I do?

Azala would have given us a magic tab if we had used the Charm tech. You're a few dozen million years late

Don't even pretend this is surprising (Balthazar; not the blatant slavery thing). At least the Zealots aren't presented as some of the most sympathetic characters in the game.

People who have played this game will notice that I'm skipping over some things, but I'm going to be much better prepared for them in two updates' time. The next stop, then, is Zeal Palace, which is weirdly placed at the top of a spiral of caves that act as remarkably indirect elevator rooms. From here we can see the upper edge of the skybox, as well as the presumably magical start of a river that serves solely to throw the last bits of unfrozen freshwater away. The Sierra Club of the time must be throwing a fit snit.

Dalton also made reference to this prophet, and thinking about it I'm not sure why they aren't a bit more suspicious; there's a very limited set of places this prophet could have traveled from. Like two.

This isn't even me reading too much into map compression; there are literally two.

Scratching this Nu lets us discover the "Nu's secret scratch point", which we can use on another one back in Kajar to retrieve a Magic Tab. As you've probably started seeing, Nu are present in (almost) every time period, and nothing about the Nu is ever directly explained. It's a running joke that these things are incredibly bizarre but nobody, including themselves, seems to realize this; needless to say, then, the same group that retranslated the script with all of the "-sama"s intact has made sure they're the most important element in the game:

Chrono Compendium posted:

The Nu are often seen by fans of the series to represent the power of the planet at work, or perhaps its life force. According to Chrono Cross, as well as evolutionary theory, life rose originally in Earth's oceans, and the Greek letter nu is often taken in old writing to represent water. It is also the symbol for wave velocity in the mathematical formula for frequency.

In that case, let me rework this: Scratching the life force of the planet lets us discover the scratch point of the summoners of wind, and going back to Kajar lets us claw at the power of evolution because he stole a tab someone was working on in another room.

I wouldn't want to falsely represent this game's story.

Ah, Japan (actually Woolsey, but I prefer blaming Japan). The original name of this machine was the somehow even-less-subtle "Demonic Vessel", which was changed to a shallow biblical reference about a personification of wealth meaning roughly the same thing. I have to say, I like how they don't even try to hide that this culture is on a collision course to disaster; it's not as though there's any alternative given what we've seen of the future, and it's a great way of showing us the steps in a process that show the full force of what Lavos can do.

Wait, Lavos?

Yeah, I'm giving this society another week in the limelight, tops.

When the Mammon Machine was finished, the Queen changed almost over night. Just between us, I heard that ANYONE who opposes her, and not just the Earthbound Ones, vanishes.

If the Mammon Machine is moved to the Ocean Palace, we can extract even more energy from Lavos. The ultimate dream of eternal youth and life, is now possible! Oh, almighty Queen, our kingdom of Zeal will reign forever!

The Queen's aide, Dalton, was in charge of the Ocean Palace, until some traveling prophet took over. He's in a bad mood, so you should avoid him.

I heard Schala's powers far exceed those of her mother. Then there's her step-brother, Janus. He's of royal blood, but he doesn't seem to have a speck of magic.

The continuing difficulties of translating words properly leads to Janus and Schala being described as step-siblings, but this is incorrect; the two of them are biological siblings, which makes far more sense. Schala is the queen's daughter and the older of the two, so for Janus to be her step-brother the Queen would have needed to remarry after her husband's death. Given the dialogue that suggests a normal day in the Queen's life has become banishing people she disagrees with, that marriage probably wouldn't have lasted past the first time he hesitated in complimenting her hair.

Oh, you will some day.
Big sister Doreen's at Enhasa again
Yeah... That's 'cause she likes dreams.
I like the wind better! Whoosh!
I wonder how ol' man Melchior is... Humans are so odd…

You may notice I've been presenting this section differently than I tend to, focusing much more on NPC comments and less on my own ramblings about whatever comes up on Wikipedia:Random at the time. This is intentional, since I don't want to take away from the feel of this era as a string of just enough information for you to know what it is you don't know. It's also why this update is comparatively short, being only four times the length of a normal man's update instead of seventeen.

Of course, not all of the NPC dialogue is useful. Some of it is just pointless flavor text we can safely ignore.

With that, we're almost done with our first sightseeing tour, so let's go meet this Schala we've been hearing about. Before we do, let me preface this by telling you to play this Tindeck link right here:

v Play this link v

^ Play this link ^

Oh, you're back Janus! Is something wrong?
The black wind...
You feel it too? Don't worry, it'll be alright. Now, hold onto this.
What is it?
It's a kind of amulet. If something should happen, it'll protect you. I wish I could be with you always... But mother has other plans.
She's NOT our mother! She looks like mother, but inside she has changed.
...... Still, I can't... Janus, I'm sorry.

All right. Well, Janus... I'll be going. Oh! Who might you be?
Miss Schala, please hurry. If you're late, I'll be punished!
Oh yes, I'm sorry.

The song that plays during this scene is one of the best examples of music setting a mood in a video game that I can recall. It stands out as particularly memorable even among dozens of incredible selections, and used as the backing for only ten lines of dialogue it lets us know everything we need to know about Schala without saying a word. That song, and the way it almost single-handedly makes her one of the most interesting characters in this game, is about 20% of the reason why Chrono Cross happened the way it did. Come to think of it that may not be a point in its favor.

Schala uses her pendant to get to the Queen's chamber, but ours is unfortunately ineffective. A few of the NPCs will point us in the right direction, but it shouldn't be too hard to figure out what we need to do.

Namely: power up the pendant at the Mammon Machine. I like how they put this on a platform decorated with laser-spitting demon head and statues of devil women doing a poor job of standing on ropes while looking like they're modeling for a Playboy centerfold drawn by H.R. Giger. Way to nail the subtlety there, guys. Great decor.

That glow...?! That's the pendant the Gurus made for Schala!! How did you get it?

I'm just going to alternate history this for a second because this door results in some of the best lines in the game:

This is a play on a Japanese expression that doesn't make any sense when translated to English, though it still manages to work through sounding exactly like something Woolsey would have written on his own. Even this was not enough for the DS translation, where it was rewritten as "A mere door binds us hand, foot, and tongue." because it absolutely needed to be more bland. Is this what you wanted, fan translators? Will your tyranny never cease?

Heh, heh... Even a door of this caliber can't keep science at bay!

Putting a pendant in a magical machine on a floating island to harness the power of hedgehogs: Science at its best.

There is no doubt. Marle's pendant is made of the Guru's Rock.

No, the Guru's rock is not an actual thing; Garet just wants to feel important. On a similar note, an earlier line with him in the party goes like this:

The Time Gyro says... What!? 12,000 years in the past?! That was some trip!

All told, I imagine his weird fabrications and abuse of punctuation marks are to compensate for the inadequacy he faces by finding out that his "time gyro" (I refuse to believe that's an actual thing) is off by 65,000,000 years.

Meanwhile, we are unable to leave because nobody is allowed to come in, the reason being that the Queen is currently at the Ocean Palace when she's actually sitting on her throne. Guards!

Crono, didn't we decide were going to start having plans?
Yeah, I kind of forgot about that again.

Oh! So it's you!
Who are you!? How did you get in here?
Your majesty... They are the evildoers I warned you of.
How DARE you think you could oppose me, you...foreigners! You're worse than the Gurus! Fools! Dalton, take them away!
Yes ma'am! By your leave... Golem!

The incredibly angry Angkor Wat gopuram is a Golem, and while it's possible to win there's no reward and it's difficult enough in a straight playthrough. We will eventually have to fight two Golems as an actual boss, so for now it's fine to just let him kill us and move the plot along.

This "plan" we had really didn't go as well as we'd hoped.

Let us rescue them.
I think it's useless. Besides, if they escape, you'll be in trouble.
Don't worry about me. They just might be able to rescue the Gurus.

Regrettably, Zeal's architects were simply not up to their task, having reused the overly-fancy jail room for the Mammon Machine room and the throne room with only marginally different shades of carpet as a change.

Now, remember how I've said I'm going to shut up for the important parts every single update? I'm actually almost serious for once; have some plot:

And if you can, please rescue Melchior! He was sent to the Mountain of Woe for opposing the Queen. Please! You have to help him!
I'm afraid I can't allow that...

You mustn't!
Okay...I'll spare them. But in return, you WILL cooperate, Schala! Now, show me how you came here.

Now Schala! After I throw them in, I want you to seal the portal shut.
N, no! You can't make me!
Obey me! Their lives are at stake!
I... all right...


I'm pretty sure the next three pages of this thread will turn into "Post your favorite Kingdom of Zeal remix", and I have absolutely no problem with that at all. Here's one to start, in case you ever thought Schala's Theme would be better as a backdrop for some incoherent rambling about smoking weed.

In the meantime, I'm going to try to make updates more frequent, because this is where the plot really becomes engaging. With that in mind, the next one will probably be here around July.