Monday, February 23, 2009

Let's Talk About Games: The Sony Consoles, pt.2 - Flower, LittleBigPlanet & Fallout 3 by Ichimonji

Playstation Network


I didn’t really know what to expect when I purchased this game. I’ve never played flOw, so I don’t know much about the type of games Thatgamecompany creates, but reading about Flower I had only heard good things. It looked arty and innovative, yet simple in concept. I was intrigued. Despite all of this though, I did have my doubts. I found out that you can only play the game by utilizing the SIXAXIS functions, so I immediately thought that Flower was going to be gimmicky with awkward controls. Also, after viewing a bunch of screenshots I actually didn’t think it looked that good. I don’t know what all the fuss is about, I thought. Well, I bought it, played it, and completed it, and now I know.

Flower is actually a very wholesome gaming experience and I never expected that I would enjoy it so much. It’s definitely a title where you need to play it first hand before you can appreciate it, and no amount of screenshots or gameplay videos will do it justice. The premise is simple. There are six levels and in each level you start with a single flower petal. You control a singular breeze with by holding down any button on the controller and changing directions with the SIXAXIS. Your goal is to bloom as many flowers as you possibly can in order to advance through the areas. It’s simple. However, there is a lot more depth to this game than just that. About half way through Flower it takes a turn for the unexpected. I never thought I’d have to say this for this type of game, but I’m going to be discussing spoilers in the rest this article, so if you don’t want the big Flower twist to be ruined for you then skip over this section.

Before I get into the underlying plot of this game, I want to talk about some of the technical aspects. The art direction for Flower is amazing. The colours are so vibrant and the setting is very relaxing. The reason I said that screenshots cannot do it justice is because you need to experience it yourself. Most of the locations consist of vast fields of tall grass reminiscent of a beautiful countryside, and when you blow through the blades, everything moves. Every single blade of grass. It’s the most lively setting that I’ve ever experienced in a videogame. It feels like you’re disconnected from reality and you’re drifting through a beautiful dream world. I would go so far as to say that Flower is an excellent stress remover. After a long day of work or even a long session of Gears 2, play Flower. I guarantee that you’ll feel good. It’s a masterpiece and it’s a good example to prove to the public that videogames are indeed an art form.

The SIXAXIS works really well. In fact, I couldn’t imagine playing the game without that function. It certainly wouldn’t be the same experience if you had to control using the analog sticks. It just works. It’s probably the only PS3 game that actually uses the SIXAXIS functions really well. I also like the fact that you can pick any button to hold down in order to make the wind blow faster, so you can play according to your own preference. I personally palmed the controller like if I was screwing in a light bulb while holding down one of the top buttons. Sony really loves these simple, yet extremely fun games, a la Locoroco and Patapon.

At the beginning of each level up to a certain point in the game; you’re shown a short clip of what’s happening in a bustling city street. It reminds you about how hectic or bleak reality is and then it immediately takes you into the relaxing world of Flower. When you eventually get to the fourth level the setting starts to change. As you’re playing through the level the sky turns pitch black and ominous music begins to play. These strange electrical structures start to protrude from the earth while the aura feels like you’re suddenly in a post-apocalyptic future. This totally caught me off guard. It’s a bit frightening as well. At first I thought I somehow did something terribly wrong, but then the next level showed up and I realized that this was part of the game. For the rest of the game afterwards you’re venturing through the eerie darkness of an abandoned metropolis. You can also get damaged as well via electrical wires or structures falling on top of you. By the end of the game you turn the metropolis back into a beautiful field using the power of nature, while in the real world you realize that nothing has really changed. This is possibly one of the craziness twists I’ve ever seen in a videogame, just because it was so damn unexpected. It sent chills down my spine. It was amazing and I loved it. I’m sure there’s some kind of hidden message to humanity within Flower but I’m not one for putting too much thought into reading in-between the lines, so I’ll save that for you extremists out there.

Flower isn’t that long of a game as each level is no longer than ten minutes or less and there are only six levels, but this is the type of game that you can play over and over again. Even the credits at the end are part of the game. The only thing that is out of place in Flower are the trophies. As much of a trophy fanatic as I am; I do understand that the trophies kind of ruin the experience. They take a game that is meant for you to play casually and make you feel warm inside and somehow transform it into a frustrating experience. It’s actually only one trophy in particular that does this. In the fifth level there is a trophy for completing the area without getting hit by anything at all. This is actually moderately difficult to do. I ended up getting the trophy, but it did take me quite a few tries. I recommend just playing the game all the way through without trying for any of the trophies and then come back later to get them all once you’re done.

Downloadable content just keeps getting better and better. Flower, Braid, and LostWinds are some of the most fun and unique games I’ve played. Dear future, please keep releasing games like these.

Playstation 3

LittleBigPlanet Metal Gear Solid 4 Level Pack

LittleBigPlanet is an awesome game, and I played the shit out of it. In fact, I’m only missing two trophies. Or so I thought. I was looking through my trophies the other day and found that ten new trophies were added to the list, so I looked them up. It turns out that Media Molecule released a Metal Gear DLC pack. It was only like five bucks to purchase and it gave me an excuse to play LittleBigPlanet again, as well as the fact that I adore Metal Gear Solid 4, so of course I got it. I am baffled by the fact that I hadn’t heard about this DLC until now though.

The levels themselves are pretty fun. You take your Sackboy through five MGS4 themed stages, along with two bonus levels. Music is taken directly from MGS4 itself. They try to maintain the feel of MGS4, but it’s still very cutesy. When you begin, you’re introduced to a new weapon called the Paintinator and it basically acts as your M4 Custom for this offshoot. If you’ve ever wondered what a platformer stealth crossover would feel like, this is probably the closest that you’ll get since both elements are present. The trophies are pretty difficult to achieve; it requires a bit of skill to get them all. Most of the trophies are either speed based or completing a level without dying.

All in all it’s a pretty cool pack and worth the money. The structure of the levels is pretty clever and they’re moderately long too. I’m glad that they finally released something that isn’t costumes for LBP. I’d recommend spending your bones on this rather than any of the other content that MM has released.

Fallout 3

I’m not going to go into much detail on this game right now as I’m not very far. Instead, I’ll make a lengthy post about it once I’ve completed the game. I’ve only finished a couple story missions and a few side missions after leaving the Vault since buying this game. Admittedly, I haven’t played much of it at all recently. I’ve been caught up in all of my other videogames. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with the game (with the exception of some obvious glitches), I just haven’t gotten around to playing much of it. I actually think it’s very addictive and I’m sure that once I start playing it again that I’ll be hooked once more.

So far though, I’m really likely the feel of this game. I enjoy the futuristic nuclear wasteland of Washington D.C. yet still maintaining the style of propaganda from World War II. I’m also pretty intrigued by the concept of the storyline and desperately want to know what’s up with my father (who is voiced by the amazing Liam Neeson). From the moment you leave Vault 101 the world is your oyster. You can pretty much venture anywhere you want and do a million hours of side events if you choose. Most of the mechanics are extremely similar to Oblivion. It’s pretty much Oblivion with guns. You can shoot in real time, although it doesn’t feel like a shooter. It’s an RPG through and through. Primarily because every creature has stats and levels and it’s less about relying on skill and more about leveling up and obtaining better gear. A lot of the people you interact with have really quirky personalities, and the world is full of freaks. It’s definitely an interesting game.

I’m going to stop here because I don’t want to delve too much into the aspects of this game; I’d have nothing to talk about in my future post about Fallout 3 if I did so. I’m also not far enough to even understand a lot of the elements that this game has to offer. But yeah, so far I’m really enjoying it.


I was going to write about my experiences with the Resident Evil 5 and F.E.A.R. 2 demos, but I plan on buying F.E.A.R. 2 really soon as well as playing RE5 once that comes out. So I’ll just note my impressions of both of those games once I do so.

~ Ichimonji | LJ

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Let's Talk About Games: The Sony Consoles, pt.1 - Burnout Paradise by Ichimonji

Playstation 3

Burnout Paradise

Before discussing the actual contents of this game I just want to point out how cool it is that I can download the entire game and all of its DLCs in one package on the Playstation Network. Which is, of course, exactly what I did. Just to clarify, Burnout Paradise is a retail game, but you can also download it if you wish on the PSN. I actually debated about this for a little while because I adore my collection of retail games and I love having my collection on display. Although, I was persuaded into this method for two reasons: I didn’t have to go to a store to purchase it (see: laziness), and it’s automatically saved to my hard drive so I can instantly switch between playing Burnout and a disc formatted game.

Another thing that’s really cool about Burnout Paradise is that it’s only $19.99. That’s astounding. If you’ve played this game, you’ll understand that it’s easily worth a $50-60 investment. I mean, I see games out on shelves like Alvin and the Chipmunks for PS2 and WarioWare: Smooth Moves selling for $30 or $50. That’s ludicrous. Yes, I know WarioWare is actually a really good game. I’ve played a lot of it. However, taken directly from Casey’s mouth “It could easily be a downloadable game” and it’s not worth $50. With the amount of content in Burnout Paradise, they’re basically giving you this game.

Anyway, let’s talk about what you can do in this fantastically affordable title. In this installment they pretty much changed up the entire Burnout formula. It’s now a sandbox title where you can cruise around a massive city and take on whatever missions or challenges you choose. There are a ton of things to do at any given moment. Firstly, you can complete the events, which range from timed, skill, speed, or racing challenges. There are 120 of them around Paradise City, and every time you complete one, it adds a notch to your driver’s license. You start your license with a learners permit and you work your way up the grades from D to A until you get your Burnout license, in which you’ll have beaten the game. By “beaten” I mean that’s when the credits roll, I don’t mean that’s all there is to do, but I’ll come back to that later. When you complete a certain amount of events you’ll get a notification that a type of vehicle is driving around the city. When this happens you can choose to find it and take it down in order to forever obtain it. This is how you get the majority of your vehicles. The other way to get vehicles is to meet certain requirements, for instance, getting a license upgrade will give you a new car which will be left in your junk yard. If you don’t feel like doing events, you can go and find the majority of collectibles, such as: billboards, yellow fences, and super jumps.

As I mentioned earlier, Paradise City is pretty big. It’s beautifully designed too. It’s divided into five different districts going from such scenery as the heart of the city, the port, the country and et cetera. You can tell that they took their design from many popular real life cities. I’ve noticed similarities to New York (what a surprise, right), Vancouver, Madrid, and I’m sure some part of Texas. It all looks very detailed and just simply well crafted. I found that the construction was perfect and I could just enjoy myself by cruising around and finding new areas. Although you can totally tell that the city was created for the sole purpose of stunts and drag racing as there are jumps, broken freeways, and conveniently structured roads scattered everywhere. Paradise City isn’t nearly as big as Liberty City from GTAIV, but it’s definitely big enough to get lost in. Oh, and while I’m on the topic, the graphics are amazing as well.

If you’re a big Burnout fan and you’re wondering “Man, this doesn’t sound like Burnout at all”, well don’t you worry, because it still has Showtimes. At any point in time you have the option to press L1 and R1 at the same time which will seamlessly switch into this mode called: Showtime. Once you’re in this phase your goal is to crash into as many cars as possible by repeatedly tapping the X button as you guide the direction of your car. It’s definitely a lot easier and faster to rack up the points in this installment, but then again they’ve also changed the entire scheme for this game, so it kind of fits with the pace. Also, when you crash your car at any given point in the game, whether it be a Showtime or not, it is absolutely awesome. The crashes are so brutal; it’s kind of a good thing that there are no people driving the cars.

Every car has their own unique time trial to complete. After you’ve done so, you’ll be awarded an upgraded version of that type. There are 75 different vehicles to attain, not including the DLC packs. Every car is classified in one of three ways: stunt, speed, and aggression. I think those categories speak for themselves. I personally prefer the Speed class cars, because they’re the only ones that can do burnouts, the handling is amazing, and they are, well, fast. The aggression types might be strong but they can’t turn corners worth shit. I don’t really have anything against the stunt type cars; they’re just not fast enough. I like ‘em fast. In addition to all these cars you can also choose a few motorcycles to ride on, however, the game is served to you with an entire different style if you’re going with this. With bikes, you can’t do any events; you’re pretty much just limited to beating the fastest running time per street, called a Road Rule. You can still collect whatever you want around the city though. If you’re a fan of getting trophies then I wouldn’t recommend touching the bikes until you do all the trophy requirements for the cars, because it seems that a lot of trophies are glitchy in this game. Criterion really needs to sort that out.

If you bored of the single player stuff, you can also go online with up to eight players and do some co-op events or challenges. There are 490 regular and timed events to do online, and they actually mix it up, so you’re not just doing the same thing over and over again. That’s the best part; it’s not really repetitive. Of course you don’t have to just do events; you can race with each other, or do a variety of games like: Marked Man (cops and robbers) or Stunt Run. You can also just compete for high scores for like barrel rolls and air time and things like that. It’s great fun. I actually think that the online aspect is one of the strongest areas of Burnout Paradise.

So, how long does it take to get your Burnout License and ‘beat’ the game? Probably about 16-18 hours if you’re not doing anything else. But you’ll most likely be doing other things; if you’re not then I don’t think you understand the concept for this type of game. But anyway, once you’ve gotten the license, they immediately give you the option for try for the Burnout Elite License for even more cars and etc. This is literally a game that keeps on giving. Not just for that reason, but because Criterion keeps releasing these DLC packs. A little while ago they released the Party Pack for $7.99 where you can play with up to eight players locally (not online) and pass the controller around while you compete with each other by performing various mundane tasks. It’s fun, yes, but I don’t think it’s worth $7.99. I bought it anyway because of the crazy amount of easily attainable silver trophies that you can get (I’m a trophy whore). I forgive them for this though, because the actual game is only $19.99. Another pack that they just released only yesterday is a set of four legendary cars for $1.99 each except for one which is $3.99. I bought two of the $1.99 cars. One was really shitty and I immediately regret buying, but the other, the Nighthawk (Speed class of course), is amazing. I use the Nighthawk for everything and it was a breeze to get all the trophies with. That one is my baby and totally worth two bucks. I think the $3.99 car is a hover car or something crazy, but I personally don’t feel that any single vehicle is worth four dollars.

Of course though, this is a videogame and no videogame is perfect. There are always faults. First of all, the censorship in this game is ridiculous. I mentioned before that there are no people in the cars. There are actually no people anywhere. It kind of feels like the movie Cars, except the cars don’t speak. And they don’t look childish. And they crash into things all day. When you look at the city in this perspective, it all seems so bleak. It’s a good thing that you have a human radio DJ that speaks to you from time to time to remind you that there’s life in this fair city. Apparently the reason for this is because Criterion didn’t want to show people what it would actually look like in a real car crash. The censorship doesn’t stop there. They bleep out the album name in Avril Lavigne’s ‘The Best Damn Thing’. Yeah, ‘damn’ is a swear according to this game. Damn is a word that is carelessly passed around in Saturday morning cartoons for gods sake. It’s kind of hard to take in all of the ‘cool attitude’ vibe that they send out seriously, when they have to censor themselves so much. Speaking of Avril Lavigne, the soundtrack is pretty bad. For starters, you don’t have that much of a selection. There are less than forty songs that are extremely oddly matched which no radio DJ should ever have playing on the same station. It especially sucks for people who only enjoy one or two genres of music, because they literally only have one or two songs per genre. It’s weird. It’s like they tried pleasing everybody by adding every style of music, but ended up just adding nutmeg and cyanide poison to mushroom soup. They added some Saosin and Killswitch for people like me, then it goes too some catchy beats which I don’t mind like N.E.R.D. and The Styles, and goes directly into classical music, which they play for like fifteen songs in a row. Again, it’s weird. Other than that, it’s all good. Sometimes certain events can get frustrating, but you can quickly solve that problem by switching cars.

Well, you may or may not know, but I received my first platinum trophy via this game just today. It turns out that you don’t need all of the bike trophies or the online trophies in order to get it. I’m not sure what exactly you need, since I had thought that the bike trophies were part of the original trophy line-up, but it was far less than I had imagined. This makes Burnout Paradise the easiest to get platinum in my mind. I had thought that the easiest was Prince of Persia or Uncharted, but both of those games require multiple playthroughs and you can easily get the platinum in Burnout in about twenty hours. It was definitely really fun to obtain though. I’m not even close to being done with this game too. I still feel the need to get some of the extra trophies and do the online challenges. Anyway, I think I’ve talked about everything I want to in the Burnout front. So yeah, I like this game. A lot.

~ Ichimonji | LJ

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

a wise man once said, "fuck 'em if they can't take a joke" by Jibril

Why isn't it more like Chrono Trigger? Why are there so many characters? Why is the plot so confusing?
Man, I hate this game!

Here's a statement I can't back up with any amount of factual evidence: most gamers probably aren't artists in any capacity, or at least in the field of writing stories or anything that involves the written word. If they are, most probably aren't very good at it. Most of the people who plan, direct, produce and write video games, on the other hand, are. I'm not going to sit here and say you have to be an artist to critique one, but I have to ask -- especially when so many people miss the point of Chrono Cross entirely -- who are you to judge them?

I think it's a problem of expectations. Chrono Cross is not Chrono Trigger pt. 2. The team that created it is different from the original CT dream team. The members who remained, namely Masato Kato, probably didn't want to make the same game twice. I think the goal was to take Chrono Trigger -- something that was ultimately simple and light-hearted -- and make it into something more serious and complex, while building a new story on top of the existing lore that didn't necessarily draw from the same influences. It was supposed to be something different. I always felt they succeeded in this, because it's one of the darker and more complicated (overly so at times; Xenogears rubbing off) games I've played. Still, it's far from perfect, which is what I'm going to discuss here. That, and ways it could have been better.

What Sucks: Gameplay

a. The broad side of a barn

Chrono Cross's gameplay is, for the most part, very good. There are a few very strange and bizarre problems, though, that bring the game down a bit.


The first is your hit rate. In battle, much like Xenogears, you divide your attacks into combos consisting of weak, medium and strong attacks. You have a set hit rate for each -- weak hits are more accurate, strong hits are less so, etc. -- and connecting on any of them will raise the hit rate for all three for the remainder of the combo. The problem? The hit% displayed is flat-out incorrect. You'll routinely miss three hits in a row with 70+ hit rate. Missing is common at 90+, even. There's probably someone on GameFAQs, or somewhere, that has figured out the exact cause of this, but here's my theory: I believe the game calculates those hit rates before checking the evasion rate of the enemy. So, when you think you're going to be hitting 90% of the time, it might actually be closer to 70-80%, depending on the enemy's evasion. Frustration commences.

b. Serge is Superman, Batman and The Flash put together

Marcy hates Serge because he is fucking OP.

Main characters in RPGs are usually at least one of the most powerful characters in the game. Chrono Cross takes this and runs with it. The problem lies within its unique, but flawed leveling system: you don't have experience levels, but rather, each time you defeat a boss, you get a "star level" along with some stat upgrades. Between bosses, when you fight standard enemies, you'll get small max HP upgrades (usually +1 or 2) at the end of every battle, up until you get a "mini-level," in which you'll get a boost to a number of stats. This is the only time your base stats will go up outside of gaining a star level, and it's a fantastic way to discourage grinding because it only takes a few battles to get them. The first issue is that if you miss the mini-level because you didn't fight enough battles between stars, you lose it forever, and you're permanently weaker than your max potential. The second issue is that anyone who's not in your party will miss out on mini-levels, so unless you want to rigorously grind for hours getting the level for every character (and again, there are a lot of them), you're going to have characters who are significantly weaker than the ones you commonly use.

So how does this translate to Serge being way stronger than everyone else? Because when Serge gets transferred into Lynx, he loses all his characters and has to recruit new ones (you get the old ones back when you get his body back). This is actually a significant chunk of the game we're talking about, and you probably gain around 15 star levels between Serge losing his body and getting it back. Therefore, he's the only character who gets every mini-level, or at least all the ones you bother getting. Naturally, he'll end up much stronger than every other character in the game. I suppose you might not consider this particular aspect a "flaw," especially as the game is pretty easy as it is, but with Sunglasses and the Mastermune, Serge does so much more damage than any other character in the game, it's silly.


Enemies can attack you in the middle of your combo. You'll hit once, twice, then they'll waddle over and slap you for 10 damage, which resets your accuracy, and you'll have to start over from default accuracy. This, coupled with the incorrect hit rate issue and long attack animations, is incredibly frustrating and draws battles out far longer than they need to be.


Fixing problem A is pretty obvious, so I won't get into that. B is a bit trickier. Well, maybe not: I think an easy way to fix it would be to have all characters gain mini-levels, even if they're not in your party. Even the characters who haven't joined you yet. In Chrono Trigger, non-party members leveled up with you, so I don't see why it couldn't be the same here. If anyone has issue with this solution (why you would, I don't know), you could just have it so mini-levels aren't missable, and you can simply grind for them after the fact.

Problem C is also pretty easy to fix, and goes hand-in-hand with fixing the accuracy issue. If your hit rate was actually shown correctly and your combos couldn't be interrupted, the game would be much easier to get into and infinitely less frustrating. Also, the ability to skip any and all attack animations would be amazing; though I know Square wouldn't have done this during the PSX era because they wanted to poke everyone's eye out with their flashy and phallic 3D effects.

You're probably thinking, "this isn't necessary, the game is really easy anyway!" Yeah, it is, but that's no excuse for your mechanics to be broken and your battle system to be unnecessarily long-winded. I do think the game's difficulty could be boosted, though; if you're a reasonably experienced player, the only battles in the entire game that will give you any trouble whatsoever are boss fights with Garai, Miguel, Dario and Criosphinx (the latter two being optional).

What Sucks: Presentation

a. Serge's Heroes

Don't forget to choose the correct dialogue options to recruit more characters who are inconsequential to the plot.

When looking purely at the narrative, plot structure and characterization of it, Chrono Cross is a deeply flawed game. The reason for this is quite simple, and is easily the most common complaint against it: there are far too many characters. Did Turnip really need to be in the game? Really? There's not many games where you could hack off half the cast and have there be no effect on the overall plot. You can't even say that about Suikoden, because a large amount of those characters are clearly defined and have real roles in the large battles -- those that aren't at least provide you with silly mini-games or shops for the castle -- Chrono Cross, quite literally, has anyone who's not in your party sitting on the sidelines waiting to be picked up.

It's also a well-known tidbit that Guile was originally supposed to be Magus. This backstory was cut out of the game due to the difficulty of representing it among so many other characters.

b. You look like a hero, let me fight with you!

To go with this issue, most of the characters in the game join you for the most random, sometimes non-existent reasons (see: Luccia). This is a problem in any game with large amounts of characters, because finding clear and believable motivation to join your group isn't easy when you have to do it so many times.

c. I know we just met, but let's break into a heavily guarded military facility and steal shit! Plus other awkward character interactions

Some of the plot advancements are poorly developed, as well. The headline for this section actually happens in the game: Kid suggests you break into Viper Manor because some of its Acacia Dragoons have been chasing you, and she wants the Frozen Flame (an ancient, powerful artifact). You've been traveling together for maybe a few hours at this point. Of course, you have no choice but to be like, "alright."

There's also several occasions where you'll bring a character into another dimension to see his or her other self, and neither of them are the least bit surprised. "Oh, this is me, from another dimension? Wow. You look just like me. I'm going to go back to idling now, because I'm an NPC."

Issues like this have a tendency to kill the immersion of a game. In fact, through much of the game, it seems like a lot of what you do is based on guesswork and loose ideas. When Serge gets transferred to Lynx's body, you're essentially told that you "may" be able to get his body back if you find the Dragon Tear (another artifact). Instead of asking around some more, you instantly go off and look for it. Of course, that ends up working, and everybody's happy... but, really? Why would you go ahead with that when it's the first thing you hear, and the one who tells you isn't even sure?

d. Guys, what's going on and why is all this water frozen? It's not cold out here.


As previously mentioned, Chrono Cross is a complicated game. It's not so much that the plot is hard to understand, it's that things aren't nearly explained well enough. Why is The Dead Sea frozen? Why is Leene's Bell in the middle of The Tower of Geddon? Why are the ghosts of Crono, Lucca and Marle chastising Serge and why are they all children? That's barely scratching the surface of things that happen in Chrono Cross that go largely unexplained. I don't know if it's too much disc space being wasted on the large amount of character quests or just laziness on behalf of the writers, but this does get annoying if you're the kind of person who has to know every detail of the story. Myself, though I do recognize it as a problem, I actually like the aura of mystery it gives to the game. I like that it doesn't hold your hand through the entire thing, and you never see those cutscenes where they reveal to you exactly what the enemy is plotting. Still, it goes overboard with reading between the lines -- reading a few articles on Chrono Compendium will confirm that to you -- and it borders on pretension, or laziness. Or both.

Solutions: Obviously, cutting a lot of characters out would solve three of these problems, and possibly the fourth. This would allow for more detailed interaction, more build up to plot advancement and less random. Here's a list of all playable characters in the game (from Chrono Compendium), with indicators showing who could be removed, etc.

(Underline=Did not need to join party. Strike=Did not need to be in the game at all.)

# Doc
# Draggy
# Fargo
# Funguy
# Glenn (Central character in the Dario sidequests. Also has a dual tech with Serge [X-Strike])
# Guile (1 of 3 branching path characters early in game; also add his Magus background story)
# Greco
# Grobyc
# Harle (Temporarily)
# Irenes
# Janice
# Karsh
# Kid
# Korcha
# Leah
# Leena
# Luccia
# Lynx (Serge in Lynx's body; temorary)
# Macha
# Marcy
# Mel
# Miki
# Mojo
# NeoFio
# Nikki (See Guile)
# Norris (Lends you his boat; wouldn't make sense if he didn't join you. Also cures Kid if you choose not to save her when she's poisoned)
# Orcha
# Orlha
# Pierre (See Nikki)
# Pip (Unique evolution growth)
# Poshul
# Radius
# Razzly (Choose between Razzly and Glenn in the second branch)
# Riddel (Central character in the Dario sidequests)
# Serge
# Skelly
# Sneff
# Sprigg (Unique Doppelgang abilities)
# Starky (Important for a quest late in the game to get into Terra Tower)
# Steena
# Turnip
# Van
# Viper
# Zappa
# Zoah

Here, we'd have eleven permanent characters (eight recruitable in one playthrough, branching paths and all); much more manageable, and allowing for much, much more backstory. One problem is that the innate colors would be a tad imbalanced; there would be only one red innate (Kid), and the two blue innates are pretty lame and you'd only be able to get one in a playthrough (Nikki, Pierre). There's also three whites, or four, if you count Pip (his innate changes depending on his form). You could add a couple more characters to remedy this, or just change the innate colors around; most of the characters in the game don't have clearly-defined innate colors, anyway. It's a small price to pay for vastly improving the quality of the plot. You could even add a more detailed tech system, more along the lines of Chrono Trigger -- while still retaining the element system, of course -- and add all those double and triple techs we've always wanted.

Now that we've discussed most of the flaws in the game, what about what it gets right? It gets a lot of things right.

What's Good: Gameplay

a. Floating along the arms of trees

Chrono Cross has two points in the story where the path branches, each one leading you into significantly different scenarios. While it doesn't change the outcome of the game much, it does at least give you options, which is more than you can say for most JRPGs. In fact, it's more than you can say about Chrono Trigger -- though it had a lot of sidequests, there was really no point in the game where you could go down an entirely different path, unless you were on a new game+.


You can flee from any battle in Chrono Cross, at any time, without fail. Even boss fights. You might think it's strange when you're in the middle of an epic fight, and you run away, and the boss is just standing there, waiting for you to re-engage it. The advantage is that if you fail to steal an item (you only get one chance; you can only steal once per fight), you can run away and try again. You can also run away if you're about to die. Why is this a good thing? Because it accomplishes the same thing that reloading or resetting does, without the hassle. It doesn't interrupt the flow of the game. It also allows you to not waste any time on battles that you'll gain nothing from, which you'll run into often with the leveling system that's used here.

c. They see me rollin', they hatin'

As in Chrono Trigger, you can see enemies on the field map. No random battles. Yay.

d. What the hell happened to my magic system?

The element system in Chrono Cross is pretty awesome. It works like this: You have a grid with eight different levels on it, each slot of which can be equipped with an element, which is just a fancy word for "magic spell." To use elements, you have to attack enemies in battle. A weak hit activates one level, medium two, strong three. So, to use a level six element, you'd have to do two strong hits, or three medium hits, etc.

What this does, is it emphasizes the importance of both physical attacks and magic. You want your attacks to hit and do sufficient damage, and you also want strong elements to finish the combo off with. I love this, because in so many games, magic is thrown in without any real thought put into it. They're almost always outshined by physical attacks, usually because of damage caps -- why cast one spell for 9999 when you can do a multi-hit physical attack for 7000 a hit? In Chrono Cross, you use both, and they're both effective. Balance!

e. Exploit weaknesses at your own risk

Lots of blue innate stuff down here, naturally.

The innate system is interesting. Each character has a color assigned to them. Their physical attacks and elemental defenses are based on their innate color.

White <-> Black
Red <-> Blue
Yellow <-> Green

So, red beats blue, but blue also beats red. This makes building parties for boss fights and such a bit more strategic -- you can build a party full of green innates for a yellow boss, but they'll also take much more damage than anyone else. More depth is always welcomed.

f. So I heard you like non-linearity and sidequests

Non-linearity is a dwindling aspect of JRPGs. It just doesn't happen much anymore -- I can only assume it's because gamers love to have their hand held through every second of a game. Chrono Cross has it, though. At any point in the game, you can usually explore one or more areas you don't have to go anywhere near until much later. There's usually treasure and secrets to be had, too. You can recruit Draggy a lot earlier than you think!

There are sidequests, too. Not a ton, but enough -- there could have been more with fewer characters, I'm sure. As they should, they provide the hardest battles in the game... though Criosphinx can be solo'd by Serge with moonglasses, a yellow plate and the Mastermune (he is overpowered as balls, seriously).

g. You got your dimension in my dimension!

The main selling point of Chrono Cross was its use of an alternate dimension in place of Trigger's time periods. I'm not sure if I like it better, but it does provide you with a very interesting perspective of the world with and without Serge (read), and is very telling of the nature of the game's artistic implications, even seeming to give you a look into the personal thoughts of the creators. More on that later, though.


New game+. It needs no introduction, really. Chrono Cross's version features a fast forward function that allows you to speed up gameplay, and like Trigger, you can defeat the final boss at almost any point during a NG+, revealing a whole bunch of alternate endings. Later in the story, with the help of the game's namesake, you can even transfer your character roster over from another save file. Great for those obsessive types.

What's Good: Presentation

Running out of morals for my allegory...

Chrono Cross is a joy to look at and listen to. It's one of the best-looking games on the Playstation, and is one of the finest examples of how pre-rendered backgrounds can make a game look absolutely beautiful. The backgrounds are hand-drawn, bursting with color and detail; I'd go so far as to say that it looks better than most current-gen RPGs. Certainly not from a technical standpoint, but on a purely artistic level, I really believe that.

Not to be outdone, Yasunori Mitsuda's soundtrack is one of the better game soundtracks ever composed. Following the theme of the game, it fits the more mature, dark and mysterious nature of it. There's not many "happy" songs on the OST; most of them convey feelings of melancholy, dread, mystery and sentimentality. The opening sequence perfectly embodies this, throwing a clusterfuck of ethnic instrumentation at the listener following an excerpt from Schala's journal -- which reads almost like a poem. I always found the lines "Yet even then, we ran like the wind/Whilst our laughter echoed/Under cerulean skies..." to be one of the most beautiful things I've ever read in a video game, and it was one of the first things that exposed me to the "art" of them.

The aspect of Chrono Cross that drove me to write all this, though, is all the little things the game references throughout the story that I didn't pick up on the first couple times I played it, years ago. Coming into my replay of it, I wondered a lot about what it was really about. I don't mean the story itself, but rather the statement it was making -- the art of it, if you will. So, I played the game very attentively, and actually picked up on a lot of themes that I never noticed before.

Of course, other games have had subtle messages like that before. What makes Chrono Cross any different from them?

It excels on the strength of its entire presentation. Everything about it: the music, the graphics, the atmosphere, the things its storyline entails; it's all done with such conviction and prowess that it leaves a lasting mark on anyone who delves deep enough into it. Whatever your opinion on the game may be, you can't deny that this is one of the finest atmospheric achievements in a video game, even surpassing Chrono Trigger.

So, what kind of themes are tucked away in the back pocket of Chrono Cross? The most obvious theme is probably one of regret, and "what if." With two dimensions to explore, you meet a lot of the same people twice, and you get to see how their lives are different between them. A proud fisherman in Home World's Arni is a sad, vaguely insane worshipper of a straw voodoo doll (Mojo) in Another World. Fargo is a ruthless pirate captain in Another, and a totally complacent milquetoast who has transformed his ship into one big tourist attraction in Home.

Perhaps the most interesting difference between the two dimensions is that, as far as anyone can tell, El-Nido is actually better off without Serge. Termina is free of Porre's occupation, The Acacia Dragoons are alive and kicking and Marbule isn't a ghost town. It's a departure from other games, in an indirect way -- usually, the main character is heralded as some kind of savior for the world, but in this game, it seems like most of the world would pretty much rather not have him around.

For the more inobvious, Chrono Cross is, mostly, about nihilism. It's evident in the themes presented by some of the characters: Leena talks about the ocean being here before and after her lifetime, as if her life is ultimately inconsequential to nature. Sprigg blatantly states that life is essentially pointless. The whole plot revolves around the idea that the lives of El-Nido's inhabitants -- in both known dimensions -- are at the will of a massive super computer known as FATE.

The overwhelming feeling of helplesness peaks in The Dead Sea, where you really see the effects of tampering with space-time -- the "time crash" which resulted in an entire chunk of existence being thrown thousands of years into the past and then frozen completely. A ruined, futuristic metropolis frozen in time, it's foreboding, surreal, and even a little depressing -- the enemies there range from lifesize mannequins who trudge around like zombies to ghostly beauty pageant contestants who float around in red dresses, destroying your party with high level magic spells after cordially introducing themselves and telling you about their hobbies.

Perhaps it's this kind of creative madness that makes this game so eye-opening when you play it with your full attention, accepting it as an artistic expression of something and not "just a video game." This, actually, is how you should play most games. I can't believe I'm saying this, since anyone who knows me knows that I can't stand games that try to get by on storyline and graphics alone, but I'm really starting to buy into the idea that a game doesn't have to have amazing gameplay to be something worth playing. However, it also has to be something special, artistically. It has to have a sense of purpose to it, like it was something the development team really wanted to make. Had to make, even. If you ever wondered why sequels are almost never as good as originals outside of video games, it's because there's less passion involved in the creation of them. Why it doesn't work that way in video games, is because you can take the framework of a game and make it better pretty easily. If you pay attention to plot and art direction, though -- those almost always get worse, if they're worked on by the same people.

It doesn't always start with the first entry in a series, either. Using Star Ocean as an example, the series' art direction and plot development quite clearly peaked with SO2, and has been going steadily downhill since. The gameplay keeps improving, however, so the series is validated. It's hard to keep creating story elements with the same conviction you once had when you're constantly being asked to write for sequels. Those things take time and thought.

This is also something I've had a lot of discussion with Phil about: there's games that tell good stories, and then there's games that are trying to say something, about life, society, politics or otherwise. Chrono Cross easily fits into the latter. What it's saying is uncertain even to me, but from what I can piece together, I believe it's trying to tell us that no matter what reservations you may have about the nature of your existence -- whether you're a nihilist or a devout Christian -- all you have to do is what makes you happy. That's all you're going to do, regardless of what anyone tells you. I think it's telling us not to worry about it, because everyone is the same in that way, whether anyone else chooses to admit it or not. We are a selfish kind.

That's how I interpret it, anyway. The fact that it made me think that much about it is reason enough for me to have great respect for the game despite its flaws. You might wonder how I can rip so hard on Xenogears and love this game so much, and the answer to that is actually very simple: because Xenogears feels like the emotional downpour manifested of a 16 year old's diary; Chrono Cross feels like the soft utterings of an old ex-poet now-philosopher sitting on a street corner in the middle of the night. I can't describe it in any other way -- if you don't get it, I can only shrug and say "oh well."

I believe this is the closest video games have come to making a true artistic statement. This is where video games should be heading as an artform. The world of gaming needs more of this. JRPGs don't seem to have any creative passion in them anymore. Chrono Cross seems to gives you that; a distorted look into a person's -- or perhaps a collective of people's -- heads. An honest and intellectual one, at that. Sadly, the Japanese are very secretive about their inspirations in that way, so we'll probably never know for sure.

It's pretty sad that they don't make 'em like this anymore. Who knows if they ever will again. If someone does, I hope Chrono Cross is still an example of what to and what not to do when experimenting with an existing franchise. For now, though, it sits as one of the most misunderstood and flawed displays of genius ever put on two CDs.

-Jibril | LJ