Category Archives: RPGs

Some JRPGs demand you grind from the get-go

grinding early in RPGs GD

I finally got around to trying out that free and standalone-like 3DS demo for Bravely Default: Flying Fairy last night, but this post is not going to be explicably about that game. I need more time with it to both figure out my thoughts and overall opinions, as well as to decide on whether or not I’ll pick up the full retail copy, which drops today. I suspect I will, whether I love or loathe the demo to pieces, because these kind of strange JRPGs are far and few between, and my thinking is that by supporting it with a purchase, I’m helping to make strides towards a North American release for Fantasy Life. Wishful thinking, sure…but it’s better than doing nothing.

But Bravely Default got me thinking about the various RPGs and JRPGs that really make you grind for levels and money from the very start, because, at least in the demo, it downright demands you do it. The very first fight outside of town resulted in one character in my party of four dead, two badly hurt and poisoned, and the remaining member okay at half of his HP. I’m on the default–pun intended–level of difficulty, and I’m pretty good at turn-based combat, but I don’t think I have the whole brave and default techniques down just yet. That said…yowzas. The combat is brutally tough, and so for my first hour and change with the demo, I’ve just been going back and forth to the inn to heal up, fight monsters in the desert, and rinse and repeat until my eyelids grow too heavy to keep playing. It’s honestly not terrible, as I’m used to grinding, but I always find it strange when a game makes it impossible to progress without it at the very beginning of the journey. Let me list a few other examples.

One of my fondest gaming memories, just in general, always comes back to Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. See, when I moved out of my parents’ house and up to northern New Jersey for my newly acquired post-college job, I lived off the grid for several months, relying on previously purchased videogames and DVDs for nightly entertainment while I held off on getting cable and Internet. DQVIII filled that space greatly, but it’s a slow game, and you do have to grind for a little bit in the very beginning at the Waterfall Cave section, otherwise the final boss of that area can wipe your party out quite quickly. If I recall, there’s a small section of healing water you can keep drinking from to restore your team’s health, making this place perfect for grinding, and, at the time, it certainly seemed necessary.

Dragon Fantasy (Book 1) is made up of three different storylines and a strange one-off inspired by all things Minecraft. Ignoring the latter and focusing on the former, of the three separate but connected plots, one storyline, by its very design, requires you to grind a whole bunch before you can even get to the first dungeon and safely explore it at a decent clip. In Ogden’s storyline, he is an old, washed-up man out to make a name for himself again, but that means fighting all the battles by himself, which is slower and more grindy than the other two campaigns. It meant fighting battles until Ogden was nearly out of health, run to the nearest inn, spend some gold to heal, and go back out to do it all over again. Not the most exciting time, but I ended up playing a lot of Dragon Fantasy (Book 1) while watching Netflix or Giant Bomb videos.

The first hour or so of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is both magical and devastating, and not just because something terrible happens to Oliver’s mother. I’m talking about the area just outside the Golden Grove. It still gives me the shivers to this day. The monsters here are so powerful and aggressive that your small team of nobody really doesn’t stand a chance, and so you have two options: run and hope to avoid every fight, or go back into the woods and grind a bit for levels, money, and health-restoring items. Naturally, me being me, I ran for it. Which was not very successful for the first few attempts, though I did eventually get out of the area, only to find myself in an even more dangerous spot, though much more suited for grinding.

Oh boy. Now, truthfully, I only stopped playing Phantasy Star II because the cold weather is here, and the Xbox 360 is in the living room, which gets no heat for the whole horrid season, and so it must wait until the snow melts before I can get back into it. And by it, I naturally mean grinding for levels and much-needed moolah while trying to figure out exactly where to go next. Thankfully, the music is so good that it makes grinding more pleasant than not, but it took me forever just to reach the first Bio-Systems Lab areas.

Hey, remember Eternal Sonata? I sometimes do. Beautiful grass in that game, and it’s not every day you come across an RPG so heavily themed and dedicated to that theme. I mean, really…Polka is a terrible name for a young girl. But whatever. Every now and then, I think about going back and playing it some more. But that would mean starting over because I got to that ghost ship section and found myself severely under-leveled with no hope of gaining enough levels quick enough to defeat…uh, the boss Captain Dolce. From reading up some walkthroughs, it sounds like I messed up and didn’t spend enough time aimlessly grinding when I could. Oh well.

I’m sure if I spent some more time looking through my collection I could come up with another five to ten RPGs that are grind-heavy early on, but I need to end this post somewhere. If you have one I missed talking about, let me know about it in the chat! That is, if you can spare some time away from your efficient, but meticulous level-gaining strategy.

Ys I and its beautifully bodacious bump combat

ys 1 maxresdefault

Let’s all laugh at the great irony that I can’t actually confidently pronounce my favorite JRPG franchise out loud. I mean, is it SOO-ECK-AH-DIN? SOO-EEK-ADIN? SUE-EE-KO-DEN? I dunno. Luckily enough, I’ve not had to talk about Suikoden too many times in public, and when I do, it’s usually with people who have no idea how it is supposed to be said and probably assume I know what I’m doing since, y’know, I’ve been playing games for all my life. Spoiler: I don’t. And now we can add the Ys franchise to my collection of games I will never be sure of, but I’m going to pronounce it like EASE and move on.

I’ve always been curious about the Ys games, but never enough to take the plunge. Heck, I even have a copy of Ys: The Ark of Napishtim in my collection, which I guess I forgot about immediately after purchasing. Anyways, there was a good deal on Ys I & II on Steam over the holidays, and so I entered my credit card info, clicked purchase, and actually installed and played a game I bought instead of just collecting stuff forever. I know, crazy talk. A little researching shows that Ys I & II are pretty old JRPGs, first releasing back in 1989 and eventually coming to all the following platforms in some form or another: PC, PlayStation 2, Virtual Console, Nintendo DS, and PSP. Ys I & II are actually enhanced remakes of the respective Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished and Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter, meant to be played one after the other. So far, I’ve completed Ys I and started the second half only a wee bit.

In both games, you play as a red-haired swordsman named Adol Christin, who, from what I can tell, is the main protagonist for every Ys game. That dude either really gets around or something else is afoot. For the first adventure, he has to collect the six Books of Ys, which contain the history of the ancient, vanished land of Ys and will give Adol the vital knowledge he needs to defeat the caped evilness sweeping the land of Esteria. This means you go from town to town and dungeon to dungeon, talking with villagers and fighting enemies, respectively, gaining clues as to where to find the next book. The last chunk of the game takes place in the astronomically tall and somewhat tedious Darm Tower, which has you ascending floor after floor of bad guys and mazes to eventually fight…um, I think people in Minea called him Dark Cape and complete the first fifty percent of Ys I & II.

If that sounds like your typical JRPG adventure, you’re right. The story and its characters are nothing to write home about, and that’s because the real charm of the Ys franchise is in its combat system. It’s called bumping, and basically, when out in the field, Adol can run into enemies to deal damage directly to them. There’s no attack button. You bump, they take damage, they explode, you gain XP. Rinse, lather, repeat until you hit the level cap and have enough gold to buy all the best armor/weapons. And yet, there’s still strategy to this, as you don’t ever want to attack anything head-on, so you must come at enemies at an angle or from behind, making you feel very ninja-like. It was definitely one of the more unique combat systems I’ve come across lately, and it, along with regenerating health, made for speedy grinding, something I always appreciate.

Despite the gloriously joyful and smile-creating combat, I still ran into some problems. Like, there’s a specific boss that transforms into a swarm of bats and then back to human form for a split second, and you have even less time than that to hit him, which made for a very frustrating boss battle. Later on, there’s a room in Darm Tower filled with poison-like music that drains Adol’s health fast, and the only way to clear out the room is by exiting, finding a specific pillar outside, and hitting it with a hammer you found a few levels down; the game does not really make this clear, and I had to look up the solution online. And speaking of not making a lot clear, I wasn’t sure what a lot of the items in my inventory did, so I mostly refrained from ever equipping any of them.

Glancing at the Steam Achievements for Ys II, I get the impression that the second part of this series is…a little weirder. Also, looks like there’s magic spells to be cast. I’m down with that, as well as some more bumping. Maybe I should change my blog’s name is Bumping Down? Maybe.

2014 Game Completed Comics, #4 – Ys I

2014 games completed 04 - ys I facebook

Every videogame that I complete in 2014 will now get its very own wee comic here on Grinding Down. It’s about time I fused my art with my unprofessional games journalism. I can’t guarantee that these comics will be funny or even attempt to be funny. Or look the same from one to another. Some might even aim for thoughtfulness. Comics are a versatile form, so expect the unexpected.

Life in Phantasy Star II is peaceful until Biomonsters show up

phantasy star II early thoughts copy

How I came about playing Phantasy Star II recently probably says too much about my personality, but I’m going to explain my reasoning nonetheless. Because it is not often that I dip back into the Mega Drive/Genesis era of the early 1990s to play a 16-bit Japanese role-playing game that just about tells you nothing as you go from futuristic building to building, fight to fight. See, some time ago, somebody asked Giant Bomb‘s Jeff Gerstmann what his favorite JRPG was, and his response was a flat, non-emphasized Phantasy Star II. I’m forever always interested in people’s answers to this question and–despite that JRPGs are such a niche, often dismissed genre–preferences can surprisingly run the gamut.

First I had to see if I had a copy of Phantasy Star II somewhere in my collection. The name certainly sounded familiar, but maybe only because I’ve been hearing a lot of grumbling online about how Phantasy Star Online II–totally a different game–is probably not ever coming to U.S. shores. Evidently, Jeff’s favorite JRPG is available on a number of platforms, but it turns out it’s included in Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection, a gathering of Genesis titles for the Xbox 360/PS3 that I played through some years back, eventually unlocking all the Achievements, too. At that time, I was embarrassingly more crazy about Achievements than I am now, and I only played the games included in the collection that were tied to a ping-able digital award, and Phantasy Star II was not part of that big bunch. Either way, it was fun to discover that I already had a copy ready to go, ready to be experienced blindly.

I have no idea what happened in the first Phantasy Star and if II is an actual narrative sequel or more like the Final Fantasy franchise where every story is separate and unique. Anyways, it begins with a nightmare. The embodiment of evil called Dark Force has returned to the peaceful Algo Star System. Mother Brain, a computer system built to control and maintain order, has began to malfunction, and the main character, a blue-haired boy named Rolf, has to figure out why.

And that’s all I know so far because I’ve basically spent my first two to three hours in Phantasy Star II grinding for essential experience points and Meseta, walking back and forth between the town of Paseo and the wild grasslands just outside its walls. Rolf’s commander has ordered him to visit the Biosystems Lab where Biomonsters are created and bring back a recorder, and I’ll get there soon enough, but it seems impossible to survive the trip unless Rolf–and his purple-haired, pointy-eared friend Nei–are both around level 5 or 6. Something I wasn’t prepared for when going into this JRPG was just how little it told you: I’ve had to learn the combat, what the items do, how the menus work, who can equip what weapon and armor, and so on all by my lonesome. It’s all about self-discovery, but for those struggling, there’s also this fantastic website: http://www.phantasy-star.net/psii/psii.html. A great example of this is that Nei has a technique called RES, which I stupidly assumed had something to do with raising a character’s resistance, but it actually restores health, a spell I should have been using from the first step into the wild.

I walked away early on in Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light because I found the hands-free combat frustrating, and I’m unfortunately seeing similar trends in Phantasy Star II‘s battle system. Combat is continuous, meaning you press a button to have your party members begin attacking/defending, and they’ll keep doing that until they defeat the enemies or you step in to change something up. If you want to change any character’s actions for the next round, all you have to do is press a button before the current round ends. Right now, Rolf is my main attacker, and Nei handles healing and being a tank, taking a lot of damage. Thanks to writing this post and doing some light research across the Interwebz, now I know that Nei can attack too if you equip her with Steel Bars. Will do that pronto, for sure.

So far, the music is devilishly catchy, worming its way into my brain and looping for hours. The two tracks I’m loving and hearing the most are, naturally, Paseo’s town theme and the jams for exploring the overworld map. The bass is bouncy warm, and the cheery town tune is so dang cheery that I don’t ever want to go into a shop and have it stop playing. First-world problems, I know. However, I’m not actually sold on the battle music, and considering you are not actively involved for most of the battles and are just sitting there listening, that’s a bummer. And according to Wikipedia, everyone’s favorite website to trust, snare drums are much louder in the Japanese version of the game.

I’m definitely going to keep playing Phantasy Star II because I don’t think I’m still seeing it. Whatever it is. I mean, in truth, I’ve barely started this sci-fi journey to save a realm from monster invasion. I just hope I neither find myself overleveling the characters or stuck grinding to make it safely ten steps across the map. I guess once more people join my party and I can better equip everyone, progress will be much smoother, but until then I have to take things slow because I have no clue what anything is, money is tight, the threats are real, and without coddling learning is a poky process.

Mixing items with items to make more items in Ni no Kuni

ni-no-kuni alchemy pot update

Of all the videogame-based alchemy systems, I can confidently say that I like the one in Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch the least. Which is a shame, as Level-5 generally knows what its doing with its item synthesizing mechanics, a gameplay element that warms me greatly. Seriously, I love it. You take one item, mix it with another, and get something–more often than not–greater than the sum of its parts. My feverish appreciation probably all dates back to mixing herbs together for stronger health potions in Resident Evil 2, but if a game has any kind of alchemy element, I’m in. Heck, I bought Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny solely on this reasoning, even though its very name scares the life out of me and I’ve not played it yet.

In Dragon Quest VIII and Dragon Quest IX, you have a magical pot for all your brewing needs. In the former, it travels with you, riding on the princess-drawn carriage with her goblin father. In the latter, it stays put at the Quester’s Rest inn, which you must visit to do your mixing thing. Either way, you put items together and hope for the best, or you can pick up recipes (or clues) along your journey for killer gear. In VIII, you had to wait a bit for the pot to create the item–maybe about ten or fifteen minutes–which made grinding more bearable, as you battled for XP while waiting to hear that salivating ding that indicated your item was done. They took this away for IX, probably because it was on the DS and meant to be played in short, portable bursts, so waiting was not an option.

In Rogue Galaxy, you have two different ways to create new items: Weapon Fusion and the Factory. Basically, all weapons gain XP from battle until they are maxed out, wherein they can then be synthesized along with a similar weapon to create something new. Toady, a strange frog monster, helps with this by swallowing both weapons and spitting out something new; one could argue it is an alchemy pot. However, you don’t really know if something is going to turn out great and just have to chance it, though Toady will also warn you if the results are really negative. For the Factory, it’s more of a puzzle system, where you have to line up machine parts to get it running properly to create a special item from a set of blueprints.

For non-Level-5 joints with alchemy-based systems, it’s a mixed bag, with most alchemy systems fairly uninteresting or just bad altogether.

Odin Sphere has the player combining two items to generate a new item during gameplay, which is then stored in a “Material” bottle. These bottles can be improved as well by alchemizing two of them together to get a material bottle valued at the multiplicative product of the two original bottles (e.g., Material 2 combined with Material 3 results in a Material 6 bottle). It’s a bit complicated, and I don’t even remember getting to it during my first hour with the game, and I’ve not gone back since. I remember more about various plants you grow during battle than the alchemy, which says a lot, I guess.

And then there’s Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, all of which with systems that are nothing more than perfunctory.

However, in Ni no Kuni, the alchemy system is unnecessarily clunky. You have two options once you obtain the alchemy pot and its genie master Al-Khemi in Castaway Cove: use a recipe or mix and match. If you have all the right ingredients, simply click “use a recipe” and Al-Khemi with automatically take care of it for you. For mixing and matching, you are either guessing or looking up the select few recipes available in your Wizard’s Tome, a tedious process that involves you backing out of the alchemy menu, into the tome menu, zooming down on the page for alchemy, zooming in more to find the recipe you want, mumble it to yourself a few times so you don’t forget, exiting back out to the main menu, back into the alchemy menu, and trying to create something based off of what you were mumbling to yourself.

The sad part of all that? Even if you are successful and create an item, the recipe does not appear in your list of “acquired” recipes; you can only get ones added there from completing errands or earning ‘em as the story progresses. That means, even though I successfully made a Fishburger from White Bread (x2), a Dumbflounder, and Crispy Lettuce, I can’t quickly select it again down the line from my recipes list; I have to either remember how to do it from scratch or go back into my tome to remind myself of what is actually in a Fishburger. In short–I really don’t like this. All it means is that I now have to play Ni on Kuni with my laptop next to me open to some recipe wiki page, instead of staying immersed in the game.

What a bummer. At this point, I’d rather just have a repeat of Dragon Quest IX‘s system.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Star Ocean: The Second Story

games I regret parting with star ocean 2 second story

Somewhere in one of the various W.B. Mason boxes I got stacked around the house are a bunch of Prima videogame strategy guides from the PlayStation 1 era that I just couldn’t bring myself to sell at a yard sale or toss. Also, I haven’t bought a gaming guide since my teenage days, mostly because…well, the Internet. Though I still occasionally glance at them in stores and could probably see myself picking up some of the ones for my favorite games, like Fallout 3, for collecting purposes only, but I’d rather buy the game itself, play until I can’t, and look up a walkthrough online to help me past that roadblock. I mention all of this because I know, without a doubt, that I still have my guide for Star Ocean: The Second Story, though I definitely no longer have the game itself.

And Star Ocean: The Second Story was a pretty cool RPG, one that sticks out in my mind mostly for making the extra effort to bring its towns to life by giving each and every shop a unique name. For example, there’s The Hopping Penguin, Red Dragon Manor, Munchies, Counterpunch, Budabing Budaboom, Salesman in the Snow, Pellen Nor, The Grasping Hand, and so on. One would later see the same attention to world-building in games like Radiata Stories (not a surprise, since it is another tri-Ace joint) and  Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I vaguely remember the combat being chaotic and hard to follow, the pacing a bit off and super slow in the early hours, and the strangeness that was battle sound clips being saved to the Memory Card for later listening, but whatever. Every store felt real, blueprints, employee schedules, and all, because once you give something a name, it exists more than ever before, which is why children living on farms should never grow attached to pigs. No more generic nameless store selling the same wares as the generic nameless store three towns over; truly, it was refreshing.

The story, as far as I remember, goes like this: Claude C. Kenny and Rena Lanford, a young girl living on the planet Expel, are destined to meet. After being officially made an Ensign in the Earth Federation, Claude is given his first mission under his father’s supervision, which is to survey the planet Milocinia, where a mysterious energy field appears. Claude quickly discovers a mysterious device and, despite being told to stay away, examines it more closely. Unfortunately, something happens, and he’s teleported to Expel. Here, Claude meets Rena, who mistakes him for the legendary “Hero of Light.”  She takes him back to her village, Arlia, to confer with others about what to do next. That’s all I really remember story-wise, though the two eventually leave Arlia to go to some big, fancy city called Cross, and along the way add others to their party in the search for answers and a way to get Claude back home.

What’s pretty neat in Star Ocean: The Second Story is that players have the choice of controlling Rena or Claude, and the journey will evolve differently depending on certain choices each character makes.  Another mechanic I’m fond of was “Private Actions,” which allowed the player to influence relations between the cast of characters. Basically, during one of these moments, the party temporarily splits up when visiting a town, each character going their own way to shop, visit friends and family, or otherwise relax. Pretty similar to Final Fantasy IX‘s “Active Time Events,” really–which I loved. Claude or Rena can then interact with their friends, generally leading to actions that will either get these people to like them more or less. This can have a major effect in battle—if Claude’s new best friend falls, he can receive a major combat bonus for a short time—but also determines what ending the player will see. Evidently, there are over 80 possible endings–take that, Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross.

Unfortunately, not all shimmered and shined, and I absolutely hated the game’s combat. Which, for an RPG, is a big slice of its pie. Chalk it up as one of my least favorite battle systems ever right next to Unlimited SaGa‘s wheel of chance, and you can mostly blame badly AI-controlled party members for all the heartache. Combat can be played on three settings–Standard, Semi-active, or Full-Active. You can customize your party members to fight in a specific manner, but can’t really do much else after that except pray they heal when they need to heal and they attack when the moment is right. This may or may not happen–it was always hard to see battles unfolding, as their chaotic nature took over, with a dozen actions happening at once, and you left running around like a headless chicken.

Also, apparently there was a whole item creation and skill system–you could become a baker!–brimming with options and customization that I simply can’t remember anything about. But knowing what I later experienced in games like Rogue Galaxy and Dragon Quest IX, I know I’d absolutely eat that stuff up these days. I mean, really–who doesn’t love taking one thing, adding it to another, and walking away with something greater than the sum of its parts? Nobody–that’s who.

Star Ocean: The Second Story is most definitely a “game I regret trading in,” so if you have an extra copy laying around collecting dust, please think of me. I will gladly take it off your hands, at least to visit some of those named shops that, in my mind, are still operating today, having sales and events and being real.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

Grinding Down’s Chrono Cross week – Miscellaneous

gd chrono cross week misc roundup copy

Well, here we are, at the end of Grinding Down‘s Chrono Cross week. Hope you’ve enjoyed my wee analytical posts so far, and I definitely have other videogames I’d love to examine piece by piece like so somewhere down the line. Maybe Suikoden II, perhaps? Super Metroid? Unlimited SaGa?! That last one was a joke, for those scratching their noggins.

Anyways, I’ve now covered what I consider to be the big four topics when talking about this classic Squaresoft RPG: story, characters, the battle system, and music. This final blog post is meant to be a grab-all in terms of smaller topics to cover, as I still–surprise, surprise–have things to talk about when it comes to all the parts that make up the unconventional puzzle that is Chrono Cross. Hopefully I’ll touch upon everything I want to here, as I’d like to move away from the game for a bit, let it quiet down in my skull, and start tackling the next game on my list of “must beat in 2013,” which is probably going to be Silent Hill 2.

That said, on with the further musings.

Window Frames

I remember fondly changing the color of the window frame in Final Fantasy VII from that default blue to a soft green to a zany gradient-inspired explosion of rainbow colors and loving it for the remainder of Cloud’s journey to take down Sephiroth. I wish more games allowed for fun, optimal customization like this. Now, in Chrono Cross, you can’t change the color of your dialogue box, but you can find special frames to replace the standard one. Personally, most of them are ugly as heck, but I did try out the My Favorite Martian and Shellfish frames for a tiny bit, but eventually switched back to something less eye-busting. It’s more fun finding the frames than using them, but it’s nice to the have option nonetheless.

Money

For the most part, money is useless in Chrono Cross. You acquire it with every battle, but you barely spend any of it, and I suspect that, even if you tried, you’d find difficulty in emptying your pockets completely. I wish I had written down how much I had by the end of the game, but it was probably in the 120,000 to 150,000 range, and when you consider that most Elements cost less than 500, with the highest going for maybe around 3,000, well…you have plenty of money to splurge on other things. If only other things existed or were worth it. Which leads me to our next topic of discussion…

Forging/Disassembling

In certain towns, you can speak to blacksmiths who can help forge weapons, armor, and accessories for Serge and his companions. Later on, you also get an item to allow you to do this out on the overworld map. To forge something, you need some a paltry sum of money (see above) and the correct components, and then boom, you have a new thing. Some components are harder to come by, like mythril and rainbow shell, but for the most part, you can make a lot of stuff just using items won from battle. The long and short of this all though is that these weapons and armor are not worth going the extra mile, and some are actually found in various dungeons. There are a few good accessories to make though. Disassembling breaks down weapons, armor, and accessories you’re not using into components, but you’re better off saving them for when you need to equip a new character you haven’t used yet with gear.

Component trading

Um…I have never even attempted to figure this out. Basically, you trade a certain number of Element levels for things like eyeballs, feathers, and scales. Again, just doesn’t seem worth the effort, and trading in useful Elements for components you can earn in battle which are only used for forging items, which I just mentioned are not needed…well, I…wait. What was I saying again? Um, just skip this.  There are two of these trader types, anyways, so they are easy to miss. The first appears in both Guldove and Termina (Another), and the other is in Zappa’s house in Termina (Home).

New Game+

I don’t do many New Game+, mostly because nowadays I just don’t have the time. Though some games like Borderlands 2 really make it worth the effort, offering more things to see and do and become. Chrono Trigger has New Game+, but I’ve not gone back since I beat it last year, and I doubt I will try the New Game+ in Chrono Cross.

I love this RPG, truly I do–it’s just I don’t see what the point is other than viewing alternate endings. Sure, now is a great time to go back and get all the characters you missed out on during your first run because you picked Kid over Leena or Nikki over Guile, but as I lamented earlier this week, those side characters are pretty thin personality-wise. The game will play out the same way–until the ending, depending on when you fight the TimeDevourer–so that’s not very exciting to see all over, though you can speed up the gameplay to fast-forward cutscenes and so on. Let me take that one step further and fast forward us over to YouTube to watch all the different endings and save us hours upon hours.

I suspect I will return to Chrono Cross some time down the line, but not for a long while. Couple of years, at least. And when I do, I’ll probably just play it again from the beginning on a blank save slot–because that’s how I roll. I’m thrilled to have finally experienced it as fully as I could, but now I need to move on and let this experience reside quietly in my brain until something stirs it from its slumber. When that time comes, someone please remind me to ditch Kid early on and see what world-traveling life with fishing girl-next-door Leena is like. Okay, okay…I’ll give Poshul a fair chance, too.

Grinding Down’s Chrono Cross week – Music

gd chrono cross week music and tunes

The Chrono Cross soundtrack is simply legendary. I’ve been listening to it for years and have certainly spent more time nodding along and tapping my foot to tracks like “Termina – Another World” and “Fragment of a Dream” than actually playing the game, which, for those curious, took me just under 40 hours to see to completion. That’s saying a lot because, to drop some truth bombs here, I dislike a lot of videogame music, especially a lot of 8-bit and 16-bit stuff. It all sounds too–and forgive the phrase here–videogamey for my tastes. When I want music, I want music–strings and soaring climaxes and tempo changes and so on–and composer Yasunori Mitsuda delivers the goods seemingly effortlessly, drawing on old world cultural influences and alternating between bright and dark themes.

I’ve actually touched upon the game’s soundtrack before, back when I did a 30 Days of Gaming meme thingy. Remember that? Of course you do, ya loyal, devoted reader who I haven’t yet scared away with all my Chrono Cross jabbering this week. Anyways, here’s a link for the lazy. I will now try to think of some other things to talk about.

Over the many years of my preponderant existence, I’ve come to appreciation a couple other videogame soundtracks, but not many. Dark Cloud 2 has some solid tracks and ranges from dark, unsettling and nearly off-putting carnival-like songs to slower, prettier pieces like “Starlight Temple” and “Veniccio Coast”. Radiant Historia came with a bonus CD, as did Shin Megami Tensei IV, which I burned onto my computer and listened to a few times. And then there is Fez and Bastion, the two most recent examples of game soundtracks I’ve found myself listening to and enjoying separate from the time I spent finding cubes and shards, respectively. Supposedly Journey has a great one too, but I’ve yet to play it (though I do own it now thanks to a recently stellar sale on PSN). Other than that, a lot of music in games these days is kind of forgettable; certainly it does the job of setting the mood and blocking out background silence, but it only exists for then and there, never meant to be listened to again, unless you play that part over again.

I love that, for every town and place you visit, there are two themes: one for Home World, one for Another World. Some vary quite differently from one another, while others are strikingly similar. Take, for instance, Arni, the first town–well, it’s a fishing village if you want to get specific–that players will experience in Chrono Cross. In the Home World version, you can almost hear the waves crashing against the docks, feel the sea-carrying wind against your face, and be quite content with the day, as the song is both pretty and peaceful, perfect for running around and talking with your neighbors. In the Another World version, a piano riff takes center stage, playing nearly the same guitar part found in the Home World version, but this time it is slower, softer, maybe even a little unsure–which reflects perfectly on Serge because, at this point, he has now traveled to a different realm where he no longer exists and is looked upon as a stranger. The music pairs up like this in a couple other spots, but this is my favorite.

Thankfully, the battle music never really grows old after hearing it a couple of hundred times. I can name some other games where I’m sick of hearing the same battle theme minute after minute after minute: Ni no Kuni, Dragon Fantasy – Book 1, and Kingdom Hearts. Sometimes, a few battles are fought using drastically different songs, but for the most part it’s the adrenaline-pumping, button-pushing beat of a truly epic battle theme. Granted, it pales in comparison to Chrono Trigger‘s battle theme, but that kind of isn’t a fair fight.

It’s difficult to find something to truly dislike about Chrono Cross‘ original soundtrack; the entire compilation isn’t perfect, as some songs are too dreary to handle, but it is brimming with a sense of hopeful continuity, and that reminds me greatly of a large bedroom, once my sister’s, where I’d sit on the floor in my pajamas on a gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon, just a foot away from my television, slotting Elements and listening to this strange, colorful world, feeling somehow right at home. It stirred me then, it stirs me now, and it will continue to be an important part of my life, no matter which realm I end up in.

Grinding Down’s Chrono Cross week – Battle and Elements

gd chrono cross week battle and elements

It’s a pretty close fight between music and the battle system for my favorite thing about Chrono Cross. It’s like deciding which is my favorite sushi roll, when really I’ll eat and enjoy just about anything rolled in rice. That said, I am partial to asparagus rolls as of late. Anyways, I’m not sure which has the sharper edge in Chrono Cross, but let’s muse about how the fights go for the time being. Tomorrow can be all about the tunes.

Battles are turn-based, unlike the previous Chrono Trigger, which was kind of turn-based, but also depended highly on a time counter to determine who could attack first or next. Think that was called the Active Time Battle. That made those fights tense and a fight for control, but things are much more lax in Chrono Cross. You can totally stay on a single menu screen for as long as you like, planning and plotting your next move until you actually do it. I’ve read this system shares some similarities to Xenogears, but I’ve never played that.

Basically, at the start of battle, every character begins with 7.0 Stamina points, which are used for attacking, defending, and using slotted Elements. There are three types of attacks–hard, medium, and light–and each attack costs 3.0, 2.0 and 1.0 points, respectively. You basically have to make the choice of using up more points for hard-hitting attacks with a smaller chance to hit versus weaker attacks that will definitely land more often than not. Making choices like these also builds up your Element meter, which determines what level spell you can cast. It’s a fantastic balance of strategy and risk/reward.

One of my favorite aspects of the combat system is that, after each battle is over, you can use any or all healing Elements to restore your team’s HP so long as you have enough stamina points left at the end of the fight. This made progressing a faster process as one did not always have to go into the menu after every fight and use a bunch of potions–Tablets, here–to get everyone back up to snuff.

Each Element spell comes with a number, like 1 plus or minus 7. Each vertical bar in a character’s Element grid represents one level of magic, with the column on the far left being Level 1. The number before the plus and minus sign is the preferred level for the spell to be equipped, and the number after the plus and minus sign is the range that spell can be equipped. If you end up equipping a  spell higher than the preferred Level, that spell will be more effective, doing more damage–and vice versa. A character can equip any color Element spell, even though each character focuses on a single Innate color. This only means that spells of the same color as the character will be more effective and others less so. That might have all sounded like crazy-speak, but it is quite easier to grasp once you begin slotting certain Elements on the grid and playing around with what to put where.

However, not every part of Chrono Cross‘ battle system is amazing. Their summon Elements, which brings forth a giant monster to do big damage to your opponent, which was all the rage in other RPGs at that time, like Final Fantasy VII and Legend of Dragoon, are not worth the effort. First, to be able to cast them, you have turn the whole field one single color and then still have enough time and points available to cast the summon Element, which usually is only slot-able in level 7 or 8, before an opponent casts a different color Element to squander your plans. I think I used FrogPrince once, and never bothered with any other summon Elements, as you really are better off just casting normal Elements. Another part of the battle system I could not grok was Traps, which are Elements that capture an enemy’s Element. However, this process was never a guarantee, and again, just like with summons, you are actually fine without them.

Evidently, there are combination attacks in Chrono Cross, but I never had one happen in all my hours battling PortalGheist and ShadowCats. Which is a shame as I enjoyed these greatly in Chrono Trigger. To do a combination attack, both–or maybe even all three–characters must have the required Element level, as well as at least one Stamina point available. After the attack, both techniques which make up the attack will be exhausted, though I don’t know what that actually means. Looking at a list, most of these combo attacks require LV 5 and special  LV 7 Elements, which is often late-game stuff and kind of a waste to even go after. Think this aspect could have been way better televised, but obviously these attacks are not vital in completing the game.

It’s a combat system of choices, most of which don’t matter when fighting the general enemies scattered across the map, but many boss fights require you to be heavily aware of what Elements you have slotted, their color, what types of attacks you should be doing, and when you need to conserve your levels for healing, reviving, or building up for a high-powered GravityBlow. It makes the longer battles more certainly interesting and remains one of my favorite combat systems in an RPG ever. I think Final Fantasy XII‘s is a close second, but that’s about it.

Grinding Down’s Chrono Cross week – Characters

gd chrono cross week characters

In Chrono Cross, you can recruit up to 45 different characters to Serge’s cause. Next to games like Suikoden and Suikoden II, this is a trifle number, but pretty impressive when you consider that there were only seven playable characters in Chrono Trigger–Crono, Marle, Lucca, Robo, Ayla, Frog, and Magus. It’s like the developers saw how much people enjoyed building a dream-team and took that concept to the max. Unfortunately, more does not always equal better, and while your options for team variety are certainly enhanced, they are not enhanced wildly.

Basically, when it comes to playable characters, you are selecting an Innate color. This is a color that each character has, which dictates what type of special Elements they use, as well as what their strengths and weaknesses are. The colors go as follows: black, white, green, yellow, blue, and red. I found myself trying to keep my party of three all mixed, each their own unique color, and when Lynx was in control, I desperately needed someone with an Innate color of white/green to keep the healing and reviving up. Every character can also equip armor, three accessories, and a weapon tied to their personality, such as Korcha using a fishing pole, a pick for Nikki’s electric guitar, and a magic rod for Razzly.

Clearly, the stand-out stars in Chrono Cross are Serge, Kid, Lynx, and Harle. They are the most recognizable and play vital parts in the main plot, despite how little sense it actually makes. Everyone else is, and I’m sorry to say this, dismissible. They are blank canvasses–kind of just like our leading lad, the voiceless Serge–for you to create a connection with in your own special way. I only grew attached to Fargo and Nikki and Karsh because I made the effort, enhancing the small bits of scene they actually got by doing voices and making jokes and pretending they felt emotions. Otherwise, they speak their one-liners that always added nothing to the conversation and do their part in battle.

Speaking of conversation, let’s talk about talking. It is bonkers, from Home World to Alternate World. Everyone has an accent of some kind, and some are truly zanier than others. A breakdown:

  • “Normal”: Plain old English, with correct spelling and grammar.
  • “Proper English”: This uses no contractions and tends to use longer words.
  • “Casual English”: Plain old English, but more laidback, with words like “ain’t” and “gonna”. Kid fancies this.
  • “Pidgin English”: Not very well-spoken English; for example, tends to forget articles like “the” and “a”.
  • “Guldovian”: Casual English, but every time someone says “you” (like “I’m gonna get you”) they turn it into a “CHA” (“I’m gonna getCHA!”).
  • “French”: Harle speaks with an exaggerated French accent, using “ze” instead of “the” and so on.
  • “ALL CAPS”: SOME CHARACTERS LIKE KARSH ENJOYING SHOUTING EVERYTHING AT YOU.
  • “Weird”: Starky likes to add extra vowels to words, Poshul, the talking purple dog, has a lisp, Peppor and Solt speak in condiment-themed puns, and…the Beebas.

For extra enjoyment, try reading most of anyone’s dialogue in a bad Scottish accent. You won’t feel out of place at all, I swear.

And now, some more on Solt and Peppor, the tutorial twins. These two bumbling Acacia Dragoons accompany Karsh early on in Chrono Cross, but it’s obvious from the get-go that they have no idea what they’re doing. In the other world,  they have amnesia and joined Sneff’s family show. When you first encounter them (and a few more times thereafter), they basically teach you a bit about the battle system, how to use Elements, and so on. It’s quite fun, especially because they are so hapless and rely a lot on puns. Alas, that’s all they do, and then you never really get to interact with them later on or see what happens to them. As a younger gamer, I always dreamed of a team made up of Serge, Solt, and Peppor–but it could never be.

For the most part, I used Serge, Kid, and Greco, and when the time came to switch to Lynx, I mained Fargo and Harle. Never got into Sprigg’s special ability of turning into monsters. After Serge is born anew, I focused solely on a team made up of him, Fargo, and Riddel until the final boss fell. Captain Fargo has some wicked blue attacks, as well as the ability to steal items from enemies, and Riddel, the Lady of Viper Manor, turned out to be quite the potent healer during the final few boss fights. In truth, I could have used a different Innate blue and white character in their place and would have been just fine, experiencing the last third of the game no differently.

It certainly is a strange bunch of colorful hooligans, with a few memorable standouts, but I think Squaresoft just wanted something to brag about, and 45 playable characters in an upcoming RPG sure fills that slot, but it’s a shame that most of them don’t really matter. I’d have rather seen more development with Serge, Kid, and Harle, or fleshed out a select few from the additional cast members, but we could totally lose the talking turnip, the clown skeleton, and the mushroom man and be a better Chrono Cross for it.