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Dracula's Dungeon of Classic JRPGs and Other Nonsense

gogglebob

The Goggles Do Nothing
(he/him)
I super enjoy the prehistoric party at Ayla's village. Robo doesn't have much fun, but Marle tries everything and dances and just has a grand ol' time. I love that she's down to clown no matter how weird the situation gets.

This event does change depending on your party members. Do not believe any lies you hear, if Lucca is part of your party, she is a perfectly well-behaved lady for the evening's festivities.
 

Lokii

It's always time for burgers
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
I'm trying desperately to catch up with Drac.



Why do they eat slime out of a bucket?
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
I've always seen that bucket as being a planter with a shrubbery in it.

Not that that answers anything.
 

Mightyblue

aggro table, shmaggro table
(He/Him/His)
If the End of Time is an abstraction of existence, then a potted plant could just be a generic font of life that restores you. Honestly no less weird than the 2300 AD "inn" machines.
 

Kirin

Summon for hire
(he/him)
This event does change depending on your party members. Do not believe any lies you hear, if Lucca is part of your party, she is a perfectly well-behaved lady for the evening's festivities.
You know, I'm not sure I've ever *not* had Lucca in my party for that scene.


The Masamune localization always was a bit of an odd fit, and clearly done just to fit in with the Final Fantasy lineage in NA. I had a vague memory that Chrono Cross actually used the name GrandLeon somewhere... but the blade (now evil) is still called Masamune in the plot and Mastermune after it becomes a weapon for Serge so maybe I'm just hallucinating.

Dristone -> Dreamstone is also an interesting choice.
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
The kana for the stone is ドリストーン, which could be Doristone, dolistone, etc., and it may well be they were going for "Dreamstone." The word would sound foreign and exotic to Japanese ears regardless, so I like the localization's choice to make it sound a bit more mystical than a straightforward transliteration does.
 

Lokii

It's always time for burgers
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
I'm catching up! Through the future and to the End of Time and one thing I'm admiring this playthrough is the battle design in regards to storytelling. JRPGs are a story games; not just the story as revealed by the plot, but the type of story told through the battles as well. "The slime hit Loto's Descendent for 2 damage, which he then healed with an medical herb" is a story, if a not very complicated one. It's a story of the nitty-gritty details of battle and is just as compelling, if not more so, than the plot. It tells the story of the player's choices, their role as an active participant. One of Chrono Trigger's great innovations is to develop this style of storytelling by bringing circumstances and context to every fight. Every battle is a crafted vignette that takes into account where its fought and the nature of the enemies. Every encounter is a little pop of happenstance.



In this way the story "Chono walked down the mountainside and traded blows with some imps" is transformed into "Chrono walked down the mountainside where he encountered two imps kicking a roly. Noticing him, they broke off from their game and all attacked, ball included."

It's amazing that this storytelling technique hasn't been wildly adopted as it brings so much charm, wit, and a pervasive sense of play to the experience. It also opens opportunities for player engagement, further inviting participation. In many situations you have the choice to engage in battle or move around the encounter. This not only relieves some of the pain of random battles that was such a large criticism of JRPGs in this era but also creates a moment for strategic play/participatory engagement.

I like all the ways that enemies can engage. Sometimes you can weave through them, sometimes you have to dodge. They can surprise or lure or trap. Sometimes there's nothing you can do and it's an ambush. It keeps things really dynamic.

Then the storytelling is retained within the battles too. Not only does the individual layouts of every fight play into the strategic options of gameplay, but individual encounters retain the tradition of each battle telling a unique vignette. For example rampaging rats can attract a robot's targeting system or Acids and Alkalines can combine and explode.

Some of my favorite vignettes so far:

  • Returning to the ball playing imps where one now hops on the roly to form the dreaded roly rider.
  • The lone roly in Guardia Forest that, when engaged, slams into a tree dislodging a bunch of bug enemies then flees the scene.
  • That one dude that comes sliding down the banister in the cathedral.
  • Sneaking up on the guards in the prison and getting a stealth kill.
  • That one lonely guy in a cell who crumbles then you fight his skeleton.



  • This whole boss battle. What a showstopper!



  • The aforementioned Bugger that will auto-attack the frantic rats.
  • The whole bottom level of the sewer full of tempting, enemy-attracting, sound traps.
  • The robo-like bosses juggling you back and forth in pairs with their robo-punches.
It's all wonderful, and oddly singular in the JRPG tradition.
 

Bongo

excused from moderation duty
(he/him)
Staff member
It's amazing that this storytelling technique hasn't been wildly adopted as it brings so much charm, wit, and a pervasive sense of play to the experience. It also opens opportunities for player engagement, further inviting participation.
That kind of fine detail in level design is common in certain types of big-budget action game, which is why I say that Chrono Trigger has some of the sensibility of the arcade games of the era, bristling with lavish, eye-catching graphics. Every screen offers some new spectacle and the overriding design principle is to always maintain forward momentum.

JRPGs before and since have usually preferred to make encounters a more fungible game element that additional mechanics can be overlaid on, enabling the high-level abstract gameplay that has become the genre's calling card. It's no coincidence that doing it that way is also a more efficient use of resources.

After all the big challenge with hand-crafted, thoughtfully-integrated encounters is that it's expensive and time-consuming, and becomes exponentially more so as the visual fidelity of the game increases. Pixel art is the domain of indies these days, and they draw inspiration from these 90s graphics, to the point that it's easy to forget that Chrono Trigger was as AAA as it got in 1995.
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
Just from a quality of life standpoint, it's so refreshing to go from Dragon Quest IV's "maybe you'll have an encounter every step" to the didactic enemy encounters in CT that Loki describes. In CT's frequently retread areas, like 600 AD's Truce Canyon, on revisits you know where the enemy encounters are. You can easily run around the Roly-kicking imps, and you know there will always be an ambush encounter just north of there, and then you will be free to dash to the warp gate.

Many future RPGs will attempt to solve the problem of random encounters in different ways, but few will do so as elegantly as Chrono Trigger did.
 

Kirin

Summon for hire
(he/him)
Agreed, CT's encounter layouts are a masterpiece of both attention to detail *and* friendly game design. It's a huge part of why CT is one of my most re-played games (and certainly my most re-played RPG by miles).
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
Once we revisit Bosch in the modern era, he and Lucca reforge the Grandorion in a very cute little interactive cutscene. We return to the middle ages to give the sword back to Frog. At this point, we learn all of Frog's backstory via flashback - how as a young man, Frog (then known as Glenn) developed a friendship with the heroic Guardian knight Cyrus, then both were felled in battle against Magus himself, with Cyrus losing his life and Glenn transfigured into a frog-person. But with the Grandorion regained, Frog also regains some of his fighting spirit, and we all vow to enter the castle of Magus.



This gif is missing the bit where the blue bolt of light is seen lancing all the way up into the map screen. It's a wonderful moment, one of many big and small moments like this in Chrono Trigger.

The proceeding area constitutes what would be later codified by PS1-era games as the Disc 1 Final Boss. We go through a climactic two-stage dungeon and face off against several mini-bosses and the dark lord himself, who supposedly holds the key to Lavos' resurrection.



There's so much great content in Magus' castle. But let's talk a little bit about Magus himself first, in particular his name. It may surprise you to learn that in the Japanese version of Chrono Trigger, Magus is not named. He is simply known as 魔王 (maō). This is one of those Japanese words used frequently in video games that has always given translators problems. Literally, it comes out to "Demon King." Jisho suggests to treat it as Satan or Archenemy. You see this title in lots of games. Heck, even Bowser sports the title in the original Super Mario Bros. manual (the US translation treats it as "sorceror king"). Tomato has a good article going over the connotations of this term.

But in the context of Chrono Trigger and RPGs, maō is a term we would associate with the end boss of a Dragon Quest game, and in modern parlance we'd probably translate as "Dark Lord." The name "Magus" was probably chosen to represent more of a title than a name, and probably as a way to translate maō within a strict character limit. But since it's a fairly obscure English word, I think most of us western players just saw it as a cool name.

With that noted, let's talk about cool stuff in the Dark Lord's tower.

  • Upon entering, the place is devoid of enemies, instead being filled with what appear to be NPCs from all of the characters' past.
  • After seeing this, we step into a fake save point and are confronted by Vinegar, who tells us that the dark lord is busy and we're to be facing him and his fellow minions Soy and Mayo instead.
  • The first part of the castle is now a boss gauntlet. We must fight Soy and Mayo before we can proceed up the castle tower.
  • Soy is a swordsman and ended up being the more difficult of the two minibosses for me in this playthrough. I was also pretty low on healing items.
  • Mayo casts a variety of status ailment spells with wordy names like "Heart throbbing passion glance / Mayo's ❤️❤️ magic," "Fruits of the Wind / Confuse," and "Iridescent Mysterious Ray / Blindness."
  • And of course Mayo has this famous line of dialogue:



Hehe, whether woman or man, strong people are the most beautiful, don't you think?

There's also a bit of verbal tic that's lost in translation here. Mayo like we discussed before is actually "Mayonai," and they end their sentences with ヨネ, which both sounds very cutesy and also sounds like the end of their name.

I have a lot more to talk about, but it's lunch time, so please look forward to more Chrono Trigger chatter today.
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
Now then! Where was I?

Ah yes, Vinegar.

So after defeating the two other condiment underlings, we meet up with Vinegar again in the center of the castle's front hall. However, Vinegar doesn't offer us a straightforward boss battle. Instead, we must pursue him up the castle tower through a gantlet of tricks and traps that he sets along the way. These include such things as:

Conveyor belts with swinging pendulum blades
Enemy ambushes via elevators
Exterior stairways where enemies roll down the stairs at us and we can hide on ladders like Donkey Kong
Pit traps that deposit us in a room with four save points that either (1) function as a save point, (2) teleport us back to the trap room, or (3) come alive and attack us.
And more!

At the end of the trap rush, we finally come face to face with Vinegar. This battle is entirely a puzzle: Vinegar surrounds himself in a magical ice cube. If we attack him at all, he retaliates with an area-of-effect spell. But if you futz around with the available targets, you'll notice you can attack the chain pulleys in the room. The fourth one you strike opens up a pit trap right underneath Vinegar, dropping him to his defeat (for now).

From here we go directly into the dark lord's chamber.



The battle with the Dragon Lord Garland Despisaro Magus is probably the toughest battle in the game up to this point, and feels suitably final and climactic. I wouldn't be surprised if a few players assumed this really was the end of the game. Like Vinegar, it is a bit of a puzzle battle, but in this case we do have to win by dealing enough damage. The trick with Magus is his elemental barrier: with every hit we make on him, he changes it such that he is weak to only one type of elemental damage, and other elements heal him. Additionally, when his barrier changes, he does a strong magic attack of the same element that hits all three party members. So essentially, every time we deal damage we have to be prepared to take a great deal of damage in return. Moreover, Magus will act on his own turn, usually doing a moderately damaging blood rain attack or a slash with his scythe.

When I started this battle, I had Robo as my third party member (Frog is mandatory). After a couple of turns, I reset and switched Robo out for Lucca. This was because Magus was pretty unlikely to cast his Dark element barrier, and Robo's corresponding Dark-element move isn't especially powerful, so Robo wasn't really pulling his weight. But with Lucca, the battle became much easier. All I had to do was make sure Frog had enough time to cast Heal between damage rounds.

Magus does have a phase two, where he drops his barrier and charges up a very powerful Dark Matter spell, but this is again simply a matter of keeping our HP count ready for big splash damage.

Once Magus is defeated, we quickly learn that we weren't entirely right about Magus' aims. He wasn't planning to revive Lavos. He was merely trying to siphon some of the monster's energy for himself. But now that we interrupted his ritual...well, we'll just have to find out what happens in the next post.

Continued...
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
As the dark lord's ritual falters, the castle shudders and a warp gate pops up out of nowhere, swallowing all four of us. We awaken in the prehistoric era in Ayla's tent, with the dark lord nowhere to be seen.



"This frog huge. A gift? Ayla eat it?"

I love Ayla.

Azala's Castle

Fast-forwarding a bit here, but there's a part where we have to summon the pteranodons to help us get to the dinofolks' castle and free Kino and some other prehistoric villagers from Azala. Following this is what I would describe as another final dungeon. It has all the hallmarks: lots of traps and encounters, loot, a teleporter maze, a miniboss, and yet another climactic final encounter. It feels very different from the Dark Lord's castle, though, with more of a straightforward JRPG dungeon layout and a vastly different aesthetic. It's got outdoor turrets, hallways made of T-rex skulls and ribcages, and treasure chests that appear to be...eggs, I think?

At the end we first face a revived Nizbel, and the strategy with him is pretty much the same as last time. And then it's time for the next final boss!



This is another showstopper of a boss battle, but in a way that's different from what we saw with Magus. The Tyranno is simply the largest boss we've had to fight yet, and we have to fight Azala at the same time. The strategy is different here, too - the Tyranno has extremely high defense most of the time, and unlike many of the other reptilian foes, he isn't susceptible to paralyzing thunder magic. So the main strategy here is to focus attacks on Azala while controlling the damage output from the Tyranno as it breathes fire and slurps up characters into its jaws.

From time to time, the Tyranno will begin to charge up an attack. At this time, it starts to roar, a countdown timer appears at the top of the screen, and it starts to roar. One fun thing about the roar: I think it causes slow HP drain, but it counts as a physical hit, so if anyone is wearing the revenge bracelet, they will sometimes counter-attack after the roar.

With Frog on my team I was able to easily heal us up while letting Crono and Ayla deal damage with their thunder strike combo. Definitely the toughest battle in the game so far!

When both enemies are defeated, the dying Azala warns us of a coming dark future, and the flickering red star in the sky strikes the Earth, obliterating Azala's castle. We escape on the backs of our pteranodon mounts. The red star, it seems, was Lavos itself, touching down on the planet and burying itself deep under the crust. Ayla tells us that "Lavos" is actually a word from her people's language, meaning "Big Fire."

The new crater that forms in place of Azala's castle has a cave in the side, and inside the cave is a warp gate. And we'll have to learn what was inside the gate next time!
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
Trigger is far from my favourite era of Toriyama art and set of character designs, but Azala's a really great example of a monster woman who both lacks shoehorned-in mammalian sexual characteristics in visual design and any kind of dimorphism that would signal toward a gendered presentation. That and her being Ayla's nemesis puts this cool matriarchal spin on the prehistoric era's events.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
Once Magus is defeated, we quickly learn that we weren't entirely right about Magus' aims. He wasn't planning to revive Lavos. He was merely trying to siphon some of the monster's energy for himself. But now that we interrupted his ritual...well, we'll just have to find out what happens in the next post.
Wait, I thought Magus WAS trying to summon Lavos now, so that he would be able to defeat it in a state, were it wasn't fully powered?
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
Trigger is far from my favourite era of Toriyama art and set of character designs, but Azala's a really great example of a monster woman who both lacks shoehorned-in mammalian sexual characteristics in visual design and any kind of dimorphism that would signal toward a gendered presentation. That and her being Ayla's nemesis puts this cool matriarchal spin on the prehistoric era's events.

I guess it's worth noting that I couldn't find any reference to Azala's gender within the Japanese text (Japanese is very effective at obscuring such things, as it often avoids pronouns entirely). As I understand, it was the DS version that made reference (in English) to her gender in the text, so I can't say for sure whether she was designed as a female-identifying character to begin with. And it's also highly possible that I missed a pronoun in my sometimes too-quick reading of the text.

Wait, I thought Magus WAS trying to summon Lavos now, so that he would be able to defeat it in a state, were it wasn't fully powered?

You could be right. Again, in games like this where I kind of know it already, I don't spend as much time grokking the text as I would on a game I haven't played before. But I could have sworn he said something about drawing power out of Lavos.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
It doesn't really matter to me whether the text originally gendered Azala, as the idea's been put forward since and can be claimed at will. This is after all one of the big talking point RPGs that's historically been contextualized around nascent concepts of video game localization practices and decisions, so if other ambiguous or total changes to the text can be embraced, I'll go with that too. It elevates the work for me.
 

Kirin

Summon for hire
(he/him)
I definitely always thought of Azala as a (reptile-)woman, but I haven't played recently enough to remember if it's explicit in the SNES text.

Speaking of vague memories:
Wait, I thought Magus WAS trying to summon Lavos now, so that he would be able to defeat it in a state, were it wasn't fully powered?
You could be right. Again, in games like this where I kind of know it already, I don't spend as much time grokking the text as I would on a game I haven't played before. But I could have sworn he said something about drawing power out of Lavos.
... my vague memory here was that when you fight Magus in the medieval era, the impression you're left with is that he was trying to exploit Lavos for its power, and it's only later when you learn of the events of the Zeal era and his relationship to them that it becomes clearer that he's been on a secret mission to defeat Lavos and rescue Schala all along.
 

Torzelbaum

????? LV 13 HP 292/ 292
(he, him, his)
Or was it that "I want to summon Lavos and use his power" was a lie that Magus told the Mystics/monsters so that they would help him? I can't exactly remember either...
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
Now that we have cleared two of Chrono Trigger's eras of its main baddies (Magus in the middle ages and Azala in prehistory), the game introduces us to a brand-new era to explore, which is usually referred to as "antiquity" and takes place in 12,000 BC.



Antiquity is vastly different from any of the other eras we've visited yet. The surface is covered in ice and snow and is almost certainly where the highly accurate and in-canon American box art takes place. Above the surface are a number of free-floating continents moored in place by heavy chains. Everyone here does magic, there are various elemental temples, the enigmatic blue-skinned Nus are walking around doing menial tasks, and dancing gremlins tell us cryptic stories about dreams and elements.

All of the structures on the floating continents constitute the land of Zeal, ruled over by Queen Zeal. Our trip through the Kingdom of Zeal is fairly brief but very plot-heavy, consisting mostly of encounters with several very important NPCs and subjects. These include:

  • Jaki, the prince of Zeal, a dour kid who is always accompanied by a black cat.
  • Sara, Jaki's older sister, who is doing her best to keep Jackie's spirits up.
  • Three wise sages, two of which are named Gash and Hash. (We don't hear of the third as far as I could glean, but it's pretty easy to guess through word association that the guy named Bosch in the modern era might be related)
  • A Sun Temple, which is completed.
  • A Sea Temple, which is under construction and overseen by Gash.
  • Dalton, Queen Zeal's admiral, who takes an immediate disliking to us.
  • The Black Bird, a huge flying machine.
  • An unnamed advisor to Queen Zeal who is obviously Magus in a hooded robe.
  • The reappearance of the strange blue pyramid we first saw north of Medina Village in the modern era.
  • Queen Zeal, whose ambition knows no boundaries.
  • The majinki, a magical generator from which Zeal draws much of its power. And the source of this power? Lavos.
  • Uh-oh!

We get to interact with Sara, Jaki, and citizens of Zeal before finally barging into Queen Zeal's courtroom, where Zeal immediately orders Dalton to destroy the evil foreigners - which, overreacting a little maybe, but on the other hand, we did just wander in without asking.

Dalton sics a genie-like beast he calls "Golem" on us. This thing is a pretty tough battle - attacking it activates a mimicry program in which it retaliates with whatever type of damage you just inflicted on it. If you use physical attacks, it accesses "Strongest Mode" which is usually enough to knock one character out in a single blow. When it isn't using this, it attacks with a spell that drains life by 50%. If we use magic attacks, though, it's not quite as scary. Several rounds of Fire Sword and Ice Sword are enough to finish it off.

It's not enough, though. Zeal quickly traps us in a magical prism and we're carted off to the warp gate we came in through. Sara has a chance to beg us to stop Zeal's plans before she is forced to seal the warp gate with her own magic, and we're locked out of antiquity for the time being.

But we did escape with a certain blessing: We bathed Marle's pendant in the energy of the majinki, and now we can open all the sealed chests and doorways throughout time! It's time for a LOOT QUEST!

Next time.
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
Speaking of vague memories:


... my vague memory here was that when you fight Magus in the medieval era, the impression you're left with is that he was trying to exploit Lavos for its power, and it's only later when you learn of the events of the Zeal era and his relationship to them that it becomes clearer that he's been on a secret mission to defeat Lavos and rescue Schala all along.

I just watched a couple different versions of the English translation of this scene, and I did misunderstand one thing - it's Lavos, not Magus, who's described as "siphoning power" here. Lavos draws power from the Earth. But Magus' goal isn't described. He just says that he "summoned" Lavos, rather than created him.

I was also pretty amazed at how different Magus' voice is in the original SNES version. He refers to Frog as "that stupid Frog" and asks if he's "Kissed any princesses lately." He does not have any ounce of that sarcasm in the Japanese version or in the other English translations.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
Yeah, that's what I meant earlier. It's pretty jarring, and nothing else in the SNES script came close to being that oddly characterized.
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
Shifting Sand Land

Now that we're sealed out of Zeal, it's time to do what the chosen heroes do best: LOOT SOME PRIVATE RESIDENCES!!! Throughout the world, in every era except prehistory, there are special objects which react only to Marle's Lavos-charged pendant. The majority of these are black chests with a gold emblem that we've been seeing since the moment we set foot in the Truce Inn, and they all contain useful equipment, high-value recovery items, or stat-enhancing capsules. Of note is that several of the chests have the same locations between the modern era and the middle ages, and you can loot them both if you start in the present and then go backward.

The ones that occur twice give you a yes/no prompt before you open them, so at least the game tries to warn you that you might be making a mistake if you open the older ones first.

While wandering around the western continent in the middle ages, I notice that Fiona's husband has returned and there's now some sort of sand vortex spinning around near their house. They tell us they'd like to get rid of the monsters inside it, but they aren't strong enough to do it. They also let us know that the monsters inside are weak to water.

The vortex leads to the legally required ANTLION DUNGEON. Yes, it is a felony by Japanese law if a JRPG does not contain one of these. Unfortunately this sidequest is over our heads at the moment, and I experience my first party wipe via the trios of Crawley palette swaps (known as "Ralacargo") that roam the shifting sands. They ARE weak to water, but in this case you have to hit them first with a water-element move and then their defense decreases, but at our levels they often can act twice per round, dealing at least 130 damage per hit.

By the way, did you know that antlions in Japanese are known as 蟻地獄 (arijigoku)? This literally translates to "ANT HELL." And that is why some languages are better than others.

After a couple of tries, we make it to the antlion lair. The antlion itself is a palette-swap of Zombor, but the lower half now can transform into a pair of earth-shearing pincers. It's way too tough for us. I spend most of my time trying to heal everyone and we barely land any damage on the thing. I'll come back to this dungeon later.

Sail on Silver Bird

The future has a couple of sealed chests, but most of its pendant-compatible areas are locked behind sealed doorways. Of note is that each time you unlock one of these, the theme of Sara plays. Anyway, our final target here is the Observer Dome, which is where we met a strange old man and a Nu on our first trip to the future. The old man is Gash, one of the three sages of Zeal, but when we arrive at the dome, he's gone, leaving only his robotic-sounding Nu buddy.

When we unseal the door in the dome, we find a series of notes explaining Gash's intention to stop Zeal and Lavos via his final invention. This invention ends up being a time machine which in the US version is the Epoch; in Japanese it's called the シルバード, which could be translated as "Silvard," "Sill Bird," "Silvered," "Shillbard," and so forth. It's probably meant to be a shortening of "Silver Bird," but it's pretty hard to make that sound right in English, since we have the distinct V and B sounds and all. I like Epoch as a cool-sounding compromise. I name our version the Bahamut.

The Nu - which is actually Gash, who transferred his consciousness into this odd life-form somehow - explains to us the usage of the ship and then sends us our way through time.

Continued...
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
The Epoch starts our pathway into the inevitable JRPG endgame, where all of the game's locations become available to us.



But we're not quite there yet, because the machine can only travel through time, and has no other method of locomotion. But that's okay, because at the moment all we need it to do is get us back to antiquity so we can continue our mission to eat the rich stop Zeal from fucking up the planet.

When we return, we're now able to access the cave area to the northwest, which leads us to Algetty, the underground village of the Earth people. Though they come from the same bloodline as the people of Zeal, they can't perform magic, and therefore aren't allowed into the floating continent. Seems fair! This whole Zeal thing seems great for everyone. Wow!

What we need to do next is ascend to the top of the Mountain of Sorrow and free Bosch, another of the three elders, who was imprisoned there after defying Queen Zeal. The mountain floats over Algetty and is moored to the Earth by heavy chains. We can access the chains via a cave at the bottom of Algetty, but first we have to pass through a nest of some weird raging anteater monsters. At the end of the cave is a fun little boss battle featuring two stronger palette-swapped anteaters and an imp who commands them. If you attack the imp, he retaliates by having both of the anteaters do a combo attack reminiscent of Crono/Frog's X-strike move. You can't really effectively attack the imp until you first take out the two anteaters.

The Mountain of Sorrow area features a haze of fog, bridges made of chains, and a lot of enemy encounters. Of note here is a version of the stone turtle enemies called "Iwan." These guys hang around on the landscape and only attack if provoked. They start the battle by locking your techniques and item menu, and they can only be hit by a physical attack, but if you manage to defeat them, you get a lot of XP, 100 skill points, and a nice item drop. I make sure to fight all of these things and get the next tear of techniques learned for everyone in the group.

At the end is one of Chrono Trigger's many showstopper bosses:



Giga Gaia hits the party with a variety of high-power moves, but he has one special weakness: he doesn't do anything if you destroy his hands first. And fortunately I had exactly the right party makeup for this battle. With Ayla on the team, she and Crono can do the ハヤブサぎり (hayabusagiri / falcon strike), which hits everything in a horizonal line, meaning we can hit both hands in one attack. It only takes a few turns of this to destroy the hands. Eventually, Giga Gaia regenerates them, but only with a fraction of their total HP. With this technique the boss is a pushover. Ayla even gets to steal a Speed Capsule off of the guy.

Upon defeat, the crystal at the top of the mountain dissolves to reveal Bosch. We greet him warmly, though he seems surprised, since he hasn't met us before (leaving us to wonder how the Bosch we met in the modern era got there).

Following this, we return to Algetty to make our plans against Queen Zeal. More about that next time.
 

YangusKhan

does the Underpants Dance
(He/Him/His)
The ones that occur twice give you a yes/no prompt before you open them, so at least the game tries to warn you that you might be making a mistake if you open the older ones first.
So I don't know if you already know this, but there's another reason for a yes/no prompt in those chests: if you go to the past version and say no and THEN go to the present version, the items in there are stronger versions of what you'd normally get if you only went to the present first.
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
So I don't know if you already know this, but there's another reason for a yes/no prompt in those chests: if you go to the past version and say no and THEN go to the present version, the items in there are stronger versions of what you'd normally get if you only went to the present first.

Nope! I sure didn't know this. Fortunately there's one chest left, the one in Guardia Castle, so I at least have a chance to get the stronger item out of it!

I also failed to mention the pendant opens the blue pyramid in the modern era, where a Nu gives you the choice of two powerful items: a sword called the "swallow," which turns Crono into a murder machine, and a piece of armor called the "Protect Helm" which can be equipped to anyone and reduces most damage by 1/3. The helmet seems like the pro choice, but I'm basic, so I got the sword. If I do new game plus I might try to get the other one as well.
 

Mogri

Round and round I go
(he)
Staff member
Moderator
You'll get better weapons (but not for a long time); you won't get a better helmet. If you loop enough, you'll get three helmets anyway, so it's not a big deal.
 

Kirin

Summon for hire
(he/him)
Nope! I sure didn't know this. Fortunately there's one chest left, the one in Guardia Castle, so I at least have a chance to get the stronger item out of it!

Yeah, I don't know what it says in Japanese, but my memory is that in English it says the sealed box seems to be "reacting to the pendant" or some such before asking you whether to open it. The deal is that the pendant's energy powers up the box, and then letting it marinate for a few hundred years powers up the item contained inside. For example, armors that reduce or block elemental damage transform in armors that absorb it. Very useful! And of course you can get both the powered-up version and the regular version by going back and forth.
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
The Fall of Zeal

Not much left to do now but march right back into Zeal and get EVEN! Before we leave Algetty, Bosch gives us a ruby knife which he says we'll need to use to destroy the Majinki (by the way, this thing is called the "Mammon Machine" in English, which I do like, but still feel doesn't quite live up to the Japanese name, which translates to something like "Devil Container").

When we get back to the palace, we first have to fight Dalton, then we have to pursue the royal entourage into the Sea Temple, the game's next major dungeon. This place has one of my favorite tracks in the whole game.


It's a pretty long dungeon and has a new type of enemy called the "Scouter."



No, wrong Toriyama thing.



These guys. Despite being small and weak-looking, they have surprisingly high defense. They're vulnerable to magic, but using any magic attack causes them to retaliate with a powerful spell that hits the whole party. Physical attacks don't cause counterattacks, so Crono can take one down with one shot of his quad-strike, but this results in quick MP drain. So most of the time I just whittle their HP down with normal attacks. There are also two other colors of Scouters, and if all three are in a group, they can perform a powerful delta strike.

The Sea Temple has a really cool aesthetic.



You're running around on stone or metal catwalks and there's glowing columns everywhere and ominous statues of gargoyles and goddesses. There are rooms with computers and switches and elevators. Everything underneath you is engulfed in a field of glimmering energy which could be lava or maybe just the raw energy drawn from Lavos itself. I'm not sure!

At the end, we have to fight Dalton again, but this time he attacks us with the Golem Sisters. This is essentially a reprise of the earlier Golem fight, but now there are two of them. In case you forgot, the golems mimic you by replicating attacks with whatever element you just used on them. If you attack physically, they access their "strongest form" which is very dangerous. If you aren't attacking them, they hit you with a move that cuts your HP in half.

I found a very good and satisfying strategy for this battle. In this dungeon, Crono learned his most powerful technique, which in Japanese is called "Shining" and is a thunder element attack. I equipped my other two party members with white robes (absorb thunder), put haste on Crono, and had him use shining every round while the other party members absorbed all the golems' damage output and worked on keeping Crono's HP and MP high. This strategy let me defeat both golems at the same time. (Also when they reach 0 HP they go out with a desperation move called something like "Fart Noise / Dalton Mimicry.")

When we catch up with Queen Zeal, we arrive just in time to hurl the knife into the Majinki. Unfortunately it doesn't do what we want it to, and instead of destroying it, it just releases Lavos instead, resulting in our first (canonical) face-off with the game's final boss.

This is a scripted encounter. Presumably there's no way to survive it. Lavos immediately rains fire from the heavens and kills your whole party.

Now even this early in JRPG history (remember in 1995 Dragon Quest wasn't even 10 years old yet), scripted battles weren't some novel concept. Plenty of earlier games had them too. But as a teen playing this game for the first time, it was a pretty new concept to me. This scene made me immediately terrified of fighting Lavos again. Who could possibly beat a creature that could wipe you out on the first round?

The following stuff is some of the best moments in 16-bit RPG history. The hooded sage reveals himself to be Magus and tries to take on Lavos himself. Zeal, riding Lavos' back, repels him. And with no one else left to take on the fury of Lavos and the ambition of Zeal, Crono gets to his feet and walks forward...



And is enveloped in a beam from Lavos' mouth, disintegrating instantly.

It's a fairly shocking moment for a few reasons. Crono up to this point isn't really a character - he's more like the Dragon Quest hero, or Link, a guy with a distinct visual appearance who is definitely meant to be standing in for you, the player. He doesn't talk, and he only reacts by sometimes nodding or shaking his head. Up to this point you couldn't switch him out of your party. He is you. And right here, the game kills you. But it doesn't end. There's no game over.

Instead, the story continues. Marle and Frog mourn Crono's passing, but there's barely enough time to do that before Lavos erupts out of the ground and destroys the kingdom of Zeal in what must be one of the most dramatic cutscenes in all of the SNES era, rivaling the destruction of the world in Final Fantasy VI.


When the dust clears, all that's left are a few Zealians who survived the onslaught and the remnants of the Earth tribe. All of Zeal itself is gone.

Continued...
 
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