Thursday, March 28, 2013

Claymore and Chrono Trigger Comments

I mentioned a few weeks back that I'd bought a Nintendo DS Lite when I was in the U.S. for Christmas, with the intent of taking advantage of the cheap used games at Book Off, and that it turned out that Book Off didn't actually have anything that I wanted. However, Best Denki, a consumer electronics store within a 10 minute walk from my apartment, has a game shop in the basement and apparently some of the used games were moved up to the third floor of the main store. There's about 200 games for the DS on one set of shelves, although they're not all that cheap and most of them are outside of my interest zone. In any case, I at least wanted to check what they had, which took about half an hour to scan all the titles. The next step of course was to make sure that the DS wasn't region coded for only U.S. games.

So, I returned home and did a quick net search for reviews on the cheapest game I found - Claymore, for 680 yen ($7.50 USD). The reviews were all uniformly bad, but I figured that I could at least get it for the artwork and if Japanese games don't run on my DS and I couldn't get a refund, then I wouldn't be out much. The next day, I ran back up to the store and grabbed a copy of Claymore, and on a hunch, I told the clerk that I was going to try playing a Japanese game on a U.S. machine. He immediately pulled the actual game from a shelf behind the counter (what I had was the empty clam shell) and told me to try checking it out first. Oddly enough, the opening credits didn't play on one half of the screen, making us think that it was indeed region coded. About a minute later, though, the Start Game screen came up and everything started working right. At that point, I was kind of committed to getting Claymore, but there were two other things I really wanted more - Korg DS-10+ (3500 yen) and Chrono Trigger DS (2500 yen). After racing back to the DS corner and taking the cases I wanted, the clerk pulled the 2 new chips from his stock and told me to check if those would play as well. He looked pretty relieved that there weren't any problems, and very happy that I was happy. I'd expect to get the same treatment in the Gamestop in the U.S, but with somewhat less dedication.

(Screenshot from the opening credits animation.)

Claymore is indeed as bad as the reviews say. It's a very low-grade sidescroller, with little variation in the backgrounds. The first 5 minutes of the game is tutorial, where the Organization's main handler tells you to defeat various yoma and wolves either within a forest or cave setting, while using certain techniques. When you finally do get to face a yoma of any real power, it just sits on top of you and wipes your character out in a few seconds. There aren't that many save points, and if you get killed, you have to start over again. The explanations only stay on the screen for a few seconds, so I never had enough time to find out what the missions were. While the graphics are great in the opening animation, and good during the conversation sections, the character designs for the sidescrolling game part are substandard. Movement is jerky and your sword doesn't strike what you're aiming at. After about 10 minutes, I put the game back in the box. The box art looks good, though.

(Image taken from wikipedia for review purposes only.)

Chrono Trigger, on the other hand, is great! I initially played it on the SNES around 1996 or '97, and had a great time trying to watch all of the different endings. Unfortunately, I had a break-in some time later and all my electronics got stolen, including my games. So, I wasn't able to easily go back and replay CT after that. Regardless, the sequel, Chrono Cross then came out, and I loved playing that as well (I especially love the music during one of the "crisis scenes". Brilliant stuff.) So, yeah, I have good memories of this title. And, that's all I needed to justify buying the DS port used. Interestingly, it came up in English automatically. I don't know if this is because of a language option in the setup menus that was selected by the last owner, or if the game auto-detects the machine it's on. Either way, having the dialog in English certainly made it easier to play quickly.

The main graphics are exactly the same as for the original SNES version. So, from a character design standpoint CT is visually on the same footing as Claymore. A little worse, actually, because Claymore's characters are 2-4 times bigger than CT's. However, the world of Chrono Trigger is huge! There's lots of different backgrounds, settings and combat effects. The music is well-written, and the DS port adds a number of cel-based cut scene animation sequences that the original game didn't have.  There's also 5 new optional quest dungeons and several new bosses. When you finish the game the first time, the art gallery is unlocked if you want to look at the sketchwork or listen to the music. And, you get New Game+, which lets you start over while keeping your experience and possessions. There are 13 different endings, depending on when you decide to tackle the principal boss (Lavos), and a counter showing how many times you've beat the game.

If you're not familiar with it, Chrono Trigger is a Japanese RPG that is kind of a cross between Zelda and Dragon Quest (Akira Toriyama, creator of Dragonball, did the character designs for both CT and Dragon Quest). You play Crono, a young boy living in a kind of 1400's steam punk universe. One day, you go to a local fair and run into the kingdom's tomboy princess - Marle - who has escaped the castle for a day on the town. Crono's friend, Lucca, has made a teleportation machine to demo at the fair, and Marle's pendant causes the teleporter to malfunction, throwing Marle 400 years into the past. It's now up to you and Lucca to retrieve the princess. Along the way, you discover that a giant parasite (Lavos) has buried itself inside the planet, and the time distortions it's creating force you to travel to 65 million years in the past, and to the end of time in the future. Certain actions you take can cause changes to the planet later on, making the game that much more fun. There are 5 different world maps, one for each era you can visit, and you can see how the planet evolves as you jump back and forth between them.


I should mention the DS support. Of the games I've played so far, only Zelda: Phantom Hourglass takes advantage of any of the DS's features at all well. Chrono Trigger uses the touch screen and that's about it. It's fine for selecting various menu items, such as Equipment or Change Party, but trying to control party movement with the stylus is pretty much a joke. I found it a lot easier to just use the x-y pad for movement.

(Crono and Marle in one of the closing credits cut scenes.)

So far, I've gotten 3 of the endings, and they're as good as I remember. Definitely recommended if you like older-style RPGs. The gameplay is real-time, but you can't run around the enemy to avoid their attacks. There is a little bit of puzzle solving ala Zelda, but the good part is that you get experience points for what you defeat. And, what makes CT better than DQ is that you don't have to waste a lot of time and energy finding high-level creatures for leveling up when you get around rank 60. The one part I didn't like was when I had to run up and down the same mountain 10 times in order to finish one specific side quest. Fortunately, completing that quest gives you access to a shop selling the most powerful healing in the game (megalixer - recovers all HP and MP for all party members), and when you finish the game a second time all the money you save on not buying weapons and armor can be directed to getting megalixers. This makes defeating Lavos a lot easier when you're set on watching the other game endings, and you only need to do this side quest once or twice to amass more megalixers than you'll ever really need. Again, CT is highly recommended if you like old-school RPGs.

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