Saturday, March 31, 2018

Chrono Cross

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Two of my favorite Playstation games of all time are Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. I played the Nintendo DS port of Trigger, but it's been close to two decades since Cross came out, and there are multiple reasons why I wanted to play it again. One of the main ones is that there was supposed to be a bug in the North American release. With both games, you can fight the main story boss at different times within the story on New+ games, and this gives you access to different endings. Cross has 14 endings, with one or two additional minor variations. The best ending, attained by defeating the Time Devourer right after starting the game, lets you into the "developers' studio", where you can talk to characters that represent the game design staff. There's one room that supposedly held the producer, lead game designer and lead character designer, but there was never any way to open the door to that room. My hope was that I'd be luckier playing the Japanese original version of the game, but: 1) I don't have a PS2; 2) I don't have a TV with analog inputs; 3) all of the copies of the game I found on were over $50 USD.

(Example of the graphics, and kind of a game in-joke. One of the main characters is a girl named "Kid". Project Kid uses her as kind of a time battery.)

Back around September, I found a copy of Chrono Cross in BookOff for $5. I bought that "just in case." In November, I found a used PS2 for $90 at a different BookOff. I grabbed that right away, and the store clerk told me that I had 30 days to test the machine and return it in case it didn't work. I then asked on for recommendations for video capture cards, in the hope I'd be able to play the game through the preview window of the capture software on my laptop. But, the replies I got back were along the lines of "just get an old analog TV off Craig's list" (Japan doesn't have Craig's list). None of the electronics stores in Kagoshima had capture cards in stock anymore, and the ones that they had had were intended for converting VHS and Beta tapes to digital files, not for watching TV. Fortunately, Bic Camera was able to find one USB-based converter in a warehouse somewhere, and I had to wait a week for that to be shipped to Kyushu. After it arrived, I got stuck with 2 big translation clean-up contracts that took 2 months to finish.

(Example of the battle menu. Battles are turn-based. Characters fight based on who has the fastest stamina meter, and can either attack with a weapon, use magic elements, block, or run away.)

I finally had a chance to plug the USB converter into my laptop in the middle of February, and amazingly both the PS2 and the converter worked right away. I loaded disk 1 of Cross into the console, and the game played immediately. I'd bought a memory card years ago for use with PS2 games at internet cafes, so I used that on the machine. I played for 15-20 minutes, then tried saving the game. I got the message "no memory card in slot." I cleaned the card, tried again, got the same message. After many failed attempts, I gave up. The next day, I walked the two miles to the BookOff at the south end of the train station and picked up a second memory card for $3. That card didn't work either. I went back to the same store and bought a second PS2 for $50. Same issues. Fortunately, one of my students is a game fan, and I knew he had a working PS2 setup and a copy of the game. I brought everything in to the school on the day he had lessons, to ask him to take the machines and cards home and see if he could identify the problem. Almost immediately, he said that Cross is a PSOne game, and while it would run on the PS2, you can only save to PSOne memory cards.

(Fighting against Fate, one of the major story bosses.)

So, I took the gear back home, then spent the next two days walking to every used game store in the city to look for used PSOne cards. No luck. In the end, I ordered a card from for $3 plus shipping. That arrived a few days later. I plug it in the console, play the game, and the save function works. Yay. The next day, the game fan student meets me in the school and offers me a second memory card, and a free copy (worth $0.50) of FFIX. That was cool. So now, I have 2 PS2s, 2 PS2 memory cards, 2 PSOne memory cards, and two copies of the Chrono Cross game (I lost disk 2 somehow in all this, and had to go back to BookOff to buy a replacement copy for $5. Sigh). At least, I can claim that I have back-up hardware now.

(In a time monitoring station, watching other parts of the game within the game. Very meta.)

So, about the game. Yes, it still stands up as a Japanese RPG. In fact, there were parts of the game that I couldn't remember seeing 15 years ago. It's a big game, with great character designs, character back stories, and artwork. The buttons don't always read right away when I press them, and the constant fighting of battles that become meaningless when your stats cap out got boring. So, yeah, there were parts that I was dissatisfied with, but otherwise I really enjoyed playing it again. I think I put in 80 hours going through all the endings, recording special techs, summons and boss fights to hard disk. I've done everything in the game that I can. Except. That one door in the programmer's ending room still won't open. I tried looking in the Japanese walkthroughs for help, but none of them give details on that specific ending. So, looks like everyone else is correct, that door never opened in the Japanese version to begin with. Sigh.

I don't care. I loved being able to play Chrono Cross again. My two favorite parts are the rescue sequence in the burning orphanage (the music during that part is great) and being able to beat the Time Devourer right after starting the game. Based on what I remember, the North American version of the game was tougher, and looking at the English walkthrough, I think the Japanese bosses have slighter lower HP values. I never really felt like I'd reached a boss that was a real threat at any point, but again, I was using a walkthrough, and had the best equipment in the game all the time. If I'd tried playing without a walkthrough things would have been a lot different. (Even so, I did get killed a few times, earning me the Game Over screen more often than I liked.)

So, yes, I still highly recommend Chrono Cross if you have a PS2 and can find a copy of the game.

Unfortunately, the capture card recorded the video signal at about 640 by 480 resolution, but playback is about double that. The video looks very chunky unless you resize the screen down to a postage stamp. And the files are BIG. I've got maybe 8 gig of captured data. I was thinking about trying to make a compilation video to put on youtube, but it looks like if I used all the techs, summons, and boss defeats I want to use, there'd be something like twenty 15-minute files. So, maybe not... (As a side note, the above stills are screen shots from the captured videos.)

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