Chrono Cross (PSX, T)

Despite writing a sprite comic ages ago where a Tweeter kills Crono by shooting him with a copy of Chrono Cross, I had never actually played it (I wrote that in because Jay hated the game). It's been in my "To Do" pile for years, but it wasn't until I learned through somebody I follow on Twitter that one of the recruitable characters is a psychic luchador that I finally said to myself "Okay, Chrono Cross, let's see what you've got."

An incoherent mess is what you've got, Chrono Cross. I'd like to believe the creators weren't all incompetent baboons and it's just a case of scope creep gone out of control, but Chrono Cross is one of the most confused games I've ever played.

Chrono Cross introduces a battle system that borders on needlessly complex. Instead of standard attacks and spells that use MP, you have to string together attack combos to build up a meter, then spend points off it to cast spells with stronger spells costing more. And when multiple spells of the same type are cast in succession, it makes that type stronger and its opposing type weaker. This could have been interesting if the random battles weren't so unrewarding since you really only level up from boss battles. I guess the intention was to keep people from lobotomizing bosses by grinding for hours, but if you're taking out experience points you need to give players another reason to fight the random battles. Chrono Cross only gives you money and the odd crafting resource, which can also be found in treasure chests. And spells are based around items you equip your characters with called "Elements" and can only be used once a battle, but recharge when it's over. Which is at least a step up from something like Paper Mario: Sticker Star, where the one-use moves were practically punishing you for getting into random battles.

There are some interesting boss battles that come with the battle system, like how some Elements steal a spell when cast and can essentially be used to lock down an opponent's powerful moves. But eventually I found myself getting through every boss by piling healing spells on my characters, casting that spell that halves magic damage at the start of the battle, then just punching the shit out of the boss (because Diminish doesn't affect healing spells).

And I thought Kingdom Hearts II would be the biggest clusterfuck of a story I'd see this year, but then Chrono Cross said "Hold my beer." How long does it take to see the nuked future in Chrono Trigger? Two hours? Three to see the video of the apocalypse and learn what your end goal of the game was? Meanwhile, for the first thirty-odd hours of Chrono Cross you're chasing a cat man who's trying to... do something or other. And when the plot finally kicks in for the last five hours of the game, it plays out like Xenogears but somehow even more incoherent, as frightening an idea as that is. I've said before that stories about time travel can be offered some logical leeway, but that generally applies to the "If our heroes alter history, how would they know history needed to be altered?" paradox. Chrono Cross is just nonsense, and I especially liked how the story's pacing is such a mess that half the fucking plot details had to be vomited by three ghosts just before the final boss. It's also great how important Kid is supposed to be when she spends most of the game incapacitated.

And this is coming from somebody who didn't get too much of a headache from Final Fantasy X.

The story might have worked if they'd done what the mainline Final Fantasy games do and reuse elements, but keep their stories separate. As much of a mess as Chrono Cross' story is, it's only when it starts trying to connect its elemental dragons and beast-people to a group of time-traveling teenagers stopping an alien porcupine from blowing up the planet that it goes completely off the rails. That would also have the added advantage of Square not altering rereleases of Chrono Trigger to try to make it fit with Chrono Cross.

One of Chrono Cross' more notable features is the ability to recruit damn near every named NPC, with about 50 potential party members. Because Chrono Trigger totally would have been better if I could recruit Gato, the Nu that guards the Epoch, that girl that testifies against Crono if he picks up the pendant before speaking to Marle, the Reptite from the Millenial Fair race, Slash, the rat with the food storage key, the goblin that sings to the Black Omen, that guy I buy the jerky from, Robo's girlfriend, and the cat that drops Ozzie down a pit.

Snark aside, there's so many problems with this. First, you only have two slots in your party (since the first is always taken up by Serge), so you'll inevitably settle on two or three characters you like and the vast majority of them will never be used. Also, because you have 50 characters vying for screen time, few of them have any personality and even fewer have character arcs. To use that psychic luchador as an example, you only find out he's psychic by checking his stat screen as he never uses any psychic abilities in-game, mainly because the story is written in such a way that he never has a chance to (hell, I don't even know if he's supposed to be clairvoyant, telepathic, telekinetic, or some combination thereof). He's also guilt-ridden over the death of a friend, I guess, but that never gets resolved.

Maybe these characters' stories are squirreled away in side quests, but not only do you need a strategy guide to find even a quarter of the crap in this game, what's the point? Unlocking unique skills on characters I'll never use? 100%ing the game for its own sake? Well, that's a lost cause because you can't recruit everybody in one game as some characters are exclusive to certain forks in the story; I didn't even realize there were three ways to get into Viper Manor at the beginning until I consulted a walkthrough for something later in the game, I just bumbled into the rock star first and thought that's what you were supposed to do.

And some content gets locked off if you miss sidequests earlier in the game. I felt like ragequitting when I was seeking the six dragon relics and found out there was a sidequest that needed to be done ten hours prior to fight the black dragon (if you don't do this, you just get the relic without the fight). So I got screwed out of one star level, a very nice piece of equipment, and any resolution to Fargo's arc. This would be like if you needed a perfect "Not Guilty" verdict in the trial at the beginning of Chrono Trigger to clear the King when he's accused of embezzling the Rainbow Shell. Some of these quests even go against the player's intuition, like how the fairy's Lv. 7 technique requires farting around an area until an NPC dies during a story mission.

At the end of the game I had to find a way into a flying tower, but nobody would give any clues on how to do it. I *thought* I'd get a flying machine after curing Kid's third ailment, but after that I was back in the dark. The means of getting up there is tied to a character I hadn't recruited because I was never directed towards him. Also, the titular Chrono Cross is obtained by going to a spot on the map that doesn't display its name when you're by it, so I didn't even realize that was an area you could enter. Yeah, I know games that railroad you like a glorified Disneyland ride are shit, but there's a sweet spot between that and leaving the player to meander around until they find the next thread of the story.

And I don't enjoy exploring Chrono Cross' world for its own sake. While Chrono Trigger had you traveling between time periods of the same world, Chrono Cross takes place between two versions of the same world with a few changes (i.e. an island is flooded in one world, but dried up and dying in the other). Not only did it make it hard to tell what tasks needed to be done in which world, because you have to visit both worlds' version of so many areas it felt like I had to play through the game twice to get to the ending.

That's not to say the game is all bad; there were times I found myself getting into it, first stepping into the Dead Sea was delightfully chilling, and the soundtrack's nice. But there's just so much rubbish clogging the game up.


Ator the Fighting Eagle w/ RiffTrax Audio

While it was summarized at the beginning of Cave Dwellers, Mystery Science Theater 3000 never covered the original Ator movie. I wonder if the incest storyline had anything to do with that.

Dopey fantasy movies are pretty safe choices from the RiffTrax catalog, but maybe it's nostalgia or this relying a bit too much on the sister-diddling jokes, I did prefer the original Cave Dwellers episode.


RiffTrax Christmas Circus with Whizzo the Clown

Well, this was about the most incomprehensible thing I'd seen out of RiffTrax since Fun in Balloonland. Hope you enjoy watching a clown switch between babbling nonsense to a bunch of kids and babbling nonsense over footage of those old-fashioned store displays with animatronic dolls.


Pokemon Sun (3DS, E10+)

I started playing this at the beginning of the year, but because the game was apparently not optimized for a standard 3DS the delays and slowdown were unbearable. So it sat around with only that Gumshoos totem Pokemon having been beaten until December when I got ahold of one of those SNES-themed New 3DSes. And man, the game STILL has slowdown in 2-on-2 matches.

Since Diamond and Pearl, each Pokemon game has just added more and more junk to the series in a desperate attempt to justify each new generation. Useless Pokemon, crappy minigames, metagame-dominating mechanics, Mega Evolutions, evolving Pokemon by flipping the fucking system upside down. What do Sun and Moon add? Well, there's Z-moves, which are super powerful moves that can only be used once a fight. They also got rid of the HMs, instead giving you a radio to call Pokemon to ride on that use the HM moves as needed. I guess it's nice not having move and Pokemon slots taken up by HM slaves but man, I missed Surf as an in-battle move.

When a wild Pokemon get down to about half health, they can call another Pokemon to join the battle which just drags out the fights (and even if they don't succeed, you still have to sit through their attempt). And to drag it out further, you can increase your Pokemon's happiness by grooming them, which means after every fucking battle you have to blow dry your Pokemon and brush dirt off them.

Most notably there's the Ultra Beasts, which are essentially Pokemon from other dimensions and a sign of the series' lack of ideas in more ways than one. Their designs are shit, and except for Guzzlord they all have their base stats distributed between Speed and one of the Attacks (Guzzlord has all of his stat points pumped into his HP). Basically, they're fragile but they're going to hit first and hit hard. And because of the aforemtioned stat distribution and all the reptetive dialogue you have to sit through between rounds, catching the fuckers was one of the most grating things I've ever gone through in a Pokemon game; yes, it's even worse than the Delta Mission in Omega Ruby. The only saving grace is you're given special balls with super-high catch rates for them.

Oh, and Sun is the first Pokemon game I've seen where three of the Elite Four were trainers you'd already beaten before. And then there's the ground-breaking idea of releasing the updated editions barely a year after the originals.

I spent hours in X and Omega Ruby training Pokemon and grinding teams to level 100 because... I don't know. I don't play competetively*, and there's no Pokemon Stadium type game for them. Did I just need a brain-dead time sink? Well, I've got World of Warcraft for that, now. I beat the Elite Four, caught all the Ultra Beasts, the Tapus, and Necrozma, and received Magearna. I'm done here.

* And why start now? Looking at the metagame tiers at Smogon, out of of the 807 Pokemon currently available, fewer than 60 are actually usable in a competetive setting. And a bunch of those are Legendaries.


Skyblazer (SNES)

Why did the words "tech demo" keep going through my head while playing this? Maybe it's the game being a collection of graphic effects while what difficulty it has is from garbage controls and botched level design? Hey, isn't it great that Mode 7 can give us Mega Man-style disappearing blocks around a spinning tower? Who cares if it's disorienting! And I already hate control schemes where the player character has a delay in when you press a direction button and when they start walking, then keeps going for several steps after you let go. Skyblazer takes it one step further by having Sky resume his momentum after stopping to throw a few punches. And the game is full of trash compactor-type rooms that were needlessly irritating because I couldn't get Sky to let go of the damn walls.

Also, in what fucking world is it good game design to tie moves necessary for getting through a level to a damn power meter, as seen in that one level where you have to air-dash through some spike corridors?

There was this one boss that took place in an underwater temple, where a water current flowed around four L-shaped blocks that each held a clam-like enemy that spawned a pirahna. I don't know how you were supposed to beat this boss, because the only way I could find to beat it was to exploit crap pathfinding AI and get the pirahnas stuck against the walls while I wailed on the clams.

That made it extra grating for me when the final level turned out to be a boss rehash.

Yeah, I guess it looks nice, with a mythological Asian style. And some of the music is decent, but some of it just sounds like pots and pans banging around. But god, in the two minutes I spent getting the screenshot for the game, I was already cursing the game out.